Realizations The Autobiography
of Julian Lee / COPYRIGHT
2009 JULIAN LEE
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My Attraction To, and Involvement With,
The Baha'i Faith
I had grown up with the idea of divine miracles in this world, and the Catholic lore of miraculous saints. I was developing interest in what could be called the mystical starting with reading "There is A River" (about Edgar Cayce) around age 16 then reading "The Imitation of Christ" at 19. But things were vague.
Because of the mental setup I had been provided by mass media I ended up joining the Baha'i Faith around the age of 18. It teaches that there should be "one religion" and that "humanity is one." They also teach that there should be "one government" over all. The logical young mind reasons that if one entity, that had assured positive values, could control and dominate everything, then all major problems and sorrows and troubles in the world would disappear. I now see how naive this is. But then I thought the Baha'i Faith was the thing that was going to make all human troubles disappear. They also had a scripturally based ostensible posture towards mysticism. There was a "spiritual" atmosphere to some of them that came from its basically Sufi devotional elements. Only later did I realize what this was so as to describe that way. It comported well with the existing sense of "piety" that was a gift of the Catholic Church, helping to further develop the sense of "devotion," which I learned later is basic to religious development.
Since that time, long ago, I became a lot wiser and and saw how my Baha'i interest stemmed from that particular view "world problems" I'd been presented. I joined them and became active and hard-working for it. I rose to some positions of responsibility, such as becoming an elected member of a "Local Spiritual Assembly," and the "Secretary of the District Teaching Committee" which was a state committee, and being a "traveling teacher" and performing music at Baha'i events, writing songs for them, and many things.
I grew intellectually though, and gradually realized things that made me pull away. I had been attracted to it for two main reasons: 1) My programming on internal setup thinking "religious division is a problem," and 2) mystical elements in the Baha'i Faith, which were attractive to my soul and a true enlargement of my religious understanding. At this time also another saintly woman came into my life.
Another Female Mentor
I attended a public meeting given by Baha'is at the Des Moines YMCA around 1977 around at age 20. I remember my excitement. I found out later Bahia's had a word for "non-Baha'is" who came to their meetings: I was a "seeker." I liked that word. Indeed, it was what I was, a seeker of truth!
The great question that roiled in my mind was "Why are there so many religions? Which one was true?" That is a natural and honest question for a thinking young man. Religion seemed like an important thing bearing on great questions of personal destiny and world condition. It seemed one of those matters a thinking person should try to get right. I was on a quest to learn what is really true and false, and boldly embrace only the true no matter the cost. That's how young men are.
What a great thing to be. It was a heady feeling to be among those others who had also been seekers of truth, people free enough in mind to involve themselves with something new and heterogeneous. And all for Truth! To destroy confusion! And bravely save the world!
Sorting them out, it seemed there were not many of the faithful, perhaps ten, and not many "seekers" either. That just made me more special. I learned later I was a phenomenon of weight to them: A young fellow coming sight-unseen to one of their meetings in a religion that had a dire time getting and keeping members. "Seekers" like me were rare. In retrospect I see the Baha'is at that meeting were not even sure how to act with me. That was just one of many scenes of Baha'is "not knowing how to act." An inordinate focus on rules, along with a mystifying confusion about culture and rules -- like, how to treat a new visitor to your recruiting meeting -- is a basic of Baha'i life. They find themselves without a culture, always trying to invent one, and nothing ever sticks.
But I was unphased, joyful at the imminent prospect of religious discovery. One of their books was called "Some Answered Questions." I liked that title! They showed a short slide show with audio in which a small black man with a high-pitched voice was holding forth. He was in a suit, speaking in a certain lofty, ornate style characteristic to Baha'i "administrative" bodies. On the personal level he was not especially appealing. I found him rather odd. I wondered what was supposed to be so important about him. But I was a big-minded Gentile, eager to consider the worth of all. I learned later his name was Glenford Mitchell, and he was one of the Baha'is' "affirmative action" blacks. That sounds insulting, I know. But the religion placed great covert importance on racial "tokens" in high places -- having always "a black," a "native American," an "Asian" on every body and board. That's just the truth. Any fulfillment of a "racial diversity" fetish makes their day. Baha'is practically get an orgasm if they can concoct a photo op containing a black, an Indian, a Jew, and a few Whites. Writing this now I say it with some cynicism and disgust for its materialism, unnaturalness, and absurdity. But at the time, I thought it was cool! Progressive. Enlightened. Big hearted. All of humankind must be United! When people become bored, they want to relieve their monotony with "diversity." And Whites have gotten, well, bored.
