The Story of the Divine Plan Taking place during and immediately following World War I



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Chapter XI
THE TUBE AND THE BOOK
Yeboshi Maru was a primitive little craft, making two hundred miles per twenty-four hours. Its officers and crew were friendly, and there was much information to be acquired on both sides. I made no secret of the Cause and what it stood for, as a program for establishing World Peace; while my hosts brought me up to date on current news, for I was totally unacquainted with the developments that had brought about session of hostilities. There also was the Japanese language to be dabbled with, and the immediate necessity for learning to eat with chopsticks. It was a long passage of thirty-eight days, during which we were the recipients of every attention from the weather.
Sometimes, while the little boat was laboring on its way, the deck submerged by swirling, foaming cascades of water, it seemed to me, as it did to Aeneas in the long ago, that the pounding torrents were driving us to the very bottom of the sea, where the yawning waves would uncover unknown lands upon which their surges were breaking. Yet through it all, I knew that we would reach our destination. Abdul Baha had so promised, and that was enough for me.
Living in a walnut shell surrounded by the expanses of the universe, and to all intents and purposes alone, was a new experience in which I sought to find myself. For years, I had been in the presence of Abdul Baha, as a fish swimming in the translucent lake of his dreams and hopes; or as a lump of warm wax upon which the images of his ideals had been printed. Now I was thrown on my own resources and could find out what the me within me really was. I could be an individual. So I paced the deck for hours; stood at the rail, delving into the horizons — and what did I find? Abdul Baha was there. He had not followed me, he was not, at long range exerting his influence upon me; he simply was of me and in me. Now at a distance, I knew that I could never again say: These thoughts are glorious and beautiful, but they are not really mine.
As I proceeded with my meditations, day by day and night by night, a great joy began to take hold of me and I realized, as I never had realized before, that the disciple must become identified with the teachings of the Master. Unless he does so, he is merely a parrot repenting words that he does not understand: or a plastic disk recording a glorious song.
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[photo of Dr. J. Uyeda, ships doctor with Sohrab; another view from the ship, both omitted]


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When, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, this truth was unveiled before my soul, I1 became a new being, endowed with assurance coming from myself. The light that Abdul Baha had shed across my path was my light; the Cause that he had endowed me with, was my Cause. His divine Springtime had come to stay in the garden of my own being.


These excursions into the abstract did not divert my mind from the duty in hand. I was the guardian of a treasure, consisting of the metal Tube which contained the Divine Plan and, even as valuable (for the Divine Plan was recorded in my mind word for word), a Note Book in which were set clown the dates in which the Tablets had been revealed, together with the places and circumstances connected with them; the Master's instructions regarding each and every one, and his supplementary talks, some of which were as important as the Tablets themselves. These two objects, the Tube and the Book, were to me the greatest treasure between earth and heaven; and no anxious duenna, tending royal princes, could have had a more acute sense of responsibility than was mine. The Tube lay under my pillow, a magnet that drew me back to the cabin every few hours; but the Book was with me always, in my coat pocket by day and along side of the Tube by night. Sometimes, I would wake out of my dreams, thinking that the long fingers of Neptune had closed about one or the other of my darlings and swept it out to sea. After such dreams I would take firm hold of them both and, after the beating of my heart had subsided, fall asleep again, exhausted and happy.
As Yeboshi Maru sailed into American waters, I began to concentrate on my coming encounter with Bahai officialdom. What were my assets? The Plan itself, of course-tangible evidence of my mission. I carried besides Abdul Baha's written permit to return to the United States a copy of which had sometime previously been sent to Mr. Joseph Hannen, in Washington. I learned afterward that Mr. Hannen had forwarded a copy of this communication to "Star of the West" with his note which read as follows:
I am in receipt of a letter from Shoghi Effendi in which he quotes the Tablet which Mirza Ahmad Sohrab will bring with him to America, the original being in the Master's hand. I think it would be well to publish this in the Star as soon as possible, so that all may know of his coming with permission, as I have heard this question raised.
Star of the West — Vol. IX No. 17, Jan. 1919
A third asset which I valued greatly Wag My deep friendships with Bahais all over the country. I had lived in America before the World War
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and had taken part in all the activities of the Cause. Also for more than five years, I had served as secretary to the Persian Minister in Washington during which time I had made of the legation a headquarters for the distribution of Bahai information. Finally, I had made extensive preparations for Abdul Baha's visit to this continent in 1912, and had accompanied him throughout his travels in the United States and Canada. My happy memories of association in this country were limitless, giving me much confidence; but I had liabilities too.


