Introduction   Chapter 2

Chapter One

Retrospect. Spiritual Bankruptcy. A Dawning Hope. The Golden Silence.

"O friend! The heart is a store of divine mysteries, make it not a receptacle for mortal thoughts, and consume not the capital of thy precious life by occupying thyself with this evanescent world. Thou art of the world of Holiness, attach not thy heart unto the earth. Thou art a denizen of the Court of Nearness, choose not an earthly home."


My life divides itself, in retrospect, sharply in two. The years before I met Abdu'l-Bahá look to me now much as the ten-year-old child might be imagined to regard his matrix life, assuming him capable of that keen vision. The comparison is apt, also, from another angle; for, just as a child of ten has still before him experiences of vast and unimagined heights and depths, splendor and shadow, so I, the twenty-five year old youth of the spirit, look back, indeed, upon the forty-six years of gestation, recognizing the fact of that necessity if birth were to occur, but beyond that fact knowing little or nothing of the trivial causes which could lead to such effects. How much less, then, is it possible to estimate the future of the twice-born soul throughout unimaginable ages of life in all the worlds of God. If the wood in which the earthly sap flows briskly still is capable of such a flame, how great the conflagration when, freed from the laws of the world of nature, the fire kindled from the Sinaitic Tree becomes ablaze! Truly, birth of the body is a great event but, compared with the second birth, the first is only a feeble significance.

The fall and winter of 1911-12 is a period marked in my memory as months of great unhappiness. Life, in all that composed its deepest values, seemed to have left me high and dry on the banks of its swiftly-flowing stream. Outwardly all was well but that inward voice that adds, "All is well indeed," was silent. I know of no greater disappointment, no more terrible depression than that which comes to the sincere soul who, seeking God, finds Him not.

For many years I had found myself unable to accept the conventional connotations of such words as God, Faith, Heaven, Hell, Prayer, Christ, Eternal Life, and others of so-called religious significance. In very early manhood I had come to grips with the goblins of superstition masquerading as churchly creeds and had cast them out, but no satisfying, spirit-lifting convictions had come to take their places. Perhaps for ten years my thought life was frankly and positively agnostic. But these were great years nevertheless, for they were portals to freedom. But, alas, that freedom had failed to bring peace. I began to suspect that freedom without a guide and teacher fell little short of anarchy. True, I still had the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth, and never had I faded in love for them. But I failed woefully in the practice of them. And even a casual glance at the lives around me and the civilization men called "Christian," convinced me that so far as any practical parallel between words and deeds were concerned there were few, if any, Christians in the world, and certainly no expressions of social, economic and national life worthy of such a name. Besides this objective fact, impossible to evade or deny, I was confronted by the even greater difficulty of the confused thought life created by years of scientific, philosophical and theological study and reading. In all these cross currents of human speculation my frail skiff had all it could do to keep afloat and the struggling oarsman little hope of finding his desired haven by following any one of them.

One day I found in the library of a village rector, where we were spending a summer's vacation, a volume of the works of William Ellery Channing. His sermon on the occasion of the ordination of Jared Sparks in Baltimore in 1844 opened a new horizon. Perhaps one could be free and yet have a guide freely chosen! Thus began a period of about fifteen years of so-called liberal study, thought and preaching which, on the whole, cannot be said to have been fruitless years for work was sincerely done and doubtless, necessary lessons learned. But measured by those inner standards which from boyhood had subconsciously been cultivated, these were barren years.

Was this to be the fruit of mystic dreams, of God ward yearnings, of passionate longings to aid just a hide in the uplift of sorrowing humanity around me? To preach once a week; duly to make my parish round of calls on elderly spinsters and the sick to whom my visits were simply what I was paid to give; to build churches to hold a handful of people; never to forget the collection, for which lapse of memory my treasurer was always scolding me, and to fill in odd hours with reading of the latest modem philosophy in order to pass it on to my unsuspecting congregation with appropriate annotations,--did this round of living contain the germs of that "Truth for which man ought to die"? Was it my own fault that I had missed the point and was I a fool in that I could not adjust myself to that definition of success which found its goal in a wealthy congregation, the whispered, "That was a mighty fine sermon," the annually increasing salary?

