Interview with Ridvan and Eric Foxhall
- I was viewing faith as an actuality rather than a process-as a state of being, rather than as a state of becoming. I came to understand that no one is perfect, and that these are ideals that you shoot for.
- 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá'u'lláh, is one of my spiritual heroes. He led his life in an exemplary manner. He lived what he spoke-he took on the message of oneness and the message of Bahá'u'lláh, and he lived it.
- The birth of our son was also very moving. There was an overwhelming feeling that we were getting this gift. And what do you do with it, this thing that isn't yours? It's in your charge, but it's really God's child.
- It's important not to get stuck in the moment and to be able to pray and meditate and connect to God.
- I want always to be able to honor God and my fellow human beings and to be of service. Sometimes you get so comfortable that you get complacent, and you forget to do that.
- Part of being a Bahá'í is being of service to humanity, and so we are always looking for ways to work with other people. We get together by ourselves, as Bahá'ís, and we get together with non-Bahá'ís to try to influence the world in a positive way.
- Prayer is about communion with God. It's about opening up your heart and your spirit so that you can get the spiritual insights that are out there.
- "To be a Bahá'í simply means to love all the world, to love humanity and try to serve it, to work for universal peace and brotherhood."
Ann: Which spiritual tradition were you raised in?
Ridvan: I was raised in the Bahá'í Faith, in Calabar , Nigeria .
Ann: And your parents were Bahá'í?
Ridvan: Yes, my parents were Bahá'í even before I was born.
Ann: And Eric, how about you? What spiritual tradition were you raised in?
Eric: I was raised in a Bahá'í family in Mount Kisco , New York , and in Westchester . I lived for a brief time in New Mexico , but basically I was brought up here.
Ann: Is that what drew you together?
Eric: We were attending the same events. We met on a bus thirteen or fourteen years ago, on the way back from a youth conference in Indiana . I was drawn to Ridvan right away, but she didn't notice me until several years later. She just fell asleep next to me.
Ann: So you started courting several years after you met?
Eric: We got to be friends-we were best friends for a long time. When I lived in Los Angeles , my mother adopted her and said, "If you want to come back to New York , you're going to marry this girl!"
Ann: She drew you in and wanted you as a daughter-in-law?
Ann: And she's right in Mount Kisco still?
Eric: She's in Somers.
Ann: So she can enjoy you and her grandchildren. Now, you have a baby girl due in about three weeks, and your son is almost three. What is your son's name?
Ann: So both of you were raised in the same tradition, but was being a Bahá'í in Nigeria very different from being a Bahá'í in America ?
Ridvan: It's different in that the culture is different, but we study the same Writings. There are some Bahá'í practices that are universal, like we hold monthly nineteen-day feasts. And the Bahá'í community everywhere tends to be very diverse. I grew up always meeting and seeing people from all over the world, and it's the same here whenever you go to Bahá'í functions.
Ann: Have you ever lost your faith?
Ridvan: No, I haven't. I was raised a Bahá'í, and then I went to India at the age of eight to go to an International Bahá'í school.
Ann: With your family or on your own?
Ridvan: My two sisters and I went on our own to a boarding school, an international school owned by the Bahá'ís.
Ann: Why did your parents send you so far away?
Ridvan: I'm not completely sure why, but it was certainly worth it.
Ann: How old were all of you?
Ridvan: I was eight; one of my sisters was twelve, I believe, and the younger one was six.
Ann: You were all young.
Ridvan: Yes, although my twelve-year-old sister took charge of all of us. Going to India so young taught us independence. The school was great. It was an International school run by the Bahá'ís. They instilled in us the sense that the world is one, God is one, man is one, and religion is one. I certainly got a strong sense of the oneness of the human family from going to that school, and that's what my parents wanted for us, to get a sense of the world.
Ann: How long did you live there?
Ridvan: 8 years.
Ann: Did you get to go home at all?
Ridvan: Yes. My parents came to visit, and we went home on holidays. It was traumatic in the beginning for me, because I was young, and I didn't get it. I think I took it the hardest; I was grumpy for a whole year. But when I left, you had to drag me out of there crying.
Ann: What a hard lesson for a little girl-to leave home and be independent. Did you feel abandoned?
