Interview with Suzan and Michael Kalantar
- The belief that all religions are really the same is part of the Bahá'í Faith. They are all from the same source.
- God brings forth new teachers every thousand years because you need that spiritual renewal.
- God is always there, and you can have conversation through prayer. And I certainly believe God listens to you.
- ...there are three choices of obligatory prayer. The short one is, "I bear witness O my God, that Thou hast created me to know thee and to worship thee." You say this daily to remind yourself that this is our purpose, to learn to know God and to worship God.
- Well Bahá'u'llah has brought a lot of teachings about the other world. He said that this physical life is just a place where you acquire the virtues-the necessary equipment to go on to the other worlds of God.
- Humans were created in the image of God; we have the capacity to manifest all the attributes of God.
Ann: Let's start with prayer. We come together this evening to open our hearts and our minds and to become a bigger light, a guiding light of compassion and love and understanding. I call on the energy of Bahá'u'lláh and the other masters of the light, and I ask them to be with us and to guide us, so that we may be a divine force in the world.
Suzan: I would like to say a prayer. Oh my God, oh my God, unite the hearts of Thy servants and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide by Thy law. Help them, oh God, in their endeavors, and grant them strength to serve. Oh God, leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily Thou art their helper and their Lord. Bahá'u'lláh.
Michael: Oh God, guide me, protect me, make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful.
Ann: Let me ask each of you, in which spiritual tradition were you raised?
Suzan: I was raised as a Bahá'í.
Ann: Here in America?
Suzan: I was seventeen when I left Iran and lived in Canada , then China and now here in the United States .
Ann: Were you with your family at that time?
Suzan: No, I left my family when I was seventeen. I had no choice, because of the persecution of the Bahá'ís in Iran . I had to leave. My mother left about two years after I left, and my father left about eleven years after I left.
Ann: And did you come and live with Bahá'ís here?
Suzan: I lived with my uncle for a while, and then I went to the University of Toronto and lived in a dorm.
Ann: And Michael, how about you, where were you raised? And were you
Michael: Yes, I was raised as a Bahá'í. I grew up in Western Canada and came to the States as a graduate student. And we were together in China .
Ann: And what were you doing in China together?
Michael: We were teaching English and computer science and chemistry for a couple of years.
Ann: As part of a Bahá'í organization, or did you just want to go to China ?
Michael: We just wanted to go to China . In part I suppose we were motivated to go because as Bahá'ís we feel that all people are of the same family and the same race. I grew up in North America , and I think sometimes it's hard to see the whole world as your family unless you go elsewhere. It confirms your beliefs and it helps you express it to other people who don't have the opportunity to travel.
Ann: And what kind of work do you do?
Michael: I'm a research scientist in computer science.
Ann: How old are you both?
Suzan: I just turned thirty-five.
Michael: I'm thirty-four.
Ann: And how old are your kids?
Suzan: Eight, four and seven months.
Ann: And they are all being raised as Bahá'ís?
Michael: Yes, they are being raised as Bahá'ís.
Ann: But then they get to choose, right? That's the nice thing about the Bahá'í Faith-you're not automatically a Bahá'í.
Suzan: Yes, they get to choose when they're fifteen. You're expected to be mature at that age.
Ann: Have you studied any other spiritual paths or just Bahá'í?
Suzan: Well, I grew up in Iran , so I was very familiar with the Muslim religion. I studied it in school, all of my friends were Muslims, and I grew up in that culture. When I was in Canada , I took an extensive course with a Bahá'í teacher. One year we studied Christianity, and another year we studied Islam in detail, and one year we studied the other religions-not in as much detail, just the history. I didn't study Islam or Christianity to become a Muslim or to become a Christian, but I did study their history and their beliefs and major philosophies. So I'm quite familiar with Islam and to a lesser extent Christianity.
The belief that all religions are really the same is part of the Bahá'í Faith. They are all from the same source. It's really good to study the other religions so that you're able to bring proof from the scriptures of the religions themselves to identify the similarities. Bahá'u'lláh says if religion is a cause of discord, then it's better if there is no religion. Religion was given in order to bring unity, to promote love among all the people. To use it to cause hatred and wars is awful.
