Saturday, June 30, 2007

two chapters

Chapters 6 & 8, He Loved and Served

By Nathan Rutstein, scanned and proofed, 2007 June 30


Chapter 6


Meticulous about his work, Curtis didn't want to do anything that would flaw the lighting project in any way. Even aesthetic matters concerned him. The thought of having to lay the thick black wire, that Roy sent over, along the Shrines' interior walls, bothered him. The wires should be buried behind the walls. Special wiring was needed, and the only place where he could secure it was in Cairo.

'Abdu'l-Baha gave Curtis $600 and asked that he take Fujita along because 'he would enjoy Cairo.' The Master loved Fujita dearly, showering special care over the precious pearl from Japan. Every day the two would have breakfast together - alone. It was a time of peace, when the Master could bask in the light of Fujita's purity, not having to meet any demands. Often their breakfasts were feasts of laughter, especially after 'Abdu'l-Baha asked Fujita to grow a beard. When full-grown, it was at best a thin collection of long hairs, nothing like the thick luxuriant beards Persians grow. The Master enjoyed stroking Fujita's wispy beard, usually making' Him laugh. Fujita was happy that he could bring pleasure to 'Abdu'l-Baha's life. But there was a time when he questioned whether he could be doing something more useful than serving 'Abdu'l-Baha.

Fujita, who came from a prominent Japanese family, heard of the Faith in San Francisco from Mrs Helen Goodall. Before becoming a Baha'i, he was a notorious party-hopper, associating with theater people. Learning that Fujita had become a Baha'i, the Master wrote him a tablet, praising him for the step he had taken and for the wonderful person he was. 'The person He's writing about,' Fujita thought, 'couldn't be me.' So he didn't take the letter seriously. After the third letter from 'Abdu'l-Baha, Fujita wrote the Master asking what he could do to best serve the Faith. 'Go back to school,' 'Abdu'l-Baha advised. Fujita went to Ann Arbor, Michigan to study.

In 1912 Fujita met the Master, who urged him to complete his schooling. Upon graduation, 'Abdu'l-Baha promised, He would have him come to the World Center to work. Fujita went to Chicago to complete his engineering studies. He spent seven years, living with Mrs Corinne True and her family. Afterwards he went to Haifa, but never got close to a drafting table. He found himself working as a servant in the Western Pilgrim House, certainly not putting into practice what he had studied at the university. This disturbed him; being in Haifa, he convinced himself, was a mistake, and he decided to go back to America. While packing his clothes, Ruhi Afnan appeared, stating that 'Abdu'l-Baha wanted to see him immediately. Fujita ran to the Master's house. As he entered 'Abdu'l-Baha's room, the Master said, 'What is the matter, Fujita?'

'You told me to study certain things, and I'm not doing them here.'

'Fujita,' the Master said, 'if I wanted a mechanic or engineer I could have gotten one easily. The work you are doing for me is what 'Abdu'l-Baha wishes you to do.'

The Master's love dispelled every trace of self-pity and Fujita replied, 'If I must shine the Master's shoes that would be fine for me.' Fujita had gained understanding: he was a servant of the Servant of Glory. What greater honor could there be? For there was no greater station in this life than servitude.

Curtis and Fujita together must have generated stares from passers-by. Fujita in his shoes was less than five foot tall, possessing what Curtis called a 'wispy, moth-eaten beard.' Curtis on the other hand was about six foot, rangy, and took long strides when he walked. Half the time Fujita had to trot to keep up with Curtis. Though superficially different, they grew to like each other, often swimming together in the sea on hot days and sharing some of their deepest thoughts and feelings.

Excited that he was going to Cairo, Fujita insisted on taking his tuxedo along, which he vowed he would wear. Curtis was skeptical about Fujita's chances of wearing it, because they were on a purchasing mission, and they had not received invitations to any balls.

It was dark when they arrived in Cairo. While standing on the platform of the Cairo railroad station, wondering what hotel they should go to, they heard a woman call, 'Allah-u-Abha.' They turned and saw a large woman, dressed in fancy clothes, followed by her two sons and a daughter. This American lady had met Curtis and Fujita while on pilgrimage, and when she approached them, asked, 'What brings you to Cairo?'

When they explained, she insisted that they stay where she was staying - the Continental Hotel, one of the most expensive hotels in northern Africa in 1921.

As they stepped into the lobby, they were dazzled by the elegance of the place. Every person seemed so self-assured, so important. And because Curtis and Fujita were there, the hotel-workers assumed that they were people of high social rank. The bell-hop who escorted them to their room treated them with deference. But that illusion was soon shattered when they reached the room. When the bell-hop opened the door, both Curtis and Fujita gaped at the opulence before them. What a contrast to their room in Haifa. Fujita wasn't one to hide his feelings; he dropped his suitcase and sprinted to one of the two large beds and dove onto one of them. Curtis burst into laughter, because there was Fujita enveloped by the thick quilts, with only his face exposed, beaming with delight, enjoying thoroughly something he had taken for granted during his party-hopping days in California.

For a few minutes both men acted as if they had been dispatched to some dream world, because they had difficulty believing that their new surroundings were real. They had just come from a place where the mattresses were only three-quarters of an inch thick, and you shook out your shoes before putting them on lest your toes be greeted by a scorpion.

The beds were so soft, so appealing that the first thing they decided to do was sleep and sleep for as long as they wanted. But that plan was quickly altered, because soon after making their decision, they heard someone knocking on the door. It was a bell-hop, dressed in a colorful uniform, with a message from the lady who had invited them to stay at the Continental Hotel. 'Would you please join me for dinner?' she asked. Fujita wasn't yawning anymore; the message had infused new energy into him. Curtis watched what he thought would never materialize actually happen. Fujita tore into his suitcase, pulled out his tuxedo and put it on. Somehow, Curtis felt, 'Abdu'l-Baha had made it possible for Fujjta to carry out his wish.

When they reached the lobby, Fujita seemed to take charge, walking ahead of Curtis and the lady who had invited them to dinner, his tuxedo tails almost touching the rich oriental rugs. As he approached the dining room, one of the hotel's elegantly dressed butlers, standing erect, opened the thick oak doors. It was a majestic entry. The only thing missing was a series of trumpet fanfares and the roll of the drum. Terribly self-conscious, Curtis walked down the aisle after Fujita, who was bowing to the left and then to the right. The men on both sides stood and bowed back, sensing that Fujita was some sort of royal figure from the orient.

No sooner had they been seated, than a butler approached Fujita and whispered something in his ear. Fujita arose and proceeded to the door, again bowing to the left and then the right, the gentlemen on both sides responding in kind.

As Fujita entered the lobby, he was greeted by a large Persian who swept him into his arms and kissed his beard. The Persian had heard from pilgrims that the Master enjoyed stroking Fujita's beard.

The trip to Cairo was successful. Curtis purchased the wire he needed, and his dear friend Fujita was able to satisfy a long yearning. After the Cairo episode, Fujita stopped opening his trunk to show off his rich collection of clothing to Curtis and Lutfu'llah. It was as if the experience in Egypt had severed a certain attachment that Fujita had had to the old status quo.

In the United States, Curtis would never think of going to a place to hear someone speak if the speaker spoke in a language he couldn't understand. But in Haifa Curtis wouldn't miss 'Abdu'l-Baha's talks in the Pilgrim House every night, or on Sunday in the central front room of the Shrine of the Bab. The Master spoke in either Arabic or Persian. Yet Curtis was drawn to the meetings by 'Abdu'l-Baha and he sat like the other people with his arms folded across his chest, at times wearing a fez. Not that that was a special way that Baha'is were to sit in the presence of the Master. It was simply something the local people did whenever they sat before someone they deemed prominent or revered. So that he wouldn't insult or slight them, this young American, who had the spirit of a cowboy, struggled to adopt the local people's customs.

The Master must have known that Curtis' intentions were pure and that he was gaining something by attending the meetings. One evening, about midway through His talk, 'Abdu'l-Baha looked over at Curtis and asked in English, 'Do you understand what is being said here?'

'No, Master,' Curtis responded. 'I do not speak the languages. '

'Well, your heart understands, and the language of the heart is much stronger than the language of words.'

After that experience, Curtis began to understand that words weren't required to reach true communication with someone. As his understanding of that experience grew, he was able to be with someone and feel comfortable without uttering a word. He also learned from 'Abdu'l-Baha that a pure expression of love can settle a troubled heart, even answer questions that one is afraid to ask openly. Curtis experienced this one Sunday while in the Shrine of the Bab, attending a talk by the Master. He found his mind drifting and questioning various aspects of the Teachings, which he didn't understand. It was troubling him. While his eyes were focused on the floor, Curtis felt a strong impulse to look up. When he did, he noticed the Master in the far comer looking at him and smiling ... Though nothing was said, all of Curtis' questions and doubts vanished.

In a way Curtis' experience in the Holy Land with 'Abdu'l-Baha was an ongoing lesson on how to live life. Everything that happened was meaningful, even death, especially how we die.

Elderly Abu'l-Hasan, who belonged to the family of the Bab, committed suicide at dawn one day. He didn't take his life because he felt he was a drain on his family and 'Abdu'l-Baha: he was an able workman at the World Center and the Master loved him dearly. Nor was it because he had suffered so much in his life, especially in Persia. His suicide was a carefully calculated act. After settling all of his personal affairs, he strode down to the sea, folded his clothes neatly, and leaving them on the beach, walked into the sea. His death grieved 'Abdu'l-Baha. On the day of the funeral, the Master helped to carry Abu'l-Hasan's coffin to the grave site.

Curtis learned from 'Abdu'l-Baha that there was no valid reason for committing suicide. That point was made in addressing the friends in His nightly talk at His home, the day after Abu'l-Hasan's funeral.

“No one should injure himself on purpose or take his own life,” He said; “God never places a burden on us greater than we can carry. Each burden we endure is for our own good and development. Should anyone at any time encounter hard and perplexing times, he must say to himself, `This too will pass;’ then he will grow calm.”

“When experiencing difficulties,” He added, “I would say to myself `this too will pass away,’ and I would become calm again.”

“Now if someone cannot be patient and endure then it is better for him to arise in the service of the Cause of God. It would be better for him to pursue the path of martyrdom than to commit suicide.”

