CNN Travel has listed the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Ill. as one of eight religious wonders to visit in the United States.
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Get information on visiting the House of Worship.
On July 9, members of the Baha’i Faith commemorate the anniversary of the Martyrdom of the Bab (“the gate” in Arabic), one of nine holy days on which members of the Faith suspend work and school.
In Persia in 1844, the Bab declared that His mission was to herald the imminent arrival of the long-awaited Promised One, the Messenger of God Who would usher in the age of universal peace and transform the world. That Messenger was Baha’u'llah, Who in 1863 announced that He was God’s Messenger for this age.
The proclamation of the Bab attracted thousands of followers in a short time. Fearful of the Bab’s growing influence caused by His proclamation and teachings, which called for spiritual and moral renewal, religious and political leaders arose to oppose and persecute the Bab and His followers.
More than 20,000 of His followers were killed in several waves of brutal persecution. Though guilty of no crime, the Bab was arrested, beaten, exiled and imprisoned by the authorities. Then, on July 9, 1850, at age 31, He was executed in public by a firing squad in the city of Tabriz in northwest Persia.
The story of the events surrounding the Bab’s martyrdom has captured the interest of many because an apparent miracle was performed in the midst of tragic circumstances and in the presence of thousands of witnesses.
At His execution, the Bab and a young disciple were suspended by two ropes from a nail driven into a pillar of the soldier barracks in the public square of Tabriz. A regiment of 750 armed soldiers faced them in three lines of 250 each.
A crowd of about 10,000 was gathered on the roof of the barracks and on the roofs of nearby houses. Each group of 250 soldiers fired. The smoke of the guns turned “the light of the noonday sun into darkness.”
When the smoke cleared, the multitude was astounded to see that the two ropes were completely severed, and standing there unharmed was the Bab’s disciple. The Bab was nowhere to be seen.
After a hurried search, He was found unharmed in the room near the barracks where He had spent the previous night. He was calmly engaged in conversation with one of His disciples. When the guards walked in, the Bab declared that He had completed His conversation and that they could now carry out His execution.
The commander of the regiment was so unnerved that he ordered his men to quit the scene immediately. Another regiment was called into service and the sequence of the execution repeated. Once again, the air filled with thick smoke.
As the shots were fired, “…a gale of exceptional severity arose and swept over the whole city. A whirlwind of dust of incredible density obscured the light of the sun and blinded the eyes of the people. The entire city remained enveloped in that darkness till night.”
The stunning events were reported in newspapers around the world, in diplomatic correspondence among governments, by scholars and historians, and by members of the Faith.
The authorities dumped the remains of the Bab into the moat outside the city in the expectation they would be devoured by animals. Instead, they were secretly recovered, preserved, concealed and moved from place to place for almost 60 years.
In 1909, they were laid to rest in the Shrine of the Bab on the slopes of Mount Carmel in the Holy Land (now Haifa). The Shrine is one of the holiest places for Baha’is, who visit it while on pilgrimage. (Israel had become the world center of the Baha’i Faith after Baha’u'llah was exiled there. His remains were laid to rest there as well.)
Nineteenth century French writer A.L.M. Nicolas wrote of the Bab, “His life is one of the most magnificent examples of courage which it has been the privilege of mankind to behold.”
In the 1860s Count Gobineau, the former French Minister to Persia, described the attraction of the Bab’s Message: “And so, here is a religion presented and promoted by a mere youth. In a very few years … this religion had disseminated throughout almost the whole of Persia, and counted within its fold numerous zealous adherents… And it is not at all the ignorant part of the population that has been touched; it is eminent members of the clergy, the rich and learned classes, the women from the most important families; and lastly, after the Muslims, it is the philosophers, the Sufis in great numbers, and many Jews, who have been conquered by the new revelation…”
The Association for Baha’i Studies–North America warmly invites you to attend its 36th Annual Conference, to be held at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada, over the weekend of August 9-12, 2012. The theme of this year’s conference is “The Vision of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s for North America,” in honour of the 100th anniversary of His visit. All are invited to explore this theme from multiple perspectives through a series of plenary talks, and by participating in smaller simultaneous breakout sessions where exploring detailed ideas with greater participation is possible. In addition to theme-related sessions, the conference breakout sessions always include a diverse and engaging range of topics. (Read the Conference Theme Statement.)