Ann: How about you Michael, have you studied any other religions?
Michael: Not really. Of course, growing up in a Christian society, I'm very familiar with Christianity as expressed by my peers. And the Writings of the Bahá'í Faith tell the history of the Faith in Iran , in Iraq and the Middle East . A lot of the references are to Islam, because they were being written to people of that area. So of necessity, I've learned something about Islam. I don't know whether I've learned what a Muslim would say Islam is, but I've learned something.
Ann: But do you believe that the essence of the truth is in all religions?
Michael: Certainly. Again, Bahá'u'lláh teaches that God manifests Himself at various times through spiritual individuals. The result of which is a world religion.
Ann: And why do we need these new prophets to come? What does Bahá'u'lláh say about that?
Michael: We need them because as we progress through history, humanity as a whole changes. Our concepts, our ability to think grows and changes. Our ability to understand the nature of God changes. I think the world today is vastly different than it was two thousand years ago. We are a much more global community, we can understand global concepts. And if we have no guide… it's difficult to take teachings of God-which as pure as they are, were revealed to a people who lived in cities and towns-and make it apply in a global society. In drawing conclusions and trying to apply the teachings, we're bound to make errors. So God, in His mercy to us, sends us teachers to help us in that process. I think the manifestations, or the prophets of God, are sent to help us in that process.
Ann: And do Bahá'í believe that Bahá'u'lláh is the final prophet?
Michael: No. Bahá'u'lláh asks, "Does it make sense that God loves his creation, so He sends them a teacher and then He ties up his own hands so that He can never help them again?" That doesn't make sense. In the future, there will be other teachers.
Suzan: God brings forth new teachers every thousand years because you need that spiritual renewal. People get involved in their own desires and their worldly field, and they sort of forget why the prophet came. That corrupts the religions. I think a new manifestation comes to shake things up and say, "Hey, remember, this is all the same. Go back to the teachings." I think the purpose is two fold-to bring forth
new teachings and to bring forth springtime. Because we also believe that religions follow the same path as the world-spring, summer, fall, and winter. Each religion goes through its stages: the beginning and very slow growth of spring, a wonderful summer with all its beautiful foliage, the use of the fruit in the fall and then the death of everything in winter. It has happened to all the religions, and it will happen to the Bahá'í Faith as well.
Ann: And then there will be another spring.
Suzan: Yes, there will be another spring, another prophet, another manifestation. New energy.
Ann: I like the saying, that God has no grandchildren, he just has children, so that each generation has to find God.
Has there ever been a time when either of you have lost faith with being a Bahá'í?
Suzan: My brother was always a Bahá'í, but he wasn't passionate about it. Then at some point he became a very devoted Bahá'í. He went to the Bahá'í World Center and served there, and he was on fire. Everyone said he was on fire while he was there, but then something happened and he just turned away. He told me about his reasons for doing that, and that year when he was confiding in me was very difficult for me. He was my brother, and I knew that the things he was saying were hurting him, and it had to do with the administration. But for Bahá'ís, the administration is very important. You can't separate the Bahá'í Faith and the administration; they are two parts of one whole. So that was a very difficult time for me, and I kept asking, why did he have these troubles, why did they occur?
But after a year of thinking about it and resolving it for myself, I realized that I truly believe that Bahá'u'lláh is the manifestation of God for this day and age. He has revealed his teachings, and he has brought forth this administration. That's what I believe and the rest-if there was some problem with my brother and the
administration-it doesn't matter, that wasn't my path.
Ann: Did he come back to being a Bahá'í?
Suzan: He has withdrawn his name from the Bahá'í Faith, so he really is not a Bahá'í. But I don't know whether he still believes Bahá'u'lláh is the manifestation of God.
Ann: And how about you Michael, have you ever had any loss of faith?
Michael: No. I never have. My parents taught me about the Bahá'í Faith when I was a child. As I said, you sort of learn about other religions along the way, and I remember asking myself as a teenager whether the Bahá'í Faith was right for me. And there really was only one answer, and that was that if I'm going to believe in a religion, there's only one religion I can believe in. There's only one that makes sense to me. I see each of the others, as Suzan put it, as being in a sort of wintertime. And the spiritual energy I feel is in the Bahá'í Faith. I think it brings together and explains many things about other religions. You can see why it is they may have disagreements, and I don't agree with them. They're brought together in the Bahá'í Faith and made stronger.