Though the alien fellow had no appeal to me and I found his voice annoying, I was a young man of spacious mind, and with my media upbringing, eager to be large-minded and embrace all peoples. The "alien" breaks the monotony for young people. And even if this guy was boring and bombastic, as a Mars-in-Gemini I knew how to "scan." You scan the many features of a situation, sorting out minor points from critical, gradually building the largest possible picture of thing. I sensed the little black fellow was just a small player in something much larger, and nobody seemed to have much real regard for him anyway. They just thought it was cool that he was black. So did I, because I was raised in the noble Gentile spirit, and as a young man I was eager to 'fix the world.'
I was more impressed by the group itself, which was made mostly idealistic, interesting White folks. Maybe there was one token, uncomfortable "other race" sitting there. There was an old man, bearded and balding and with 1950's Allen Ginsburg glasses. Later I learned he was a hippie-turned-gray, had lived at the commune called "The Farm," done things like LSD, and into things like the "channeler" called "Seth." It turned out later he was a real philosopher and metaphysician capable of solving abstruse theological problems. But here he was was being "the man in the house" and bumbling with the filmstrip equipment best he could. There were some other older people, which impressed me. There was a smart and dashing young handshaking fellow named Richard. He had a mobile pager hanging from his hip. These were new and advanced at the time, the precursors of cell phones. I recall his pager going off "beep beep" at the end of the meeting, a new sound to me. Impressive! Only important people had pagers then. These people are the top of their fields! And then I saw a very amazing old woman.
Like news of the JFK assassination, or seeing John and Paul's beaming faces sing "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" the first time, the moment I laid eyes on her is etched in my mind. She was bird-sized and exceedingly old, elegantly turned out, but not in that crass way some elderly women do. She was a cultured woman of the old east coast, like Ruth Christians. A true Victorian holdover, I had never seen such an ancient creature. I learned later she was 98. She seemed to have difficulty just getting up and moving. She had no cane and no walker. Instead she had a couple of attendants close by, holding her arm caringly to be keep from falling as she moved with difficulty. I saw that her hands were gnarled like the burls of the aged tree in Mrs. Allen's back yard. I learned later she had much advanced arthritis and was in constant pain. This just made the contrast between her body and face all the more striking. But even with her advanced age, infirmity and other these details, there was not one thing ugly or repulsive about her. In fact, she was the one magnet in the room. Because what stood out was this: She radiated divine bliss.
Later I heard some of the Bahai's covertly using the term "radiant" for certain Bahai's, a term found in their texts. When Baha'is say "radiant" they often aren't sure what they mean. But every now and then they like to use terms they see in their books, as long as nobody analyzes them too deeply. However, a few of the deeper Baha'is I met later used it to refer to a shining attractive quality that comes from having a real inner spiritual life and felt connection with God within. The Hindus call it tejas or effulgence and it is especially associated, in Hinduism, with chastity and austerities. It comes from one's own inner bliss, and divine love which is only one aspect of bliss.
Much later I learned Baha'is had little interest in what the term "radiant" means or implies. And many of their words. If they looked into Sufism a bit they'd understand it more, but they tend to not like looking into such things. I later learned they are, in practice, anti-mystical and minimize the personal God-realization ideas in their own sacred literature. But at this moment I didn't know any of that. At this moment all there was was This Woman! In that sterile YMCA assembly room I saw my second spiritually radiant being in my life, a new Ruth named Ruth Moffett.
She was moving with assistance from a tall, quiet man in his late 20's with unusually long brown hair and a beard. His movement was smooth, quiet, and strong. He had soulful blue eyes and was the very picture of the artist-hippie flowering in the 1970s. He was attending her dutifully, but unobtrusively. He matched her turtle-slow pace, seeming one with her as he gently held her arm to keep her from falling down. I learned his name was Paul. Right now all I saw was a shining face wreathed in furs as Ruth beamingly greeted a few participants. Though nearly 100, she still had dark reddish hair. Not dyed, but real color. But it was the face that got you. She combined great age with a pure and joyful childlike quality. The only face that compared was the face of Ruth Christians who, years ago, greeted with delight a 12-year-old boy arrived to mow and clip.
Only in retrospect did I realize how special was Ruth Christians. But I knew this Ruth -- the Baha'i Ruth Moffet -- was special as soon as I saw her. She had something the others in the room didn't. Something to do with spirituality. Something to do with authentic religion. Something to do with God. Ruth Moffett had the personal charisma that comes to all, reliably and without fail, who really love God.
