Dedicated to the Hands of the Cause of God

Dedicated to the Hands of the Cause of God

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Art of Storytelling by Kiser Barnes

Extracts on the Art of Storytelling - A compilation prepared for the presentation, “The Art of Storytelling”, by Mr. Kiser Barnes, 3 November 2006.

1. DRESSING TRUTH IN STORY:  “Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village.  Her nakedness frightened the people.  When Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry.  Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home.  There she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again.  Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the villagers’ doors and was readily welcomed into the people’s houses.  They invited her to eat at their table and warm herself by their fire.”  –  Annette Simmons, The Story Factor, (Perseus Publishing, Cambridge 2001) p.27.  See also the version, “Truth in Gay Clothes”, A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, (Nathan Ausubel Crown Publishers, New York 1948) p.13

2.  “For centuries stories and metaphors have been used to convey a message.  Religious books are filled with analogies, metaphors and stories …  They all convey teachings in an indirect way, to translate difficult ideas into tangible ones.  The wise men and women of villages have used metaphors and stories to answer a question or explain a difficult matter for centuries.  They were part of an oral culture in which the elderly had an opportunity to tell stories and share wisdom. … Most of the stories … had a lesson latent in them … This was also the medium the elders used to pass on customs and norms to the youth.”  –  Arthur Rowshan, Telling Tales (OneWorld, Oxford 1997) p.20

3. “Whatsoever proceeded from the tongue of the Son was revealed in parables, whilst He Who proclaimeth the Truth in this Day speaketh without them.”  –  Bahá’u’lláh, Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p.62
4. “Divine things are too deep to be expressed by common words.  The heavenly teachings are expressed in parable in order to be understood and preserved for ages to come.  When the spiritually minded dive deeply into the ocean of their meaning they bring to the surface the pearls of their inner significance.”  –  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p.80

5. “O ye beloved of God!  Repose not yourselves on your couches, nay bestir yourselves as soon as ye recognize your Lord, the Creator, and hear of the things which have befallen Him, and hasten to His assistance.  Unloose your tongues, and proclaim unceasingly His Cause.  This shall be better for you than all the treasures of the past and of the future, if ye be of them that comprehend this truth.”  –  Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 330

6. “Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible.  The Great Being saith: “One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence both exert is manifest in the world.  Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of true understanding and nobility.  And likewise He saith: One word is like unto springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another word is even as a deadly poison.  It behoveth a prudent man of wisdom to speak with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man’s station”  –  Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 172,173

7. “Say: Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation.  As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure.  As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets.”  –  Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, pp. 175-76

8. “With the Dawn-Breakers in your possession you could also arrange interesting stories about the early days of the movement … There are also stories about the life of Christ, Muhammad and the other Prophets which if told ... will break down any religious prejudice ... Such stories regarding the life of different Prophets together with Their sayings will also be useful to better understand the literature of the Cause for there is constant reference to them.”  –  Shoghi Effendi, cited in the compilation Bahá’í Education, p.53

9. “What you could do, is to use your stories to become a source of inspiration and guidance for those who read them … With such means at your disposal you can spread the spirit and teachings of the Cause.”  –  Shoghi Effendi, The Importance of Art, p.15

10. “Stories and metaphors can bypass the clumsiness of the everyday language we use when we try to teach something in a logical and left-brain fashion.  It is said that Albert Einstein was once approached by a mother for advice.  She complained that her son was not very successful at learning science.  “Tell him stories,” replied the great scientist.  “But sir, he is not good at science,” said the mother.  Einstein repeated his advice.  “Tell him stories.” ” –  Arthur Rowshan, Telling Tales (OneWorld, Oxford 1997) xi

11. “No doubt the power of prayer is very great, yet consultation with experts is enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh.”  –  Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 48

12. “Whatever is necessary for the refinement of the children’s character can be best explained through fables, examples, animal stories, parables, and narratives – all geared to the capacity, understanding, and perception of the children … With the utmost love and affection, the parents can gather their children together and teach them the essential moral points, clothed in the form of parables …” –  Ali-Akbar Furutan, Mothers, Fathers and Children, (George Ronald, Oxford 1980) p. 256

13. “Lewis Carroll once called stories “love gifts”.  It was an apt description, for telling a story is indeed, giving a gift.  Storytelling brings to the listeners heightened awareness, a sense of wonder, of mystery, of reverence for life.  This nurturing of the spirit self comes first.  It is the primary purpose of storytelling, and all other uses and effects are secondary.”  –  Augusta Baker & Ellen Green, Storytelling, Art and Technique, (Bowker Co. New York 1977) p.17

14. “Storytelling is an art and like all arts, it requires training and experience.  However, anyone who is willing to take the time to find the right story and learn it well, and who has a sincere desire to share enjoyment of the story, can be a successful storyteller.  A good part of our daily conversation is composed of stories, incidents, and anecdotes, for we are all storytellers … we are … sharing our experiences and emotions” – Augusta Baker & Ellen Green, Storytelling, Art and Technique, (Bowker Co., New York) p. 40

