I’ve been a Bahá’í for over 20 years now and still find I can be suddenly awed by the majesty and wonder of this revelation. It is one of the greatest gifts the Faith has given me and this same wonder then translates itself into almost every aspect of my life. But it has been a long and varied journey with the Beloved.
I was born into a strong socialist family with a father who thought religion was the opium of the masses and something to be scorned. At a very young age though, I gravitated towards the Anglican Church and I liken this spiritual desire to the need a flower has to turn its face towards the sun. I was a member of our local church choir and at age 13 wanted to be confirmed in the Anglican Christian faith. I remember my mother secretly sewing a pretty white dress for my confirmation and first communion and, on the day, there she was at the back of the church quietly supporting me.
It was my mother who first introduced me to the Bahá’í Faith too. Much later on in life I had been questioning many aspects of the Christian church and researching other religions, and my mum showed me a magazine article where families of different faiths explained how their beliefs affected their lives. My mother pointed to the lovely Bahá’í family and told me, “If I ever wanted to join a religion, it would be this one.” She now doesn’t remember saying that to me, but it was one of those premonition things that stayed in my mind and which I will never forget.
I was very thorough in my searching after faith and found that all the revealed religions were basically saying the same thing in a nutshell: love God and love your fellow man. So why then, I thought, were they all disagreeing with each other and producing such rivalries and atrocities from time to time…. I was ripe for finding the Bahá’í Faith!
At this time I was working for an English language school in Folkestone, Kent and unbeknown to me had been working alongside two Bahá’ís for years. At a school Christmas lunch I noticed the colleague opposite me wasn’t drinking wine so I asked her why not. She replied that it was for religious reasons and I instantly pounced on her thinking she was a Muslim and that we could have an interesting chat. I did not connect the word ‘Bahá’í’ with the article my mother had shown me years before. My colleague, Janet Defrement, asked me if I would like to read something on the Faith and I accepted and some time later she gave me a short pamphlet on the Faith. She then left me to mull it over for about a year and this must have been divinely inspired as, had she approached me any sooner, I would have felt she was trying a hard sell to convert me. Of course years later I complained to her “Why didn’t you tell me about Bahá’í sooner?!” It took me two years of reading, meeting with the Bahá’ís etc to decide that this was not some strange cult and that I very much wanted to be a part of this Faith.
I have to say that all I read delighted me with its logic and even the hard questions like, ”Why is it only men on the Universal House of Justice?” were beautifully explained by members of the Faith. One answer I was given from a Bahá’í was that she received so many bounties and concrete, logical evidences from the Faith that she trusted that Baha’u’llah had a reason for this one issue, and that was just fine with her. So my mind accepted the Faith but I was taken by surprise at the transformation of my heart.
I remember being on a bus on my way to Canterbury for a tutorial for my MA studies and I was engrossed by a book on Bahá’u’lláh rather than my studies. I suddenly felt like curtains had parted letting in an amazing light as I realized the station of Bahá’u’lláh for the first time. I had to restrain myself from jumping up and down and shouting out like a maniac on the top of this bus! The love that flowed through me on that bus is something I will never forget and that I experience whenever I put my mind to ponder the wonders of this Faith. This was ‘confirmation’ in its truest sense.
But I had a dilemma; I desperately wanted to belong to the Bahá’í community but I was at the time living with Wesley (my then partner) outside of marriage. I wanted to begin my life as a Bahá’í in the right way but felt that it would be cruel to say to Wesley, “OK, I’ve got religion and now you have to go and live somewhere else.” So I consulted with our local Local Spiritual Assembly as to what I should do. Again I have an experience of the members of the LSA being in tune with the situation I was in when they told me that if I so much wanted to become a Bahá’í, then I should do so but to be aware of the Bahá’í law of sex outside of marriage and that this relationship would, in time, either become a marriage or would prove not to be right for me. They were wise in trusting me and not just going by the letter of the law. It’s a lesson in compassion that can often be overlooked by the over-zealous. I felt their love for me and the maturity of their advice through their gentle humanity. It wasn’t long before Wesley and I were married and that is a wonderful story I will leave for him to tell.
As a new Bahá’í, I was a bit evangelical/in love with the Faith. My daughter, Giselle, tells me that I could turn any topic into a conversation of the Faith… even “Mum, what’s for dinner?” would become a discussion (or lecture!) on the glories of the Faith. Of course I dragged her off to every Bahá’í gathering/seminar/talk I could find and to this day I have a treasure in my address book (filofax in those days) that is a quick letter from Giselle to Wesley who was off-shore at the time, and it reads:
Dear Wesley, I wanted to write to you because I’m at a Bahá’í conference and I am BORED!!!!!!!!…………….anyway I love you and I’ve got to go and be bored. Bye, love Gissy.
