Who was `Abdu'l-Bahá, and why did He come to the West?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31, 1912

Fanwood, New Jersey: Two talks; refreshing countryside

Mahmud writes: "At the request of Mr [William H.] Hoar, the Master visited a sanatorium [in Fanwood, NJ], visiting with the friends and holding two meetings, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. In both meetings He proclaimed the Word of God and spoke of the teachings of the Blessed Beauty [see PUP 161–63]. Many were attracted to the Divine Voice. As the village of Fanwood is a summer resort and its fields and countryside very green and refreshing, it was very much enjoyed by the Master. But when they pleaded with Him to prolong His stay for a few days, because of the excessive heat and soot in New York, He said: `We have no time for amusement and fresh air. We must engage ourselves in service to the Threshold of Oneness.'"

He did spend the night, as there is a departure scene at the train station to come tomorrow.

Ward notes that He conducted a morning public meeting [perhaps at the sanatorium?] and presented an afternoon meeting in the Town Hall.

In the town hall talk, He spoke about the difference in the material and spiritual world, about how imitation destroys religion, and about the importance of the Prophets of God. He ends his talk with these inspiring words:
     ". . . the Prophets of God have come to unite the children of men and not to disperse them, to establish the law of love and not enmity. Consequently, we must lay aside all prejudice--whether it be religious, racial, political or patriotic; we must become the cause of the unification of the human race. Strive for universal peace, seek the means of love, and destroy the basis of disagreement so that this material world may become divine, the world of matter become the realm of the Kingdom and humanity attain to the world of perfection."

William Hoar was a Disciple of Abdu'l-Baha.  I must include a post on what that means!

Monday, May 30, 2011

May 30, 1912

New York: University of New York; influence; sons of martyrs

Apparently, today was the actual day that `Abdu'l-Bahá spoke to the Theosophical Society (see entry for May 29 and PUP talk on May 30.) Mahmud's account is off by a day again. But perhaps the following events also occurred on the 30th.

Mahmud writes: "After meeting with some of the friends and a few seekers, the Master went to a hall at the University of New York and gave an address on scientific questions and divine philosophy. His talk influenced many prominent people, all of whom were deeply moved and fascinated. Seeing the influence of the Cause in these sorts of large gatherings, the Bahá'ís offered thanks and gratitude for the confirmations of the Abhá Kingdom.
During this time the Master occupied Himself by writing Tablets in response to questions from both the Eastern and the Western friends. Today He gave an account of the lives of Varqá and Rúhu'lláh. He showed His great kindness to the sons of this martyr in the path of God, Mírzá Azíz'u'lláh Khán and Mírzá Valíyu'lláh Khán. The Master then told the friends about some of the precepts of the Cause. During these discourses, He said often: I am the interpreter of the Writings of the Blessed Beauty, as explicitly designated by the Supreme Pen. All must obey. All matters pertaining to the Faith must be referred to the authorized interpreter. In the future all must turn to the divine House of Justice."

One wonders who the "prominent people" were. And whether University of New York is actually CUNY. PUP does not reference any talk at the University of New York.  I will have to write more when I know more. . . .

One thing is clear: The Master spent more time in New York than anywhere else.  

Rob Stockman explains: "The two months divide up, in turn, into five shorter periods: May 26 through June 8; June 8-10, when He visited Philadelphia; June 11-20, when He was back in New York City; June 20-29, when He was in Montclair, Newark, and West Englewood, New Jersey; and June 30-July 23, when He was back in New York City again."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Interlude: "A strange white light"; Rudolph Steiner . . .

One wonders how 'Abdu'l-Bahá observed the Holy Day today and whether He had thoughtful reflections about His father's passing. . . . 

Research is so very multi-faceted and unpredictable. Every day now I am finding/receiving information about aspects of the journey, and I will start going back to ADD to previous posts as I can.  An immense, unending process. . . . 

Duane Troxel sent a link to Baha'i books online: http://arthursbookshelf.com/onlinebooks/online.html

Among the works available is Eliane Lacroix-Hopson's 'Abdu'l-Bahá in New York: The City of the Covenant (see resources).  I've added a section from her to my very first post, including this story:  

 "Twenty five years later, a woman who as a child had traveled on the Cedric told a Bahá'í that she had never forgotten her personal encounter with the Master. 'A glance that burned' into her soul and frightened her, lest she had displeased Him, and the kindly smile which released her 'from terror.' She recalled that everyone had remarked about 'His majestic bearing, His kingly walk, and above all the strange white light that followed Him everywhere.'" 

Many, no doubt, saw or experienced this "light" but did not take the next step of recognizing the "station"of the Master or learning more about Baha'u'llah. This continues to be a mystery today, how some circle the "garden" and others penetrate it, and some remain to tend it, as the analogy goes. 

I woke up today thinking of Rudolph Steiner, who "founded a spiritual movement, Anthroposophy, as an esoteric philosophy growing out of European transcendentalism and with links to Theosophy. . . ." The first phase dealt with the synthesis between science and mysticism. In the second phase, "he began working collaboratively in a variety of artistic media, including drama, the movement arts (developing a new artistic form, eurythmy) and architecture, culminating in the building of a cultural center to house all the arts, the Goetheanum. After the First World War, Steiner worked with educators, farmers, doctors, and other professionals to develop Waldorf educationbiodynamic agricultureanthroposophical medicine as well as new directions in numerous other practical areas."  (Wikipedia)  FASCINATING! 