Ann: But do you see the different religions of the world as harmonious in any way?
Michael: There are two aspects of religions. There are very spiritual teachings, and there are often teachings that are not particularly spiritual. Laws about marriage, or about what you can eat, or about what to wear-they don't seem very spiritual. They may be given spiritual significance or meaning, but they're not very spiritual
things. I think that the laws or the teachings that the Prophets give are of these two kinds. There are the spiritual teachings, and then there are those things that make sense or apply at the time of the prophet, in the environment of the prophet. But they're the things that maybe won't apply or make sense five hundred or a thousand years later. So let's ignore those things.
If we look at the spiritual teachings across religions, they're very similar, if not the same. Teachings about how to treat your neighbors, teachings about love or forgiveness, teachings about prayer, teachings about the nature of God-God is described in different ways, but the general concept of God is in all religions.
Ann: Do you see harmony between religions?
Suzan: Absolutely. To me it's so clear that all religions come from God, that they all have the same basic spiritual teachings-the Ten Commandments, basically. It's in all religions: Love your parents, love your brother, love your sister, try to get along with the people in the world. They are all the same spiritual teaching. And it breaks
my heart that people can use these same teachings to turn us against each other.
Ann: It's hard to even believe that people can do it. It just doesn't make any sense to me at all.
Michael: It is often because of a focus on the things that are not spiritual teachings. It's a focus on specifics.
Ann: To me, the spirit is the energy that has come down from the divine essence. So when you obliterate that it can cause misunderstanding.
Can you each talk to me about any spiritual heroes or heroines that you've had? Maybe someone you know or some person you've read of. Who inspires you to keep going?
Suzan: Well Bahá'u'lláh gave us His son as His exemplar, 'Abdu'l-Bahá. He said, "He is your exemplar; try to be as he lives." And so his life has always been such an inspiration for me, because he really did walk the spiritual life with practical feet. He was very down to earth and very loving to everybody. He took care of the poor while he was in Haifa . He is my hero-if I want to be somebody, he is what I try to emulate.
Michael: And if you think you've got problems, you just have to look at his life to see that your problems are nothing. He spent forty years in prison.
Ann: They say that the prison was so bad that when birds flew over, they dropped dead. That's one of the stories I heard from Mrs. Johnson. And yet he stayed, so he must have been anointed with the Holy Spirit. Is there a word for that in the Bahá'í Faith, or do you use Holy Spirit?
Suzan: Yes, we use Holy Spirit.
Ann: Is there a lineage? Does he have children and grandchildren?
Suzan: Well he had a grandson who was the Guardian of the Faith. He was the head of the administration of the Bahá'í Faith when he lived, but he passed away and he didn't leave any children. So there is no lineage. In a sense that's good, because as I've said, when things go down the line, you don't know how people are going to act. They'll say, "Well my father was so and so."
So, 'Abdu'l-Bahá has been my spiritual hero. He was very, very loving. There is one prayer that says, "If you only knew how kind 'Abdu'l-Bahá's heart is." Whenever I read that, I feel very happy and blessed to know that we all make mistakes and we all have our own troubles. We are just trying to do our very best and to know that he had a very loving heart and he was the perfect Bahá'í.
Ann: And Michael, how about you? Do you have any spiritual heroes or heroines?
Michael: I think, in many ways they're the same as Suzan's; 'Abdu'l-Bahá. But I'm trying to think who else. I don't know. One of the fortunate things I think is that the history of the Bahá'í Faith is very young in many ways, and it's a well-recorded history. One of the people who took part in its early days was a noted historian,
and he recorded what he saw. Many people wrote volumes about the people and what they did, and when I read these stories it's hard to pick out heroic individuals. But it's very inspiring just to read the things that they did and the difficulties they faced and how the spirit of God filled them and aided them. It enabled them to reach great spiritual insights and to help others. And it's not one or two or five-it's hundreds of people who are described.