I was born of a liberal family and taught never to connive with any brand of orthodoxy, were it Mohammedan, Christian or Bahai. I was brought up in the environment of Abdul Baha, and the flame of liberalism within me was fanned at the very alter of his heart. I believe that he kept me with him for so long a time because of this characteristic. At the same time, this liberalism had repeatedly brought me into sharp conflict with many American Bahais. Because I could not agree with some of their interpretations of the Cause, which seemed to me both antideluvian and infantile, they had come to look upon me as a menace. Consequently, in order to discredit me in the sight of Abdul Baha and my fellow Bahais, they had fabricated numerous stories about me which had been spread far and wide. Actually, for the preservation of the orthodoxy they had appended to the Cause, their zeal knew no bounds. I will relate one instance of this, among many.
During the Master's visit to Chicago, he stopped with a certain Bahai lady, and she later on gathered her friends about her and confided to them a secret. The secret was that Abdul Baha had on an occasion summoned her to his room and, through an interpreter, had warned her as follows: "Do not trust Ahmad Sohrab."
After my return to Palestine with the Master, this confidence, treated as most confidences are and doubtless as many are intended to be, was extensively circulated. In fact, the lady herself carried the news to the Assemblies throughout the land. Thus it was not long before every Bahai had received the message, still transmitted with bated breath, With the result that the phrase: "Do not trust Ahmad Sohrab" became a pass-word in the Bahai underground.
Naturally the story reached Haifa, creating a situation that was bizarre to any the least. There was I, opening and translating to the Master a flood of letters, addressed to him in the care of various members of his family, which began something like this: "Mrs. …………. of Chicago says that you told her in secret 'Do not trust Ahmad Sohrab'. So, as Ahmad Sohrab is
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your secretary, I am mailing this care of ………. ." Then came listings of my alleged delinquencies, rascalities and villainies which would have stood up very well in the police courts of Chicago itself; while of course, "the snake in the grass" and "the wolf in sheep's clothing" figured prominently in these character studies, forwarded to the Holy Land by the sons and daughters of light in America.


"Well, well, Mirza Ahmad" the Master would say. "you are indeed a clever man. Such a record of crime, piled up under my very eyes, while I was totally unaware of what was going on! Possibly. you have a double!"
He would laugh, yes, but presently he would change his tone. "These are your brothers and sisters — ignorant, deceived and attentive to every whisper; yet believers in the Cause. Come, sharpen your pencil. We are going to drown them in an ocean of love."

Such memories were brought to mind in the stocktaking of my liabilities; but the time for dwelling on the past had come to an end. Yeboshi Maru was nearing port and I had to express my thanks to the crew for the comradeship which had been extended to me. Then dinner at the Captain's side, at which he complimented me at my proficient use of chopsticks, and a hard and fast engagement made with a number of the officers (which included the generous doctor who had lent me his cabin) to meet them some days later on the train to Washington. I promised them and myself that we would have a good time together in the nation's capital and that a fraction of my deep obligation would be repaid,


Next morning I was up early, still pacing the familiar deck but with a new spring to my stride. The Statue of Liberty was rising out of the mist; the dawn was breaking on Manhattan; I had reached New York.
Scarcely glancing at my two small valises, the Inspector of the United States Immigration Service handed me a piece of paper bearing the word "Passed" and I descended the gang plank. I looked for customs officers, but none were in sight; so I left the wharf and took a taxi to a small hotel in the downtown district, from where I called Washington on the telephone asking to speak to Mr. Joseph Hannen.
Mr. Hannen was taken off his feet when he heard my voice, and his questions came over the wire like shots out of a gattling gun. I answered few of them for I was intent on receiving news myself; and after a short conversation, proceeded to ring up a succession of Bahais in New York. Soon, the news of my arrival began to spread and I did not have to make
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any more calls. For the rest of the day, the line was kept busy, while the hotel lobby as well as my room filled up with eager excited friends, all of whom were firstly anxious to hear about Abdul Baha and secondly concerned with imparting details regarding the harrowing condition of the Cause in the United States.


