December 10, 2009

A western pilgrim sees ‘Abdu’l-Baha for the first time

To describe 'Abdu'l-Baha so that the reader may form any mental picture of Him that would in any way do Him justice, is as impossible as to try to paint a sunbeam. The artist may put the ray of yellow light in exactly the right place and with most beautiful effect; but no matter how great his skill, he cannot catch the real essence of the sunbeam -- that golden luminosity, which is like an elixir of life, is uncatchable, unpaintable. So it is with the likeness of 'Abdu'l-Baha. His expression is ever changing; each thought and emotion is mirrored forth and the face becomes so illumined that words are but as the dull, lifeless paint which cannot reproduce the sunteams -- yet, some idea can be gathered from them.

When I first saw ‘Abdu’l-Baha I was alone and I came face to face with Him all unexpectedly. He stood not even four feet from me. It was in the upper court, with the blue sky overhead and the sunlight shining down brightly upon Him, the hour being but a little after "high noon." I might have thought Him any other member of His family, as His sons-in-law were often passing to and fro, but every atom of my being, my heart and soul cried out, "This is He." The face of my dreams of Him stood before me with that same heavenly smile of welcome. The Light of Infinite Love was radiating from His countenance. Majestic, and yet sublimely tender, He was looking right into my eyes. I gave a start as if I had suddenly plunged into an ocean, then stood transfixed. It seemed as if I had come upon Him unawares and saw the "Glory of the Lord" shining forth around Him; and I know I must have felt as did Mary Magdalene when Christ revealed Himself to her in her vision after the crucifixion -- "The Risen Lord." He motioned me to pass on. I could not. A sense of my great unworthiness made me bow my head – then He passed by me. He was dressed white. His hair fell in soft waves His shoulders and His head was crowned with a white turban bound around with a white cloth. His step was firm and kingly.

When He reached His door He turned and again motioned me to pass on. I came toward Him and when I reached His door I looked up into those marvelous eyes. I knew that every act, every thought of my life was known to Him. Yet, knowing this, I could look fearlessly, unwaveringly at Him, realizing all my sins and weaknesses, yet knowing He understood me as I could never understand myself, and that He was indeed "Infinite Love Incarnate." I could not pass until He turned and entered His room; then almost overcome by the vibrations which thrilled me through and through, I passed on. Later He came to greet us and I was fully confirmed – this was truly ‘Abdu’l-Baha, but a very different one, I felt, from the one I had first seen. As He firmly grasped my hand with that welcoming pressure that comes deep from the heart, a handshake that warms you through and through, I saw the Divinely human man, the personification of my highest ideal of an earthly father. I never again, while in 'Aka, saw Him as I had in that first meeting. It was then as if I had seen the Reality of His being, with the shades of flesh all raised that the Light of Spirit might stream forth.

‘Abdu’l-Baha is of medium height, but He holds Himself so superbly, with such commanding dignity, and carries His head so high and with such an air of majesty, that He ever gives the impression of great height. His voice is full and vibrant, each word uttered with marked distinctness and with that tonal quality which leaves a faint echo, as it were, or wave vibrations such as come from a beautifully toned bell. All through the day it rings out, first in one place, and then in another; for with astonishing rapidity ‘Abdu’l-Baha seems to he everywhere -- now in the garden, now in the room close beside the entrance, now in a guest's room -- or you may hear Him calling someone in the "family section" of the "prison home." Always when I heard His voice, I felt its vibrations most deeply. Like His face, His voice expresses every emotion, from tones that are stern and emphatic to those as tender and loving as the cooing of a dove.

His eyes defy description. I only know that to me they seemed gray, with a circle of white around the iris, which at times became luminous. Sometimes in the light,I caught a shade of blue, and again by lamplight they seemed almost hrown, -- ever changing were they and wonderful. Like His face and His voice, they, too, expressed every emotion felt by Him.

I was deeply impressed by His perfect naturalness, His lack of conventionality and set form, and His refreshing simplicity. Divinely simple is He. His hair, which is gray and long, but rather thin, would at one time be flowing softly around His head, and at another it would be tucked up beneath His turban in a careless, comfortable way. All His physical senses seem intensified and when eating anything which He particularly likes, He evidences the keenest enjoyment of it. Likewise, the perfume of a flower will seem to entrance Him. I thought of what one pilgrim at ‘Akka had said: "When ‘Abdu’l-Baha inhales the odor of flowers, it is wonderful to see Him. It seems that the perfume of the hyacinth is telling Him something as He buries His face in the flowers. It is like the effort of the ear – a concentrated attention. How He understands the mystery of all these things of which we know nothing!" This, indeed, is true.

While there was a deep undercurrent of exultancy in ‘Abdu’l-Baha, yet, during my visit, which was but a few days, to my consciousness there seemed a strain of sorrow and sadness, as if the weight of the world was upon His shoulders. Especially did I realize this upon my first night in ‘Akka. I occupied the room next to His. His bed rested against the same wall that mine did and I could hear His slightest move. I could not sleep, and as I lay there wide-awake, I heard Him pacing up and down His room; then He would throw Himself upon His bed; then arise and walk back and forth again. Once, when He threw Himself down upon His bed, He moaned. Oh, that moan! It came from the depths of His soul and it pierced me through the heart. . . . I felt that once again the Christ Spirit was daily, hourly, being crucified by the lack of perfect love and unity among the believers; that once again It was cryingout: "0 Jerusalem! Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee! How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate!"

How I longed to go to Him and declare my love and faith in Him! Then I realized that it is not our love and faith in Him, but our love for one another, that is His crown of glory and the balm for His soul; for He had said to a pilgrim: "If you love one another, it is just the same as if you love Me. The closer you draw to one another, the closer you draw to Me. I will go away from this world, but love always stays. Therefore, you should love one another very much."

I felt that every inharmonious thought and action was painfully registered on that great heart; and with this thought came the overwhelming sense of the personal responsibility falling upon each one of us. Having seen and heard ‘Abdu’l-Baha, I realized that He is indeed the Center of the Covenant of God. And with this realization came the deepest joy. No need of arguments and worry over intricate problems of life and death, which have confounded the greatest philosophers; no need to spend the precious time in delving into the unknown and unknowable -- He has, or can, explain it all and His explanations are true.

Once having accepted ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s station, it is as useless to vex our minds with all these "whys and wherefores" as it would be for a way-worn traveler when a wagon comes along and the driver offers to carry him to town and he gladly climbs in, to continue to carry his heavy burden on his back. At 'Akka, I not only climbed into the wagon of Truth, but I also left my heavy bundle of self, opinions and perplexity of ideas by the roadside, knowing that this Divine Driver would carry me safely to town. God has indeed given us an “Ark of Safety” in ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

‘Abdu’l-Baha, the Mystery of God! Who can comprehend that Mystery? Surely not finite mind nor intellect. Only through the heart can we catch a faint glimpse of His Station.
(Louise Waite, The Baha’i World 1934-1936)