Thornton Chase: chapter 13 Chapter Thirteen


      The arrival of Anton Haddad in North America also coincided with the arrival of `Abdu'l-Bahá's first letter, or tablet, to North American Bahá'ís. Possibly Haddad himself was its courier. Addressed to William James, Maude Lamson (Ibrahim Kheiralla's secretary), George Kheiralla (Ibrahim Kheiralla's son), and Thornton Chase, the letter reached Chicago on 29 April 1898. It said, in part:

O ye beloved of God and His sincere friends!

      By the life of God! The hearts are cheered whenever you are mentioned, the souls comforted in your love, the holy spirits are captivated by your fragrance, the eyes are expecting to see you and the hearts are longing to meet you, owing to the fact that your hearts were kindled with the fire of the love of God. . . .

      Blessed are ye, O children of the Kingdom of God! Glad-tidings to ye, O friends of God! as He has made your destiny great. . . . God will show forth your endeavor, increase your spirit and fragrance, perfume the different directions with your perfume, enlighten the horizons with your light. . . will cheer the souls with what you have accomplished and cause. . . the banner of remembrance of you to wave through all the ages; your fame and praise to encircle the horizon and the tongues to speak of your virtues and good endeavors.

      By the living Truth! That bounty is great and great and the Lord is supreme in majesty! The confirmation is successive and success is continuous, and the kindness of your God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, will surround you from all sides.[1]

      The stilted English of the tablet bespeaks its age; the phrase "great and great," for example, probably translates two similar Arabic words. Later tablets were translated better because of the experience acquired from translating the earlier ones. `Abdu'l-Bahá knew none of the individuals to whom the letters were addressed, and may have sent one tablet in reply to four different letters. As a result, the epistle is very general in content, neither citing nor responding to any questions previously directed to `Abdu'l-Bahá. Neither does the tablet offer any specific advice. Instead, `Abdu'l-Bahá encourages the recipients (encouragement is a major portion of most of his tablets to individuals), praises them for their deeds, and emphasizes the historic importance of their endeavors. In spite of the tablet's brevity, it must have excited the American Bahá'ís very much, for the epistle was the first they had received from their "Lord."

      The American Bahá'ís must also have been excited at the prospect of obtaining another book on their religion. In the summer of 1898 Ibrahim Kheiralla retired to Lubeck, Maine, for several months to write a textbook giving all his lessons in detail. Entitled Behá 'Ulláh, it reached a length of five-hundred pages when finished. Kheiralla's plan was to go to Akka to present the manuscript to `Abdu'l-Bahá for approval. A few American Bahá'ís would accompany him.[2]

      By the time Kheiralla had finished two-thirds of the manuscript, a perfect opportunity to go to the Holy Land presented itself. Two very active American Bahá'ís, Lua and Edward Getsinger, traveled to California and taught the Bahá'í Faith to Phoebe Hearst, widow of Senator George Hearst and mother of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst had already made plans to visit Egypt that fall, and she now wanted to add a visit to `Abdu'l-Bahá to her itinerary. She also agreed to pay the way of the Getsingers and the Kheirallas, should they agree to accompany her. Kheiralla jumped at the opportunity.[3]

      He only had a few weeks before sailing East. He hurriedly finished the manuscript, took a train to Chicago and then visited Kenosha to make sure those two Bahá'í communities would function during his absence. He gave a copy of his manuscript to Thornton Chase, apparently for editing. Then Kheiralla visited New York and Philadelphia, where he gave farewell addresses to the Bahá'ís. In New York he gave another copy of the manuscript to Howard MacNutt, who would also edit the text.[4]

      Kheiralla invited Thornton Chase to accompany the historic first pilgrimage of Western Bahá'ís to `Abdu'l-Bahá. Chase yearned to go, but it was impossible for him to obtain the time off from his company. As he explained to Kheiralla, "I am heart broken to learn that you are going. . . and it is impossible for me to join you."[5] His own pilgrimage would have to wait. However, he did write to `Abdu'l-Bahá:

To the Greatest Branch [`Abdu'l-Bahá]!

