The Glance That Saved The World. A Divine Sincerity. The Masterly Teaching Method.
"The authorized Interpreter and Exemplar of
Bahá'u'lláh's teachings was His eldest son Abdu'l-Bahá
(Servant of Bahá) who was appointed by His Father as the Center to whom
all Bahá'ís, should turn for instruction and guidance."
To estimate, even to imagine, the possibilities of the human soul is
beyond man's thinking. "I am man's mystery and he is My mystery." And
Abdu'l-Bahá says that no man can know himself since it is impossible to
look at oneself from without. Because of this, and because men commonly tend to
accept a lower estimate of their own capacities rather than a higher, a certain
heroism is essential to high attainment. This is true, of course, when the goal
is a material one. It is not generally realized that it is much more true when
the plane of seeking is spiritual. To accept the dictum that nothing is too
good to be true, and nothing is too high to be attained, requires a willingness
to run counter to the accepted standards of men, who, as a rule, measure their
ambitions by a quite different standard.
After meeting Abdu'l-Bahá life, as I have intimated, assumed a very
different aspect. But in what that difference consisted I could not then
determine, and after these twenty-five years I cannot now fully determine,
except that a goal had emerged from the mists surrounding worthy of supreme
struggle and sacrifice. I began to see, dimly indeed but clearly enough to give
me hope, that even if I could not know myself, I knew with certainty that
heights far beyond ever before dreamed attainable lay before me and could be
reached. This was all I knew but it was much. I remember saving to myself over
and over: "At last the desire of my soul is in sight." I gazed at
Abdu'l-Bahá with a mixture of hope and despair. The world and I in
turmoil and here was peace. He sat or stood, walked or talked in a world of His
own, yet with beckoning hands to all who yearned and strove. It seemed to me
that He stood at the heart of a whirlwind in a place of supreme quiet, or at
the hypothetical perfectly still center of a rapidly revolving flywheel. I
looked at this stillness, this quietude, this immeasurable calm in
Abdu'l-Bahá and it filled me with a restless longing akin to despair. Is
it any wonder I was unhappy? For I was desperately unhappy. Was I not in
the outer circle of that raging tornado? And to attain that Center of stillness
meant the traversing of the storm. But to know there was a Center: nay,
to see One sitting calmly there, was a knowledge, a glimpse, never before
attained. And so, another divine paradox: in my misery of doubting hope lay the
first hint of divine assurance I had ever known. I remembered another arresting
phrase in the Seven Valleys and said to myself: "Though I search for a hundred
thousand years for the Beauty of the Friend I shall never despair for He will
assuredly direct me into His way."
Not long after that great first experience with Abdu'l-Bahá I was again
talking with Him. It was in the beautiful home of Mr. and Mrs. Kinney, a family
of the friends who seemed to feel that the gift of all which they possessed was
too little to express their adoring love. Entering their home the roar of the
city, the elegance and luxury of Riverside Drive, the poverty and wealth of our
modem civilization all seemed to merge into a unity of nothingness and one
entered an atmosphere of Reality. Those heavenly souls who thus demonstrated
beyond any words their self-dedication had a direct influence upon my
hesitating feet of which they could have had no suspicion. My heart throughout
all worlds shall be filled with thankfulness to them.
In this home I had become a constant habitué. I could not keep away. One
day Abdu'l-Bahá, the interpreter and I were alone in one of the smaller
reception rooms on the ground floor. Abdu'l-Bahá had been speaking of
some Christian doctrine and His interpretation of the words of Christ was so
different from the accepted one that I could not restrain an expression of
remonstrance. I remember speaking with some heat:
"How is it possible to be so sure?" I asked. "No one can say with certainty
what Jesus meant after all these centuries of misinterpretation and strife."
He intimated that it was quite possible.
It is indicative of my spiritual turmoil and my blindness to His station, that
instead of His serenity and tone of authority impressing me as warranted it
drove me to actual impatience. "That I cannot believe." I exclaimed.