Well, anyway, suffice it to say I was desperately unhappy. I had tried the orthodox scheme; I had tried to sail the uncharted sea of--"I don't know"; I had tried the "Liberal Faith" and I found myself approaching spiritual bankruptcy. A balancing of Life's books showed me in debt to God and Man. It had not yet begun to dawn upon me that to be recreant to either was to be in arrears with both, and that spiritual insolvency is assured when freedom of the mind is assumed to mean liberty to follow every will-o-the-wisp of human philosophy.

It was in October of 1911 when there came to me those first stirrings of influences which were to change the course of my life. I picked up a copy of Everybody's Magazine from a casual bookstall and found therein a rather complete article concerning Abdu'l-Bahá and His projected visit to America. I shall never forget the thrill this somewhat commonplace story gave me--commonplace, I mean, in comparison with the reality of that story as future months were to unfold it to me. Again I heard the inner voice which since very early youth has come to me again and again: "Come along up." I read and re-read the story. Here was a Man who had indeed found a Truth for which He was not only willing to die but had died, a living death covering almost sixty years of torture, banishment and imprisonment, and who had seen many thousands of His followers willingly and joyfully face a martyr's death. And above all--O happy marvel!--here was a man who placed money where it belonged, beneath His feet. He never took up a collection!

I read and re-read that glorious and tragic story and filed it in my voluminous twenty-five-volume scrapbook. There may have been a vague purpose in my mind of making that story the background of a sermon some day. To such human uses do we often put the skyey glimpses God vouchsafes us. Which is well; or would be if those celestial visions found utterance in our lives as well as through our lips.

It may have been an indication of my spiritual unrest and sense of frustration that had prompted me some months before to organize in Jersey City what we called The Brotherhood Church. It had no affiliation with my regular denominational work. No salary was attached to its service. It tried to be in fact what its name indicated: a group of brothers of the spirit aiming to express their highest ideals in service to struggling humanity. Our meetings were held in a large Masonic Hall every Sunday evening, since my suburban church held services only in the morning. How little one can estimate the great results that may flow from even slight efforts undertaken in a sincere spirit of service. It is hardly too much to say that had not this Church of Brotherhood (as Abdu'l-Bahá later called it) been inaugurated and carried on for a few brief months, the Sun of Reality might not have risen for me for many years, if ever, upon this little planet.

For one of the members of the Board of Trustees was a man whom I had grown to respect and love deeply. His health was none too good and he suffered, at intervals all too short, from blinding headaches, indicating a pathological condition which, a few months later, carried him from this world. His nature was one of the humblest and sweetest I have ever known. None was too lowly or too poor to be denied his understanding love; none too casual an acquaintance to make him hesitate to seek to find and touch with healing art, the hidden springs of sorrow and distress which all conceal. His tact seemed never failing and his faith in human greatness boundless. He had no money, or little, to give. He had more, the key of universal love which unlocks every heart.

This friend, Mr. Clarence Moore, came to me one Sunday evening just before the service was to begin and handed me some notes, saying: "I am not feeling well enough to stay this evening for I am very tired with some work I have been doing and in connection with which I want to ask your assistance." "How can I help?" I said.

"Well," he responded, "you know I have been to some extent interested in a world-wide movement which seems to have great spiritual and social significance. Friends of mine have found in it much of value and inspiration which so far have seemed too high and deep for me to fathom and explore. It occurred to me that your knowledge and experience in such matters might assist me to a more just appreciation. So, this afternoon I attended one of the meetings of this group in New York and made some rather full notes with the idea of submitting them to you for your criticism and opinion."[2]

I was dubious. There was no connection in my mind between this request and the magazine article I had lately read, and I hesitated more than a little. Oriental cults, Eastern philosophies, and the queer, supposedly idealistic movements of which there are so many, had never appealed to me. But, of course, I thanked him and on my way home in the train that night I studied his notes carefully. Interesting, I thought, heart stirring a little, but that was about all except that I looked forward to further discussion of them with my friend.