Ann: So it makes it accessible. If you just have Jesus, that's a profound teaching, but it sometimes feels so distant. But it's amazing to read about regular people who were going through very worldly things and still kept their hearts open.
You've also spoken about the family and community that have influenced
you. You've had a lot of support.
Michael: Yes. I feel very fortunate that I was raised as a Bahá'í. I look at some of the things that my peers did when we were young, and as an older person I look at the youth of today, and I think that I avoided many pitfalls because I was raised as a Bahá'í. The atmosphere I experienced and the things I learned as a child helped me to avoid things that would have caused me great damage and sadness. I am very thankful; I was very lucky. I have the sense that without being raised as a Bahá'í, it would have been many, many years before I learned the Bahá'í Faith or came to accept it. I think I'm one of the lucky ones.
Ann: Now have either of you had any profound spiritual experiences that you might relate to birth or sickness or death? Have you felt divine essence with you?
Suzan: Well I have a very funny story that has to do with sickness and divine essence. As a Bahá'í, you can go on a pilgrimage to Haifa, but you have to apply five years in advance, because there's a big line up and only a certain number of people can go in each time. So you have to wait a long time. And right before we went to China-like two days before-we got the letter that we had been accepted to go on a pilgrimage. And we thought, "Wow, what do we do, how do we do this?"
Michael: In fact we almost missed it-Suzan was already gone. I was closing the house, and it was the last day, and I picked up the mail for the last time.
Suzan: So we said okay, we'll go. We were in China and it was very, very difficult trying to get in contact with Haifa . So it was by the grace of God we somehow got to Haifa . The problem was that we had an eighteen-month-old, our first son, and he is an extremely energetic child. When he was four months old he would never take a nap. He was always on the go; always wanting to do this, do that. He still is like
that, he always has to be busy doing something-and not by himself, with someone. We were thinking one of us would have to miss half of the things, because you can't go into a shrine with an eighteen-month-old screaming. So we were very sad. What could we do? There was nobody to help us, nobody to go with us.
So we went, and the first day of the pilgrimage you get together with all your fellow pilgrims. It's like a getting to know each other session, and then you start. So we were in this session when somebody came to us and said, "Your son just threw up."
We said, "Oh my God, you're kidding, I can't believe this." So we cleaned everything, and he started sleeping. He slept through the meeting, and we thought he wouldn't sleep through the night, because when he used to sleep during the day, he wouldn't fall asleep until eleven o'clock at night. But at eight o'clock he went to sleep. And it was the same thing through the pilgrimage. For seven days of the pilgrimage he was sick, but he didn't have a fever, he didn't need to see a doctor. There was really nothing wrong with him; he just went to sleep all the time. So Michael and I went to everything, together. Our son would sleep in our laps, and we went everywhere. And he would sleep at night. Everybody asked, "Is he usually like this?"
Michael would say, "Are you kidding me?" I really felt the divine essence there. It wasn't something that we had to be very worried about, because he didn't have a fever and he didn't continue to throw up. He would eat, and he would sleep.
Ann: And right after that he was back to his normal self?
Ann: So that was a spiritual blessing!
I remember going to Muslim prayers, and the men prayed in the front and the women were in the back with their babies next to them when they were praying. The babies would be absolutely peaceful during the prayers, and then right after the prayers, it was as if the energy would come back into the child. I was just astounded.
Have you ever had any experience of being at the edge of despair when your spiritual life helped you-or didn't help you?
Suzan: Right now I'm going through a difficult time.
Ann: Does your religion help you?
Suzan: In a sense. My parents sent me this little quote from `Abdu'l-Baha, and it says, "Oh ye loving mothers, know ye that in God's sight, the best of all ways to worship Him is to educate the children and train them..." That really helps me, because I have a seven-month-old who was not planned, and it was very, very difficult for me to start again, anew. He's having trouble nursing, so I have to pump milk all the time and give it to him, so I'm exhausted.
Ann: With two other children it's just non-stop.
Suzan: Yes, basically non-stop from six in the morning until nine-thirty at night, seven days a week. So it's a very difficult time for me. But knowing at least that I'm trying to train my children as best I can is my only consolation, because I don't have anything else.