I well remember a visit which I paid a day or so later to Mr. Mountford Mills in his apartment on upper Broadway. Mr. Mills, a man of distinction and accomplishment, was one of the very valuable Bahais of those early days. He gave me a graphic account of the situation in the Cause and took no pains to hide his disillusionment and grief. It was clear that he considered the orthodox element to be in full power and on the ascendent, and although I injected into the conversation some of my optimism and enthusiasm, I felt that I had not been able to lessen his discouragement. I left him, asserting that a concerted effort against the forces of dogmatism would be made and that I had no doubts concerning the outcome.
The Feast of Nau-Rouz (Persian New Year — March 21st) was the occasion of my first public address. The Bahai community arrived in full force; the majority settling in their places with the light of hope in their eyes, while a few neophites of the newly established system watched the proceedings with furtive attention. My talk, which I thereafter repeated in several cities, with few changes, ended along this line:
"These are the days of Armistice; it is an era of adjustment. The nations are forming a Covenant of Reconciliation. The sword is sheathed and the hatchet is buried. Let us pocket our affronts, gather around the camp-fire and smoke the calumet of peace. Unresentful and unavenged, let us hold out the olive branch to friend and stranger alike. As Bahais, we have the chance to set this new example to the distracted inhabitants of the world."
The next morning I began to receive numerous telegrams, some of them from members of the National Executive Board. I will quote a single one from Boston coming from Mr. Alfred Lunt under whose chairmanship the "Report of the. Committee of Investigation" had been ratified. Mr. Lunt's message rend:
"Loving welcome, yearning to consult with you. Great good can be done if possible for you visit Boston now."
My answer in part was as follows:
"Important meet members Board. Telephoned Hannen inform Remey
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return Washington for consultation. If you come to Washington soon, you will be fully repaid."
My short sojourn in New York was crowded with activity, and on the final day, I made calls and delivered talks from morning till night. My last engagement was at "Stepping Stones" in the Bowery, a unique establishment presided over by the very genial and original Urban Ledoux, better known in the newspaper world as Mr. Zero. Here, hundreds of derelicts of all kinds were fed without charge or at a nominal cost, while their host, who gave his life and all his money to this work, drew no line between himself and the most wretched of his visitors. Instead, he was a comrade to all, a confident and guide; and the men loved him and accepted his word in all things.
This group later on chose to designate itself as the "Old Bucks and Lame Ducks," and through its. various doings and antics gained much notoriety; but at the time of my visit, it consisted simply of Mr. Zero's boys who were eager to hear of the great being whom their benefactor called "Master."
It was long past midnight when I returned to my room in the hotel, and I was to be up early to meet the officers of Yeboshi Maru on the train to Washington. I threw myself on the bed and immediately went to sleep.
On waking, I hurriedly gathered up my things and stuffed them into the bag. I drew the Tube from its accustomed resting place and laid it on top. Everything ready, I could leave. Only the Book. I again felt under the pillow, but could not find it. It must be there; it always was! No! Maybe, it had slipped under the covers! I tore them off. Under the matress! Nothing! My heart began to thump; then I thought: I had been so tired when I went to bed, I had forgotten to take it out of my pocket. I felt my coat; I pulled all my pockets inside out — empty. Then I sat down, while a burning wave spread over me from head to toe. The Book of the Divine Plan was gone!
A few moments passed while the heat in my body slowly turned to cold — painful transformation from life into death; but I still could think. Very dispassionately, I summed up the situation: The Book was missing and my train to Washington about to leave. Would I stay; would I go? On the one hand there was the apple of my eye, my first responsibility, my duty to the Master; on the other, a casual connection with persons who were nothing to me, and my word given. For the fraction of it minute I weighed the two obligations; then I decided: I would keep my appointment with my Japanese benefactors.
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What came next? I thought of Mr. Roy C. Wilhelm, a whole-sale coffee merchant who carried on a successful business with plenty of Bahai work on the side; or, to be more exact, I should mention the Bahai work first with the business as a supplementary issue. Now, Mr. Wilhelm was blessed with a secretary, Nellie Lloyd by name, an assistant whom any executive might covet-both of them would come to the rescue. I could count on that. I crossed the room and spoke to Mr. Wilhelm on the telephone:


