December 20, 2012

Sarah’s Vision of Peace

On a hot June day in the year 1892, a middle-aged woman sat in a crowded lecture hall. Despite the heat, her face looked peaceful as she listened to the speaker talk about the life of the spirit.

Suddenly she grew tense, her expressive brown eyes lighting up with excitement. Drawing a pencil and paper from her purse, she wrote down these words: "Green Acre -- tent on riverbank -- all races -- religions -- music science -- understanding -- peace.''

That evening she told her father what had happened. "I was listening to a lecture, and the noise of traffic almost drowned the speaker's voice. I thought what a glorious thing it would be for poor, tired, struggling humanity to have some spot on earth where our bodies and souls might be refreshed at the same time.

"Suddenly I saw this need and with it how to begin to help. I saw a picture of Green Acre with its acres of beautiful fields and pines and the river with the Inn high above its bank. But instead of a small summer resort, it had become a great center of learning.. .There were all races and creeds there, and happy children and young people ready to learn how to make their lives of value. Peace was the aim of everyone's efforts…" The woman's face glowed with excitement and she continued. "I saw also that in the years ahead the conferences would grow into a school and the school into a university.. . dedicated to man's highest achievements in the arts, sciences, religion, and philosophy. The spiritual principles of the New Day would find their complete expression in the life of Green Acre. This is what you and Mother and I have always been working towards, but we saw only parts of the plan, and now I have seen it all!"

The woman who shared this vision with her father on that hot summer’s day was Sarah Jane Farmer. In 1889, she had been invited to join four businessmen in Eliot, Maine, in the running of a summer resort on the banks of the Piscataqua River. The poet John Greenleaf Whittier had visited the resort and had given it its name - Green Acre.

Sarah's dream for creating a wonderful place for spiritual growth had its seeds in her family life, She had been born into a progressive, stimulating family, to parents who had been childless for many years. They had prayed to have a child whose life would be dedicated to God and to the service of mankind. Sarah was the answer to those prayers.

Sarah’s father, Moses Farmer, was an inventor. He built an electric railroad when he was 26, improved the telegraph at 28, and at 39, lighted the parlor of their home with incandescent electric lamps – when Thomas Edison was only 12 years old! Moses Farmer never patented his own discoveries, for he believed inventions were the thoughts of God that came through sensitive minds for the benefit of all.

Hannah Shapleigh Farmer, Sarah's mother, was always concerned with the needs of others. In Boston, she established a home of rest and relaxation for underprivileged mothers and children. She also knew many of the leading figures of the early struggle for women's rights and was committed to trying to abolish slavery. The Farmer home became a way station in the underground railroad, which helped runaway slaves come north.

In 1893, just a half year after Sarah's vision for Green Acre, she attended the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, which was part of the Columbian Exposition. Her father's inventions were on display at the exposition, and Sarah had the chance to meet many outstanding people from all over the world. She met Bharmapala, a Buddhist from Ceylon, and Vivekandada, a Hindu from Calcutta, and many other people who were great thinkers. Sarah invited them to come to Green Acre to share their messages the following summer.

On July 3, 1894, Sarah stood in a large tent on the grounds of Green Acre; and spoke about the new purpose she saw for the resort. Other talks were given, and a great white flag with “Peace” in green letters was raised under the American flag next to the tent. Sarah said, "In looking for an emblem, we wanted something that would call to everybody, and we felt that the Message that had been brought to the world by prophet after pophet was the message of Peace."

The special spirit at Green Acre attracted many prominent people, including Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Annie Besant and Edward Everett Hale. There was always exciting discussion and fellowship. One day, sixteen lectures were held! There were musical programs, a weekly newspaper called The Green Acre Voice, and always something for the children to enjoy. Every year there was a special Children's Day with a maypole, lemonade, and singing and dancing. The children loved Sarah's gentle ways and felt her love for them.

But Sarah suffered ill health and worried about the future of Green Acre. In 1900, she went on a cruise to the Mediterranean Sea, and that trip was to change her life and bring her vision for Green Acre to its real meaning and purpose.

On the ship, Sarah met several people who were going to 'Akka to meet 'Abdu'l-Baha, and she decided she must go and meet Him, too. This was the first time that Sarah had heard about the Baha'i Faith, but its spirit matched what she already knew in her heart.

In her diary, she wrote of her first meeting with 'Abdu'l-Baha: "Acca: Received by my Lord."

'Abdu'l-Baha answered Sarah's questions before she even had a chance to ask them and spoke to her of her hopes for Green Acre. He assured her that her vision had a purpose, and that someday there would be a university there. He told Sarah that she had been chosen to found this center of learning to herald the dawn of a new day.

After Sarah returned to America, 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote at least twenty-eight tablets to her. In one, He said:

“O thou favored maid-servant in the Threshold of Almighty! Thou art always in my memory and before my eyes. I am aware of thy service to the Kingdom of Abha, and I day by day seek and beg for more confirmations in thy behalf; and I am assured that thou shalt be enabled to render great services. And a Mashriqu’l-Adhkar [Baha’i House of Worship] shall necessarily be built … but a little patience is needed.”

Of Sarah, He also said, "Thou will become the envy of the queens of all regions and wilt be the rival of all the celebrated people of the world.”

In 1912, 'Abdu'l-Baha made His historic journey to the United States and Canada. From August 16 to August 23, He was at Green Acre. He hosted a Unity Feast that attracted so many people that traffic was stopped on the road leading to Green Acre.

During this time, Sarah Farner was ill, but she was as able to come to Green Acre for one brief, tender reunion with 'Abdu'l-Baha. They took a carriage ride to a hill called Monsalvat. 'Abdu'l-Baha pointed out certain trees and spots to Sarah, then He took her hand in His and said, "This is hallowed ground made so by your vision and sacrifice.”

Then He looked at Sarah and the others gathered there and said, "This is where the first Baha'i University will be built.” Pointing to a spot in the center of the area, He then said, "This is where the second Baha'i Temple in the United States will be raised. In reality, all this has been built and is right now ready to become a material reality whenever the Supreme Concourse finds mankind purified enough to bring about its consummation… People will stream up and down the hill to some department in the University and to the Temple for prayers, which shall be in the midst of it.”

Sarah Farmer died four years later, without seeing the university or the temple of which the Master had spoken. But her vision of Green Acre as a great learning center has been realized. Every summer and for many weekends during the rest of the year, Baha'is and their friends gather at Green Acre to discuss important topics, meditate and refresh themselves. Many children enjoy the beautiful surroundings and the classes they attend there. The room in which 'Abdu'l-Baha stayed is now a place of prayer and meditation.

Green Acre remains a place where people of all races and religions can meet. It reflects the vision of Sarah Farmer -- the vision of peace. 'Abdu'l-Baha shared this vision with Sarah. When He was at Green Acre, He said:

“Are you well and happy? This is a delightful spot; the scenery is beautiful and an atmosphere of spirituality halos everything. In the future, God willing Green Acre shall become a great center; the cause of the unity of the world of humanity, the cause of uniting hearts and binding together the east and the west. This is my hope" 
(Anne Gordon Atkinson, based on research by Bahiyyih Randall Winckler, Dr. Tim Rost, Dr. Robert Atkinson and papers from the Green Acre archives; ‘Brilliant Star’, May/June 1986)