After my first pilgrimage, I went to Basel, Switzerland to spend a day with Mark Tobey (then in his 80s and relatively senile--but it was one of the most memorable days of my life).  In the Basel town square the day before I had met a young man from Dornach (where the Goetheanum was located, though it was burned to the ground in 1922 by an arsonist. A second building, which Steiner designed, was completed after his death--the center for the Anthroposophical Society and its School of Spiritual Science).  This young man was a devotee of Goethe and Steiner. After an intense and heady interaction (and a mighty struggle to maintain my chastity), I invited the young man to visit the artist with me. We shared that day, in the home and atelier of Tobey, after being in some sort of raptured spiritual state for some hours. This must have been a bit what it was like for people drawn to others seeking a new truth. 

Rudolph Steiner
Steiner was tuned into the "new age" in an amazing way. "During his thirties, Steiner awakened to an inner recognition of what he termed 'the turning point in time' in human spiritual history. That event was brought about by the incarnation of the Christ. Steiner recognized that the meaning of that turning point in time transcends all differences of religion, race, or nation and has consequences for all of humanity. Rudolf Steiner was also led to recognize the new presence and activity of the Christ. It began in the twentieth century, not in the physical world, but in the etheric realm of the invisible realm of life forces of the Earth and humanity. Steiner wanted to nurture a path of knowledge to meet today's deep and urgent needs. Those ideals, though imperfectly realized, may guide people to find a continuing inspiration in anthroposophy for their lives and work. Rudolf Steiner left us the fruits of careful spiritual observation and perception (or, as he preferred to call it, spiritual research), a vision that is free and thoroughly conscious of the integrity of thinking and understanding inherent in natural science." (http://www.steinerbooks.org/aboutrudolf.html)
He spoke often to groups of Theosophists, and the Waldorf school are still in existence--fruits of his life's work. (My uncle was involved with one in Hawaii.)  

It reminds me of the wholistic vision of Sarah Farmer, whose educational goals included the fusion of the arts with spiritual and practical underpinnings. More to come on her later! 

In any event, one gets an overpowering feeling of excitement about the various directions the "new age" spawned--and at the heart of this is the Master, inspiring, influencing, confirming, resonating. . . . 

May 29, 1912

New York: Theosophical Society; eternal happiness

Mahmud notes: "A public meeting was held today by the Theosophical Society where `Abdu'l-Bahá spoke on matters relating to the spirit and its passage through the world of existence. [See PUP 156–60] The effect of His address was such that the president of the society said, in the presence of `Abdu'l-Bahá, that his greatest desire was to bring about a perfect harmony between the Bahá'ís and the Theosophists. The happiness of Master increased day by day through influence of the Cause of God. Whenever He was asked about His health, He said with the utmost happiness, `My health and happiness depend on the progress of the Cause of God. Nothing else merits attention. This happiness is eternal, and this life is life everlasting.'"

Annie Besant
This was not the first time Theosophists intersected with the Master.  In London, the previous year, Annie Besant (1847-1933), head of the Theosophical Society, had invited `Abdu'l-Bahá to address the society at its London headquarters, according to Rob Stockman, who describes Theosophy as "a spiritualist group interested in comparative religion and communications with 'ascended' spiritual 'masters.'"  Theosophists met `Abdu'l-Bahá at Agnes Parsons’ house at two separate meetings on the same day; they were also among diverse audiences on a number of occasions.  
  In his forthcoming book, Rob Stockman relates an interesting story:  "He [the Master] went to Northwestern University in Evanston to speak to the Theosophists at University Hall.  He discoursed about death as a transformation from one form to another and about eternal life. He never mentioned reincarnation—a central Theosophical belief—but His entire talk described an alternative view of the afterlife and therefore was an implicit refutation of the belief."

Rob also says that the Theosophists were suffering from internal controversies and had a harder time than the Baha'is did in terms of accepting the oneness of humanity. 

On May 30 (tomorrow) He spoke to the Theosophists, the "third of eight He would deliver to Theosophists in the United States" and focused on international peace. He compared “the nations of the world to the members of a family” therefore “as strife and dissention destroy a family and prevent its progress, so nations are destroyed and advancement hindered.” To remedy the existing human conditions, “a divine physician is needed.” He spoke about the unity and peace brought by Jesus Christ and promised that the Holy Spirit would continually guide humanity, but did not talk about Bahá’u’lláh.

In July, according to Rob, the President of the Boston Theosophical Society invited Him to speak to the Theosophists there. "Even though He was tired, He gave them a lengthy address about the human spirit and the proofs that it is 'everlasting' and that 'we must strive to learn of it.' Mahmúd notes that 'when the meeting ended, the people ran to the door to shake hands with the Master and to express their joy and devotion.'" 

I wonder how many Theosophists there are today. . . . 

Annie Besant
Annie Besant's biography is really interesting. One source says, "In the 1890s Annie Besant became a supporter of Theosophy, a religious movement founded by Madame Blavatsky in 1875. Theosophy was based on Hindu ideas of karma and reincarnation with nirvana as the eventual aim. Annie Besant went to live in India but she remained interested in the subject of women's rights." [She was known earlier for her outspoken ideas on birth control and suffrage.] . . . President of the Theosophical Society from 1907, she wrote an enormous number of books and pamphlets on theosophy. She traveled (1926–27) in England and the United States with her protégé Jiddu Krishnamurti, whom she announced as the new Messiah. However, by 1929 the young man himself denounced all claims about himself as the World Teacher. Annie Besant died in India in 1933 at the age of 86.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 28, 1912

New York: Eviction from Hotel; Move to the Kinney's home; Metropolitan Temple

Mahmud writes: "At a gathering of Bahá'ís, the Master recounted His journey to Boston, speaking on the capacity of souls and the need for divine education. Friends and inquirers were also continuously coming and going to visit Him in His room. Today He moved from the house facing the Hudson River to Mrs Kinney's home. He had instructed us to rent a house for Him because the owner of the apartment hotel considered that the movement of so many diverse people was unusual and felt that the additional work and difficulty [for the staff] was too much. There had been so many people visiting from morning to night that the hotel management had been obliged to respond to incessant inquiries. However, when the staff saw the Master's great kindness as He left the hotel they became ashamed of their conduct and begged Him to stay longer, but He did not accept."