This year’s plenary program reflects upon the implications of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit from multiple perspectives. Douglas Martin opens the plenary sessions with his own review of the significance of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit, drawing on his training as an historian and his extensive years of service to the Faith as a member of the Canadian National Spiritual Assembly and the Universal House of Justice, and director-general of the Baha’i International Community’s Office of Public Information at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa.
Friday morning’s program is a reflection on contemporary social issues and their changes over the past 100 years. Louise Mandell, Queen’s Council, one of Canada’s leading thinkers on Aboriginal rights and law, will consider the changing place of Aboriginal peoples in Canadian society. Following her talk, Dr. June Manning Thomas addresses inner city poverty, Dr. Mina Yazdani, the issue of religious fanaticism, and Chief Douglas White III, the spiritual dimensions of the struggle for equality and justice for Indigenous peoples, in a panel moderated by Dr. Roshan Danesh.
On Saturday, a panel of educators considers ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s vision of spiritual education in the context of His visit to Montreal. Professor Luc Begin, a prominent Quebec academic and an advisor to the Government of Quebec on questions of ethics, joins professors Claire Lapointe and Lyse Langlois. Dr. Robert Henderson, management consultant, diversity training executive, and member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, explores the changes in thought and practice on diversity and models of unity. The 30th Hasan M. Balyuzi Memorial Lecture, will be delivered this year by sociologist Dr. Shapour Rassekh who will elucidate on assumptions about the purpose and meaning of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to North America.
On Sunday morning, the Baha’i community’s response to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit is explored. Historian Robert Stockman addresses “What ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit teaches us,” followed by several examples of the profound changes within the community. Journalist and author Patricia Verge will speak on the history of the Jim and Melba Loft, the first Aboriginal believers in Canada, and discuss with Bob Watts, their grandson and a prominent Aboriginal leader and administrator, the collaborative process of writing their story. Dr. Louis Venters, historian, will trace the process of reshaping race relations and the discourse on race in the South Carolina Bahá’í community of the early 1900s.
Member of Continental Board of Counsellors, Dr. Ann Boyles will also address the conference, and the Association is pleased to screen portions of the film, Luminous Journey: ‘Abdu’l-Baha in America, 1912 produced by Anne and Tim Perry of Perry Productions.
Hotel and Registration: Registration and hotel information
Conference registration and hotel information are available on the ABS website. For further inquiries, please contact the Association for Baha’i Studies, 34 Copernicus St., Ottawa, ON, Canada K1N 7K4; tel.: 613-233-1903; fax: 613-233-3644; e-mail: email@example.com. Registration Fees: After July 31st registration fees will be charged at the on-site rate.
Hotel reservations must be made directly with the conference hotel, Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, 900 Rene- Levesque West, Montreal, QC H3B 4A5. To book your room, please call the Reservations Department at 514-861-3511; or call toll-free from North–America at 1-800-441-1414. Mention the Association for Baha’i Studies to receive the special conference rate or use booking code “BAHAI12.” You can also book online. Room rates are $139 CDN single/double. Additional room occupants will be charged $20 per night. There will be no charge for children up to and including the age of 18 years who share with their parents. Maximum occupancy per room is 4 persons. These rates are guaranteed only until July 27 2012. Reservations made after the cut-off date will be based on availability at the Hotel’s prevailing rates. The conference rates are extended to four days before and after the conference dates.
Visit to the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Baha
Take advantage of your stay in Montreal to visit the only Baha’i Shrine in the West, the Maxwell home. This sacred spot is unique in the world, since it is the only Baha’i shrine outside of the Holy Land and those places in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey where the Bab and Baha’u’llah have resided or sojourned. Even though ‘Abdu’l-Baha stayed in other homes in Europe and America, the Maxwell home in Montreal is the only place officially designated a “Shrine.” It was therefore a great honour and privilege conferred upon Canada and the city of Montreal. The Shrine will have extended visiting hours over the conference period and one day before and after the conference dates. Contact and visiting hour information can be found on the Baha’is of Montreal website.
