My phone rang around 4:30 yesterday afternoon, just as I had finished washing a sink full of dishes. I looked at the caller I.D. and smiled. I tapped the “answer” button and said, “Allah’u’Abha!”
It was my Baha’i Mentor from February of 2011, Dr. McCormick. She still gets tickled by the fact that I remember the Baha’i greeting.
“Allah’u’Abha Andrew, how are you?”
“Oh I’m hanging in there. What can I do for you?”
“Well, I know you’re busy these days, but we’re having Study Circle tonight and I wondered if you’d like to attend?”
I stopped drying a plate. “Did you say ‘we’?”
“Yes! There are a few people coming over who are investigating and I thought who better to help me than my old student.”
Frankly, she had me at Allah’u’Abha.
A little bit of back story.
Dr. McCormick was a proverbial needle in a haystack. According to the Baha’i locator feature on the American Baha’i website, she was the only registered Baha’i in my small town of Lumberton. She existed in isolation, so when I contacted her last year about Project Conversion, she was elated that she’d have a Baha’i family of her own, even if for only a month.
We met weekly in her home for Study Circles, times of study and devotion with Baha’i texts and those of other faiths. Our time together was fantastic, however short lived. I eventually had to leave the Baha’i Faith for my next month on the journey and thus Dr. McCormick was left alone once more.
Yet destiny had other plans.
Upon sharing my experience with the Baha’i Faith with my Intro to Religion class at the local community college, a young woman expressed interest in the faith and converted soon after. Dr. McCormick now enjoyed a small Baha’i family of her own, however the new convert moved out of state a few months later.
Fast forward a little over a year later. Now, Dr. McCormick is hosting a Study Circle with six people. I couldn’t be happier, for my Baha’i Mentor was no longer in isolation.
As is her tradition, she prepared a meal for the group. Persian rice with chicken, bread rolls, fruit, and salad were passed around the table. I sat and listed to the stories of these spiritual explorers as I fingered a set of prayer beads a Baha’i man from Maine gifted to me in February of last year. Folks from various backgrounds all searching for meaning and truth.
“So Andrew,” the woman next to me asked, “How long have you been a Baha’i?”
Dr. McCormick and I traded glances.
I smiled, “This time? Only for the last half hour.”
She winced. “What do you mean by ‘this time’?”
Dr. McCormick and I explained our time together during Project Conversion and suddenly my statement became clear.
“I always said that Andrew should come back to us because we had the shortest month in February,” Dr. McCormick quipped.
Once we finished dinner, Dr. McCormick poured black tea into small, glass cups. The earthy scent, laced with a hint of orange transported me back in time to when our Study Circles were merely a study line because it was only the two of us. Now Dr. McCormick shared her faith with a proper group.
When one of the visitors asked about the major qualities of the faith, Dr. McCormick, surprisingly, deferred to me. I was once again explaining the faith to an interested soul. It was happening again: I had slipped on the garments of another religion.
And it felt as naturally as breathing.
That’s twice it’s happened this week. First with Bethany and her interest in Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), and now with Baha’i. In both cases it felt as though my own sense of identity became transparent and I assumed the form of another. Like an octopus which morphs according to its surroundings, my inner color and contour shifted with my environment.
It will happen again, in another 45 minutes, when I attend weekly Mass at my local Catholic church.
What does this make me? Confused, searching, a charlatan, amorphous, a fraud?
Each is entitled to their own opinion, but I like what my wife had to say:
“I think you’re just open to interpretation.”