Chapter 5   Chapter 7

Chapter Six

The Reality And Essence Of Brotherhood. Cannot You Serve Him Once? True Brotherhood Due To The Breaths Of The Holy Spirit. O You Should Have Seen Him!

"The Prophets of God have established the principles of human brotherhood. The spiritual brotherhood, which is enkindled and established through the breaths of the Holy Spirit, unites nations and removes the cause of warfare and strife. It transforms mankind into one great family and establishes the foundations of the oneness of humanity. Therefore we must investigate the foundation reality of this heavenly fraternity."


On the nineteenth of May, 1912, Abdu'l-Bahá spoke on Brotherhood in the Brotherhood Church in Jersey City. At that time I was the unsalaried minister of that body of men and women come together spontaneously in the endeavor to foster the spirit of brotherhood and service. Only five weeks had elapsed since my first meeting with the Master. The 23rd of May, only four days later, marked the birthday of Him Who addressed us. The same day was also the 68th anniversary of the announcement by the youthful Persian Prophet, the Báb, Who declared that within nineteen years from that date there should appear "Him Whom God should Manifest." The Báb was also one of this long line of earthly Manifestations of the Supreme One, but He said that He was not worthy to be mentioned in the Presence of Him Whose Divine Word was destined to sway mankind for thousands of years to come.

As I look back over the twenty-five years that have passed since that evening it stirs the imagination to consider what would have happened if the five or six hundred souls there gathered to hear speak the very son of Bahá'u'lláh, the Glory of God, to announce the coming of whom that divine youth, the Báb, had sacrificed his life; at whose feet this son, at the age of seven years, had fallen in adoration, now stood before them. If we, brought up in the Christian tradition, could have realized that this very man Who since birth had lived with, been taught by, exiled and imprisoned with, the One for Whose coming Christ had besought us to pray and watch; if we could have recognized in Him the first citizen of that Kingdom of God on earth, and if we also had had the faith and courage to leave all and follow Him as did those sincere souls almost two thousand years ago under exactly similar conditions, consider the possible effect upon those lives and the thousands of lives they were destined to affect during the twenty-five years that have passed since then.

Also, how blind and deaf we were. No wonder that Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Blessed indeed were those in that audience, and there were some, whose eyes were open to perceive that Glory and whose ears were attuned to hear the music of that Divine Voice. Why this writer should have been one of those alert enough to appreciate, even a little, this supreme light, and to follow, however haltingly, those divine feet, he has never understood. It is ever the pure bounty of God. But how thankful he is that it is so. Indeed "souls are perturbed as they make mention of Him, for minds cannot grasp Him nor hearts contain Him." [11]

It was an impressive, even to me a thrilling sight when the majestic figure of the Master strode up the aisle of the Brotherhood Church leading the little company of believers from various parts of the world. As memory now takes its backward look I realize how little I understood at that time the full significance of that memorable scene. Here, in a setting of Western civilization, almost two thousand years from the dawn of Christian teaching, stood One whose Life and Word were the very embodiment of the essence of the message of good-will to all peoples which those nations which bear His name had seemingly forgotten. Here stood the living proof of the falsity of the assumption that East and West can never meet. Here was martyrdom for Truth and Love speaking lovingly and humbly to souls engrossed with self and who knew it not. Here stood the embodied spirit of Holiness again uttering the eternal message of Brotherhood. Here was resurrection and life again calling to those dead in the tombs of self and desire to come forth, and we recognized not His voice.

But to all such thoughts I, like most of the audience, was a stranger. Yet there was in that hall that evening an atmosphere of spiritual reality foreign to its past. It bore upon me almost unbearably and was reflected in the faces of many turned upon me as I rose to preface the talk of the Master with a few words of introduction. I can still see before me the rapt face of Lua Getsinger, one of the first of American believers in the divine revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, as her unwavering gaze dwelt upon Abdu'l-Bahá, and the faces of many others in the audience bore similar evidence to the unaccustomed atmosphere of holiness invading their souls.

Abdu'l-Bahá sat in the place of honor immediately behind the pulpit. Beside him sat the interpreter, who, as I spoke, translated rapidly and softly to Abdu'l-Bahá the essence of my words. I stood at one side of the platform so not to be in front of the Master and able to turn towards Him at times. One of my keenest remembrances of the evening is that of His attentive, smiling face while the interpreter murmured his rendering. I spoke of His forty years in the fortress of `Akká, that indescribably filthy penal colony of the Turkish empire; of His sixty years of exile and suffering; of the living proof He afforded that the only bondage is that of the spirit; of the evidence His presence with us that evening furnished of true spiritual brotherhood and unity. I remember particularly turning to Him apologetically as I made the personal reference to the fact that whereas other Easterners came to America exploiting its people in the name of oriental mysticism, His message bore the living imprint of self-sacrificing love. He gave while others grasped. He manifested what others mouthed. And more clearly still do I see before me that calmly smiling face, the glowing eyes, the understanding gaze with which He returned my glance.