Ward is more blunt: "On Tuesday, May 28, Abdu'l-Baha was evicted from His hotel. . . . He moved to Saffa Kinney's home at 780 West End Ave."

All sources aside from Mahmud say that it was May 28 when the Master spoke at the Metropolitan Temple. (See post from yesterday for details and photos of the Temple.) The next day, the 29th, there was an article in the New York City American headed, "URGES ONE RELIGION FOR ALL":
     "The Metropolitan Temple was filled yesterday with a fashionable and distinguished audience greeting Abdul Baha Abbas.  Upon the platform were seated the Rev. Wesley J. Hill, former paster of the Metropolitan Templ., Church, who presided; the Rev. Rabbi Silverman and the Rev. Dr. Frederick Lynch, all of whom spoke. . . .
     Abdul Baha said that divine religions, like the waters, are in reality one. He advocated one universal religion with no racial difference." (Ward, 74–75)

Oh, Mahmud. You give us so much. Wish the dates weren't a problem, here and there!

Friday, May 27, 2011

May 27, 1912

New York: Metropolitan Temple*; focus on Peace and a reverence for the Master

* Actually, all sources besides Mahmud's say this talk occurred on the 28th, so see next day, too.
Metropolitan Temple, Seventh avenue & Fourteenth street
President-elect Taft dedicated the McKinley Memorial
Organ in 1908. The Temple burned down in 1928. 

Mahmud notes: "More than a thousand people assembled at the Metropolitan Temple in the afternoon to hear the Master. [PUP 150] Dr Hill, one of the ministers previously mentioned, stood and said: We are honored at this occasion by the presence of a distinguished guest who is the representative of universal peace. His fame has spread throughout the East and the West. Humanity has reaped great benefits from His teachings. Such an august personage deserves a genuine and sincere reception. Past ages necessitated the formation of nations but the present time requires a unity among the existing nations. I am greatly honored to introduce you to the founder and promoter of this universal peace and harmony.
Mr Frederick Lynch, the author of the book International Peace and an active member of the peace movement, stood and said:
Since the arrival of `Abdu'l-Bahá in America, I have had the honor of hearing and meeting Him several times; I have read with great interest His speeches and addresses in the newspapers. My ardent wish is that I may see here, too, the great impact of His teachings and the influence of His manifest signs. I was present at the Peace Conference at Lake Mohonk and had the pleasure of listening to the most remarkable address given there. The principles of His teachings, as given in that address, are the oneness of humanity, universal peace and the unity of religions. All His talks vibrate with the spirit of these principles and their influence is felt by all. How I welcome this dear person, whose presence has inspired the minds and hearts of the Americans! He receives inspiration from the breaths of the Holy Spirit. His spirit is infinite, unlimited and eternal. I am delighted to have been invited to this great occasion and to have the opportunity publicly to express my heartfelt testimony.
`Abdu'l-Bahá then stood and spoke on the subject of the Fatherhood of God and the oneness of humanity. The greatest proof of the majesty and power of the Covenant of God was the talk given by Rabbi Silverman, which followed the Master's talk. Previously he had been opposed to the Cause and argued against it. But from the moment he came into the presence of the Master he was transformed and became entirely humble. Rabbi Silverman said:
We have seen today the light with our own eyes. We are accustomed to seeing the sun rise from the East so we no longer regard it as a miracle. Spiritual light, too, has always shone from the East upon the West. The world is in need of this light, and we, too, are in need of this life-giving light. The fountainhead of this light has today spoken to us. This great personage, with a pure heart and chaste spirit, has attracted the hearts of the Americans and has made them His captivating lovers. His love and teachings have made a great impression upon the hearts and minds. The outward forms of religions are like shells, while the teachings and love are like unto the kernel. We need the shell so that the kernel may be protected. O people, distinguish between the shell and the kernel, the reality and the form. As stated by this respected prophet, `We must not err in distinguishing the light from the lamp.'"
Isn't it marvelous how affirmative the speakers were--how impacted they and others were by the presence and words of the Master.

I looked at an online publication by Lynch (The Problem of Peace, 1911, with introduction by Andrew Carnegie--the president of the NY Peace Society, and dedication to Albert Smiley), and it is well worth reading. See http://books.google.com/books/about/The_peace_problem.html?id=CYdJAAAAIAAJ

Andrew Carnegie
Also, see Peace Monuments related to Andrew Carnegie:  http://peace.maripo.com/m_carnegie.htm

I suppose we could think of the Peace "Monuments" related to `Abdu'l-Bahá residing in the hearts of those He touched and touches today.