Faculty/Student Workshop: Scholarship in the Context of the Plans
A faculty/student workshop on scholarship in the context of the plans is scheduled for Thursday. It will offer a forum to learn and consult about aspects of Baha’i scholarship and service most relevant to faculty and students, and an opportunity to devise strategies for possible implementation on campuses. Interactive workshops are dedicated to learning about the relationship between scholarship and the Covenant, the nature of learning, the place of scholarship in the processes of growth and core activities, and enhancing the role of campus groups to become forums to begin learning about “participation in the prevalent discourses of society.”
The Special Interest Groups of the Association will hold informal discussion sessions this year on Friday, August 10, from noon to 2:00 p.m. At the SIG Circle event, the SIGs will organize display tables and provide opportunities for discussions with interested members.
Artistic presentations are integrated throughout the ABS conference, including in the devotional programs. There will be an evening program devoted to the arts as well as “After hours” sessions with impromptu musical performances.
Special session will be conducted in Persian with Dr. Shapour Rassekh during the conference.
Be sure to register your children for the educational Children’s and Junior Youth Program at the annual conference. The Children’s Conference program will include speakers from the main conference as well as other activities addressing the conference theme. Important note to parents: children must be preregistered by July 31 2012.
Conference program updates
For the latest conference updates, and to download the full conference program, please visit the ABS website.
In this latest entry on In Culture Parent, a Baha’i mother shares the spiritual transformation she witnessed in her daughter after a weekend retreat at Green Acre Baha’i School.
“I remembered a conversation I had overheard at a youth gathering my daughter had participated in some weeks before. “I don’t want to talk about things. I want to do things,” she had said. Then I recalled one of Baha’u’llah’s Hidden Words, “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning….” My daughter had spent her weekend in quiet service to the women of Rosie’s Place, preparing gift bags and beautifying the empowering quotations to go inside them. Without ever having been told, my daughter already seemed to know what it meant to be a “Handmaid of the Merciful.””
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Cheryll Schuette in Bella Online shares the Baha’i perspective on evil.
“Baha’is believe in only one Creator, by whatever name is used, and therefore do not have an equal but opposite destroyer deity. An “…evil spirit, Satan or whatever is interpreted as evil, refers to the lower nature of man. … God has never created an evil spirit; all such ideas and nomenclature are symbols expressing the mere human or earthly nature of man.” — Lights of Guidance, p. 512)
“In other words, “The Devil made me do it,” won’t work for the followers of Bahá’u'lláh. Every adult is thus responsible, not only to God, but also to the community, for his/her own actions. Learning to control and make efficient use of basic human nature, while developing the higher nature, the spirit, is the purpose of this life.”
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The American nation, Baha’is believe, will evolve through tests and trials to become a land of spiritual distinction and leadership, a champion of justice and unity among all peoples and nations, and a powerful servant of the cause of everlasting peace, the peace promised by God in the sacred texts of the world’s religions.
To achieve this destiny, however, our nation must overcome several persistent spiritual challenges—removing every trace of racism from our hearts, embracing the equality of women and men, eliminating the inordinate disparity between rich and poor, transforming a limited nationalism to the love of humanity as a whole, and in humility before God, submerge religious prejudices in a great spirit of mutual forbearance that will enable us to work together for the advancement of human understanding and peace. These are among the preeminent goals of the U.S. Baha’i community.
In 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, visited the United States and Canada and wrote a special prayer for America:
“O Thou kind Lord! This gathering is turning to Thee. These hearts are radiant with Thy love. These minds and spirits are exhilarated by the message of Thy glad-tidings. O God! Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious. Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world. O God! This American nation is worthy of Thy favors and is deserving of Thy mercy. Make it precious and near to Thee through Thy bounty and bestowal.”
Brian Taraz, a life-long member of the Baha’i Faith, has been composing and performing songs based on the prayers and writings of the Faith for many years. In 2009, Taraz put the words of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s prayer to music and recorded it with some talented friends.