      I beg from Almighty God, the Single One, for Knowledge, Faith and Love; and that He in His Great Mercy, will so reveal to me His acknowledgement and acceptance of me that I may be made strong for service for Him, and that His Will may be my only desire.

      I desire greatly that I may be of service to GOD, the All-Powerful One My Creator; and I humbly beg for the privilege of teaching His Truth, and that I may be chosen as a means whereby many shall learn of Him and come to acceptance of Him.

      I beg earnestly for the Power of Perception, that I may perceive the truth from the false, the real from the apparent.

      For the Power of Logic, that I may reason correctly, and be able to detect and overthrow erroneous reasoning,

      For the Power of Expression, that I may teach with such power and clearness that I may convince the hearts of the people, and that they may be led to desire and seek for the Truth and for the Real God.

      I humbly beg that I may be given from Thy generosity, a tablet for myself to use in prayer for spiritual help and strength.

      I also ask the favor of some little material token from Thy Hand, Oh Greatest Branch, my Master!

      Accept me, I beg of Thee, as Thy humble and loving servant.[6]

Thornton's devotion to his new religion, and his desire to become one of its major teachers, are clear in the letter. One is struck by the fact that, in contrast to later letters Chase wrote `Abdu'l-Bahá, this letter consists of a series of requests for qualities for himself. Thornton's later letters reflect his greater familiarity with `Abdu'l-Bahá and consist more of meditations on his own spiritual life.

      On 19 September 1898 he mailed the letter to Kheiralla, probably with the letter of regret that he could not go on pilgrimage. Kheiralla was to carry the former letter to `Abdu'l-Bahá. Three days later, on 22 September, the pilgrims left New York for the Holy Land. Among them were Ibrahim Kheiralla, Marion Kheiralla (his wife), Phoebe Hearst, Edward Getsinger, and Lua Getsinger.[7]

      The party traveled first to Paris, where Hearst had an apartment. Kheiralla soon left for Egypt to visit family and friends, then traveled to Akka, the Turkish prison city in northern Palestine where `Abdu'l-Bahá was kept under house arrest for his religious teachings. Kheiralla arrived there on 11 November 1898. The rest of the pilgrimage party proceeded to Egypt later, and went to Akka in small groups of two or three, usually staying only a few days. The exception was the Getsingers: arriving in Akka on 10 December 1898, they stayed through April 1899 and even learned some Persian, since no one could translate except Kheiralla and another Bahá'í, whose English was poor. Ibrahim Kheiralla stayed until 21 March 1899.

      Upon his arrival in Akka, Kheiralla was showered with honors. Until his trip to North America, the Bahá'í Faith had been confined to the Muslim lands of the Middle East and to India and Burma. Only a few non-Muslims--some Iranian Jews, Iranian and Indian Zoroastrians, a handful of Middle Eastern Christians, and some Buddhists in Burma--had accepted Bahá'u'lláh. Kheiralla's teaching efforts had produced Bahá'ís in the United States, Canada, France, and England. These new Bahá'ís were not only of Christian background but also members of the European culture that dominated the world. Thus, the Bahá'í Faith's expansion in the Occident was a major development.

      To recognize Kheiralla's achievement, `Abdu'l-Bahá conferred on him the titles of "Bahá's Peter," "The Second Columbus," and "Conqueror of America." He bestowed on Kheiralla the unique privilege of being his only assistant in the ground-breaking for the Shrine of the Báb. The building today is the second holiest in the Bahá'í world. While Kheiralla was in Akka, `Abdu'l-Bahá opened for pilgrimage Bahá'u'lláh's shrine, which had previously been closed because of the mourning over Bahá'u'lláh's death. Accompanied by Kheiralla, `Abdu'l-Bahá entered the tomb first; the rest of the Bahá'ís followed them. Kheiralla wrote of these events and of the greatness of `Abdu'l-Bahá to his friend Anton Haddad, who was in New York. Haddad circulated the letter to the American Bahá'ís so that all could read of their teacher's honors.[8]

      Kheiralla also delivered to `Abdu'l-Bahá the various letters that he had been asked to carry to the Holy Land, and `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote prompt replies to them. Thornton Chase's answer arrived in February 1899:

O thou who hast been attracted by the Magnet of the Kingdom!