Within a few days the mail brought to me an invitation to attend a "Bahá'í Meeting" in New York at which a woman from London, England, was to speak. At once I connected this with my friend and his notes. He had evidently given my name to someone and with this result. I was disturbed. I had no desire to be drawn into any movement or interest which might distract my attention from my legitimate work. I was on the point of throwing the card into the waste paper basket. Only the thought of Clarence, his selfless service, his friendship and love, deterred me. I could not refuse his request that I investigate.

So I went although it entailed an evening wasted, as I thought, and a mid-night return to my home which, in my then state of health, was a not inconsiderable hardship. How slight the occasion upon which often hang great and vital issues! Suppose that I had refused to go! Nay, suppose that Clarence had allowed his physical weakness, his need of rest that Sunday afternoon, to weigh too heavily against his desire to serve; if the material had overbalanced the spiritual in his mind that day I probably would not be writing these words twenty-five years later. Indeed, Sir Launfal to the contrary notwithstanding, Heaven is not given away, God cannot be had for the asking unless with that asking goes all that one has.

I do not remember much of what happened at the meeting--my first Bahá'í meeting. There were readings of beautiful prayers, and I had a slight feeling of regret that they had to use a book. The friend from London talked, but nothing of what she said remains. No hymns, none of the religious trappings I had been accustomed to: but there was a spirit that attracted my heart. So when the meeting was over I asked the speaker if she could recommend someone who would come over to Jersey City and tell the story to my people. She introduced me to the chairman of the meeting, Mr. Mountfort Mills, who, within a week or two, did give a talk in the Brotherhood Church. I remember his subject was The Divine Springtime. One of my people sitting in front of me, for I sat in the audience during the address, seemed enthralled. She turned to me as we all rose to leave and said in a hushed voice: "There, indeed, is a man!" Her succeeding remarks indicated her meaning: A feeling of awe for the speaker and his subject. "If we could only be sure it were all true," she concluded.

Then began a period of about three months upon which I now look back as the most remarkable of my life. The Divine Voice calling from on high seemed constantly ringing in my ears. Not that I was at all convinced of the truth underlying what I heard on every hand. In fact I did not understand half of what most of these people talked about. Sometimes I was definitely repelled and would try to put it all out of my mind. But it was no use. My heart was in a turmoil and yet incredibly attracted. The chairman, who had given the address in the Brotherhood Church, devoted much time to me, why I was at a loss to understand. At his home I met several of the Bahá'í friends. And here I received my first copy of The Seven Valleys by Bahá'u'lláh. I read it on my way home that night and it stirred me beyond measure. Not one word in ten did I understand but doors seemed to be opening before me. It was like a leit motif from a heavenly opus of which the theme could not be guessed. Certain passages struck my heart like paeans from angelic choirs. Even The Hidden Words, by Bahá'u'lláh, given me a few days before, did not approach the core of my being as did this.

I began going over almost weekly to meetings in New York. I met more of the "friends" as I heard them designated. They certainly expressed a type of friendship new to me. I bought all the books I could find and read, read, read constantly. I could hardly think of anything else. It reflected in my sermons so that my people remarked and spoke of it. Always I had written my sermons, rather priding myself on style and ratiocination. Suddenly that all dropped away. I found myself going into the pulpit with only the preparation of prayer and meditation. And what a new meaning began to attach itself to this word prayer! I had always prayed after a fashion, but since religion had become a "profession," public prayer--pulpit prayer--had to a great extent displaced personal devotions. I began vaguely to understand what communion might mean.