Certain people were avid to come near her. I saw she greeted all with the same radiant attitude, which felt to me like love. She had a particular thing she did, which was to affectionately press the side of her face against the other's face. She was short, but whatever person she met or greeted, she would raise her face and press her cheek against theirs. I wondered if this was some charming old Baha'i practice. Those who knew her would do the face press. She'd keep keening up with her other cheek until they pressed that one. She'd giggle and say in a low voice that was not quite hoarse, but crunchy: "To keep the balance!"
I thought: "I have to meet this woman." I wondered if it would be o.k.. Would she care to meet me? Was it appropriate? Do you have to know her first? I vaguely questioned if I was worthy. But something about her manner was utterly welcoming, the same way they say God is when people have near-death experiences. I stole a chance to insert myself into her little crowd, and somehow made contact.
It's all a blur. I'm pretty sure I reciprocated her face-pressing rituals, which seems odd to me now. Not that I didn't like the idea, but I didn't know her. I don't know if I shook her hand, but I think I did because I remember the hands so well. I do remember clearly her delight and personal acceptance. She said something to me. When I left the building I felt better about myself, more elevated, and accepted by someone important. I think she invited me to come to her house that night.
Because of Ruth Moffett at that meeting my heart transmitted, "This thing really has something. There's something in this religion." The others seemed inept and mediocre compared to her. But I understood the concept of saints, and that saints are special. Thus began a romance with the Baha'i Faith, then a marriage. It took many turns. It really started when I arrived at her home that night, very near my own neighborhood, on beautiful Cottage Grove, an avenue of old homes divided by tree-planted median.
It was only with years and understanding that I comprehended how amazing that moment really was. I came to understand that Ruth seldom went to the official Baha'i functions in town at that time. I also didn't realize it at the time, but there were certain Baha'is in the room, especially the more important functionaries of the meeting, who ignored Ruth and kept their distance. They didn't speak the tall longhair at all. I came to realize within a few months that this radiant creature was among enemies at that moment. A few in the room actively hated her.
But all I sensed then was the dawn of new knowledge and the mysteries of the universe whispering from beautiful, distant, heights. I was in Baha'i action that very night. Her house was easy to get to. So close! Throughout life I had ridden my bike, walked, and driven my car past her home many times. It was quite near a very seasoned late-night hippie deli I frequented called "The Blind Munchies." Yet I never knew such a person lived near me. It goes to show that one never really needs to move. All things can be provided to you right where you are, given time and transits. When one is ready a door is opened, a portal. The new is revealed right in your own domain. When we travel for the sake of God or realization, it's only an exercise to demonstrate to God your willingness and desire. But the travel itself is not really necessary. Because when you are ready, God can reach you wherever you are.
So I was inside her yellow two-story house -- the color of knowledge -- as night fell. What a place and what a time! Ruth had traveled the world in search of religious knowledge and her house felt like it. It had pleasingly clean wooden floors, a few exotic rugs here and there, and was over-furnished in that elegant old Victorian style, full of old things. Especially it was loaded with books and mystical artifacts. Photos of saints. I remember a picture of the Sikh guru, Guru Nanak. There was an arrangement of a few chairs next to an old floor lamp, and a little table with Baha'i prayer books, a candle, and rosaries. Ruth was never married. I learned that she was a writer and had two published books sold through Baha'i agencies. One was called "New Keys to the Book of Revelation," the other, a more popular one, was about prayer: "Doah on the Wings of Prayer." Ruth was from a time when being a virgin was not uncommon, and the story was that she was one.
I found that it was a little community. There were other Baha'is living there, including her attendant Paul, his wife Josha (pronounced yosha), and a talkative fellow named Henry. Her home was in the university district and was frequented by various and sundry seekers, decades-mutated beatniks, young idealistic freshly-married Sikhs in White (usually pretty White Europeans), mystics and quasi-mystics, many coming from afar to visit a personage. I had entered a kind of spiritual Bohemia that everyone longs for an some time in life, and only a few ever attain. It was a a heady feeling. I was hearing new words. There was so much to learn.
It turned out that Ruth Moffett was a "pioneer" figure in the Baha'i Faith, having gone to Palestine, where its center had become located, and met one of its important founders. This was Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of 'Abdu'l-Baha who was the son of the Baha'i Faith's iconic founder. Shoghi Effendi was considered one of the three "founders of the faith" and its lineal authority during his lifetime. His writings are somewhere in the category of scriptures to Baha'is. Ruth had met him more than once, talked with him, sat at dinner with him, and corresponded with him. This, and her historical life stretching back through cultural periods long-gone gave her a definite nimbus. She was so connected to the founding of the Baha'i Faith that one thing we found in her house, after her death, was a glass disc containing a hair from the head of Baha'u'llah himself, who was the Baha'i Faith's lofty, mysterious prophet-founder.
