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

Saturday, May 26, 2012

May 26, 1912 Poetry and joy; the Face of God

Boston to New York: Golden Circle, Syrians, a poet, confirmations and clear proofs, Juliet's test
Mahmúd 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. 
Mount Morris Baptist Church

Mahmúd 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]

     He rose, stood above me, took my hand and held it a long, long time. I still knelt at His feet, the hem of His garment pressed to my lips.
     Lua joined her sweet voice to mine. "Julie has had so much trouble this year. She wants to stay close to You now so that her heart may be healed."
     "I want to stay close because I love You!"
     He smiled and said something about another love. [I think He is referring to Percy Grant here.]
     "That is gone. Gone," I cried.
     At these words of mine which I thought were true, the strangest thing happened. Always when the Master holds my hand I feel a flow of sparks from His palm to mine. Now this current of Life was suddenly cut off. Could I have lied to my Lord, and so, by unconscious self-deception, disconnected myself from the Fountainhead of pure Truth?
     But His answer was merciful, reminding me of past sincerities. "I am pleased with you, Juliet. You are so truthful. You tell me everything. She said:" (He turned, laughing, to Lua) "'This is my heart. What can I do with it?'"
     I laughed too, through my tears. But soon I began to cry again.
     He went back to the couch and sat down and Lua and I followed Him and knelt together at His feet there.
     "Don't cry!" (I wish the whole world could hear the Master say "don't cry." Tears would soon cease to be.) "Don't cry! Unhappiness and the love of Bahá'u'lláh cannot exist in the same heart, for the love of Bahá'u'lláh is happiness."
     "I cry for love of you, my Lord. My tears come from my heart. I can't help it."
     "Your eyes and Lua's"--and He laughed again--"are two rivers of tears." "I love Juliet," He added, "for her truthfulness."
     "I told Juliet," said Lua, putting her arms around me, as we still knelt together side by side, "of Your words to Mrs Kaufman: that these human loves were like waves of the sea rolling to the shore one behind the other, each wave receding."
     "Balih," (yes) said the Master, "this is true. You will not find faithfulness in humanity. All humanity is unfaithful. Only God is faithful. Bahá'u'lláh spent fifty years in prison for the sake of humanity. There was faithfulness!"
     "From this moment," cried Lua, "Juliet and I dedicate our lives to Thee and we beg to at last die in Thy Path--to drink the cup of martyrdom. Oh, it would be so good for the Cause if two Americans could do this! Take hold of His coat, Julie, and beseech."
     I touched the hem of His garment.
     "Say yes," implored Lua. "Oh Julie, beg Him to say yes."
     But in Thonon I had told the Master that I would not ask for that cup again but would wait till God found me ready for it.
     "I accept the dedication of your lives now. The rest will be decided later."
      And it was clear what He meant. How we must amuse Him!" (pp. 293-96)

Lua had a special wish for martyrdom, discussed in her biography. Juliet had a special wish to paint the portrait of the Master--and we are coming up to the fulfillment of that wish, soon. It is hard not to be envious of the close personal dynamic described here!

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