15. “Because there is a natural storytelling urge and ability in all human beings, even just a little nurturing of this impulse can bring about astonishing and delightful results … one of the most useful guiding principles is to style their language and imagery to the prevailing mood of whomever may be listening … Whatever efforts you made to retell a great story by following the inner picture of the story with your mind’s eye, and perhaps casting the story in fresh language … will bring out your creativity … Stories awaken a sense of movement and colour and design that helps the conscious mind to contact the essence of a scene or character.”  –  Nancy Mellon, The Art of Storytelling, (Element Books, Rockport, Mass. 1992 pp. 172-178)

A Treasure of Baha'i Stories

Prepared for the presentation, “‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Travels To The West: A Treasure of Stories For The World” by Mr. Kiser Barnes – 23 December 2008  

1.  Who knows what thoughts flooded the heart of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (during His travels in the West)  . . . above all His thoughts must have centered on Bahá'u'lláh, Whom He loved so passionately and Whose trials He had witnessed and had shared from His boyhood.  The vermin-infested Siyah-Chal of Tihran; the bastinado inflicted upon Him in Amul; the humble fare which filled His kashkul while He lived for two years the life of a dervish in the mountains of Kurdistan; the days in Baghdad when He did not even possess a change of linen, and when His followers subsisted on a handful of dates; His confinement behind the prison-walls of 'Akká, when for nine years even the sight of verdure was denied Him; and the public humiliation to which He was subjected at government headquarters in that city – pictures from the tragic past such as these must have many a time overpowered Him with feelings of mingled gratitude and sorrow, as He witnessed the many marks of respect, of esteem, and honor now shown Him and the Faith which He represented.  "O Bahá'u'lláh! What hast Thou done?" He, as reported by the chronicler of His travels, was heard to exclaim one evening as He was being swiftly driven to fulfil His third engagement of the day in Washington, "O Bahá'u'lláh! May my life be sacrificed for Thee! O Bahá'u'lláh! May my soul be offered up for Thy sake! How full were Thy days with trials and tribulations! How severe the ordeals Thou didst endure! How solid the foundation Thou hast finally laid, and how glorious the banner Thou didst hoist!"  "One day, as He was strolling," that same chronicler has testified, "He called to remembrance the days of the Blessed Beauty, referring with sadness to His sojourn in Sulaymaniyyih, to His loneliness and to the wrongs inflicted upon Him.  Though He had often recounted that episode, that day He was so overcome with emotion that He sobbed aloud in His grief. . . All His attendants wept with Him, and were plunged into sorrow as they heard the tale of the woeful trials endured by the Ancient Beauty, and witnessed the tenderness of heart manifested by His Son."
A most significant scene in a century-old drama had been enacted.  A glorious chapter in the history of the first Bahá'í century had been written.  Seeds of undreamt-of potentialities had, with the hand of the Center of the Covenant Himself, been sown in some of the fertile fields of the Western world.  Never in the entire range of religious history had any Figure of comparable stature arisen to perform a labor of such magnitude and imperishable worth.  Forces were unleashed through those fateful journeys which even now, at a distance of well nigh thirty-five years, we are unable to measure or comprehend.  Already a Queen, inspired by the powerful arguments adduced by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the course of His addresses in support of the Divinity of Muhammad, has proclaimed her faith, and borne public testimony to the Divine origin of the Prophet of Islam – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp. 292 – 294

2.  “Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible.  The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence both exert is manifest in the world.  Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility.  And likewise He saith: one word is like unto the springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose-garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another word is even as a deadly poison.  It behoveth a prudent man of wisdom to speak with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man’s station.”– Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 172,173

3.   “The sanctified souls should ponder and meditate in their hearts regarding the methods of teaching.  From the texts of the wondrous heavenly Scriptures they should memorize phrases and passages bearing on various instances, so that in the course of their speech they may recite its divine verses whenever the occasion demandeth it, inasmuch as these holy verses are the most potent elixir, the greatest and mightiest talisman.  So potent is their influence that the hearer will have no cause for vacillation.  I swear by My life!  This Revelation is endowed with such a power that it will act as the lodestone for all nations and kindreds of the earth.” – Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p.200

4.  “Today the magnetic power that attracts heavenly blessings is teaching the Cause of God.  Whoever arises to perform this service the armies of the angels will grant him victory.  The three conditions of teaching the Cause of God are the science of sociability, purity of deeds and sweetness of speech.  I hope each one of you may become confirmed with these three attributes.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in Esselemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p.83

5.  “Promote ye the development of the cities of God and His countries, and glorify Him therein in the joyous accents of His well-favoured ones.  In truth, the hearts of men are edified through the power of the tongue, even as houses and cities are built up by the hand and other means.  We have assigned to every end a means for its accomplishment; avail yourselves thereof, and place your trust and confidence in God, the Omniscient, the All-Wise.” – Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 160

6.  “In one of His Tablets. . . ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has stressed that when Bahá’ís deliver their speeches in gatherings, they are to do so in an attitude of utmost humility and self-abnegation” – Kitab-i-Aqdas, Note 168, p.237

7.  “The teacher should not consider himself as learned and others ignorant.  Such a thought breedeth pride, and pride is not conducive to influence.  The teacher should not see in himself any superiority; he should speak with the utmost kindness, lowliness and humility, for such speech exerteth influence and educateth the souls.” – Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p.30

8.  “Far from thundering at an individual or excoriating him, if the Master wished to address someone’s failing, He might tell a story showing the way for the individual to overcome it: a general story, addressed to a group – often an amusing story, and all would laugh – and the one for whom the hidden point was intended would understand, learn and not be hurt.” – Marzieh Gail, Summon Up Remembrance, p. 271

