Northern Illinois Bahá'ís

Why Bahá'í: Edward Price

Location

Wilmette, IL

Edward Price: I realize with astonishment what incredible mercy and kindness Bahá'u'lláh showered upon me

I became a Baha'i on the Feast of 'Izzat in 1973, 38 years ago. I grew up in a Jewish family in Newton, Mass., but my family was not devout. We celebrated Passover and Chanukah and my parents sent me to Hebrew School when I was little but, honestly, none of it connected with me. When I was in High School I had embraced science and evolution, and thought that man was just a highly evolved primate. I did not believe in God. People wonder if I had maybe a small trace of belief in God hidden away somewhere, but I really didn't. I was the kind of atheist who was very confident that there was no God.

In 1972 I went off to college at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I was a pre-med student, but I struggled hard with my Chemistry course. I ended up with a D the first semester and an F the second semester, which more than anything else explains why I'm not a doctor today. (Oddly, I was good at the Chemistry. I had a different problem, undiagnosed and untreated, that was getting in my way.) My room-mate was dating a girl, Paula, in the dormitory and the two of them introduced me to her room-mate. This person, Mary Gregory, was destined to change my life.

Mary was a beautiful, smart English major, and a 1st year student like me. We became friends and used to study together for our exams. It was a while before I found out she was a Baha'i, but when I did find out my first impulse back then was to prove to her what nonsense it was. After our all-nighters studying, we would walk to the nearby Denny's restaurant and enjoy a nice early morning breakfast together. Then she would go off and get As in her English courses while I'd go and flunk another Chemistry exam.

Mary was not intimidated by my attack on religion. The more forceful I became the calmer and more reasonable she got. I attempted to use logical proofs to demolish the concept of God. Funny thing, since she was a Baha'i, she had logical proofs of her own that I had never heard before. At first I thought she was simply brilliant, but eventually it dawned on me that her special ability to answer my objections about religion were actually attributable to (forgive me!) this guy Baha'u'llah. In my tiny mind, I compared Baha'u'llah to a car salesman. I reasoned that I would at least be willing to listen to a car salesman, so why shouldn't I at least listen to Baha'u'llah and hear what He had to say?

I was also impressed that she was as smart as I was even though she was a woman (yes, I had a bit of chauvinism in me in those days). But Mary's power was more than her intellect. She was genuinely kind to everyone. She was an unusually happy and joyful person. She seemed genuinely interested in meaningful conversations. She was fearless. I couldn't describe it, but she had a peculiar radiance about her. I had never met a woman like this before.

One day I boasted that I had numerous proofs (yes, proofs) for the non-existence of God and Mary said, "OK, put up or shut up, write them down and show me!" I took up the challenge. After each proof I asked myself whether it could be refuted, just out of fairness. Well, with the knowledge Mary had slowly been giving me from the Faith, I was able to refute every one of my own arguments. So I had to admit. I wasn't as smart as I thought I was.

Our debating and our friendship continued for some time, but gradually I was won over to her way of thinking. Summer vacation came and I returned to New England. I told my parents I was thinking of joining the Baha'i Faith and they went ballistic on me. They threatened to disown me. I found this surprising, since we had never cared that much about religion in our family. Dad sent me to talk to the Rabbi, but unfortunately the Rabbi told me it would be good to become a Baha'i. (Yes, really, he said that!) Dad was angry. Dad had me speak to other "wise" people, like his best friend Dr. Levy and my Uncle Manny, hoping they could talk some sense into me. Those conversations didn't go Dad's way either. He was really angry. Hoping to make him feel better, I offered to get a haircut, but he was still angry. As the summer wore on, Dad and I worked out a plan, which seemed reasonable at the time, to put Baha'u'llah to the test, and we had a somewhat calmer summer as a result.

