It was the shock and grief of my father’s death, in 1950, that made me start my ardent search for truth. He was a wonderful man; always kind and loving, with a radiant, humorous personality, and when he passed away with a heart attack, soon after his fifty-fifth birthday, we were plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Within that first hour of loss I found myself wondering where he had gone? These questions stirred within my heart, even in the midst of so much incomprehension and numbness.
What is the purpose of life? Why are we here? My beloved father must surely have gone to a more beautiful place? He was such a good person that God must have taken him somewhere better! The sadness and dreadful loss in no way robbed me of my belief in God as a loving, merciful Power…. and how truly thankful I will always be for that.
I had been brought up as a member of the Church of England, but I knew (vaguely) that my parents had taken ‘lessons’ in the Catholic Church, in the very early days of their courtship and marriage. As family we were not regular churchgoers, but my mother had sat at our bedsides when we were small, and had taught us to say our prayers. My dad had been a great reader, especially of poetry and the works of great writers such as Emerson and Carlyle. He had come to a stage where he differentiated between Christianity and Churchianity! He was a free spirit, free from ‘labels’ and attachments to any particular creed or belief, but he had taught us by his life to love one another, and these words were often on his lips. Now, at his death, we were completely stunned. But I realise, on looking back, that he had already paved the way for us to think for ourselves and, in the Words of Bahá’u’lláh, to ‘investigate’ Truth independently.
From that very night my search had begun, and it took me twelve years to reach my goal, but I would not wish it any other way. I looked into many different teachings, and bought numerous books, following wherever there seemed to be ‘light’ that would lead me. For a number of years I attended the Spiritualist Church in Daulby Street, Liverpool. It helped me to find some of my answers, and also brought a firm foundation from which I could move forward.
My husband and I, with our three-year old son, would attend the Lyceum (a Sunday School for children and adults) on Sunday mornings. These were very happy, uplifting occasions. Once having accepted that the soul survives the death of the body, we moved into the philosophical aspect, which is not involved with psychic phenomena. There are Seven Principles of belief which we accepted quite readily – The Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man; the Immortality of the Human Soul; the Communion of Saints and the Ministry of Angels; Compensation and Retribution Here and Hereafter for Good and Evil Deeds; Personal Responsibility; and Eternal progress for every Human Being. To the best of my ability, these are the teachings as I remember them after so many years.
My husband and I served the Church and the Lyceum for several years, in various capacities, but gradually the questions began again. Sometimes I would go to the Theosophical Society in Hope Street, where later I learned that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had visited! I found myself wondering whether our Spiritualist Philosophy was acceptable to God, and I began to pray about this.
I am absolutely certain that we are guided in our lives, and that when we pray we are helped to find the good that we are seeking. As time went by I became more aware of the other great world religions – Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, as well as Judaism and Christianity. This puzzled me very much. I used to say, “If I had been born in Arabia, or India or China I would have been a Muslim or a Hindu, or of some other Faith…. How can we have all these religions in the world when there is only one God?” Deeply puzzled, I couldn’t make it fit at all. My prayers intensified. During 1961 I took a correspondence course on Positive Thinking. It was called ‘Thought-Bricks’ and I found it very helpful as it was based on the teachings of Jesus on prayer. It cost me £10, which was a fair amount of money at that time. I really studied it and put into practice all the advice it contained. The teaching that meant the most to me was that Jesus had said “Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray believe that ye receive them and ye shall have them!”
Students’ successes were reported regularly in the magazine that was sent to us as part of the course. Most of them wished for material things such as a new car or house, or a holiday etc. But in my heart were other yearnings and deep desires for which I had prayed for so many years. With the help of my new course I prayed with greater faith and renewed intensity. Day after day I would ask God: “Please guide me to the truth.” And I would ‘see’ in my mind’s eye the word Truth in large letters about ten feet high. I never had any doubt that there was a great Truth somewhere in the world. Often I would think, “How do I know that I have the right beliefs?” “Millions of people following one of the other great Faiths think that they are right, so how do I know?” I can remember thinking that if Jesus would knock at the door, I could invite Him inside, and ask Him: “Please tell me the truth about Yourself. Who are You, really? The Son of God, or just a Great Man?” All the Teachings He had given in the Bible – did they still apply, in this twentieth century? He had said that we should love one another and that we should ‘turn the other cheek’…. and yet nobody does these things. So, after nearly two thousand years, what is going to bring about a change for the better?
I sincerely longed to be able to ask these things, and I asked them from God. My mother, and also my sister Pat Brackenridge, were seeking answers to life’s deeper meaning, and we often used to talk about these things. For several months I attended weekly discussion meetings at Daulby Street Church. We had someone from a different religion or sect, who would come and talk about their beliefs, and then we would have a short period of questions. Week after week, I listened carefully to each speaker, and tried to keep as open a mind as possible. It seemed to me as though there was some truth in each of them, and so I was as bewildered as ever. How could one fit all the jigsaw pieces together?