A few days after making those statements, 'Abdu'l-Baha passed away, ending a lifetime of martyrdom. The friends then realized that Mirza Abu'l-Hasan had sensed that the One he loved more than anyone else would soon be gone and that he couldn't bear to live without Him.



He Loved and Served, The Story of Curtis Kelsey, by Nathan Rutstein, George Ronald, Oxford, pp. 75-82



Chapter 8

'Get up! Get up! The Master! The Master!' someone cried, while pounding on the door of Curtis' room. Alarmed, the three young men inside awoke, jumped out of bed and groped in the dark for their clothes. It was about 1:00 A.M., November 28, and cool. But the weather didn't bother them, as they dashed to 'Abdu'l-Baha's house, Curtis still tucking his shirt into his trousers.

As Curtis entered the house, people were weeping, some hysterically. He had to practically push his way through the crowd of people, mostly Persians, groaning and moaning, some wailing uncontrollably. When he reached the Master's room, Dr Florian Krug was standing beside the bed where 'Abdu’l-Baha lay. The physician, who had arrived in Haifa with his wife two weeks earlier, turned to Curtis and said, 'The Master has just ascended.'

Dr Krug, a prominent New York doctor, who bitterly opposed the Faith when his wife embraced it, and then became a Baha'i when he met 'Abdu'l-Baha in America, closed the lids of the Master's eyes.

Curtis had never witnessed such deeply felt despair. For some reason, he couldn't show any emotion. That wasn't like him for he wasn't hard-hearted. Perhaps he wasn't faithful, he thought, and forced himself to cry; but he stopped when an inner voice commanded, 'No, not that; now is the time to observe.’

Curtis stood silently for a few moments, gazing at that mighty figure, on the bed, that had cast light into his life and helped him to understand and experience joy. It always felt good to be with Him, so good. He would have done anything for 'Abdu'l-Baha. Curtis was too close to his Holy Land experiences to appreciate what the Master had taught him, breathed into him. But through the years it became evident little by little.

There was pandemonium in the main central room. Ruhi Afnan, the Master's grandson, was sobbing, beating his head with his fists, and blaming the death of the Master on the American believers' disobedience. Of course, Curtis knew that wasn't true. Some people were crying out, as if asking God, 'Why does this have to happen? What will become of the Cause now that the Master is gone?'

The one who could answer those questions was across the room. The Greatest Holy Leaf calmly went about comforting the grief-stricken, absorbing their pain. As Curtis watched her move from person to person, stroking a shoulder, clasping a stretched-out hand, he noticed that she exhibited the kind of strength that 'Abdu'l-Baha radiated. Some sensed that and clung to her. Her control, her poise, her unrestrained flow of compassion assured him that the Faith would not falter. She was, at that moment, the head of the Faith that her dear brother had led so successfully for twenty-nine years, giving His all. She was a tower of strength that all would rally around for support.

As he watched the Greatest Holy Leaf, her eyes caught his and she walked over to him. Since he was not crying, he wondered why she was coming toward him.

'Kelsey,' she said, 'will you take Fujita and Khusraw to 'Akka to tell the friends there of the Master's passing and then come right back?'

It was about two-thirty in the morning when they piled into the Master's Ford, with Curtis in the driver's seat, Fujita beside him and Khusraw in the back. There was no longer any chill in the air; in fact it was a balmy night; the same kind of night as when Curtis walked with the Master to Bahji. The only sounds were the rhythmic beat of the surf washing over the beach and pulling back to the sea - and the near quiet crying of Fujita and Khusraw. Tears welled up in Curtis' eyes as he thought of 'Abdu'l-Baha, and his experiences with Him during the past two months and he began to cry openly when he thought of what a shock the Master's passing would be to the friends across the world. It was more than losing a close friend, or a member of your family. So many would feel that their link with God had been severed.

Though Curtis was weeping, he kept driving. He couldn't stop, for the Greatest Holy Leaf wanted the believers in 'Akka to know about the passing of the Master. Curtis began to pray for strength.

Soon all three stopped crying, because they were approaching a stream that they had to cross in order to reach their destination. The car stopped, and Khusraw waded into t he water, searching for a sand bar. Without one it would be impossible to drive across the stream, which fed into the Bay of Haifa. In a matter of minutes, Khusraw found what he was looking for; and Curtis followed him, making it safely to shore. Soon they encountered another stream and conquered it in the same way.

Sharing the sad news with the friends, especially after waking them, was difficult. All of them expressed disbelief; some stared at the three young men as if what they had heard was part of a dream. Curtis' immediate instinct was to stay with the friends, to try to comfort them, but they had to be back as soon as possible. After urging the 'Akka friends to come to Haifa to attend the funeral, Curtis, Fujita and Khusraw rushed back to Haifa to see what they could do next for the Greatest Holy Leaf.

They were cruising at about thirty miles per hour. At that pace they would be back in plenty of time to help with early morning chores at 'Abdu'l-Baha's house. Getting over the first stream proved no problem, because they followed the tracks they had made going to 'Akka. Negotiating the second one appeared as easy - the tracks were still visible. But the sand bar wasn't where it was before; it had shifted and the car began to sink. All three scrambled out of the Ford, with Curtis yelling, 'Do what I do!'

Curtis, with water up to his hips, was lifting one of the front wheels, trying to keep it from touching the mucky stream floor. Fujita and Khusraw were beside him, having difficulty with their footing. The water was up to Fujita's neck and Khusraw's shoulders; and when they tried to lift the wheel, their legs gave way and they ended up floating and clinging to the running board. That wasn't going to be much help, Curtis thought. He couldn't allow the car to settle into the mud, yet he couldn't continue to bear most of the weight of the vehicle.

Remembering that before approaching the stream, about two miles away, he had noticed several husky Arab fishermen casting nets into the sea, Curtis asked Khusraw to fetch them. While Khusraw was gone, Curtis and Fujita moved from wheel to wheel ... trying to keep them from becoming captives of the mud. But keeping the car afloat wasn't their only worry. They felt they were needed back in Haifa because the Greatest Holy Leaf had said they should return immediately. Being stuck in a stream about nine miles from Haifa on the day of the Master's passing rankled Curtis.

In about thirty minutes Curtis noticed the fishermen coming, with Khusraw leading the way; all of them talking loudly in Arabic and gesturing freely. They ran into the water, joining the weary Curtis and Fujita. With great ease, they lifted the car from the water-and onto the shore pointing toward Haifa. After drying the carburetor, the three young Baha'is resumed their trip back to Haifa.

Even in death the Master was the cause of unity, advancing the principle of the oneness of humankind. People from all quarters of Haifa, poor and rich, marched side by side to 'Abdu'l-Baha's house, where the casket rested. Others had come long distances to attend the Master's funeral. The High Commissioner of Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, the Governor of Phoenicia, the Governor of Jerusalem, Druze leaders from the Lebanon Mountains: Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Greeks, Egyptians, Germans, Swiss, Americans, Persians and British were a part of the spontaneous outpouring of respect for 'Abdu'l-Baha that turned into a procession of about ten thousand. It was as if the Master were standing on the mountain top, arms outstretched, drawing the multitudes together as one family. Even the religious leaders, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox priests, along with the chiefs of the Muslim community and Jewish leaders, marched together united in their love and admiration for one they knew was brought to Palestine as a despised prisoner and who rose out of the bondage of injustice through His deep love and unqualified service to all. They knew how often His life was threatened; how small-minded men plotted to seize the Baha'i properties, which he guarded like a lion; and in the crowd were those who at one time were infected by the poisonous rumours circulated by the enemies of the Faith and Covenant-breakers, but who grew to love the Master after meeting Him.

Everyone knew that 'Abdu'l-Baha had helped to keep the people of Haifa and 'Akka from starving during World War One. 'Abdu'l-Baha had often spent hours on His feet giving sacks of wheat, which he had grown Himself, to the poor of Haifa and 'Akka. There was no way they could repay Him for what He had done for them. No wonder merchants. closed their shops, teachers shut down their school, and governmental officials left their desks to be at 'Abdu'l-Baha's funeral. No one there could remember the likes of the human outpouring of appreciation and love that was afforded 'Abdu'l-Baha. It was unprecedented.

The people marched slowly up Mount Carmel, passing the coffin containing the remains of the Master, from out-stretched hands to out-stretched hands. People vied with each other for the privilege of carrying the casket for only a moment. And they weren't Baha'is. For two hours they marched, as many wailed, '0 God! My God! Our Father has left us, our Father has left us!' Halfway to the Shrine of the Bab, a troop of Boy Scouts placed a wreath on the coffin.

For Curtis it was a time to observe, as that inner voice had commanded the night the Master passed away. And he was recording the historic event with the camera his mother had given him the day he left home for Haifa. He ran alongside of the procession, ran ahead, climbed steep cliffs to get pictures from all angles. It turned out that the photographs he took of the Master's funeral were among the best taken, and were later used in books.

When the procession finally reached the garden at the Shrine of the Bab, the casket, draped with a simple paisley shawl, was tenderly placed upon a plain table covered with a white linen cloth.

People pressed closer to the coffin, in a last expression of love for their dear, departed friend. There were nine speakers, leaders of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. So glowing were their eulogies that there was no need for a Baha'i speaker. With fervor and passion, they hailed Him as the true friend of the poor and downtrodden, praised Him for His work in developing understanding between different religions and different races and called Him the leader of mankind. The crowd heard a saint being described and they knew it was an accurate description, for many had been the recipients of His love and care.

Curtis heard the speeches in Arabic and French, and though he couldn't understand what was being said, he could feel the love and reverence in the voices of the orators, and the grief and sense of loss in the crowd. But despite all of the acclaim showered on the Master, Curtis knew that few people on that sunny day on Mount Carmel understood what 'Abdu'l-Baha represented to humanity and what He was truly working for. Curtis knew that the Master was more than a saint.

