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All the forces of the Universe . . .

Posted by Sen on May 4, 2010

This letter from Abdu’l-Baha to Mr. and Mrs. MacNutt, written in July 1919, is interesting for its mention of an incident during Abdu’l-Baha’s time in America, when one of his entourage used his position to beg for money, for its characterisation of the fruitlessness activities of the followers of Kheiralla and Mirza Muhammad Ali as foam on the ocean waves, for the loving mention of Lua Getsinger, who had died three years earlier, and not least because it is one of the few works of Abdu’l-Baha translated by Shoghi Effendi.

The letter is published in Star of the West in November 1920 (Vol. 11, number 14, p. 240). It has not been published in English since then, so far as I can ascertain, except for one paragraph beginning “Today, the Lord of Hosts is the defender …” which is included in Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, page 228. The Persian text is published in Ma’ideh Asmani but this does not include the postscript which is attached to the English translation. <

I have put some notes in the first of the ‘comments’ to this page: please feel free to add any further information you may have.

To their honors Mr. and Mrs. Howard MacNutt, Brooklyn, N. Y. Upon them be Baha’o’llah el-Abha!

O ye two blessed souls!

Your letter was received. Praise be to God! ye are glad, ye are full of joy and fragrance, and are safe and protected under the shelter of the Merciful One.

Today those who are firm in the Covenant are soaring by the Bounties of the Holy Spirit in lofty regions, while the wavering ones are depressed, dejected and afflicted with a thousand pains and calamities. This is because the confirmations of the Abha Kingdom have been cut off from them. They have been deprived of the Light of the Sun of Truth and have had no share from the breezes of the Holy Spirit. They resemble those souls who arose to agitate the minds of men after the time of Christ. Each one, by every subtle means, gathered around himself a group of souls, but all were eventually led to face disappointment, loss and failure. This was because the result of their principles was like unto a tree destitute of roots, or like the ocean foam. A rootless tree, no matter how tall and hardy it may seem, will ultimately wither away, and the ocean foam, however formidable it may appear, shall at last vanish and disappear.

Arius, the patriarch at Constantinople, gathered around himself a million and a half followers. He even secured the adherence of the Emperor, but as his basis was not secure, he vanished and was exterminated. What then will the violators do who are only a small number of feeble and insignificant souls? For thirty years they have endeavored and at last they succeeded in drawing around them a few thoughtless persons and some unbalanced and undignified women. Soon ye shall see that even this small group will scatter.

How strange it is in America! When I went to Green Acre, I saw an idolatrous East Indian, insignificant, unpleasant and offensive in appearance – whom even animals would avoid; he had gathered around himself a group of people, had chosen a distant tree, and every morning before sunrise would run and hasten barefooted toward it, accompanied by a number of women. They would reach it tired and exhausted, and there would fall upon the ground as if they were worshipping an idol from among the idols of India. After several days had elapsed, by subtle methods he begged a few dollars from those persons and then returned to India.

In brief, my purpose is to show that whatever call is raised or proclaimed in America, a group will doubtless gather around it; while, on the other hand, the Oriental Friends (Bahais) are firm like unto the immovable mountains. For thirty years have the violators striven to undermine the Cause, but they have failed even to attract to their side their own kindred and relatives. That is why, undoubtedly, in Persia, twenty thousand Bahais have been martyred and severe tests have been brought about. Yet, praise be to God! not even a single soul among the Friends wavered. The violators in America do nothing but flatter, seduce and show a love that is insincere. Consider what they did to poor Lua (Getsinger) and how unfaithful they have been to her!

In short, take into consideration the outcomes and not the beginning. Every follower of error mentions the name of Truth, and even the enemies of Christ have declared in the name of God that Christ was a liar and an infidel – that He destroyed the foundation of honor, that He was the breaker of the Sabbath day and the associate of immoral persons. Although outwardly this charge was upholding the Cause of the Old Testament, and took into consideration the Religion of God, yet the underlying purpose was nothing but to overthrow the Divine Structure and to debase the exalted Christ. Although on the surface they seemed to defend the Cause of God, yet inwardly their purpose was manifest error.

