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

Sunday, June 19, 2011

JUNE 19, 1912 ***

New York: "City of the Covenant" 

What a significant day! There are various accounts. Eliane Lacroix-Hopson in 'Abdu'l-Bahá in New York writes: 


      June 19th was an historic day for the Bahá'ís of New York. On that day, 'Abdu'l-Bahá named their city the "City of the Covenant." Also, He spoke of the Tablet of the Branch* revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in Andrianople, and proclaimed His own station as the "Center of the Covenant."
      What a highly dramatic, almost terrifying moment in history! The Son of Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet of God for our time, suddenly lifting the veil of His humanity, appearing in the Glory of the Power of the Covenant, the Power of Creation! It happened with the swiftness and blinding energy of a bolt of lightning, transporting its two witnesses, Juliet Thompson and Lua Getsinger**, into a spiritual whirling of exaltation and fright. Juliet had been called to work on His portrait on that day. She describes a sense of "peculiar power… in the Master's steps while coming down from His room… a fearful majesty… strange flashing of the eyes…" evoking an Old Testament Figure. Later as He was sitting for His portrait, Juliet recalled the following events . . .  [But I will let Juliet tell this part of the story in her own words AP]
*In the Bahá'í Writings, Bahá'u'lláh referred to Himself as a Tree, (The Tree of Life), His children as "Branches" and "Leaves." 'Abdu'l-Bahá is entitled "The Greatest Branch."
**Lua Getsinger was one of the first Bahá'í pilgrims to Akka in 1898. 'Abdu'l-Bahá had chosen her for her passionate and irresistible nature to be a "Banner" and inspired her to teach "day and night." Though sick, until her death in Cairo 18 years later at the age of 45, she never spared herself and was given the title of "Mother-teacher of the American Bahá'í Community" by Shoghi Effendi, besides the title of "Herald of the Covenant" given by the Master.
Bahá'í News April 1976.
      In the afternoon of that day, He sent Lua down to the waiting people to "proclaim the Covenant," then a little later, He followed her and spoke on the Station of the Center of the Covenant, "but not as He had done to Lua and me."       
In confirmation of His explanations, the Master had the Tablet of the Branch read to the friends so they could hear these mighty words of Bahá'u'lláh: "Whosoever turns to Him hath surely turned to God and whosoever turneth away from Him hath turned away from my Beauty, denied My Proof and is of those who transgress." 
On that same day a copy of the book, "The Brilliant Proof," written by Mírzá 'Abu'l Fadl was received. It was in answer to Reverend P. Easton's virulent criticism of the Faith in London and his letter to America, warning people of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's dangerous influence. The Master was very pleased with the book and ordered its translation to be published in this country. 
      This Mighty Day ended like an ordinary day, with more visitors requesting an interview."
Juliet's portrait

Juliet's account is by far the most dramatic, with a focus on her own experience and the portrait she painted:

The Beloved Master's portrait is finished. He sat for me six times, but I really did it in the three half hours He had promised me; for the sixth time, when He posed in His own room on the top floor, I didn't put on a single stroke. I was looking at the portrait wondering what I could find to do, when He suddenly rose from his chair and said: "It is finished." The fifth time He sat, Miss Souley-Campbell came in with a drawing she had done from a photograph to ask if He would sign it for her and if she might add a few touches from life. This meant that He had to change His pose, so of course I couldn't paint that day. And the fourth time (the nineteenth of June)--who could have painted then?

I had just begun to work, Lua in the room sitting on a couch nearby, when the Master smiled at me; then turning to Lua said in Persian: "This makes me sleepy. What shall I do?"

"Tell the Master, Lua, that if He would like to take a nap, I can work while He sleeps."

But I found that I could not. What I saw then was too sacred, too formidable. He sat still as a statue, His eyes closed, infinite peace on that chiselled face, a God-like calm and grandeur in His erect head.

Suddenly, with a great flash like lightning He opened His eyes and the room seemed to rock like a ship in a storm with the Power released. The Master was blazing. "The veils of glory", "the thousand veils", had shrivelled away in that Flame and we were exposed to the Glory itself.

Lua and I sat shaking and sobbing.

Then He spoke to Lua. I caught the words, "Munádíy-i 'Ahd." (Herald of the Covenant.

Lua started forward, her hand to her breast.

"Man?" (I?) she exclaimed.

"Call one of the Persians. You must understand this."

Never shall I forget that moment, the flashing eyes of 'Abdu'l-Bahá the reverberations of His Voice, the Power that still rocked the room. God of lightning and thunder! I thought.

"I appoint you, Lua, the Herald of the Covenant. And I AM THE COVENANT, appointed by Bahá'u'lláh. And no one can refute His Word. This is the Testament of Bahá'u'lláh. You will find it in the Holy Book of Aqdas. Go forth and proclaim, 'This is THE COVENANT OF GOD in your midst.'"