I shall never forget the glance of outraged dignity the interpreter cast upon
me. It was as though he would say: "Who are you to contradict or even to
But not so did Abdu'l-Bahá look at me. How I thank God that it was not!
He looked at me a long moment before He spoke. His calm, beautiful eyes
searched my soul with such love and understanding that all my momentary heat
evaporated. He smiled as winningly as a lover smiles upon his beloved, and the
arms of His spirit seemed to embrace me as He said softly that I should try my
way and He would try His.
It was as though a cool hand had been laid upon a fevered brow; as though a cup
of nectar had been held to parched lips; as though a key had unlocked my
hard-bolted, crusted and rusted heart. The tears started and my voice trembled,
"I'm sorry," I murmured.
Often since that day have I pondered on the tragic possibilities of the effect
of an expression of the face. I have even thought I should like to write a book
on The Glance that Saved the World, taking as a theme the way Jesus must have
looked upon Peter after the three-fold denial. What could that glance have
carried to the fear stricken, doubting, angry Peter? Surely not the
self-righteous, dignified look in the eyes of the interpreter for
Abdu'l-Bahá. As surely it must have been something in the nature of the
expression of all-embracing love, forgiveness and understanding with which
Abdu'l-Bahá calmed and soothed and assured my heart.
Upon that glance which Jesus cast upon Peter as he went to the Cross probably
hung the destinies of Christianity. Had it not been one of forgiveness and love
Peter would not have gone out and "wept bitterly." Neither, in ail probability,
would he have died a martyr to the Cause of Him whom he denied in that moment
of angry fear. Is it too much to go one step further and assert that the
destinies of the world hung upon that moment of time when the eyes of Peter and
His Master met and he read therein not what his soul knew he deserved but what
God's mercy conferred as a bounty on His part.
Of one thing I am sure: upon that glance of Abdu'l-Bahá, upon that
moment in which He turned upon me the searchlight of His inner being, hung my
destiny throughout all the ages of immortal life. And not only my own destiny,
which, after all is of slight importance compared to the hope of the world, but
the destiny of the uncounted millions who throughout the coming generations of
men are interwoven with mine. For any thoughtful mind looking back upon so many
as three-score years, must be amazed, if not horrified, by the consideration of
the effect of a single careless gesture, word or a facial expression. Like a
pebble cast into a calm pool the ripples from that little deed spread and
spread to infinity. And, as they spread, they touch the ripples from tens,
scores, thousands of others' deeds, expressions, gestures, thoughts; each
affected by each until one becomes conscious of the vast responsibility each
soul takes upon itself by the mere fact of acting his part, living his life
through one little moment of time. He sees himself a king affecting for better
or worse every soul in the world, sooner or later, by the very breath he draws,
the thoughts of his inmost heart. Bahá'u'lláh says somewhere that
he who quickens one soul in this Day it is as if he quickened every soul in the
world. Is not this His meaning?
In all of my many opportunities of meeting, of listening to and talking with
Abdu'l-Bahá I was impressed, and constantly more deeply impressed, with
His method of teaching souls. That is the word. He did not attempt to reach the
mind alone. He sought the soul, the reality of every one He met. Oh, He could
be logical, even scientific in His presentation of an argument, as He
demonstrated constantly in the many addresses I have heard Him give and the
many more I have read. But it was not the logic of the schoolman, not the
science of the classroom. His lightest word. His slightest association with a
soul was shot through with an illuminating radiance which lifted the hearer to
a higher plane of consciousness. Our hearts burned within us when He spoke. And
He never argued, of course. Nor did He press a point. He left one free. There
was never an assumption of authority, rather He was ever the personification of
humility. He taught "as if offering a gift to a king." He never told me what I
should do, beyond suggesting that what I was doing was right. Nor did He ever
tell me what I should believe. He made Truth and Love so beautiful and royal
that the heart perforce did reverence. He showed me by His voice, manner,
bearing, smile, how I should be, knowing that out of the pure soil of
being the good fruit of deeds and words would surely spring.