The casket was lifted carefully from the table and placed on the broad shoulders of the Shrine's caretaker, who stepped slowly into the vault in the room next to the one sheltering the remains of the Bab. Only one man could take the casket down, for there was no room for anyone else. After the funeral, this same caretaker, a powerful man, realized why the Master had asked him a puzzling question the day before He passed away: 'You are a strong man. Could you not carry me away to a place where I could rest? I'm tired of this world. '


He Loved and Served, The Story of Curtis Kelsey, by Nathan Rutstein, George Ronald, Oxford, pp. 93-100


Friday, June 29, 2007

Three Things

About Three Things

By John Taylor; 2007 June 29

Three Things

One: Cause of God Dream; Tao, Yin, Yang, Adl
Two: Bad News Science
Three: More on Vegetarianism

Cause of God Dream; Tao, Yin, Yang, Adl

A few days ago I had a dream. I had been reading in a magazine that this is the dawning of the age of transparency, a crashing end to the privacy and anonymity we used to enjoy. Now that everybody has a website or some other personal expression on the Web, you can no long hide who you are. A stranger who learns your name, or a prospective employer, can find out all about you at the push of a button. That knowledge conditioned my dream, which was sort of about that, along with my relationship to the Cause of God.

I dreamed that I woke and got right out of bed, still wearing only my underwear. I was in a huge lecture theatre with only one or two people. Nothing was going on at the front, so these early comers were sitting alone, mostly hunched over reading a book or newspaper. Unlike them, I found what was going on at the front extremely interesting. I had to hear about it, so reached back and pulled off the bed sheet and covered myself in that while I sat in the back row. I had to know more about what was going on with this Baha'i Faith so I worked my way forward until I was sitting in the front row. A few people had wandered in but they were still preoccupied with their own reading, obviously waiting for it to start, as yet paying no attention to what was going on at the front.

I absolutely could not take my eyes off that empty stage. I had to go up there. Nobody was watching. So I threw off the bed sheet and started crawling on my belly along the floorboards, still in my underwear. I reached center stage and suddenly everything was active, the show was about to start, stagehands were puttering about, and I looked back and saw that the hall was now packed, everybody was eagerly looking up at stage at me, waiting for the show to start. I had no business there but I now could not even slink back into a seat. I was highly embarrassed and wondered what to do, where to go, standing in my knickers in front of the whole world. End of dream.

A different take on entry by troops, I know, but one has no say on what happens in one's dreams. Maybe this is a sign that I had better start separating my personal essays from my professional and religious interests. Maybe they no longer mix as well as once they did.

Or maybe the nightmare has something to do with China. I have been listening to an excellent book about Taoism. As far as I can see, and the more I learn about Taoism the more this Chinese word "Tao" seems to signify everything that a Baha'i means when she speaks of God. The most important, opening words of the Tao-te Ching say, "The tao that can be spoken is not the Tao." Exactly. You could do a search and replace and put Tao in wherever you see "God" or "Holy Spirit" in the Writings. Or, when Baha'u'llah mentions "primal will" in the following, that could be the Tao too,

"`No vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision; He is the Subtile, the All-Perceiving.' [Qu'ran 6:103] No tie of direct intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures. He standeth exalted beyond and above all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness. No sign can indicate His presence or His absence; inasmuch as by a word of His command all that are in heaven and on earth have come to exist, and by His wish, which is the Primal Will itself, all have stepped out of utter nothingness into the realm of being, the world of the visible." (Iqan, 98)

Similarly, the idea of Yin and Yang. These two are more a strain of Chinese culture than anybody's philosophical stance, according to this expert. Yin and Yang, as far as I can see, are identical with what Aristotle talked about: virtue as moderation of two extremes, as a balance between "too little" and "too much." Ditto with Muhammad and His concept of "'Adl," or justice as balance.

Or is Adl a refinement of Aristotle's teaching? Adl emphasizes not "too much" or "too little" but takes a different ruling analogy, the even distribution of weight in two packs on either side of the back of a horse, donkey or camel. Too much weight on one side and the pack animal will topple. This would highlight justice not as a degree but as a zero sum quantity that either works or it does not. Yin and Yang use the shadowy and sunny side of a rock as core analogy, and are therefore more ethereal. But Adl is justice as balance, literally as a balance or weight scale; if the two sides of the scales are not the same, or if the camel is not perfectly stable, the scales will unbalance, or the camel will waste limited energy constantly trying to right itself as it walks.

It does not help a pack animal to pretend to balance its load equally, by say leaning a hand on one side. As soon as you walk away, the animal will suffer the loss of its Adl. Thus for 'Adl, justice is economy, efficiency and elegance based upon advance under the perfect distribution of two hemispheres. Which is why Muhammad and the Qu'ran were adamant that when it comes to matters of conscience, one does not put one's fingers on the scales and tip the balance. You would never guess that by looking at those who claim His name today, but that is the clear teaching of the Qu'ran:

"Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things." (Q2:256, Yusuf Ali)

Bad News Science

I read Popular Science, "The What's New Magazine," to get a lift, to get some sort of feeling that there is hope that things are getting better. But this month the bad news crept in even here. They have an annual list of the ten worst jobs in science, and the winner was not surprising, the guy who has to dive into toxic cesspools full of razors and other hazards dressed in a protective diving suit. But job number two was what I found surprising and depressing. The winner this time was oceanographer, one of the profession that I in High School coveted for a while as a possible career choice. And the oceanographer won not because of the physical but the moral danger. Read what they have to say about the second worst job in science this year:

"Nothing but bad news, day in and day out."

"Scientists estimate that over-fishing will end wild-seafood harvests by 2048 and that Earth's coral reefs will be rubble within decades. About 200 de-oxygenated dead zones dot the worlds coasts, up from 149 in 2004. Meanwhile, a vortex of plastic the size of Texas clogs the North Pacific, choking fish and birds; construction is destroying coastal habitats; and countless key marine species are nearly extinct. To top it all off, if global warming goes the way scientists predict, the uptick of carbon dioxide levels in the seas will acidify the water until little more than jellyfish can live there."

"With so much going on, there is plenty of work for oceangoing scientists -- if they can stomach bad news. Carl Safina, the founder of the nonprofit Blue Ocean Institute, is proud of the work he has done to battle over-fishing in the U.S., where some species are actually on the mend. Nevertheless, he says, humans are poised to remake the ocean into a new kind of environment that might require a toxic-containment suit. Recently, Ron Johnstone, an Australian marine biologist, broke out in boils while studying sediment. He was poisoned by fireweed, a toxic cyanobacteria exploding across the globe in response to pollution."

This job is so depressing because, like the skies, there are no borders writ in the ocean. It is the possession of all, therefore the possession of none, the responsibility of all, therefore the responsibility of none. The tragedy of the commons. The same problem goes in in theology. If God is everything, then God is nothing. It even goes on on our kitchen table lately. It is a common space that nobody takes it upon themselves to clean up. Everybody dumps a sheet of paper there, and now we cannot eat there, or even see each other over the pile of important, to read papers. Depression is a symptom, then, of lack of organization, and delegated responsibility. It is carrying a load in life that has not been balanced by Adl, or the Baytu'l-Adl. Hope, then, is a gift of God's Kingdom on earth, and nothing else.

More on Vegetarianism and the Baha'i Faith

A reader, noting my advocacy lately of vegetarianism, sent me this quote from the Proclamation to the Kings,

"Say: O concourse of priests and monks! Eat ye of that which God hath made lawful unto you and do not shun meat. God hath, as a token of His grace, granted you leave to partake thereof save during a brief period." (Baha'u'llah, Summons, 1.154, p. 80)

This is from the Tablet to Napoleon III. Baha'u'llah goes on to advise the monks to "Forsake all that ye possess and hold fast unto that which God has purposed. This is that which profiteth you, if ye be of them that comprehend." He then recommends "a fast of nineteen days in the most temperate of the seasons, and we have in this most resplendent and luminous Dispensation relieved you of more than this."

Maybe my readers with a Catholic background can enlighten me on this, but as far as I know, priests and monks were not forbidden to eat meat. Well, at least not normally; on Fridays they were supposed to eat fish instead of meat. Is that what Baha'u'llah is referring to? In any case, as far as I can see, His main concern here is to remove dietary regulations from the slate as a religious expression or as a sign of renunciation. The dietary laws of the church are thus lumped in with all of its other "possessions," all of which it is called upon to renounce, as He says, for their own good. The symbol and replacement for these legal "possessions" is the 19 day fast. From a faith perspective, it is not what you eat but what you do not eat that makes a difference.

So, since our choice of diet is no longer a direct concern of religious law, one might conclude that it does not matter at all. Not quite true. The House makes it clear that at least part of our choice should be turned over to trained professionals, scientists, dietitians, and doctors.

"In matters of health, particularly regarding diet and nutrition, the House of Justice advises the friends to seek the help and advice of experts and doctors. This is what Baha'u'llah has recommended and He does not indicate which school of thought or practice they should belong to. However, as you particularly ask about references in the Old Testament as they relate to meat and fish, the House of Justice has asked us to quote for you the following excerpt taken from a letter written on behalf of the beloved Guardian by his secretary to an individual believer: '...there is nothing in the teachings about whether people should eat their food cooked or raw; exercise or not exercise; resort to specific therapies or not; nor is it forbidden to eat meat.'" (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, June 19, 1977; in LOG #1017)


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Light on Light

Note: for those members of the Badi' list who care to read and collect these essays, I hit the wrong button yesterday and the submission was bestrewn with line feeds. I will not fill your mailbox with a revised version, but if you want the pretty, readable version, I have uploaded one to the Badi Blog. Just replace your copy with the version found there.


Light Upon Light; beginning and ending the Mission of Abdu'l-Baha


By John Taylor; 2007 June 28


The Mission of the Master began with the Ascension of Baha'u'llah, on November 12, 1892.

A few months later there took place in Chicago a gala, six-month-long celebration of the fifth centenary of Columbus's discovery of America in 1492. This was known as the World's Columbian Exposition, or the Chicago World's Fair. Here is what Wiki has to say about it:

"The Exposition covered more than 600 acres, featuring nearly 200 new buildings of European architecture, canals and lagoons, and people and cultures from around the world. Over 27 million people (about half the U.S. population) attended the Exposition over the six months it was open. Its scale and grandeur far exceeded the other world fairs of the time, and became a symbol of then-emerging American Exceptionalism, much in the same way that the Great Exhibition became a symbol of the Victorian era United Kingdom."

Every Baha'i can tell you the most important thing that happened there from our point of view. As Shoghi Effendi's God Passes By tells us, attendees in Chicago witnessed an adjunct conference, the "World Parliament of Religions," where the Baha'i Faith was mentioned in public for the first time.