Then Abdu'l-Bahá rose to speak. The interpreter stood beside Him, a little behind. "Because this is called the Church of Brotherhood I wish to speak upon the Brotherhood of Mankind." [12] As that beautifully resonant voice rang through the room, accenting with an emphasis I had never before heard the word Brotherhood, shame crept into my heart. Surely this Man recognized connotations to that word which I, who had named the church, had never known. Who was I to stress this word? What had I ever done besides talk to prove my faith in it as a principle of life? Had I ever suffered a pang as its exponent? But this man had lived a long life in which brotherhood to all mankind had been a ruling motive. Prison nor chains; toil nor privation; hatred nor contumely had been able to turn Him from his appointed task of its exemplification, or to lessen the ardor of His proof that it was a possible goal for the race of Man. To Him all races, colors, creeds were as one. To Him prejudice for or against a soul because of outward wealth or poverty, sin or virtue, was unknown. He was at every moment what in one of His divine Tablets He has told us we all must be, a "thrall of mankind."

As I write there is brought to memory a story told by Lua Getsinger, she who then sat in the audience before me. In the very early days of the knowledge of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh in America Mrs. Getsinger was in `Akká having made the pilgrimage to the prison city to see the Master. She was with Him one day when he said to her, that He was too busy today to call upon a friend of His who was very ill and poor and He wished her to go in His place. Take him food and care for him as I have been doing. He concluded. He told her where this man was to be found and she went gladly, proud that Abdu'l-Bahá should trust her with this mission.

She returned quickly. "Master," she exclaimed, "surely you cannot realize to what a terrible place you sent me. I almost fainted from the awful stench, the filthy rooms, the degrading condition of that man and his house. I fled lest I contract some terrible disease."

Sadly and sternly Abdu'l-Bahá regarded her. "Dost thou desire to serve God," He said, "serve thy fellow man for in him dost thou see the image and likeness of God." He told her to go back to this man's house. If it is filthy she should clean it; if this brother of yours is dirty, bathe him; if he is hungry, feed him. Do not return until this is done. Many times had He done this for him and cannot she serve him once?

This was He who was speaking in my Church of Brotherhood.

He spoke of the contrast between physical and spiritual brotherhood, pointing out that the latter was the only real and lasting relationship. "This divine fellowship," He said, "owes its existence to the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual brotherhood is like the light while the souls of mankind are as lanterns. These incandescent lamps," pointing to the electric lights illuminating the hall, "are many but the light is one." He spoke of the influence Bahá'u'lláh exerted in bringing amity and friendship into some of the warring and antagonistic peoples and religions of the Orient.

"He breathed such a spirit into those countries," he said, "that various peoples and warring tribes were blended into unity. Their bestowals and susceptibilities; their purposes and desires became one to such a degree that they sacrificed themselves for one another, forfeiting name, possessions and comfort. This is eternal, spiritual fellowship, heavenly and divine brotherhood which defies dissolution.

This was, indeed, a new type of brotherhood. Not a fraternal partnership, so to speak, which had as its objective a mutual sharing of the good things of the world more easily attained and more safely held by reason of this partnership. But rather a re-birth of man through a new baptism of the Holy Spirit, who by this rebirth found themselves actually conscious of a heavenly, spiritual, divine kinship which transcended any earthly relationship as the music of the spheres transcended earth's discordance.

And as I gazed at the Master as I faced Him from the audience, it was not so difficult to imagine a world transformed by the spirit of divine brotherhood. For He Himself was that spirit incarnate. His flowing `aba. His creamlike fez. His silvery hair and beard, all set Him apart from the Westerners, to whom He spake. But His smile which seemed to embrace us with an overflowing comradeship; His eyes which flashed about the room as if seeking out each individual; His gestures which combined such authority and humility; such wisdom and humor, all conveyed to me, at least, a true human brotherhood which could never be content with plenty while the least of these little ones had less than enough, and yet still less content until all had that divine plenty only to be bestowed through the breaths of the Holy Spirit, that is, by contact with the Manifestation of God. He closed with the following words, as recorded in the first volume of The Promulgation of Universal Peace:

"Trust in the favor of God. Look not at your own capacities, for the divine bestowals can transform a drop into an ocean; it can make a tiny seed a lofty tree. Verily divine bestowals are like the sea and we are like the fishes in that sea. The fishes must not look at themselves. They must behold the ocean which is vast and wonderful. Provision for the sustenance of all is in this ocean, therefore the divine bounties encompass all and love eternal shines upon all."[13]

It was one of the briefest of Abdu'l-Bahá's public talks. The latter part, as recorded in The Promulgation of Universal Peace, was in answer to a question from the audience, which was a departure from the usual custom. I had requested of the Master that He speak rather longer than was His wont as I had the universal obsession that the worth of an address was in proportion to its length. That He spoke so briefly was undoubtedly with the endeavor to illustrate to me that a very few words, inspired by the Holy Spirit and aglow with wisdom celestial, were vastly more powerful than all the volumes of man-made sermons ever printed.

