My Journey to Bahá’u’lláh
I would like to thank Francis Madden for all of her help in getting my words into type, my daughter Jennifer for giving me the time and the help to clarify my thoughts and to the UK Bahá’í Histories team for the final edit that you see before you now.
My favourite prayer comes from, I think, the Sikh religion. It goes something like this:
There is only one God
His name is Truth,
Eternal in the past,
Eternal in the future,
Forever and ever Truth.
I was brought up in Liverpool and I will always be grateful for that. We speak in a way that is quite different from the rest of England. We can sometimes be seen as being very ‘blunt’ or ‘to the point’. I believe we just say it as we see it, so if I seem to be very harsh in my language – I apologise, it is not meant to offend.
Coming from an Irish mother and an English father, as a lot of people in Liverpool do, I was brought up in a family that was rich in diversity. I could see the beauty and faults in both cultures but the one common factor in both was the absolute love for their children.
I hope my story speaks for itself. It is from my heart and soul and is simply an attempt to explain through my own eyes, as honestly as I can, why I have become a Bahá’í, and to clarify what brought me to my belief that Bahá’u’lláh is God’s messenger or manifestation for today.
I was born in Waterford, Ireland on the 21st of April 1953 but my first memories are of 106 Gainsborough Road, Liverpool. I lived with my maternal grandparents, whom I called mammy and daddy. I did not know at that time that they were my grandparents. It was a nice road near the beautiful Sefton Park and I had lots of older brothers and sisters, or so I thought at that time. I remember very clearly marching up and down the parlour chanting: “My name is Terence Cuddihy. I am Irish. I am Catholic and I am proud of it!”
We had an army barracks on the corner of the road. In those days they still had a lot of army barracks and soldiers around from the Second World War. I was born only nine years after the end of the war. My mammy would be holding my hand and I would feel the stress that was flowing in every part of her being pouring through from my mammy’s hand. She did not like the soldiers and she would let you know she didn’t!
I would have been about five years old when I was told that mammy was not my mother but my grandmother but I loved her very much, so it took time to love my mother, though I could see that she loved me. Her eyes were very blue like her father‘s – my daddy’s eyes. Mammy’s eyes were brown. My mammy was a very strong woman; her husband was gentle but she had to be strong to survive. Women had very few rights in those days.
I slept in the bed with mammy, as daddy had asthma. Mammy would always say lots of prayers at night time. Then she would get into bed and she would say ‘God bless’ individually to each of her eleven children and then everybody else she could think of including Julia Lennahen – her childhood best friend left back in Ireland and a long list of other names of people that I did not know, and finally when she got to ‘And God bless Ireland’ I knew we could go to sleep. And that was every night.
We would all go to mass on Sunday. We would be wearing our Sunday best clothes to march to mass. It seemed as though all the people went. I know from my earliest memories I did not like it. It seemed to me to be a very dark place, the priests would wear black and everyone seemed to be scared and I could not understand a word as it was all said in Latin. I was very aware that people were scared as I could sense it in their voices. I remember when ever the word “Protestant” was said and then that “England was full of them” I could feel the tensions rising. I could sense it at a very early age so I asked daddy at one time when we were alone: “What are Protestants?”
Daddy was a very gentle man, and I don’t ever remember seeing anger in his face. He looked straight at me with a big smile and said: “They are no harm at all and all we have to do is believe in Jesus.” He said “He will return and bring all mankind together in peace and all we have to do is watch out for him” and that brought me comfort.
My mother and my sister would come to Gainsborough Road. I liked them a lot but I would not leave my mammy. So they would take me up to meet my father and brothers, whom I liked very much too. My brothers were younger than me. Paul was only a baby. My father was always in working clothes, he worked seven days a week. I liked him from the start and there was always laughter in the house when he was there.
As time went by, I spent more and more time with them but when daddy died, mammy moved to Rochdale and I moved with her. I did not move back to Liverpool with my real mother and father until I was 13. The biggest influence on me was my father. He was an honest man and very well read. He was not religious. He said plainly and loudly: ‘If you knew what happened in the Inquisition you would have nothing to do with any of it!” And he would say often: “the lower classes were all used as cannon fodder for the British Empire.” He did not mince his words.
In 1966, England won the World Cup, Liverpool won the league and Everton won the FA cup. The city went mad. We were united as one city. We all sang “we are the greatest soccer city in the land” and I and my friends got drunk. I was picked up by the police for being drunk and incapable. I was 13 years old.
One of the good things about being brought up in Liverpool is that people are very verbal. My father was a wordsmith, brilliant in every argument I ever heard him have, but one such argument, or should I say ‘debate’, was with my mother who won it ‘hands down’. My father was magnanimous in defeat and mother glowed for days. By this time my mother did not go to church any more. I am pretty sure she knew something was very wrong with the whole set up, but she did keep her strong belief in Jesus and in God, but never said much to us about it.
One night, my father had had a few drinks. All the family were there and the subject somehow came up about religion. My father had a rant about how stupid it was to say there was a God. It went on for a while and mum said nothing but I could see she was very agitated. For her, this was a fight for the soul of their children. When my mother had finally had enough, her eyes flashed and she shouted:
“Who do you think you are, preaching to all and sundry? What gives you the right to preach that people should not believe in god or religion? That’s their business, not yours!”
My father was magnanimous in defeat. He apologised immediately and said he was doing what he hated and that was preaching and he would never do it again and he didn’t. My mother had quite rightly put him back in his box and he stayed there. It gave us a sure and solid belief to investigate the truth for ourselves and I am truly grateful for that.
