The Essence of Sweetness

January 19, 2022
The Essence of Sweetness

Impressions on ‘Abdu’l-Baha

The Essence of Sweetness

A tribute to Amatu’l-Bahá Ruhiyyih Khanum

Born Mary Maxwell in Montreal, Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum’s life spanned almost the entire 20th century. To her husband, Shoghi Effendi, she was his “helpmate”, “shield” and “tireless collaborator in the arduous tasks I shoulder.” 

Source: This portrait was written by Violette Nakhjavani

Mary Sutherland Maxwell was born on 8 August 1910 in the Hahnemann Hospital, later known as The Fifth Avenue Hospital, in New York City. She was the only child of May Bolles, one of the foremost disciples of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and Sutherland Maxwell, a distinguished Canadian architect, whose home in Montreal had long been known as a place of culture and spiritual vitality. When Mary was just seven months old, in March 1911, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote a Tablet to her mother, saying, “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’í and strive with all thy heart, that she may receive the Holy Spirit.” May took these injunctions to heart, striving to educate her precious, God-given daughter according to the divine teachings.

She had a full, free and happy childhood. Her only sorrows at this time, which she would speak of until late in life, were the periods of separation from her beloved mother. May Maxwell was a devoted and dedicated servant of the Cause, a member of several Baha’í administrative bodies, as well as one of the star teachers of the Faith. She suffered greatly from the extreme cold of Montreal and her ill health would often keep her away from her home for two or more months at a time. She would go to New York or Wilmette to attend meetings, would become ill and then could not return home for several weeks. The physical attachment and spiritual kinship that connected mother and daughter was singular and strong. Rúhíyyih Khanum often said, “If Baha’ís believed in such things as ‘soul mates’, my mother and I would be like that.”

‘Abdu’l-Baha visited the Maxwell home for three days during the fall of 1912, when Mary was two years old. There is an especially touching story about this visit, told by ‘Abdu’l-Baha Himself to His companions and recorded in the memoirs of A. A. Nakhjavani. ‘Abdu’l-Baha told them: “Today I was resting on the chaise longue in my bedroom and the door opened. The little girl came in to me and pushed my eyelids up with her small finger and said, ‘Wake up, ‘Abdu’l-Baha!’ I took her in my arms and placed her head on my chest and we both had a good sleep.” When Rúhíyyih Khanum repeated this story in later years she used to say that once when her mother complained to ‘Abdu’l-Baha that she was naughty, the Master had said,

“Leave her alone. She is the essence of sweetness.”

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