      Note that thy Lord hath manifested the Magnet of the souls and hearts in the Pole of the existing world, to which all the sacred hearts are attracted from the far distant lands and countries.

      The iron body is attractable although at long distances away; but the earthen one is not although in contact and very close.

      Therefore, thank thou God for being an attractable body, to be drawn to the Magnet of the Kingdom of God.[9]

      The tablet was not a reply to Thornton's letter as much as an acknowledgement of its receipt; it did not address any of Thornton's requests. Probably `Abdu'l-Bahá had not had time to have the letter translated. Consequently, `Abdu'l-Bahá's tablet was one of praise and encouragement.

      About the same time the tablet arrived, Thornton received a letter from Lua Getsinger about her pilgrimage. She had been overwhelmed by the love and kindness showered on her by `Abdu'l-Bahá and his family, and by the dignity of their life despite the material simplicity of their surroundings and the severe restrictions on their movement. She also described `Abdu'l-Bahá:

The Face of the Master--is gloriously beautiful--His eyes read one's very soul--still they are full of divine love--and fairly melt one's heart! His hair and beard are white, but soft and fine like silk. His features are finely chiseled and very classical--His forehead high and full--and His mouth supremely beautiful, while His hands are small and white like a woman's. Now I have attempted to describe Him--but you see it is a feeble attempt, and I assure you it is inadequate in the extreme![10]

      Lua did not write to Chase about the trials that Kheiralla was experiencing in Akka. She and Edward were receiving instruction daily from `Abdu'l-Bahá and from leading Persian Bahá'í teachers in Akka, and often their talks contradicted the teachings that Kheiralla had given. The contradictions became clear not only to the Getsingers but also to the Persian Bahá'ís (who became extremely concerned), to `Abdu'l-Bahá, and to Kheiralla himself. The Persians tried to correct Kheiralla. Even `Abdu'l-Bahá tried to reason with him and explain that some of his ideas were contradicted by the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, whose words define Bahá'í teaching. But Kheiralla refused to reconsider his beliefs. Since most of his problematic beliefs were given as official Bahá'í teaching in his book, it was impossible for `Abdu'l-Bahá to approve its publication. Thus, Kheiralla failed to attain the primary goal of his pilgrimage.[11]

      Kheiralla also realized that the Getsingers upon their return to North America would not remain silent about the contradictions between his teachings and Bahá'u'lláh's. As a result, Kheiralla made a momentous and disastrous decision: he chose to discredit the Getsingers. He hurried to make sure he reached New York first, arriving about 1 May 1899. There he praised `Abdu'l-Bahá highly but privately warned the New York Bahá'ís not to listen to the Getsingers, who, he said, were not reliable sources of information about the Bahá'í Faith. After two weeks, he traveled to the Chicago Bahá'í community.

      Shortly thereafter, the Getsingers arrived in New York from Akka. Their presentation of the Bahá'í Faith was captivating and persuasive. When they were told of Kheiralla's warning, they returned kindness for unkindness and praised Kheiralla highly. As a result, Kheiralla's attack backfired, and his own reputation was tarnished.[12]

      Kheiralla was furious, but he was in Chicago, not New York, hence there was nothing he could do. When Lua Getsinger came to Chicago in August to speak of her pilgrimage, Kheiralla apparently said nothing to her directly, but after she left he began to speak against her and spread rumors against the Getsingers. This, and a controversy over Kheiralla's role in the Chicago Bahá'í community, caused severe disunity among the Chicago Bahá'ís. As a result, contributions to the Chicago Bahá'í fund began to fall precipitously after August 1899.[13]