Well, not exactly the first time, E.G. Browne had been giving detailed lectures on this movement in semi-public meetings in London and Oxford for some years by then; but Browne was at heart a Babi and continued to the end of his days calling it "Babism." Still, it is fair to say that Chicago saw the first public mention of Baha'u'llah and the Baha'i Faith qua religion among other religions, not as an obscure Persian millennial movement noted in some fusty Oxford professor's doctoral thesis. Several other important religious traditions, notably Paganism, Wicca and "Native Spirituality," were not mentioned at this parliament, and had to wait a century for the second parliament of religions in 1992 to gain the honor of recognition as legitimate religious phenomena.

But another notable first also took place at this World's Fair. This was the dramatic and spectacular unveiling of the world's first outdoor lighting system. The electric illumination display awed fair attendees; never in history had a public space been lit up at night with such brilliance and dependability. This marked the victory of Nicolai Tesla and his alternating current system over his rival and former employer, Thomas Edison, who had vociferously advocated direct current, which is not as efficient over the long distances that true electrification requires. This event marked the beginning of outdoor electric lights on every street, as well as the transmission by wires lifted up on poles of electricity to every home. Alternating current networks spread very quickly to every advanced city in the world. I have a photograph of a crowd on Young Street in Toronto taken ten years later, around 1900, and already the ugly but now ubiquitous power lines running down the side of the road are clearly visible.

From our point of view, what does this mean? Why do I mention a lighting display when I am supposed to be talking about Abdu'l-Baha?

The point is this: the Mission of Abdu'l-Baha began and ended with light. The Columbian Exposition mentioned Baha'u'llah first, and saw the first outdoor light. And so it was with the end of the Master's mission. I have gone to the trouble of scanning and correcting the relevant chapters of the biography of Curtis Kelsey because he was given the all important job, just before the Passing of the Master, of installing an AC lighting system on the path leading up to the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel, as well as at the Haram-i-Aqdas in Bahji.

This dream of the Master was physically challenging to install. Electrification had not yet reached the backwaters of Haifa and Akka. You had to put in a gas generator every place you put in lamps. But it was not _that_ challenging. He had ample opportunity to have the lights installed by qualified experts years before. Instead, some sort of spiritual, unseen conjuncture had to be crossed. Curtis Kelsey, a practical guy, a born handyman but not an electrical engineer, was called upon, in the last months of the Master's days on earth, to do this job. I encourage you to read the entire book, "He Loved and Served," by Nathan Rutstein, because only that gives you a feel for who this was, for the man in the Plan.

As a North American man myself, I think that the choice of Curtis Kelsey was a special gift of the Master to us in particular. Like all divine gifts, the gift comes first not to the keener at the head of the class, but to the dunce, the one most desperately in need of the gift. Men in general are slower in spiritual perception than women, and here in North America, the festering center of materialism, we are easily the most benighted of all men in the world. What a glorious bounty that one of us should have been chosen to do the work to light up the Holy Shrines for the first time! Reading Kelsey's biography was an almost primal experience for me. Kelsey had a long journey to go to be prepared for this task, and I am not talking about poring over books of electrical theory. I am talking about spiritual preparation. I am talking about poring over the holy Word, learning to pray, becoming worthy of the unique bounty of being among the last to see Abdu'l-Baha in the flesh. This is the story of how far we have to go, we North American men, of the long, long travail we need to suffer to get to see what a woman -- one like Kelsey's longsuffering mother -- can perceive instantly, without ever setting eyes on the Holy Ones.

So, the account here of Curtis Kelsey's working pilgrimage, crucial as it is for grasping the Mission of Abdu'l-Baha, was not the whole story by any means. It is a skeleton without flesh. The whole story of Curtis Kelsey takes in what he became, what the experience made of an ordinary guy, the sort who today is obsessed with beer, football and Nascar, and how far such a fellow can go with proper spiritual nurture.

By the way, if you want to hear with your own ears the results of Kelsey’s transformation, go to:

Here you can listen to a remarkably high quality sound recording of a pair of talks Curtis Kelsey gave, probably long after he had become an Auxiliary Board Member, called “Stories of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.” There is also a talk there by Bill Sears, and one by Nate Rutstein, the biographer himself, called: “Shoghi Effendi -- Master Builder of World Civilization.”

This fateful pilgrimage of Curtis Kelsey came at a charged moment in the Master's life. It lasted from just before to about six months after He ascended to the Abha Kingdom. The Master was better prepared for the event than anybody around Him. Some years before these events, the Master was reported as saying these words,

"Then Abdu'l-Baha walked in his room and looking from the window, said, "During the days of youth, man sees the pictures of life in all things where ever he looks, but, as his age advances, he sees the picture of death in every thing and that all things have an end. When he looks at the trees he sees that in the end they will dry up. When he looks at the buildings, he sees that finally they too, will be destroyed. If he sees a thickly populated place, he remembers that a time will come when it will be devastated. Briefly, all things inform man of an end." (SW, Vol. 9, p. 118)

This was not a sad time for the Master, but at least one other sensitive soul, an old man, an Afnan, could not bear what he sensed was about to happen. Well, why tell the story myself? I will let that incomparable popular writer, Nathan Rutstein, tell it.


Chapter 5


It was the dream of the Master to have the Shrine of the Bab bathed in light and at the same time to look across the Bay of Haifa and see the Shrine of Baha'u'llah illumined. In order to be able to do this, He told Curtis, 'You are to spend two weeks working in Bahji, then return to Haifa to work on the Shrine of the Bab for two weeks - and you are to follow this pattern until you have completed your work.'

After Curtis acknowledged the procedure, 'Abdu'l-Baha introduced him to a young Persian who had come from India. He was Husayn-i-Kahrubayi, the electrician who had appeared in Haifa a year earlier, volunteering to install the three lighting plants, but was sent home and was asked to wait until the Master called him. 'Abdu'l-Baha told Curtis that Husayn was going to help him, and assured him that they would learn to work well together even though they could not understand each other's language.

Of course working with someone you couldn't understand would be considered unorthodox back home, and in some quarters downright foolish. In putting together a work crew, Curtis was always taught, you make sure you select people who will work well together, people who will complement each other and be able to communicate easily. A good combination of people will assure effective, fast results. But in Haifa, Curtis had to scrap some of his management training, because he wasn't working for an executive in the Woolworth Building.

'Abdu’l-Baha had special ways. And Curtis knew that. In time, he felt, the wisdom of his working with Husayn would become clear.

So both men tried valiantly to overcome their differences, concentrating on ways to communicate. First they discovered they had a limited vocabulary of each other's language. For example, Curtis knew words like balih ('yes'), insha'llah ('if God will') and marhaba ('Well done!' or 'Welcome!'); and Husayn knew a few terms like 'okay,' 'all right' and 'good.' With a combination of the words they knew, a series of facial expressions and hand gestures, they were able to devise a system by which to work efficiently together. Before starting the actual work, they laid all of their tools out on a large table. When Curtis held up a tool, he would call out its English name and Husayn would give the Persian name.

They employed the same method with the lighting plant parts. It didn't take long before they at least had a basic knowledge of the working nomenclature. Certainly this arrangement would never have been tolerated by Curtis' father. But it worked, despite the strange grunting, peppered with words like 'balih' and 'okay' and exaggerated facial expressions and hand gestures. An objective Western observer watching the way the American and Persian were working together would probably have thought he was witnessing a rehearsal of some theatrical comedy production. But all went well. From this experience, Curtis realized that people of different cultures, who don't speak the same language, can learn to understand each other, even learn to like each other. What's necessary is a willingness to try, to view the other person as your equal, have a positive attitude, and faith that it will work out. Of course, Curtis never forgot that it was ‘Abdu’l-Baha who made it possible for him to gain insight into how humanity can be united.

For the next ten days Curtis spent time exploring the area around the Shrine of the Bab for a site to install the lighting plant and sketched out how he was going to wire the Holy Tomb. Time was also spent purchasing pipe and other supplies in town. On Sundays 'Abdu'l-Baha would gather with the friends at the Shrine of the Bab. Curtis always liked being there, not only because the Master would speak on some aspect of the Faith, but also because he especially looked forward to 'Abdu'l-Baha holding his hand and placing rose water in his palm. It was something He did to all of the believers before they entered the Shrine.

On the Sunday he was to go to Bahji to start the actual physical work, Curtis and Lutfu'llah were in town purchasing materials. Curtis wasn't going to miss being with the Master, not since he was going to be away from Him for two weeks. Every moment with Him was a feast for his soul. So Curtis made sure they got back in time for the meeting. About fifty believers were there. What impressed Curtis most that sunny afternoon was the walk down the mountain, with the Master in the lead. It was a heavenly processional. He could have followed the Master into the sea, if that was where He wished to go. Strange, but it was only ‘Abdu’l-Baha and the Faith that could command such obedience of a young man who had continually battled with authority throughout his life.

Suddenly, ‘Abdu’l-Baha turned around and said He had some business to attend to and proceeded down the steep rocky side of the mountain, moving quickly. No one knew exactly where He was going; but He had done the same thing before whenever He felt someone in town was in terrible need.

October 28 marked a month that Curtis had been at the World Center. As usual, he got up at five, washed and went to the shop to fix a gas torch. He had been there only a few minutes when ‘Abdu’l-Baha appeared, saying 'Good morning my son, good morning my son. How are you?'

What a way to be greeted in the morning, Curtis thought -- the Center of the Covenant looking at you so lovingly. No one else ever looked at him that way, not even his mother. It was an outpouring that penetrated every fiber of his being.

Curtis asked if he, Husayn and Lutfu'llah could go to Bahji that day to begin the actual work.

'Very good,' responded the Master.

Since the train to 'Akka didn't leave until late in the afternoon, Curtis remained in the garage putting things in order and packing. ‘Abdu’l-Baha's room was close to the garage, and while Curtis worked, he could hear the Master dictating a very long tablet.