Ruth was strong in two things: She was a compendium of knowledge, and she was a bhakta -- a practitioner of religious devotion. Baha'is don't know what words like "bhakti" and "bhava" mean, but their scriptures are dripping with bhakti! And Ruth Moffet was capable of getting into genuine bhavas. I didn't know the words either at the time, or what was in Baha'i books. However, I didn't need to. Because I had Ruth Moffett in front of me. Bhakti is an emotional devotional feeling when thinking of God or guru, and bhava is a full identification with one's guru or spiritual teacher, giving a great bliss and sense of oneness with them. A prayer meeting commenced with Ruth at the center of it. Then I got to experience first-hand both bhakti and bhava, as well as the power to transmit that.
Thus commenced one of the higher spiritual idylls of my life: Attending Ruth's 10 p.m. prayer gathering. Ruth introduced me to two fundamentals of religion: meditation, and guru-devotion. This was not discussed as such. It's one of the peculiar features of Baha'is that they labor in an amorphous intellectual fog, often unwilling to discuss religious concepts outside of their narrow proprietary lexicon. They couldn't talk about meditation. They didn't talk about devotion. But this was what Ruth was about: Meditation and guru-devotion. Baha'is called it "prayer," but Ruth went beyond that. And Baha'is never used the word "guru," or even "devotion." This is odd considering the guru idea is strong in so many other religions and Baha'is purport to embrace and reconcile many religions. The lack of a working lexicon dealing with "devotion" is also odd given their literature is brimming with devotional attitudes and language. There inability to absorb the word "guru" is also strange, since that's what their founders, in fact, are supposed to be for them.
But Ruth was the sort of intelligent woman who had figured things out. She had found the meat. She had gotten to the essence of the Baha'i faith's highest good: God communion and guru-devotion. The truth was, Shoghi Effendi had become -- in the best classical yogic sense -- her guru. She also had the the devotee-guru attitude to the other founders, 'Abdu'l-Baha and Baha'ullah himself. But it was Shoghi Effendi who she had known personally and this had caused her attitude of devotion to flower. This was not about romance. Not being attracted to a man of power. Ruth related to him as a religious figure, a God-man. She was the devotee; he was the representative of God. This is the guru principle.
Then when she prayed, she really showed you how to pray. Baha'is have developed some narrow, truncated conceptions of prayer, seeming to believe that the height of prayer is to recite the published "Baha'i prayers" from memory. I had grown up understanding that prayer was finally between you and God, a conversation you had with Him as with a friend. This is the Christian understanding. When I saw the Baha'i prayers, I understood them for what they are: Lessons in how to pray, what attitude to take. The Baha'i prayers contain attitudes of supplication, of humility, and surrender. They are filled with high, beautiful words of aspiration, as one should use when trying to address the deity. They awaken the feeling of bhakti, in fact. But each one of the prayers was originally a spontaneous effusion from a founder's heart. They were not intended to be the limiting template for human prayer, but guides to attitude. I memorized prayers. Such memorization was given high value among Baha'is. And I found it inspiring to hear others recite those beautiful thoughts and words. But the best prayers to God are the words from your own heart.
Think of it: If you have a friend you love, and you're hoping they communicate with you, do you want them reading something to you that somebody else wrote? Or do you want them to speak their own words to you? Of course, this is what God wants from his children: Their authentic words from their own heart. This was all a small matter to me; it never became big in my mind. But I was saddened in later years that Baha'is had as if forgotten how to pray, and some Baha'i children actually grow up without this simple, natural, concept taught to them: Talk to God. Say what you want. Say what you really feel, just like a friend.
So I understood what the Baha'i prayers were for: To show you the nature of the bhakti attitude; the attitude of devotion. They are beautiful and lofty expressions that often sweep you away. If one studies them, his own manner of prayer becomes informed and elevated. However, and this is sort of funny: If you are in a Baha'i prayer group and speak original words from your heart in the old manner of so many churches -- you will be considered very naughty. It just isn't done. That would be too individual! Individual initiative! Personality! Too dangerous! You might say something that's Not Approved! (God has personality, but Baha'is are deathly afraid of personality.) These are among the many absurdities, flaws, and weaknesses in the Baha'i Faith as a religion. Baha'is are nothing if not conformist, with a rigid power structure that only goes from the top down!
But fortunately I had happened onto Ruth Moffett, and she was apparently immune to all of this. Because when she prayed, she really prayed. She spoke from her own heart. Sometimes she would recite a Baha'i prayer, or have others do it. Other times it was her own orison, but imbued with that lofty language and longing spirit that is so evident in the Baha'i prayers. To hear a noble person's real devotional thoughts in the moment, addressed to God, is a transforming experience. So both these kinds of prayer went on at Ruth's prayer circle.