There was a strange, awe-inspiring mingling of humility and majesty, relaxation
and power in His slightest word or gesture which made me long to understand its
source. What made Him so different, so immeasurably superior to any other man I
had ever met?
It was to be expected that the spiritual turmoil in which my life was row
submerged should have a deep effect upon the duties of my ministry. My ideals
began to change almost from the moment of my first contact with
Abdu'l-Bahá. I remember that the dearly loved young wife of one of the
members of my church was suddenly taken ill about this time. I had then been
under this divine influence only a few weeks. I was not a Bahá'í.
I did not accept Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation of God. I knew
very little of what I heard spoken of as the "station" of Abdu'l-Bahá.
But I was enthralled with the vision of a spiritual beauty, a hope of spiritual
attainment which drew me as with cords of steel. I read the Hidden
Words, the Seven Valleys, the Book of Assurance, the
beautiful prayers, constantly. So when this friend came to me as his minister
and with tears asked me to pray for the recovery of his wife, saying that his
physician held out little hope, that she was daily growing weaker and that his
only hope was in the goodness of God, I instinctively turned to the healing
prayers in the Bahá'í prayer book. Together we nine times
"Thy Name is my healing, O my God, and remembrance of Thee is my remedy.
Nearness to Thee is my hope, and love for Thee is my companion. Thy mercy to me
is my healing and my succour in both this world and the world to come. Thou,
verily, art the All-Bountiful, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise."
The husband knew nothing, or very little, of the Bahá'í
Cause. I certainly had made no effort to explain the teachings to him. It was
all toonew to me to permit of that. I marveled at the time, or
immediately after, at my temerity and at his unhesitating and grateful
acceptance of the prayers. Perhaps it was with his tongue in his cheek though
he was distraught enough to grasp at any hope. Of that I can know nothing, but
I do know that his wife's recovery dated from that hour and she was soon
I speak of this only as an illustration of the new relationships with souls
that began at this time. When Christ said to His fisher disciples: "Follow Me
and I will make you fishers of men," He must have meant that "following" to be
a matter of spiritual consciousness out of which flows loving deeds. As though
He would say: "Be like Me and men will love you as they love Me, and you will
be able to serve men as I have served you." At any rate that is what
Abdu'l-Bahá was constantly showing me, that the only way I could teach
men the Way of Life was by walking therein myself. "I am the Way."
I asked Abdu'l-Bahá one day: "Why should I believe in
He looked long and searchingly as it seemed into my very soul. The silence
deepened. He did not answer. In that silence I had time to consider why I had
asked the question, and dimly I began to see that only I myself could supply
the reason. After all, why should I believe in anyone or anything except as a
means, an incentive, a dynamic for the securing of a fuller, deeper, more
perfect life? Does the cabinet-maker's apprentice ask himself why he should
believe in the master wood-worker? He wants to know how to make these raw
materials into things of beauty and usefulness. He must believe in
anyone who can show him how to do that, providing he first has faith in his own
capacity. I had the stuff of life. Was Bahá'u'lláh the Master
Workman? If He were I knew that I would follow, even though through blood and
tears. But how could I know?
I wondered why Abdu'l-Bahá kept silence so long. Yet was it
silence? That stillness held more than words. At last He spoke. He said that
the work of a Christian minister is most important. When you preach, or pray,
or teach your people your heart must be filled with love for them and love for
God. And you must be sincere,--very sincere.
He spoke in Persian, the interpreter translating fluently and
beautifully. But no one could interpret that Divine Voice. He spoke, indeed, as
never mere man spake. One listened entranced and understood inwardly even
before the interpreter opened his mouth. It was as though the English skimmed
the surface: the voice, the eyes, the smile of Abdu'l-Bahá taught the
heart to probe the depths. He continued, to the effect that:
One can never be sincere enough until his heart is entirely severed from
attachment to the things of this world. One should not preach love and have a
loveless heart, nor preach purity and harbor impure thoughts. Nor preach peace
and be at inward strife.
He paused and added with a son of humorous sadness: that He had known
ministers who did this. My guilty conscience acquiesced. So had I.