The thought of starting to install the lighting plants thrilled Curtis, but the fact that he would be in Bahji, away from the Master for two weeks, concerned him. How frustrating -- knowing that ‘Abdu’l-Baha was about fifteen miles away in Haifa and being unable to be with Him, watch Him, listen to Him. But Curtis' fear never came to pass. He went to Bahji all right, but somehow -- maybe through a subconscious drive of his -- he found a reason to return to Haifa from time to time, to pick up materials he needed for his work. Every time he came back, he would see or speak to the Master. Not for long, just for a few seconds. But that was enough for Curtis. One time, however, he met 'Abdu'l-Baha in front of His home, and asked Him something he had wanted to ask for weeks but couldn't find the courage to: Curtis asked if he could take the Ford to Bahji, so that if he had to return to Haifa to pick up supplies he wouldn't have to rely on the shaky railroad schedule.

Curtis was granted his wish, but he didn't abuse it. He returned to Haifa only about four or five times. Meanwhile, much was accomplished at Bahji. It was a spartan life - up at five, prayers, a couple of hours of work, breakfast, more work, lunch, a nap, more work, supper and more work; and at times reflection near the Tomb of Baha'u'llah.

Washing one's body was done before supper, close to sunset. Right after work Lutfu'llah and Curtis would rush to the old stone viaduct, wash their clothes in the cold, clear water, then take a bath Bahji-style: Curtis would strip nude and stand on a boulder and Lurfu'llah would cast buckets of cold water on him; then Curtis would wash Lurfu'llah down.

Curtis, Lutfu'llah and Husayn lived in the cottage where the Master stayed when He visited Bahji. And they ate well. The Master made sure of that. He was especially conscious of Curtis' food needs, because they were different from Husayn's. He made certain that Curtis received enough protein, something he sensed most Americans craved. Spending nine months in the United States and Canada, the Master gained a deep understanding of American customs and tastes. Normally, people in the Middle East do not eat eggs in the morning; but the Master made sure the young American had them for breakfast. In a note to the caretaker at Bahji, 'Abdu'l-Baha urged him to feed Curtis well:


He is God!

To Aqa Siyyid Abu'l-Qasim:


A dear guest is coming to you; he is the person who is going to arrange the lighting of the Holy Shrines with Mr Kahraba'i. He must have plentiful food for lunch and dinner, and even breakfast. Therefore a quantity of jam, cheese and olives will be sent and Mr Lutfu'lIah, who knows a little about cooking, will accompany him. You must all do what you can to ensure that at lunch and dinner there will be at least one type of dish that is to his liking. Either kill a chicken or bring meat from 'Akka. There must always be some kind of meat. And in the morning, serve milk, eggs, jam and olives. It will be some trouble for you but this service is the duty of 'Abdu'l-Baha. I should be doing this but have no opportunity and so you must make the effort. Upon thee be the Glory of Glories.

‘Abdu’l-Baha 'Abbas


After two weeks, Curtis was back in Haifa, close to the Master again. For some reason the Master never came up to inspect the work that Husayn and he had done in Bahji. To demonstrate such trust amazed Curtis. Every boss he had ever worked for was usually hanging over his shoulder. But the World Center was a different place, operating on different principles. 'Abdu'l-Baha's concern was not that the work wasn't going to be done well, but that Curtis and Husayn had all of the supplies they needed. Curtis sensed that the Master had already envisioned the project completed; that all that was necessary was the implementation of the plan, which was mechanical. What He saw in the world of the spirit, where He dwelt, were the two Shrines aglow in the evening. He had assembled all of the necessary ingredients to make tangible what He already saw. With God's help, it would all materialize.

One of the blessings of being in Haifa was having lunch with the Master every day. 'Abdu'l-Baha insisted that Curtis eat with Him. One day Curtis was late coming to lunch, because he had to wash and change clothes. He wouldn't ever sit down at the luncheon table with the Master in his overalls. 'Abdu'l-Baha had other ideas about that. He told Curtis that there was no need for him to change his work clothes.

Eating lunch with 'Abdu'l-Baha generated feelings that, on the surface, wouldn't be considered compatible. For example, Curtis sensed the Master's majesty; but he felt completely at ease with Him, while normally, most people who find themselves close to nobility are restrained, extremely self-conscious, or ill at ease. After the meal, 'Abdu'l-Baha would remain at the table, at times talking about the struggles and sacrifices of the early believers. Other times he would sit quietly reading mail or papers, often pushing His turban back on his head, completely absorbed in what He was doing. Curtis enjoyed just sitting and watching, observing all this. The simple experience evoked a sense of peace in Curtis, for which he had no explanation.

Often only Curtis and Fujita would be together at the table; and they had their favorite games. One involved the Master's brown cat. Fujita, who took care of the cat for 'Abdu'l-Baha, would always lock the cat in the kitchen during lunch. He did that just to hear the Master say, 'Let the cat out,' which, of course, Fujita would do. As soon as the kitchen door was opened, the cat would dart to the feet of 'Abdu'l-Baha, who would stroke her and feed her. After gobbling the food, the cat would brush against the Master's feet and purr loudly. Everyone knew it was a joke, but it was fun for all. It was amazing to Curtis that the 'Mystery of God' would derive such pleasure from such simple things. On the one hand He was so human, in the best sense of the term, and yet Curtis knew from personal experience that 'Abdu'l-Baha possessed powers no one else had. What made the Master so appealing was His naturalness, His openness, His genuine concern for you.

'Abdu'l-Baha had mothering qualities, which He openly displayed, and they were usually demonstrated to Curtis at lunch. When Curtis took a helping of whatever was on the table, 'Abdu'l-Baha would invariably say, 'Take more. You are a young man, so you should eat much.' It was something he would expect from his mother, but not his father.

One afternoon after the cat had been patted and fed by the Master, Curtis asked what the difference was between the life of a cat and a human being. 'Abdu'l-Baha's response was difficult to comprehend. He gave a discourse on the ingestion and digestion of what we eat, being extremely detailed in explaining the various processes involved, and pointing out that what is of value nourishes the body and what is not is eliminated as waste. Then He arose, walking across the floor. As His foot struck a loose tile, He stopped, looked at it and exclaimed: 'It is progressing, and it is possible for it to reach the state of a mirror.’ Years later, after deepening in the Teachings, Curtis gained some insight into the Master's explanation when he read in the Writings: 'We have placed mankind in the alembic, and after due refining processes, the believers are the fragrant extracts thereof.' (He Loved and Served, The Story of Curtis Kelsey, by Nathan Rutstein, George Ronald, Oxford, pp. 67-74)


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Kelsey Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage of Curtis Kelsey
By John Taylor; 2007 June 27
It is too hot to write anything today so I will let Nate Rutstein do the work for me. My first selection from his book on Curtis Kelsey is the following about a guy, Urban LeDoux, who was evidently the first French Canadian Baha’i. I used his lesson, evidently learned straight from the Master, about humility, calling himself Monsieur Zero, as a bedtime story for the kids; Silvie, who is studying French, was especially intrigued by the concept of “zeroness.” Does anybody know anything more about this guy?
“Watching Urban LeDoux practice his Faith was an unforgettable lesson in serving one's fellow human being. Mr LeDoux, a French Canadian and former Canadian diplomat, called himself Mr Zero. For he viewed himself as nothing and everyone else as greater than himself. Even the New York newspapers that covered his antics referred to him as Mr Zero. There were times when he would literally give someone the shirt off his back. His desire to serve others, especially the down-trodden, stemmed from the time he embraced Baha'u'llah. After resigning his diplomatic post, Mr LeDoux opened a soup-kitchen and boarding-house for those living in the streets of New York's skid row. He collected clothing for these people, tried to counsel them, light the lamp of spirit in their hearts. Curtis remembered how hard Mr LeDoux worked, rarely taking a day off. Urban's greatest pleasure was seeing the people he tried to help discover hope, a reason for living. And many did, some becoming Baha'is.
Mr LeDoux was a big, strong man, very much an activist. If he noticed an injustice, he didn't hesitate to alter the situation.
Upset with political corruption, he went to Washington D.C. and became one of the first White House pickets. He walked back and forth in front of the presidential mansion carrying a lantern and a placard which read, 'Looking for an honest man.' (He Loved and Served, The Story of Curtis Kelsey, by Nathan Rutstein, George Ronald, Oxford, p. 33-34)

Next, here is the chapter of Rutstein’s biography describing the pilgrimage that made a man of Curtis Kelsey. Before Kelsey had been your typical handyman, practical, uncommunicative, inclined to be happy only when working with his hands. He reminds me of an inactive Baha’i I know who only became a Baha’i after a perceptive teacher saw what he responded to and set him to work doing odd jobs around the grounds of a Baha’i summer school. When he is in a meeting, though, he is bored to tears and just wants to leave, get his hands onto something concrete. Kelsey was like that, and tall, gangly, with a long face; by this time, largely thanks to the prayers of his mother – and the experience of hearing celestial music on what should have been his deathbed, about which we shall hear presently -- he had become an enthusiastic Baha’i. He had hated school, especially after his teacher called him a “duckbilled platypus.”
But now he read the Baha’i writings and even talked a little at meetings. But he had no idea of the miracle upon a miracle that was about to happen. Before you read, recall that in 1921 you did not just jump on a plane to get to the Holy Land. Every trip was a major adventure.