Ann: When my children were a little older than yours, I used to trade childcare with another woman; she had three and I had five. Some were in school though, and we would trade the others back and forth. So we would have half a day to ourselves, and it was like ecstasy.
Suzan: Yes, that's what I used to have when my son went to preschool. He went for three half days, but I don't have that anymore.
Ann: It's so important to be home with your children, there is nothing more important, but it is exhausting. Absolutely.
And how about you Michael, have you ever had any sense of despair?
Michael: No, not like this. I think not really. The sense of despair that I tend to feel is more because of the time and energy it takes just to live in Western society. I have to work eight to nine hours a day. I come home, and I see my children in the morning maybe an hour, I see them in the evening maybe an hour. We eat dinner, and read our books before bed, and run through the routine. Then I go shopping, or weekends come and I have a lawn to mow and a house to clean-and both of us have those things to do.
Time to spend with family and friends and in prayer and in service to others is so limited, and yet I think those things are more important. You're left with this despair. As Suzan said, especially now with small children, it's very, very difficult. As they grow older, I'm hoping that it will come easier to devote that time.
Ann: Oh, I promise you it will be easier. I give you hope. It does get easier, 'cause everyone is in school and kids become more independent and you're not watching them all the time.
Michael: We came back from China when our first son was two-and-a-half. And I remember the night that we were discussing whether we should come back or not. Suzan had become pregnant with our second child, and for various reasons we decided it was better to come back to North America to have the child. And I remember, having come to that decision, just sitting there and shaking my head, thinking how difficult life was going to be. We were living in a rented apartment-the universities gave us accommodation walking distance from where we taught. Our workload was really quite low. We spent the time really developing friendships with our child, with each other. I remember thinking we would have to worry about a house, we would have to take care of it, we would have to worry about furniture, we would have to clean it. There was this whole long list of things we didn't worry about in China , maybe in part because we had no expectation of being there permanently. I knew that we were going to come back and those things were just going to eat up our time, and they weren't important. Those things aren't essential to life, but I knew that we had to do that.
Ann: So how about now in your life-do you practice meditation together? Do you practice prayer together?
Suzan: We pray together with the kids at night.
Ann: And how much time do you spend at that?
Michael: Five or ten minutes. They're basic prayers. Then we take them to bed. We usually do prayers sitting out here, then we take them to bed and we give them a couple of minutes to drink some water. And then they go to bed, and we sit with them and say prayers for another five or ten minutes.
Ann: How about your own spiritual practices? Do you take time for study?
Suzan: Right now I just try to do the minimum I possibly can.
Michael: No, she doesn't have the time. That's the point. That's the truth. It's very difficult.
Suzan: In the Bahá'í Faith you're supposed to say an obligatory prayer every day. You have a choice of saying the long obligatory prayer once a day-it's quite long, it takes about fifteen minutes-and there's a medium prayer you say in the morning, at noon and at night, and then there's a very, very short one that takes about two seconds and you can say that between noon and sunset. So I've been saying that one for about eight years. I just really try to hold on to the core and say the prayers in the morning. If I can remember to do that I feel that's good, I remembered my spiritual obligation.
Michael was away for the past four days, and I was just so exhausted and so busy and I forgot to say my obligatory prayer. I really lost it there.
Michael: Good luck next week.
Suzan: Yes, he's going away again.
Ann: Michael, is it easier for you to take time for prayer?
Michael: Yes, it's easier, but I actually prefer to say prayers with my family. It's difficult not to. So I really value the way we do it together in the evening for a few minutes. Of course, she can't always be there, because she's busy with the baby. We try to get them all into bed at the same time.
Ann: That's a feat! God should give you a prize.
Now do you have a sense that you can actually talk to God and that God would answer you?
Suzan: I feel as if He's a person we know. In the Bahá'í Faith you're not supposed to backbite, you're not supposed to say anything bad about anybody else. So the only outlet that you really have is to talk to God, "Oh God, please help me, this person did such and such a thing." He's he only one I feel I can tell.
Ann: So you can really do that?
