I was raised attending Baha’i activities and associated as a Baha’i, but it wasn’t until just before my 17th birthday that I decided to take it more seriously. I had just come back from a Baha’i youth camp in southern Oregon and realized how unhappy I was. A bit odd that a Baha’i gathering would leave me depressed. Being exposed to an atmosphere of intense kindness for a week, I realized that my regular life was leaving me spiritually handicapped, and I realized that spirituality is all that matters.
After returning I knew that my happiness would soon fade away and I would return to the slog of negativity that makes up normal life. So I stayed up late one night and prayed fervently for something to change in my life. I wanted either my school friends to transform into better people, or I wanted to get rid of them and spend time with Baha’is.
Years later I realized that my prayers were answered almost immediately. Four things changed right away in my life.
First, I decided that I should read a book. I had never read or studied the Baha’i Faith outside of attending classes and lectures, and if I was going to take it seriously, I would have to read a book. I walked over to my mom’s bookshelf and looked through the titles. I recalled someone talking about how great The Dawn-breakers was, so I started reading. Over several weeks I was engulfed in one of the most intense experiences of my life, as I was thrown into 19th century Persia reliving the rise, incarceration, martyrdom, and impossible triumph of the Bab and His followers. I was presented with a simple challenge: if this is true, if this really is the religion of God for this day, then I have no choice but to cast away my life in service to it and try to make my private character mirror the eternal principles proclaimed by Baha’u’llah. So is it true? I already knew the answer was yes.
Second, my mother knew a Baha’i who travelled back and forth to Barcelona, Spain. The friend had a friend with a son my age named Ancor Rodriguez-Enriquez. Ancor and I took turns over three summers staying at each others’ homes. First he stayed with us, then I stayed in Barcelona, then as I was about to turn 17 he stayed with us again. Ancor was a better person than I’ll ever be, and right after praying for Baha’i friends, he showed up for the summer.
Third, an ambitious young Ryan Palmer moved from Hawaii to start college in Oregon, and brought with him experience in a Baha’i youth workshop (think dance group). He was at the same camp I had just attended, and while there he was recruiting people to form a new teaching/performing group in Oregon. Right after praying for Baha’i friends, they started to meet weekly about 30 minutes north of my hometown and gathered Baha’i youth from several towns. I joined them of course, and so did a young Jenna, who happened to marry me 7 years later.
Fourth, an obedient young Michael Conway was asked by the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Corvallis to organize a youth group for the few Baha’i youngins that were around. This amounted to four other high school aged youth from three high schools. Technically this was already happening for months prior to that summer, but it provided another venue to shift my life around. I don’t recall that we accomplished anything in particular, but we were always happy together. One of those four is in prison, and another is Jason, who years later randomly invited me to join his blog called Baha’i Coherence.
Shoghi Effendi taught that teaching involves three stages: attraction, conversion, and consecration. Although I was attracted at a young age and converted, it wasn't until that summer when I turned 17 that I was consecrated.
That youth group changed my life. It was a convergence of spiritual and intellectual awakening. And as you mentioned, everybody was so happy together - it was the right group of people at the right time.ReplyDelete
Very touching; thanks for sharing this story, Bryan!ReplyDelete