What was happening was that Ruth was using prayer as prayer was meant to be used -- to put you into a divine state. As she would close her eyes and speak to God -- whether from her own heart or repeating formal words -- she would go into a bhava. I did not know this at the time, but that's what it was. And you would go into it. The state of bhava is a smooth, relaxed condition in which you become deeply identified, in mind, with the object of one's prayer. That can be "God," but God is abstract. Thus it works better when you address yourself to one of God's representatives who you can visualize, relate to humanly, and feel connected to: The Guru. This is what Ruth was doing, and it was very affecting. Bhava is very blissful. It is definitely a different state. Well guess what? According to the Hindus and yogis, God is of the nature of bliss. So whenever you are getting bliss, you are getting close to the Goal.
At those 10 p.m. prayer meetings at Ruth's I got my first conscious experience of religious devotion and ananda, or bliss, which is a universal religious phenomenon and perhaps the essential important aspect of religion. God comes and creates his religions so that we can know his bliss, and be freed of this world's sorrow and limitation. And religious practices show the way to this bliss. Though the Baha'is have very undeveloped concepts about meditation, Ruth was using the prayers -- sometimes very short, mantra-like repetitions -- to put herself and others into meditation states. I didn't know it, but I had stumbled into a Baha'i household where the atmosphere of devotional mysticism was alive and well, though this was dying out and covertly suppressed in the broader Baha'i community.
Ruth had a quality of gravitas and a serious mind. Religion and morality were serious matters for her. I remember her sitting at her kitchen table all day studying texts, magazines, references, her own manuscripts -- all with a very grave look on her face. She was basically a scholar who had gone to Oberlin college in an era when few women attended college. But she was also the ideal moralist and pedagogue. There was a seeker who started coming around to Ruth's house. She she was a freckled redhead who I remembered being in many plays in my high school. Now she appeared to be mentally disturbed. Soon we heard she was in the mental ward at Methodist Hospital . We visited her there, and she was smoking a cigarette. I had never smoked, and with my newfound "Baha'i evangelism and charity" impulse, I was wanting to connect with her and make her feel as comfortable as possible. I was aware of my own judging thoughts about smoking, and I wanted to keep myself from having them. So I also picked up a cigarette and smoked along with her, without inhaling. Ruth was a de facto guru authority to the more thoughtful Baha'is, and back at the house she was informed about it. Apparently avid about my own moral development she became very grave, said it was terrible, wrong, unwise. She said that I would encourage that girl to smoke too and I had to set an example. (Though I think she had been long addicted.) So I didn't do that again.
Despite Ruth's natural gravity, two things were set against it so that anybody with a heart found her immediately endearing: 1) Her spiritual life had brought out an effusive, joyful nature, and 2) her age and weakness gave her a vulnerable, truly childlike quality. This combined with her gravity and earnestness made most people, especially the real spiritual men and women, adore her.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I was also getting exposed to the guru principle. My first exposure to the guru-principle was hearing about Christ. And the apostles, too! Then seeing holy cards with saints praying to Christ. Then hearing about praying to saints themselves. Kneeling in a dim church before a statue of Mary, or Joseph, and praying to her for a boon. This was all activation of the guru principle.
The guru-principle is present in most religions, but it is often not enunciated or laid out as an essential religious power. It is particularly sketchy in the Baha'i Faith. But it lives there anyway for the perceptive. Now I see it clearly. It was always there, developing in my life. One of the ways you enter into it is thinking of the guru a lot. Or, reading his words. Later, thinking of the guru in devotional ways, and talking to him in the same manner. Another powerful way is actually serving the guru. I had once done for my Christian guru's proxy, Sr. Eleanor Therese.
Guru-Bhakti Through Service
Ruth Christians was also an early guru figure. And I served her. So was Sr. Eleanor Therese, and just for one brave moment, I served her. Now I was visiting this mystical historical Baha'i personage Ruth Moffett. By God's grace I fell into serving her, too.
Others around her were doing this too. It appeared to me, by some instinct, that this is just what the wise do with a spiritual figure like Ruth. The quiet attentiveness of Paul, her walking assistant, was wordlessly instructive to me. The fact his wife was attending to her personal needs like a maid, too, cooking, cleaning, and helping her get dressed and undressed. It was all for religion. These people were a kind of devotee, serving a woman they considered spiritually great.
