Astrid Bunne

Astrid Bunne

I grew up in a small town called Piteå, in the Northeast of Sweden. My only contact with religion was attending church during our school graduations and traditional holidays. Spiritual matters were never discussed in my family home even though my parents brought us up with strong values and always emphasised education. I remember being very critical towards the dogmatic institution of the church and thought that God was just a construct that certain religious people believed in. I did however from a very young age have a strong desire to understand people, why we are different and what makes us who we are. That drove me to read everything I could lay my hands on about the human mind and I also started becoming more and more interested in Buddhist philosophy.

In 2007 I moved to Ireland after I graduated from high school so that I could improve my English, and decided upon the small town of Galway on the West coast. A month into my stay I met Brian McNamara and we started going out together. I felt as if he had dropped a bombshell when he later explained to me he was something called a Bahá’í and believed in God. God?! A religion called what?! How come I had never heard of it before? I was extremely sceptical towards it and very upset. Many of the principles he talked about just didn’t make sense to me and I questioned much of what he was saying. He had to put up with a lot of it in the following year, bless him.

I did want to understand his religion, out of my high regard for him, and when visiting his parents in Ennis for the first time, I attended my first Bahá’í gathering – the Birthday of Bahá’u’lláh. I remember really liking the people but feeling very uncomfortable when they spoke of God. I went to the Irish Bahá’í summer school the following year which was an experience full of joy and interesting conversations. The love all people showed me was very moving. I still remember being greeted with “Allah’u’Abhá!” and not knowing what to answer back, feeling the urge to explain that I wasn’t a Bahá’í, though Brian continually told me that to him I was already a Bahá’í in my heart, due to the way I lived.

A few months later, in November, I began my travels around the world for six months with a girlfriend from Sweden. In a tourist office in Sydney I stumbled across a leaflet of the Australian Bahá’í House of Worship, which adding to Brian’s previous requests to do so, I took as a sign that I had to go and pay it a visit. I had seriously started a spiritual quest at this stage and been very inspired by a book written by a Hindu yogi. Visiting the Bahá’í temple was such an unforgettable experience. I remember the calmness and joy I felt as I walked around the building and the significance of meeting an American woman living in Sweden who told me that there was a fairly large Bahá’í community there. This was the first time I received a formal introduction to the Faith and it felt important somehow that it didn’t only come through Brian. After my visit when an Australian friend picked me up from the train station he was struck by the glowing light I was radiating. I just couldn’t stop smiling!

On my return from my travels in the summer of 2009, I stayed in Oslo for a few weeks with my mum, and Brian came to join me. He made contact with the Bahá’í community there and took me along to events. I was very moved by the eloquence of the youth, and loved the music that some of them produced and sang. We made a lot of new friends and I was excited that there were Scandinavian Bahá’ís, even though I struggled to speak about spirituality in my own native tongue. I went to the Irish summer school again that summer and clearly recall a conversation I had there about alcohol and why Bahá’ís didn’t drink. That moment I decided to stop too; I had never been very attracted to drinking due to the effects it had on me and others. Again I spent a week in what I experienced as blissful joy and fellowship, in stark contrast to anything I had experienced before with such a large group of people. The members of the Irish Bahá’í community will always be close to my heart since it was amongst them that I was introduced to the sea of the Revelation and saw a glimpse of what this new divine world civilisation could look like.

In September Brian and I both moved to Edinburgh and I began my degree in Psychology. Through him I instantly met the Bahá’í youth there. I joined the Bahá’í Society of the university and soon became an active member, seeing to the social event management. I worked through Ruhi Book 1 in that year and began helping out with outreach in a neighbourhood, speaking to people about the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Programme to see if there was any interest to start one. Following this I started doing Ruhi Book 5. During my first year in Edinburgh I also had the privilege to attend firesides led by Dr. John Parris and Sepideh Taheri every Friday evening on various themes and became more and more eager to understand the Faith. I was still challenged by the notion of God since the Christian image of a personified heavenly Father I had come across during my time growing up lingered in my mind. After this first year Brian and I decided to go our separate ways and I remember clearly how some of the Bahá’ís were wondering whether I would stay involved in the community. That was the moment I realised I was really on this spiritual enquiry for my own sake and not only to understand him, which is how it had started off. I was almost offended when asked about it and said that of course I would continue my involvement! As our ways parted, Brian said he felt strongly that the reason for our meeting had been to introduce me to the Bahá’í Faith. For this I will be eternally grateful to him.