I had known of Rabbi Silverman from Green Acre research, but just now discovered he was rabbi for a Temple here in Dallas (where I used to folk dance): "Joseph Silverman (b. Ohio, August 25, 1860; d. New York City, 1930) was a leading American Reform rabbi and author. He was the first American born rabbi to serve in New York City. In 1887, he married and subsequently had five children with his wife Henrietta. He received a PhD from the Hebrew Union College in 1887; he was Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, DallasTexas, September, 1884 to June, 1885. . . ." (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, I couldn't find an image of Lynch or Silverman online.  

Peace is such an important thread throughout the Master's journey. 

May 26, 1912

Boston to New York: Golden Circle, Syrians, a poet, confirmations and clear proofs, Juliet's test
Mahmud writes: "`Abdu'l-Bahá left Boston today but before leaving He attended a meeting of the Golden Circle [al-Halqatadh-Dhahabíyyah], the largest Syrian society in America. One of the learned men, Dr Georgi, introduced the Master and praised Him in the most beautiful words. Another gentleman, a poet of the Arabic language, read, with great reverence and respect, an ode he had written in praise of the Cause of God and the Master. Then `Abdu'l-Bahá rose and delivered a most eloquent address, which made the Syrians very happy. No one could have imagined that they would have been so attracted and moved to such a degree. When `Abdu'l-Bahá stepped from the pulpit, all rushed towards Him to shake His hand. An Arabic-speaking woman struggled out of the crowd with great difficulty and threw herself at His feet, saying, `I testify that in Thee is the spirit of God and the spirit of Christ.'
The meetings in Boston pleased the Master, especially the meeting with the Syrians, which He mentioned in particular, saying: `What a meeting it was! How the confirmations of the Blessed Beauty transformed the people!'"

I wonder who the poet was or whether his poem has been preserved somewhere.  These Boston days seem particularly marked with a joyful spirit of exchange and confirmation. 

Mahmud continues: "This was the last meeting in Boston. He left the hotel at noon, reaching New York by 6:00 p.m. Without any rest He went directly from Mr Kinney's home to the Mount Morris Baptist Church. Standing under the arch of the church and leaning exhausted against a pillar, He addressed the meeting. He spoke of baptism and of the capacity of the soul to receive the breaths of the Holy Spirit. At the close of His talk He chanted a prayer.  That night all saw with their own eyes the spirituality and innocence of Christ and the influence of the Holy Spirit. Let no one think that these are mere words; rather they are the expressions and feelings of all those who witnessed this. My premise is this: that in all the gatherings in America, the non-Bahá'ís look upon `Abdu'l-Bahá as a Prophet of God. Even though they are not Bahá'ís, their manners and conversations with Him are the same as they might use for their own Prophet and leader. All who come into His presence are seen in this condition. They all refer to the Blessed Being as the Messenger of Peace and the Prophet of the East in their speeches and writings. Although there are a few narrow-minded clergy who burn with the fire of jealousy, a large number of just ministers in every city have accorded Him the utmost reverence. Among them is the translator of those who spoke in praise of the Master. Their words indicate the quality of the audience and societies addressed by `Abdu'l-Bahá and are a clear proof of the grandeur and power of the Greatest Branch."

Juliet Thompson has her own effusive version of the evening: "On Sunday, 26 May, the night of the Master's return from Boston, He spoke at Mr Ramsdell's (Baptist) church.
My friend, Lawrence White, who lives in Utica, had come to New York to met the Master, and he, Silvia Gannett, and I went together to the church.
     We entered, to see a breathtaking picture: That church suggests an old Jewish synagogue. Behind the chancel is a sweeping arch from which hangs a dark, massive curtain in folds straight as organ pipes. The chancel was empty that night except for the Master, sitting--almost lying--in a semicircular chair, His head thrown back, His luminous eyes uprolled. The sleeves of His bronze-coloured 'abá branched out from His shoulders like great spread wings, hiding His hands, so that I was conscious only of His head and those terribly alive eyes. There was an awful mystery about that dominance of the head. It seemed to obliterate the human form and reveal Him as the Face of God. The curtain behind Him might have concealed the Ark of the Covenant, which He, THE COVENANT, was guarding.
     Later, when He rose to speak, the Manifestation of the Glory was entirely different. He diffused a softer radiance.
     "Look at Him and see the Christ," whispered Lawrence White." (p. 296)

It must have been fascinating to see the Master in such difference guises, especially for one who is so descriptive and observant.  Juliet also had such a close personal attachment to Him and evidently suffered when He came back but was unavailable to her:

"On 22 May the Master left for Boston, returning the twenty-sixth. After His return He stayed with the Kinneys a day or so (till He moved to His new house), and then came my test! For two days He never even looked at me. My heart bled and burned. I could not endure the withdrawal of His nearness. The third day I went to the new house--309 West Seventy-Eighth Street--and there, in Lua's arms, I sobbed my heart out.
"I cry," I said, "only because I love Him," (which I fear was not exactly true) "because I have just realized how terrifically I love Him. This love burns my heart. It is beyond endurance."
    Then He sent for me to come to Him.
     With tears rolling down my cheeks I entered His Presence. He was sitting on a couch writing and did not look up--still didn't look at me! But at last He said, going straight to the point, piercing to the real cause of my trouble: "I have not seen you lately, Juliet, because of the multitude of the affairs. But I have not forgotten My promise to pose for you. Come on Saturday with your materials and I will sit."
     I thanked Him; then falling on my knees, begged Him not to banish me from His Presence. I could not endure to be separated from Him. I loved, loved Him.  [jump to rest of story]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Medal Medallion Mystery Solved

Last night while staying late at the Art Institute to weather the tornados making their way around Dallas, I solved a mystery related to one of the medal medallions commemorating `Abdu'l-Bahá’s days in America. As far as I can tell, there were three different medallions produced—a one-sided rectangular one; a two-sided rectangular one; and a round one. 