My father was a plasterer and so were his brothers. My father’s father was the labourer for his sons too. l went to work with them all and it was hard work but I loved every minute of it. I felt that I belonged. The family were all big drinkers, so I joined in. It was the way of life, you worked hard, you drank hard and you played hard.
In 1972 my father and I went to work in Ireland. He was in trouble with the tax man so we worked there until he got the legal side sorted out. Then he went back home but I stayed in Waterford, the town where I was born. I had by then become a capable plasterer and could earn very good money. My mother’s side of the family were all from Waterford so we were well known. The Longs were my mother’s mothers side (my mammy) and the Cuddihy’s were my mother’s fathers side (my daddy) and they were both very big families in the Waterford area.
In 1972 Bloody Sunday also happened, when fourteen protesting civilians were shot dead by the British army. A lot of men came from the north to get away from The Troubles. It was not easy for me as I had an English accent but I knew I was safe as it was known who my family was. I worked in Waterford, Cork and Kilkenny until 1974 and had saved a lot of money. It was time to go home. I was in Dublin on the 17th of May 1974 ready to go to Liverpool. It was my father’s birthday on the 18th of May so I wanted to be with him.
My father was a big reader. He had said the only book he could not read was ‘War and Peace’, as it was too complicated for him because of the names. I had a long time to wait for my flight so I went to see the film ‘War and Peace’ so I could tell my father about it. As I left the cinema a massive bomb went off so we all panicked and ran. As we did we heard another bomb go off.
In those days the number plates on the Irish cars were red with black numbers. Any car that was English or from Northern Ireland had a yellow plate with black numbers. As we ran in one direction I could see a yellow and black number plate on a car. Someone shouted it could be a bomb, so we all ran in another direction. It was just madness. There was no warning or nothing. It just happened out of the blue.
When I got back to Liverpool I found out that 38 people had been killed. Two bombs had gone off in Dublin and one in Monaghan.
I never lost my belief in God, but I had no time for religion. I had always known that Christianity was good but I knew Churchianity (placing a larger emphasis on the institutional traditions than on the spiritual teachings of Jesus) divided people. In Liverpool, Catholics and Protestants did not marry in the older generation, but the times were changing.
Music touches the soul
I have always loved music and would listen to the words of songs and learn them. The 1960s brought a great change in music, especially with the coming of the Beatles. I was in deep turmoil trying to express my feelings about the problems in Ireland. We would debate for hours in the pubs over The Troubles. I remember one such time when my father was there and I was saying very loudly that: “the British Army should not be in Ireland, if there had to be an army, it should be a United Nations Army.”
One of the men said “You would say that, you’re Irish” and I replied “I am not Irish!” He said: “You must be, you were born there!” I said “If I was born on a plane would that make me a bird? It has nothing to do with where you were born, and everything to do with justice. Ireland is Irish and it was there long before England ever came into existence!”
I was friends with soldiers who were in Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles. We were all big fans of John Lennon and one of them gave me a copy of his album released in 1972, ‘Some Time in New York City’. The Beatles had broken up and John was free to write what he liked in America. It was a blistering attack on the English, a real verbal onslaught. He spoke the truth as he saw it. But I could see the danger in some of the lyrics. I feel that you do not fight something that is more powerful than you. If there is injustice you appeal for justice. In the same year the album was released, Paul McCartney brought out a song called ‘Give Ireland Back to the Irish’. It was banned in England but sold all over Europe. I was in Ireland and I bought it and I loved it. It began with the words: “Great Britain, you are tremendous and nobody knows it like me, but really what are we doing in the land across the sea”.
I personalised it with the metaphor of my father being English and physically stronger than my mother, who was Irish to the core, as her mother was before her. To my mind it was a cry for justice. We were young and could not understand the madness of the older generation and it came out in the music of the time. It was not that we were ungodly. It seemed to us that as the first generation to have access to television, we were the first ones who could plainly see the injustice of the world.
My girlfriend Yvonne was not only Protestant but her family were in the Orange Order (a Protestant Masonic-style fraternity that defends and promotes Protestantism, Conservatism, Britishness and Unionism – the continued unity of the United Kingdom). Relationships between Catholics and Protestants were quite common in Liverpool but the two sides rarely inter-married and even rarer was a marriage between a Catholic and an Orange Order member. We were courting for about two years and were engaged. My sister had married and was happy and two of my brothers had married and were happy but I had cold feet. I disliked Churchianity very much, and as I saw it, it did not seem possible for Catholics and Protestants to come together and still have dignity.
I could not stand the thought of marrying in church as I thought we would both be hypocrites. We were open about our views on the stupidity of Churchianity, the celibacy of the Roman Catholic Church, and annoyance that there were no women bishops in the Protestant church. But thankfully Yvonne said “we must be married” and I loved her, so I asked my father what I should do. He said that Yvonne was a very good woman and when most people marry they let the woman decide. He said: “As long as you trust the woman, that is all that matters”. I trusted Yvonne so we were married.
Birth: Bringing in a new era
My sister Joan had a baby first and we were all happy. A new era had begun. Then my brother Don and his wife Pauline had a baby and Don went nuts, he was ecstatic! I’d never seen anything like it. We all felt the buzz, clearly things were changing.