9.  A story told by Haji Mirza Haydar Ali on the influence of the Word of God, quoted in Adib Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, Vol. 4, p.238:  “A certain person who was a pious and devoted Muslim was introduced to me.  No matter how much I spoke to him, he kept on insisting that he would never accept the Faith unless he was shown a miracle.  In the end I was powerless to convince him of the truth of the Faith.  So I said to him. “There is an inherent ability within every soul by which it can distinguish the words of God from the words of man.”  He agreed with me on this.  I then said to him, “I will recite some words for you, so incline your inner ears to them and judge for yourself who is the Speaker.”  I then chanted a Persian Tablet in which the overpowering majesty of the Words was clearly manifested.  He had heard only a few verses when he lowered his head, prostrated himself on the ground, and said, “These are the words of God, exalted be His glory.  There are many miracles hidden in each word.  I testify that these utterances unmistakably proclaim the advent of the Day of God . . . He stayed with us for the whole night, during which he learnt about the teachings and laws of the new Dispensation.  The man became enraptured and set aglow with the fire of the love of God…”

10.   Mrs. Parsons recorded in her diary that during a gathering at the home of her friends ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told stories.  “I begged for the ‘Story of Ios’, which is the only story I ever heard of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá telling.  It is a pretty story with a moral.  After he told the story, He said, “now let me tell you an Arabian story – and it isn’t going to be a sermon!”  This he did, to the accompaniment of peals of laughter, repeated again and again as climax after climax was reached.  Needless to say, ‘‘Abdu’l-Bahá brought out every subtle point in the brilliant story.  And the mental picture of this beautiful Oriental telling the story with all the enthusiasm of the story tellers of old is one never to be forgotten.” – The Diary of Agnes Parsons, Unpublished p.105

11.  “There was a luncheon held in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s honor at which were gathered a group of society’s intelligentsia to meet a noteworthy personality.  Most of those present at this luncheon party knew a little of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life history, and presumably, were expecting a dissertation from Him on the Bahá’í Cause.  The hostess had suggested to the Master that He speak on the subject of immortality.  However as the meal progressed, and no more than the usual commonplaces of polite society were mentioned, the hostess made an opening, as she thought, for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to speak on spiritual things.
 “His response to this was to ask if he might tell them a story, and He related one of the Oriental tales of which He had a great store and at its conclusion all laughed heartily.  The ice was broken.  Others added stories of which the Master’s anecdote had reminded them.  Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, His face beaming with happiness, told another story, and another.  His laughter rang throughout the room.  He said the Orientals had many such stories illustrating different phases of life.  Many of them are extremely humorous.  It is good to laugh.  Laughter is a spiritual relaxation.  When they were in prison, He said, and under the utmost deprivation and difficulties, each of them at the close of the day would relate the most ludicrous event which had happened.  Sometimes it was a little difficult to find one but always they would laugh until the tears rolled down their cheeks.  Happiness, He said, is never dependent upon material surroundings, otherwise how sad those years would have been.  As it was they were always in the utmost state of joy and happiness.” – Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom,
 p. 117–120

12.  LIFE STORY –  “Another member of the party was Robert Turner, Phoebe Hearst’s butler, the first black to embrace the Bahá’í Faith in the Western world.  Carried away by the power of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s love, he remained firm – even during Mrs. Hearst’s estrangement from the Cause – till the very end of his days.
     “The following account was found in Ali-Kuli Khan’s papers, and bears a note in Florence’s hand saying ‘Written by [your] father in reply to Mrs. Ella Cooper’s questions.’
     ‘In the spring of 1909 when I was in California as a guest of Mrs. Hearst . . ., Mrs. Hearst, who had informed me of the illness of Robert Turner. . . suggested my going with her to San Francisco to call on Robert.  I found him quite ill in bed.  He was happy to receive me and inquired of the news in ‘Akká.  He then, with great joy, described his visit to ‘Akká in the company of Mrs. Hearst, a few years before the end of the last century.  He asked me to write and send his love to the Master and ask for His prayers.
     ‘Soon after, I wrote the Master and described our visit with Robert Turner.  In a Tablet which I received from the Master later in Washington, He wrote four lines regarding Robert Turner which I translate as follows: “Convey wondrous Abhá greetings to Mr. Robert, the servant of that honourable lady, and say to him: “Be not grieved at your illness, for thou hast attained eternal life and hast found the way to the World of the Kingdom.  God willing, we shall meet one another with joy and fragrance in that Divine World, and I beg of God that you may also find rest in this material world.”
     ‘In the summer of 1909, I received from the Master a Tablet acknowledging my letter of June 22, in which I had reported the death of Robert Turner . . . The Master writes as follows: “As to Mr. Robert (Turner), the news of his ascension saddened the hearts.  He was in reality in the utmost sincerity. Glory be to God!  What a shining candle was aflame in that black-colored lamp.  Praise be to Gold that that lighted candle ascended from the earthly lamp to the Kingdom of Eternity and gleamed and became aflame in the Heavenly Assemblage.  Praise be to God that you adorned his blessed finger with the ring bearing the inscription:  ‘Verily I originated from God and returned unto Him’ . . . This too is a proof of his sincerity and that in his last breath, he breathed the Alláh-u-Abhá, whereby the hearts of those present were impressed.
     ‘ “O Thou Creator! O Thou forgiver! Glorify the precious Robert in Thy Kingdom and in the garden of the Paradise of Abhá.  Bring him in[to] intimate association with the birds of the celestial meadow.  O Thou Knowing God!  Although that sinless one was black in color, like unto the black pupil of the eye, he was a source of shining light.
     ‘ “O Thou forgiving Lord!  Cause that longing one to attain Thy meeting and cause that thirsty one to drink the water of life in abundance.  Thou art the Forgiver, the Pardoner, the Compassionate.” ’ –     Marzieh Gail, Arches of the Years, pp.54, 55