Ridvan: I didn't necessarily feel abandoned; I just didn't understand it. As an adult, I appreciate my parents for doing it, because Nigeria 's a very tough society for a girl to grow up in, and we were all girls. It is a very male-dominated society, and women don't have very many rights. Women grow up believing that they have their place in society and they're supposed to stay there. So going to India also gave me a good sense of myself as a woman.
Ann: Your parents really wanted you to have freedom and develop your mind?
Ridvan: Yes. In Nigeria , if you have a boy and a girl and you have to choose, education tends to go to the boy. Girls are supposed to be preparing to be mothers and stay home. I have no problem with the idea of doing that-that's what I'm doing now; I'm a mother, I stay home and raise my child. But I am educated, and I can educate my children.
Ann: That's right, and when they go to school, you have some options yourself.
Ridvan: Yes; I work from time to time. I'm constantly learning and growing.
Ann: And what kinds of things do you like to study and learn?
Ridvan: I design websites. I'm not very good at the technical aspect, but I think I do good work.
Ann: And how old are you now?
Ridvan: I'm thirty-two.
Ann: Have you studied any other spiritual paths?
Ridvan: Yes, I have, for several reasons. The Bahá'í Faith encourages us to do so, so my parents had exposed us to different religions. The Bahá'í faith teaches that all religions are one, from the same source. The social laws may be different, but the spiritual essences of religion are the same. And so we are encouraged to learn and study other religions, and my parents made sure we did that.
I grew up in a school that had about seven to nine different religions represented. New Era High School was the name of the school. There were kids from all sorts of religions. There were Hindus, Buddhists, Bahá'ís, Christians, Muslims, the list is endless.
Ann: And they all came to live at the school and be separated from their families, as you did?
Ridvan: Yes, they came from all over the world. It's amazing, I still communicate with people from Australia , New Zealand , Mozambique and India over the Internet. It is wonderful. Every now and then I get an e-mail message from someone across the world. I spent eight years with a lot of these people, and I got to know them and their traditions and beliefs.
Ann: Eric, have you ever lost faith in the Bahá'í Faith?
Eric: No, I have never lost faith in what I believe to be the truth of Bahá'u'lláh or his message. In my teen years I had doubts about my own ability to fulfill the obligations of being a Bahá'í.
Ann: I think that's often when people look at the expectations and think, "I can't do that." How old were you when you struggled with that question?
Eric: Through my late teens and my early twenties. It was a problem of perspective: I was viewing faith as an actuality rather than a process-as a state of being, rather than as a state of becoming. I came to understand that no one is perfect, and that these are ideals that you shoot for. The obligations are the prescription for a healthy spiritual life. The Faith is like a divine physician-you can choose to take the medicine or not, and you can see how that affects your soul and your spiritual life. With a physical physician, when you don't take the medicine, and you're still sick, it's your fault. So it is with the Faith. It's not the physician's fault, so why would you lose faith in the physician?
Ann: Did you study other spiritual paths too?
Eric: Study in terms of gaining knowledge about? Yes. When you're growing up, part of the Bahá'í process is to learn about other religions, their spiritual practices and their social beliefs.
Ann: Why is that important to the Bahá'í? Why would you teach your children that?
Eric: Well the fundamental teaching of the Bahá'í Faith is that all manifestations of God come from the same source, and they bring the same spiritual message. That message is simply rejuvenated, revived and refined from time to time. But each manifestation also has something to say about the world as it is in his or her particular moment, and that becomes the prescription for social living within a village, a state, and a nation. Bahá'u'lláh came with a social message for the whole world. And so the Bahá'í perspective is that people have gone from grade one to grade two to grade three to grade four, and we're expanding on the same spiritual principles.
Ann: Do either of you have any particular spiritual heroes or heroines who you use as specific guides? It can be somebody that you've actually met or somebody you read or that you've used as a guidepost.
Ridvan: 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá'u'lláh, is one of my spiritual heroes. He led his life in an exemplary manner. He lived what he spoke-he took on the message of oneness and the message of Bahá'u'lláh, and he lived it. I've read his writings all my life, and I've always seen him as a spiritual hero.
Ann: How about you Eric? Do you have any spiritual heroes or heroines you use as guides in your life?