On the 6th of September 1979 our first baby, Danielle, was born. This was a day that my whole life changed. Men were being encouraged to be at the birth, as my brother Don and my brother-in-law Tony had been, so I thought I would see what all the fuss was about. I was quite a cocky person; I was not frightened of anyone or anything. When Danielle was born I could not believe my eyes. It was a totally humbling experience for me. Yvonne was exhausted but was happy to know all was well with our new baby girl. The nurses handed Danielle to me while they looked after Yvonne. I was holding the baby in my arms as she opened her eyes for the first time, which nearly took my breath away. I had witnessed a miracle as far as I was concerned, a real miracle.
As I went home I started to think of what had just happened and for the first time in my life I was truly scared. I had an awareness of God but I had no idea of how to guide this pure soul. The idea of Original Sin in something so pure was to me, an offence to the God of any rational thinker. But I knew the world we lived in and the hypocrisy of that world was very much alive.
The year Danielle was born, the Conservative Party got into power with Margaret Thatcher as their leader. Danielle was known as a Thatcher baby. The Conservative Party was in power for 18 years. Danielle was a young woman when they finally left office. The North of England was a completely different place from when she was born, both for the good and for the bad.
I and my family on the English side were all big drinkers. The Irish side drank too, but not every night. Most of the men on my father’s side did. Sometimes it caused problems but as long as it did not interfere with work we were alright.
Our daughter Jennifer was born a few years after Danielle. She was lovely, but the times were very bad in Northern Ireland, which was affecting me a lot. By then I had a problem with drink. Yvonne could see and would sometimes say I should go to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) but I never did.
Alcohol: Releasing the Spirit
Things got worse in Liverpool, there was very little work around and a lot of people were unemployed, but there was plenty of work in the South of England. If we had not gone to the South of England we would have lost our house, so we moved in 1987. That was the year of the great storm, when lots of old oak trees in England were blown down. I think it was an omen. Our marriage was on the rocks. Not long after that, the south and the north of England were like two different countries. It was a very painful time for all involved. By then I had a very bad drink problem and I was angry.
We moved back to Liverpool but Yvonne and I separated and divorced. After a while I was going out with Christine, and Yvonne was with another man. Christine and I got married and had a son, young Terry. He was a beautiful boy with lovely deep blue eyes and a very happy nature, but my drinking was still out of control. Christine quickly threw me out. I was at breaking point. I had a breakdown and was sectioned for 72 hours. It was horrifying.
When I calmed down, a wonderful psychologist asked me if I knew what had happened. I said no, but I was frightened, very frightened. She told me I had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act and that I was now free to go. I said I still was very unsure of myself, and she advised me to stay for a week for observation. She told me that a breakdown can instead be seen as a breakthrough and she said that something in my life was out of balance and I would have to change my lifestyle if I did not want this to happen again. So I stayed for a week and they assessed me and asked me about my life style.
I am a very open person so I told them everything and they quickly suggested I go for a six-week rehabilitation course so I did. I had ended up living in a horrible bedsit at 85 Gainsborough Road on the other side of the street from 106 where I had started off life as I remember it.
The rehabilitation centre was in Rainhill. To me, rehab was like something out of a comedy film. We were taught about the dangers of alcohol and they told us how to ‘control’ our drinking of this very dangerous drug by only drinking so many units a day. Rehab did, however, open my eyes. The psychologist who interviewed me told me I was typical of what they called a ‘Political’ alcoholic. She said they were men like me who enjoyed other men’s company and talked of the political times we lived in. She said that this culture went back to the Romans when men would meet to converse and drink alcohol, a lot of alcohol, and as a result a lot could get addicted to alcohol. I could plainly see the path my grandfather and probably his grandfather before him had taken. It was a path my beloved father had taken and then so had I. I was annoyed and asked her: “Why hasn’t the government banned this drug?” and she said “We do not live in a Muslim country, we give you the choice, no one makes you drink alcohol, you have the choice not to.” I agreed with her, she knew her stuff. I do not want to live in a Muslim state but we must tell the truth about the dangers of alcohol, especially now we know how much damage it is doing to women and unborn babies. Science has now proven the harm of alcohol and it is with honesty that we must educate the masses, as the carnage this is inflicting on so many marriages and on society is too big a price to pay for the very few who make so much money out of keeping this system going. Advertising that claims alcohol is good is misleading.
The reason I say the rehab was a comedy is quite simple: it was. The state obviously spent a lot of money on the place. Some people were there as part of the condition of a court order instead of going to jail and others, like me, were there of their own free will. When we had been there for a week or so, we were allowed to go to the pub with some of the staff. Some of the patients would bring in marijuana and smoke it openly in the grounds. I did not like it so I never joined them but they were high as a kite. They would say: “This is a holiday camp paid for by the government.”
It was crazy. I think it is probably very different now; it was in its infancy then, some twenty odd years ago, and in Liverpool word travels fast on the grapevine. The psychologist spoke a lot of sense to me. She said society views alcoholics as weak but actually that they are very strong willed – “It takes a very strong will to drink yourself to death! If you can turn that same will around the opposite way and use it not to drink, then you will be able to free your spirit”
When I came out I was clean. My auntie got me a flat near to her shop in the Kensington district of Liverpool. After a year, Christine and I divorced. I had not been drinking for a long time. The idea of rehab was not to stop you drinking but to get you to control your drinking to so many units a day, but I had stopped completely.
Danielle and Jennifer had got to know Christine pretty well and were happy seeing us as friends after such a traumatic time. I would not wish divorce on anyone but it happens and is a fact of life. As I got my life back together I smartened-up my flat and started to enjoy life again. Christine and I were friendly, especially as young Terry was only a baby. I would sometimes babysit and look after him. This went on for about two years maybe three. I tried to form relationships with other women but I knew I still loved Christine. We were getting closer all the time even though we were divorced. We talked a lot about was happening between us and tried to stop it. We did not come together until we were sure of the prospect of making it work. I kept my flat but moved back in with Christine. After a very anxious time we both decided to have another baby as we were very happy.