In The Diary of Agnes Parsons she writes (on May 10, 1912): “Mr. [Theodore] Spicer Simon [sic: should be Spicer-Simson] had called at my house to see Abdul Baha, but not finding Him, went to the apartment, where Abdul Baha gave him a sitting of half an hour. This with a few sketches was all Mr. Simon [sic] had, but from these he has made an excellence likeness.” This is all Parsons says; from her words we don’t know whether she commissioned the work or anything else about it.

Through inter-library loan, I obtained a book entitled  A Collector of Characters: Reminiscences of Theodore Spicer-Simson (Miami, FL: University of Miami Press, 1962).

From it I learned that Theodore Spicer-Simson (1871–1959) was a prominent English sculptor, who made portrait medallions of many well-known people, including Presidents William Howard Taft and Franklin D. Roosevelt; authors H.G. Wells, James Joyce, John Galsworthy, Sherwood Anderson, and Joseph Conrad; poets A.E. Houseman, Elinor Wylie, Robert Frost, and W.B. Yeats; playwrights George Bernard Shaw and Lady Gregory; statesman Sir Winston Churchill; inventor Henry Ford; and many others, including “Persian religious reformer Abdu'l-Bahá.”  He lived for a time in Washington, D.C. and had a studio on 12th street. (Perhaps he knew Alice Pike Barney.)

I confirmed that this medallion was the one Spicer-Simson made; its image appears on p. 105.

What is really interesting is the sculptor’s account of meeting `Abdu'l-Bahá. It follows his description of the portrait of Taft, so I’ll begin with the last paragraph of that (p. 60):

“President Taft was a very understanding person. One day I was seated by his desk when he walked into the room. I forgot to stand. When next day I apologized he answered, ‘That’s all right, I understood. You were concentrating on your work.’

“Alexander Graham Bell’s celebrated ‘Wednesday Evening’ was one of the intellectual high spots in Washington at this time, 1912. One met all sorts of personalities, men of science, of literature, teachers, poets, all men but no women. Graham Bell’s wife and his two daughters, Elsie and Marian, attended but were hidden behind a heavy curtain. As a family friend I went regularly. At one of those ‘Wednesdays’ I met Abdu’l Baha, a slight, striking-looking bearded man picturesquely gowned in Persian turban and cloak, a lovable character and very charming.

“This meeting was fortunate for me for later Mrs. Agnes Parsons, daughter of General and Mrs. Royal, asked me to do a portrait medallion of the Baha. She had made pilgrimage two years before to meet the Persian prophet in his homeland. But, would the Baha sit? To meet this situation Mrs. Parsons asked a number of her friends to her Washington home to greet the prophet. I was there and so was Margy [his wife]. After the introductions the Baha took hold of my hand and led me to a sofa where for a time we talked of aesthetics, particularly Persian art for which I had great admiration and some knowledge.  Mrs. Parsons was convinced the Baha would be willing to sit, and he was.” (60–61)

Then he changes the subject.

In the back of the book are several essays on aesthetics. “A portrait,” he says, “is the shade of one being transmuted through the soul of another, the artist. This can be proved, for a portrait is always judged by the emotional relationship of the onlooker to the person portrayed. Today the psychologists teach us that man is affected by mass-arrangement and colour; therefore, the spiritual character of persons can be represented before a single feature takes a definite form. This is perhaps the slight contribution I have made to the art of medallic portraiture. . . .” (188–89)

Later, he writes, “My urge to create beauty cohabited in my inner self with a deep and eager interest in my fellow man. . . . Now, as I sit turning page after page of the albums where the photographic reproductions of my work are consigned, I also remember the human characters I collected, so to speak, in my memory. And, conscious of having accomplished a good work with modeling tools, I shall hope I have created with words some pen-traced images of the many interesting persons I have portrayed” (196–97).

How very fascinating that the Master was among them! I wonder how many of the medallions were produced and who has them now.

The second medallion, a rectangular piece with with two sides, was designed by sculpture Louis Potter of the Circle of the Friends of the Medallion. Roger Dahl of the U.S. National Baha'i Archives writes: "It came in a nice little case. The Circle of the Friends of the Medallion was formed by Robert Hewitt Jr. and Charles deKay, with the plan to produce two medallions a year. It was fairly short lived, producing 12 medals between 1909 and 1915. The `Abdu’l-Bahá medallion was designed by sculptor Louis Potter so I have the medallion in our Works of Art Collection. Apparently the Circle was the model for the more successful Society of Medalists."

On the Medal Collectors of America website <http://www.medalcollectors.org/Guides/CoF/CoF.html> I found this image (above) of the medallion.  I can't quite make out the words at the bottom under the word "Abdu'l-Baha." There is another image next to it of the back side, with the words "Peace, Love, Unity." The only information is that it was number 7 of the 12, manufactured in November 1912 at Joseph K. Davison & Son, Philadelphia, subject: Abdu'l-Baha, Persian Reformer, size 76 x 51 mm.  Louis Potter was the designer, and he did not design any of the other medallions. 

The website also mentions: "The Medals were issued in diecut pages bound in tan cloth books making the set a bookshelf collection. From published membership lists it can be surmised that no more than 500 of any of medals were issued. Allan Newman’s number twelve is the scarcest. Victor Brenner’s number four, Motherhood, is the most popular. Paul Manship’s number eleven is the most expensive (sought after by art galleries). Members of the Bahai religion seek issue number seven, of Abdul Baha, since their religion did not sanction portraits."  [An interesting misconception re. the image of the Master.]