Finally, ye know how considerate I have been with some souls how much love and kindness I have shown them and at last found out that the Cause of God would be disgraced. I refused the three thousand pounds which ye gathered for the expense of my travel to America, and during my sojourn in that land did not accept anything from any person. Then I saw that secretly and for varied motives, unworthy actions were being manifested. Consider my feelings! My purpose was to demonstrate the independence and contentment of the Servants of God. Ye know that I did not accept anything from any person and acted in accordance with the admonition of Christ, who said that whenever ye leave a city, shake off even its dust from your shoes. Notwithstanding that unworthy behavior, I was still patient. All were my guests. I daily paid their expenses, showed them the utmost loving consideration and then paid fully to all of them their entire expenses. Up to the present time, after all this assistance and love, this has been my reward. What will be the recompense of those who have not shown this love and consideration?

In brief: The Covenant is like unto the ocean which preserves Bahai Unity, and these souls are like unto the foam upon it. They manifest a temporary activity, but soon, like unto Judas Iscariot and his associates and those who approved of his conduct, they shall be completely forgotten. The ocean of the Covenant, on the other hand, is eternally surging, for it preserves Bahai Unity.

At present arise ye with all your power to promulgate the Covenant and expound these matters to those who are weak and feeble and tell them that communities after Christ have opposed this clear and explicit declaration when He said to Peter: “Thou art the rock and upon this rock I shall build My Temple,” and have thus been wholly deprived of the breaths of the Holy Spirit and have been ruined and exterminated.

Today, the Lord of Hosts is the defender of the Covenant, the forces of the Kingdom protect it, heavenly souls tender their services, and heavenly angels promulgate and spread it broadcast. If it is considered with insight, it will be seen that all the forces of the Universe, in the last analysis serve the Covenant. In the future it shall be made evident and manifest. In view of this fact, what can these weak and feeble souls achieve? Hardy plants that are destitute of roots and are deprived of the outpourings of the cloud of mercy will not last. What then may be expected from the young weeds?

Consider what a commotion the Theosophists have produced in Europe and America. At present their influence is waning, for their foundation was not as strong as it should be. What then will the violators do?

The days I spent as a guest at your home will never be forgotten, for through the Divine Bestowals and the breaths of the Holy Spirit, Abdul-Baha was so stirred that the effect will not pass from memory. I pray God that those days may be renewed. Strive as much as ye are able not to sell that house; let it remain permanently a sign (or memorial) of yourselves. I often think of you and desire that you become a hotly enkindled flame, bestowing heat and light upon the surrounding regions. Not until the power of heat is intensified in the body of man, will growth and development take place as they should.

I supplicate and entreat to the Abha Kingdom and beg again for ye a fresh confirmation. I beseech for Mr. MacNutt the fluency of Peter and the eloquence of Paul.

Convey on my behalf the utmost love and kindness to the two respected souls, Victor Harvell and Roy Herrick. My hope is that they may be confirmed in service to the Kingdom of God and may secure every day a new power.

Upon ye be Baha El Abha!
(Signed) Abdul-Baha Abbas.
P. S. Thy last letter, dated July 21st, 1919, has been received. It imparted the glad tidings of the promulgation of the Word of God in those regions. For Abdul Baha no joy and pleasure remain save in the glad tidings of the exaltation of the Word of God. Therefore as thou hast written of the efforts put forth by the friends for the diffusion of the Divine Fragrance and hast mentioned that thy time is confined to raising the Call of the Kingdom and consecrated in service to the Cause of God, this news was considered as glad tidings, and my hope is that thou mayest attain remarkable confirmations and mighty assistance. He says that whosoever draws a span nearer to God, Divine Providence will approach a meter toward him. Assuredly if man rises as he ought to in service to the Kingdom, the Spirit of the Divine Kingdom will encompass him.

Concerning the book about which thou hast written in thy letter: – It is highly suitable for thee to write such a book, and if this effort is realized, it is highly acceptable. Convey on my behalf to the respected maid servant of God, Mrs. MacNutt, the utmost love and kindness. If the principle of amity and unity, which is one of the principles of His Holiness Baha’o’llah, is strengthened among the friends – and if firmness in the Covenant renders the breakers of the Covenant hopeless and at a loss, this like unto a magnetic power will attract Abdul-Baha to America.

