June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
Although we’ve only spent a few hours in each other’s company, I have a profound respect and love for Kathryn Hogenson. You may know her from her book Lighting the Western Sky or from when she appeared on the Baha’i Blogcast in a special episode dedicated to Abdu’l-Baha (which you can listen to here).
She has penned a new book called Infinite Horizons: The Life and Times of Horace Holleyand I’m eager to hear all about it. Here’s what Kathryn graciously shared with us about this book, what she learned in the process of writing it, why biographies of Hands of the Cause are precious, and what reading about Horace Holley’s life can teach us about service to humanity:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a sister, and a Virginian transplanted to Florida. From my earliest years, I was unexplainably religious, so when I heard about the Baha’i Faith for the first time at age 19 at a Seals & Crofts concert in my hometown, Richmond, I immediately responded to it and within less than two months enrolled. That was almost 50 years ago. From that point on, the Faith has become more and more the centre of my life. I am also a lawyer with a lifelong love of history, but even though I have worked in the legal field, most of my career has been spent working for either the Universal House of Justice at the World Centre or for the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States. While in Haifa, I discovered the pleasure of researching Baha’i history and writing what I found as a story. The result was Lighting the Western Sky: The Hearst Pilgrimage and the Establishment of the Baha’i Faith in the West which was published in 2010. It has been a great joy to connect with people from across the globe who have read that book.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about Infinite Horizons: The Life and Times of Horace Holley?
When Lighting the Western Sky was finished, the lovely people at George Ronald Publisherurged me to write another. Researching and writing the first book was such fun that I willingly looked for another project, but I wanted to find one that wasneeded. Horace appealed to me because he was keenly interested in current affairs and government—interests I share with him. Also, having worked within the secretariat of the National Spiritual Assembly, I knew about and appreciated his work as National Secretary. But what made him a riveting person to spend time with was the story of his life and spiritual journey, his experiences as a poet, playwright, essayist and art gallery owner, his family tragedies, his deep New England roots and his years in Italy, Paris, and New York City. He was never dull.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to tell Horace Holley’s life story?
Every Hand of the Cause of God deserves a biography. Forty years ago, I heard historian Firuz Kazemzadeh say that a proper general history of the Faith could not be written until there were more biographies, so writing about those who contributed to the advancement of the Faith is, to me, an important contribution. The early believers inspire future generations.
Horace is far more articulate than I will ever be and an exceptionally deep thinker. He examines spiritual truths from new and unexpected angles. I found him challenging to read because his writings are so complex—as a poet his prose is very succinct with each word taking on added meaning. I think he is truly a man for the ages who will be revered and read for thousands of years so it was a privilege to attempt to do his remarkable life justice. I should add that he was also very funny with a hint of mischief. AND, best of all, he spent many hours with Abdu’l-Baha in France.
Baha’i Blog: What was something you learned in the process of compiling this book?
Horace’s life provides the lesson of timeliness. Good ideas might be too early to be implemented. The title of the book “Infinite Horizons” is lifted from a line of one of his many published essays. He could see far into the future and wanted to quickly move the Faith, and mankind with it, to the Golden Age. He was passionate about preventing World War II, and was certain that providing the teachings of the Faith to the right people would be the best means of keeping humanity from jumping off the cliff, but it was too early to reach the kings and rulers, the leaders of thought, though he tried mightily to do so. Finally, Shoghi Effendi told him he was wasting his time. He was humble enough to accept that that was true.
Horace also shows us that it is important to keep ever before our eyes the vision of the Faith—the possibilities for a wonderful world when at last the Baha’i world commonwealth comes into existence. The establishment of the Universal House of Justice was the first step to achieving that end and he recognized that truth during his earliest days as a Baha’i. Bringing the House of Justice into reality became his life’s goal, but alas, he did not live long enough to see it.
Baha’i Blog: What can we learn about Horace Holley as it relates to service to humanity?
Horace served humanity by staying at his desk, by writing, by keeping up with the world and thinking deeply about how to apply the revelation of Baha’u’llah to it. There are many vital roles that serve humanity and each of us must find the one that we are best suited to carry out. Horace was repeatedly told by Shoghi Effendi that he was needed first and foremost as a Baha’i administrator. That was certainly not as exciting as going to an exotic place as a pioneer but instead required long hours of drudgery and listening to other believers complain, yet it was essential work. Horace knew he was helping to build the foundation of a future reordering of life on this planet. Like the workers putting rough stones in place for the foundation of a grand cathedral they will never live to see, he understood that only future generations would reap the true benefits of his service.
In 1914, Horace experienced first-hand the horrors of World War I. Forever after, he was devoted to doing whatever he could with his pen to hasten the day when war would be eradicated from the planet, the day when the genuine peace of Baha’u’llah would reign.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you, Kathryn, for taking the time to share this with Baha’i Blog’s readers!
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.