We did not marry as we had been through that before but we were happy together and she was pregnant. We both started to drink a lot as we had before. It was a way of life for both of us. I came home from work one evening to find my cases packed and waiting for me. Her sister had moved in. It had been just the three of us for some time. I said to Christine “If I go this time I will not come back” and she told me to go so I did.
I went back to my flat and stayed away from Christine and young Terry. I got a job offer to work in Germany, which was perfect for me to get away, and I worked in Osnabruck for about six months. There were about twenty of us including one cousin and my brother Don. We all drank a lot. It was the biggest British army base in Europe. We could not work on Sundays as it was against the law so I went to some local historic places. I like history. I was dumbfounded to find out there had been a thirty-year war between Catholics and Protestants there. I thought that only happened in Ireland. We got to know a lot of the soldiers. Osnabruck being an army town, the IRA bombed the barracks, so there was a lot of tension. Thank God no one was killed. The German government was annoyed.
We came back to Liverpool and on the 11th September I rang Christine. The baby had been due to be born on the 11th. She said “I have already had a baby girl, Amelia, born on 4th September.” I thought it was a lovely name; Christine said young Terry had chosen it. She asked if I would like to see the baby. I said yes – I also wanted to see young Terry.
I loved young Terry, as I had bonded with him and I thought such a connection would not happen with the new baby. I got there and it was not like that at all. As soon as I saw Amelia I thought she was lovely, she was so beautiful I thought I would die. Young Terry was radiant; I could tell he loved her as much as I did. I changed her nappy and I was hooked. She was perfect. I went back to my flat, drank an excessive amount of cider, and was in a terrible state. I do not know how long I was like that; my family were all very concerned. It was hell. No other word can describe it. It was the worst I have ever been.
Religion: Searching for my spiritual home
My brother Dave had become a Mormon and his wife and children had followed him. He was sincere, I could tell. I have always been close to Dave. He asked if I would go to the Mormon Church with him and said Jesus was truth. I said “I know that, I have always known that. But I will have nothing to do with Churchianity.” But I went with him as I respected him. I did not like it one iota. All the men went in one door and all the women went in another with the children. When we got back to my flat I got a bottle of strong cider. Dave said: “We are like a tree, if we do not bend then we will break.” I said, “Then I will break before I have anything to do with Churchianity, my mother was a Catholic, I do not like that church so why would I join another?” So he left and I was alone.
I was a very big smoker and I would smoke at least 60 a day. I can’t remember how many days I was drunk. I do remember seeing Danielle. She called to see me. I opened the door and she was very shocked at my appearance. I saw the look on her face, and told her to come in. She said “I’m worried about you, dad.” I was merry and I smiled and she lit up a bit. “Don’t you worry”, I reassured her, “I will be all right”.
I woke at about 3 o’clock in the morning and I was calm. I felt that something inside me had happened. I got out of bed and opened the curtains. The moon was shining. I got down on my knees and said. “God I need help. I need help now!” I got back into bed and slept. I do not know what time I awoke but I was okay. I went into the living room and I knew what I had to do.
I phoned AA and a woman answered. I told her what had happened and that I needed help. I told her I had been in rehab and had dried out and I had nowhere else to go. I was told there was a meeting that day and she would send someone to pick me up in a car. It was in the cellar of the Roman Catholic cathedral and I did not want to go. I told her I would not have anything to do with religion. She reassured me this was not a religion and if I truly wanted to stop drinking I should go. I told her I’d dry myself out and come in another time. She told me I should come now as she herself had been through what I was going through so I went.
A man came an hour later to pick me up. He was respectable. He said he was an alcoholic and it had got so bad that he had tried to kill himself and I said that the thought had never entered my head, and it hadn’t.
We went down to the cellar. He said that as it was my first time I would not have to say anything, just listen. It was a meeting made up almost exclusively of women; we two were the only men. I could not look anyone in the eye when I was not sober so I kept my head down. The meeting began with a serenity prayer.
One woman spoke, then the next and the next and so on. I have never in my life heard such honesty. I was humbled to my very core. I think it is harder for a woman who has lost all control of her life than it is for a man. I was very ashamed of how selfish I was as a human being. Most of the women’s husbands had stood by them. I do not think I could have, and that is what made me feel ashamed of myself.
I have not had one drink of alcohol from that day to this. I have only met one other woman since then who has done the same.
At AA, it was the first time I had ever heard the words ‘A God of your understanding’. You had to admit you were powerless over alcohol and only a ‘God of your understanding’ could set you free. I was powerless. I could not stop. I had always believed in God as love, and I had no problem in bowing down to that. That was well over twenty years before.
I went home and then the misery started and it went on for a very long time. I had drunk heavily for well over twenty-five years. I had first got into trouble in 1966 when I was thirteen years old. After a few days I started to sober up, then the shakes would come and the sweats. It went on and on and on. I was on ‘Invalidity Pay’ and was incapable of working for a very long time. Now I could see my flat was in a pretty bad way. I went into the bedroom and opened the curtains, which I had not done for a very long time during the daytime. To my horror the pillow had just a white circle the size of a football where I had laid my head. The rest of it was all burnt away with the cigarettes that I had dropped when I was in my sleep. I had always smoked in bed and still did at that time. It was not possible to stop smoking just then as I needed them desperately. I do not think I could have survived the stress if I had been required to stop smoking as well.