A great joy had lifted Lua up. Her eyes were full of light. She looked like a winged angel. "Oh recreate me," she cried, "that I may do this work for Thee!"

By now I was sobbing uncontrollably.

"Julie too," said Lua, not even in such a moment forgetful of me, "wants to be recreated."

But the Master had shrouded Himself with His veils again, the "thousand veils". He sat before us now in His dear humanity: very, very human, very simple.

"Don't cry, Juliet," He said. "This is no time for tears. Through tears you cannot see to paint."

I tried hard to hold back my tears and to work, but painting that day was at an end for me.

The Master smiled lovingly.

"Juliet is one of My favourites because she speaks the truth to me. See how I love the truth, Juliet. You spoke one word of truth to Me and see how I have praised it!"

I looked up to smile in answer, and in gratitude, then was overwhelmed again by that awful convulsive sobbing.

At this the Master began to laugh and, as He laughed and laughed, the strangest thing happened. It was as if at each outburst He wrapped Himself in more veils, so that now He looked completelyhumanwithout a trace left of His superhuman majesty. Never had I seen Him like this before and I never did afterward.

"I am going to tell you something funny," He said, adding in English, "a joke".

"Oh tell it!" we begged; and now I was in a sort of hysteria, laughing and crying at the same time.

"No. Not now. Paint."

But of course I couldn't paint.

Later, walking up and down, He laughed again.

"I am thinking of My joke," He explained.

"Tell it!" we pleaded.

"No, I cannot, for every time I try to tell it I laugh so I cannot speak."

We got down on our knees, able at last to enter into His play, and begged Him, "Please, please tell us." We were laughing on our knees.

"No. Not now. After lunch."

But, alas, after lunch He went upstairs to His room, and we never heard the Master's joke.

Perhaps, there wasn't any joke. Perhaps He had just found it necessary, after that mighty Declaration, to bring us down to earth again. He had revealed to us "The Apex of Immortality." He had lifted us to a height from which we could see it. Now He, our loving Shepherd, had carried us in His own arms back to our little valley and put us where we belonged.
In the early morning of 19 June, before the Master had called me to paint Him, He had spoken to the people in the English basement. On His way down the stairs from His room He passed Lua and me, where we stood in the third-floor hall. We saw, and felt, as He walked down the upper flight, a peculiar power in His step--as though some terrific Force had possession of Him; a Force too strong to be caged in the body, sparking through, almost escaping His body, able to sunder it. I cannot begin to describe that indomitable step, its fearful majesty, or the strange flashing of His eyes. The sublime language of the Old Testament, words such as these: "Who is this that cometh from Bozrah . . . that treadeth the wine-press in His fury?" faintly express what I saw as I watched the Master descending those stairs. Unsmiling, He passes Lua and me. Then He looked back, still unsmiling.

"Juliet is one of My favorites," He said.   [Wouldn't you love to be one of the Master's favorites?]
In the afternoon of that same day He sent Lua down to the waiting people to "proclaim the Covenant"; then a little later followed her and spoke Himself on the station of the Centre of the Covenant, but not as He had done to Lua and me. The blazing Reality of it He had revealed in His own Person to us. To them He spoke guardedly, even deleting afterwards from our notes some of the things He had said.

Still later that afternoon the Master had promised to sit for a photograph. I had made the appointment myself with Mrs Kasebier, a very wonderful photographer, to bring the Master to her studio, but some people prevented His getting off in time. When they left, He sent for me.

"I am ashamed," He said (while I nearly died at that word "ashamed" from Him), "but I will go tomorrow. I had planned to leave for Montclair tomorrow but I will stay until Friday for your sake."

"I can't bear, my Lord," I said, "to have You delay Your trip to the country for this."

"No, I wish it," He answered.

"I have a confession to make, my Lord," I said. "I have been to Dr Grant's house. It happened in this way: he asked if I would be the bearer of his photograph to You and would I stop at the Rectory for it on my way up to You. Then he invited me to come to breakfast. That invitation I declined, but I could think of no excuse for refusing to stop for the picture. So I did go. But I stayed only five or ten minutes and his mother was with us all the time."

"Good, good," said the Master. "Going to his house was not good, but since you have confessed it, Juliet, I am very much pleased. When I look into your heart," He added, smiling, "I find it just like that mirror--it is so pure."

(Oh, please understand me, when I repeat such things it is only because they are His words to me. I keep them just to remind myself of something potential He sees in me which I must grow up to. I am not reminding myself of His praise, for it really isn't praise but stimulation. If He had been blaming me, I would repeat His blame too.

He then spoke of my teaching. "Your breath is effective," He said. "You are now in the Kingdom of Abhá with Me, as I wished you to be."

[A mystery, this. Perhaps we can experience being in the Kingdom with Him as well--on this plane and the next.  "Even as meeting Him face to face. . . ."]

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