8 Qawl 165 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head: Kiltarten Road, “Carol of the Field Mice”
Reflecting on my one year has a Baha’i seems like the appropriate thing to do for my final NaBloPoMo post. It’s snowing out on this quiet afternoon, I have a Christmas CD on, and I’m in the mood for writing. (And not forcing myself to post, as I’ve sometimes done this month, with occasionally sloppy results.)
I’ve gone through many spiritual transitions in this lifetime. I have been initiated into three different religions. I was initiated as a Pagan in 1992, joined Mahikari in 1996, and I signed the declaration card to become a Baha’i on 19 November 2007. But the first of these three religions that I seriously explored was actually the Baha’i Faith. I was introduced to it nineteen years before I signed the card—nineteen years to the month. This blog post details how I discovered the Baha’i Faith as a student at the University of Illinois and some information regarding the months leading up to my declaration a year ago.
In August 2007 I dusted off and started to re-read a copy of Baha’u’llah and the New Era by J.L. Esslemont—a book which I’d received nineteen years earlier from the Urbana IL Baha’is. After I started reading the book, it took me only a month to decide that I wanted to leave the spiritual path of Mahikari that I’d been involved with—and I was quite sure I wanted to join the Baha’i Faith. But I gave myself two more months to decide. whether to become a Baha’i. I needed to make sure that I was doing more than just joining a religion that was Not Mahikari. I read more books after the Esslemont book–”Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah,” “The Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah,” the Kitab-I-Aqdas, and “The Baha’i Faith, The Emerging World Religion” by William S. Hatcher.
What was attracting me to the Faith? I saw much intelligence in the Baha’i writings. I saw a lot of balance—I could see that it was not a religion for the fanatical. I liked the fact that there was no clergy and that there was a minimum of ritual. I think one thing that helped sell me on the Faith was a quote in the book by William S. Hatcher that talked about how each little Baha’i community is a little experiment in creating the world society that we want to create. I knew then that I wanted to be a part of this effort. The beauty of the Birth of Baha’u’llah celebration in early November sealed the deal for me.
So what has it been like for me in my first year as a Baha’i?
In a post earlier this year, I used the metaphor of a relationship to describe my reasons for leaving Mahikari, and I think it might be a suitable simile here, too.
Signing the card was, in effect, like a marriage. The weeks and months leading up the signing of the card were a time of excitement, as was the immediate time after signing the card. I think one has to be careful of this excitement, however. Even then, I knew that some of the excitement I had for the Faith was in the thrill of change, and that the novelty would eventually wear off. I had my honeymoon, and then afterwards, the rest of my Baha’i life began.
Many aspects of the Faith were no big deal for me. I got into the habit of saying my obligatory prayers. It was no big deal for me to give up drinking—indeed, my body is still thanking me a year later. My Sunday mornings acquired a nice ritual that started with coffee at a cafe near the Baha’i Center, followed by Baha’i devotionals at the center, and journal writing my reflections at the cafe both before and after the Baha’i devotionals.
I often have found it hard to wrap my mind around just what the Baha’i Faith is. That’s something that would indeed take years for anyone, of course. I knew enough about the basics of the Baha’i Faith, but I often asked myself just what made the Baha’i Faith different from other religions beyond its honoring of of other major world religions. As such, that has been a challenge sometimes.
But the things that led to my departure from Mahikari also left me quite skeptical of religious organizations in general. I’ve seen what Mahikari has done to some people and it’s quite saddening and disturbing to me. But little of what bothered me in Mahikari is present in the Baha’i Faith. Nevertheless, I think I’ve often had my guard up when it comes to being accepting of religion, often drawing a distinction between serving God and serving religious organizations.
Many Baha’is have said that the biggest test for a Baha’i is in dealing with some of the other Baha’is. I certainly have been tested a bit by various individuals in the Faith. Not so much in Madison—Madison Baha’is tend to be a level-headed, balanced bunch of people. However, I did encounter some fanaticism online among some bloggers. The solution to this problem was actually quite simple—I stopped reading those blogs. I concluded that they really did not represent what the Baha’i Faith was about.
There are other Baha’i blogs I like a lot—starting with Sliding Thoughts and Lay-C. I’ve gotten to know these bloggers a bit and their friendship has been precious to me—as is the friendship of a Baha’i in Albuquerque whom I’ve been getting to know. Last but not least are the friendships I’ve been developing here in Madison with fellow Baha’is.
Ever since I encountered the Baha’is two decades ago, I’ve had a positive opinion of the Baha’i Faith—that there is something a bit different about Baha’is. After a year in the Faith, that impression really hasn’t changed.
Aside from the other people within the Faith, the other thing that will make a difference for me in the Baha’i Faith is my own effort. Going back to the relationship simile, there is a certain point where I’ve had to decide to make my relationship with the Baha’i Faith work. It takes work. As such, I’ve been thinking of ways to get more involved, and have begun some discussions with a few people in the local Baha’i community about it.
So, after a year, I can say that yes, I’m in the right place and right where I am supposed to be with the Baha’i Faith. I think I’m starting to get some clarity as to how I want to contribute to the Faith. We’ll see how that will affect my reflections at the end of Year Two of my faith.