Archive for July, 2008

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Quest

Observe how dear thou wert that He guided thee to the Kingdom of Light, and how near to His Threshold, that He granted thee admission into His Court. Thou wert poor in spirit; He led thee to the Heavenly Treasure. Thou wert in quest of illumination; He enlightened thee through the rays of the Sun of Truth. Thou wert athirst; He led thee to the Spring of Life. Thou wert sick; He bestowed upon thee the Heavenly Remedy. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í writings

If you were looking for answers to the difficult questions of today, it is unlikely that you would travel thousands of kilometres to seek them from a person serving a life sentence. How much more unlikely would be your quest if the prisoner had only a childhood experience of a free life, spoke a language you did not and was at that very moment under the threat of immediate execution. And even more improbable would be your quest if you were a well-off American woman of less than 25 years, travelling alone into the volatile Middle East.

Yet this is what Clifford Laura Barney did at the beginning of the 20th century. While she was studying in Paris, around 1900, Laura met May Bolles. Laura was about 21 years old at the time. May introduced her to the Bahá’í teachings and soon afterwards Laura went to `Akká to visit the life-long prisoner, `Abdu’l-Bahá, who had been exiled and then incarcerated along with His father 50 years previously. That first visit was very short indeed: almost immediately `Abdu’l-Bahá asked Laura to leave and to visit holy sites associated with the life of Christ. `Abdu’l-Bahá wanted her to understand how people had treated Christ so that she would be better able to deal wih the sort of opposition she would surely encounter as she taught the Bahá’í Faith.

Laura Clifford B

Still in her twenties, Laura returned a number of times to `Akká between 1904 and 1906, staying for lengthy periods in the home of `Abdu’l-Bahá, who was then living in the mansion known as the house of Abdu’llah Pasha. As she sat with `Abdu’l-Bahá at His dining table, she asked Him a long series of questions on religious and spiritual themes and on the topical issues of the day – from the nature of God to biblical prophecy, from science and religion to industrial strikes, from evolution to what to do with criminals. The range of the questions is remarkable, considering Laura’s youth, and prescient.

`Abdu’l-Bahá could not speak to Laura every day but she `could well be patient’ – she had come to `Akká with the intention of learning more about the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and she had lots of time for this study.

Not so `Abdu’l-Bahá. `Abdu’l-Bahá was not young, nor did He have time on His hands. His life was threatened during the whole of the period that Laura stayed in His home and He was busy overseeing the building of the Shrine of the Báb, dealing with hostile government officials, looking after the Bahá’í community and ministering to the health and welfare needs of the people of `Akká. `I have given to you my tired moments,’ `Abdu’l-Bahá told Laura, as He rose from the table after answering one of her questions (SAQ, p. xvii).

Many of the answers given by `Abdu’l-Bahá were fairly short but so impressive and insightful that Laura arranged to have them recorded. Thus another visitor to `Akká, Ethel Rosenberg, the first English woman to become a Bahá’í, wrote down Laura’s questions and recorded `Abdu’l-Bahá’s replies as translated into English by Dr Yúnis Khán Afrúkhtih, a secretary of `Abdu’l-Bahá [side note here: Yúnis Khán is the great-great grandfather of my grandchildren (!) through their father], while Mírzá Múnir, another secretary, recorded the answers as spoken by `Abdu’l-Bahá in Persian.

Laura explained that the answers to her questions `were written down . . . not with a view to publication, but simply that I might have them for future study’. The English notes of Ethel Rosenberg were transcribed and translated in Persian and `Abdu’l-Bahá read them, `sometimes changing a word or a line with His reed pen’ (SAQ, p. xv). The result was a large collection of talks giving a unique insight into the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh on a wide range of issues and topics.

In 1906 `in spite of the strict surveillance imposed on `Abdu’l-Bahá, His family, and all visitors’, Laura was able to take with her out of the Holy Land `copies both of the original Persian manuscript, revised by `Abdu’l-Bahá, and of its English translation’ (Giachery, `Laura Clifford Dreyfus-Barney’, Bahá’í News, July 1978, p. 5).

As she studied the answers of `Abdu’l-Bahá, Laura realized that they were so clear, so deep and so penetrating that they would be useful to anyone seeking the truth. Thus she asked His permission to publish them and this was granted in 1906.

Although `Abdu’l-Bahá’s conversations with Laura were not in any particular order, she organised the 84 talks into five categories, added a table of contents and translated them into English from the Persian transcript.

In London, a hundred years ago exactly – in 1908 – this collection of talks given by `Abdu’l-Bahá at Laura Clifford Barney’s prompting was published as a book `unique’ in the `entire field’ of `religious history’ (Universal House of Justice, Messages, p. 281) – Some Answered Questions – a feat that earned Laura `immortal fame’ (ibid.)

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Not so `Abdu’l-Bahá. `Abdu’l-Bahá was not young, nor did He have time on His hands. His life was threatened during the whole of the time that Laura stayed in His home and He was busy overseeing the building of the Shrine of the Báb, dealing with hostile government officials, looking after the Bahá’í community and ministering to the health and welfare needs of the people of `Akká. `I have given to you my tired moments,’ `Abdu’l-Bahá told Laura, as He rose from the table after answering one of her questions (SAQ, p. xvii).

Many of the answers given by `Abdu’l-Bahá were fairly short but so impressive and insightful that Laura arranged to have them recorded. Thus another visitor to `Akká, Ethel Rosenberg, the first English woman to become a Bahá’í, wrote down Laura’s questions and recorded `Abdu’l-Bahá’s replies as translated into English by Dr Yúnis Khán Afrúkhtih, a secretary of `Abdu’l-Bahá [side note here: Yúnis Khán is the great-great grandfather of my grandchildren (!) through their father], while Mírzá Múnir, another secretary, recorded the answers as spoken by `Abdu’l-Bahá in Persian.

Laura explained that the answers to her questions `were written down . . . not with a view to publication, but simply that I might have them for future study’. The English notes of Ethel Rosenberg were transcribed and translated in Persian and `Abdu’l-Bahá read them, `sometimes changing a word or a line with His reed pen’ (SAQ, p. xv). The result was a large collection of talks giving a unique insight into the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh on a wide range of issues and topics.

In 1906 `in spite of the strict surveillance imposed on `Abdu’l-Bahá, His family, and all visitors’, Laura was able to take with her out of the Holy Land `copies both of the original Persian manuscript, revised by `Abdu’l-Bahá, and of its English translation’ (Giachery, `Laura Clifford Dreyfus-Barney’, Bahá’í News, July 1978, p. 5).

As she studied the answers of `Abdu’l-Bahá, Laura realized that they were so clear, so deep and so penetrating that they would be useful to anyone seeking the truth. Thus she asked His permission to publish them and this was granted in 1906.

Although `Abdu’l-Bahá’s conversations with Laura were not in any particular order, she organised the 84 talks into five categories, added a table of contents and translated them into English from the Persian transcript.

A hundred years ago exactly – in 1908 – this collection of talks given by `Abdu’l-Bahá at Laura Clifford Barney’s prompting was published as a book `unique’ in the `entire field’ of `religious history’ – Some Answered Questions – a feat that earned Laura `immortal fame’ (Universal House of Justice, Messages, p. 281)

SAQ

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