Ridvan celebrates Baha’u’llah’s time in the garden of Ridvan where He publicly declared His station as a Manifestation of God. The Ridvan Festival is 12 days long and is also the time of year where Baha’is elect their governing bodies.
In His Will, Baha’u’llah instructed all to turn to His eldest Son, Abdu’l-Baha, not only as the authorized interpreter of the Baha’i Writings but also as the perfect exemplar of the Baha’i Faith’s spirit and teachings. Every year Baha’is celebrate Abdu’l-Baha as the Centre of Baha’u’llah Covenant.
Abdu’l-Baha was the eldest son of Baha’u’llah who referred to Him as “the Mystery of God” and “a shelter for all mankind”, however Abdu’l-Baha preferred to be called “Abdu’l-Baha” which means “the Servant of Baha” in reference to His servitude to Baha’u’llah. When Abdu’l-Baha passed away on 28 November 1921, He was eulogized as One who led humanity to the “Way of Truth,” as a “pillar of peace” and the embodiment of “glory and greatness.”
Honouring Abdu’l-Baha by Singing Louise Waite’s “Benediction”
I would like to honour Abdu’l-Baha by sharing a song that He loved. The song, called “Benediction”, was composed by Louise Waite in March 1909 and was sung at many Nineteen Day Feasts in the United States. It was also translated into many languages and has been since sung all over the world. Abdu’l-Baha wrote to the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Chicago about this song saying:
“I ask God that this song may be sung eternally and this anthem and melody become everlasting.” 1
What better way to celebrate the Day of the Covenant or commemorate the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha than to honour His wish?
Louise Robinson Waite, née Spencer, was born in Wisconsin in 1866. She found the Baha’i Faith in the final years of the 19th century. She married Edgar F. Waite in 1902 and they led a life of service together. During her life, she was blessed to receive more than 40 tablets from Abdu’l-Baha. In addition, she visited the Master on pilgrimage in 1909 during which Abdu’l-Baha gave her the name Shahnaz, meaning “royal falcon” as well as being a musical scale in Arabic and Persian music. The Master also presented her with one of His own pens. Louise Waite had the bounty of attaining His presence again during the Master’s visit in Chicago in 1912. In addition to writing music, Louise Waite wrote poetry and was a passionate teacher of the Faith. She served on the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Los Angeles and was its secretary for many years.
Abdu’l-Baha wrote many tablets to North American Baha’is encouraging the use of singing and music at Baha’i meetings. In one of these letters, addressed to Louise, Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
“…Baha’u’llah, in this glorious period has revealed in Holy Tablets that singing and music are the spiritual food of the hearts and souls. In this dispensation, music is one of the arts that is highly approved and is considered to be the cause of the exaltation of sad and despondent hearts.” 2
Louise Waite looked upon her compositional ability as a gift of faith rather than a personal accomplishment and felt that the songs she wrote were given to her. She wrote about how the song “Benediction” came to her after attending the last day of the Baha’i Temple Unity Convention held at the house of Corinne True:
“On Tuesday March 23rd  the last session of the first Bahai Temple Unity Convention was held in Mrs. True’s home, and she had engaged luncheon for all of the delegates at a little restaurant near by, kept by one of the believers. I went there at 10 A.M. to help her prepare for them. Five other of the dear sisters were there, and we all worked hard until 2:30. I came home very very tired, but O! so happy! On my way home—it was only about four blocks from my house—I heard in my innermost soul these words—
May God’s Love now hover o’er us
As a dove with outstretched wings,
While His Peace that flows around us,
To each heart sweet comfort brings;
May we now receive His Spirit,
And Its radiance shed afar;
Now and here in Love abiding—
In the realms of El-Abha.