I begged for guidance in my prayers, and one evening we were told that there would be a speaker on the following Tuesday who would tell us about the Bahá’í Faith. Oh yes, I had heard the name and from our very dear friends, Jessie and Nick Echevarria, who had left Liverpool several years previously to emigrate to Canada. They had found the Faith there and had urged us to investigate it! The amazing thing is that Pat lived next door to the Bahá’í Centre at 5 Langdale Road, and had done so for many years. Jessie had said, in her letters, “Go to the Bahá’ís and read some of their books – you will love the Teachings!”
So, why didn’t I go? Well, I had said to myself, “With all the religions in the world, someone has concocted another one!!” There was I…. searching for answers amidst all the Great World Faiths…. and now there was yet another, with a totally new, unfamiliar name. We hesitated about going to the meeting at all, that night, but rather reluctantly, we decided that we should.
It was February 13th 1962, and I little dreamed that my whole life was about to change! Our speaker arrived and began to unfold the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. It was Madeline Hellaby, who was then living in Prescot, and while she spoke, I sat enthralled, sitting on the edge of my chair. I remember, very clearly, her telling us that God has created us to know Him and to love Him. But, she said, we are finite and God is infinite, and therefore we can never know Him by ourselves. She explained about the Messengers of God, coming in every Age to enlighten man, and the wonderful theme of Progressive Revelation was unfolded, so clearly, and so logically. All the pieces of my jigsaw puzzle swung together into one beautiful, wonderful picture!!
Madeline spoke about all the Holy Books prophesying the coming of a great Day when the Promised One of all Ages would appear. We learned about the youthful, radiant Báb and His Mission, and that He had come to prepare the way for Another Who was even greater than Himself. The Return of Christ! Unbelievably glorious things were falling like Manna from Heaven into my open heart. It seemed as if many windows were opening in my mind and consciousness, flooding my whole being with light. And to everything she said, I was whispering in my soul, “It’s true. It’s true. It’s true!” Joyous glad tidings!! It seemed as though I had a ‘new eye’ and a ‘new ear’ and a ‘new heart’. My entire being was set ablaze and my life has never been the same since that wonderful night.
Madeline had brought a number of leaflets with her, and they were set out on a table in front of her. When she warmly invited us to ‘help ourselves’ to literature, I asked, somewhat tentatively, if I could have one of each kind, feeling rather greedy! How happy she must have been at my ‘greed’!!!
It seemed as though I floated on a cloud, in a different dimension, while tea and biscuits were being served and everyone was chattering around me. Yes, they had enjoyed the talk, and “Do you want sugar Mrs Jones?” The forty or so people in the room were utterly unaware of the amazing and beautiful ‘jewel’ that had just been shown to them. My own husband and son, then a schoolboy, were still ‘on the ground’ as it were, and only I had suddenly been flooded with understanding and awareness, and that ‘birth of the Spirit’ that Jesus had spoken of and which, to me, had always remained a mystery.
The following day found me totally absorbed in the leaflets that I had taken home with me. As I read, I wept. The beloved young Báb had been cruelly put to death and, in an instant, I realized the full implications of the crucifixion of Jesus. I had always known in my mind that He had died on the Cross, but this happening was now felt very deeply in my heart with a great illumination. The death of God’s Manifestation 2,000 years ago, joined with that of the Báb, and they merged into one Event. These feelings are very difficult to describe in words, yet they are just as strong and vivid today as they were all those years ago!
My dear mother, Hagar Wall, was living with us at that time, and when I shared my thoughts and deep emotions with her, she simply said, “You have found it, haven’t you?” “You have found what we were looking for.” We had attained the gift of faith…. a priceless treasure for all Eternity. She ‘declared’ at the Bahá’í Centre on the Anniversary of the Declaration of the Báb, 1962. This Message we shared with our next-door neighbours, Elsie and George Bowers, who became Bahá’ís at the end of June that same year. My husband John ‘declared’ in October 1963, and our son John Charles became a Bahá’í on 25th October 1962, two weeks after his fifteenth birthday. The Secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly, Gladys Pritchard, wrote saying that he was the first Liverpool youth to become a Bahá’í. My sister Pat accepted the Faith in August 1963, and George’s parents ‘declared’ in Lyme Park around the same time, after practising the Catholic Faith for sixty years.
Southport, 23 May 1991, updated June 2012
Note: Lou Turner’s book “On Wings of Joy” published by Learmount Publishing 2007, tells the story of Lou’s life in much more detail. It was launched at the Edinburgh Bahá’í Centre on 23 February 2008.
Editor’s note: Lou passed away on 10 January 2014.