Declaration of the Bab

  • In 1844, Siyyid Ali-Muhammad (known by His title, the Bab, which means "the Gate") announced that He was the bearer of a Divine Revelation whose aim was to prepare the world for a Messenger of God--Baha'u'llah. The anniversary of that declaration is celebrated by Baha'is and their friends all over the world.
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Monthly Reflection: Jamal – On Expressions of Beauty in the Life of Effie Baker

April 26, 2024, in Articles > Baha'i Blog, by

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On March 25th, 1880, a baby girl was born in Goldsborough, Victoria. At the tender age of six, she was sent to live with her grandparents. The little girl’s name was Effie Baker, and her grandfather, Henry Evans Baker, was a former sea captain. After having made his fortune in gold mining, he pursued his passion at the Ballarat Observatory, where he built the famous Baker telescope, the first of its kind in Australia. Captain Baker nurtured Effie’s interest in scientific instruments and creative expression. At a time in history when women were not encouraged to pursue careers, one of Effie’s aunts worked at the observatory while also holding down a day job as a teacher. Another aunt, Elizabeth, was an award-winning photographer who used the Baker telescope to help her capture photographs of the night’s sky. Elizabeth gifted Effie her first camera, and encouraged her to pursue her love of photography to capture the beauty and mystery of the natural world.

Effie went on to become a talented artist. Her early photography depicted the Australian landscape, its flora and fauna, and the ways that settlers interacted with the natural world. She also mastered the art of model and dollhouse building—skills that were to prove useful later in ways she never could have imagined.

In 1920 Effie met Clara and Hyde Dunne—Baha’is from California who had traveled to Australia to share the message of Baha’u’llah. This meeting led to Effie becoming the first Australian woman to declare her belief in Baha’u’llah, a decision that completely altered the course of her life.

Baha’i Blog produced a short documentary film about the life of Effie Baker just as I was preparing to write this newsletter. Learning more about her life has helped me to become more conscious about how I can more intentionally reflect the perfection of the natural world through my creative work, and how striving to acquire spiritual virtues can magnify the beauty of the divine, so I wanted to share a little about what the film has taught me.

Effie’s fateful meeting with the Dunns was followed almost immediately by a diagnosis of lead poisoning caused by her practice of wetting her paintbrush with her tongue. Her physician urged her to take a break from painting at the same time as the Dunns were travelling around Australia, so Effie decided to join them. During this time, she met Martha Root, another strong, trailblazing female teacher of the Faith who suggested that Effie travel to Haifa to meet Shoghi Effendi. Perhaps partially inspired by her own grandfather’s seafaring adventures and the yearning of her own burning heart, Effie set off for Palestine. What followed were many years of living in Haifa serving as the hostess at the western pilgrim house, a nine-month trip to Iran to photograph places and objects related to pivotal moments in the history of the Baha’i Faith (many of which we continue enjoy today when we study The Dawn-Breakers), and using her photography and model building skills to support Shoghi Effendi as he developed his plans for the properties on Mount Carmel.  

Effie’s story illuminated many facets of beauty for me. Her attraction to depicting the natural world in her artwork is an expression of her desire to reflect the beauty of God in her work. Baha’u’llah has told us that “Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.”1 The courage and devotion with which she carried out the task of photographing the progressive beautification of Mount Carmel and the history of the Baha’i Faith in Iran made me think about the beauty latent in the acquisition and perfection of virtues. Effie herself mentions cheerful self-subordination and a spirit of devoted cooperation as virtues that she admired in others (and to which she seems to have apprenticed herself), and her fidelity to the Faith and the Guardian are notable throughout her life. Her commitment to living the principles of the independent investigation of truth and the equality of women and men is another example to me of her soul’s desire to reflect the beauty of Baha’u’llah’s teachings.

Effie’s story left me thinking about the power of divine confirmations that we open ourselves to when we align our will with the Will of God. I’m stuck by how every little detail of Effie’s life came together so perfectly. There is profound power and beauty in what is possible when the unique circumstances, talents and capacities of an individual are harnessed by divine inspiration in service to the wellbeing of humanity. It makes me wonder if Effie knew how much she was embodying these words of the Bab: “Thou art the Lord of bounty and grace, invincible in Thy power and the most skillful in Thy designs.”

I finished watching the documentary asking myself how I can better apprentice myself to the Will of God so that the creative skills I possess and the spiritual qualities that lie latent within me better reflect of the beauty of God, and be used in the service of humanity?

I hope what I’ve shared encourages you to watch the film, and that it generates deeper reflection upon the meaning and purpose of beauty in your life too!   

  1. Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 142 []
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Ariana Salvo

Ariana Salvo was born in the United States, and spent sixteen years of her childhood on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. She moved to Prince Edward Island to do her master’s degree in Island Studies, fell in love with the tightly knit community, and has never left. When not writing, she can be found exploring art at galleries around the world, flower farming, traveling to remote islands, hiking and taking photos of the wild natural landscapes of Canada’s eastern shore, teaching English to international students and reading historical fiction with a good cup of tea.
Ariana Salvo

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