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

Thursday, January 3, 2013

January 1913 Seeing the true greatness of Abdu'l-Baha

Earl Redman writes (in Abdu'l-Baha in Our Midst): 

"In the January 1913 issue of The International Psychic Gazette, Felicia R. Scatcherd wrote of the great attraction she had to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, but also her fear of coming too close. Her first contact with the Master was in London in 1911:

When Abdul Baha first came to England, I refused all invitations to visit him. I had met those who made pilgrimages to his prison-home in Akka, and they talked so much about ‘The Blessed Perfection’ and ‘The Manifested Splendour’ that, though interested in what seemed a useful enough form of hero-worship for those to whom it appealed, I had no desire to see Abbas Effendi for myself . . .
. . . a dear friend compelled me to accompany her to a reception of Abdul Baha, then, as now, the guest of Lady Blomfield . . . The submissive sweetness with which the venerable man received the homage of his followers affected me strongly. I wondered whether, like the gifted Heinrich Heine, he ever shrank from the burden of an enforced role of divinity. And an impulse seized me to see him in converse with an intellectual and spiritual peer. But when I cast about to find such a one, I realised the true greatness of the man in whose presence I found myself. I did not go forward with the rest to greet him on this first occasion. I stood at the door busy with my thoughts. And as if he knew these thoughts, as he passed out, he gave me a playful slap on the arm, as one would administer reproof to a wilful child, and his eyes danced with merriment.
Again and again I have noticed evidence of his awareness of the mental states of those around him. And I am assured that this keen intuition has been observed in his correspondence. Those whom he has never seen have been amazed to receive, from the Prophet in Akka, correct perceptions of conditions pertaining to them in America.[i]

On 21 January 1912, Felicia had visited ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Ramleh, Egypt in the company of Dr and Mrs Platon Drakoulès. Dr Drakoulès was a Greek political scientist living in Oxford, and according to Lady Blomfield ‘had invited the first Bahá’í gathering in England to meet at his chambers in Oxford’.[ii] In her notebook, Felicia wrote:

We found him in a villa, opposite the new Victoria Hotel, Ramleh. Although only 10 a.m., he had been astir for hours, attending to his enormous correspondence, and receiving visitors. Again, in his presence, the old sense of goodness and simplicity overwhelmed one. The venerable figure in its Persian costume, was just as unique in its Eastern setting, as in London.
Of middle-stature, and broadly-built, he yet strikes one at times, as if he were tall, and is undoubtedly imposing. Oval-faced, and large-featured, with heavy eyebrows, a nose resembling that of General Booth, he has the compelling personality of all born leaders of men. His grey eyes are unusually expressive. In moments of excitement they become dark and deep in the piercing intensity of their gaze. I have seen them slash as if generating a kind of lightning, and then they soften and brighten and change expression with all the varying moods of his active mentality. But whether under the influence of sorrow or joy, indignation or pity, they are always surcharged with sympathy. One who knows no word of Persian can share the emotions of his soul by watching the lights and shadows in his eyes. When, as often, he closed them, then one need only follow the movements of his no less wonderful hands.  [iii]
Abdu'l-Bahá's hand

Felica saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá once more, on 2 January 1913, this time with Mr Lewis and Mr Child, a well-known palmist from whom she wished to hear his impressions of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s hands. Mr Lewis asked about reincarnation and the immaculate conception. In answering Mr Lewis’s question about the latter, the Master concluded by saying that those who accepted the creation of the first man without any human parent should have no difficulty accepting the birth of a person with only one human parent![iv] Felicia was so impressed with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that she travelled in Turkey trying to teach the Faith, and in 1914 wrote a book, A Wise Man from the East, about her efforts.
            One day, two ladies from Scotland, who had requested an evening with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, arrived and were welcomed warmly by the Master. But as Lady Blomfield remembered:

Not more than a half an hour passed, when, to our consternation, a persistent person pushed past the servitors, and strode into our midst. Seating himself, and lighting a cigarette without invitation, he proceeded to say that he intended writing an article for some newspaper about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, superciliously asking for ‘some telling points, don’t you know’. He talked without a pause in a far from polite manner.
We were speechless and aghast at the intrusion of this insufferable and altogether unpleasant bore, spoiling our golden hour!
Presently ‘Abdu’l-Bahá rose and, making a sign to the man to follow Him, went to His own room.
We looked at one another. The bore had gone, yes, but alas! so also had the Master!
‘Can nothing be done?’ Being the hostess, I was perturbed and perplexed. Then I went to the door of the audience room and said to the secretary: ‘Will you kindly say to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that the ladies with whom the appointment has been made are awaiting His pleasure’.
I returned to the guests and we awaited the result.
Almost immediately we heard steps approaching along the corridor. They came down the hall to the door. The sound of kind farewell words reached us. Then the closing of the door and the Beloved came back.
‘Oh, Master!’ we said.
Pausing near the door, He looked at us each in turn, with a look of deep, grave meaning.
‘You were making that poor man uncomfortable, so strongly desiring his absence; I took him away to make him feel happy’.
            Truly ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s thoughts and ways were far removed from ours!"

[i] The International Psychic Gazette (January 1913), p. 158, in  United Kingdom Bahá’í Archives. [ii] Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, p. 154.
[iii] The International Psychic Gazette (January 1913), p. 159.  [iv] ibid.

What a humbling story!  And again showing the great intuitive faculties of Abdu'l-Baha!  Don't you wish we had a description/interpretation of His hands, by Mr. Child? 

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