That I should have had the temerity to make such a request of Him again illustrates how far removed I still was from recognition of His static ii; nay from any true understanding of spiritual reality. I, even now, only dimly realize it and I suspect that the vast majority of my fellow men share with me this abysmal ignorance. Bahá'u'lláh has said that compared to the wonders and glories of the spiritual universe the material universe is comparable to "the pupil of the eye of a dead ant." And I had requested this Man, to Whom that universe of the spirit was as an open book, to make His talk of a length suitable to my own desires. And He had in fifteen minutes said more, and shown forth more, and loved more of the true Brotherhood, the heavenly and divine Brotherhood, which could transform this world into a paradise, than I had ever dreamed.

How blind and deaf we are! And what a fearful price the world is paying for this imperviousness to that "Light which lighteth every man who cometh into the world!"

On May 24th, five days after He spoke in the Brotherhood Church, Abdu'l-Bahá addressed the assembled ministers at the annual May Meeting of the Unitarian Fellowship in Boston. Present were the representatives of the Unitarian Faith in America, an intellectual group holding, probably, the most "advanced" opinions in religious thought in the country. Yet He spoke to deaf ears. "A very interesting old gentleman," several remarked to me afterwards, "but he told us nothing new."

This was typical of most of the audiences He addressed. Truly, "having ears we heard not." I would suggest that the reader of these words again peruse that Boston address as found in the first volume of The Promulgation of Universal Peace, page 138, as I have just done, and determine for himself whether anything "new " is to be found there. "The divine Prophets have revealed and founded religion." Abdu'l-Bahá said. This may not be new in the sense that this teaching had never been formulated, but to this Boston audience which had unanimously, not to say enthusiastically, rejected all belief in a revealed religion it was fundamentally new because the Speaker was actually the physical son of the latest of these divine Prophets who had lived and taught, suffered and died during the lifetime of some of His listeners. Abdu'l-Bahá's whole address was directed to calling attention to the fact that the tree of religion grows old and withers like any tree, and that unless a new Tree is planted from the seed of the old, true religion perishes from the earth. His audience was composed of men and women whose lives were dedicated to an attempt to revive this withered and dying tree, and they were watering it, not with the "water of certitude" which flows only from the Lips of the divine Revelator Himself, but with man-made theories and theologies which, as their own experience should have taught them, they are forced to renounce almost as soon as accepted. "Nothing new!" Had they known how this News was destined to revolutionize the world of thought and action; how it was to arouse in mankind a new passion for unity and brotherhood; how it was destined to be the moving spirit behind all efforts towards the abolition of war, poverty, disease and crime; how men's hearts would be aroused to a new life by the breaths of Its Holy Spirit; how all human life would take on a new meaning, significance and power. His hearers would have transcribed His divine Words "with a pen of diamond on a page of gold."

To me Abdu'l-Bahá's talk in the Brotherhood Church and the address before the Unitarian Conference in Boston marked a new phase in my spiritual journey from self to God. I had heard several of His public addresses before but never had I been near enough to Him to mark closely His demeanor. For it was not only His words, not nearly so much His accents and voice which now impressed me. There lay in His eyes a living flame which seemed to ignite a smouldering spark within me. Perhaps I can express my meaning best by relating an incident.

At one of the meetings at the home of the friends to whom I have often referred where the Master spent much of His time in New York, there was present a lady who was not, and never became an avowed believer. But her heart was pure. She loved Christ and strove to follow His divine teachings. The large double rooms were filled with the friends and attracted souls. A lane had been left open stretching the full length of both rooms, and, as the Master spoke, He strode up and down the rooms while the interpreter stood near me translating fluently. This lady sat enthralled. When Abdu'l-Bahá came striding towards us with that indescribable grace and majesty. His hands gesturing rhythmically with an upward, inspiring significance which I have seen in no other speaker, and His eyes glowing with an inner light illumining every feature, she was overcome with emotion.

Several months afterwards I was talking with a close friend of this soul and she asked me about Abdu'l-Bahá, whom she had never seen. "He must be a very wonderful man from what--says," she remarked, mentioning the name of the woman, "she tried to tell me about him and could hardly speak for tears. I said to her: `Why, my dear, what was there so wonderful about this man?' All she could say was: "Oh, you should have seen Him. You should have seen Him!"

Indeed to have seen Him was enough providing that the spark ignited in the soul was fanned to flame by meditation and selfless prayer. Never can I be thankful enough that I became ignited with this Flame. It was about this time, seven weeks after meeting Abdu'l-Bahá, that I began to say a little hymn to myself: "If every drop of my blood had a million tongues and every tongue sang praises throughout eternity sufficient thanksgiving could not be uttered."

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