“It’s genuine rank and file out of Tucson, Arizona,” says Taraz. “A rock’n'roll version of the Prayer for America.”
by. Dale E. Lehman
Originally published on March 28, 2003 on http://www.planetbahai.org
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, patriotism is defined as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” It’s a very simple definition that most of us intuitively understand. But since love and devotion are inward conditions, in practice we tend to define patriotism not so much in these essential terms as in terms of how it is manifested in behavior. In other words, patriotism is as patriotism does.
In different countries, patriotism may manifest itself in slightly different ways, but usually certain kinds of behavior are taken as indicative of true patriotism. A person who flies the nation’s flag, who wears the nation’s colors, who joins or otherwise energetically supports the nation’s military forces, and who takes an active part in the government of the nation (be it through elections or displaying posters of the ruling dictator or anything in between, depending on the nature of the government) is regarded as a patriot.
The Baha’i Faith upholds this general notion. After all, Baha’u'llah taught, ”Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.” But His teachings go well beyond this to broaden and deepen the very concept of patriotism.
We first need to understand that patriotism is not an end in itself. It has a purpose, namely to foster a spirit of unity and cooperation among a group of people. Love of one’s country is not, in and of itself, of much value. Its value is seen when it motivates the citizens of a country to band together for their collective advancement and security. Although such displays as are usually considered patriotic may be inspirational, the true patriot is not content to simply wave a flag. Rather, the true patriot plays an active role in the life of the nation and seeks to find ways, no matter how small, to make it a better place for its people.
It is one of the paradoxes of our times that nations compete with each other on many levels, yet find themselves increasingly drawn into a web of interdependencies. Political, economic, and environmental factors demand growing levels of cooperation on a global scale. Humanity is advancing towards a level of organization that supersedes the national. In the context of such advancement, national patriotism, while still valuable in its own right, is no longer sufficient to provide the necessary social cohesion. If the world’s future can only be served by embracing the unity of humanity, a love and a loyalty that embraces all of humanity must emerge. The Universal House of Justice, the world governing council of the Baha’i Faith, has put it this way:
Unbridled nationalism, as distinguished from a sane and legitimate patriotism, must give way to a wider loyalty, to the love of humanity as a whole. Baha’u'llah’s statement is: “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” The concept of world citizenship is a direct result of the contraction of the world into a single neighbourhood through scientific advances and of the indisputable interdependence of nations. Love of all the world’s peoples does not exclude love of one’s country. The advantage of the part in a world society is best served by promoting the advantage of the whole. Current international activities in various fields which nurture mutual affection and a sense of solidarity among peoples need greatly to be increased.
(The Promise of World Peace, para. 31)
I can’t stress enough the hierarchical nature of the loyalties spoken of here and elsewhere in the Baha’i Writings. Although Baha’u'llah did state, ”It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world,” this should not be taken to mean that He regarded love of one’s country as unimportant or illegitimate. Far from it! Rather, He is calling us to embrace a wider loyalty than any we have previously embraced, without giving up the narrower loyalties which we all have. We are loyal to our families, for example, as well as to our countries, and we find no contradiction in this even though sometimes duties to family and country can appear to conflict. The soldier, answering the call of his government, leaves behind his family to defend his nation, and the family understands and accepts the sacrifice.
In this day, then, Baha’u'llah calls us to a loyalty that embraces all of humanity, without asking us to give up a sane and legitimate patriotism for our respective countries. Indeed, He instructed His followers,
In every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness. This is that which hath been revealed at the behest of Him Who is the Ordainer, the Ancient of Days.
(Tablets of Bahá’u'lláh, p. 22)
Baha’is are bound to support and obey their governments, to engage in true acts of patriotism by serving their country and their fellow citizens (albeit in nonpartisan ways), and to pray for their leaders. At the same time, they are patriots of the world, striving to serve humanity as a whole and to strengthen the bonds of love and unity between all peoples. Although this can sometimes be a difficult line to walk and may entail some sacrifices, there is nothing inherently contradictory in these two levels of loyalty.
The Baha’i Faith was first publicly mentioned in the United States in 1893 by a Presbyterian missionary at the World’s Parliament of Religions held during the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The following year, Thornton Chase, a Chicago insurance manager, became the first American Baha’i. An article by Dr. Robert Stockman about Mr. Chase, which includes a full story of his life and early years can be read at The Baha’i Encyclopedia Project. Following are excerpts from that article:
Thornton Chase was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1847. His mother died just days after he was born and he later described his childhood as “loveless and lonely,” with “neither mother, sister nor brother.” The inner vacuum he felt apparently set him on a quest for love that culminated in his mystical interests.