13.  PARABLE – He was asked at a meeting of August 6, 1912, in New Hampshire, “Are not all Christians Bahá’ís?  Is there any difference?”  His answer, illustrated by parable, was as follows: “When Christians act according to the teachings of Christ, they are called Bahá’ís.  For the foundations of Christianity and the religion of Bahá’u’lláh are one.  The foundations of all the divine Prophets and Holy Books are one.  The difference among them is one of terminology only.  Each springtime is identical with the former springtime.  The distinction between them is only one of the calendar –1911, 1912, and so on.  The difference between a Christian and a Bahá’í, therefore is this: There was a former springtime, and there is a springtime now.  No other difference exists because the foundations are the same.  Whosoever acts completely in accordance with the teachings of Christ is a Bahá’í . . .
     “Let me illustrate further.  A certain person bestowed a coin upon five beggars. They resolved to spend it for food.  The Englishman said, “Buy grapes.”  The Turk wanted uzum, the Arab anab, the Greek stafili, the Persian angur.  Not understanding each other’s language, they quarreled and fought.  A stranger came along.  He was familiar with all five languages.  He said “Give me the coin; I will buy what you wish.”  When he brought them grapes, they were all satisfied.  They wanted the same thing but differed in the term only.  Briefly, when reality dawns in the midst of the religions, all will be unified and reconciled.”  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 247,248

14.  HISTORICAL –  “It has been objected by some that woman is not equally capable with man and that she is deficient by creation.  This is pure imagination.  The difference in capacity between man and woman is due entirely to opportunity and education.  Heretofore woman has been denied the right and privilege of equal development.  If equal opportunity be granted her, there is no doubt she would be the peer of man.  History will evidence this.  In past ages noted women have arisen in the affairs of nations and surpassed men in their accomplishments.  Among them was Zenobia, Queen of the East, whose capital was Palmyra.  Even today the site of that city bears witness to her greatness, ability and sovereignty; for there the traveler will find ruins of palaces and fortifications of the utmost strength and solidity built by this remarkable woman in the third century after Christ.  She was the wife of the governor-general of Athens.  After her husband’s death she assumed control of the government . . . and ruled her province most efficiently.  Afterwards she conquered Syria, subdued Egypt and founded a most wonderful kingdom with political sagacity and thoroughness.  The Roman Empire sent a great army against her.  When this army replete with martial splendor reached Syria, Zenobia herself appeared upon the field leading her forces.  On the day of battle she arrayed herself in regal garments, placed a crown upon her head and rode forth, sword in hand, to meet the invading legions.  By her courage and military strategy the Roman army was routed and so completely dispersed that they were not able to reorganize in retreat.  The government of Rome held consultation, saying, “No matter what commander we send, we cannot overcome her; therefore, the Emperor Aurelian himself must go to lead the legions of Rome against Zenobia.”  Aurelian marched into Syria with two hundred thousand soldiers.  The army of Zenobia was greatly inferior in size.  The Romans besieged her in Palmyra two years without success.  Finally, Aurelian was able to cut off the city’s supply of provisions so that she and her people were compelled by starvation to surrender.  She was not defeated in battle.  Aurelian carried her captive to Rome.  On the day of his entry into the city he arranged a triumphal procession –first elephants, then lions, tigers, birds, monkeys – after the monkeys, Zenobia.  A crown was upon her head, a chain of gold about her neck.  With queenly dignity and unconscious of humiliation, looking to the right and left, she said, “Verily, I glory in being a woman and in having withstood the Roman Empire.” (At that time the dominion of Rome covered half the known earth.) “And this chain about my neck is a sign not of humiliation but of glorification.  This is a symbol of my power, not of my defeat.”
    “Among other historical women was Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great.  Russia and Turkey were at war.  Muhammad Pasha, commander of the Turkish forces, had defeated Peter and was about to take St. Petersburg.  The Russians were in a most critical position.  Catherine, the wife of Peter said, “I will arrange this matter.”  She had an interview with Muhammad Pasha, negotiated a treaty of peace and induced him to turn back.  She saved her husband and her nation.  This was a great accomplishment.  Afterward she was crowned Empress of Russia and ruled with wisdom until her death.
      “The discovery of America by Columbus was during the reign of Isabella of Spain, to whose intelligence and assistance this wonderful accomplishment was largely due.  In brief, many remarkable women have appeared in the history of the world . . .” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 135,136