Chapter 4, He Loved and Served, The Story of Curtis Kelsey

Whenever Curtis wasn't in the field, he would try to have lunch with Roy in lower Manhattan. At one of these meetings, Roy invited Curtis to come to his office, because he had something important to ask him. Why not ask me at the restaurant? Curtis wondered. But then there was always an air of mystery about Roy. It was a quirk that didn't deter Curtis; in fact he found it exciting, because Roy was the kind of person who made things happen.
When the two were alone, Roy nonchalantly said, 'How would you like to go to Haifa to do some work for the Master?'
At first Curtis thought it was a joke, but Roy appeared serious. 'Well, of course,' Curtis replied. 'But Haifa is far away, and I don't have the money to make the trip and back.' It was a response Roy had hoped for and said, 'You never know about these things - strange things happen.'
Curtis wanted to laugh, because he had heard Roy make the same statement in Tacoma. And what had happened to him that evening in his workshop had radically transformed his life. While walking back to his office, Curtis was flush with anticipation, wondering what was going to unfold next.
Several weeks later Curtis received a cablegram from Haifa. He handled it with care, making sure not to damage the contents inside the envelope. When he finally opened it, he read: CURTIS KELSEY PERMITTED, signed 'Abdu’l-Baha 'Abbas. As he studied the cablegram, a strong urge swept over him to start preparing for the trip right away. He felt he had to reach Haifa as soon as possible. But there were so many things to put in order. He knew his father, who was also his professional boss, would oppose his leaving for the Near East, especially for an indefinite period of time. Traveling thousands of miles would be costly; where would he get the money to do that? But for some reason, he felt he would get to Haifa. One of the first things he did was prepare his newly acquired Model T Ford - something he was deeply attached to -- so that he could sell it. He drove to downtown New Rochelle where a group of young men usually congregated, and showed off the freshly polished automobile. When no one showed any interest, he started driving away. But, someone in the crowd called for Curtis to stop, stating that he was interested in checking the car out. He said he would buy it for $150 if it could climb a certain hill in town. Fortunately, Curtis had cleaned the spark plugs that day and the car was able to go up the hill in high gear. Though Curtis sold a few other possessions, he still didn't have enough money to make the trip. There were no buyers for some of the other things he had for sale, things he valued highly. But at that point in Curtis' life there was nothing more precious than to be with 'Abdu'l-Baha.
After approaching most possible sources of money, and failing to secure any more funds, Baha'u'llah led Curtis back to Roy. At lunch one afternoon, Roy had asked Curtis how he was progressing in obtaining money for his trip to the Holy Land. Though admitting that he was short in collecting the amount needed, Curtis expressed optimism that he'd soon get what he needed. All he wanted, he said, was enough to get there, and he would worry about how he would get back later.
Roy knew Curtis would never ask the Master for the fare, though He would gladly have paid for his way. He sensed that Curtis was in a dilemma; and he was aware of Curtis' strong streak of independence. So in a tactful way, he persuaded Curtis to take $500 from him, explaining that it was only so that his trip could be financed. Because Curtis respected Roy's judgement, he took the money.
But there was another obstacle to going: Curtis' father.
Frank Kelsey felt a trip to the Orient would retard Curtis' professional development. He also didn't want to lose his son's services, because Curtis was a responsible supervisor in the field. In a meeting he had with Curtis, he employed every rational approach he could think of to dissuade his son from going to Haifa. When that didn't crack Curtis' resolve, Frank Kelsey told him how he really felt: 'Son, you must be taking leave of your senses. Here you are, just getting started in your work and now you plan to make this long trip and do that work for that little old man in Haifa; and they are not going to pay you for it.'
Though Curtis was hurt by his father's reference to 'Abdu’l-Baha as 'a little old man,' he knew his father didn't understand who the Master was, and at that point no amount of explanation could open his eyes and heart. 'Father,' he said, 'I must make this trip, but I haven't the time to explain why - now.'
'If you must go,' Mr Kelsey said, 'don't expect any financial help from me.'
After considerable checking, Curtis discovered there were no steamers going directly to Haifa. He had to settle for a voyage to France, where he would try to arrange connections to the Holy Land. He wanted to get there as fast as possible, so that he could be with the Master. The prospect of being near 'Abdu’l-Baha, listening to Him speak, watching Him doing things, eating with Him, working with Him, was almost too much to bear. If only he could wave some magical wand that would transport him to Haifa in an instant. But in 1921 airplanes weren't crossing oceans. The ship was still the fastest way. Without complications, it took three weeks to reach Haifa; and all he was assured of was reaching France. Every travel agent he contacted said he would never make it in three weeks, that he would be lucky if he made it in a month.
But getting to the Holy Land in time wasn't the only thing Curtis had to worry about. Several days before he was to leave, Roy revealed the primary purpose for the trip ... and that set off feelings of anxiety, even doubt about his ability to carry out the assignment. He was to design and install electrical systems at the Shrines of the Bab and Baha'u'llah and in 'Abdu’l-Baha’s house. Since there was no electricity in Bahji and Haifa, he would have to install lighting generators at the three sites. It was something that required more experience than he had, Curtis thought. Maybe an electrical engineer should be doing the job, not an elementary school dropout.
When Curtis shared his reservations with Roy, Roy didn't seem disturbed. In fact he expressed confidence that his young friend would do what had to be done. Just like Roy, Curtis thought. The man operates on a different level, and when he says that strange things happen, he knows they do. Soon Curtis realized that the level Roy was operating on was faith, and he couldn't deny that power.
When Roy explained why the Master wanted the project done, Curtis knew he couldn't back out. Besides, Roy had organized things so that Curtis had no alternative but to go. His steamship ticket had been purchased, and 'Abdu’l-Baha was awaiting his arrival.
What set off the project was Roy's reading of these words of the Bab in which He bemoans the fact that while incarcerated in the fortress of Maku He didn't have even a lamp in His cell:
'How veiled are ye, 0 My creatures ... who, without any right have consigned Him [the Bab] unto a mountain [Maku], not one of whose inhabitants is worthy of mention ... With Him, which is with Me, there is no one except him who is one of the Letters of the Living of My Book. In His presence, which is My presence, there is not at night even a lighted lamp! And yet, in places [of worship] which in varying degrees reach out unto Him, unnumbered lamps are shining! All that is on earth hath been created for Him, and all partake with delight of His benefits, and yet they are so veiled from Him as to refuse Him even a lamp!'
Roy was so moved by the statement, he immediately wrote the Master, asking for permission to send a lighting plant to Haifa to light the Shrine of the Bab. Shortly after sending the letter, he received a cablegram from 'Abdu'l-Baha, stating that three plants were necessary. Roy responded instantly. In a matter of weeks, the machinery was on its way to Mount Carmel.
The lighting plants remained in Haifa for about a year, untouched. Some of the friends in the United States were aware of the project and tried to help expedite it. One Californian believer sent a young electrical engineer over to do the work, but the Master sent him back, stating that it wasn't time yet. A Persian, Husayn-i-Kahrubayi (meaning Husayn the electrician) also traveled to Haifa to ask 'Abdu'l-Baha if he could work on the project. The Master said that when the time was right, he would be called to assist - and he was.
The dock workers serving on the steamship Olympic probably thought Curtis Kelsey was a celebrity. A crowd of Baha'is came out to bid 'Abdu'l-Baha's electrician farewell. Many of the people knew Curtis, but there were others who didn't. All were there hoping at least to catch a glimpse of someone who was going to be so close to their Lord. How they longed to be in Curtis' position. They handed him notes and gifts for 'Abdu'l-Baha. Some asked him to pray for them or someone special at the Holy Tombs.
Curtis' parents were in the crowd that surged toward him.
But Mrs Kelsey didn't have the strength to push through the crowd. She stayed back, unable even to see her son's face, while her husband pressed toward Curtis; he had to give him something important. When he reached his son, he handed him an envelope and simply said 'Good-bye,' and slipped back into the crowd. In glancing at the envelope, Curtis noticed a note attached to it, which asked that he not open the envelope until he was aboard the steamer.
Mrs Kelsey had already said her farewell that morning when she gave Curtis a gift, a Graflex camera with lots of film. She had asked him to take many pictures of the Holy Land, particularly the places where 'Abdu'l-Baha visited, the paths He walked. There was nothing she wanted more than to be with the Master; but she felt her husband would resist any attempt to go to Haifa. She didn't want to cause any discord in the household, so she let the matter rest. She would have to make her pilgrimage through her son.
Curtis remained on the deck, waving to the friends on the wharf, as long as he could see them. He was back on the Atlantic Ocean, that vast body of water he had crossed twice in recent years. But now he was heading for France, not to fight a war, but to find the next step in his journey to serve the most powerful force for peace on Earth.
When Curtis opened the envelope his father had handed him, he found $250. The gift didn't surprise him, because he knew his father cared for him. But the money symbolized a change of heart on the part of his father - that he finally respected Curtis' commitment to serving 'Abdu'l-Baha, even though he couldn't subscribe to the Baha'i Teachings. Now he could proceed without feeling guilty that he had disappointed his father terribly, or abandoned him.
Of all his sons, Frank Kelsey respected Curtis the most. He wished that he could be as close with him as Curtis was with Valeria. During the war years, Frank Kelsey worried, even brooded over his son's welfare, especially in battle. Often when Mrs Kelsey cleaned her husband's study she would discover the name Curtis written a number of times along the margins of his business papers.
Roy Wilhelm had wired the Master that Curtis Kelsey would reach the Holy Land in three weeks, and Curtis knew that. The first few days he was heartened by the progress the ship was making. There was lots of sunshine, and whatever wind blew was coming from the west, thus helping to quicken the ship's pace. It was an enjoyable trip. Sleeping in a private state room was a lot different from trying to sleep in a hammock in a cavernous room below deck, next to groaning engines, with about 500 other soldiers. The food, unlike that dispensed on the military ship, was delicious.
As the Olympic approached the English coast, visibility diminished. The ship had steamed into thick fog. Though virtually stalled, Curtis was only about 100 miles from Cherbourg, France, his landing point. He was certain the fog would soon lift. But when a day passed and the fog persisted, Curtis' fear of not reaching Haifa in time surfaced. About twenty hours later, when visibility improved, the Olympic resumed its regular speed.
Afraid that he was behind his time-schedule, Curtis practically ran to the steamship ticket-office when he left the Olympic. But there he ran into another barrier: the agent said it would be weeks before he could book passage to Alexandria, Egypt, where he had to take a train to Haifa. The agent encouraged Curtis to relax, go to Paris, have a good time - to do anything else would be a waste of energy.