In 1888 Chase was hired by the Union Mutual Life Insurance Company as an agent and soon became the manager of its entire Colorado operation. In 1889 the company promoted him and moved him to its Santa Cruz and San Francisco offices. In California, Chase continued his religious search, combining it with his work. In 1893 he published a booklet called Sketches that uses biblical and religious stories to explain why people should purchase life insurance for themselves. The booklet reveals Chase as a religious seeker familiar with all the major religions.
Chase was transferred by the company to Chicago in about 1893 and in early 1894 he was writing a poem about God when a business colleague entered his office. The colleague was intrigued by the poem and told Chase about a man who claimed that God had recently “walked upon the earth.” Chase investigated and discovered that the man was Ibrahim Kheiralla, a Baha’i from Beirut who had recently come to the United States, and that he taught the coming of Baha’u’llah, a Messenger of God, in fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Chase and a small group of Chicagoans began to study the Baha’i Faith with Kheiralla.
By 1895 Chase had completed the class and had become a Baha’i. At least three other Americans completed the class and accepted the new religion before Chase, but subsequently these three lost interest in the Baha’i Faith. Thus, ‘Abdu’l-Baha (the son of Baha’u’llah) recognized Chase as “the first American believer,” and Shoghi Effendi (the grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Baha) later described him as “indeed the first to embrace the Cause of Baha’u’llah in the Western world.”
Classes on the Baha’i Faith were organized in Chicago and later in Enterprise, Kansas; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Ithaca, New York; New York City; Philadelphia; and Oakland, California. By 1899 about fifteen hundred Americans had become Baha’is, including seven hundred in Chicago. Chase gave a class on the Baha’i Faith, wrote numerous letters to interested seekers, and taught the Faith widely during his frequent travels for his company.
In 1899 American Baha’is returning from a pilgrimage to the Baha’i holy places in Ottoman Palestine brought to North America rudimentary knowledge of the Baha’i administrative system. Chase became actively involved in administering the Chicago Baha’i community, first in November 1899, when the community elected officers, and then in March 1900, when the community elected a ten-member Board of Council. Chase was one of the 1899 officers and a member of the 1900 board. Starting in 1898, Ibrahim Kheiralla began to insist on a formal role as leader of the American Baha’is. Chase was one of those who tried unsuccessfully to help Kheiralla realize the inappropriateness of his demand, and subsequently Chase played a central part in reorganizing the Baha’i community independently of Kheiralla.
In 1900 and 1901 ‘Abdu’l-Baha sent four knowledgeable Persians—’Abdu’l Karim Tihrani, Haji Mirza Hasan Khurasani, Mirza Asadu’llah Isfahani, and Mirza Abu’l-Fadl Gulpaygani—to the United States to deepen the Baha’is knowledge of their religion. Chase arranged for the latter two visitors to stay in the Chicago Baha’i Center and moved into the center with them when his wife had to go to New England for a year to handle legal matters connected with the death of his stepmother in Springfield.
Having acquired a deep understanding of the Baha’i teachings during his time with the Persians, Chase soon emerged as the principal organizer of the Chicago Baha’i community. In May 1901 he coordinated an election that replaced the Board of Council with a new consultative body, which was first called the Chicago House of Justice and then the Chicago House of Spirituality. By 1902 Chase was serving as chairman of the House of Spirituality, an office he retained until he moved to California in 1909. Chase had learned about the Baha’i principle of consultation from the Persian teachers and emphasized its importance, thus becoming the first American Baha’i to champion it. Chase also wrote many circular letters that the House of Spirituality sent to Baha’i communities throughout the United States and Canada, explaining the Baha’i holy days and the period of fasting, thereby establishing their observance in North America.