A book had been lost, very valuable to me. Would Nellie take a cab find call at all the places I had visited yesterday, and at the "Lost and Found" departments of the taxi, subway and surface car bureaus? Would she insert advertisements in the afternoon newspapers, offering a reward - a thousand dollars if necessary. Would Mr. Wilhelm keep me posted? I was on my way to Washington. I was leaving the matter in his hands.
The supreme sacrifice having been made for my Japanese acquaintance, I should have lived up to it by making of myself a fairly agreeable travelling companion, as I think I had been in the past; but I found that I could not even make an attempt at conversation, much less, show a trace of good humor. The trip was long and depressing and it was a relief to all of us when we parted at the station in Washington. Mr. Hannen and Mr. Gregory who were awaiting me, conducted me to a cab. They must have wondered at the dull-eyed, pallid-faced messenger from the Holy Land whom they had been looking forward to greet, but they were too polite to question me. At the house of Mr. Hannen, the door wan opened by his mother. I brushed by, unable to respond to her affable welcome, "is there a telegram for me?" "Why, yes," she answered, "I have one here. It just came." I tore open the envelope, read the message and with a shout threw the paper into the air. Then I grabbed the bewildered lady, carried her bodily into the drawing room and proceeded to shower her with kisses. A strange messenger from the Holy Land! Mr. Hannen and Mr. Gregory looked at each other anxiously, then Mr. Hannen picked up the telegram from the floor and read:
"Ahmed Sohrab
C/o Joseph Hannen

1252 — 8th Street, N W

Washington
Detective Nellie Lloyd has found book. Sending registered today.
(signed) R. C. Wilhelm Co."

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As I afterward learned, the Book had been found at Mr. Zero's "Stepping "Stones" in the Bowery; but for the moment, it did not matter where or how. It certainly did not matter if my friends thought me crazy, or if I actually were. I knew only that the Book was safe; that life could go on, and that the worst day in all my experience was over.


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Chapter XI I
PREPARATIONS FOR THE CONVENTION
Now that I was actually in America with my treasures in my possession, the campaign for reconciliation had to start without delay. In a letter to Shoghi Effendi dated March 25th, I wrote: "I have called a meeting of a number of prominent believers of New York, Boston and Chicago, as well as a few here in Washington, to meet with me that they may have a clearer vision of the Master's hopes."
The meeting was scheduled for the evening of March 26th at the house of Mrs. Agnes Parsons. Mr. Mills and Mr. Wilhelm of New York accepted the invitation, as did Mr. Randall, Mr. Lunt and Mr. Ober of Boston: likewise, Mrs. Maxwell of Canada, and Mr. Gregory and Mr. Hannen of Washington. There remained Mrs. Corinne True and Dr. Zia Bagdadi of Chicago, but try as I would by telegraph and telephone, I could not alter their decision to be absent. Mr. Charles Mason Remey, chairman of the Bahai Committee of Investigation, who was in South Carolina, also declined. So stood the group which made up the meeting, with possibly a few others whom I do not remember.
To these outstanding Bahais thus hastily gathered together, I presented the Master's plan, outlining the contents of the Tablets to the Northeastern, Southern, Central and Western States; those to Canada, and the four final Tablets addressed in conjunction to the Bahais of the United States and Canada — the Magna Carta of the New Humanity. Then I brought out the metal tube, drew forth the fourteen Tablets and unrolled them to public view for the first time.
The effect made by the vast panorama of ideas was instantaneous. All were swept off their feet. Silently and with utter humility, they touched the parchments, examined the elegance of script and illumination, the while trying to grasp the portent of the stupendous plan that had so suddenly been revealed to them. Mr. Randall pressed my hands with tears in his eyes, saying: "My God, and all these years we thought that we were serving the Cause! What have we done! How do we dare call ourselves Bahais?" Mr. Lunt picked up the telephone and spoke, right then and there, to Mrs. True in Chicago: She and Dr. Bagdadi had to come to Washington right away to take part in a most important conference, and he would not take no for
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an answer — he would not consider no! But no, it turned out to be, just the same. Then he wrote out a telegram to Mr. Remey, as follows:


"New and epoch-making plans and authentic instructions, Master, for complete organization, Convention, and great work of future. Call for new solidarity in Cause and for immediate cooperation. Your temporary return Washington for conference Ahmad and friends urgently needed. Responsibility to make this the great Convention desired by Master rests upon each one."
I do not know who signed the above telegram, but I have the copy in my possession as it was written by Mr Lunt and corrected on the spot.
The hastily improvised committee meeting was conducted in a spirit of harmony and happiness; the past was forgotten, while these lending personalities of two camps applied themselves to the task at hand — preparations for the Convention. It was thought advisable to hold it in New York.
This issue set the opposition into immediate motion. Mrs. True, Dr. Bagdadi and Mr. Remey were determined to hold the Convention in Chicago where the anti-violation forces were firmly entrenched. This was exactly what Abdul Baha did not wish, and he had told me so explicitly. Although I was not at liberty to divulge his views on particular matters. I had to bring them about through other means.
In order to be in a position where I could meet without restraint the opposing groups, I rented a small apartment in Washington. Here every day, from two to five o'clock, I kept myself free to receive whoever wanted to call on me; and many came. It was quite an uphill work, and much tact was needed to prevent clashes when three or four were in the room together; but I kept in mind the Master's command that the two factions were to be united in love before the Convention, and did my utmost to promote a spirit of tolerance and good humor. I took part in many meetings, besides; did some visiting on my own part, and little by little became conscious of the fact that the atmosphere was beginning to lighten.
Meanwhile, I was deeply engaged in translating the fourteen Tablets into English, together with the explanatory notes and the instructions so contained in my note book. These were arranged in sections, to be used consecutively at the coming Convention on April 26th, and also to be printed in book form for distribution at that time. As these sections were completed one by one, I turned them over to Mr. Hannen to be typed. Thus, we worked together at top speed, many a night until 5 A.M. and completed our task on April 15th when we gave the material to the printer. I did not know any
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[photo of National spiritual Assembly of 1935-1936 omitted]


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one in those days who could have assisted me as "Brother Joseph did — so much efficiency, enthusiasm end devotion; nor do I know many now, after twenty-six years.


This task completed, I took a flying trip to Boston where I stopped with Mr. and Mrs. William Randall. Under their benevolent care, I came in contact with small groups and individuals, and together we spoke of the true aims of the Cause. Mr. Randall, a man of much wealth who had given his all to the Cause in money and time, sat at these meetings, his face shining like the sun; and, under his warm sponsorship, we saw the traces of suspicion becoming less apparent, and felt the vapors of misunderstanding drifting away. Truly. the spirit of Reconciliation was on the march!
[photo of William Randall omitted]
The preparations for the Convention were now in full swing and the Bahais were working in complete cooperation with one another. The place set was New York and the time was drawing close. On April 22nd, I took the midnight train from Boston and installed myself in the Hotel McAlpin at Sixth Avenue and 34th Street, where the Eleventh Bahai Convention was to he held.
The Convention had before it two definite objects:


  1. To cancel in an unofficial and natural way the Report of the Bahai Committee of Investigation, adopted Fit the Tenth Convention in Chicago,

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and to remove from the hearts of the members all ideas of limitation and exclusion.


2. To inaugerate a universal campaign for the promotion of the teachings of Baha-O-Llah, and to set before the world a new standard of international relationship, based on all-inclusive fraternity, comradeship and self sacrifice.
From that March morning in Bahjee when Abdul Baha had dictated to me the first Tablet in the mighty series of the Divine Plan, through February of the following year, when in Haifa, he closed with the last Tablet, and on to the time when his followers were to gather at the Convention to receive the instructions thus set forth, the one concern of the Master was to awaken the Bahais to their responsibility and prepare them for a field of service no vast, that it cannot be likened to any task imposed by the initiators of the religions of the past. Shall we use other words, fewer and more concise: Abdul Baha gave us the world!
Preparations for the Convention were proceeding apace; every detail had to be worked out in conference. Committees had been appointed, such as publicity, music, decoration, finance, all of which to a large extent were working under the personal supervision of Mrs. Maxwell. This beautiful, delicate and altogether charming personality was able to combine a mystic fervor with unusual practical ability. From the time of my arrival in Washington, when a small group had united in purpose, I had been in constant communication with her by telegraph, telephone and through the mail. She wrote: "We are all one in heart and spirit, and united in the most glorious service that has ever been offered to any people . . . Sutherland (Mr. Maxwell) has certainly been inspired regarding the frames for the Tablets. They are to be in turquoise and gold . . ."
In regard to publicity, she continued:
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