      No information is available about Thornton's reaction to the controversy, but it seems likely that at first he felt loyalty to and affection for his teacher, but that he became increasingly disturbed by Kheiralla's behavior. Until 1898 Kheiralla had functioned as the head of the Bahá'í Faith in North America, and there had been no reason to question his role; no communications from `Abdu'l-Bahá had been received; no one had visited Akka; and no one other than Kheiralla could speak about the Bahá'í Faith from personal experience. Thus Kheiralla was the undisputed leader of the American Bahá'ís, and the American Bahá'ís, though uncomfortable with his autocratic tendencies, had no grounds on which to question his leadership. But now Americans could write `Abdu'l-Bahá and were receiving letters from him; Americans had met him and could claim to have spoken to him as much as had Kheiralla. Now there was reason to question the reliability of Kheiralla's teachings. Kheiralla's overreaction to the erosion of his authority simply discredited him more. Edward Getsinger did not ignore Kheiralla's attacks, sometimes responding in an unkind or devious way as well; Lua Getsinger, however, did not speak against Kheiralla. Thornton, like most other Chicago Bahá'ís, must have been extremely disturbed by his teacher's vindictiveness.

      Brightening Thornton's life, however, was a second tablet from `Abdu'l-Bahá. Fearing that his first letter had not been understood, on 21 April 1899 Thornton had written to `Abdu'l-Bahá and had again requested a prayer for his own personal use. He also thanked `Abdu'l-Bahá for a bunch of violets and a rose that `Abdu'l-Bahá had blessed and which Lua Getsinger had apparently mailed to him; it constituted the "little material token" he had requested. Thornton also hoped that "I may be permitted before long to visit Thy abode, and that I may see Thee with mine own eyes and receive the blessing of Thy Gracious Presence."[14]

      `Abdu'l-Bahá, however, still intended to respond to Thornton's first letter. Trouble that the Turkish government was giving him, the time required to have letters from Americans translated, and the crush of his correspondence--letters needing reply were flooding in from Iran as well as from the Occident--had caused his correspondence to be delayed. In October 1899, thirteen months after he first wrote `Abdu'l-Bahá, Thornton Chase received `Abdu'l-Bahá's reply:

O thou whose heart has been filled with the love of the Beauty of God!

      I have read thy letter and voiced thy words which show the excess of thy love to God, the greatness of thine adherence to the Cause of God and the abundance of thine attraction to the Kingdom of God. From a man like unto thee such words are always expected and it is your duty thus to proclaim.

      I do greet thee from this Exalted Place, while thou art in that far distant country, and present thee salutations and praise, and I see thee with the eye of the heart as though thou were present here and I speak to thee by the tongue of the Spirit, saying "Blessed thou art with every blessing! Then preach to the beloved of God in that country the glad-tidings of El-Baha."[15]

      `Abdu'l-Bahá began his reply by singling out Thornton's love for God. His reply was quite concrete, compared to the tablets he wrote to some other Americans. He singled out Thornton's great faith and stated matter-of-factly an expectation that Thornton's actions live up to his words. His statement that "I see thee with the eye of the heart" must have particularly struck Thornton, for by it `Abdu'l-Bahá claimed to perceive his spiritual capacities. `Abdu'l-Bahá's encouragement of Thornton to teach the Bahá'í Faith in the closing paragraph was a common exhortation he made to Americans.

      Then `Abdu'l-Bahá revealed for Thornton the prayer that he had requested:

      O God my God! Thou art my Hope and my Beloved, my highest Aim and Desire! With great humbleness and entire devotion I pray to Thee to make me a minaret of Thy love in Thy land, a lamp of Thy knowledge among Thy creatures, and a banner of divine bounty in Thy dominion.

      Number me with such of Thy servants as have detached themselves from everything but Thee, have sanctified themselves from the transitory things of this world, and have freed themselves from the promptings of the voicers of idle fancies.

      Let my heart be dilated with joy through the spirit of confirmation from Thy kingdom, and brighten my eyes by beholding the hosts of divine assistance descending successively upon me from the Kingdom of Thine omnipotent glory.