Eric: Many. The history of the Bahá'í Faith is very rich with spiritual heroes. We have first-person accounts of some of their lives, written in their own hands, or in some cases we have the accounts of those who knew them that tell us how they lived their lives and how they overcame challenges. We learn about equality of men and women from the female heroine Tahirih and the story of the removal of her veil. We learn about the bravery that it took to confront the inequality of men and women in mid-nineteenth century Persia . There are stories of Badi', who carried the message of Bahá'u'lláh to the kings and rulers. There are stories of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's life and the challenges he faced.
But within my own life, my own mother is one of my spiritual heroes, and I've watched her overcome many obstacles through faith. So that's closer to home.
Ridvan: I would have to say that my parents are spiritual heroes to me as well. They have taught me to have faith and about overcoming obstacles. Coming from a third world country, there are lots of struggles that are different. There are struggles here too, but my parents have certainly taught me to have faith and persevere.
Ann: And are they still there?
Ridvan: They are in Nigeria . They have no plans of leaving; it's their home and they love it there.
Ann: Now, have you had any profound spiritual experiences associated with either birth or sickness or death, when you could really feel a spirit or feel guided?
Eric: I was very close to my grandmother on my father's side, and in her latter years I moved into her house to care for her, so I was there in the house when she passed. I could tell the moment she passed, but I felt that she never left. And I've continued to feel that. It's very moving to have the sense that even though she has passed, she is still here. A friend told me that she sees my grandmother with me as my guardian angel, and I don't think she ever knew about my sense of my grandmother's presence. It's interesting to have that feeling confirmed.
The birth of our son was also very moving. There was an overwhelming feeling that we were getting this gift. And what do you do with it, this thing that isn't yours? It's in your charge, but it's really God's child. Can you really fulfill the responsibility to take care of God's child? It sort of chastens you and forces you to make sure your house is in order so that you're taking care of God's child appropriately.
Ridvan: I think Jared's birth wasn't as profound for me at first, because I was in so much pain. But bringing him home was pretty amazing. It was very scary to have this fragile being with a soul and all this potential within. To think that I am responsible for raising this child, this gift that has been given to me. That was pretty profound. It took a lot of days just to contemplate that. I started reading a lot about children; how to raise them and how to honor their spirit and respect the fact that they are separate individuals.
Ann: What a wonderful teaching. Have you had any experiences that have taken you to the edge of despair?
Ridvan: I've lived a pretty sheltered life, and I haven't had any family member really close to me pass away, so that's a really hard question. I've been pretty fortunate that way, so I would really have to dig for that one.
Ann: How about you, was there any time of great despair?
Eric: Well, on her behalf-I think she doesn't feel that she's gone through this type of thing so dramatically because she's got a very good spiritual tool kit. I've watched her go through times that probably would have traumatized other people and just sort of move on.
Ann: So what kind of spiritual tools would those be?
Eric: Well, an understanding of the temporariness of everything in the material world and a focus on the eternal; an understanding that every situation changes. Wealth is followed by poverty, and poverty is followed by wealth, and health is followed by sickness. These things are all part of the human experience, and they change. It's important not to get stuck in the moment and to be able to pray and meditate and connect to God.
Ann: Do you pray together as a family?
Eric: We do, and individually.
Ann: Do you have a specific routine around prayer?
Eric: There are very few rules within the Bahá'í Faith concerning prayer practice. We have prayers that are revealed for every given circumstance. We can read, or we can pray extemporaneously.
Ridvan: The Bahá'í prayers are one of the things that really helps me. There are prayers for every occasion-when you're frightened, when you're not sure. Anytime that life is difficult, I turn to those prayers. They've been a godsend for me.
Because I was raised as a Bahá'í and went to a school run by Bahá'ís, I got to memorize a lot of these prayers as a very young child. I could be going through the day feeling despair, and I'll say to myself, "Oh God, refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. I lay all my affairs in thy hand." Or, "Is there any remover of difficulty save God?"
Because they're memorized, I can run these in my head as I go through my day, and it lifts my spirit. "Oh God guide me, protect me. Illumine the lamp of my heart to make me a brilliant star. Thou are the mighty and the powerful." If I'm scared, I might say, "Oh God guide me and protect me." I have this tape constantly running in my mind. I appreciate the prayers and the Bahá'í Faith is full of prayers.