So, regarding this one, I wonder who commissioned it, whether `Abdu'l-Bahá sat for the artist, how many were made, how many exist now.

Apparently there is also a round medallion, but I do not have an image of it. Can anyone confirm this and provide an image?

May 25, 1912

Boston: Unitarian ministers, editor interview, more philosophers, spiritual ecstasy, farewell gathering 

Mahmud writes:  "Among the visitors this morning was a group of Unitarian ministers who asked many questions and who received important answers. They took their leave with great humility. Another clergyman, Rabbi Fletcher, remained for over an hour in the Master's presence, asking various questions and receiving answers. He was so grateful and enthralled that it is difficult to describe his attraction. Dr Jack, the editor of an important London journal, also came for an interview. With great fervor and interest, he wrote down the answers to his questions for his journal. Besides the visits of these interested people, the Bahá'ís, who were in spiritual ecstasy and excitement, continuously begged for admission to `Abdu'l-Bahá's presence.
At a meeting in the afternoon at the Master's residence with philosophers and learned men of Boston, one visitor asked about the immortality of the soul. In response, `Abdu'l-Bahá delivered a most unique discourse on the subject, which left everyone astonished. Those leaders of science and knowledge were captivated with the beauty of the Covenant. The talk was so impressive that the Master Himself remarked as He left the meeting: `Until now there has never been such a discourse about the immortality of the soul.' This was purely the result of His authority and power. He had had no intention of speaking on this subject but when He was questioned, He answered without hesitation.
After the meeting He went to a public park in Boston. Later that evening, in the Huntington Chambers, the Bahá'ís held a farewell gathering with over one thousand in attendance. The Master spoke on the signs of progress in the 20th century. He then chanted a prayer in such an imploring manner that tears sprang to all eyes. The meeting ended with the utmost beauty and dignity.

Interesting how Unitarians and philosophers keep intersecting with `Abdu'l-Bahá. And the rabbi and the editor. . . . With all of this activity, no wonder the Baha'is were eager to attain His presence. If only we could feel some of that generative spiritual ecstasy!

It is worth reflecting on the Master's talk at Huntington Chambers (PUP 143–46):  "I am going away from your city, but I leave my heart with you. My spirit will be here; I will not forget you. . . . I pray that you may advance continually in spiritual susceptibilities, that day by day you may grow more radiant and draw nearer to God until you become instruments in illuminating the world of humanity. . . ."

Then, in speaking about "this radiant century," He calls us to reflect on the miracles of accomplishment and enumerates many of them. This is surely an example to us now, in these complex times. Look for signs of progress, He tells us. 

He ends with this:  "In your hearts I have beheld the reflection of a great and wonderful love. The Americans have shown me uniform kindness, and I entertain a deep spiritual love for them. I am pleased with the susceptibilities of your hearts. I will pray for you, asking divine assistance, and then say farewell."

He concludes with a familiar prayer, "O my God! O my God! Verily, these servants are turning to Thee, supplicating Thy kingdom of Mercy. Verily they are attracted by Thy holiness and set aglow with the fire of Thy love. . . ."

Think of this being addressed to us, the descendants of those who heard this prayer for the first time. 

I sense that He was pleased with all that happened in Boston in those five days.  And later He will come back!  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May 24, 1912

I am starting a little late on the blog today, as I stayed at school until after 11 pm because of tornados and hail in the Dallas area. I had taken students to the library to do research--and we ended up standing in the stairwell for over an hour until sirens went off. . . .

But speaking of research--a medal mystery has been solved through a book that came to me from inter-library loan. I will make a separate post on that and also add it to my "medal" earlier post!  And yesterday I received some materials from the Lake Mohonk Mountain House, including the guest registry with `Abdu'l-Bahá's party listed!  I am rich in sources--too much, almost, to take in!

This morning I read and proofed the last chapter of Rob Stockman's forthcoming book, which is a marvelous and insightful perspective on the Master's journey in America. He has just submitted it to the Publishing Trust.

Back to Boston.  And Brookline!

Mahumd writes: "Both believers and non-Bahá'ís came in groups to visit the Master. Among them were journalists who asked various questions and received specific answers from `Abdu'l-Bahá. The Master had been invited to a conference sponsored by the Free Religious Association [also called the Unitarian conference]. He quickly left for the meeting at Ford Hall. More than a thousand people were in the audience. The subject of His talk was the unity of the teachings of the Messengers of God and the oneness of religions.
Because another lecturer had spoken just before the Master criticizing religion, `Abdu'l-Bahá's talk seemed extraordinary and produced a great effect. The former speaker, a zealous minister, had announced that a false Christ, a denier of Christ, had come to America. But when the people heard the Master's address establishing the truth of all the Prophets and especially that of Christ, they were surprised, astonished and extremely interested. Moreover, the dignity of `Abdu'l-Bahá as He left the meeting became a further cause of attracting the hearts. The members of the association, as well as the Association of Unitarians, had offered to pay the expenses of the Master's journey but the offer was not accepted.
At the end of the conference, the chairman held the Master's hand while the audience applauded. He expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the Master. As `Abdu'l-Bahá left the hall He bestowed His favors upon all.
From that conference `Abdu'l-Bahá went to Brookline, at the request of Mrs White, Mrs Jackson's sister. A banquet was held in a magnificent palace surrounded by resplendent gardens, situated on the summit of a hill and overlooking a large lake, the beauty of which is beyond description. Here a great number of visitors came to see the Master. He was pleased with the meeting and the surroundings. After a delightful talk, attracting all to Him, He returned to Boston to accept a previous invitation. After an hour's journey in an automobile especially sent for Him, He arrived at the hotel [the Boston Hotel] for a brief rest.
     He then went to the meeting which was held at the home of Mrs Nichols, who had sent an automobile for Him. A group of learned and eminent philosophers was waiting for Abdu'l-Bahá to ask Him many important questions, the comprehensive answers to which impressed and satisfied all. The discussion lasted about two hours. Their hearts were transformed by His explanations about universal peace among nations, the equality of rights of men and women and the education of women. Then, after tea, punch and sweets, the meeting ended."