My God idyll was short-lived. It turned out that Ruth and her household were shunned by the general Des Moines Baha'i group. Her and her household were considered forbidden. Many of them had constricted spiritual concepts as well as petty social jealousies of Ruth. She was an old eastern aristocrat. Even though she was 98 years old, could not function on her own, had no family, and was an historic religious personage, they didn't like that people were serving her. There was an ethos in the Baha'i Faith, a kind of communist ethos, that nobody should be regarded as special. I began to get into trouble with the rest of the community, and even the impressive nine-member "Local Spiritual Assembly," for my visits to Ruth's house. At one point this "Spiritual Assembly" even intervened by formally directing me to not attend her next "deepening" meeting, a meeting where Baha'is study their scriptures in more depth.
Fortunately I had a kind of protection around me and this was: Being a babe-in-the-woods. I was too new to be awed by the "Spiritual Assembly" diktat, and too broad-minded fail to see this was simply a group of very human beings engaging in silly dramas fueled by jealousy, politics, and power maneuvering. What was happening was they considered me an important "find," a strong potential new "seeker," and they were trying to make sure that I did not get "corrupted" by currents running through the Moffett household they considered to be heretical or off-base. It was all based on absurdities, something about Ruth having once 'thumbed her nose' in some manner to one of the "administrative institutions," or her being "too much of a personality," etc. Just rubbish. God is a Personality, too! In retrospect I see it was the townies who were religiously corrupted or at least retarded. But at the time, I was trying to befriend them all, not wanting to upset anybody, but just learn what the truth is. I was a seeker. So I ignored their command that I not attend her Wednesday meeting. In response, the "Assembly" sent a representative to that meeting to 'monitor' and intimidate. Ruth's classes were long and detailed. She used charts and diagrams, and expected you to concentrate deeply and long. Thankfully, there was a tea service and cookies on the table, and everyone took notes. As our grumpy "LSA monitor" Ernie King -- the former LSD tripper from The Farm -- looked stoicly on, I had too many spiritual stars in my eyes to notice how tense the others were in his presence.
It's all very funny looking back on it. After the visit from Ernie King the household of Baha'is ritually walked around Ruth's house late at night carrying incense and chanting the mystical Baha'i phrase, "Allah-u-Abha." They said they were trying to protect Ruth and her work from the negative energy of the Baha'is in town. Wide-eyed, a true seeker, I just took it all in and joined them. I already felt spiritual devotion for Ruth. It seemed self-evident to me that a God-loving, saintly human being who could transmit divine love and devotion to others -- the saint -- was the highest fruit and purpose of religion. It seemed self-evident that God would want this for all, and that committees and "institutions" composed of petty, dysfunctional individuals (which is often the case is the Baha'i Faith) could not be considered superior to such a person. Plus, I was intrigued by the idea of mystical chants, and making circles around stuff, for protection. At least I was game for it. So I walked around the house too, chanting to protect Ruth Moffett from well-meaning idiots, the Baha'is in town. I also liked them just fine and enjoyed hanging out with them, but this was what we were doing at the moment. I guess it's part of the Gemini nature (I have Mars-in-Gemini) to be able to see all sides of an issue. So I chanted and incensed. It was a delicious austerity in the cold Iowa snow.
The upshot is I ended up serving Ruth Moffett. The "Assembly" applied so much pressure and social ostracism to these people they ended up fleeing town. It may have had something to do with my arrival. Because suddenly many things fell to me, and my presence seemed to have released them. I started standing in to serve this devotional God-loving bhakta, Ruth Moffett.
Once I had simply carried a nun's briefcase, lit candles before St. Mary, and delivered sacred items in ancient choreography, in white linen, for priests at morning mass. Now I did practically everything for an abandoned Ruth Moffett. I walked her to the car, helped her get in, then helped her back into her home. I drove her around town. I even drove this 98-year-old out to little Iowa towns in my funky car, in snowstorms, so she could do one more Baha'i teaching lecture. I was unemployed at the time. What a grace! I began showing up every late morning just to be sure she was all right.
Finally I took over everything, including the duties of the woman Josha, who had fled. She had very little food around, but she seemed to always direct me to something or other. She told me to find some "summer squash" down in her cellar, and I found it. She told me how to cook it, and I started cooking for Ruth, though I was no cook. She had me make tea and set out cookies for deepenings she was planning. But though the house had often had people around, more and more I was the only one around. The Assembly had begun directing people to avoid her house.