But I was not happy. Strange to say I was more unhappy than ever. It seemed as though the very roots of my being were rent asunder. Perhaps, I thought, when Abdu'l-Bahá arrives He will be able to calm my restless soul. Certainly none of the proponents of His cause could do it. I had tried them all.

One day I was walking with Mountfort near his home on West End Ave. It was in February and the winter winds were chill. We walked briskly talking of the ever enthralling subject, Abdu'l-Bahá's approaching visit; what He looked like; what effect His meeting had on souls; stories of contacts with Him in `Akká and Paris. Impulsively I said:

"When Abdu'l-Bahá arrives I would like very much to have a talk with Him alone, without even an interpreter."

He smiled sympathetically but remarked:

"I fear you couldn't get very far without an interpreter, for Abdu'l-Bahá speaks little English and you, I imagine, less Persian."

I would not be dissuaded. "If He at all approaches in spiritual discernment what I hear and read of Him," I said, "we would get closer together, and I might have a better chance of understanding, even if no words were spoken. I am very tired of words," I concluded rather lamely.

This was about six weeks before Abdu'l-Bahá came, two months perhaps. We never referred to the subject again nor did Mountfort speak of my wish to anyone, as he afterwards assured me.

Finally the day arrived. I did not go to the steamship wharf to meet Him but I did make an effort to get at least a glimpse of Him at a gathering specially arranged for Him at the home of Bahá'í friends. A glimpse was all I succeeded in getting. The press of eager friends and curious ones was so great that it was difficult even to get inside the doors. I have only the memory of an impressive silence most unusual at such functions. In all that crowded mass of folk, so wedged together that tea drinking was almost an impossibility, though the attempt was made, there was little or no speech. A whispered word; a remark implying awe or love, was all. I strove to get where I could at least see Him. All but impossible. At last I managed to press forward where I could peep over a shoulder and so got my first glimpse of Abdu'l-Bahá. He was seated. A cream colored fez upon His head from under which white hair flowed almost to His shoulders. His robe, what little I could see of it, was oriental, almost white. But these were incidentals to which I could pay little attention. The impressive thing, and what I have never forgotten, was an indefinable aspect of majesty combined with an exquisite courtesy. He was just in the moment of accepting a cup of tea from the hostess. Such gentleness, such love emanated from Him as I had never seen. I was not emotionally disturbed. Remember that at that time I had no conviction, almost, I might say, little or no interest in what I came later to understand by the term His "Station." I was an onlooker at a scene concerning the significance of which I was totally ignorant. Yes, ignorant. What matter that I had read and prayed! My mind was attracted and my heart, but inner doors were shut--and locked. No wonder that I was unhappy. But within my soul was an urge, a longing, that would not be stilled nor thwarted. What was it that these people around me had which gave to their eyes such illumination, to their hearts such gladness? What connotation did the word "wonderful" have to them that so often it was upon their lips? I did not know, but I wanted to know as I think I had never known the want of anything before.

The measure of that desire and the determination to discover may be indicated in that the very next morning, early, I was at the Hotel Ansonia where the friends had reserved rooms for Him--a beautiful suite which Abdu'l-Bahá used only a few days, removing to a simple apartment, and refusing with kindly dignity the urgent offer of the friends to meet any expense. He said that it was not the part of wisdom.

So before nine o'clock in the morning I was there, which meant, since I lived some distance from New York, an early start indeed. Already the large reception room was well filled. Evidently others also were conscious of a similar urge. I wondered if they too felt, as I, a burning in the breast.

I remember as if it were yesterday the scene and my impressions. I did not want to talk to anyone. In fact I would not. I withdrew to the window overlooking Broadway and turned my back upon them all. Below me stretched the great city but I saw it not. What was it all about? Why was I here? What did I expect from the coming interview: indeed how did I know there was to be any interview at all? I had no appointment. Plainly all these other folk had come expecting to see and talk with Him. Why should I expect any attention from such an evident personage?