      Thou art, in truth, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the All-Powerful.[16]

      Presumably `Abdu'l-Bahá revealed a prayer that He believed matched Thornton's potential. The opening paragraph begins with a declaration of one's devotion to God. Then one asks to be a source of two qualities--love and knowledge--and to be a symbol or representation of a third--divine bounty. With his dedication to the quality of love and his considerable knowledge of religion and spirituality, Thornton certainly had great potential to develop and express the first two qualities. To be a representative of divine bounty, presumably, means to give unto others divine qualities such as love, wisdom, and patience, and with a nearly divine generosity. Development of the ability to love and to teach others presupposes the development of this trait as well. Presumably `Abdu'l-Bahá singled out these three qualities because He saw them especially manifest in Thornton.

      The second paragraph asks for the quality of detachment: from materialism, from erroneous ideas and beliefs, indeed, from everything except God. Acquisition of such detachment would result in a purity and steadfastness of faith, a quality for which `Abdu'l-Bahá singled out Thornton later.

      The third paragraph asks for the joy that follows from a sense of confirmation and for the divine assistance to accomplish the tasks that become possible when one has faith. Bahá'í prayers almost always close with a list of divine attributes; this prayer singles out God's might, power, and glory, attributes on which one might call in particular when requesting assistance.

      Considering that Thornton asked `Abdu'l-Bahá twice for the prayer, Thornton must have memorized it and said it daily. It would have focused his attention on crucial areas of his spiritual development and strengthened him for the tests that lay ahead.

      A major task in which Chase was called to participate was the reorganization of the Chicago Bahá'í community. On 19 November 1899 thirty-two Bahá'í men met and appointed a committee of five to make recommendations about reorganization. Chase was designated chairman of the committee. Five days later the committee issued a report--typed on Chase's typewriter-- recommending that the Chicago Bahá'ís elect a president, three vice-presidents, a recording secretary, a financial secretary, a corresponding secretary, a treasurer, and an historian, nine officers in all. (There is no evidence, however, that the nine were to function together as a body.) The committee also recommended that the community write to `Abdu'l-Bahá and request permission to become legally incorporated as the "Society of Behaists."[17]

      Subsequently a simple set of by-laws was drafted, apparently by Dr. Chester Thacher, a prominent Chicago Bahá'í. On 1 December 1899 the Chicago Bahá'ís chose Thacher as their president. Chase was made the historian, a post he had probably proposed and sought. His interest in preserving the history of the American Bahá'í community, later so strong, was thus manifested at quite an early date. Notably absent among those chosen as officers were Ibrahim Kheiralla and most of his supporters. Fannie Lesch, a Chicago Bahá'í, later wrote that Kheiralla himself "arranged" that Thacher would become president, and then moved to the south side of Chicago, where he severed himself from the Bahá'ís of the west side, who were the ones spearheading the reorganization.[18]

      To his surprise, Chase received another tablet in December 1899. It had been hand-carried to America by Anton Haddad, who had gone to visit `Abdu'l-Bahá and report on Kheiralla's behavior. The tablet is not a response to Thornton's letter of April 1899, so one wonders what prompted `Abdu'l-Bahá to write him. Perhaps it constitutes a kind of acknowledgement that his letter had been received, although it is not mentioned at all in the tablet. Perhaps Haddad spoke highly of Thornton's qualities to `Abdu'l-Bahá, thereby prompting the tablet. Perhaps `Abdu'l-Bahá, knowing the severe tests imminently facing the American Bahá'ís, was writing Thornton to strengthen him.

      The tablet is very short and contains no words of encouragement. Rather, it seems to speak to the mystical experience of divine love that Thornton had experienced, and exhorted him to spread the "fragrances of God" to others:

O thou who art turned to the Kingdom!

      In truth, I say unto thee that if a spark of the fire of the love of God should fall into a heart, its flame will increase gradually, as the breeze blows upon it, until the sparks of the flame reach the Supreme Kingdom, providing the necessary preparations are made to kindle that fire in thy heart, to shed the tears from thine eyes and to bring thy patience to an end for the purpose of being drawn into the Kingdom of El-ABHA.