Chase’s writing experience proved useful in the effort to edit and publish Baha’i literature. In 1900 Chase and three other Chicago Baha’i businessmen founded the Behais Supply and Publishing Board of Chicago. In the fall of 1902, the publisher was legally incorporated as the Bahai Publishing Society. It soon emerged as the principal publisher of Baha’i literature in the English-speaking world and became a major force behind the standardization of the spelling of Persian and Arabic Baha’i names and terms. Chase was the principal editor of the society’s literature and one of its principal financiers. The society published several Baha’i pamphlets that Chase wrote.
In 1907 Chase was able to go on pilgrimage to Ottoman Palestine. Though he could be with ‘Abdu’l-Baha in Acre for only three days, the experience transformed Chase. ‘Abdu’l-Baha, highly impressed by Chase’s qualities, conferred on him the title Thabit (Steadfast).
On returning home Chase wrote an account of his pilgrimage that was published in 1908 as In Galilee. The short work gives a detailed and poignant description of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s home and family in Acre, as well as a moving description of ‘Abdu’l-Baha Himself. The work remains an important example of the genre commonly known as pilgrim’s notes; thoughtful and reflective, it is of higher quality than most.
Next, Chase turned his thoughts to an introductory book on the Baha’i Faith, The Bahai Revelation, published in 1909. One of the most comprehensive and accurate introductions to the Baha’i Faith written by an early Western Baha’i, the work emphasizes the Baha’i teachings as a vehicle for personal spiritual transformation. It continued to be reprinted until the 1920s.
In late 1909 the Union Mutual Life Insurance Company, concerned about the amount of time Chase was spending on his religious activities, transferred Chase to Los Angeles, hoping that a location remote from Baha’i activity would decrease his opportunities to serve his religion. Chase considered resigning from the company, but at the age of sixty-two he found it impossible to obtain another job, and he had to support his wife, his son in college, and his elderly mother-in-law, none of whom had become Baha’i. Consequently, Chase had no choice but to accept the new position, even though it paid much less than he had been earning.
Chase still traveled extensively for his company as far north as Seattle and as far east as Denver, travels that gave him opportunities to visit the rapidly developing Baha’i communities of the Rocky Mountain and Pacific states. At home he helped to organize the Los Angeles Baha’is. In 1910 they elected Chase a member of their first five-member governing board and established their first monthly meetings. During this period Chase returned to writing poetry, primarily on the Baha’i Faith.
Thornton Chase became ill, suddenly and unexpectedly, while traveling in late September 1912. Following abdominal surgery, he lay gravely ill in a Los Angeles hospital. On September 27 the Baha’is wired the news to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, who was visiting the United States at the time and had stopped briefly to rest in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, en route to San Francisco. ‘Abdu’l-Baha and His party were saddened by the news. Chase died on the evening of September 30, just a day before ‘Abdu’l-Baha arrived in California, and was buried on October 4 in Inglewood Park Cemetery. Baha’is throughout the United States sent messages eulogizing Chase for his intelligence, his consultative approach to problems, his constant advocacy of the need for organization, and his loving disposition.
‘Abdu’l-Baha made a special trip to Los Angeles to visit Chase’s grave. On October 19, accompanied by about twenty-five Baha’is, He took a tram to the cemetery, walked solemnly and directly to the gravesite, and carefully covered it with flowers. He then chanted Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of Visitation, which is recited in the Shrines of Baha’u’llah and the Bab (the Forerunner of Baha’u'llah), and a prayer for the departed.
‘Abdu’l-Baha reportedly praised Chase’s qualities: “During his lifetime he bore many trials and vicissitudes, but he was very patient and long-suffering. He had a heart most illuminated, a spirit most rejoiced; his hope was to serve the world of humanity. . . .” ‘Abdu’l-Baha stated that Chase “will not be forgotten” and that his worth was not known then but would become “inestimably dear.” ‘Abdu’l-Baha instructed the Baha’is to visit Chase’s grave, to bring flowers on ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s behalf, and to “have the utmost consideration for the members of his family.” At the end of His visit, ‘Abdu’l-Baha knelt and kissed the grave.
Shoghi Effendi, in God Passes By, his history of the first Baha’i century, mentions the “poignant sight” of ‘Abdu’l-Baha kissing the tombstone of “His beloved disciple” as one of the scenes from ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to the West [from April - December 1912] that will never “be effaced from memory.” Shoghi Effendi also included Chase among outstanding early Baha’is of the West whom he designated as “Disciples of ‘Abdu’l-Baha.”