So I was somewhat withdrawn from the others when my attention was attracted by a rustling throughout the room. A door was opening far across from me and a group was emerging and Abdu'l-Bahá appeared saying farewell. None had any eyes save for Him. Again I had the impression of a unique dignity and courtesy and love. The morning sunlight flooded the room to center on His robe. His fez was slightly tilted and as I gazed. His hand, with a gesture evidently characteristic, raised and, touching, restored it to its proper place. His eyes met mine as my fascinated glance was on Him. He smiled and, with a gesture which no word but "lordly" can describe. He beckoned me. Startled gives no hint of my sensations. Something incredible had happened. Why to me, a stranger unknown, unheard of, should He raise that friendly hand? I glanced around. Surely it was to someone else that gesture was addressed, those eyes were smiling! But there was no one near and again I looked and again He beckoned and such understanding love enveloped me that even at that distance and with a heart still cold a thrill ran through me as if a breeze from a divine morning had touched my brow!

Slowly I obeyed that imperative command and, as I approached the door where still He stood, He motioned others away and stretched His hand to me as if He had always known me. And, as our right hands met, with His left He indicated that all should leave the room, and He drew me in and closed the door. I remember how surprised the interpreter looked when he too was included in this general dismissal. But I had little thought then for anything but this incredible happening. I was absolutely alone with Abdu'l-Bahá. The halting desire expressed weeks ago was fulfilled the very moment that our eyes first met.

Still holding my hand Abdu'l-Bahá walked across the room towards where, in the window, two chairs were waiting. Even then the majesty of His tread impressed me and I felt like a child led by His father, a more than earthly father, to a comforting conference. His hand still held mine and frequently His grasp tightened and held more closely. And then, for the first time. He spoke, and in my own tongue: Softly came the assurance that I was His very dear son.

What there was in these simple words that carried such conviction to my heart I cannot say. Or was it the tone of voice and the atmosphere pervading the room, filled with spiritual vibrations beyond anything I had ever known, that melted my heart almost to tears? I only know that a sense of verity invaded me. Here at last was my Father. What earthly paternal relationship could equal this? A new and exquisite emotion all but mastered me. My throat swelled. My eyes filled. I could not have spoken had life depended on a word. I followed those masterly feet like a little child.

Then we sat in the two chairs by the window: knee to knee, eye to eye. At last He looked right into me. It was the first time since our eyes had met with His first beckoning gesture that this had happened. And now nothing intervened between us and He looked at me. He looked at me! It seemed as though never before had anyone really seen me. I felt a sense of gladness that I at last was at home, and that one who knew me utterly, my Father, in truth, was alone with me.

As He looked such play of thought found reflection in His face, that if He had talked an hour not nearly so much could have been said. A little surprise, perhaps, followed swiftly by such sympathy, such understanding, such overwhelming love--it was as if His very being opened to receive me. With that the heart within me melted and the tears flowed. I did not weep, in any ordinary sense. There was no breaking up of feature. It was as if a long-pent stream was at last undammed. Unheeded, as I looked at Him, they flowed.

He put His two thumbs to my eyes while He wiped the tears from my face; admonishing me not to cry, that one must always be happy. And He laughed. Such a ringing, boyish laugh. It was as though He had discovered the most delightful joke imaginable: a divine joke which only He could appreciate.

I could not speak. We both sat perfectly silent for what seemed a long while, and gradually a great peace came to me. Then Abdu'l-Bahá placed His hand upon my breast saying that it was the heart that speaks. Again silence: a long, heart-enthralling silence. No word further was spoken, and all the time I was with Him not one single sound came from me. But no word was necessary from me to Him. I knew that, even then, and how I thanked God it was so.

Suddenly He leaped from His chair with another laugh as though consumed with a heavenly joy. Turning, He took me under the elbows and lifted me to my feet and swept me into his arms. Such a hug! No mere embrace! My very ribs cracked. He kissed me on both cheeks, laid His arm across my shoulders and led me to the door.

That is all. But life has never been quite the same since.

Introduction   Chapter 2

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