I went to meeting after meeting. It was good to be with people who had the same problem; we helped each other and I got better. I mixed with my family and started to get some confidence back. After about a year or so without drink in my life, I could now see my children and have some kind of a normal life but I was very much alone.
I was starting to look for a religion that was right for me. I had studied the history of AA and found it had started in England and was called the Oxford Society but when the Oxford dons (the fellows or tutors of Oxford University) found out that the spiritual guidelines of the society (which was anonymous) had been taken from the Bible but were based on a ‘God of your understanding’, and that it was for alcoholics, they stopped it. They said it had to be Jesus Christ, as we were a Christian country and so the founders had no option but to end it, but the principles had spread to America, where the written constitution had firmly established freedom of religion. AA was set up there and as its success grew it came back to England and all over the world. Thank God for America. I do not think I would be writing this now, but for them. For me that was the final nail in the coffin for Churchianity. I believed that true Christianity would not have banned AA. I feel that most people find great comfort from God’s message in Christianity.
Bahá’u’lláh: Coming home to The Faith
I was like a zombie for a long time. I looked at the Buddhist religion and then out of the blue I came upon the Young Christians Association. This said ‘all religions are one’. They were a very happy bunch and I liked them, I could see that they were obviously touched by the Holy Spirit so I went to a meeting. Afterwards I was talking alone with a young man who was playing a piano and answering my questions. His love for Jesus was very strong and good. I liked it and I thought how good it must have been to have such faith. I said to him “The centre of my family is the strength of my mother and from what I have seen it is the same in most families. The man may appear to be the head but it is the mother who is, really, and I would not believe otherwise. The mother is the centre around which the family revolves, so if my mother had been a Muslim, I would have been a Muslim too.”
The young man said without hesitation that I would not go to heaven, that Jesus said “I am the Life and the Way, there is no other way to the father but through me.” I went outside and I was devastated. I knew I could not have anything to do with any religion that did not include all the religions of the world. I knew I was definitely alone. That was one of my lowest times. Then I got interested in the Quakers. What lovely people. I still have the greatest of respect for the Quakers. Of all the 5000 sects of Christianity (3000 registered in America alone), the Quakers are the ones I respect the most.
Amelia was then about two years old. I had put my life on a pretty even keel. I saw my children most weekends and they would often stay with me in my flat. Yvonne had parted from the man in her life and she was heartbroken. I had been divorced from Christine. It was not easy on anyone, most of all the children but we were all struggling through somehow.
I could plainly see chaos was all around, but the chaos in my own life was not there any more. The fact is that life is hard for everyone, it’s just the way life is. You cannot find happiness from outside, as Jesus said the Kingdom is within, but I was still a lost soul. There was no going back, I knew that life is progressive, it does not go backwards it goes forward. The clock goes forward but I still felt lost.
In 1994 I went to the Liverpool Show, with Jennifer. It’s an annual music event with lots of stalls and a fairground – a family event. It’s held in a park called ‘The Mystery’ in Wavertree, off Gainsborough Road. There was a man playing the guitar and singing “Let it Be”, a Paul McCartney song I like a lot. The words are wonderful and in that moment they were giving me peace. I looked up and I saw the words written on the blue tent: “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens” – Bahá’u’lláh. I kept saying it over and over to myself. It was obvious – it still is – the world is one country.
There was a young girl who was about fourteen years old, with big dark eyes. She was shy and wary, but she still came forward and said: “Are you interested in a leaflet” so I said: “What is it?”
She said “It’s a religion.” And I said “Well, I don’t like religion.” And then she asked me why? I told her “To me God is love and religion teaches about a devil.” She said “In our religion there is no devil. If you turn away from God, that’s free will, you could call it the devil but you have the choice.”
For a young girl to have such an insight was to me astonishing. Jennifer was impatient to go. I asked her to be patient as this was very important to me. I think she understood. We are very close. I went into the tent. They had books and a cardboard display with the Prophets of God in a progressive manner from first, Adam, then Khrishna, Zoroaster, The Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb and finally Bahá’u’lláh. It was called progressive revelation. She told me I could find out more on a Wednesday evening at the Bahá’í Centre at 3 Langdale Road, not far from Gainsborough Road, if I wanted to. I had nothing to lose, so I went.
The Centre was not much of a place, not very well decorated and the people were a mixed bunch, some foreign looking but all with nice friendly faces. Then a very handsome Indian-looking man came in with a Chinese lady. This man was aglow. He gave a talk about the Faith and I could not help but stare at him. He was very sincere in his love for Bahá’u’lláh. I must admit the name put me off. I could not pronounce it but he kept on saying it in his talk. It was completely new to me. But the message I was getting was clear. All religions are connected in the same way that I was connected to that small boy, me, whose first memories were of Gainsborough Road. That ‘me’ no longer exists but I was somehow still the same person but at a different stage of life. I have now progressed to being a man, and religion does the same. God sends different teachers to mankind at different stages in human history. The idea that religion could be progressive was a completely new concept to me. The emphasis was on the oneness of mankind. We are all one. The world is one and it is the misuse of religion that causes the problem, not the religion itself. It fascinated me and I knew I had to go back and find out more.
I went again and again. I met more and more people. It was very good. I learnt some of the prayers and got some Bahá’í prayer books for home. I felt at peace with the idea of an independent investigation of the truth and it really got me thinking deeply. I know that Jesus said: “Only when you believe in me will you be born again” and in the beginning it was adults, not babies, who were baptised; they started baptising babies hundreds of years later. I was told from the start that the words of Jesus were sacred and that I must investigate for myself whether I believed Bahá’u’lláh was the Messenger of God for this age or not. It was up to me.