It was not until many months later that I realized that He had answered my
question. Certainly I was brought nearer to faith in Bahá'u'lláh
as Life's Master Workman. Surely this was a glorious hint as to how the stuff
of life could be made into things of beauty and worth. Just for an instant I
touched the Garment of His Majesty. But only for an instant. The doors swung
quickly to again and left me out. These days and weeks of alternating light and
darkness, hope and despair were black indeed. Yet, strange to say, I gloried in
the depths. They were at least real. For the first time I realized the
value, the imperative need, of spiritual suffering. The throes of parturition
must always precede birth.
I remember as though it were yesterday another illustration of
Abdu'l-Bahá's divine technique. I was not at all well that summer. A
relapse was threatening a return of a condition which had necessitated a major
operation the year before. My nervous condition made me consider breaking the
habit of smoking which had been with me all my adult life. I had always prided
myself on the ability to break the habit at any time. In fact I had several
times cut off the use of tobacco for a period of many months. But this time to
my surprise and chagrin I found my nerves and will in such a condition that
after two or three days the craving became too much for me.
Finally it occurred to me to ask the assistance of Abdu'l-Bahá. I had
read His beautiful Tablet beginning: "O ye pure friends of God!" in which He
glorified personal cleanliness and urged the avoidance of anything tending
towards habits of self-indulgence. "Surely," I said to myself, "He will tell me
how to overcome this habit."
So, when I next saw Him I told Him all about it. It was like a child confessing
to His mother, and my voice trailed away to embarrassed silence after only the
fewest of words. But He understood, indeed much better than I did. Again I was
conscious of an embracing, understanding love as He regarded me. After a moment
He asked quietly, how much I smoked.
I told him.
He said He did not think that would hurt me, that the men in the Orient smoked
all the time, that their hair and beards and clothing became saturated, and
often very offensive. But that I did not do this, and at my age and having been
accustomed to it for so many years He did not think that I should let it
trouble me at all. His gentle eyes and smile seemed to hold a twinkle that
recalled my impression of His enjoyment of a divine joke.
I was somewhat overwhelmed. Not a dissertation on the evils of habit; not an
explanation of the bad effects on health; not a summoning of my will power to
overcome desire, rather a Charter of Freedom did He present to me. I did not
understand but it was a great relief for somehow I knew that this was wise
advice. So immediately that inner conflict was stilled and I enjoyed my smoke
with no smitings of conscience. But two days after this conversation I found
the desire for tobacco had entirely left me and I did not smoke again for seven
Love is the Portal to Freedom. This great truth began to dawn upon me.
Not only freedom to the one who loves but freedom also to the one upon whom
this divine love is bestowed. I have mentioned several times the impression He
always made upon me of an all-embracing love. How rarely we receive such an
impression from those around us, even from our nearest and dearest, we all
know. All our human love seems based upon self, and even its highest expression
is limited to one or to a very few. Not so was the love which radiated from
Abdu'l-Bahá. Like the sun it poured upon all alike and, like it, also
warmed and gave new life to all it touched.
In my experience in the Christian ministry I had been accustomed often to speak
of the Love of God. All through my life since, as a boy of fifteen I had
experienced the thrilling gift of "conversion," so-called (in which, literally,
the heavens had opened, a great light shone and a Voice from the world unseen
called me to renunciation and the life of the spirit), I had heard and spoken
much of the Love of God. I now realized that I had never before even known what
the words meant.
About this time I first heard the now familiar story of Abdu'l-Bahá's
answer to one who asked Him why it was that those who came from His presence
possessed a shining face. He said, with that sublime smile and humble gesture
of the hands which once seen may never be forgotten, that if it were so it must
be because He saw in every face the face of His Heavenly Father."
Ponder this answer. Deeply search the depths of these simple words, for here
may be discerned the meaning of the "Love of God" and the cause of Its
transforming power. One may readily understand why the lover's face should glow
with heavenly radiance. Surely one's whole being would be transformed once the
Lamp of Cosmic love were ignited in the heart. But why should It cause the face
of the seeker, the estranged, the sinful, upon whom the love is turned, also to
We find the answer in another of Abdu'l-Bahá's comprehensive,
"Dost thou desire to love God? Love thy fellow men, for in them ye see the
image and likeness of God."