15.  FOLKLORE – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was steeped in Persian, Arabic and Turkish storytelling traditions.   During and after his visit to America in 1912, many of his speeches were reported in Star of the West.  His presentation of the folktale below is an example of the power of stories, when at the gathering He explained that  “. . . in the world of spirit, the hearts speak with each other.
“There once was organized in Persia a society whose chief characteristic was that they spoke without the tongue, and with the slightest sign could communicate many important matters.  This society progressed to such a degree that with the motion of a finger abstruse matters could be understood.  The government feared that they might organize a society against the government and since none could understand their purpose, they might work great mischief.  Therefore they suppressed them.  I wish to tell you a story about this society.  Anyone who desired to join it had to stand at the door.  Then they consulted with each other by signs and gave their opinion without speaking.  Once a person with an awful looking visage stood at the door.  The president looked at his face and saw what an awful looking figure he had.  There was a cup on the table, containing water.  The president poured in some water until it was full to the brim.  This was the sign that there was no room among them for that person.  But the man was intelligent.  He took a tiny piece of flower leaf and with the utmost deference entered the room and put it on the surface of the water in the cup.  He laid it so carefully that the water in the cup did not move.  All were delighted.  He meant that he did not need a big place, that he was like the flower leaf which does not need a place.  They clapped their hands and accepted him.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. VII, p.81

16.  ‘Long ago, in the city of Baghdad there was a caliph.  One day a son was born to him.  It was the firstborn.  In celebration, he ordered a feast to be held.  To the feast he invited all the great and well-known people in the land.  On the day of the feast all the guests arrived, each bringing a gift for the child.  There were gifts of gold, rare jewels, rich tapestries, carved marble.  Everyone brought a gift-except one young sage called Meheled Abi. He came empty-handed. The caliph, taking offence, ordered the guards to seize Meheled Abi.  Roughly, the guards dragged the young sage before the caliph, who demanded, “Why do you come without a gift?”
     ‘The young sage shrugged and answered, “These others, they bring visible riches; they bring gold, jewels, carpets.  But my gift is an invisible wealth.  It is this.  Each day, when the child is old enough to hear, I will come to the palace and tell him stories.  When he is grown, he will be wise and compassionate.”
     ‘Meheled Abi did as he promised.  Each day he came to the palace and the young boy grew up hearing stories.  After many years, the old caliph died and the young boy, now grown, succeeded his father.  Just as Meheled Abi promised, the new caliph was wise and compassionate, more so than any ruler before him.  And when he died, at his request a tomb was erected in the heart of the city with these words inscribed in stone: “If I am wise, it is because of the seed sown by the tales.” ’ – “The Sage’s Gift” (Baltuck, 1995)  pp.108,109

Friday, November 25, 2011

Three Hundred Pages of Stories about Abdu'l-Baha

Earl Redman, author of the new book "Abdu'l-Baha in Their Midst" has rendered a wonderful service:  He has sifted through more than one hundred books with personal accounts of Abdu'l-Baha in Europe and North America, some of them hard to find, and brought them all to light in chronological order. It includes biographical sketches of scores of important early Baha'is. Now the reader gets a sense of how the Master's time during His journey unfolded city by city, country by country, heart by heart.

Abdu'l-Baha at Green Acre, August, 1912
With members of His retinue: L-R Amin'u'llah Farid, Ali-Akbar Nakhjavani, Ahmad Sohrab. The identities of the two women are not known. Between the women, in the background is the Eirenion, a building in which Abdu'l-Baha gave several addresses. Between Dr. Farid and Mr. Nakhjavani is the Sarah Farmer Inn.

This is not a history book, nor is it a collection of the talks Abdu'l-Baha gave in the West.  It is 330 pages of stories, of people's accounts of how Abdu'l-Baha touched their lives.  It is also a significant act of Baha'i scholarship -- it took a lot of work, bringing all of these wonderful accounts together.

It can be purchased here

The book has a good index of names, and the Table of Contents is city-by-city. It is amazing that the author pulled this huge amount of material together, in the short amount of time he had. I think that every Baha'i book should have its own website, for updates, corrections, and comments after publication -- and in this case, maybe a fuller topical index.

"Abdu'l-Baha in their Midst"
is an important book, extremely readable and enjoyable.  It is going to be one of the most valuable of all the books during the events in Europe, Canada and the United States commemorating the Centenary of Abdu'l-Baha's visit -- one of the greatest acts of His ministry.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Saichiro Fujita and Abdu'l-Baha

In 1912, Saichiro Fujita, one of the earliest Japanese Baha'is, met Abdu'l-Baha in Chicago, and accompanied Him through Denver and Salt Lake City, into California.  In 1919 He relocated to the Holy Land, residing in the House of Abdu'l-Baha.  He was befriended by Abdu'l-Baha and accompanied Him during many of His activities in the Holy Land. He was a source of joy to Abdu'l-Baha, and they joked together. As these photographs and Mr. Fujita's recollections demonstrate, he always showed proper respect to Abdu'l-Baha and to Shoghi Effendi. He served in the Holy Land for many years, at the invitation of Abdu'l-Baha and of Shoghi Effendi.  Mr. Fujita was present in the Holy Land at the time of the Ascension of Abdu'l-Baha, and has left his recollections of that event, and of the reading of Abdu'l-Baha's Will and Testament.  All of the photographs on this site are © Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette, used with permission.
Fujita in Abdu'l-Baha's car

Fujita riding Abdu'l-Baha's donkey, Lightning

L-R Mountfort Mills, Hand of the Cause of God John E. Esslemont, Saichiro Fujita in front of the House of Abdu'l-Baha

L-R The Master's gardener Isma'il-Aqa, The Hand of the Cause of God Amelia Collins, Saichiro Fujita; apparently in the Master's garden, Haifa

Fujita with Shoghi Effendi during the years immediately preceding the Ascension of Abdu'l-Baha.
In 1950 Shoghi Effendi's secretary wrote on his behalf to a Baha'i:  "He feels you, and dear Fujita too, should devote particular attention to deepening the friends in the Covenant, which is the ark of safety for every believer."

