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

Saturday, June 2, 2012

June 2, 1912 No words can describe!

New York: Three Descriptions of the Master's return to the Church of the Ascension

Today, in 1912, 'Abdu'l-Bahá returned to the Church of the Ascension.  Mahmud calls it "a large and beautiful gathering"  where "many were honored with the bounty of hearing the addresses and explanations of the Master and were thus turned towards the Kingdom of God." Then he says that the Master later explained, "At the time of my arrival at the church I was in no condition to speak; but when I stood before this great gathering I found the atmosphere of the church filled with the Holy Spirit and so a state of wonderful happiness and joy came over me." He spoke about the Cause of God as the collective center, the manifestation of the Prophets, and the coming of Bahá'u'lláh.
Mahmud concludes his description, saying: "Through the pastor, Dr Grant, some in the audience requested permission to ask some questions, which was granted. Everyone who wished wrote a question on a piece of paper and submitted it through an usher. Through an interpreter, the questions were translated and the answers given to the inquirers. Oh, that the Eastern friends could have been in these churches and gatherings in the West to see with their own eyes the beauty and glory of their Master! They would have rejoiced in perceiving that which no spoken or written words can adequately describe."

Church of Ascension 1914
Juliet, of course, has a more lengthy and expressive description of the whole event, with some personal details:
"On the second of June He spoke for Dr Grant's Forum. And there He was simpler; He manifested less, or perhaps I should say manifested something different: a sort of brotherhood to the masses, still retaining His grandeur. And how He addressed Himself to that meeting and to the heart of Percy Grant!
The subject was: "What can the Orient bring to the Occident?"
That subject in that church!
Lua and I were in a front pew with Valíyu'lláh Khán and Mírzá Mahmúd. Suddenly I was petrified to see Mason Remey coming in, through the door of the vestry-room. When he was last in the Church of the Ascension I was siting beside him, engaged to him, while Percy thundered at me from the pulpit. The text of the sermon that Sunday was the same as the text today: "What can the Orient bring to the Occident." "Nothing but disease and death," said Percy, his eyes on me, "and God wants us to live; He wants us to live."
But the Speaker this time was the Master. He said: "The Orient brings to the Occident the Manifestations of God."
Then He defined the Church as that Collective Centre which, attracting many diverse elements, united them into one ordered system, adding that the Church was but a reflection of the real Collective Centre, the Shepherd, Who, whenever His sheep became scattered, reappeared to unite them. So the Church, established by God's Manifestation, was the Law of God, and when Christ said to Peter, "On thee will I build My Church," He meant He would build His Law upon Peter. Upon him Christ built the Law of God by which all peoples and creeds were afterward unified.
The Master had said it again to Percy Grant: "Be thou like Peter," for this was His message sent by me last summer.
When, at the end of the marvellous address, Percy stepped out into the chancel, it was another man I saw: a man touched by the Hand of God, shaken to the very roots of his being. As Marjorie said, he looked ill and strangely upset. He could scarcely articulate.
The questions followed; it is the custom of the Forum to ask questions. In the centre of the chancel sat the Master, Dr Grant on His right in a choirstall, Dr Faríd behind Him. How at home the Master looked there! He pushed back His turban and smiled as He answered, often very wittily. Once He raised one finger high. I caught my breath then. He was like Jesus in the synagogue confronting the scribes and Pharisees, except that His audience weren't Pharisees."

Eliane Lacroix-Hopson in 'Abdu'l-Bahá in New York: The City of the Covenant summarizes these two accounts and refers to some additional details as follows: 

    "On the evening of Sunday, June 2, as previously invited by Dr. Grant, 'Abdu'l-Bahá was the guest speaker at a People's Forum at the Church of the Ascension. These meetings were less formal and the participants were invited to ask questions.
      The Master gave a powerful talk on the requested topic: "What can the Orient bring to the Occident?" Juliet recalled that the previous year, Dr. Grant had preached on the same topic in negative terms toward the Faith. Now beautiful words were praising Christ and the Law of God, represented by the firmness of Peter and the Church as a collective center for humanity. In our time, this same collective center, it was pointed out, is the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh and a civilization of peace.
      Dr. Grant, visibly shaken, praised the Master and fielded questions from the large audience while 'Abdu'l-Bahá responded warmly. Seated at the center of the chancel, He enjoyed the exchange. At ease, "He pushed back His turban and smiled as He answered, often very wittily."
      Mahmud marveled at witnessing the respectful audience, the sight of which "no written words can describe." Afterward, the Master confided that arriving at the church, He hadn't felt well enough to speak, "…but when I stood before this gathering I found the atmosphere of the church full of the Holy Spirit and a state of wonderful happiness and joy came upon Me."

        This is a good example of how we get a different picture from the various accounts. The REALITY of His presence there, however, is so much more than words can convey.  One can try to imagine being at that event, however. . . . 

Church of Ascension 1840
from: http://ascensionnyc.org/history/ :

"Ascension’s history [it was founded in 1827] is one of remarkable transformations. From an austere beginning as a bastion of the evangelical movement it has become a church of extraordinary beauty with exceptional music and liturgy. From a church with rented pews and a mostly affluent, homogeneous congregation, it has evolved into a parish of diverse people whose economic circumstances vary widely. . . .

   "When the Reverend Percy Stickney Grant was called as rector in 1893, he said he would accept only on the condition that Ascension be made a parish of free pews. This was a radical step for an Episcopal parish to take at that time, giving up the fancied security of pew rents and depending on voluntary giving, but the Vestry acceded to his demand. . . .

Church of Ascension today
     "Despite its many changes since 1827, the Church of the Ascension remains a place of vibrant worship, beautiful music, active service, and quiet contemplation, its members striving to seek and serve Christ in all persons. The congregation, clergy and staff of Ascension invite you to join us for worship and fellowship any Sunday morning in New York City, now as then at Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street in historic Greenwich Village."

We had such a lovely time there, back in April. (See blog for April 14.) 

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