But it requires the penetrating eye of a more than personal, individual,
limited, love to see God's Face in the face of saint and sinner alike. Must it
not require, to some degree at least, that all-embracing love which Christ
showered upon all alike, to enable us to see the Face of our Heavenly Father
reflected in the faces of our brother men? This must be what our Lord meant
when He said:
"A new commandment I give unto you that ye love one another as I have loved
A new commandment indeed, and how basely neglected let the condition of
our pseudo-Christian civilization bear witness.
About this time I was present at an interview sought by a Unitarian clergyman,
who was preparing an article on the Bahá'í Cause for the North
American Review. Here again I saw this universal, cosmic love illustrated.
This minister was quite advanced in age. He has since passed from this world
and now, we may hope, has a clearer vision of the Reality of Love and Truth
than he seemed to have discovered here. It was incredible to me, even then,
that any soul could be so impervious to the influence emanating from
Abdu'l-Bahá. The Master sat quite silent throughout the interview,
listening with unwearied attention to the long hypothetical questions of the
reverend doctor. They related entirely to the history of the
Bahá'í Cause; its early dissensions; its relation to the
Muhammadan priesthood and teachings. Abdu'l-Bahá answered mainly in
monosyllables. He never flagged in interest but it seemed to be more an
interest in the questioner than in his questions. He sat perfectly relaxed. His
hands in His lap with palms upward, as was characteristic of Him. He looked at
the interviewer with that indescribable expression of understanding love which
never failed. His face was radiant with an inner flame.
The doctor talked on and on. I grew more and more impatient. I was ashamed of
and for him. Why did not Abdu'l-Bahá recognize the superficial nature
underlying all these questions? Could He not see that their object was only to
gain substantiation for a critically adverse magazine article for the writing
of which a substantial check might be anticipated? Why was not the interview
cut short and the talker dismissed? But if others in the group grew impatient
Abdu'l-Bahá did not. He encouraged the doctor to express himself fully.
If the speaker flagged for a moment Abdu'l-Bahá spoke briefly in reply
to a question and then waited courteously for him to continue.
At last the reverend doctor paused. There was silence for a moment and then
that softly resonant voice filled the room. Sentence by sentence the
interpreter translated. He spoke of "His Holiness Christ," of His love for all
men, strong even unto the Cross; of the high station of the Christian ministry
"to which you, my dear son, have been called"; of the need that men called to
this station should "characterize themselves with the characteristics of God"
in order that their people should be attracted to the divine life, for none can
resist the expression in one's life of the attributes of God. It is a key which
unlocks every heart. He spoke, too, of the coming Kingdom of God on earth for
which Christ had told us to pray and which, in accordance with His promise,
Bahá'u'lláh, the Father, had come to this world to establish.
Within five minutes His questioner had become humble, for the moment, at least,
a disciple at His feet. He seemed to have been transported to another world, as
indeed we all were. His face shone faintly as though he had received an inner
illumination. Then Abdu'l-Bahá rose. We all rose with Him in body as we
had risen with Him in spirit. He lovingly embraced the doctor and led him
towards the door. At the threshold He paused. His eyes had lighted upon a large
bunch of American Beauty roses which one of the friends had brought to Him that
morning. There were at least two dozen of them, perhaps three. There were so
many and their stems so long that they had been placed in an earthenware
umbrella stand. We all had noticed their beauty and fragrance.
No sooner had Abdu'l-Bahá's eyes lighted upon them than He laughed
aloud; His boyish hearty laughter rang through the room. He stooped, gathered
the whole bunch in His arms, straightened and placed them all in the arms of
His visitor. Never shall I forget that round, bespectacled, gray head above
that immense bunch of lovely flowers. So surprised, so radiant, so humble, so
transformed. Ah! Abdu'l-Bahá knew how to teach the Love of God!