      In truth, I say unto thee, if thou hear this call, do not relax in mentioning God, nor grow weary of spreading the fragrances of God. And then rejoice at the good news of the gifts which shall shine as the sun in the highest culmination of America.[19]

      Haddad also brought a message from `Abdu'l-Bahá to Kheiralla. The message indicated that Kheiralla could not be the head of the Bahá'í Faith in America, because the religion has no clergy. Kheiralla had hoped that `Abdu'l-Bahá would appoint him to some sort of position, thereby preserving his authority over the American Bahá'ís; but as this was not possible within the framework of Bahá'u'lláh's writings, Kheiralla's hopes were now dashed. He began to speak out against `Abdu'l-Bahá, expressing doubts about `Abdu'l-Bahá's station, but only mildly, in order to see how many American Bahá'ís would respond and show loyalty to him instead of to `Abdu'l-Bahá. His action created more confusion in the community; Kheiralla did obtain some support and that encouraged him to widen the rift between himself and `Abdu'l-Bahá. The American Bahá'ís began to draw into two camps, those loyal to `Abdu'l-Bahá and those loyal to Kheiralla.[20]

      Tensions in Chicago were sharpened when the Getsingers visited on 11 February 1900. Haddad had received considerable advice from `Abdu'l-Bahá about the role of personalities in the Bahá'í Faith, and apparently the Getsingers took up the task to disseminate the information to the believers. Included in Haddad's pilgrim's notes, which he had published in January 1900, were such statements of `Abdu'l-Bahá as "the guides and teachers. . . . must eliminate from their minds the word `Ego' or `I,' and be servants of all, faithful and honest shepherds."[21] The statement seemed to be an implied criticism of Kheiralla's egotism and was taken by him as such.

      The Getsingers may also have told the Chicago Bahá'ís about Bahá'u'lláh's teachings on the organization of Bahá'í communities, which the pilgrims would have learned about while in Akka. Bahá'u'lláh had forbidden the establishment of a clergy in His religion but had commanded that every Bahá'í community establish a House of Justice, which should consist of at least nine members. The House of Justice would have collective authority over all Bahá'í activities in a locality; the individual members would have no personal authority. Either `Abdu'l-Bahá, or the Getsingers, or Haddad had coined the term Board of Council to refer to the Houses of Justice as they were to be constituted in North America.[22]

      Thornton Chase, and probably Chester Thacher, took the lead in organizing a Chicago Board of Council for the Bahá'ís loyal to `Abdu'l-Bahá. When the board was elected, about 16 March 1900, neither Kheiralla nor any of his followers were among its ten members. Elected were Arthur Agnew, Charles Greenleaf, George Lesch, and Chester Thacher, as well as Chase himself. Agnew and Greenleaf were close friends of Chase. Most of the ten remained active leaders in the Chicago Bahá'í community for the next decade. Presumably the gathering of Chicago Bahá'ís that elected the board was small; only thirty people contributed money to the Chicago Bahá'í Fund that month. Kheiralla responded by organizing a "House of Justice" of his own followers a few weeks later.[23]

      A split had occurred. But there was no reason for it to be permanent, and both sides hoped for reconciliation. As Thornton wrote to P. M. Blake:

I believe that "God wants Dr. K's soul" and that it is necessary to unite with him in all things that are good and to be kind and loving in all dealings with him, in order that possibly when he begins to awaken from his delusion, he will know who are his true friends, and not feel utterly alone. Further, it seems necessary in order that he may awaken, possibly through being attracted by the unselfish love and kindness of those who cannot agree with him in his doubts.[24]

      Aware of the agitation Kheiralla was creating among the American Bahá'ís, `Abdu'l-Bahá sent to America the man who had taught Kheiralla the Bahá'í Faith, to talk to him and attempt to bring him back into the fold. `Abdu'l-Karím-i-ihrání arrived in New York from Cairo about 26 April 1900. He and Kheiralla immediately began to talk, and after two weeks the discussions bore fruit. A public meeting was organized in New York, at which Kheiralla declared that his doubts had been dispelled and that he was ready to declare his loyalty to `Abdu'l-Bahá.[25]