Ann: Would you say life is harder here in America or in Nigeria ? Do you see them as very different?
Ridvan: I guess it depends on how you look at life. In many ways life in America seems easier because of the comforts, but it's not. It can be spiritually more difficult. But in Nigeria , life is physically harder because the infrastructure is not there. They haven't got basic necessities like water and light; it's a poor country, everything is a struggle. I think under those conditions you tend to turn more toward God or faith, whatever you believe in. You tend to reach out of yourself for strength to go on.
But here we have everything, and you can forget about faith and just get stuck in this spiritual apathy. We forget to honor God, we forget to honor each other. To me, that is the battle, because I want always to be able to honor God and my fellow human beings and to be of service. Sometimes you get so comfortable that you get complacent, and you forget to do that. I think that's pretty scary. I've made an
effort to grow spiritually, so I like to be reminded that I have a path.
Ann: So you do pray together; do you meditate?
Eric: We meditate.
Ann: What is Bahá'í meditation like?
Eric: Meditation is a part of our daily spiritual food, and you can use anything that aids you to reflect. You can use preformed thought or prayers that you've read. Meditation really requires spiritual introspection and contemplation. You might say it's a spiritual clearing of the cobwebs, and it can either be a process of trying to maintain no thought at all, or of focusing on a specific passage. The goal is to close oneself to the outer world and turn and reflect on the inner life.
Ann: Can you hear God talking to you? Do you have sense of God's presence or of a divine essence when you pray?
Eric: That's an enormous question; one wants to anthropomorphize the divine.
Ann: You mean just bring it down and make it human.
Eric: Right; so that there's a relationship, so that you can identify. As Bahá'ís we understand that the divine is really in a different, timeless realm of existence. It exists beyond the physical world, and we know that world as it's been described to us, distilled for us through God's manifestation. But it's almost as if your pet were trying to understand physics.
I can identify physically with the manifestations of God. Spiritually, it's sort of analogous to plugging a light into an electrical socket-it's a source of energy. There's a direct relationship, but there is also a greater energy you're tapping into, a universal power source, as it were. So it's difficult for us as physical beings to understand how this being can be concerned with the daily concerns and cares of one person out of six billion. But God's not subject to those limitations. But it's also about aligning oneself with the energy that exists in the universe. The common thing that binds the universe-as physics would put it, the mutual attraction that bonds the elements; in the spiritual world we call that love. That's the essence that you try to draw into yourself.
Ann: When you hear God-when you're plugging in and you sincerely want to have an answer-how do you know the answer is from God and not from your ego or the society you live in? How do you know when you've really reached that higher realm?
Eric: Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, wrote about prayer. He said that you should mentally gather your problems and concerns, and meditate and pray about them, and then you act. You act with faith, and you continually bring yourself and your actions to account. You continually refine that process.
I think there is no way to know, "I should do this thing, because God tells me." You can have a strong feeling, you can move in that direction and then be faced with all kinds of challenges that make you think maybe it's the wrong thing, and you bring yourself into doubt. The point is to keep trying and not lose faith. Are you consistent about your fundamental principles? Are you promoting universal peace and universal brotherhood? I have to ask myself whether my actions are contributing in that way. Do the tests in my life mean that I am doing something wrong? Or do they mean that I'm being provided with an exercise to strengthen my spiritual character in order to overcome greater challenges or be a greater help to humanity? How do you view these kinds of things? "Oh I'm failing, and I'm miserable and my prayers don't work and my actions don't work." Or are you being given the bounty of an extra run through the mill to strengthen yourself? We believe that we are not given anything that we can't overcome.
Ann: Okay, but what I'm asking is, When you speak to God through prayer, how do you know that the answer is from God? Is it a trick of our ego, or is there a presence? Is there really something outside of ourselves that's directing us? Directing doesn't mean it's going to be easy, necessarily. The doors don't just fly open because you pray to God.
Ridvan: I think we want immediate answers. Personally, I feel God in a lot that I do. It's a very hard feeling to describe, but there are lots of times in my life that I pray about things and then look for God. I say this prayer in my head, "I lay all of my affairs in thy hands.'' And many times when an answer comes to me, I feel it is from God. It's as if it is presented at the perfect time, and I can see that this answer is not of me. Something so profound happens in my life that I know it's an answer to a prayer-and it could be a prayer I said ten years ago. I know this is a gift; I wake up one day and something just lands in my lap. I know that's divine and that it's a gift.
