Before telling you about how we all discovered the Bahá’í Faith, I feel I should firstly describe my background. My father was born and brought up in Berlin of Jewish parents. His parents having divorced when he was 11, my father turned his back on anything “spiritual” and became a devotee of Freud. He eventually settled in London, via Prague, and met my mother at the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied composition, as well as conducting with Sir Henry Wood. Both my mother’s parents were Methodists, which is how she was brought up, although her father had himself been raised Plymouth Brethren, escaping from the house to sneak into the local library just to read any books that were not the Bible. As I understand it, her upbringing involved quite a lot of hypocrisy … playing piano to the relatives after church on Sundays and being beaten for not practising enough on Monday. (My mother always was an amazing sight reader, and when she was about 10 she used to sightread Beethoven sonatas and Chopin. She later said that she always felt as if she already knew them, even if it was the first time she had encountered them.) Like my father, she too became a born again atheist.
When I met Luke, my husband, over 30 years ago, one of the first things he did for me was to organise that I should learn to do Transcendental Meditation as his brother was a TM teacher and all his family meditated.
Some years later, Luke was asked to go with the Welsh National Opera (WNO) to Japan for a few weeks. I knew this would be a challenge for me, as I would have to look after our sons, Ben and Sam, while suffering excruciating neck pain and not sleeping because of it. I decided to do something about my neck and finding someone randomly in Yellow Pages consulted a McTimoney Chiropractor. It turned out that this practitioner, Clive Taylor, was also a TM teacher.
He successfully adjusted my neck but on my follow up appointment asked how things had been generally. I told him my neck was fine but that curiously, when I meditated, I felt the area around my heart had gone black. His immediate response was to tell me I needed religion. I replied that I did not do hats either on a Saturday or Sunday. “No no no” he said, “you need to be a Bahá’í. “You need to meet my friend Jo Harding who has just travelled around the world teaching the Bahá’í Faith”.
Telling Luke about this, we both agreed it could be a weird cult, and dismissed it from our minds. However, later that day we received through our letter box a local newspaper for the neighbouring district, The Rhiwbina Gem. On the front was a big picture of Jo and an article about the Faith and her travels. She looked just like someone we could relate to, so we contacted her. We had never had a Rhiwbina Gem before, and never since either.
I next went to the central library to try to find out more. I was looking for anything with the word “Bahá’í” in it but found nothing at all. However, my hand reached out to a tiny book, hidden by all the other large coffee table books on comparative religions. It was The Earth is But One Country by John Huddleston. I read it cover to cover, going “yes, yes, yes” to everything and although I felt I was already a Bahá’í by then, I went to three firesides before I declared.
Luke at this time was working full time in a boat yard, doing freelance work with WNO. He had been asked to do a performance in Plymouth but instead of driving there, which he would normally have done, he took the train in order to give himself time to read John Huddleson’s book. On his return, he too declared his faith in Bahá’u’lláh. That was just two weeks later.
Curiously, although my parents divorced when I was 7 years old, when we told them separately about the Bahá’í faith, they both said exactly the same thing…”if you want spirituality, what is wrong with the late Beethoven quartets?”
Luke came from a non-practising C of E background in Australia but loved singing, so became an altar boy when he was young. Introducing me to TM was the first step on our journey of discovery…and we are still on it.
Clive Taylor, by the way, is not Bahá’í but is a deeply spiritual, wonderful person. He has completely changed the course of all of our lives in a way I doubt he will ever know.
Our boys Ben and Sam were aged 9 and 7 when we found the Faith. Ben is a violinist in the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the viola player in the Artea Quartet, so is following his spiritual path that way. Sam, having served at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa for nearly three years, is currently working in the Bahá’í National Office in London.
Shortly after we declared our faith in Bahá’u’lláh, a friend, Graham Sorenson, started calling in at random times but regularly, bringing books he thought might inspire us and helping setting us up to hold weekly firesides, the guests for which he would organise. He also suggested that we should put our names down for pilgrimage, assuring us that even though we could not possibly afford such a trip, we would, nearer the time, find the funds somehow. Trusting in this, we put all our names down and waited. Five years later, when our names reached the top of the list, it so happened that a very very dear friend had just sold her second house. Without asking anything about the pilgrimage but nevertheless recognising how important going on pilgrimage was, she just wrote a cheque, enough to pay for four return flights. My stepsister lives on what was then a kibbutz, between Nazareth and Afula, and she invited us to stay there which sorted both accommodation and food. The Universal House of Justice agreed that we were close enough to attend the nine day pilgrimage (which actually was ten days including two Holy Days) from there but far enough away that we could stay afterwards too. We discovered a bus went from right outside the Kibbutz to Beit Dagon so we thought we would manage that way. However following a visit to the kibbutz by our half brother, he strongly advised us to rent a car. We could not have afforded that then but a week later, the travel agent rang to tell us that El-Al had restructured their pricing which meant we could get a refund. On enquiring, the refund EXACTLY matched the cost of hiring a car.
The flight was strange because while it is usual for passengers to applaud when the plane lands in Israel, on this occasion, the pilot must have overrun the runway. The plane just dropped straight down so fiercely that all the overhead lockers sprang open and everyone sat in stunned silence. This severe landing left Ben feeling as if he had been shot through the head. During our first day, he became increasingly unwell -enough so, that the kibbutz nurse told him to go to hospital where they x-rayed his head and found catarrh had been forced dangerously near his brain. We therefore missed both the visit to Bahjí and the meeting with the members of the Universal House of Justice.
In the hospital, rounds consist of telling the patients to queue outside the doctors’ office. While we waited with Ben and his drip stand, a telephone a few feet away rang. It was our pilgrim guide, Lesley Taherzadeh, telling us that everyone had prayed for us in Bahjí. How on earth did the phone receptionist find us? Anyway, Ben was seen by a Palestinian who understood the importance of pilgrimage and more or less pushed us out with tablets to help Ben. The next day, Lesley came to tell us that, recognising we had missed the trip to Bahjí, someone had anonymously given us a ten dollar bill to pay for a taxi to go there. Clearly they did not realise we had a car. Because we were staying on the kibbutz and therefore within reach, we were allowed to repeat the missing day with the next pilgrim group.
On our return, El-Al at that time had a policy of requiring confirmation of your intention to fly. My stepsister, who spoke fluent Hebrew, rang them to confirm our flight. Firstly they told her that she had rung too late, then they realised it was their mistake. They put us on a much earlier flight and gave us such a huge refund that we flew to and from Israel for £35 each.
Needing to be at the airport in the middle of the night, we realised my stepsister could not take us, and so asked if we could return the hire car to the airport. “Fine” said the hire company but as the supplement was so small, we would have to pay in cash. Only American dollars would do – and could they have ten dollars please?
Looked after? I think so, and these very material facts were such important confirmations. The spiritual journey of the pilgrimage is maybe another story.
Tish Roskams, October 2013
Tish passed away on 24 September 2020.