Monday, April 12, 2010


Who are our ancestors? I mean, who are those dear souls from whom we inherited our Faith?

Oh sure, we all know about Mulla Husayn and the Letters of the Living, or people like Thornton Chase, the first Baha'i in North America, but who connects us to them?

My friend, Lucki, took this question and has traced our family tree back to the Master. She found the story of the Rabbi who was taught by 'Abdu'l-Baha, who in turn taught Rezvaniyyih, who shared the Faith with Lucki, who passed it on to me.

But what about all those other stories? Who are those passers of the baton in the middle of our "family " tree, to mix metaphors?

This morning, as I was looking over my bookshelf, I thought about this, and pulled down some old volumes of The Baha'i World. How many of us actually read those old, dusty tomes? Come to think of it, how many of us actually read those scholarly articles in the newer volumes?

I have to tell you, they are one of my favorite reads. In a single volume, number 4 to be precise, you will find articles from Hands of the Cause of God George Townshend, Horace Holley, Keith Ransom-Kehler, Martha Root, and Louis Gregory, before any of them were appointed to that high station. There are also articles by Louis Bourgeois, the architect of the Mother Temple of the West, Lady Blomfield, Stanwood Cobb, and Lydja Zamenhof, just to name a few. There is a tribute to the Faith from China, a history of the Faith in Italy, one from Japan, another from London, still another from Palestine, a pilgrim's report from Bahji, stories of Persian Jews, and still I haven't exhausted what is in it. As I glance through the tables of contents of other early volumes, I am equally impressed by the roster of names, and the locales covered. It is basically a history of the growth of the Faith and a map of its stars.

To anyone who wants to get a better understanding of the development of the Faith as seen through the eyes of those who were living it, there is no better resource than these priceless volumes given to us by the Guardian himself.

One of my favorite sections to read through is the In Memorium. Who are these people, that merited a place in so historic a book? What did they do?

If you take a look at the first volume, you will quickly notice that the first article about someone's passing is that of the Master, Who had died only a couple years earlier. But if we don't count that article, the next one is a memorial of Hand of the Cause of God, John Esselmont.

In Volume 9, 1940 - 1944, there are a number of amazing people remembered there: Hands of the Cause of God John Dunn and 'Abdu'l-Jalil Bey Sa'ad, Haji Mirza Buzurg Afnan 'Ala-i, Howard Colby Ives, Carol Lombard, Alma Knobloch, and many, many more.

As I was reading through them earlier today, one really stood out for me: Mary Revell.

This name stood out to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I knew of Jessie and Ethel from reading the history of the Faith and their incalculable services to the Guardian in the Holy Land. Second, my copy of volume 2 of the Baha'i World is signed by "the Three Revells", and so, being the curious sort, I researched who they were. As near as I could figure it out, the signature refers to Jessie and Ethel, and their mother, Mary.

I never really knew anything of Mary's life until today, when I took a few minutes to read her tribute in that book. I knew that she was an early Baha'i in North America, but never knew anything about her life.

She had been active in her church in Philadelphia when she recognized Baha'u'llah, and this led to active persecution from the minister. In response to this, the Master sent a tablet to the city's believers, in which He wrote, "It is easy to advance toward the Kingdom but it is difficult to remain firm and steadfast." Words that are just as true today as they were when written.

She was a much loved hostess, providing hospitality not only for 'Abdu'l-Baha when He was in Philadelphia, but also for such notable believers as Martha Root, May Maxwell, Keith Ransom-Kehler, and countless others from both the East and the West. Literally hundreds of people heard about the Faith within her walls.

It was of her that the Master said, "This is a firm believer. Her spirit is larger than her body."

There is a wonderful story of her when she was present at the dedication of the Temple grounds by 'Abdu'l-Baha. It seems that a believer  from Persia had requested that she touch the hem of His garment for him. So, the day of the dedication, while there on the grounds, she said a silent prayer that she might fulfill this man's request. No sooner had she breathed this to the heavens than she found 'Abdu'l-Baha standing directly in front of her. "Quietly she touchd the hem of His robe, while thinking of the brother in far-away Persia, and then 'Abdu'l-Baha walked away."

Later, she went to New York to see 'Abdu'l-Baha again. At the end of that visit, she said her farewells to everyone and left with one of her daughters for the train station. Suddenly, her daughter realized that she had left her baggage at the place she was staying. Because of this delay, they decided to attend the evening meeting where the Master was speaking that night. When they went in, they discovered the crowd was very large, and the Master was sitting at the far end of the room with an empty seat on either side of Him. "To their surprise and delight, He motioned for them to be seated beside Him. Although they had said their farewells to the friends, 'Abdu'l-Baha knew they would be present that evening; and because His time had been entirely occupied, and they had had no opportunity for a personal visit, ...He bestowed upon them this great favor. Many of the friends later said they had wondered for whom 'Abdu'l-Baha was reserving the seats beside Him."

As she passed away, years later, her last words were, "Ya-Baha'u'l-Abha."

Reading this simple story reminded me of the beauty of the lives of those who had the bounty of living at that time.

A few pages later, I had the pleasure of reading the story of the first Baha'i in Australia, and his fellow-believer who passed away from a stroke suffered at his funeral.

This touching story is followed a few pages later by countless stories shared by Howard Colby-Ives about his meetings with 'Abdu'l-Baha, followed immediately by another believer who had been born in 1844 into a Jewish family. This man served the Faith in many incredible ways, including offering land for the burial of Baha'is who were refused to be allowed to be buried in other cemetaries.

Then there is the story of Matthew Kaszab who carried the Faith to Nicaragua, amid much hardship and turmoil. Of his short life, filled with suffering and pain, the Guardian said, "His services are unforgettable." Four words that we all would give anything to have said of us.

Whether it is stories like these, or the teasingly sparse story of Haji Ali Yazdi, described as "The oldest survivor in the Holy Land of the early days of the Faith", we find inspiration and joy in remembering these often untold tales, replete with gems of wisdom and humour.

There are too many to go into here, but I will leave you with one last bit that brought a smile to face.

Philip Effendi Naimi, who passed away in Egypt in 1942, was in hospital when the authorities summoned a priest to perform last rites. He turned to him, on his deathbed, and clearly said, "I am a Baha'i and I am no longer in need of your services."

I pray that when I pass away, there will something that I will have done in my life that will be worthy of even a few words mention.

Until then, my tip for the day: If it grows together, it goes together. That is my view of spices and herbs. Whenever they grow in the same area, they always seem to go together well in food.


  1. A wonderful survey of and invitation to study these precious volumes, Mead - thank you!

  2. Wonderful reminder of the richness of our heritage. Thank you so much