Fujita accompanying Abdu'l-Baha on a visit to the Old Western Pilgrim House across the street from the Master's House

Abdul-Baha in front of His House with pilgrims, local Baha'is, and Indian soldiers, 1920.
More about this photograph is found here

Abdu'l-Baha with Saichiro Fujita visiting a Christian minister, Haifa, Israel.  This building is directly behind the House of Abdu'l-Baha, and faces lower Hazionut Street.  Mr. Fujita refers to this photograph in his interview with Sylvia Ioas:  "I stayed with `Abdu'l-Baha two years. I used to go around everywhere. Always He ask me to go with Him. Even on Christmas Day, we have a little church here, behind the Master's house, we call on them. Have taken a picture too, with Master and minister and myself."

The following was written of Mr. Fujita in Japan Will Turn Ablaze:

Mr. Saichiro Fujita

Mr. Saichiro Fujita was the second Japanese to accept the Faith. Originally from Yanai, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, he immigrated to the United States when he was a teenager. While he was attending school in Oakland, California in 1905 he was taught the Faith by Mrs. Kathryn Frankland.

He received two of the Tablets quoted below from 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1906 and 1907. In 1911 he received a Tablet urging him to complete his professional training. In 1912 Mr. Fujita had the privilege of meeting the Master and traveling with Him in the United States. In this revised edition we have included one more Tablet by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, translated in 1913, because it contains a prediction about Mr. Fujita.

Between 1912 and 1919 there were several communications from 'Abdu'l-Bahá urging Mr. Fujita to study various aspects of engineering and also advising him to study flower culture. In 1919 he had completed his studies and left for Haifa as instructed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Mr. Fujita served in the Holy Land until the end of his life except for the years between 1938 and 1955 which were spent in Japan.

Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá to Mr. Saichiro Fujita

O thou fresh plant in the garden of the Love of God!
      What thou hast written was considered. It was an evidence of following in the Pathway of Guidance, and a proof of the attraction of the heart to the Beauty of His Majesty, God.
      Consider what bounty God has manifested for thee, whence thou art and from whence are we. Yet, nevertheless, such a candle of love is burning in the hearts that its light is radiating from the East to the West and from the West extending to the East.
      Rest assured thy name is registered in the Book of God, and it is hoped that thou mayest enter the Paradise of the Kingdom and find stability; to reach that which is the cause of the progress of the world of humanity in the world and in the Kingdom, and with perceiving eye, attentive ear, eloquent tongue and radiant face may serve in the Vineyard of God and spread the Divine Glad Tidings. If thou art confirmed as thou oughtest to be, thou wilt certainly establish an eternal Kingdom. This Kingdom is greater than that of Mikado, for the sovereignty of the Emperor of Japan is for numbered days, but this sovereignty is lasting and will stand unto the Eternity of Eternities.
      That sovereignty can be hidden under one handful of dust, that is when Mikado goes beneath the handful of dust, he is entirely effaced and erased, but this Kingdom withstands the greatest revolution of the worlds, and will stand with perfect stability unto eternity. The former kingdom is established by the power of the sword, burning fire, devouring, and the shedding of blood, while this Kingdom is built upon freedom, glory, greatness and the love of God. Consider how much difference there is between them.

(Translated by Ameen Fareed, November 10, 1906, Chicago)


O thou spiritual Youth!
      Japan has made wonderful progress in material civilization, but she will become perfect when she will also make spiritual developments and the Power of the Kingdom become manifest in her.
      One will encounter a little difficulty in the beginning of the establishment of the Cause of God in that country, but later it will become very easy. For the inhabitants of Japan are intelligent, sagacious, and have the power of rapid assimilation. For the present a perfect youth like thee is favored by the Bounty of the Kingdom, and attained to the knowledge of the Lord of the Kingdom. Show thou forth an effort that thou mayest finish that which is necessary in the acquisition and study of science and art; then travel thou toward the countries of Japan; so that thou mayest hoist the Ensign of Truth, waving upon the Apex of the Supreme Concourse. Look thou not upon thine own capability, the Invisible Divine Confirmations are great, and the Protection and Providence of the Beauty of Abha is the helper and assistant. When a drop draws help from the ocean, it is an ocean itself, and a little seed through the outpouring of rain, the favor of the sun, and the soul-refreshing breeze will become a tree with the utmost freshness, full of leaves, blossoms and fruits. Therefore do not consider thy capacity and merit, but rely upon the infinite Bounty and trust to His Highness the Almighty. Do not delay. Undertake soon that which thou art intending.
      There are prophecies concerning the Manifestation in the Buddhist books, but they are in symbols and metaphors, and some spiritual conditions are mentioned therein, but the leaders of religion do not understand. They think these prophecies are material things, yet those signs are foreshadowing spiritual occurrence.

