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How can we understand the sublime? How can we approach the awesome? We will never form a complete appreciation for the Station of Baha’u’llah, but I believe we nevertheless have to attempt it–and there is joy in doing so!
Michael Day’s latest book, the first volume about the story of the Shrine of Baha’u’llah titled Point of Adoration, does just that. It is written with skill and reverence. I was delighted to hear from Michael about this latest book and I hope you will be too!
Could you please tell us a little bit about Point of Adoration?
The book is about the origins of the Shrine of the Baha’u’llah. The climax of the book is the funeral of Baha’u’llah and the interment of His sacred remains.
Little detail was previously available about these hugely significant events in the history of humanity in general and the Faith in particular.
It was necessary to put those events in context so I reached back to the revelation of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, when Baha’u’llah established the Qiblih.
What does each of its four parts share?
The first part of the book is called “The road to Bahji”. Essentially it starts with the revelation of the Kitab-i-Aqdas and moves forward to explain what life was like in Bahji for the Manifestation and the family and others who lived there.
The second part is called “Guests of Baha’u’llah”, and it profiles three poets who were often in the presence of Baha’u’llah; the English academic Edward Granville Browne; and those who were at various times appointed Hands of the Cause.
The third part is “Holy Writings”. It describes the amazing scenes of Baha’u’llah revealing scripture and the stunned reaction of those in His presence. It outlines the content of Tablets revealed at Bahji which the Master says teach Baha’is how to live.
The climax, the fourth part, is “The Establishment of the Shrine.” It provides in print for the first time a detailed description of how the funeral was arranged and carried out. This is followed by new descriptions of the mourning period.
What is something unexpected you learned in the process of writing this book, either about its subject, or about writing a Baha’i history in general?
After I completed the book I realised that continuing in the midst of all the many events in the life of Baha’u’llah, was an identifiable, logical, staged progression of the establishment of the Faith. It became clear that Baha’u’llah was the chief protagonist in most events rather than somebody at the mercy of them. I learned that the Manifestation cannot be fully described.
What did you feel about writing on such a sacred topic?
I wondered: “Who am I to attempt to write about it?”
However, being a journalist by profession, I felt it was my role to write about the Faith, and I was very curious about this Shrine. I advised the Universal House of Justice of my intention to write about the Shrine. I was please to receive general guidance.
The beloved Guardian referred to “future historians”. He wrote that he hoped to “recast the truths of the Faith in a new form.” 1 So in our era I think we writers should too. I also noticed the direction by Baha’u’llah in the Tablet of Ahmad to “remember My days during thy days”.
I remember you once said, when describing the process of writing the trilogy of books about the Shrine of the Bab, that you had a note in your writing space that said, “it’s about the Shrine” to help remind you that as amazing as some of the side stories are, to stick to the subject at hand. Did you need to use the same note?
Yes. I used contextual information that I thought was relevant to the story of the Shrine. I also decided on a structure that would make each chapter a stand-alone, informative, relevant and exciting essay, yet at the same time carry the narrative forward.
Did a lot of material not make it into this book? What in particular?
A lot of fascinating material was on a tangent to the narrative so I put it in the footnotes. I spent months working on Edward Granville Browne but forced myself to retain only the relevant information. It took the assistance of a British academic to realise Browne was not driven by a personal interest in religion. I plan to complete Browne’s amazing story in future volumes. I earnestly advise all Baha’is to read his very readable masterpiece, A Year Among the Persians.
What else are you working on?
I am in the last weeks of completing a history of the monuments and buildings on the Arc on Mount Carmel (1891-2001). I have also started the second volume of the story of the Shrine of Baha’u’llah. It covers the period 1892 to 1921, the time of the Master’s ministry. It is very exciting to me. As He points out: “..[A]fter His ascension, the Ancient Beauty graciously aided His blessed Cause a hundredfold…” 2
What have you learned about writing Baha’i histories that differ from perhaps how other histories are written?
While undertaking this role, magical, astounding things happen as do painful tests. I find confirmation and comfort for this personal experience in The Fire Tablet.
Baha’i historians have the priceless privilege of living many hours of their lives with thoughts in their minds of the greatest figures in the story of humanity. Nothing I know compares with it.
Has the writing of this book changed how you think of the Shrine?
I now think about lots of the things that happened there between 1879-1892 and who was there. When I went back there in 2019 after 13 years away and in the midst of writing this book, I sat at the back, with my prayer book at the ready, but I did not open it. I just luxuriated in the peace of this sacred place.
What else did this era make you think about?
I look at today’s great issues such as pandemics, climate change, nuclear weapons, growing extremes of wealth and poverty, and runway artificial intelligence technology. All these issues are global in effect so we must find global solutions. This is powerful confirmation of the wisdom of Baha’u’llah’s teachings that “the earth is but one country”, and that world unity is vital to solve the problems that threaten world peace.
Thank you, Michael, for taking the time to share this with us!
- Riaz Khadem, Shoghi Effendi in Oxford. Oxford: George Ronald, 1999
- Baha’i International Community, Light of the World, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahai of Australia, 2021, p. 91
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