I stopped going to AA meetings. I still went now and again but I started going more and more to the Bahá’í Centre instead. I went to unity feasts and got to understand a lot more clearly the principles of the Faith. I was becoming alive again. I had been spiritually dead for a long time. One day Isaac (the handsome Indian looking man who had given the talk on Baha’u’lláh) asked if I would like to go on a retreat for a few days to Cumberland to a place called Burnlaw which was owned by a Bahá’í, Garry Villiers-Stewart, so off we went. There were about six of us. It was out in the wilds, a remote part of Northumberland. Garry and his family were fascinating to me. It was a spiritual retreat. We had a wonderful time. Garry’s family heritage was from Waterford in Ireland and he had connections in Northern Ireland. When it came time to go, I was given a book written by William Sears, entitled ‘The Wine of Astonishment’. It was a book that changed my life forever. Thank God.
I got back to my flat late at night and started to read it. I noticed I only had two cigarettes left in my packet so I went out to find a shop that was open, just in case I wanted another one or two before going to bed as I thought I might read for an hour or so. I got the 20 cigarettes. As I read I was truly astonished. It started to link up all the world religions in a very sincere way that made complete sense to me. When it came to the part where Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” I noted that this is exactly what the young Christian had said.
The book told me that it was true at that time; there was no other way to God, the Father except through Jesus. But then Muhammed came after Jesus and he spread the sacredness of the teachings of Jesus, as Jesus did of the sacredness of Moses’ teachings of the Ten Commandments. William Sears’ book taught me that the teachings of God, the Unknowable Essence, are progressively revealed through the Prophets of God, one after the other until we come to the Kingdom of God on earth. It was leading me in that direction when I suddenly realised it was morning and I had only one cigarette left. I had smoked all twenty.
I was not tired but excited. I went to see family and friends and told them but nobody was interested. At this time I was very lonely when I was not in the Bahá’í Centre. I went back to AA and met a friend of mine, Eddy. He said he had not seen me at a meeting for a long time. I told him of the Bahá’í Faith and the teachings. He was very interested and came with me to the centre and liked it straight away. Now it was a little easier as I had someone to talk to about the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. I stopped going to AA meetings altogether as the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh had given me my independence back. I would now investigate the truth for myself.
I got to know more Bahá’ís and to know that the Bahá’í Faith was a well-established world religion but none of the people I knew had ever heard of it. This was now serious. I believed Bahá’u’lláh was the Manifestation of God for this day and though I did not like what happened in Christianity, I was worried that I was turning my back on Christ. Bahá’u’lláh claimed to be the return of Christ so I asked myself as a man of nearly forty years of age: “If Christ did return to bring mankind together, what would some of His teachings be?”
My obvious thought would be no alcohol; no Christian teaching has this law as the word ‘alcohol’ itself comes from the Arabic. It was a law of Muhammad and not of the Christians even though some of the Christians sects have seen how dangerous alcohol is and have outlawed it.
I went on another trip with the Bahá’ís to a different part of England and on the way back home to Liverpool we stopped in Wolverhampton at the home of Joan Niblett. It was here that I declared my belief in the Bahá’í Faith and signed my declaration card in 1994. It was August I think.
I went back to AA one more time to thank them. I met Eddy again and told him that I had officially registered as a Bahá’í. He started to come to the Bahá’í Centre and he too became a Bahá’í. Sometime later he was voted onto the Local Spiritual Assembly.
I was in my flat some months after that and still no one I knew had heard of the Faith. It was the Jubilee year or some big state affair and on the TV it said all of the world’s religions would be represented and for the first time the Bahá’í Faith was represented. The National Spiritual Assembly was there and I knew some of them. I was overwhelmed. It made me so happy when the broadcaster said we were truly multicultural and I was so proud to be a part of that.
Realisation: All the world is one country and mankind its citizens
For the next few years I was totally involved with Bahá’í activity. My children, Jennifer, young Terry and Amelia frequently joined me among the Bahá’ís but Danielle only attended once. I met incredible people such as the Hellaby family, Lou Turner, George and Elsie Bowers and their family, as well as Carolyn and John Wade. Carolyn was to be of great help to me. I read in the Bahá’í writings that ‘Abdu’l Bahá was asked “What is Satan?” and He replied in three words. “The Insistent Self”. I ran up to my father’s house and told him, it made so much sense. I could now plainly see that the problem was not with the world, it was with me or, to put it another way, ‘the selfish me’. If I could learn to the best of my ability to conquer or at least control it I knew I would be alright.
The first test for me came after reading one of the statements about human beings having evolved from an animal form, but unlike and apart from them, the human has always had a soul. This is what makes us unique. I was still on Invalidity Pay and I knew I was capable of working so I immediately stopped claiming benefits and I never looked back. Those close to me said I should still claim, as most people were trying their best to get on Invalidity Pay – “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive”.
My beloved father was very sick. He lost weight rapidly and was convinced he had cancer. He had to go into hospital but made me promise if it was confirmed that he had cancer I was to bring him straight home. He did not want to die in hospital but at home with his family around him. We were all very concerned as we all thought it was cancer. He was a very big smoker and drinker as was his whole family. They did tests on him and he was told he was suffering from malnutrition. He had stopped eating as the alcohol had got a grip of him. His body was just taking in alcohol. He was told to stop drinking alcohol or he would get cirrhosis of the liver. They kept him in hospital for six weeks. He looked like a new man when he came home. We all got stuck in and decorated the whole house from top to bottom, it was lovely.