(Revealed in 'Akká, May 29, 1907. Translated by Ahmad Esphahani,
July 21, 1907, Washington, D.C.)


O thou servant of God
      Thy letter was received. It was an indication to the outward and inward health and safety. Therefore it became the means of joy.
      As regard to thy profession of electricity. Endeavor from every direction that thou mayest gain perfect efficiency in it -- so that I may send for thee to come with electrical machine (automobile) and lighting plant -- in order that in the Holy Land thou mayest know how to run the electrical engines and dynamos, how to install electrical lights through the buildings and how to fill the batteries of the (automobile) and act (if necessary) as chauffeur. When thou shalt learn these things then I will send for thee. Thou wilt be confirmed to render a great service and this will become the cause of thine everlasting glory.

(Translated by Ahmad Sohrab, May 15, 1913, Paris)


After Mr. Fujita's passing the Universal House of Justice sent out the following cable:

Dearly-loved tireless steadfast Saichiro Fujita passed to Abha Kingdom after long years service sacred threshold. His rank in vanguard first Japanese believers. His labours World Center his dedication humility sincerity love will forever be remembered and provide shining example to rising generations Japanese Bahá'ís who will view with pride distinction conferred upon him. Praying Holy Shrines progress his radiant soul under loving grace his Master and Guardian both of whom he served so well.
Universal House of Justice
(Cable received May 10, 1976)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Stories for the Day of the Covenant

One of my dear friends has asked if I have any stories to share, for the upcoming celebration of the Day of the Covenant.

1. It was the custom of Shoghi Effendi to walk on Mount Carmel, and at times he invited the Persian men believers to walk with him.  They would walk a few paces behind him, out of respect.  Ali-Kuli Khan was a member of one of these groups of men, and at one point Shoghi Effendi stopped, and turned to the men, and said, "Although I am Abdu'l-Baha's successor, I am not His equal.  His station is far greater than my own."  Then he turned, and continued walking.  Ali-Kuli Khan burst into tears.  When he finished weeping, one of his fellow pilgrims asked him, "What Shoghi Effendi said was very beautiful, but why did it have such an effect on you?"  Ali-Kuli Khan answered, "Many years ago, I was here on Pilgrimage during the days of Abdu'l-Baha.  One day I was walking with Him on the slopes of Mount Carmel, and He stopped, at that very same spot, and turned to me and said, "Although I am the Successor to Baha'u'llah, I am not His equal.  His station is far, far greater than My own."  And of course, as we were walking behind the beloved Guardian, I recalled the sweetness of that moment.  And then I saw that we were approaching that spot where the Master had spoken, and to my astonishment, Shoghi Effendi stopped, and spoke at that same spot.  And when he said what he did, then I understood the greatness of this Cause."

2. Marzieh Gail writes about the circumstances at the time of the passing of the Prophet Muhammad, and that He did not make a written Covenant appointing His Successor.  He had already verbally appointed His son-in-law, Ali:

"As Muhammad lay dying, He called for writing materials to appoint His successor again; but 'Umar said, 'Pain is deluding God's Messenger; we have God's book, which is enough.' And they wrangled at His bedside, whether to bring the materials or no. And the Prophet sent them from Him. He was praying in a whisper, when He ascended." ("Dawn Over Mount Hira," p. 8) 
The same thing almost happened in the Baha'i Faith, but it was prevented by the written Covenant of Baha'u'llah, appointing His Successor, Abdu'l-Baha.  Toward the end of His life, one day when He was alone in His room with Abdu'l-Baha in the Mansion of Bahji, Baha'u'llah directed Abdu'l-Baha to gather up all of His Tablets, which were in various places around the room, and to place them all in His two leather briefcases.  This command was given in such a tone, that Abdu'l-Baha instantly understood that this signified that Baha'u'llah would soon be leaving this world, and He burst into tears.  As Abdu'l-Baha was gathering the Tablets and placing them in the two briefcases, He was weeping.  However, there was one Tablet Baha'u'llah did not direct Abdu'l-Baha to put into the briefcases--His Last Will and Testament.  This document, which does not bear a date, nor Baha'u'llah's signature or seal, was written by Baha'u'llah entirely in His own hand. In it, He directs all of the believers to turn to Abdu'l-Baha.  Baha'u'llah directed Abdu'l-Baha to keep this document personally, and separate from His other Tablets.  A few weeks later, Baha'u'llah ascended to the immortal realm.  On the following day, Abdu'l-Baha was washing the sacred body of Baha'u'llah and wrapping it in shrouds, to prepare the body for burial.  Mirza Muhammad-Ali, Abdu'l-Baha's younger brother, was desirous of leadership. He had even claimed, during Baha'u'llah's lifetime, to be a Manifestation of God.  Seeing his opportunity, he said, while Abdu'l-Baha was washing the sacred body of Baha'u'llah, that the water might spill on the two briefcases, and he suggested that he move them.  Abdu'l-Baha was deeply involved in the sacred act of washing His Father's body, and He hardly noticed, and motioned His assent.  Mirza Muhammad-Ali stole those Tablets, most of which are still not in the hands of the Faith.  He looked through all of them for some Writing with which he could undermine Abdu'l-Baha's authority, and claim leadership for himself.  Baha'u'llah's foresight prevented this from happening, and assured that Abdu'l-Baha would be the Head of the Faith.