(Translated by Shoghi Rabbani, Behjeh, Acca, Palestine, July 24th, 1919.

Similar tablets:
To the Spiritual Assembly of Los Angeles (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 210), also translated by Shoghi Effendi, and other tablets in Selections from page 208 to 224.

Related posts:
Abdu’l-Baha’s last tablet to America
A Tablet on suffering and separation

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3 Responses to “All the forces of the Universe . . .”

  1. Sen said

    Notes to Abdu’l-Baha’s tablet “All the forces of the universe”

    Mr. and Mrs. Howard MacNutt
    Howard MacNutt and his wife Mary became Bahais in New York in 1898, through the work of Ibrahim Kheiralla. In 1905 they made a pilgrimage to meet Abdu’l-Baha in Palestine, and they hosted Abdu’l-Baha in their house in Brooklyn: he spoke there on 12 April and 16 April, and was filmed there on 18 June. He mentions this visit warmly in the letter. Howard MacNutt took notes of a number of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks, and edited The Promulgation of Universal Peace, which collects such reports. (See A consummate union). For further details and sources see Robert Stockman’s (unpublished) encyclopaedia article.

    Arius, the Patriarch at Constantinople…
    The Persian text in Ma’ideh Asmani says ‘Patriarch of Alexandria,’ which is correct (his formal designation would have been ‘Bishop of Alexandria’ since the see only became a Patriarchate after the time of Arius), but the Star of the West has ‘Constantinople.’ There are various possibilities here:
    – Shoghi Effendi for some reason thought that Constantinople would be clearer, or he made a mistake;
    – A mistake was made in the editing and typesetting of Star of the West; or
    – Abdu’l-Baha called Arius the Patriarch of Constantinople, and Shoghi Effendi translated it as such, but the text was later corrected when published in Ma’ideh Asmani.

    The first two are inherently unlikely: the words are not similar. As for the third, Ma’ideh Asmani is a reliable source, although the text of this tablet does contain one typesetting error (a missing negative). However, since Abdu’l-Baha calls Arius the Patriarch of Alexandria in his letter to Ella Cooper, composed one month before his letter to the MacNutts (see the next note), it seems most unlikely that he would have said “Patriarch of Constantinople” here. This leaves us with the first two alternatives: a mistake that neither the translator, nor an editor or typesetter, would be likely to make. And God knows best.

    A million and a half followers
    Abdu’l-Baha had written a tablet to Louise Waite in March of the same year, which also mentions Arius and his one and a half million followers, using the image of the sea and the foam to show the ineffectuality of breaches of unity (Star of the West volume 10 page 96). A Tablet to Roy Wilhelm dated April 26, 1919, refers to three million followers of Arius. (Star of the West volume 10 page 95). Another to Ella Cooper in June 1919 refers to Arius as the Patriarch of Alexandria, and his followers as numbering one and a half million. (Star of the West vol. 10, 263. All of these tablets are translated by Shoghi Effendi. Another tablet which appears not to have been translated, again calls Arius the Patriarch of Alexandria and refers to one and a half million followers.

    These figures would be too high if they referred to the lifetime of Arius, but not for later periods. In 538, some 300,000 Catholics were massacred by Arians in Milan, which must surely indicate quite substantial numbers of Arians, and Edward Gibbon cites Clovis as saying that the Arians possessed the fairest portions of Gaul. (Clovis invited the Franks to “march against them with the aid of God; and, having vanquished the heretics, … possess and divide their fertile provinces…” which nicely illustrates the mixed motives that arise once factionalism is established in a religion.)

    For thirty years
    This period is presumably an approximate period. The same period is mentioned in a similar tablet written to the Spiritual Assembly of Los Angeles, and translated by Shoghi Effendi on Jul. 23, 1919, much of which is published in Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, from p. 210). Mirza Muhammad Ali had begun to work against Abdu’l-Baha soon after Baha’u’llah’s death in 1892, but this remained limited to the local Bahai community in the Holy Land, because Abdu’l-Baha prevented the local Bahais mentioning Muhammad Ali’s activities in their letters, to preserve Muhammad Ali’s reputation as much as possible. In 1896, 23 years before the date of this letter, Muhammad-Ali himself announced his rebellion in letters he sent to the Persian Bahais in Iran and elsewhere.

    When I went to Green Acre
    This refers to a conference centre in Maine which Abdu’l-Baha visited in August, 1912. H.M. Balyuzi writes:

    In 1894, in the wake of the Chicago Columbian Exposition of the previous year, Miss Sarah J. Farmer, a woman highly enlightened, had opened the estate as a conference centre for people of advanced and liberal views. Two years later she embraced the Baha’i Faith. And when she went on pilgrimage to ‘Akka, she offered the facilities of Green Acre to ‘Abdu’l-Baha. …. Some of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s efforts, during the week He stayed in the Inn at Green Acre, were inevitably directed towards countering the effects of the eccentric ideas being disseminated by various pseudo-mystics and cranks who were attracted to the free platform provided there.
    (Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 240)

    Consider what they did to poor Lua

    Lua Getsinger: (1871-1916), for a biography see Velda Metelmann Lua Getsinger; Herald of the Covenant; for the divorce see page 320ff.

    Lua and Edward Getsinger were sent by ‘Abdu’l-Baha to India on a teaching trip in 1914-1915, following which Lua went to ‘Akka and then to Egypt, where she died in 1916. Edward apparently returned directly to the United States: he filed for divorce in Washington DC on August 12, 1915, on grounds of infidelity, and named Fareed (Farid, see below) as Lua’s lover. There had apparently been previous rumours to that effect. These rumours and the divorce suit appear to be the most likely reference.

    The three thousand pounds which ye gathered..
    The Persian text says “three thousand lira,” which raises the possibility that the amount was in Lebanese pounds, called ‘lira’ in Arabic. However H.M. Balyuzi notes “American Baha’is were pleading hard for His presence in their midst. They raised 3,200 pounds sterling for the expenses of His journey. ‘Abdu’l-Baha thanked them and returned the money.” (Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 171)

    Abdu’l-Baha must have had a substantial private income by the time he made his journeys to the West. His business affairs can be glimpsed in various anecdotes about him, from which it appears that he engaged in what we would call micro-credit, and that he bought agricultural land or encouraged others to buy it, introduced modern farming methods to make it profitable, ran mule trains to get the products to the harbour and market, and had substantial grain storage facilities. Equally important, he and his household lived modestly. I doubt that his personal wealth was kept separate from the donations the Bahais made to him as Head of the Faith, in the form of separate accounts, but from these impressions of the scale of his business activities, and of the modesty of his household, it seems likely that he was contributing to what we would call ‘the Bahai Fund,’ during these years, rather than drawing from it.

    It’s likely that much of this wealth was lost during the First World War, through destruction and because Abdu’l-Baha emptied his grain stores to feed the people, as well as providing cash charity, but at the time he is speaking of in this letter, we can picture him as a rather successful local entrepreneur, as well as a religious leader and philanthropist, and leading intellectual.

    Abdu’l-Baha’s economic independence has some relevance to another post on this blog, Muhammad Ali revived? (2), since one of the accusations that Mirza Muhammad Ali made against Abdu’l-Baha was that Abdu’l-Baha kept Muhammad Ali in poverty (as if Muhammad Ali was for some reason incapable of making a living for himself) and did not share the gifts he (Abdu’l-Baha) received, yet multiple reports from Bahais in Abdu’l-Baha’s household speak of Abdu’l-Baha being generous with his faithless brothers over many years, even after Muhammad Ali had ceased to contribute to the work of the Faith. The possibilities for understanding what was going on are broadened, if we think that Abdu’l-Baha not only had Bahai funds under his control and a duty to dispense them for the welfare of the Bahais and the progress of the Faith, but also a substantial income of his own and family obligations as brother (and brother-in-law), and uncle and grand-uncle to an extended family.

    I saw that secretly and for varied motives, unworthy actions were being manifested. ..
    Marzieh Gail reports, “After returning to the Holy Land ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent Dr Baghdadi a Tablet, and directed that copies be distributed to every community so that all could read it. The Master wrote here that during His stay in America He had forgiven a certain member of His suite [i.e., entourage] four times, but that He would forgive the man’s misdeeds no longer.” (Arches of the Years, p. 96) From an account in Eight Years Near Abdu’l-Baha: The Diary of Dr. Habib Mu’ayyad, (Persian text here), it is apparent that the person concerned must be Aminu’llah Farid, the son of Abdu’l-Baha’s sister-in-law. Dr. Mu’ayyad recalls that Abdu’l-Baha asked him to go to Europe in the summer of 1914 to inform the friends of the reasons for Farid’s expulsion. Abdu’l-Baha told Dr. Mu’ayyad the reasons himself, in brief, and also told him to ask Edward Kinney in New York about the money Farid had been collecting there, and to ask Mirza Muhammad Zarqani for an account of all of Farid’s actions (presumably, those known to the Persian-speaking friends). Abdu’l-Baha’s brief account mentions Farid soliciting money in New York, which would not necessarily be during Abdu’l-Baha’s trip there, but Mirza Muhammad Zarqani’s rather long account does include one incident to which the words in the tablet to the MacNutts are directly applicable:

    Late one night, when Mrs. Pinchot [Mary Jane (Eno) Pinchot, (1838 -1914), who met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Washington on 10 May 1912] was resting, Farid had gone to her claiming, “We need money for doctors and as we are leaving in the morning, there is no time.” She was deeply perturbed and through her attendant sent a message [to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá], “I have no time to meet You in the morning”…

    Thou art the rock
    Matthew 16:18, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

    “..not to sell that house…”
    The Star of the West has a footnote here, presumably written by Shoghi Effendi, as follows:

    TRANSLATION – An (That) Khaneh (house) tatavanid (as much as ye are able) nafrushid (do not sell) biguzarid (allow or let) an (that) asar (a sign) az shuma (of yourselves) baqi (permanent) bimand (remain). Presumably Shoghi Effendi intended to give added force to Abdu’l-Baha’s words. Howard MacNutt seems to have learned some Persian and Arabic.

    The house was at 935 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. If you know whether the house still stands, and what it is used for, please feel free to share this through a comment.

    Victor Harvell and Roy Herrick
    I have not found additional information about these gentlemen. Do please add anything you may know.

    In the postscript

    “He says that whosoever draws …”
    The “He” here refers to God, for this is a hadith qudsi, an Islamic tradition in which God is the speaker. God says:

    Whoever brings a beautiful deed will have ten like it [in recompense], or more. But whoever brings and ugly deed, its recompense will be its like, or I will forgive him. Whoever draws near to me by a hand’s breadth, I will draw near to him by an arm’s length; whoever draws near to me by an arm’s length, I will draw near to him by a fathom. Whoever comes to me walking, I will come to him running. Whoever encounters me with sins that cover the earth, but associates nothing with me, I will encounter him with forgiveness the like of those sins.

    Concerning the book about which thou hast written
    The reference is probably to a book that MacNutt proposed writing himself, rather than to The Promulgation of Universal Peace, which Macnutt compiled and edited. Abdu’l-Baha had written to MacNutt, referring to the plans for Promulgation, on April 13, 1919, and again on July 20, just four days before Shoghi Effendi translated the present letter. The work on volume 1 of Promulgation must have been at a quite advanced stage by this time. There would be no need, therefore, for a vague encouragement such as “if this effort is realized, it is highly acceptable.”

  2. Randy Burns said

    Speaking of any wealth that Abdu’l-Baha might have had, I wonder if he gave money or land to his daughters before he died or at his death? Perhaps as dowry? The Delight of Hearts by Haydar Ali talks about Abdu’l-Baha giving a great deal of money and expensive gifts to Muhammad Ali over the years.


  3. Sen said

    Abdu’l-Baha does seem to have paid for the education of many of relatives: Farid for example got his medical education thanks to Abdu’l-Baha (he was a nephew of Abdu’l-Baha’s sister-in-law). The dowry in the Bahai faith is paid from the groom to the bride, and at the time of marriage, and only up to a fairly modest maximum, so that’s no relevant to your question. I don’t see much sign of Abdu’l-Baha rebuilding his business interests after World War 1, so I don’t imagine there was a lot of wealth to distribute by the time of his death.

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