The birth of Mary Sutherland Maxwell, on August 8th, in the Hahnemann Hospital, later known as The Fifth Avenue Hospital, in New York City, was the hottest news to hit the North American Baha'i community in the summer of 1910.
Ever since May Bolles had accepted the Faith of Baha'u'llah, she had been known and loved by all the early Baha'is as one of the foremost disciples of 'Abdu'l-Baha; her husband, Sutherland Maxwell, was a distinguished architect in Canada and their home in Montreal a place of culture and spiritual vitality.
When the Baha'is read the announcement: "A little daughter has come to bless the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. S. Maxwell of Montreal. Canada", in Vol. 1, issue 9 of the Star of the West on August 20th, it must have caused many flutters of excited interest amongst them. There must have been many who expressed their congratulations and sent their good wishes.
Seven months later May received a Tablet from ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the Center of the Covenant, in which He said:
“In the garden of existence a rose hath bloomed with the utmost freshness, fragrance and beauty. Educate her according to the divine teachings so that she may grow up to be a real Baha’i and strive with all thy heart, that she may receive the Holy Spirit.”
The circumstances of her little girl's birth, when May was 40 years old, were like a fairy tale and have been repeated, and frequently distorted, since they were recorded in the early years of this century. May Maxwell gives us the original version in a letter she wrote to Agnes Alexander [who later became a Hand of the Cause], on May 7, 1910:
My Dearest Agnes, All of your dear letters have been received and . . . You must have wondered that I could remain so silent in spite of all your love and kindness but you will understand when I tell you that this winter has been one of great physical weakness and suffering for me, so that I have been most of the time unable to write, or to make any effort.
A little more than a year ago when I was in Acca I was passing one evening in the twilight in front of the Master's door. His daughter Rouha was with me and in my arms I held her wee babe. I suddenly saw Our Beloved Lord framed in the doorway gazing attentively upon me - then He said-"You love that baby?"
"Oh! I love him," I replied-and after a pause Our Lord said: "Come here, come in here," and I stood before Him in His room, with the baby in my arms and Rouha by my side. Then the Blessed one sat looking at us; and He said to me: "Would you like to have a baby?" and I answered, "I should be so happy to have one-" and He said, "Do you know why you never had one? It is because you were a chosen maidservant of God - you were called for the service of God - you could not have children because you had to devote your time to the service of the Cause. This is the only reason; this is the only reason."
I stood with bowed head before Him and after a little silence He said, "Speak, do you choose to have a child, you may choose!"
Then I looked at Him with all my heart and soul and adoration, and I said, "I choose whatever God chooses - I have no choice but His." Although those words were very simple - in them I renounced all hope of Motherhood. Then 'Abdu'l-Baha arose quickly and came to me and clasped me in His arms with the greatest love and joy, and He said: "That is the best choice, the Will of God is the best choice", and walking up and down the room He continued, "I will pray for you, that God will send you that which is best for you. Be sure of this, that God will send you that which is best for you-" and this He repeated several times.
Thus ended this never-to-be forgotten scene - but I cannot describe its reality - the deep significance of those moments - the atmosphere of beauty and sanctity which pervaded the little room - the surrender of a soul in the Presence of the Lord - the quiet twilight on earth mingling with the effulgent purity and peace of the Kingdom of God.
And regarding the Adored One Himself - what can we say? Such love - such wondrous love - revealed in Face and Voice and Eyes and Touch! A love so tender to understand, so strong to redeem! He desired for me as for all, the highest and best - not the wayward mortal desiring not even the natural human longings - not even the pure flower of Motherhood - but the surrender of the soul to God by which alone it attains the apex of severance and sanctity, and becomes enkindled with the Fire of Eternal Love.
And so I have told you, my Agnes -- of one scene of those divine and perfect days in the Kingdom of God and in time I shall hope to tell you all . . . For those days live forever, far above the world - and I long to have you and all the dear ones share their sacred fruits. And now my lamb I am going to confide to you a secret which is the sequel to what I have told you. Our dear Lord has favored His maidservant past all her hope, and by the pure showers of His Bounty has watered the seed of life, and is bringing forth a child. In a few months Inchallah, the babe He is sending to my husband and me will be born, and I beg for your prayers, both for the little one and for myself - for I am not strong-nor young! and physically I am passing through some trials-and this winter I had a fall which nearly proved fatal. I have not told the friends even the most intimate - but I wanted you to know - and I know you will keep my confidence.
May took her Lord's injunctions to heart. She strove to educate her precious, God-given daughter according to the divine teachings just as He had instructed her to do. She did her utmost to ensure that her little Mary should grow up "to be a real Baha'i" in order that she might indeed be able to "receive the Holy Spirit" just as the Master promised.
(Adapted from ‘A Tribute to Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum’, by Violette Nakhjavani)