Ann: In every religion, people have these experiences of knowing things that go beyond just having human knowledge. I find it fascinating to see that everybody struggles with very, very similar things.
As Bahá'ís, is it important to you to have a spiritual community? And what does your community look like?
Ridvan: I've always had a spiritual community. Bahá'ís get together a lot. Part of being a Bahá'í is being of service to humanity, and so we are always looking for ways to work with other people. We get together by ourselves, as Bahá'ís, and we get together with non-Bahá'ís to try to influence the world in a positive way. Here and in Nigeria and India , I've always been in a Bahá'í community that meets on a regular basis.
One of the things I like about being a Bahá'í is that Bahá'ís all over the world are part of my family. Wherever you go you have a readymade community. You don't have to be invited. I remember once when I was around ten or eleven, my sisters and I went to Kenya with my father, and he had to travel for an emergency. He left us with a Bahá'í family we had just met. It was amazing; it was during our summer vacation. There were three of us girls, and these Bahá'ís said, "You go ahead, we'll take care of them." So they took us, and we had a great time meeting all these people. But my parents have such a strong sense of community-my father knew some of the Bahá'ís there because he had traveled to Kenya before. This has happened a lot in my life; I've just been left with some Bahá'í friends or family and felt totally at home. It's a nice feeling. I've always had a sense of being a part of a Bahá'í community and family.
Ann: How about you Eric, do you have a sense of community?
Eric: Yes, although I think community is defined differently for those of us who grew up outside the norms of communal structure. We don't have the numbers locally to provide the social services that many people have in their own faith group. We are developing those things, but my sense of community is seeing the whole world as one human family, and knowing that a Bahá'í on the other end of the world would see that the same way and relate to me in that fundamental way-so we have an instant connection.
I think the challenge in the search for community is that we define our belief system by the community immediately surrounding us. A community is really a collection of individuals with their own problems, their own hang-ups and their own politics. These things should not be the basis for faith. Do I go to a church or attend a faith community because of the people that are there or because of the belief system that is there? If it's about the community, then it's not really about faith; it's about finding the blend of community that fits my own imagination of how I want to live my life, rather than defining what faith is and then trying to work with people to develop a unified and yet diverse approach to community living. If your personality and my personality are clashing, am I going to blame God and leave? If we are looking directly at each other, we are as far apart as the base of a triangle. However, if we direct our attention upward, we are drawn to the apex of that triangle, and we're closer together there. So, if we can focus our attentions on universal themes and the things that are the same about us, we can try to appreciate our differences and focus on our commonalties and build community life in that way.
Ann: Is there is a service that you go to once a week? Or are there specific gatherings when you're a Bahá'í?
Eric: Yes. There are regular spiritual administrative meetings that are held every nineteen days-a Bahá'í month is nineteen days. There are regular prayer meetings between those meetings, and you also open your homes and invite friends in for discussions about spiritual matters and to introduce Bahá'í concepts of spirituality to others. Not to try to convert people, but to make friends and focus on our common themes.
Ann: I've been to several of those evenings where people have taught. It is very lovely; people just arrived at someone's apartment, and a man came and taught. Then everybody went home. It wasn't as structured as a religious service, but the teaching, the community, the questioning were all certainly profound.
I've heard you don't have a paid clergy.
Eric: We have no professional clergy. We have an administrative body that's elected from within the community of believers, and they serve for a period of time and are reelected every year.
Ann: Do you have a specific name for your house of worship? Is it called a church, a temple, a gathering place? I went to the New York City Center -is there a specific religious name for it?
Ridvan: It's called the Bahá'í Center. We have Bahá'í Centers all over the world, and then we have Bahá'í Temples .
Eric: Temples are the spiritual focal points on each continent.
Ann: So on each continent there's a temple?
Eric: Yes, and it's open to members of all faiths, and they do have regular services.
Ann: Is there one here in America ?
Eric: In Chicago , Illinois . In South America , it's in Panama . Africa 's is in Uganda .
Ann: And Haifa is.?