      The next day `Abdu'l-Karím issued a circular letter to all American Bahá'ís announcing Kheiralla's recantation. It caused Kheiralla to lose face with his followers, especially those in Chicago, who had separated from the Bahá'ís loyal to `Abdu'l-Bahá and had become an organized community of their own. They complained to Kheiralla about his action, and as a result Kheiralla refused to put his pledge of loyalty in writing. He then returned to Chicago. `Abdu'l-Karím desired to follow him but had no money; Chase, Thacher, Agnew, and P. M. Blake contributed the money to pay for the train tickets of `Abdu'l-Karím and his two translators. They came to Chicago and resumed negotiations with Kheiralla, but the effort proved fruitless. Kheiralla refused to pledge his loyalty to `Abdu'l-Bahá.[26]

      As a result, by early June 1900 Kheiralla could no longer be considered a Bahá'í in good standing. Rather, he was a violator of Bahá'u'lláh's covenant, that is, Bahá'u'lláh's command to the Bahá'ís that, after his death, they turn to `Abdu'l-Bahá. `Abdu'l-Karím spent much of his time in America telling the Bahá'ís about Bahá'u'lláh's covenant, in order to make it clear to them that claiming to be a follower of Bahá'u'lláh also entails loyalty to `Abdu'l-Bahá.

      Although at first Kheiralla had several hundred followers in Chicago and Kenosha, within a few years they dwindled to a few dozen. Kheiralla was also singularly unsuccessful in converting new people to his group. He never rejoined the American Bahá'í community, and his own group of Behaists steadily dwindled. Kheiralla died, impoverished, in 1929.[27]

      Thornton Chase had hoped that his teacher would realize the folly of his ways and must have been greatly disappointed when Kheiralla did not, but Chase did not dwell on Kheiralla's errors. Few references to Kheiralla can be found in subsequent letters of Chase. Rather, Chase devoted his effort to reorganizing the Chicago Bahá'í community, for few Chicago Bahá'ís had remained openly loyal to `Abdu'l-Bahá; most of the seven hundred members had become confused and inactive. Chase sought to acquire the true Bahá'í teachings, for now tablets from `Abdu'l-Bahá were being received and a few writings of Bahá'u'lláh were being brought to America and translated into English. The era when Kheiralla's lessons were the Bahá'í teachings had come to an end, and the days when the Bible was the American Bahá'í scripture were numbered.

      `Abdu'l-Karím had not explained the Bahá'í teachings to the Americans very well--his own grasp of them was limited and dominated by his Muslim background--but he had brought with him many tablets from `Abdu'l-Bahá for the Americans. To Thornton's delight, among them was a fourth tablet from `Abdu'l-Bahá, a response to his second letter. It consisted of another prayer for him to say daily:

My God! My God!

      I am a servant, miserable, humbled, submissive and low at the door of Thy Oneness, supplicating Thee with a heart full of Thy love and a face rejoiced at Thy glad-tidings!

      O God! Make me of those who are drawn unto light and [who] detest darkness; with a heart overflowing with the lights of Thy love among mankind; a tongue fluent in mentioning Thee in the assemblies of worship (remembrance); a breast, cheered and widened with Thy knowledge when uttering explanations; an eye consoled with seeing Thy traces in all directions; a foot firm in Thy Covenant, which I have received from the traces of the Supreme Pen; a spreader of mysteries to those heedless of them, who have veiled themselves with doubts and suspicions.

      Verily Thou art the Almighty, the Powerful, the Generous![28]

      Like the previous prayer, this one mentions devotion to God and love of Him, and calls for the diffusion of love and knowledge to others. It also stresses firmness in the covenant, a quality particularly important at the time Chase received it. The prayer helped Thornton to prepare for the tests that lay ahead, because the recovery of the Chicago Bahá'í community would not be easy, and Thornton would take on much of the responsibility for its reestablishment himself.