Suzan: Yes. I can unload. I'm not really saying anything bad about that person to anybody else, I'm not backbiting. I'm releasing; I really have to get it off my chest.
Ann: Yes, you can't just shut it all down, because it would explode. Do you have a sense of God being with you in some way and helping you when you do this?
Suzan: Well, just from the very act of talking. 'Abdu'l-Bahá says prayer is conversation with God. In some sense you're talking; you can't really hear Him. Through certain actions, I think you can see the acts of God around you. But no, I can't hear the voice of God. That's for the manifestations of God. But just to feel that you have that connection.
Michael: It's a constant companion. In this society, often we are very isolated. We don't know who our friends are, who we can speak with or who we can ask for help. Many times I've said I'm depressed, and I feel I can't do anything, and society is consuming my efforts. If I say this to many friends of mine, they'll think I'm crazy. They say, "What are you talking about? This is what it is all about."
But God is always there, and you can have conversation through prayer. And I certainly believe God listens to you. Can you hear an answer from Him? Pretty rarely. Bahá'u'lláh says God answers every prayer. But it can be through a feeling-one can feel happy, maybe you have a new idea. Maybe it's something somebody says much later that might be the answer to your prayer. And sometimes you may feel that there is no answer.
Ann: And the answer may come in ten years. That's what you learn when you're older-that you pray and pray, and it doesn't seem like you're being heard. But when you look back, certain doors were opened, or certain people came into your life, or you were being tested and building strength. I think that's what young mothers are doing-you're just building tenaciousness, and that can't be taught in any other way, but it's very difficult.
Is spiritual community important to both of you?
Suzan: Very important. As Michael said, I also really feel very lucky that I have been raised as a Bahá'í. We're very, very lucky to have this spiritual family. The Bahá'í Faith is the second most widespread religion in the world.
Ann: The second most widespread?
Michael: It's not that there are more Bahá'ís-after Christianity, there are more places where there are Bahá'ís than there are people of any other religion.
Suzan: Right, so after Christianity, it's the most widespread: There are Bahá'ís in the most localities.
No matter where you go there are always Bahá'ís. And because it's a new religion, everybody feels very, very connected. We went to Barbados for a week on our honeymoon, and while we were there we decided to go look for Bahá'ís. We were walking away from the tourist area of town toward the Bahá'í center, and everybody told us, "No, no, go back this way. this is where the tourists are. You're getting lost. Go back." But we went to the Bahá'í center, and it was just so lovely to be part of that family.
Michael: I met a woman who had been my teacher when I was young. She
taught children's classes for Bahá'ís. She was a nurse, and she and her mother were there for a few months.
Suzan: And it's the same wherever you go; you really feel like you have a family everywhere you go.
Ann: Is there a service once a week that you go to, or is there a gathering so that you can get that kind of support?
Suzan: We have many things. In this area we have a Sunday school for our children. It meets here at our house. It's really nice.
Ann: That's lovely; that's extra work for you, but it's still lovely.
Suzan: Yes, but I feel that's the only way we can be of service to somebody else besides our family. I really like that.
Ann: And how many people come, and how many children?
Michael: On a good day, we have twenty children. But it's usually not a good day. We get around ten to fifteen.
Ann: That's a lot of children in this relatively small space.
Suzan: Yes, but we have enough rooms. I think that's another reason why we got this house. That's another funny spiritual incident, but this house has worked out because we have the right number of rooms for all the classes. Everybody has their own little class.
Ann: So this is like a church? You wouldn't use the word church. Would you use temple?
Suzan: It's just a place to have a gathering. We are encouraged to have a Bahá'í center in each locality, but we don't have enough Bahá'ís here to actually go and buy a Bahá'í center. But where there are a lot of Bahá'ís, then you can find a center. It's called a Bahá'í center-that's where we would have Sunday school. We also meet every nineteen days for the Bahá'í feast.
Ann: And you do that here too?
Suzan: No, that's at different houses.
Ann: How big is the community?
Suzan: Well in upper Westchester County there are about twenty-five families.
Ann: That is quite intimate; you really get to know those twenty-five families.