I had initially been attracted to the Faith because of the people I met, who stood out from others I knew. It was something about their noble mannerism and how their actions corresponded with what they told me about the Faith. It didn’t matter whether I was in Ireland, Australia, Norway or Scotland, the Bahá’ís everywhere treated me as if I was part of their family, and lovingly and patiently responded to my endless questions.

When closely in contact with the Bahá’í community in Edinburgh I was then challenged on discovering that contrary to my expectations, not all the Bahá’ís lived fully according to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. While I saw in many of my other friends from university, a lot of virtuous behaviour, to me it was not always the case in the community. When in the first session of Book 2 we read that sometimes the biggest challenge for Bahá’ís may be other Bahá’ís, I suddenly understood; we were all striving to align ourselves to the will of God, and no one is perfect! Breaking down this barrier was very important for me. My experience of Book 2, with Sepideh as our tutor, was the turning point for me on my spiritual journey. Sepideh is always going to be my spiritual mentor and I love her as a dear sister. Also in the the group was a couple, Katie Boothby and Kieran McSherry, who were on a very similar spiritual investigation to me. We became close friends in the process of studying together. Six months later, in July 2011, Sepideh and I attended their wedding, where we witnessed their Bahá’í ceremony; Kieran had declared only three days before the wedding. Sepideh confidently predicted that Katie and I would follow Kieran’s example within six months, though she only had to wait six weeks…

When immersed in the beautiful atmosphere of the ’Earthing the Spirit’ festival at the Burnlaw Centre in Northumberland a month later in August, Katie and I found ourselves enkindled with the love of God, and realised one evening speaking to each other that we were in fact Bahá’ís. We both declared that moment, which was two months short of four years after I had come across the Faith for the first time. I still didn’t understand fully the significance of what I had done and it only slowly started to dawn on me. I struggled a lot in the beginning but knew in my heart that I believed in Bahá’u’lláh so started praying that I had made the right decision. Burnlaw has been a very significant place for me since then and I have returned every year in some way. Thank you Garry and Rosie Villiers-Stuart for all the magic that is created there!

Things evolved very quickly after I declared. The Edinburgh community welcomed the three of us with open arms and our first Bahá’í feast was full of cakes and flowers. They had already considered me as an integral part of the community from my keen engagement in the core activities, so not much changed in terms of what I was doing. Within three months of my becoming a Bahá’í I was elected on to the Local Spiritual Assembly in a by-election in December, which came as a shock. I arrived at the first meeting not even sure about what the LSA was! I faced many tests in my first year as a Bahá’í. Finding my new identity was difficult in relation to my old friends and particularly my family, who couldn’t accept that I had enrolled in a religion, one that had a funny-sounding name and to them was potentially a dangerous sect. They thought I was passing through another of my ’phases’, but little did they know…

Now, looking back over my four years as a Bahá’í, I am still astounded at how fortunate I am to have come across the Revelation so early in my life. With my background it seems almost impossible, but my soul tasted of the Divine beauty those eight years ago and could never turn back. I believe this shows that the spirit is something innate in all of us.

I feel so blessed to have been spiritually born in a community as loving as that of Edinburgh, and so thankful for all the years engaging in study circles, doing children’s classes, speaking to people about and animating junior youth groups, organising and attending devotionals and firesides, facilitating study circles and courses, serving on administrative bodies, and organising Holy Days. My creative side has been awakened and borne fruit, and I have been greatly empowered and enthused along the journey through the Ruhi books, of which I recently completed the first unit of book 8 at Intensive Training last summer (2015). In February of the previous year I also had the bounty of being on pilgrimage which was a remarkable, yet also challenging, experience.

My family is gaining a better understanding of the Faith as time passes, and my love for Bahá’u’lláh is spurring me on to serve in all areas of my life. I have recently moved down to Bristol where I will continue this new chapter of my life, and I constantly pray to God in gratitude and for assistance and steadfastness in my ongoing service to the Cause.

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Astrid Bunne

Bristol, September 2015

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