Another funny incident that happened in my early Bahá’í life was that Wesley once told me a joke that involved a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian and then asked me what I thought about it. I replied, rather puritanically, that it seemed a bit racist – whereupon he happily announced that it was one of ‘Abdul-Baha’s favourite jokes. That completely shut me up! I look back and cringe, but I guess it was a sign of being a rather unwise ‘newbie.’ I also gave my parents the wrong impression as they thought I had been drafted into a cult; they asked me to tell them about this Bahá’í Faith and I, nervous, said I couldn’t really say. They took this to mean I wasn’t ALLOWED to say, i.e. cult! This misunderstanding lasted for years.
Wesley took his time to investigate the Faith and wear out our local community with his questions. I remember evenings with Bella and Jagdish Saminaden where Wes would have some real nitty-gritty aspect of the Faith that he found hard to swallow and he would hound Jagdish for an answer. Jagdish wriggled and went round in circles trying to present the query in a positive light and Wes would pursue him until Bella would turn to her husband and say, “Jagdish, just tell him that the answer is……” Jagdish would finally give in, grit his teeth and give the direct answer and Wes would simply say, “Oh, OK.” And then go on to the next nitty-gritty subject! It made for very lively firesides!
I said I wouldn’t say anything about our marriage, but there is a lovely story to my side that Wes thinks I should tell. In 1992 the Bahá’í marriage wasn’t recognized in UK so we had to have a civil wedding the day before our proper wedding. I did not know that the words exchanged by the bride and groom in a civil ceremony were so beautiful and so I welled up and choked with emotion on the words and ruined my make-up. At least, I thought with the Bahá’í wedding the following day, the Bahá’í marriage vows are one simple line and super quick so my make-up would be safe. Right up until the day of our marriage I did not believe Wesley would accept the Faith and just before we exchanged vows, Wes asked for the ceremony to be halted. It entered my mind that he was going to refuse to marry me but then he pulled a declaration card out of his pocket and asked me to witness his acceptance of the Faith. Well there went my make-up again!
From marriage in UK we went to Corfu in Greece in 1993 to our pioneer post and have been here ever since. I remember writing to the NSA of Greece prior to leaving UK to tell them of our intentions and to ask for all the addresses of the Bahá’ís in Corfu so we could contact them on arrival. They wrote back to say we WERE the Bahá’ís of Corfu! That was quite a shock, as we were relatively new to the Faith and had come from a very nurturing community in Shepway, to find ourselves as isolated believers. But Greece, being such a small community of Bahá’ís, really feels like a family and in this we are blessed. I remember a visiting Bahá’í on a cruise ship whom we met for a quick coffee in Corfu town one year. She was very embarrassed to tell us that there were ONLY 300 Bahá’ís in her hometown in Texas and asked us how many we were in Corfu. At that time we were able to point to all the Bahá’ís in Corfu and they fitted round a small coffee table!
I must admit I agonized over the fewness of our numbers and did beat myself up quite a bit with guilt over ‘not teaching enough!’….but I am so happy now that I understand that I can best teach by service to mankind in whatever form. We just attended our Greek summer school where we were lucky enough to hear Tom Price give a series of talks on the qualities of ‘Abdul-Bahá with regards to teaching. This has changed my life and made my faith more human and more immediate. I now say my prayers with a big grin on my face (whether I feel it or not) and the result is an amazing feeling of joy and radiance which can bubble through into giggles or a feeling of radiant light; it is a celebration of my connectedness with God and all His bounties.
I said before that my Bahá’í journey has been long and varied and it has gone from periods of deep, active immersion in the Faith to times where I just needed to be more quiet in my connection to God. But I have experienced miracles along the way: I remember a time where my daughter was in a relationship that deeply troubled me and I was quite desperate for her future. I was also not very wise in my handling of the situation. We were supposed to go as a family on our first 9-day pilgrimage and Gissy decided not to join us. At one point, while in Haifa, I went to the shrine of Navváb and knelt in front of her tomb and tearfully asked her for help from one mother to another. In that moment I ‘heard’ in my mind a voice saying, “Don’t worry. The Bahá’í bridegroom is coming soon.” And at the same time I saw the face of a young Bahá’í from our Athens community whom I had noticed as a candidate for the position of son-in-law some time back (what are we mums like?!). Even back in Corfu when I despaired of Gissy ever getting out of the difficult situation, I would again hear the comforting and loving voice telling me not to worry with the same words and the same face. So I guess I wasn’t too surprised later on when Gissy and Jesse called me from China to ask for permission to marry!
This is one of the things that I have always felt as a Bahá’í: the loving care of God in my life coupled with a knowing that this is truly God’s Will for this age. Going back to my early years when I turned spontaneously to God, I knew in my child’s heart that I would live to see the return of Christ (a strange thing for a young child to think) and that also I would be no great heroine in this discovery or play no great part. I thank God every day that I was guided to this most glorious revelation and bless my Bahá’í mother Janet and my real mother for having placed this gift in front of me. Thanks to Bahá’u’lláh and to God, I have come home.
Corfu, October 2012