3. When Abdu'l-Baha wrote His own Will and Testament, He placed it in an envelope which He addressed in His own handwriting to Hazrat-i-Ghusn-i-Mumtaz, Shoghi Effendi"Hazrat" is the highest form of honorific.  "Ghusn" means "Branch" and refers to Shoghi Effendi's lineage, as a male descendant of Baha'u'llah.  "Mumtaz" means, according to the standard Arabic-English dictionary:  Distinguished, differentiated, exquisite, select, choice, rare, outstanding, superior, first-rate, first-class, top-notch, exceptional, excellent, privileged, special, extra.  It also means "chosen," and as you can see, Shoghi Effendi selected the most humble translation of his title.  In a classroom in the Arabic-speaking and Persian-speaking world, the best student is the "mumtaz" student. In the Will and Testament, the Guardian of the Cause is the "distinguished" ("mumtaz") member of the Universal House of Justice. Abdu'l-Baha spoke of this same Arabic word in one of His talks in New York City, on the subject of "distinction". When the envelope was opened, Abdu'l-Baha's Will and Testament was found, and within it was enfolded the Will and Testament of Baha'u'llah.  In one of his World Order letters, Shoghi Effendi speaks of "their Will" as one Will and Testament.

4. The Greatest Holy Leaf, Abdu'l-Baha's sister, played a pivotal role in the protection of the Covenant, at several times during her life.  Here is a compilation of a few of her written
statements about the Covenant of Abdu'l-Baha. There is a beautiful essay written about her here.

5. At one time early in Abdu'l-Baha's ministry, before the public announcement of the final rupture with the Covenant-breakers living at the Mansion of Bahji, when pilgrims would come to the Holy Land, the Covenant-breakers would try to turn them against Abdu'l-Baha.  They would see a new pilgrim, and invite him to come back to the Mansion of Bahji in the evening. They would then hold a feast in his honor, flatter him, and tell him how his fame as a teacher and great Baha'i had preceded him. Then, gradually, they would instil the poison.  They would claim that Abdu'l-Baha had taken too much authority, and should He not share more of the leadership of the Faith with His brothers, who were, after all, also sons of the Manifestation?  And in this way, they dampened the zeal of a number of the friends, and even turned a few against the Covenant.  One day, one of the Covenant-breakers saw Abdu'l-Baha, and with arrogance and glee announced to Him that they had invited one of the new pilgrims to a feast in his honor, and that they would succeed in turning him against the Master. Abdu'l-Baha smiled, and said, "Not this one.  The more you speak to him against Me, the more extreme he will become in the ardor of his love for Me.  You will see."  And this is exactly what happened. The Covenant-breakers tried to instil the poison, but the believer refuted them, quoting from the Writings on the Covenant, and he became even stronger in his devotion to the Master.  This is an expression of the truth of the verse in the Valley of Love, where Baha'u'llah writes that for the true lover "deadly poison is a balm to him," and as He also wrote "We are possessed of such power which, if brought to light, will transmute the most deadly of poisons into a panacea of unfailing efficacy."  And this power of transformation is a power resident in His Cause, and this is what all of the believers can do.  We are unlikely to hear from a Covenant-breaker, but whenever we hear a single word or even a breath that is even a slight challenge to the Covenant, we can pray and turn our hearts to God, and ask the assistance of the Concourse on High to transform this poison into a healing medicine within us--that we may become even stronger in our devotion to the Covenant, and more faithful in our deeds, to the guidance of the Universal House of Justice.


Friday, October 1, 2010

The Magnificent Character of The Greatest Holy Leaf

One of the greatest relationships in all of human history is surely the relationship between Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, and Bahiyyih Khanum, his great-aunt, known as The Greatest Holy Leaf.

 Bahiyyih Khanum, The Greatest Holy Leaf
Photograph © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette
Used by permission

The beauty of this relationship is shown in this tribute which Shoghi Effendi wrote following her passing in 1932.

In addition, Marjory Morten wrote an essay about the Greatest Holy Leaf which was published in Volume V of The Baha'i World:

There are three excellent books about the Greatest Holy Leaf.  The first is "Bahiyyih Khanum: The Greatest Holy Leaf," published by George Ronald and available from the
US Baha'i Publishing Trust, and also available as a free download on the Baha'i Reference site at the Baha'i World Centre.  This book contains the Writings of Baha'u'llah, Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi about the Greatest Holy Leaf, and an extensive collection of her own letters and prayers. The second is "Prophet's Daughter: The Life and Legacy of Bahiyyih Khanum," by Janet Khan, available from the U.S. Baha'i Publishing Trust. It is a superb examination of the character and life of service of the Greatest Holy Leaf. The third is Marzieh Gail's monograph, "Khanum, the Greatest Holy Leaf," available from George Ronald.  Mrs. Gail, an exceptional Baha'i author and translator (many of her translations are in the first book listed in this paragraph) had the advantage of meeting and spending time with the Greatest Holy Leaf. 

Another wonderful book that includes a chapter about the Greatest Holy Leaf is Jacqueline Mehrabi's "Immortal Heroines" available from
George Ronald