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

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 22, 1912 A living flame

Boston: arrival; American Unitarian Association Conference; `Abdu'l-Bahá as a living flame

The believers in New York were loathe to see `Abdu'l-Bahá leave, even for a few days. However, Juliet reports:  “The next morning [May 22] early Howard MacNutt came to see me, looking so radiant that I knew he was bringing good news. Then he told me. He had just had breakfast with Dr Grant, and the Master was to speak again at the Church of the Ascension--at the People's Forum this time, the night of 2 June. Bishop Burch had severely reprimanded Percy for inviting the Master to speak on 14 April and for seating Him in the Bishop's chair! But an idiotic thing like that would never stop Percy Grant--only make him more defiant.
     He had talked very freely with Mr MacNutt about 'Abdu'l-Bahá and His address of the day before with its great climax. "As I listened," he said, "I realized profoundly that this was a historic moment; that before me sat One Who, imprisoned for the sake of humankind, had been freed by the Power of God alone, through the dethroning of two kings."
Mahmud chronicles that at 10:00 a.m. the Master left New York for Boston, arriving at the Hotel Charles at 4:30 p.m. “Many delegates from organizations and groups had gathered at the railway station to greet and welcome Him. The believers had decorated a house with colorful flowers, having made all necessary preparations to receive Him.
Tremont Temple
     That evening the first meeting in Boston was held at 8:00 p.m. for the American Unitarian Association Conference at the Tremont Temple, the largest of all of the churches in the region. The President of the Republic, Mr Taft, is also a member of this important association. Present at the conference were some 800 Unitarian ministers representing the Unitarian churches in America and Canada. In addition, there were nearly two thousand others assembled. The presiding officer of the meeting was the Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts [Robert Luce], who introduced the Master to the audience, saying: Tonight we express our highest respect and heartfelt gratitude in this great gathering for this highly revered and peace-loving personage who has come from the East to the West to promote the principles of the oneness of humanity and universal peace. Indeed, it is a great joy and supreme honor that this esteemed personage has graced our meeting with His presence. It is my great honor to introduce to you His Holiness, `Abdu'l-Bahá.
     When the Master stood up, the entire audience gave Him a prolonged standing ovation. Although in all meetings the audience has risen when the Master appeared, this gathering had a particular importance. The group was composed of elected representatives and leaders of many congregations from several countries and it was they who stood, demonstrating their reverence and to honor Him. The Master spoke about the progress and evolution of creation. It was so impressive that the audience applauded with elation and joy.” [earlier translation: with "rapture and ecstasy."]

Of special importance, indeed!  The Boston Herald reported (on May 23, 1912, p. 5), "Clad in shining raiment and wearing a white turban, 'Abdu'l-Bahá famous leader of a famous cult, made his first public appearance in Boston last night at the Unitarian festival in Tremont Temple. He came in late, accompanied by his interpreter, and sat for several minutes, without exciting much attention, at the rear of the platform. . . ."  

Katherine Grieg [of Boston, present day] attended a rehearsal for a concert last year at the Tremont Temple and writes:  “Attached is an interior shot of the Tremont Baptist Temple that I took before the concert this evening. Unfortunately it is set up accordingly with risers and mics up front and speakers and lights that wouldn't be there otherwise - though the lights were useful for the photo. The external shots are from Wikikpedia. The B&W one is from 1904 so it's as it would have looked when 'Abdu'l-Baha visited.”[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tremont_Temple]    

 Katherine sang in the second Mystic Chorale concert last year at the Tremont Temple, performed on the same day that 'Abdu'l-Baha spoke in the church 99 years ago!

She writes: “I also learned from a Baha'i friend that this is where the Black Nativity is staged every year. I've always wanted to go so I'll make a note for this year. It lasts all night!” See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Nativity

Rob Stockman, in his forthcoming book about `Abdu'l-Bahá  in America, says that Boston was one of seven places where `Abdu'l-Bahá  had an invitation to speak prior to His journey.  In Boston's case, the mayor had invited Him.  Rob also notes that the American Unitarian Association Conference was “a week-long affair for which `Abdu'l-Bahá was considered one of the two principal speakers.  It was not unusual for non-Unitarians to address the gathering; Protap Chunder Mozoomdar had spoken at the 1900 gathering.”

One wonders what all of those ministers thought about `Abdu'l-Bahá.  Rob says that “Edwin D. Mead, a Vice President of the Free Religious Association and an Emerson scholar, reported one reaction of an audience member who was a ‘leading Unitarian’: ‘After all, all that he [`Abdu'l-Bahá  ] said was simply what we have been hearing here all the time.’ Mead added this was a ‘noble thing’ because it showed that in a totally different cultural and religious environment, the ‘first principles’ of the forms of religion the Unitarians hold ‘loftiest‘ could develop and flourish.”
Rob also says that Howard Colby Ives reported a similar reaction from other Unitarian clergy: “‘A very interesting old gentleman,’ several remarked to me afterwards, ‘but he told us nothing new.’” `Abdu'l-Bahá did tell them something new—that God had sent a new messenger with a new revelation—but that did not appeal to an audience that had basically rejected belief in divine revelation, and the appealing parts of His message, such as votes for women, were often accepted by Unitarians. `Abdu'l-Bahá was not one to push the more radical aspects of the Bahá'í teachings to an audience He barely knew, such as what equality for women or equality of the races really meant. Ives described the Unitarians’ reaction as: “typical of most of the audiences He addressed. Truly, ‘having ears we heard not.’” For Ives, the medium—`Abdu'l-Bahá Himself—was as important as the message:
To me 'Abdu'l-Bahá's talk in the Brotherhood Church and the address before the Unitarian Conference in Boston marked a new phase in my spiritual journey from self to God. I had heard several of His public addresses before but never had I been near enough to Him to mark closely His demeanor. For it was not only His words, not nearly so much His accents and voice which now impressed me. There lay in His eyes a living flame which seemed to ignite a smouldering spark within me."

Don’t you love this image of the living flame?  And isn’t it marvelous that  one Unitarian minister out of the 800 gathered saw this flame and described it to us? 

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