[1]`Abdu'l-Bahá to William James, Maude Lamson, George Kheiralla, and Thornton Chase, received in Chicago on 29 April 1898, in Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, volume 2 (Chicago: Bahai Publishing Society, 1915) 346-47. The text in the book gives no names, nor the date of the tablet; this information comes from a typed copy of the tablet in TC. No translator is given; most likely it is Ibrahim Kheiralla.

[2]Thornton Chase to John J. Abramson (copy), 13 April 1898, 8, TC.

[3]The details of Hearst's plans are given in Robert H. Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Origins, 1892-1900, Volume One (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985) 138-39.

[4]The details of Kheiralla's departure for Akka are given in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Origins 140.

[5]Thornton Chase to Ibrahim Kheiralla, 19 September 1898, quoted in Richard Hollinger, Foreword, in Thornton Chase, In Galilee (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1985) viii-ix.

[6]Thornton Chase to `Abdu'l-Bahá (copy), 19 September 1898, TC.

[7]The pilgrimage has been described in detail in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Origins 136-57.

[8]This is a summary of Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Origins 141-43.

[9]`Abdu'l-Bahá to Thornton Chase, sent from Akka on 29 January 1899, translated by Anton Haddad, Tablets of Abdul-Baha 2:328-29.

[10]Lua Getsinger to Thornton Chase, 15 February 1899, TC.

[11]This a summary of Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Origins 149-55.

[12]Kheiralla's return to America, and the subsequent events, are detailed in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Origins 158-65.

[13]Chicago contribution journal, 1897-1901, CHS.

[14]Thornton Chase to `Abdu'l-Bahá (copy), 19 September 1898, TC; Thornton Chase to `Abdu'l-Bahá (copy), 21 April 1899, TC.

[15]`Abdu'l-Bahá to Thornton Chase, sent from Akka in October 1899, translated from Arabic by Anton Haddad, in Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas 2:329.

[16]Bahá'í Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, and `Abdu'l-Bahá (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982) 57-58. The text given is the current authorized translation. For the translation that Thornton Chase had, see Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abba 2:329-30.

[17]Recommendations of the committee of five, 24 November 1899, Albert Windust Papers, National Bahá'í Archives.

[18]Untitled by-laws of the Chicago Bahá'í community, MS, on "Thacher Magnetic Shield Co." stationary, Windust Papers; minutes of business meeting of the Chicago Bahá'í community, 1 December 1899, Windust Papers; "In Re: Dr. C. I. Thatcher [sic], Chicago, Illinois. Notes by Mrs. Fannie G. Lesch," TS, Windust Papers.

[19]`Abdu'l-Bahá to Thornton Chase, brought from Akka by Anton Haddad in December 1899, translated by Anton Haddad, in Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas 2:330.

[20]Kheiralla's gradual separation of himself from `Abdu'l-Bahá is described in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Origins 167.

[21]`Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted in Anton Haddad, A Message from Akka (New York: [Bahá'í] Board of Counsel, n.d.) 4.

[22]Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, trans. Bahá'í World Centre (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1993) 29. A more detailed discussion of the establishment of Bahá'í governing bodies may be found in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Origins 169-70.

[23]Chase to P. M. Blake (copy), 21 March 1900, TC; Chicago contribution journal, 1897-1901, CHS; Chase to P. M. Blake (copy), 26 April 1900, TC.

[24]Thornton Chase to P. M. Blake (copy), 15 April 1900, TC.

[25]`Abdu'l-Karím's negotiations with Kheiralla are summarized in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Origins 173-74, and in Richard Hollinger, "Ibrahim George Kheiralla and the Bahá'í Faith in America," in Juan R. Cole and Moojan Momen, eds., Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, volume two: From Iran East and West (Los Angeles: Kalimát Press, 1984) 118.

[26]The crisis in the Chicago Bahá'í community and Kheiralla's subsequent return to that city are detailed in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Origins 174-77.

[27]Kheiralla's life after leaving the Bahá'í community is described in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Origins 177-84.

[28]`Abdu'l-Bahá to Thornton Chase, received through `Abdu'l-Karím-i-ihrání in Chicago, June 1900, translated by Anton Haddad, Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas 2:330-31.
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