Curtis heeded his intuition rather than the agent's advice and headed for Naples by train. It was night-time when the train entered Italy. Curtis was asleep in his berth when a pounding on his door awoke him. He scrambled out of bed and opened the door, and there standing in front of him were three policemen, who ordered him to open his trunk. Puzzled and anxious, Curtis tried to find out why they were searching his things, making him feel like a criminal. He was incensed. But the policemen ignored his attempts to find out what was happening. They rifled through his belongings, and when they discovered a small motor he was carrying to Haifa for the lighting project, they grew more animated. The policemen checked it over carefully, talking in Italian.
Perhaps, Curtis thought, he should have declared the motor at Customs. Maybe because he didn't do that, he would be deported, or worse yet, be locked up in jail.
The policemen placed the motor back in the trunk, excused themselves in English and slipped quietly out of Curtis' sleeping-cabin.
Curtis' encounter with the steamship office in Naples was as frustrating as his experience in France. When he told the agent that he would return the following day to check out shipping possibilities, he was told not to bother for there was no possibility of getting aboard a ship headed for the Near East. 'I know my business,' the agent protested. 'Nothing will happen, believe me. Now why don't you tell me where you are staying and I'll call you should something materialize.'
Two days later Curtis received a call at his hotel. It was the agent: 'Mr Kelsey, how did you know the Esperia would stop here?'
'I had no idea it would,' Curtis said.
'Well, it diverted its course in order to drop off a first-class passenger who had developed appendicitis. Would you like to take his place?'
'Of course, I'll be right down.'
Cruising on the Mediterranean was an improvement on the Atlantic. The ship seemed to glide through the deep, dark blue water, rarely encountering a wave. It was like sailing on one of those Maine lakes that Curtis used to visit on long summer weekend outings. Overhead the summer sun blazed, never obscured by clouds. For Curtis, every day at sea was golden; it reminded him of playing on those Long Island beaches that he and his family used to frequent. Of course, not having to worry about making a shipping connection to the Holy Land helped to make the voyage on the Esperia more relaxed. But the fact that this problem had been solved, plus the idyllic weather, didn't lull Curtis into forgetting the purpose of his trip. In fact, from time to time, between shuffle-board games and conversation with fellow passengers, his stomach would stiffen whenever he thought of the responsibility he had to carry out in the Holy Land. Who was going to help him? he wondered; and he was concerned about the source of supplies. As far as he knew, Palestine was a primitive place, a sort of pre-industrial-age land. True, Roy Wilhelm had shipped materials, but something was bound to happen which no one had planned for. Having worked on scores of construction projects, Curtis had learned that there is no such thing as a perfect plan. This challenge was different from any other, for it wasn't for some corporation, or even his father, who was a formidable perfectionist. To Curtis, it was like working for God. Everything he was to do had to be outstanding, flawless.
Meeting Mr Charles Dana helped Curtis to divert his attention from his forthcoming task. Mr Dana, a tall, slender, gray-haired gentleman, and a Presbyterian, directed a missionary service in the Middle East. Since he was based in Beirut, he would be travelling all the way to Haifa with Curtis. Beirut was on the same railroad line, about ninety miles north of Haifa.
When Mr Dana discovered why Curtis was going to Palestine, he revealed that he knew several Baha'is associated with the University of Beirut, and that he was impressed with their scholarship and character. 'What puzzles me,' he told Curtis, 'is how the Baha'i students are able to persuade Muslims to accept the teachings of Jesus Christ when the missionaries have virtually failed to make any inroads among the followers of Muhammad.'
'Well,' Curtis said, 'Baha'is are successful with attracting Muslims to their Faith, because they don't belittle the Teachings of Muhammad. In fact, they hold them sacred.' 'But what about their acceptance of Jesus Christ?'
'That's no problem for a Muslim, because he already accepts Jesus. Muhammad, Himself, stated to His followers that they must embrace all of the Jewish prophets, including Jesus. '
Curtis was surprised that Mr Dana was unaware of the fact that Muslims accepted Jesus, for he had spent many years in the Middle East. It was something he should have known, Curtis felt. Because if you are going to try to persuade people to adopt your religion, you must know something about their religion, not the rituals and trappings, but the central teachings. Perhaps, Curtis thought, Mr Dana and his associates felt it wasn't important to know about what they thought was false doctrine. Despite Mr Dana's feelings about Islam, Curtis found him charming, a real gentleman, who sincerely felt that he was doing God's work.
Mr Dana must have been impressed with Curtis, because he stayed close to the young American, who knew so much about religion and wasn't a clergyman. Most Americans he knew who weren't ordained ministers or priests never knew much about religion, especially religions other than their own.
In a way, being close to Mr Dana proved helpful to Curtis, because he learned much about the cultures of the Palestine area, practical things like how to barter with merchants and what the native food was like.
The two men traveled together all the way to Haifa. When they reached Alexandria, they didn't have to wait long for the simple Turkish narrow-gauge railroad train, which Mr Dana had taken numerous times. It was only a few hours' wait, time to absorb the sounds and smells of the Near East. But Alexandria wasn't typically Arab. It was a city with modern hotels. Palm trees, all right, but carefully planted in neat rows along the waterfront. But the language was different, and many men wore the fez and many women wore the veil; and there were a few camels in the downtown traffic.
Reaching the railroad station was easy; all Curtis had to do was stay close to Mr Dana.
Curtis didn't mind the bumpy ride, because there was so much to see. When they reached Cairo, Curtis found himself in a teeming metropolis, with its hundreds of minarets stretching into the sky, and hawks and vultures continually circled certain sections of the ancient city. East of Cairo, Curtis sensed ancient history - Moses leading the followers of Jehovah, the Hebrews, Egyptian slaves for nearly 400 years, toward the Promised Land. When he reached the Suez Canal and the train rattled across the bridge to Sinai, he thought of Moses and his brethren daring to cross the Red Sea with Pharaoh's soldiers in pursuit.
Sections of the Sinai reminded Curtis of southern Utah: craggy, treeless mountains and lots of rock on the sandy flat areas. From time to time they would pass a column of Bedouin nomads mounted on camels, and crumbling Coptic Christian monasteries that seemed to have been sculpted out of the hot native sands. The Old Testament seemed to come alive, for it was through the region the train was crossing that Moses had led the Hebrews toward the Holy Land.
Haifa in September 1921 was nothing like 'Abdu'l-Baha said it would be like in the future, a metropolis, extending around the Bay of 'Akka. When Curtis and Mr Dana stepped off the train, they found themselves in a village which probably looked like a village from the days of Jesus. There were Arab women carrying jars of water on their heads, merchants selling their wares in the open, Arab men gathered in the shade, smoking bubble pipes, a couple of camels tied to a post and unbothered by the scorching sun. Mount Carmel was a huge limestone rock, covered with scrubby vegetation, with a few houses at its base; the Shrine of the Bab was a light-colored stone structure, with a flat roof, as bare as a fortress. Near the top of the mountain was the Carmelite Monastery, which had been established centuries ago by the Roman Catholic Church to watch for Christ's return; He was supposed to return on a cloud. Being in Haifa was like stepping back in time. Certainly a different world from the Woolworth Building and its sleek elevators.
Mr Dana didn't get back on the train. He would take the later one for Beirut. Curious about the Baha'i Faith, he walked up Mount Carmel to visit the Shrine of the Bab. Curtis never saw him again.
Waiting at the train station were Fujita and Dr Lutfu'llah Hakim, two young men serving the Master, one Japanese, the other of Persian-Jewish background, in a high buckboard wagon that 'Abdu'l-Baha would ride in, when He wasn't walking or riding a donkey. Evidently they knew who Curtis was, because he was the only young American to emerge from the train, and he was the only one who stopped to gaze at Mount Carmel. When Curtis heard his name called, he turned to see two short men approaching. Obviously Baha'is, he thought. Who else would know his name? Perhaps Roy had sent his picture to the Master, and they were able to identify him by it.
Both men were smiling and waving. While Curtis waved back, he wondered if he would be able to communicate with them, for he knew only English. He remembered how difficult it was to use the several French and German survival sentences he had learned in order to negotiate his way through post-war France and Germany as an American soldier. He especially had trouble pronouncing foreign sounding words. And those were from European languages. Imagine how he would mutilate an oriental language. But Curtis' anxiety soon passed. Both men spoke English, with thick Japanese and Persian accents.
For Curtis it was an unusual greeting. Though outwardly these men appeared so different from the people he knew back home, they seemed like members of his family. It was instantaneous comradeship. He had seen a few Persians before in America, but had never met a Japanese. Despite his basic shyness, there was no sense of uneasiness, no pangs of self-consciousness. Sitting in the wagon with Fujita and Lutfu'llah Hakim, heading for the Master's house, was as natural as riding in his family's car with his parents and brothers. The three men, who shared the same room while in the Holy Land, were to grow very close.
The buckboard wagon came to a halt in front of a large stone house that faced the Bay of Haifa. It was the Pilgrim House, Curtis was told, where the pilgrims stayed while they visited 'Abdu'l-Baha. Curtis, holding two suitcases, stood in the road for a moment looking at the building, wondering what it was going to be like standing face to face with the Master. He had read many of His Tablets and heard pilgrims talk about their meetings with Him; and there were those times when he had daydreamed of being in the Master's presence. Even when he received the cablegram from Haifa, the thought that he, Curtis Kelsey, would be with 'Abdu'l-Baha didn't seem real.
Dr Hakim urged Curtis to enter the house, because the Master was waiting for him. As they entered, they were greeted by two ladies, one from the East, the other from the West, and were ushered to a large table in the front room. On it was the luncheon, a large platter of Persian pilau, with curried lamb, chopped nuts and candied orange peel; saffron was sprinkled on it. Small glasses of tea and bowls of yogurt were next to each plate. Unleavened bread was piled on a dish.
Everyone was standing and chatting, mainly about Curtis' trip from New York City, when suddenly a door opened, and 'Abdu'l-Baha appeared, heading for Curtis; He was dressed in a cream-colored 'aba and white turban, and His eyes were smiling. The Master shook Curtis' hand and said, 'Marhaba! Marhaba!' (You are welcome! You are welcome!) After washing his hands in a bowl of water that Fujita had brought over, He had everyone sit around the table. 'Abdu'l-Baha had Curtis sit next to Him and asked how the friends were faring in New York, and how he liked Haifa. When Curtis replied that he liked the atmosphere there, the Master said, looking beyond everyone at the table, 'You feel this way because the prophets of the past have visited and walked in this area.' Then he turned to Curtis and asked, 'Did you notice how easy it was to get here?'