Eric: Haifa is the world administrative center and also the resting place of the remains of both the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. Haifa has the remains of the Báb, and Akka, on the other side of the bay, has the remains of Bahá'u'lláh. So those are holy places. India has a temple, Australia has a temple.
Ann: And have you been to any of those temples?
Ridvan: I've been only to the one in America .
Eric: I've been to the American temple and to the European one, which is in Frankfurt , Germany .
Ann: Now we've talked a little bit about this question, but why do bad things happen to good people? If you're serving God and the universe, and you're doing your best, why doesn't God protect you, and you don't have any problems?
Ridvan: I don't ask that question, and I think it has a lot to do with the way I was raised. Why do bad things happen? People ask that question all the time-why would God allow this to happen to me?
I grew up with writings that taught me that we are on a spiritual path. I don't define things as "Bad things happen to me." There are blessings that happen, and there are tests. That's a word that was taught to me when I was a kid-by my parents, my school, everything. Those are tests, they are not necessarily bad things that happen to good people. They are tests that happen to strengthen us. If we didn't have them, how would we grow? If we didn't have night, how would we appreciate day? If we didn't have winter, how would we love and enjoy the spring? How would we appreciate that? Winter is cold, and winter can be very hard. But then spring comes along, and you can appreciate spring, because it comes right after winter.
I have friends who say "bad things happen," and you get depressed if you look at it that way. And then you start blaming God when the bad things happen. It becomes a cycle of blaming. Anytime something happened, some Persian friends of mine would say, "Little by little, day by day, you'll overcome." When you are going through a hardship, you must take it little by little, day by day. I often recite that in my head when there is something difficult going on. It's a test, and having this perspective that there is life beyond this plane makes me realize that even in the worst situation, it's got to end. It's going to end eventually; my life will end eventually. It's not something that will be here forever.
So I've always viewed difficulties or struggles as tests, not as something bad happening to me. I'm not worshipping and praying and believing in God so that good things will happen to me. I believe in God because it makes life wonderful. It makes me appreciate the trees, the flowers, the people-it makes life a lot happier. I believe in God because it gives me a prescription for living a happy life. So when tests happen, they're part of life. I do ask for things, but I try hard to pray more for the sake of praying, for the sake of communion with God, rather than to ask for things. Because when you ask for things, you get into this trap where if you don't get what you've asked for, it's devastating-"God has let me down."
Prayer is about communion with God. It's about opening up your heart and your spirit so that you can get the spiritual insights that are out there. And when you live life that way, it's not about good or bad. It's about, "Okay, this is happening; I may need this at this time in my life. Maybe there are some things I need to look at and reevaluate. Why is this happening to me?" My mom was always very good at reminding me that whatever you're going through, you can overcome it. If it happens to you, it's because you can overcome it. You can do it-that's why it happened to you. Find a way to get beyond it, rather than wallow in it.
Eric: The Bahá'í prayer book has a whole section of prayers just to pray for tests and difficulties, to strengthen you spiritually. It says, "But for the tribulations which are sustained in our path, how could thy true lovers be recognized? And were it not for the trials which are borne for love of thee, how could the station of such as yearn for thee be revealed. Thou might beareth me witness, the companions of all who adore thee are the tears they shed."
And so, when you view your reality as spiritual and the physical as temporary, what is really eternal about you is something that can't be defined in the physical world. We liken it to the child within the womb: The soul in this world is like the child in the womb-the child has no understanding of why its growing arms, legs, eyes and ears. It has no need for these things in the womb. We often have no need for these spiritual virtues-honesty, love, kindness. All these things are often antithetical to our "success" as we define it within the material world. So why develop them, if they are not going to bring you a bigger house or a faster car? If you can get over on someone and make better for yourself, why develop the inner self? But, once you shed this vehicle, what do you have to carry you through eternity? We're told that it's the spiritual tool kit.
Ann: That's the next question. Why do we even come here from the spiritual realm to live this life? What does Bahá'u'lláh say about that, or what do you say about that?
Eric: Why does God choose the physical world as the matrix for the soul? This is the formative stage in the soul's eternal process of evolution. We don't know the mind of the divine, but this is what we are. We come from God, and we return to God. And he brings us through this matrix. It can all go away. Everything material can just vanish.
It's just temporary.
Ann: But there is something bigger, we do have a soul. And though a child might only live for six months, that's what that child is supposed to experience.
