If I hadn’t offered a pretty girl a can of beer at a Fourth of July party in the Berkeley hills I might not have heard of the Bahá’í faith until much later on. Her name was Sandra, a fourth-generation American Bahá’í who was raised in Japan. Sandra said that she didn’t drink (I hardly ever did either) so I asked her why. She said because she was a Bahá’í. I asked her what Bahá’í meant because I confused its name with that of a Jewish organization. I put my just opened beer can down and never picked one up again in my life.
Hours later that night we walked out several steps to the Berkeley Rose Garden, a stunningly beautiful hanging garden carved out of a steep hill. As we stood under a redwood arch in the center of a sort of bridge with 19 sections, she told me a little about the Bahá’í faith. We watched the sunrise and then parted but not before I asked her out on a date. She accepted so I went over to her house that afternoon. An hour later, after reading one page of the Hidden Words and a single prayer I declared my belief.
This is the background:
I was actively seeking a religion since I was about 12 years old. I thoroughly investigated Buddhism and was most sympathetic to it except for what I felt was its widespread lack of theism. I had briefly moved back to New York City from Berkeley in 1962. There my girlfriend Judy and I devised a plan to go out to San Francisco on the Fourth of July. We made a very big deal out of the abstract concept of Independence and we both even had dreams about it. That began after we saw a late-1930s French film called A Nous La Liberté. Its title became our motto. She went elsewhere and I couldn’t wait to get back out of New York so I left early and headed for Berkeley with a stop in New Orleans to see the Mardi Gras. When the Fourth came around I immediately connected it with my dream and was in a highly receptive state. Though I lived in Berkeley in the 1960s I was never a part of the hippie culture or attracted to it. I rarely listened to the popular music at that time because I had grown up loving classical music and Jazz.
On the evening of July 4th at a party in the Berkeley hills filled with antiwar protesters and wealthy radicals I met a young Bahá’í girl named Sandra. She stood out because she was the only one there not drinking alcohol nor was she one of the leftwing radicals. I drank alcohol very rarely myself because it made me ill the few times I tried it. I asked her why she wasn’t drinking and she said that she was a Bahá’í. I later found out that she was a fourth generation Bahá’í, very rare for an American. Her great great grandmother attended ‘Abdul-Bahá’s talk at Stanford where he presented her with an orange jade and gold Bahá’í ring. Sandra was wearing that ring when I met her. She was bilingual and had grown up in Japan where her mother was on the National Spiritual Assembly.
Impulsively I asked Sandra out on a movie date the next day. When I got to her house, I told her that I wanted to believe in God and only needed incontrovertible proof. I was sure intuitively that there was such a thing as the human soul. She said that I had to pray and I told her I had no idea how to do that. I grew up in a kosher but otherwise nonreligious Jewish immigrant family. She read the prayer that begins with “Create in me a pure heart, O my God, and renew a tranquil conscience within me, O my Hope! Through the spirit of power confirm Thou me in Thy Cause, O my Best-Beloved, and by the light of Thy glory reveal unto me Thy path.” While she was doing that I closed my eyes. I visualized a golden eagle with outspread wings and heavy cleansing rain coming at me from all directions.
When she was finished I described what I saw. She showed me a photograph in which she was standing in front of the grave of the Guardian. I saw that eagle. I asked to see more Bahá’í writings. Sandra showed me the Hidden Words and I read the first page. At that point I spontaneously declared my belief because the beauty and authority of Baha’u’llah’s words overwhelmed me. That was all the proof I needed that God existed or that He had a new messenger. I could not conceive how anyone could write words of such power and authority without direct revelation from the Creator. I never had a single doubt.
Thirty years later when we met again in Seattle Sandra gave me the very same prayer book that she read from when I declared. It was what we all used to call “the blue prayer book.” She had saved it all those years for me. There are now six generations of Bahá’ís in her family.
One rejected can of beer. Who could have imagined the transformative power that would follow!