Starting over. That’s all it was for me. Just get in the car and drive from the east coast to the west, from my sleepy little country town to the massive freeway covered city of Los Angeles. When I got there, I intended to simply start my life over, to leave behind the sadness, loneliness, chaos, and emptiness that had become my life after my divorce.
After getting settled into a job at the bank and a studio apartment, I started attending a Lutheran Church in North Hollywood. My parents’ friends, the elderly couple who had welcomed me into their home on my first days in town, were members of this church. The community welcomed me into their activities, and soon I was singing in the choir every Sunday. During the weekly sermon, I would sit in the choir loft and listen quietly, while silently talking directly to God.
“Are you there, God? I’m still here, and I want to know who you are. Was Jesus real? What if he was just a myth, perpetuated through the years?”
This process continued for several months. Although I never felt I had the full answer during these one-on-one choir loft sessions between God and me, I felt a certain peace and contentment that I was moving forward on some path that was much better than the “go to work, get drunk, go home to sleep, and do it all over again the next day” path I’d left behind in upstate New York.
One day I took my car to the shop for minor repairs. The shop owner was a cute guy, and we hit it off. Pretty soon I was not only dating him, I also moved out of my cute little studio apartment and into his home. He was a decent guy. He was a gentle, easy going, happy guy. The home was comfortable and, oh, how I loved having a morning swim in the backyard pool every day. I continued working at the bank and going to church, but soon I realized it was time to go back to school as well. I had taken college courses before, but never went the four years of college route that many of my friends had taken. I enrolled at Cal State Northridge as a part time student. Life was good. This starting over thing was turning out to be a good decision.
It was early January when I received a postcard from my cousin in New Mexico. “I’m headed to a weekend conference in San Fernando with a few friends. Have you got an extra teabag?” I was delighted Rob would be coming to town, especially since he had graciously hosted my friend and I when we made the California bound trip in my car about 18 months earlier. That short visit in the New Mexico desert had seemed almost magical. Rob had told me about this Persian gentleman whose writings were supposedly significant within the scheme of history. But, holding his postcard as I reflected on our visit, the story didn’t seem complete. So I was anxious to see my cousin and continue our discussions, this time at my home in LA. Besides, I loved his guitar playing and joyful mannerisms.
Rob and two friends came with sleeping bags and guitars. They slept on the living room floor. Rob and his friends were Baha’i’s, which simply meant that they accepted the wisdom of the Persian man named Baha’u’llah. We talked till late into the night, sometimes about life in general and sometimes about Baha’i concepts. I found myself asking if I could meet them for lunch or something at the conference. “Of course!” was the response.
The next day I found my way to the San Fernando Baha’i Center where it seemed everyone I met was incredibly kind, respectful, and smart. I felt not only welcomed, but like I was among lifelong friends. Most amazing to me was the presence of Dash Crofts and several other artists and musicians. I had grown up listening to Seals and Crofts music, had been to one of their concerts as a teenager, and loved their music. So it seemed pretty darn cool to me to be in the same room with Dash. Even cooler was the noticeable attitude of others that he wasn’t treated as a celebrity with a big ego, but as a person keenly interested in this whole Baha’i thing. There was another gentleman there that day, someone named Raul Pavon, who had traveled to the conference from a South American country and who spoke mostly Spanish. I’ve never forgotten how unusual it seemed to me that, while I only knew a few words in Spanish, I seemed to be able to understand him. His words held a certain sense of urgency, as if we were part of a precious moment in time that needed our attention.
Another artistic fellow named John Kavelin was there. John ended up joining my cousin, his friends, and me for lunch. Over burritos and burgers, I learned that one day in the mid 1800’s Baha’u’llah experienced a spiritually significant moment in which God sent divine revelations through him. What? This really happened? My world was shifting. This Persian gentleman had a direct connection to God and was, according to what I was hearing from my friends at the table, conveying the same spirit to the world that Jesus had conveyed. It was beginning to dawn on me that my choir loft questions about whether Jesus was a myth were being answered. Jesus wasn’t a myth. He was real, and so was Baha’u’llah. In fact, I was hearing a recurring theme here of spiritual renewal being brought to the world again and again.
I couldn’t stop listening and thinking and asking questions. I remained at the conference the rest of the day and asked if I could return the next day, too. My cousin and friends had to leave about midday, while I had no intention of leaving early. We said our goodbyes, and I settled into the rest of the afternoon’s session. There was a movie about Baha’i gardens and shrines in Israel. I was mesmerized. There was a moment in the movie where I saw a white stucco building with bright blue shutters and beautiful Persian paintings on the walls. It was a second floor veranda overlooking the gardens. In my head I heard questions being posed to me, as if God himself was asking me — and my heart was answering all those questions I’d posed quietly to myself in the choir loft at my church. “How many times to do I have to tell you? How many Prophets must I send for you to believe?” I understood then that God was speaking to me, asking me to believe in the Persian gentleman named Baha’u’llah. The truth was undeniable to me now.
At one point in the afternoon, another musician named Danny Deardorff was handed a guitar and started to sing something that sounded so familiar to me. I had to know what was the source of those words about every spot on earth being blessed? I tapped the shoulder of another new friend of mine, Sherna Huff, who was sitting in front of me, and asked her what was Danny singing? She handed me a small prayer book and pointed me to the first page. “This prayer.”
That prayer was powerful for me. Why did I feel like I was home, when home was 3,000 miles away on the other side of the country? I felt like this was what I’d yearned for all of my teenage years, through all the angst and anger and frustrating dysfunctional moments. Now I was in a room full of people whose very demeanor seemed loving, calm, hopeful, and embracing. I felt like I’d been picked up and plopped into another dimension of time. I didn’t want to speak, just listen, just drink in the moment.
After the song, there was a break, and I walked to the kitchen. John, the friend I’d met the day before, looked at me and asked if I felt like I was a Baha’i. By then, my answer was most definitely yes. A few minutes later, we were looking for a pen, so I could sign a card that acknowledged my belief in this beautiful faith that made so much sense. Dash was standing nearby and said, “wait, please use my pen.” It was that simple!
That moment was decades ago, but in my mind, the experience is as fresh as yesterday. I can see the faces around me, hear the music, and feel the joyful moments I experienced that weekend. Those moments have carried me through many ups and downs in life. In the years since then, I’ve learned so much more, not only about the Baha’i teachings, but the teachings of other faiths and how God has never left us alone — because we are all connected. Unity is fundamental to our survival and our progress as a global community. It is up to us to learn how that works.
“Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified.”