The music—tender and beautiful—came with it. I hastened home and sat down to my piano entranced. O! if you dearly loved one could have heard and felt what I did then. I pray God that I have caught enough of that marvelous essence and held it fast in this Benediction, that I may share my joy with all mankind. I felt and spiritually saw that blessed white Dove actually hovering over me, pure, white, and glistening, and the Spirit of Peace that emanated from it fell in heavenly showers upon me. I lost Louise Waite forever. I was baptized with a New Name and I sailed out upon a great ocean of Peace, Love and Life, and exquisite Harmony and Melody and my White Dove was still with me and also Abdul Baha’s tender words: ‘I pray God to make thee a sign of Love, a standard of agreement, a means of Harmony and a spreader of Peace amongst all peoples.’ 3 Surely those who hear or sing this Benediction must feel in a measure what I so blissfully felt, and feel the PRESENCE that seemed to be with me as I played it over and over. To me every note tells a wondrous story of LOVE and PEACE and the ecstatic Joy of the intaking of the Holy Spirit with all Its ‘quickening Powers’ – which is LIFE.” 4
Shoghi Effendi desired to add music to the issues of Baha’i World and he personally selected the music for volumes IV, V and VI (from 1932-1936), including a total of 15 of Louise Waite’s hymns over the three volumes. 5
Louise loved music and was so moved by the encouragement she received from Abdu’l-Baha to be a “composer of poetry which touches Divine Realities and Significances”. He assured her that her music would as well.
Louise Waite wrote a beautiful poem regarding the spiritual power of music:
“In the final analysis of all things, physically, mentally and spiritually, we are brought face to face with the great truth that Life is Love, and Love is Life, and its audible Voice is MUSIC.
Music to the realm of Spirit, to the realm of Love belongs,
And the heart becomes enraptured thru sweet melodies and
Music cheers and music strengthens, music lifts our souls
Music is the heart’s own language;
Music is the Voice of Love.”
In a letter written to her on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, she was informed that “the Guardian wishes you to remain assured that your hymns, as promised by our beloved Master, will be sung by the believers & will be increasingly appreciated by them.” 6 Louise passed away in May 1939. Shoghi Effendi wrote in a cable a few days later:
“Passing of Shahnaz, beloved pioneer, deeply lamented. Record (of her) outstanding services imperishable. Reward assured. Ardent prayers.” 7
For the Day of the Covenant and to commemorate the passing of Abdu’l-Baha, let us sing “Benediction” which Abdu’l-Baha counsels us to “sing this melody in all gatherings of love and harmony of the beloved of God.” 8
Footnotes & Citations
Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 14, Issue 9, December 1923[↩]
Extract of a letter from Abdu’l-Baha addressed to Louise Waite in 1912. Published in Baha’i World Faith: Selected Writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha“, rev. ed. (Wilmette: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1976), p. 378[↩]
Extract from a tablet written by Abdu’l-Baha’s to Louise Waite in 1902[↩]
Papers of Louise Waite: Waite to Brittingham, 5 April 1909[↩]
All her songs are now in the public domain because they were written more than 70 years ago. Here is a list of those hymns which can be found in online copies of Star of the West: Prelude – Temple Song – Great Day of God – His glorious Sun has Risen – Tell the Wondrous Story – Benediction – I Will Follow Thee – Praise Thee O God – The Day of Certainty – The Temple Beautiful – Anthem of All Nations – Awake Ye Nations All – Song of the Covenant – Sweet Peace – Song of Thanksgiving[↩]
Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to Louise R. Waite, dated 21 January 1938, published in the Baha’i World, Vol. 8[↩]
Cable sent by the Guardian to the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Los Angeles, California dated 2 June, 1939[↩]
Abdu’l-Baha wrote this comment on a copy of the first printed edition of Benediction which Louise Waite presented to Him in Haifa during her pilgrimage in 1909.[↩]
Lorraine is a passionate advocate for sacred choral music as well as music education and firmly believes that we can all develop our inner musicianship to our heart’s content. Her favourite activities are conducting choirs, dabbling in writing choral music in English and French, and reading about the science of music. She is trying to write a book about it, but often gets side-tracked into writing shorter articles or making short videos. Born in Montreal, she now lives in Melbourne with her husband, Alan, and together they love doing anything music-related, in addition to dreaming about moving up to Queensland to bask in warmer weather. Lorraine holds a Master’s Degree in Vocal Pedagogy, a Bachelor's Degree (Hons.) in Music and a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications.