Chapter 2   Chapter 4

Chapter Three

True Wealth, Power And Freedom. The Table Of Abdul-Bahá. Very Great Things. Are You Interested In Renunciation?

"O God! Illumine the eyes and the hearts of Thy servants with the Light of Thy Knowledge, that they may know of this: the Highest Station and Glorious Horizon, that they may not be withheld by false voices from beholding the effulgence of the Light of Thy Oneness, nor prevented from turning unto the horizon of Renunciation."


The home to which I have before referred, where Abdu'l-Bahá spent most of His time during His stay in New York, was the rendezvous of all the friends, and at all times, day or night, there they could be found clustering like bees around the celestial flower garden. One beautiful spring day I dropped in there drawn by the same attraction.

One cannot help making the attempt toward analyzing the reason for this attraction, futile though it may be. Would it be possible for the moth to determine why it hovers around the candle, even though its wings be singed? Or for one to say why the cold earth of spring responds with beauty and abundance to the bounty of the sun? To man, however, is given intelligence denied to bee and soil. The miner knows why he toils for gold or precious stones. The diver knows why he braves the depths to seek the pearl. They bear in their minds the vision of the good things of life represented by the treasure they seek. The imagination of the lonely prospector is stirred by the dream of the vast fortune which his probing look may at any moment uncover. The wealth of sea and mine and market place represent to men power, leisure, freedom; and these they ardently desire. Yet here in this Man I saw personified such power, such leisure, such freedom as no material wealth ever confers upon its possessor. None of the outward appurtenances of material wealth did He possess. All His life had been spent in prison and exile. He bore still upon His body the marks of man's cruelty, yet there were no signs of His ever having been other than free, and evidently it was a freedom which no earthly wealth ever bestows. And He seemed never to be hurried. Amidst the rushing turmoil of New York He walked as calmly as if on a lofty plateau, far removed from the tumult and the shouting. Yet He never stood aloof. Always His interest in people and events was keen, especially in people. Souls was the term He always used. He was ever at the service of any or all who needed Him. From five o'clock in the morning frequently until long after midnight He was actively engaged in service, yet no evidence of haste or stress ever could be seen in Him. "Nothing is too much trouble when one loves," He had been heard to say, "and there is always time."

Is it any wonder that we were attracted? But for me the attraction was not enough. I was like the prospector drawn by visions of wealth to seek its fabulous source. Just a sip of that celestial wine had caused to spring up in my heart a passionate desire to seek the Holy Grail.

It was mid-afternoon when I arrived at the house, for I had purposely timed my arrival so that it should not be at the luncheon hour, for hospitable as were the souls of these dedicated ones, and however flexible their dining table, I knew the size of their household and the great number of probably uninvited, but always welcome, guests. There were many bees. But I had not counted on the irregularity of Abdu'l-Bahá's meal times and now, at half-past three or four o'clock in the afternoon I heard, as I softly ascended the stairway, the unmistakable sounds of a large group busy in the dining room. The last thing I desired was to walk in upon such a gathering unexpectedly, so I very quietly crept through the upper hall and through the drawing room into a little alcove as far from the dining room as I could get. I am very sure that no one saw me. But I had no sooner picked up a magazine and settled myself to wait patiently until the meal should be over, than Abdu'l-Bahá's ringing, challenging voice pealed like a bell through the large rooms. He called my name: "Mr. Ives, Mr. Ives, come, come." There could be no hesitation when He summoned, but as I rose and walked slowly back into the long dining room, set T-shape to the drawing room, I was amazed, wondering how He could have known so surely and so quickly that I was there. There had been no opportunity for Him to have been told, and, anyhow I had let myself in at the unlocked door and, as I have said, no one had seen me ascend the stairs. Yet here I was evidently an expected, if not an invited guest. Even a place was there for me, at any rate I have no remembrance of any of the usual fuss of "setting a place." Abdu'l-Bahá embraced me and set me at His right hand.

It is most difficult to describe at all adequately such an experience in such a Presence without becoming rhapsodical. There were perhaps thirty people at the table and such joyous exultation was on every face that the whole room seemed strangely vibrant. Abdu'l-Bahá served me with His own hands most bountifully, urging me to eat, eat, be happy. He himself did not eat but paced regally around the table, talking, smiling, serving. He told stories of the East, His hands gesturing with that graceful, rhythmic, upward motion so characteristic and so indescribable. I had no desire for food, at least not for the food on my plate, but Abdu'l-Bahá was insistent, repeating that I must eat; that it was good food, good food. And His laughter seemed to add a divine significance to the words. A phrase I had read somewhere in the writings came into my mind: "The cup of significances passed by the Hand of the Divine Servant." What was this food served at the table of Abdu'l-Bahá? Of course I must eat. And I did.

It was not many days after that when there occurred one of the most poignantly remembered incidents. Ever since I had first read a sentence in the "Prayer for Inspiration" it had rung in my mind with insistent questioning. "Prevent me not from turning to the Horizon of renunciation." What has renunciation to do with inspiration? I wondered. Why should I pray for the gift of renunciation? Renounce the world? That was an ascetic concept. It smacked of papacy and the monkish cell. What had this modem world to do with renunciation? Yet across the ages came a Voice. "If a man love father or mother, wife or child more than Me he is not worthy of Me." My mind rebelled but my heart responded. I thank God for that. I resolved that I must know more of this matter.

So one cold spring day, a strong east wind blowing, I made a special journey to ask Abdu'l-Bahá about renunciation. I found the house at Ninety-sixth Street almost deserted. It seemed that Abdu'l-Bahá was spending a day or two at the home of one of the friends on Seventy-eighth Street and so I walked there and found Him on the point of returning to the home I had just left. But I was too intent on my mission to allow difficulties to interfere. I sought one of the Persian friends and, pointing to the passage in the little volume I carried in my pocket, I asked him if he would request Abdu'l-Bahá to speak to me for a few moments on this subject, and I read it to him so that there should be no mistake: "Prevent me not from turning to the Horizon of renunciation."

Returning, he handed me the book saying that Abdu'l-Bahá requested that I walk with Him back to Ninety-sixth Street and He would talk with me on the way.

I recall that there was quite a little procession of us, a dozen or so, mostly composed of the Persian friends but a few others; Lua Getsinger was one, I remember. The east wind was penetrating. I buttoned my coat closely with a little shiver. But Abdu'l-Bahá strode along with his `abá (cloak) floating in the wind. He looked at me as we walked together at the head of the little group, with a slightly quizzical glance: He said that I seemed cold, a slightly amused glance accompanying the words, and I unaccountably felt a little disturbed. Why should I not feel cold? Could one be expected to live even above the weather? But this slight remark was indicative. Always His slightest word affected me as a summons. "Come up higher!" He seemed to say.

As we walked a few paces ahead of the others He talked at length about Horizons. Of how the Sun of Reality, like the physical sun, rose at different points, the Sun of Moses at one point, the Sun of Jesus at another, the Sun of Muhammad, the Sun of Bahá'u'lláh at still others. But always the same Sun though the rising points varied greatly. Always we must look for the light of the Sun, He said, and not keep our eyes so firmly fixed on its last point of rising that we fail to see its glory when it rises in the new Spiritual Springtime. Once or twice He stopped and, with His stick, drew on the sidewalk an imaginary horizon and indicated the rising points of the sun. A strange sight it must have been to the casual passer-by.

I was greatly disappointed. I had heard Him speak on this subject and had read about it in "Some Answered Questions." It was not of horizons I wanted to hear, but of renunciation. And I was deeply depressed also because I felt that He should have known my desire for light on this subject, and responded to my longing even if I had not been so explicit in my request; but I had been most explicit. As we approached our destination He became silent. My disappointment had long since merged into a great content. Was it not enough to be with Him What, after all, could He tell me about renunciation that was not already in my own heart Perhaps the way to learn about it was by doing, and I might begin by giving up the longing to have Him talk to me about it. Truly, as the outer silence deepened, my heart burned within me as He talked with me on the way.

We came at last to the steps leading up to the entrance door. Abdu'l-Bahá paused with one foot resting on the lower step while the little group slowly passed Him and entered the house. Abdu'l-Bahá made as if to follow, but instead He fumed and, looking down at me from the little elevation of the step, with that subtle meaning in eyes and voice which seemed to accompany His slightest word, and which to me was always so unfathomable and so alluring: He said that I must always remember that this is a day of great things, very great things.

I was speechless. It was not for me to answer. I did not have the faintest inkling of what lay behind the words, the resonant voice, that penetrating glance. Then He turned and again made as if to ascend but again He paused and turned His now luminous face towards me. My foot was raised to follow but as He turned, I, of course, paused also and hung uncertainly between rest and motion.

He repeated, saying to me so impressively, so earnestly, that I must never forget this, that this is a day for very great things.

What could He mean? What deep significance lay behind these simple words? Why should He speak so to me? Had it anything to do with that still alluring thought of renunciation?

Again Abdu'l-Bahá fumed to ascend and I made to follow; but for the third time He paused and, turning, as it seemed, the full light of His spirit upon me. He said again, but this time in what seemed like a voice of thunder, with literally flashing eyes and emphatically raised hand: that I should remember His words that This is a Day for very great things--VERY GREAT THINGS. These last three words rang out like a trumpet call. The long, deserted city block seemed to echo them. I was overwhelmed. I seemed to dwindle, almost to shrivel, where I stood, as that beautifully dominant figure, that commanding and appealing voice, surrounded me like a sea, and blotted out for the moment, at least, all the petty world and my petty self with it. Who and what was I to be summoned to accomplish great things, very great things? I did not even know what things were great in this world awry with misbegotten emphases.

After what seemed a very long moment, in which His burning eyes probed my soul. He gently smiled. The great moment had passed. He was again the courteous, kindly, humble host, the Father whom I thought I knew. He touched His fez[5] so that it stood at what I called the humorous angle, and a slightly quizzical smile was around His mouth as He rapidly ascended the steps and entered the open door. I followed closely. We passed through the few steps of the hall to the stairs. I remember the wondering, slightly envious glances that followed me as I followed Abdu'l-Bahá up the stairs. The upper hall was empty and Abdu'l-Bahá swept through it and up another flight to His room, a large front room on the third floor. And still I followed. I have often marveled since at my temerity. Had I known more or felt less I never should have dared. It is said that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Perhaps that is the way that fools are cured of their folly.

We came to the door of Abdu'l-Bahá's room. He had not invited me there, nor had He looked once behind Him to see that I was following, and it was with much inward trepidation that I paused at the threshold as He entered the room. Would He be displeased? Had I overstepped the hounds of the respect due Abdu'l-Bahá? Had I been lacking in due humility? But my heart was humility itself--He must know that. He swung the door wide and fuming beckoned me in.

Again I was alone with Abdu'l-Bahá. There was the bed in which He slept, the chair in which He sat. The late afternoon sunlight lay palely across the floor, but I saw nothing. I was conscious only of Him and that I was alone with Him. The room was very still. No sound came from the street nor from the lower rooms. The silence deepened as He regarded me with that loving, all-embracing, all-understanding look which always melted my heart. A deep content and happiness flooded my being. A little flame seemed lit within my breast. And then Abdu'l-Bahá spoke: He simply asked me if I were interested in renunciation.

Nothing could have been more unexpected. I had entirely forgotten the question which had so engrossed my thoughts an hour since. Or was it that in that hour during which the word renunciation had not been mentioned, all that I wished or needed to know about it had been vouchsafed me? I had no words to answer His question. Was I interested? I could not say I was and I would not say I was not. I stood before Him silent while His whole Being seemed to reach out to embrace me. Then His arm was around me and He led me to the door. I left His Presence with my soul treading the heights. I felt as though I had been admitted, for the moment at least, into the ranks of the martyrs. And it was a goodly fellowship indeed. During all the long years of renunciation that followed, the memory of that walk with Him; my disappointment that He had not understood; His ringing challenge: This is a Day for very great things: my following Him up those long stairs without even knowing whether He wished me to or not, and then the question wrapped in that sublime love: Are you interested m renunciation? has risen before me, a comforting and inspiring challenge. Indeed I was interested and my interest has never flashed from that day to this. But I never dreamed that renunciation could be so glorious.

Chapter 2   Chapter 4

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