Michael: We also meet frequently with Bahá'ís in just New Castle ; I guess there are four families. We tend to see them more often.
Suzan: Because the Bahá'ís in each locality are encouraged to have their own feasts to try to establish the Bahá'í community in each little locality.
Michael: And to build that. Yes there's the wider community, but also you want to work at building up your own community.
Ann: What do Bahá'ís say about our place in the world as human beings? Is there something we're supposed to be doing, or are we just living? Is there a plan?
Suzan: Oh yes, there is definitely a plan.
Michael: I think it has always been true that God has a plan to help people try to understand God, to know Him, to love Him. And the teachings of God are really there to help individuals grow spiritually. God doesn't just provide all the answers. To do that, and have everything answered and life be simple and without difficulties would make life, frankly, boring and meaningless. Our lives are full with challenges and difficulties, and there are opportunities for us to discover and learn and understand God and to grow to love Him and to know Him more.
So I think it's certainly God's desire that we do this. As Suzan was saying, there are three choices of obligatory prayer. The short one is, "I bear witness O my God, that Thou hast created me to know thee and to worship thee." You say this daily to remind yourself that this is our purpose, to learn to know God and to worship God.
Ann: And the longer prayers, are they that same type of prayer? Is it about that knowing?
Michael: Yes. It's not expressed as simply. But I think also as society has grown into a more global society, and I think certainly in the Bahá'í Faith, we see more of a societal plan also. Again-building society, learning to cooperate and build meaningful relationships in society. Again, that's a part of being able to reflect and know God. He teaches us about love and He teaches us about how to treat our neighbors, and we make that lesson manifest by building a community in which those values are concrete and clear.
Ann: And what do the Bahá'ís say, or what are your personal feelings about what happens when we die?
Suzan: Well Bahá'u'lláh has brought a lot of teachings about the other world. He said that this physical life is just a place where you acquire the virtues-the necessary equipment-to go on to the other worlds of God.
Ann: What are the virtues?
Suzan: All the gems that you can acquire in this world: kindliness, truthfulness, fidelity, loving-kindness. This is how we become like God, our Creator. Humans were created in the image of God; we have the capacity to manifest all the attributes of God. Our plan for being in this world is to acquire those virtues, and those will let us live in the other world. Life does not end with this life; it's just the
Michael: As we develop spiritual qualities, we certainly see their impact on our life. But exactly how they're going to be used in the next life is unclear. We don't know what it will be like when we no longer have a physical body. We don't understand how those virtues will be used. It's difficult to understand that.
Suzan: There is also progress in the other world. We're always progressing towards God.
Michael: Bahá'ís certainly believe that we're not just physical beings, that every human being has a spirit, a soul that is eternal. And once it comes into being, it will continue to exist. It's associated with our bodies in this world. When the body's not there, it will continue to exist, but it will no longer be associated with our physical being. In some sense the soul is trapped and caged, and when we die it becomes free. But I guess if we haven't acquired and developed the right virtues. if a bird doesn't have wings, it will never soar.
Ann: Is there anything that you would like to say from a Bahá'í perspective to someone who is seeking? What would you tell them is the best way to develop their own path? Do you have any ideas that might assist them?
Suzan: I would say that in the Bahá'í Faith, the word of God is very, very important. It is called the Creative Word; what God has revealed has a special power.
Ann: In other words, sacred scriptures?
Suzan: Yes, sacred scriptures. To anyone who wants to find their own path, I would say, go to the writings. Go to the scriptures, and read them, and I'm sure God will guide them to those ways.
Michael: I think also that when we go to search, if we really want to seek and find, it often means that we have to forget our preconceived notions. As a child you have no notions, and it's very easy to learn anything. But as we get older, we figure out how to do something, and this is the way to do it. If somebody has another way that it works, it's really easy to see the problems with their way and say, "No, we're going to do this my way." It's very hard to change or to do anything but to criticize. I think the same is often true in seeking God and enlightenment; we've grown accustomed to certain things or certain beliefs, and to really seek for God, we need to try to dispose of the things we've learned. As Suzan says, go to the words of God, the sacred scriptures. Read and pray and beg God for help and guidance, and God will guide you.