Next thing, we heard mother and father had fallen out. My mother had put a picture of The Pope in their bedroom. This was a mistake as he had always made his feelings clear about what he thought of The Pope. Mother moved into the back bedroom along with the picture of The Pope and her other religious symbols. Things settled down. My father had drunk all his adult life; he could not sleep or communicate without it. He managed to control it but he could not stop. He only drank enough just to help him sleep. It really was part of the culture all around us, we grew up thinking that this was normal behaviour.
Tobacco: Seeing the truth
I went with the Bahá’ís on a long trip to visit John and Carolyn Wade. It was one of the nicest places I had ever been. They were a lovely couple. John passed away not long afterwards. I was glad to have met him. Carolyn came to Liverpool for a few days. I was in the garden outside and she came out and said: “I can see in your face something is not right with you.” I told her I was not happy because I could not stop smoking. I had tried but it was not possible. I knew that most Bahá’ís did not smoke.
“Don’t put yourself under too much pressure,” she said. She had smoked for 15 years as a Bahá’í and stopped when the time was right for her. She said I would stop when the time was right for me. That helped me a lot as I had great respect for her and she was right. It was not time for me as I was addicted and the pressure at that time was more than I could have dealt with; every other aspect of my life was changing dramatically. I calmed down, thanks to Carolyn. Sometime later I was watching a no-holds barred documentary on TV called ‘World in Action’ about the tobacco industry. At this time, I hated smoking. The programme started by stating that advertising of cigarettes on billboards near schools had increased since the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act banned the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio in 1971. It went on to say that scientists had proved, beyond dispute, the link between smoking tobacco and cancer but Britain had no written constitution such as in America, which asserts that companies cannot advertise any product that can harm people. When I found out that the advertising companies were targeting the schools as much as they could to catch the youngsters, I was very angry, as I had four children I loved with all my heart. I have never been so angry in all my life. I was smoking at the time and as I put out the cigarette in the ashtray I could hear my own teeth grinding. I ran all the way up to my father’s house. The door was open and I ran in out of breath. We could talk with our faces and I looked at him sitting in his chair smoking as usual. He said “What the hell is wrong?” “What is wrong” I replied, “I will tell you what is wrong!”
I told him the programme was not condemning the British Empire, far from it, but was pointing out the scientific evidence that tobacco was harmful and should not be advertised as otherwise, and that the parasites were the global companies that were the problem. It was appealing to the British sense of fair play to ban all advertising of tobacco. I said “I will never smoke a cigarette again” and I did not. It was the hardest thing I ever did and I still sometimes crave one.
My father was delighted. He knew me, and when I made up my mind on what I considered to be bad I would never go back on it. I told him that I considered the people who knowingly pushed this killer of a drug on to people to be Satanic. My father’s eyes were shining. I had not seen that for a long time. He knew I would not smoke again. He called to my mother and said “Whatever he’s into it must be good to give him such strength!”
Then he said “I thought in your religion you are allowed to smoke” and I said “Yes we are, but the Writings say government themselves will see how harmful it is and they will in time ban it.
We had always talked a lot on all subjects. My father was a man who never showed any sign of prejudice against anyone of any race or religion or sexual orientation at a time when many did. It was his example of how to treat people equally that had a profound effect on me. He said at one stage of his life he was an atheist, but I know he was more of an agnostic. It was the misuse of religion he could not abide.
Not long after, he was back drinking every night. There is one time that stands out in my mind, I will never forget it. I had read a powerful Bahá’í prayer called the Fire Tablet. I said to my father, “Have a read of this” and he started to read it. He got so far through it and then slammed it down on the coffee table. It had affected him and his face was very stern. He was not at ease with it. I took it away and we never spoke about it again. The next day when I went to see him he was sitting bolt upright and his hands were gripping the sides of his chair. I asked what was wrong and he said he could not open his bottle. He always had a bottle of cider at the side of his chair. I opened it for him and poured him a glass, then another one, then another and then he finally relaxed and calmed down. I told him his body needed it, that it was not a want any more, it was a need. I said not to worry and if he felt that his body was in need, then simply have a drink. “Oh I feel a lot better now” he said, and smiled.
There was no subject my father and I could not talk on, he seemed a very fair minded man to me, however he deeply resented the Catholic Church which I did not, so one day I asked him why. He said “because of your mother” I was very surprised. “What do you mean by that” I asked him. “Your mother is a very strong minded woman” he said. “You cannot make her do anything she does not want to do. When we got married, we lived in Cahirsiveen, in County Kerry. When we had our first child, your sister Joan, I came home early from work and found your mother dressed in black with some of her family members, her mother and aunties, cousins and the like. She was going to be churched.”
I could see the memory was making him very angry. I said “What is churched? I’ve never heard of it”. He said it was an old custom in the Christian church. It had been stopped in England for a long time but not in Ireland. He said that a woman was considered ‘unclean’ after she had given birth until she went to church and some kind of a ritual was performed by the priest. She was not allowed back into the church until she had been cleansed. By this time my father was very angry. “These old celibate men had some hold on your mother and they weren’t fit to tie her bootlaces and I will never forgive them”.
I heard that the last time women were churched in Ireland was in 1968. My father had gone to mass up to the point that my mother had gone to be churched.