One day she asked me to help her get into her downstairs trundle bed for her afternoon nap, and to please cover her up. I felt very honored. That was my attitude. Finally it evolved into my getting her to bed nights. I didn't live there, but I started coming to get her into bed, because she couldn't do it herself. I even ended up rubbing her gnarled, arthritic limbs each night with oil so she could sleep. This is what Josha had been doing, it turned out. This was her routine. We had a method to get it done without seeing her body. You'd pull her dress off, top up, and she'd be fully covered in a slip, but arms and lower legs exposed. As an old Victorian era woman from the 1800's, it must have been an indignity for her to be thoroughly abandoned and some 1970's 20-something male undressing you. But she was always humorously charming about it. When I'd pull off her dress, looking away, she'd say, "Skin the cat" and giggle. As I'd rub her gnarled hands, arms, lower legs and feet, she'd close her eyes and express thanks. I never remember her complaining, being negative, worrying, or criticizing anybody over her personal lot. Except when a broad religious or moral principle was at stake she always spoke positively.
It was a little creepy for me as a virile heterosexual to have such contact with an elderly female's body. Though I managed not to see anything I shouldn't, there is naturally an "ick" about it. It's something women should more properly do. However, I learned that Richard -- the fancy young pager company tech -- had been filling in the same way, and with the same ambivalence. There was a spiritual teaching in it.
Hindu saddhus and Buddhist ascetics go to graveyards to be around dead bodies to remind them of impermanence; the falsity of the world; the impermanence of bodily charms. Women do age and lose those physical charms! That became clear. Though there was some sense of "this is not right" to be a male serving a female this way, I kept on. I believed the Bible talk about charity. once I took a homeless old drunk off the street into my home because he'd asked me for money. He said for food, but I thought he'd spend it on booze. I told him I'd feed him, come how with me. He didn't seem interested in food. He was dirty and stunk and his hair overgrown. So I put him in the bathtub in his stupor, then gave him a haircut. I ended up robbed of my tape recorded and and trouble with the landlord, but I believed in the Christian charity idea in any case. And this was Ruth Moffett. Where were the Baha'i women? It was the first time I'd been a "massage artist." Later, I used to rub my kids' feet and shoulders with hands that first learned about this human service on the gnarled, misshapen hands and feet of this Baha'i saint.
When the community learned their new "golden boy" -- the smart new seeker with possibilities -- was undressing Ruth Moffett and putting her to bed, there was a great stir. Special meetings were called. Phone calls were going back and forth. Assembly emissaries were showing up at the house. Some of these, too, were the ugliest people I happened to know in this group, who actually hated Ruth Moffett though unworthy to judge her. There was one ugly character, a brunette on the Assembly, who specialized in helping Latinos and spoke Spanish. She spoke vile things about Ruth, had romantic designs on both me and Richard, and actually saw this 98-year-old as female competition! She regarded her with a bizarre jealousy because we were helping her get undressed, and not a hint of compassion for this elderly creature. But saner heads, seeing the situation through my "new seeker" eyes, realized how absurd and embarrassing it was. They got the idea of acting like a proper community and tried to find a new female, a home health aid worker, to replace the departed Josha. I was soon to be relieved. But until she was found, I soldiered on.
I disliked the strangeness and cultural confusion of the situation, and I learned cultural confusion follows Baha'is around like a cloud. But there was one memory I do cherish without reservation. That was when Ruth, warm and gratefully soothed by the joint massage, would be ready to be put to bed. With the relaxation effect and increased circulation from my unskilled but sincere massage, she glowed all the more. Smelling fragrant from the oils, finally in her night clothes, we'd wend our way across the hall to her room. Now I just had to get her up onto her high Victorian bedstead. I guess Paul had been the one who did this, but I'd had no instruction. At that time I'd just sweep her off her feet and into my arms like the son she never had, and deposit her in her bed. Sometimes I'd do it by surprise for fun and she'd giggle. As she clung to me like a child I'd insert her into her opened bedding then cover her up. I well remember the beaming, childlike face -- the same one I'd seen that first day -- as I carried her. Last thing I'd do is remove her glasses and her hearing aids. Then she looked different, softer. Her hair was very thin. She felt so much a child I began to sing a Baha'i chant I'd heard as a goodnight lullaby sometimes. Leaving, I'd finally put the saint to bed by saying "Alla'u'Abha." She would say it back in a tired croak.
Correctly translated it means "O Though Great God of Glory-Bliss!" I'd heard Baha'is say it. But using it to say "good night" to her was my own idea. So was picking up Ruth Moffett. I still remember her shining moon face as I'd leave.
Soon they had some woman to take care of Ruth, for pay, a sort of hippie-ish, loose woman with frizzy hair. It was the first time, I think, that her help had not been a Baha'i; not been a devotee. Within a month or two Ruth Moffett died.