When my second year of college began I was living in an apartment with some friends. Mary came to visit me the first evening I was back in town. I told her of the "arrangement" my Dad and I had worked out to "test" Baha'u'llah. Mary looked me straight in the eye and said simply, "You can do what you want, but remember this – you don't test Baha'u'llah, Baha'u'llah tests you." And then, suddenly, she stood up and, before I could catch my breath, she left me to stew with my own thoughts. Of course, inwardly, I knew Mary's words were correct. Her bold words caused a huge storm in my heart that night. Alone in my apartment, for hours I prayed. I cried out to Baha'u'llah for help. I tried to sleep, but that was hopeless. The anguish I felt was enormous.

Finally at about 2 AM, I was truly convinced that I would never, ever, EVER sleep again if I did not become a Baha'i immediately. I got dressed and walked almost a mile to Mary's dormitory. Technically I wasn't supposed to be in the building. I knocked on her door. She was still awake with a couple of friends. You can imagine her surprise when she saw me at her door at two in the morning. She came out into the hallway and asked what I wanted. I gulped and I told her I had to become a Baha'i. "Now?" she asked! I gulped again and said, "Yes, now." "Alright", she said, "but I was just about to go out to the store because Paula needs some cigarettes for a sorority initiation she is going through tonight. You can come with me." We agreed and off we went to the store.

Ed Price

Well, in 1973, in Charlottesville, VA, the only store that was open at that hour was K-Mart. Mary went into the store while I waited in her car, a yellow, Opal Cadet. (Does anyone remember those cars?) In a few minutes, she came out of the store with Paula's cigarettes. She pulled a declaration card out of her glove compartment and showed it to me. "Read it," she said. I did. "Are you sure you want to do this?" Calmer now, I said I really do. "OK then, go ahead." In my heart, I fully expected my parents to disown me because of this.

I signed my declaration card under the street lights, on the hood of her car, in the parking lot of K-Mart, at 2:30 in the morning.

I had imagined the heavens opening up. Perhaps I would see a bolt of lightning in the sky. I was just 18. This was uncharted territory for me. My first words to Mary were simply, "That didn't hurt." She smiled. We hugged.

We then got back into the car and she took me back to my apartment. We sat in the car in the parking lot for a little while. Mary took my hand and chanted again and again, strongly, and in the most magnificent tones, Ya Baha'u'l-Abha! It was as if she was calling out to heaven, introducing my soul to all of the denizens of the Abha Kingdom. (The chant, "Ya Baha'u'l-Abha," is learned by all Baha'is. It is an invocation in Arabic, one of the original languages used by Baha'u'llah, which means, "O Glory of the All Glorious." The term, "Abha Kingdom" is also Arabic. It refers to the Most Glorious Kingdom, that is, the spiritual worlds beyond this world.) It was the first truly sacred moment of my life. She then gave me a small book, May Maxwell's, An Early Pilgrimage, and told me to read it fully before going to bed. I did as I was told. I then put my head on the pillow, and slept like a baby.

The next morning, there was a knock at my door. It was the Baha'is. They had come to bring me to an all day deepening on the Baha'i Fund, followed by the Feast of 'Izzat. That was my first day as a Baha'i.

Ed Price

In time, I realized that I needed Baha'u'llah far, far more than He needed me. I was gifted with some amazing Baha'i teachers in that first year, like Bob and Dottie Riggs, as well as Mary, who really nurtured my Baha'i identity. When I look back at those times, I realize with astonishment what incredible mercy and kindness Baha'u'llah showered upon me.

By the way, my parents and I struggled for years, but in the end they didn't disown me and we made peace. In 1979, Mary went pioneering to Finland. She's a prominent Baha'i there now, the director of the Publishing Trust of Finland, married and with children. She is also a renowned stained glass artist. We're in touch from time to time.

I thank God for the way Mary changed my life.

"It is better to guide one soul than to possess all that is on earth, for as long as that guided soul is under the shadow of the Tree of Divine Unity, he and the one who hath guided him will both be recipients of God's tender mercy… There is no paradise more wondrous for any soul than to be exposed to God's Manifestation in His Day…"

(The Bab, SWB, p. 75)

(Reprinted with permission)