I don't know anything about Mrs. White, Mrs. Jackson, or Mrs. Nichols. I do know that the site of Ford Hall is now called Ashburton Place and redeveloped as a state office building.

It seems astonishing that often when the Master speaks a thousand people show up. There is no mention of sound systems or other practicalities--only of vast numbers of people coming to hear Him.  And the qualities of astonishment, excitement, and inspiration seem to be prevalent. This was no ordinary journey or speaking tour.  It is great to hear about the hearts of learned and eminent philosophers being transformed. So--we apparently need to become more like the Master to evoke such results today!

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 23, 1912

Boston and Worcester: Greek Syrian Relief Society, Clark University, refreshing scenery; birthday

In Rob Stockman's forthcoming book, he gives an overview of the next few days in Boston: "`Abdu’l-Bahá’s  [first] visit to greater Boston was relatively short—May 22-26, five days—possibly because he already had speaking engagements schedule in New York. He gave eight major talks, and His visit was covered by at least twelve newspaper articles. While He spoke before the American Unitarian Association and the Free Religious Association, two huge associations of religious liberals, He did not speak in any churches, even though He was there on Sunday morning. Considering the number of Unitarian, Congregationalist, and Episcopalian churches in Boston, this is surprising.
"Thursday, May 23 was a particularly busy day. `Abdu’l-Bahá began with a visit to the “Greek Syrian Relief Society,” an organization that assisted recent immigrants from the eastern Mediterranean. They met at Denison House*, the third settlement house founded in the United States, patterned after Chicago’s Hull House. After lunch with the society’s members, He spoke to 900 people about poverty and detachment; before He left He contributed “ten gold pounds (about $50)” to the poor. In the afternoon He had an appointment not at Harvard or Wellesley—where the earlier Asian teachers Vivekananda and Mozoomdar had been invited to speak—but at Clark University in Worcester, sixty miles west of Boston. He addressed over a thousand students and faculty about the importance of science." 

Mahmud goes into greater detail about the impact the Master had: "Many Bahá'ís and non-Bahá'ís came group by group to visit the Master. His bestowals and favors revived their souls and brought joy to their hearts. In but five minutes one of the journalists was so impressed that he accepted the Cause and decided to write and publish articles on the Faith. As he left the gathering, he wept at the feet of the Beloved and most reverently supplicated to be confirmed in dedicating the rest of his life in service to the Cause. [I wonder if we know any more about this journalist and his articles.]
     At noon `Abdu'l-Bahá visited the house maintained for the poor of Syria and Greece [the Greek-Syrian Relief Society]. Members of this association had prepared lunch for Him with great care. The lady who was the president of the association had been busy making preparations for His reception. In one of the large rooms there was a table laden with various Eastern dishes. The Master was given the seat of honor to the right of the hostess, which, according to Western etiquette, is a sign of respect. Many association members were also present. Among the Master's comments at the table was this: `Happy are you who are engaged in serving the poor. My greatest happiness is this, that I may be counted among the poor.'
      After lunch the Master gave an elegant address about poverty and detachment, filling the hearts of all those present with hope and delight. All, both young and old, expressed their heartfelt gratitude.
Upon leaving the meeting, He gave ten pounds for the poor. Later, sitting in Professor Blacks's home surrounded by admirers, He showered kindness upon all. The professor accompanied the Master to the town of Worcester, located about 50 miles from Boston.
      Passing through green and verdant plains and breathing the invigorating and pleasant air, `Abdu'l-Bahá spoke sorrowfully in remembrance of the Blessed Beauty and the Greatest Name, saying: `Would that the Blessed Beauty could have come to these regions! He loved such scenery very much.' Whenever He saw the green and fragrant countryside, He asked the driver to stop. At one place, near the shore of a lake, the greenness of the landscape, the translucence of the water and the purity of the air so pleased Him that He instructed the driver to stop for awhile. The entire group stood and waited. No one dared say anything about the delay.
      The Master spoke of the Blessed Beauty in mournful terms, which deeply moved us all. In two hours we reached Worcester. The Master accepted the professor's invitation to rest for awhile in his home. After tea `Abdu'l-Bahá went to the meeting at the university, which had been arranged especially for His visit. More than one thousand students and faculty had assembled. Professor Hall thanked `Abdu'l-Bahá for coming to the meeting.
Clark University, Worcester
      The Master spoke on the value and importance of science. The hearts of those present were attracted and their souls enkindled with the fire of love to such a degree that they soared in the heaven of knowledge, their minds indelibly engraved with the words of the Master.
      After His address, some distinguished individuals and seekers were invited to a magnificent reception prepared for the Master. As the chancellor of the university had himself invited `Abdu'l-Bahá, he himself served the Master. A number of Japanese, Chinese and Turkish students came into His presence and greatly appreciated His words.
     When it was time to leave, the Master took both the president's hands in His and said:
I am very pleased with you and delighted to see your university. You are, indeed, serving the world of humanity and expending your life for mankind. Above all, I wish for you the blessings of the Kingdom and desire that you will be a cause of the spread of sciences and arts. I will pray on your behalf that God may make you a standard of guidance and that the love of God may shine upon your heart. I have seen a great love and affection in you, as well as in the professors and scholars. I shall never forget this meeting, and I shall always remember and mention your services."