Only as the years passed did I realize how lucky I was to know Ruth. It was lucky because she modeled the devotional attitude so important in religious life and helped me know meditative states. I knew her in her greatest pain, betrayal, and humiliation yet she was radiantly blissful. So I may have known her during the state of her highest spiritual flowering. The divine incarnation called Krishna says in the text:
"Even a little bit of this yoga gives freedom from great pain."
Life and karma contain a great deal of pain. But if you sincerely seek God -- who is free of pain and dualities -- He gives you the grace of a divine connection that mitigates a great deal of it. The King passes on some of his strength and untouchability to his child. Even by seeking him a little! Ruth was clearly a practitioner of bhakti-yoga -- the highest kind of spiritual practice in the Bhagavad-Gita. And her pain-wracked body with ever-joyful demeanor was a proof of divine grace given by "yoga," or divine union. The mystical Baha'i "Hidden Words" says:
"Look within thyself and thou shalt find me
standing within thee.
Mighty and self-subsistent."
Ruth was curious enough about these words of Baha'u'llah to find out what they mean.
That year there was a video presentation at a Chicago convention that noted great Baha'is who had died that year. There was a picture of Ruth and the audio simply said: "And the indomitable Ruth Moffett."
That was apt. Nobody in that huge convention hall -- including all the pompous big shots and "administrative" snoots who created such presentations -- knew her like I did. Her spirit was indomitable. It was also a sly reference to the fact that Ruth, according to what I'd heard, had bucked a Baha'i administrative body at some point. She was indomitable working on a new manuscript daily right up to her death. She was indomitable keeping teaching activity alive -- her Wednesday deepening -- despite the ill-will and intentional neglect of the established Baha'is. She was indomitable getting into my marginal car and traveling through Iowa snowstorms, just to "teach the Baha'i Faith" to strangers, even in her last months. She was not dominated by poverty, by cynics, or by pain. Because she was a real devotee. As Ramakrishna said, "God protects his devotee. He follows after him like a mother cow follows its calf."
My relationship with her was, though intense, very brief. She was not long for this world, and part of a whirlwind of transition in my life, a transition into a new religion and a new lifestyle that would last over a decade. But there was one more bed I had to carry this woman to. My last "service to guru" was carrying her, with five others, in a heavy casket across the green sod of a graveyard and depositing this child-of-God into His sweet and restful earth.
The pallbearers for Ruth's heavy casket were all Baha'i men, and some of the most avid and devotional Baha'is. I became part of a crew helping to sort through her estate. Central to that crew was a married couple named Jeff and Marian K. Jeff was another one of the truly spiritual Bahai's. Real bhaktas, too! And it was contact with him, as well as the amazing testimony of spiritual life evident in Ruth's house later, that kept me attracted to a basic spiritual core in this religion. In Des Moines a light had gone out. But most of the Baha'is did not realize this. I saw that there were wide varieties of religious understanding among Baha'is. This was fine with me. Because I understood that's just how people are, and I had spiritual inspirations like Jeff and Marian to keep me interested. They even knew about this thing called "meditation." Plus: We needed to Save The World the world by getting everybody to Believe The Same Stuff!!!
Soon I was elected as a member of the "Local Spiritual Assembly," moved to a new town to try create a new assembly, had a Baha'i wife, and Baha'i children.
All things grow and develop in this life. You will find that you sometimes meet people who remind you of someone from before. They will have an uncanny physical resemblance, similar personality traits, and there will be similar issues or dynamics between you. But the new one will be on a higher level, a finer grade, the issues less gross and more civil. They are like "octave" persons, higher octaves of important persons you have known before. This happens because life moves in circular cycles, and because we have conditioning/programming from past experience and people. So, there are particular "characters" who gradually re-emerge as we go through incarnations, evolving with us as we evolve.
These people are like mile markers showing your spiritual progress in life. The more you see of these octaves in your life, the faster you are making spiritual progress. Funny thing: Ruth Moffett looked uncannily like Sister Eleanor Therese. Both were very small. Both were grave and severe. Both were strict moralists. And both had a spiritual life, though Sr.'s was more hidden from me. I can glean from this that Sr. Eleanor Therese -- who praise my brother for his erudition and lifted my slumped back with tiny hands -- was both a scholar and metaphysician. She probably even had red hair underneath that habit.
No effort is ever wasted and God never misses a thing. First a boy carried an austere nun's briefcase down a lane to her convent. Later a man carried the great bhakta Ruth Moffett to her nightly bed.
God love and praise pure nuns! Years later I find that whenever I encounter a Dominican nun with the spirit of womanly purity I get bhakti. That is, I am moved to tears.