Adhering to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s instructions, the American Baha’i community holds an annual commemoration at Chase’s grave on the Sunday nearest to the date of his death.
By Caity Bolton
Knots of people streamed from the subway to gather outside the doors of the Lehman Center in the Bronx, eager for the start of the June 16 centenary commemoration of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visits to New York City.
For some it was their first time to the Bronx, just as it was a century ago for early New York Baha’is Edward and Carrie Kinney who ventured north of Manhattan to attend some of the city’s first Baha’i meetings.
Welcomed by live jazz performed by the Centenary Ensemble, more than 2,000 souls were swiftly ushered in to fill the concert hall.
Among the opening prayers and readings was a passage from the first public address that ‘Abdu’l-Baha gave in America, given at the home of the Kinneys on the upper West Side of Manhattan.
It was read in Persian and in translation as the early believers would have heard it: “I am greatly pleased with the city of New York. … I hope … that this city may become the city of love and that the fragrances of God may be spread from this place to all parts of the world.”
The theme of this commemorative evening was “The Power of the Covenant,” that unique feature of the Baha’i revelation that ensures the enduring unity of the Baha’i Faith.
It was in New York City in summer 1912 that ‘Abdu’l-Baha proclaimed in the West that He was the Center of the Covenant, appointed by Baha’u’llah upon His passing to interpret His Writings and guide the global Baha’i community.
This theme was introduced in a play written and directed by Kristina Golmohammadi and Mehr Mansuri-Ghavidel. In it young Miguel, a Baha’i youth living in present-day Bronx, speaks with the spirits of early Baha’is Howard McNutt, Lua Getsinger and Juliet Thompson.
They appear to him while he is struggling to invite his friends to a Baha’i gathering, and he asks them, “Didn’t you always know what to do? The Master was always there guiding you. …”
They answer that each generation has its own struggle, and theirs was to remain firm in the Covenant. At that time, there were many trying to sow discord in the community, one even laying claims to independent leadership of the western Baha’is.
“People had trouble understanding the station of ‘Abdu’l-Baha,” Howard McNutt tells Miguel. Howard was tasked with traveling to Chicago to tell some among the community there that they were misguided, and to draw them back under the protective wing of the Covenant.
It was to Lua Getsinger and Juliet Thompson that ‘Abdu’l-Baha proclaimed Himself as the Center of the Covenant, while Juliet was painting her portrait of the Master on West 78th Street in a home rented for ‘Abdu’l-Baha. He appointed Lua as the Herald of the Covenant and told her to “go forth and proclaim, ‘This is the Covenant of God in your midst.’”
After narrating some of their own struggles, the early American believers tell Miguel that ‘Abdu’l-Baha is always among us — wherever there is unity and love among the friends, you will find Him there.
Embolded by this knowledge, Miguel garners the courage to invite his friends to take part in the community-building activities in which Baha’is are engaged globally, a plan of action directed by the Universal House of Justice, inheritor of the mantle of head of the Faith within Baha’u'llah’s Covenant.
As the play comes to an end, Lua reminds Miguel — and us: “We are making history, Miguel. Remember, you are one of the early believers, too. …”
The theme was continued with a talk in which former member of the Universal House of Justice Glenford E. Mitchell described the Covenant as the “axis of world unity.”
“The circle of unity has gradually been widened,” he said. Successive stages of human development established unity at the level of family, tribe, city-state and nation-state. Now, at this key “milestone in the evolution of human society,” the human race is called upon to recognize its fundamental oneness.
That oneness, said Mitchell, is “the central principle of the Baha’i Faith” and consummation of human evolution, marking the end of the adolescence of the human race and the dawn of the age of fulfillment.
And the Covenant, he said, is that “providentially ordained instrument through which this unity is to be achieved.” Its purpose is to “renew the human connection with the divine reality” and our connection with the one faith of God — manifested in stages according to the circumstances of humanity at the time of revelation.
The Covenant, moreover, ensures our continued connection to that divine guidance through not only the appointed Center of the Covenant but through the institutions delineated by Baha’u’llah Himself, said Mitchell.