In the evening, at Alice Ives Breed's home, there was the celebration and birthday cake described in the last post. 

It strikes me how even though science is the topic of  `Abdu'l-Bahá' talk, spirituality informs and dominates His interactions. I wonder how it would be today--when secularism is the "norm" in academic institutions. 

In any event, it has been an eventful day! 


See Clark University address--separate post

*Denison House history: see http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration/denison.html

The Bostonian Society: photo archives: http://rfi.bostonhistory.org/boston/defaultmain.asp?photos

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reflections on the Birthday of `Abdu'l-Bahá

Even though the following occurred on the evening of May 23, since we now customarily celebrate the Declaration of the Báb on the night of the 22nd, I will post this reflection out of sequence here.

Mahmud chronicles the story as follows:
[After His talk at Clark University] "He returned to Boston in the automobile especially provided for Him by the chancellor. The Master went directly to the home of Mrs Alice Breed. As that evening was the commemoration of the Declaration of the Báb as well as the birthday of `Abdu'l-Bahá, the Bahá'ís, with the utmost happiness and joy, had arranged a magnificent feast. When `Abdu'l-Bahá arrived, He rested for awhile and then joined the gathering of the friends, illuminating the meeting with His presence. With joyful and shining faces, all eyes were directed towards the Master. The freshness and verdure of that gathering was like a flower garden and was proof that the Tree of the Cause of God has been firmly rooted in American soil and that it has produced leaves and blossoms of the utmost beauty. The Master spoke briefly about the greenery of the surrounding countryside, the magnificence of the city of Boston, as well as the university. He then gave an account of the life of the Báb that gladdened the hearts and cheered the souls.
     Tea, drinks and sweets were served in another room. Mrs Breed brought before the Master a birthday cake with 68 candles, representing His age. At her request, He lit the first candle and then each of the friends in turn lit a candle, each person like a moth burning with the fire of love. When the cake was cut, each guest took a slice as a sacred relic. Mrs Breed, indeed, lit the candle of servitude and steadfastness that evening and, in doing so, became the recipient of bounty from `Abdu'l-Bahá's presence."

Rob Stockman in his forthcoming book about `Abdu’l-Bahá in America describes Alice Breed as one of the most active Bahá’ís in the Boston area. (She was also the mother of Florence Breed, who married Ali Kuli Khan.) In Rob's words, Alice "had baked a birthday cake for `Abdu’l-Bahá, complete with American, Persian, and English flags and sixty-eight candles, and had invited over a hundred guests. Since `Abdu’l-Bahá was born on the same day that the Báb inaugurated His mission in Iran, and the Declaration of the Báb was a Bahá’í holy day, some years earlier `Abdu’l-Bahá had instructed the Bahá’ís not to celebrate His birthday. He had even expressed His objection explicitly to Alice’s son in law. According to Marzieh Gail, Breed’s granddaughter, “He did not stay for the festivities. . . . In His address He spoke only of the Báb’s Declaration on this day, saying not a word about Himself. Afterward, Alice persuaded Him to step into the dining room and at least see the festive table and the cake, and take a little refreshment. He sat in the large, brocaded ‘grandfather’ chair but soon left.” [Arches of the Years, 89] Mahmúd adds that `Abdu’l-Bahá lit the first candle on His cake and asked everyone else to take turns lighting the others.”
ah, the Mystery of God!  To be born on the very day and time of the Declaration of the Báb has a significance we cannot grasp. Then, for us to have a yearning to celebrate `Abdu’l-Bahá's birthday (can you imagine being in His midst on this day?) but to be discouraged by His own objections . . . 

It seems this story has a lesson for us. Can you imagine the excitement of Alice Breed as she prepares for the feast, the cake, the flags, the candles. . . . And then for the Guest of honor to feel disquieted (we can assume) about the attention and the focus upon His birthday--and then to excuse Himself.  It makes me wonder if Alice wrote her memoirs and mentioned this incident.  Or what `Abdu’l-Bahá might have told Mahmud or others afterwards. 

Of course we now have the Day of the Covenant to celebrate His life (in November, near the Ascension of `Abdu’l-Bahá) but again, the focus is not on His birthday but on his role within the Cause--as Center of the Covenant.  While we are eager to celebrate Him, He downplays His person, with humility. 

Isn't it curious that out of 11 Baha'i holy days, only 9 are days on which Baha'is should suspend work? The other two--those related to `Abdu’l-Bahá--are not in that same category. 

In 1912 many, no doubt, wanted to laud `Abdu’l-Bahá as a prophet figure, but He was always reminding His hearers of His servitude.  Thus, He would want us to remember the Bab's life and station on this evening and tomorrow, even when we were / are caught up in `Abdu’l-Bahá's presence.  

Like Alice, I would have probably been one of those to commit a faux pas and gone overboard with a desire to celebrate Him--only to realize later the significance of His instructions. . . . Would you?

Oh, the lessons.