Eric: That's God creation. God will provide the tools that he needs should he not be able to acquire them here. God is all forgiving, all providing, all loving.
Ann: Is there any sense of past life or any sense of reincarnation, or is it just a finite life and then you develop further on in the spiritual realm?
Eric: Well, what is described is that we were drops from the ocean of spiritual reality, and that we did exist prior to the unique identity of the soul. How do we describe it? In the Writings it's described as a drop from the ocean of spiritual reality. We believe that God gives us that unique spiritual identity at the moment of conception, and that eventually we return to the ocean and retain that uniqueness. Do we return to this physical world? Can I crawl back into the womb? I don't think so.
Ridvan: That's a hard question to answer, but recently I was at a workshop and someone was talking about how we should change the way we view ourselves. Instead of viewing ourselves as a physical body with a soul, we should try to view ourselves as a soul with a physical body. We are essentially spiritual beings with a physical body. And the physical body is just here to help us get around this earth. But we are souls, we're spirits. And that spirit continues; the spirit doesn't die when we shed this physical body.
And there is this analogy of the baby in the womb. The baby's in there developing hands and feet and eyes and a face-the physical form to be able to exist in this world. In the same way, while we are in this world we develop by going through life, going through the tests and strengthening and refining our souls, our spirits. Like a baby in the womb, we're gaining our spiritual feet and hands. We are developing our souls for that. Does the baby really know there's another world out here? It probably feels it; I feel strongly that there's life beyond this world. There are times when I feel very connected to something beyond this world.
So what are we here for? We are here to develop those spiritual arms and legs that we'll need to soar in the next world. So you do that by living a life where you honor God and you honor your fellow human beings and you have these tests to strengthen and refine your spirit. There is something beyond this life, because the more I follow this path, the more I feel connected to something that is beyond me. I am a spirit in this physical body, and one day I will shed this physical body, but my spirit will live on. I think that is why people feel that spirits are with them-of their parents or their children. Sometimes I feel it very strongly; I don't know how to explain it, but the fact that many people in the world feel it means there's got to be something to it. That's my personal explanation.
Ann: Now, is there anything that you would tell somebody who doesn't have a spiritual path, or someone who is questioning? Do you have any encouragement, or ideas about how to enrich someone's life using a spiritual path?
Ridvan: I think I just try to be an example. It's hard for me to try to stir people toward my spiritual path. I think people come to a spiritual path, or to a religion, in different ways. I would like to be an example to people, to be a loving support for anyone who needs it. I try to make my home a home where people always feel invited and welcomed and loved. If that leads them to want to investigate my religion, then that's great. I love my religion and it certainly helps me gain perspective on this world and why I am here. I would invite anyone to investigate it, but how they come to a spiritual path is left to them. A lot of times when you try to push people in a certain direction, you push them away.
Ann: Now your son is being raised as a Bahá'í?
Ann: But he really gets to choose later on, right?
Ridvan: Yes. Independent investigation of truth is one of the tenets of the Bahá'í Faith. There are many Writings that say not to follow blindly in your parents' footsteps-I'm paraphrasing. But I grew up with the sense that I should not just follow my parents' path, that I should investigate it. So I teach my son the Bahá'í prayers. We go to the services and meetings, our gatherings. My goal is to raise him to have a strong sense about being a Bahá'í, but also to have a sense of what that means. "To be a Bahá'í simply means to love all the world, to love humanity and try to serve it, to work for universal peace and brotherhood." I recite this to him in the morning and in the evening. That's how I am raising my son. He is almost three and he can recite most of that. "To be a Bahá'í simply means to love the whole world." I am raising him to be a Bahá'í.
Ann: Eric, is there anything that you would want to say to people who are seeking a path, or just in closing after thinking about all these questions?
Eric: Those who are seeking a path should continuously ask themselves, does what I practice and what I believe foster universal peace, universal understanding? Regardless of what my beliefs and practices are, are they conducive to the unity of mankind, or to division and war? Is what I practice aggression? Do I practice my beliefs in my economic life? Do my practices promote the well being of humanity or my own well being? Does what I practice promote environmental health, or is it destructive to some part of this universe? Whatever path you choose, how does it affect how you live in the world? That will reflect on the spiritual reality of it.