“The axis of the oneness of the world of humanity is the power of the Covenant and nothing else.”
The evening drew to a close with a slide show depicting a Northeast U.S. Baha’i community active in service today and through the years to a century ago.
The photos were underlaid with the soft music of live cello and violin, and the memorable words of ‘Abdu’l-Baha:
“O that I could travel, even though on foot and in the utmost poverty, to these regions, and, raising the call of ‘Ya Baha’u'l-Abha’ in cities, villages, mountains, deserts and oceans, promote the divine teachings! This, alas, I cannot do. How intensely I deplore it! Please God, ye may achieve it.”
At this, an audience member joyfully exclaimed, “Ya Baha’u’l-Abha!” and the auditorium erupted in applause, singing along with the Centenary Ensemble, “Look at me, follow me, be as I am. …”
Such was the centenary celebration of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visits to the City of the Covenant and His wishes for this metropolis, as voiced in a Tablet:
“Bless Thou, O King of Kings, the city of New York! Cause the friends there to be kind to one another. Purify their souls and make their hearts to be free and detached. Illumine the world of their consciousness. Exhilarate their spirits and bestow celestial power and confirmation upon them. Establish there a heavenly realm, so that the City of Baha may prosper and New York be favoured with blessings from the Abha Kingdom, that this region may become like the all-highest Paradise, may develop into a vineyard of God and be transformed into a heavenly orchard and a spiritual rose garden.”
The Feast has spiritual, administrative and social functions and is the primary locus of fellowship and community decision-making in each Baha’i locality.
Some Reflections for the Feast of Mercy (Rahmat in Arabic) – begins at sunset June 23
“This is the Day whereon the Ocean of God’s mercy hath been manifested unto men, the Day in which the Day Star of His loving-kindness hath shed its radiance upon them, the Day in which the clouds of His bountiful favor have overshadowed the whole of mankind. Now is the time to cheer and refresh the down-cast through the invigorating breeze of love and fellowship, and the living waters of friendliness and charity.”
“Every trouble that toucheth us in our love for Thee is an evidence of Thy tender mercy, every fiery ordeal a sign of the brightness of Thy light, every woeful tribulation a cooling draught, every toil a blissful repose, every anguish a fountain of gladness.”
“If thine eyes be turned towards mercy, forsake the things that profit thee and cleave unto that which will profit mankind”
“Every light paleth before the radiance of His light, and every other exponent of mercy
falleth short before the tokens of His mercy…”
– The Bab
“Verily, the clouds of the mercy of thy Lord have poured forth the rain of His greatest gift; the heat of the Sun of Truth hath become intense upon the plains, valleys and hills, and the winds of fecundation of the mercy of thy Lord have blown o’er the gardens, mountains and thickets. Therefore, O thou tree, be verdant, blossom, put forth leaves and bear beautiful fruits in this most Supreme Paradise! …”
When, however, thou dost contemplate the innermost essence of all things, and the individuality of each, thou wilt behold the signs of thy Lord’s mercy in every created thing, and see the spreading rays of His Names and Attributes throughout all the realm of being, with evidences which none will deny save the froward and the unaware.”
“The Sun of Reality is shining upon you, the cloud of mercy is pouring down, and the breezes of providence are wafting through your souls. Although the bestowal is great and the grace is glorious, yet capacity and readiness are requisite. Without capacity and readiness the divine bounty will not become manifest and evident. No matter how much the cloud may rain, the sun may shine and the breezes blow, the soil that is sterile will give no growth. The ground that is pure and free from thorns and thistles receives and produces through the rain of the cloud of mercy. No matter how much the sun shines, it will have no effect upon the black rock, but in a pure and polished mirror its lights become resplendent.”
“O Lord, I have turned my face unto Thy Kingdom of oneness and am immersed in the sea of Thy mercy.
O Lord, enlighten my sight by beholding Thy lights in this dark night, and make me happy by the wine of Thy love in this wonderful age! …”
View photos on the website “Nineteen Months” taken by photographers inspired by reflection on the month of Mercy – nineteenmonths.com is an international collaborative photo blog using spirituality to inspire photographers and in turn, inspire others.