I loved my father very much and could not stand seeing him in any agony, pain or upset. He was a good man and from what I could see he had been addicted to alcohol like so many others of his generation and now if we open our eyes we can see that this legal drug is causing chaos. He ended up back in hospital. Thank God I was then very strong in my faith. He was in for tests and this time it was lung cancer as well as cirrhosis of the liver. The cancer had spread and there was no cure.
He and mother were told and we all knew. I went in to see him. I had Amelia with me and she was about three. She was his youngest grandchild. I could see him sitting in a wheelchair. I told Amelia she could go to him and she did. Normally his face would light up at seeing her, but not this time. I took Amelia back to the family in the waiting room. I went in, and we had a moment of deafening silence. He said, “You’ve heard then”, and I said “yes”. He was very down. I said, “You don’t know it could be six months or more.” He said “No, it will be six weeks.”
I was frustrated and said, “You said you were not frightened of death, so if it is six weeks or six months what is the difference?” I said “I’m moving in as soon as you come home.” “This was what I was waiting to hear, son”, he said. “Your mother will be frightened, I am not. But I want no priest near me.”
I promised him there would be no priest. Roughly six weeks later he was gone. His family was around him as he wanted. I was praying with friends when he passed. I could feel it, and I knew he was at peace.
I came walking down the street and I could see the family outside. Tony, my brother-in-law said, “He’s not long gone”. I told him “That’s lovely, that’s the way he wanted it”. I went in and kissed his forehead and his feet. We were all quiet and calm. Auntie Maura came in and Joan said my mother wants a priest. I was not happy nor were my brothers. But Joan was right as she usually is. She said
“This is not for dad. He’s gone. This is for mother and she has the right.” We all agreed. Don and Pauline’s son Daniel was there, just a young boy. Pauline showed us a picture Daniel was drawing when dad passed. There was dad in the bed and there was an angel above him. I am still close to him, I loved him very much and still love him now.
The funeral was attended by a lot of people. The Smith family had lived in the same area for generations. I found the hypocrisy at that funeral too much. The priest said what a lovely man he was. One of my brothers was so upset that he called out “Just get on with it, you didn’t even know him”.
My father had never hidden his dislike of the church.
When the service was over, the vast majority of people went to the Rose pub where again dad and his family had drunk for generations;it was deeply embedded in the culture. I did not go. In time we all settled. Death is a natural part of life.
My life is now completely changed for the better. I was working full time and earning a good living again, then out of the blue the IRA put a bomb in a bin in Warrington and killed two small boys. All hell was let loose. The atmosphere in Liverpool was tense for a long time before that happened. I decided to move to Ireland where I was born, and I felt more at home there. There was plenty of work in Dublin and I knew I could support my family in England.
Afterword: Reflecting and looking back
I have now lived in Dublin for many years. I love life in Dublin. My children are now grown up. Most of them went to University and thus acquired an education. Danielle has now given me two beautiful grandchildren, Thomas and Harry. Most of my family have left Liverpool and the world continues as it does.
Most of this story was written some years ago but I did not want to publish it until after my mother had passed away, purely out of respect for the woman who gave me life, God rest her soul. She went on the 3rd of August 2015, nineteen years after my beautiful father. Her four fine sons carried her coffin and my lovely sister was proud, I could see that. I know that my mother and father are together now in peace, as they had been in Cahirsiveen, all those years ago. God bless them.
As I sit here, on the 19th of December 2015, reading through my words with my daughter Jennifer, we talk about a lot of the other events and memories that wrap around the parts of the story as told here. Jennifer tells me her memories of that day at the Liverpool Show, and suggests that I add that the tent was blue. She also tells me that the breakdown or breakthrough I had all those years ago was “probably just a panic attack”.
Probably just a panic attack? To me that brings a big revelation and I realise that I have a little more to add.
I can say with logic and calmness it probably was ‘just’ a panic attack – though a serious one, brought on by too much alcohol and the stress I was under at the time, but with equal conviction I can say it brought me to a place where I knew my life had to change dramatically. I was brought up with so many great sayings like “It will all come out in the wash” and “God works in mysterious ways”. The ‘panic’ episode without a doubt brought me to the faith of Bahá’u’lláh. I am now in a completely new and clear world.
Each generation has its own trials, and later in life we can see what the younger ones are going through. In my time, alcohol was a big problem, bringing with it a lot of chaos and violence. Being now a well travelled 62-year-old man, I can say that in every major city I have visited, the smoking of marijuana seems to be commonplace, apparently replacing alcohol as the most ‘culturally accepted’ thing to do. I know that when the British Empire was at its peak it would not allow the legalisation of marijuana; they coined the name ‘dope’, as their studies proved that the majority of people who regularly smoked marijuana became dopes. Now I feel that the attitude seems to prevail that we ‘live in a free world’ so people can do what they want. I think psychosis and paranoia are seen as the acceptable price we pay for living in that free world.
The basic teachings of all of the world’s religions are the same. When you do away with them you are doing away with the foundation of society, and as a builder I know how dangerous that is. Until I became a Bahá’í I always liked to say that “The lunatics are running the asylum and educated idiots have no common sense”. Thank God I can see that in some places, more and more people are becoming aware of the oneness of humanity and the oneness of religion. The same problems are affecting us all. I am a Bahá’í by the grace of God and for no other reason.
As I have said, I live in Ireland, and please God the peace process keeps moving forward. To all my friends and family who live in England I say God bless England and all who live therein. The Bahá’í Faith has made me whole. I know who I am – I’m Irish by birth but a world citizen by conviction.
Republic of Ireland, December 2015