A full century has passed since ‘Abdu’l-Baha travelled to the West from Akka, to share the blessed message that His father had brought to the world. The Guardian speaks of the significance of these travels:
…Called into being this community… at the time of the inception of His Father’s Faith in the West, …tenderly and vigilantly nursed it and guided its footsteps in the early years of its infancy, …twice conferred upon it the inestimable blessings of personal contact with its members, … sustained, from His station on high, its development in the course of no less than two decades, within the framework of a rising Administrative Order, …enabled it to expand and consolidate itself within its island home, [and] launched it, subsequently on its mission overseas… . Shoghi Effendi. God Passes By
Living in London this year has allowed me to partake of this special time. As I visit the places that He went to, my heart overflows with joy and gratitude. My mind wanders as I try to imagine what the atmosphere of these places must have been like 100 years ago and the effect His presence must have had on the people surrounding him.
The words of Lady Blomfield allow us to capture a glimpse into what it must have been like to be in the presence of the Master:
A silence as of love and awe overcame us, as we looked at Him; the gracious figure, clothed in a simple white garment, over which was a light-coloured Persian ábà; on His head He wore a low-crowned táj, round which was folded a small, fine-linen turban of purest white; His hair and short beard were of that snowy whiteness which had once been black; His eyes were large, blue-grey with long, black lashes and well-marked eyebrows; His face was a beautiful oval with warm, ivory-coloured skin, a straight, finely-modelled nose, and firm, kind mouth. These are merely outside details by which an attempt is made to convey an idea of His arresting personality. … ‘I am very much pleased with you all. Your love has drawn me to London. I waited forty years in prison to bring the Message to you, Are you pleased to receive such a guest?’ I think our souls must have answered, for I am not conscious that anyone uttered an audible word. The Chosen Highway
Today, the Master lives on in our hearts and minds and continues to surround us with His unfailing protection and watches over us as we toil hard to lay the foundation of that glorious civilization enshrined in the Revelation of His beloved Father. And as we press on with the tasks at hand, we hold ever more tightly to our connection with the Centre of the Covenant, remembering His assurance that He is always close to those who love Him and who strive to walk the path of service that He trod so heroically every moment of His beautiful life:
And now I give you a commandment which shall be for a covenant between you and Me – that ye have faith; that your faith be steadfast as a rock that no storms can move, that nothing can disturb, and that it endure through all things even to the end; even should ye hear that your Lord has been crucified, be not shaken in your faith; for I am with you always, whether living or dead, I am with you to the end. As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be. This is the balance – this is the balance – this is the balance. ‘Abdu’l-Baha in London
Lady Blomfield’s Home
On Monday, 4 September 1911, ‘Abdu’l-Baha went to the house of Lady Blomfield, at 97 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea, which was the be the base for His stay in England. On the day of His arrival, He said:
Heaven has blessed this day. It was said that London should be a place for a great proclamation of the Faith/ I was tired when I went on board the steamer, but when I reached London and beheld the faces of the friends my fatigue left me. Your great love refreshes me. I am very pleased with the English friends. ‘Abdu’l-Baha in London
The City Temple
On Sunday, 10 September 1911, ‘Abdu’l-Baha gave His first public speech at the City Temple, Holborn Circus, to over 2000 people. This was the first time He had addressed a Western audience.
O Noble friends; seekers after God! Praise be to God! Today the light of Truth is shining upon the world in its abundance; the breezes of the heavenly garden are blowing throughout all religions; the call of the Kingdom is heard in all lands, and the breath of the Holy Spirit is felt in all hearts that are faithful. The Spirit of God is giving eternal life. In this wonderful age the East is enlightened, the West is fragrant, and everywhere with joy, for there is real communication between the hearts and minds of men, The banner of the Holy Spirit is uplifted, and men see it, and are assured with the knowledge that this is a new day…
The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of fundamental oneness of religion. War shall cease between nations, and by the will of God the Most Great Peace shall come; the world will be seen as a new world, and all men will live as brothers. …
There is one God, mankind is one, the foundations of religion are one, Let us worship Him, and give praise for all His great Prophets and messengers who have manifested His brightness and glory.
