by Lisa Schaffer-Harris
I learned about the Baha’i Faith at the age of 18. I was a senior in high school and I was searching for a spiritual path. I had been raised Catholic and although I had a deep abiding love and respect of the teachings of Jesus Christ, I had trouble accepting the concept that I had to be Christian or Catholic to be “saved.” When I was 14, I was supposed go through a ritual the Catholic Church (as well as some other denominations) call confirmation. You are to “confirm” your belief in the Catholic Church. Unlike most teenagers, I took this very seriously. I contemplated what I thought and felt about the religion I had grown up in and found it wanting. I could not believe that all the beautiful souls out there that did not know about, or accept Christ were going to hell. I asked myself, “Could Gandhi go to hell?” Of course not! I did not believe that for a minute. My decision was not easy. I had to leave not only the Catholic Church, but also the parochial school in which I grown up. I had found that I was beyond what they could teach me, and my continual questioning of the teachings of the Catholic Church left my religion teachers bewildered and perturbed.
For the next four years, I was on a spiritual quest. I read everything and anything I could about just about every major religion. I read the Holy Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Upanishads, the Dhammapada, the Zend Avesta, the Old and New Testament and books about all these different religions. In my studies, I saw more similarities rather than differences; however, rather than a sense of clarity, I felt more confused. I knew I believed in the oneness of religion, and there is one God. I also knew that I believed in the oneness of humanity. Differences, in which wars are started, like religion and race, and ethnicity, were not that important, and that we were one human family. I also ardently believed in the equality of men and women. I recognized that the equality of women was a key component in creating world unity. I wondered and longed for a religion that would support all these beliefs.
At the age of 18, I went to another friend’s 18th birthday party. It was a slumber party at this friend’s home. At the party was a young woman from Tunisia. She was Muslim. I had grown up in a homogenous suburban environment, and craved the company and experiences of people from other lands. I immediately struck up a conversation with this new friend, and we talked about two of the most taboo subjects, religion and politics. When I told her about my beliefs on world events and wars caused by religious or ethnic conflicts, and I told her about my views on the oneness of God, religion and humanity, she told me, “I know a religion that encompasses all that you believe.” I could not believe it. If it had been a movie, a heavenly light would have shown upon her face. What she said to me was an answer to a prayer. She told me about the Baha’i Faith. I asked her if this was just an African religion, and she said, “No, I think it is worldwide.”
I was determined to find the Baha’is and learn more. Amazingly, they were in the phone book. I called the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Anoka, Minnesota and my Muslim friend and I attended a fireside together. Fireside is an informal gathering in which people meet typically in a Baha’is home to learn about and discuss the Baha’i Faith. Thus began my journey to become a Baha’i. The Baha’i Faith did support my beliefs in the oneness of God, the oneness of humanity and the oneness of religion. After I read the writings of Baha’u’llah, I believed whole-heartedly in His teachings and that these words could only come from One divinely inspired by God.
I formally declared my faith in Baha’u’llah three years later while at college in Connecticut; however, I firmly believe that I continue to be a work in progress and this quote from Abdul Baha explains why:
“He is a true Baha’i who strives by day and by night to progress along the path of human endeavor, whose cherished desire is to live and act as to enrich and illumine the world; whose source of inspiration is the essence of Divine Perfection, whose aim is to conduct himself so as to be the cause of infinite progress. Only when he attains unto such perfect gifts can it be said of him that he is a Baha’i.”
For more information about the Baha’i Faith see www.bahai.com