from the Life
of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Commemorating the Centenary of
the Passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
November 28, 1921

Read the unfolding series here.

Episode 8

October 17, 2021

The Gathering Storm

I find these two great American nations highly capable and advanced in all that appertains to progress and civilization. […] Therefore, it is my hope that these revered nations may become prominent factors in the establishment of international peace and the oneness of the world of humanity; that they may lay the foundations of equality and spiritual brotherhood among mankind; that they may manifest the highest virtues of the human world, revere the divine lights of the Prophets of God and establish the reality of unity so necessary today in the affairs of nations.
— ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Upon arriving in Montreal on 30 August 1912 and finding all doors open contrary to what He had been told, the Master spent the following nine days in a whirlwind of activity, ever dogged by fascinated journalists and interested parties from many religions and associations as well as many well-known and lesser-known people eager to meet the venerable and wise ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. And of course, there was always the poor whom He would visit and shower with generosity and love.

Welcomed into their home by William Sutherland Maxwell and his wife, May Maxwell, founder of the Montreal Bahá’í community, and two-year old daughter Mary, it was not long before the crush of people clamouring to meet with the Master forced Him to take residence at the Windsor Hotel five days later. Nevertheless, He said the Maxwell home was His own, eventually becoming the only Bahá’í shrine on North American soil. He gave talks at various halls and two mighty churches – always filled to capacity and beyond – both enthralling the captive audience with the beautiful uniting teachings of His Father, Bahá’u’lláh, but also warning of a world war to come.

On September 9, the Master left Canada for the 14-hour trip to Buffalo, stopping briefly in Brockville, Ontario along the way. A four-year old Mohawk boy, Jim Loft, liked to watch the trains fly past and on that fateful afternoon he was sitting on the fence overlooking the tracks from a distance when the grumbling earth announced the approaching train. Jim suddenly saw a man in long flowing white robes waving at him from a window and was so astonished that he fell off the fence. He later became a devoted Bahá’í, the brief but powerful vision of seeing the Master stamped on his heart and soul for the rest of his life.

Upon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s return to the U.S, although exhausted by His travels and talks, He set out for California with stops in Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Colorado before arriving in San Francisco on October 1, and when He returned east the Master stopped in Ohio and Washington DC, and then on to New York, where He boarded the SS Celtic for Europe on December 5, 1912. In almost eight months of incessant and exhausting travel and many talks that would have felled an ordinary man, the Master had by then visited 15 states and two provinces which included 50 localities where He gave over 400 talks,185 of which were recorded for posterity.

After a brief period spent in Britain, Scotland and France, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set out for an eight-day trip to Germany in April 1913, visiting Stuttgart, Esslingen, Bad Mergentheim. The Master found that the German Bahá’ís were “endued with perceptive eyes and attentive ears," and were "attracted to the principles of the oneness of mankind.” He predicted that Germany will "surpass all other regions" and "lead all the nations and peoples of Europe spiritually."

But He also spoke of the impending war that would one day engulf the centre of Europe. Even so, despite the crucible of suffering to come and however difficult, in His eyes there were always opportunities to grow spiritually:

The more difficulties one sees in the world, the more perfect one becomes. The more you plough and dig the ground, the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree, the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire, the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding, the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees, the more perfect one becomes.

The Master made a short visit to Vienna, Austria, where among a throng of people, He met with Bertha von Suttner, a peace advocate who was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and the second woman to win a Nobel Prize after Marie Curie.

He was especially pleased to visit Hungary, arriving in Budapest on April 9, 1913. “I am happy to have been able to visit Hungary," He said, "because this is the country where the culture of the West and the warm hospitality of the East meet and merge into one." There He met renowned Orientalist Arminius Vambéry, who was overcome by His presence, stating “I have seen the father of your Excellency from afar. I have realized the self-sacrifice and noble courage of his son, and I am lost in admiration.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s time in Europe was swiftly drawing to a close and not a moment too soon. His fragile state of health threatened to completely overwhelm Him, and as He made His way back to Egypt, the starting point of His astonishing journey to herald Bahá’u’lláh’s world-encompassing message of peace and justice, the 69-year-old former prisoner was preparing for a very well-earned rest. However, dark clouds were amassing over both the Master and the world.

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