The blessing of the Eternal One be with you in all its richness, that each soul according to his measure may take freely of Him. Amen. The Christian Commonwealth 13 September 1911, quoted in Abdu’l-Bahá in London
St John the Divine Church
On Sunday, 17 September 1911, Abdu’l-Bahá visited St John the Divine Church in Smith Square, Westminster, where he addressed the congregation after the evening service, at the request of the Archdeacon of Westminister.
With a few warm words characteristic of his whole attitude ARchdeacon Wilberforce introduced the revered Messenger from the East, who had crossed seas and countries on his Mission of Peace and Unity for which he had suffered forty years of captivity and persecution. The Archdeacon had the Bishop’s chair placed for his Guest on the Chancel steps, and was standing beside him reading the translation of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s address himself. The Congregation was profoundly moved and following the Archdeacon’s example knelt to receive the blessing of the Servant of God – who stood with extended arms – his wonderful voice rising and falling in the silence with the power of his invocation. As the Archdeacon said: “Truly the East and West have met in this sacred place tonight.” The hymn “O God our help in ages past” was sung by the entire assembly standing, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha and the Archdeacon passed down the aisle to the vestry hand in hand. ‘Abdu’l-Baha in London
Passmore Edward’s Settlement
On Friday, 29 September 1911, Abdu’l-Bahá gave a farewell address at the Passmore Edward’s Settlement, Tavistock Place.
A beautiful spirit prevailed on Friday evening. The atmosphere was very different from that of an ordinary meeting or religious gathering. Everyone present was enriched by the lofty spiritual tone of the proceedings; the notes struck were all in the direction of Brotherhood, Unity and Peace. ‘Abdu’l Baha in London
On Tuesday, 3 October 1911, ‘Abdu’l-Baha left London from Victoria Station and headed to Paris with a fairly large party accompanying him.
On the last morning of Abdu’l-Bahá’s stay in London many friends gathered both at Cadogan gardens and at the station to bid Him farewell. An impressive and interesting ceremony was performed at the house by a Zoroastrian (a physician), who sent an elaborate telegram to some Parsis in Bomaby, saying: “The Torch of Truth has been lighted again in the East and the West by Abdu’l-Bahá.” Instructed by his brethren, this follower of one of the most ancient religions of the world had brought with him a sacred oil of a rare perfume, with which he anointed the head and breast of Abdu’l-Bahá, afterwards touching the hands of all present. He then placed around Abdu’l-Bahá’s neck and shoulders an exquisite garland of rose-buds and lilies.
The last glimpse which the friends had at Victoria Station was that of the venerable face and form standing at the window, gazing out with a look of benevolence and wonderful tenderness of those He was leaving. ‘Abdu’l-Baha in London
Walking in His footsteps
The Universal House of Justice, in the Ridvan message for 2011, described ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s life in the following words:
Tirelessly, He expounded the teaching in every social space: in home and mission halls, churches and synagogues, parks and public squares, railway carriage and ocean liners, clubs and societies, schools and universities. Uncompromising in defense of the truth, yet infinitely gentle in manner, He brought the universal divine principles to bear on the exigencies of the age. To all without distinction – officials, scientists, workers, children, parents, exiles, activists, clerics, skeptics- He imparted love, wisdom, comfort, whatever the particular need. While elevating their souls, He challenged their assumptions, reoriented their perspectives, expanded their consciousness, and focused their energies. He demonstrated by word and deeds such compassion and generosity that hearts were utterly transformed. None was turned away. Our great hope is that frequent recollection, during this centennial period, of The Master’s matchless record will inspire and fortify His sincere admirers. Set His example before your eyes and fix your gaze upon it; let it be your instinctive guide in your pursuits of the aim of the Plan.
‘Abdu’l-Baha expended every ounce of His energy championing the Cause of God and showering His love, wisdom and care on countless souls. With all these recollections of His life, the burning desire to follow His example grows greater in my heart each day.