Curtis hesitated for a moment. 'Yes,' he said, 'I had noticed this.' Immediately after making that statement, Curtis realized that he had reached Haifa in twenty days, the time he had allotted himself to get to Haifa. Amazing, he thought, considering what all the experts had told him. As he ate the pilau, Curtis knew that he had been given special assistance in reaching the Holy Land.
After lunch, the Master suggested that Curtis rest for a few hours. This was the local custom, and as Curtis soon learned, it was a wise practice, because from noon to three was the hottest time of the day, making work difficult. In fact, all of the businesses closed in the afternoon, opening at dusk.
Shortly after entering the small room he shared with Fujita and Dr Hakim, which was next to the rear door of the Pilgrim house, a young woman came by with a branch bearing about ten oranges. It was something the Master had asked her to give Curtis.
None of the Baha'is in Haifa lived in luxury. The rooms where people slept were small, and the beds, which were made of iron, had boards on them and flat three-quarter-inch-thick mattresses that did little to cushion the hardness. Netting was wrapped around the beds to keep the mosquitoes from poking at your flesh. Simple white curtains were on the windows. In the room where Curtis stayed, which was only fourteen-foot-square, there were three dressers, one for each occupant. Fujita's large trunk seemed to dominate the room; it was filled with clothes, which he enjoyed wearing when he was going to parties in California and Michigan. He even had a fancy white-tie tuxedo with tails. From time to time, Fujita would have Lutfu'llah Hakim and Curtis sit down, and he would go to his trunk, open it and exclaim, 'Look, all dressed up and no place to go!' That never failed to make Curtis laugh.
It took a few days before Curtis became accustomed to resting during the afternoon, a period of time that was considered peak working hours back home. Of course, his roommates had no trouble dozing off. Fujita had been in Haifa for two years and Dr Hakim was from that part of the world. During his first siesta, Curtis tried to sleep; he stretched out on the bed, but his first meeting with 'Abdu'l-Baha had stirred him. Being with the Master was more than he had imagined. 'Abdu'l-Baha's nobility was obvious, but he didn't flaunt it. In His presence, Curtis didn't feel like cowering; instead he felt at ease, completely accepted - and totally loved. Before meeting 'Abdu'l-Baha there were times when Curtis felt unworthy of being with Him. But he never experienced that feeling when he was with the Master. In fact, he was forgetful of self. Later on in life, in reflecting on why he always felt at ease with 'Abdu'l-Baha, Curtis realized that the Master wouldn't allow you to feel unworthy, whatever your station in life, be you pauper or potentate. Being with the Master you discovered you had value; you knew you weren't being judged; you experienced freedom - something you thought you had experienced back home, but really hadn't.
Every week Curtis would receive at least one letter from his mother, sometimes two. Judging by the dates of her letters, she had started writing the day her son left for Haifa. Like the letters she wrote during the war, they were newsy, often witty, full of genuine encouragement and advice given as a gift. It was uncanny, Curtis felt, that her letters often addressed a concern that he was keeping to himself. For example, even after the first few days in Haifa, Curtis remained anxious about his assignment. But after pondering this section of one of his mother's letters, dated September 7, 1921, his anxiety diminished: 'I know you will have so much to do and see, and that your spirit will be constantly fed, so that you will receive good from every direction, even in your physical labors and complex situations, for you will turn always to 'Abdu'l-Baha, and you will let 'Abdu'l-Baha be the real builder of the lighting system ... '
Whatever the Master asked Curtis to do, he did it immediately, without reservation or hesitation. But he wasn't asked to do much during the first two weeks he was in the Holy Land. In fact, he had the freedom to do whatever he wished. So he went about fixing whatever needed repair at the World Center. When he checked out the garage, he found two automobiles – a big Cunningham and a Ford. They had been sent to Haifa by some American friends. Neither of the cars was functioning. In a few days, Curtis had the vehicles operating and he took the Master for several rides around the Mount Carmel area.
There was no automobile traffic in Haifa in 1921 - only one other person, a young Arab, had a car. The ancient stone roads were really twisting alleyways. Curtis, who had a passion for cars and speed, found negotiating the roads an exciting challenge, except when he drove the Master about. Then he was extra careful. But despite the care he took to ensure the Master's safety, Curtis experienced a near-disaster halfway up Mount Carmel. After 'Abdu'l-Baha stepped out of the Cunningham and started walking down the mountain, Curtis noticed the young Arab, who roared around Haifa like a Grand Prix racer in competition, pushing his car at top speed, heading for the Master. Alarm seized Curtis. The speeding car missed the Master by inches. 'Abdu'l-Baha never stopped walking, never flinched, turning only to see who the driver was. It took Curtis a few moments to regain his composure.
It didn't take long to unpack and arrange all of the parts of the three lighting plants. But after that was taken care of, Curtis found that he was running out of things to do. He never liked sitting around doing nothing. He wasn't the philosophical type who expends considerable energy trying to prove his own existence, or reflecting on the origin of the universe. He was a builder, a fairly creative builder who was growing restless doing little odd jobs; and nothing had been done to launch the lighting project. Fifteen days had passed and there was still no word from the Master as to when he would start. Curtis never mentioned his concern to 'Abdu'l-Baha, for he knew that when He was ready to begin, He would tell him. But Curtis was impatient; he was like an anxious sprinter, crouched in the starting-block, waiting for the signal to go. During some of his weaker moments, he wondered about how long he would be in the Holy Land, worrying about his obligation to his father's business. He had to tell someone about his concern, and chose Ruhi Afnan, a grandson of the Master.
One day he and Ruhi were standing in the middle of the street, about 150 feet from the door of 'Abdu'l-Baha's house.
'Ruhi,' he said, 'when do you think 'Abdu'l-Baha is going to let me start the work on the lighting project?'
'I don't know ... '
Before Ruhi could complete his response, the door to the Master's house swung open and 'Abdu'l-Baha, in a booming voice, called out, 'We will start tomorrow.' He smiled, and walked back into the house. Though it was wonderful to hear the good news, Curtis was more impressed with the Master's power of knowing his very thoughts, his feelings. There was no way, he was convinced, that 'Abdu'l-Baha could have heard his conversation with Ruhi. After that experience, Curtis knew the Master knew him better than he knew himself. Who could explain the Mystery of God? Not Curtis, or anyone else.
That night Curtis learned that he was to accompany the Master to Bahji the following day. Falling asleep was difficult; how could he sleep? For he had never been to the Shrine of Baha'u'llah, and he had never traveled with 'Abdu'l-Baha outside of Haifa. The time passed so slowly. It must have been about 2 A.M. before exhaustion drew him into sleep. It was dawn when he opened his eyes. Standing in the doorway was the Master. Fujita and Lutfu'llah Hakim were awake also. Their immediate response was to sit up, but 'Abdu'l-Baha urged them not to get out of bed, that they should rest. He turned to Curtis and said, 'I cannot go to Bahji today to start the work; what shall I do about it?'
Curtis responded immediately: 'When the Master is ready I will be ready.'
'Balih! Balih!' (Yes! Yes!) said 'Abdu'l-Baha - and left. Though disappointed, Curtis didn't complain, because he was certain there was a good reason why 'Abdu'l-Baha wasn't going to Bahji. He was amazed that he didn't want to indulge in self-pity, because back home such a disappointment would have hurt him deeply. But he knew he was in a special place, and he understood, without question, that the Master was a special figure who saw and heard things that others couldn't see or hear.
Several hours later, word reached Curtis that the Master was going to Bahji, after all. Curtis was to be ready to leave by late afternoon. Somehow he knew that this time there would be no change in plans. So he rested well during the siesta. Before leaving, Curtis, Ruhi Afman and a servant by the name of Khusraw gathered the food and tools, and put them into the high buckboard wagon. With the Master aboard, they headed for the railroad station, a sleepy little place where local Arabs liked to congregate with their camels. The train, filled with chattering people and their chickens and goats, was waiting for 'Abdu'l-Baha and his party. But the Master sat down on a bench inside the station house. Outside, the conductor paced the platform. If the train arrived after sunset, the passengers would be unable to enter 'Akka, for the city closed its gates at nightfall. The conductor knew he couldn't leave without Sir 'Abdu'l-Baha 'Abbas, who had come to the Holy Land as a prisoner and now was revered as 'The Father of the Poor.' It all seemed strange to Curtis; but he never questioned the wisdom of the situation. In about five minutes an Arab, leading his camel, approached, tied the animal to a post and entered the station house and headed for 'Abdu'l-Baha. After a brief conversation, the Arab went his way and the Master boarded the train, which had windowless openings. Many passengers hung precariously out of the openings, but not because there wasn't enough room inside: they seemed to enjoy challenging the elements, much like those Americans who like riding the roller coaster. In the morning, the same train would be waiting to take most of the same people back to Haifa.
When the train pulled into 'Akka, the sun seemed to be sitting on the sea. It was cooler than when they had left Haifa, but not uncomfortable. Bahji was two and a half miles from where they were. Khusraw left immediately to prepare supper. All of the passengers rushed to 'Akka's gate, but 'Abdu'l-Baha walked to the station house and sat down on a bench. Curtis and Ruhi stood by patiently, with Curtis wondering what strange occurrence would unfold next. Only the howls of jackals could be heard, as night draped over 'Akka. In a few minutes, Khalid, a servant who lived in Bahji, appeared with the Master's white donkey. Still, the Master remained seated. A full moon graced the night sky; and the stars sparkled the way they did over the Utah desert. It was so clear that Curtis could see in the distance an Arab, mounted on a white stallion, riding hard toward the station house. It was the person the Master was waiting for. They spoke for several minutes, laughing at times. Soon 'Abdu'l-Baha emerged and mounted the donkey. The Arab headed back in the direction from which he had come, and was quickly enveloped by the night.
Walking to Bahji that evening was one of the most memorable experiences in Curtis' life. Obviously, he was on Earth, but, in a sense, he wasn't, for he seemed detached from the tensions and woes of the world. Curtis never fell freer. His heart was filled with the vibrating love or 'Abdu'l-Baha. It was a love that seemed to cleanse his inner being and move his spirit toward the wispy clouds that floated overhead. It didn't matter that nothing was said, for words were unnecessary. Who needed to say anything when you were immersed in peace and contentment? What wonderful things would happen next? Curtis thought.
After a while, the Master pulled His 'aba over his shoulders and spoke in English: 'Beautiful night, beautiful moon, beautiful clouds.' No one else commented. A moment or two later, 'Abdu'l-Baha turned to Curtis, who was on His right, and said, 'Are you finding it difficult to walk?' What could he say? Curtis thought. For in a sense he wasn't walking; rather, he was in the embrace of the Master.
'I am very happy to be walking with you,' he told 'Abdu'l-Baha. If he had been more eloquent, he would have said what he really felt. But the Master knew why Curtis felt the way he did, for He said, 'You feel this way because you are filled with love.' At that point, Curtis could have floated.
When they reached Bahji, they didn't go into the mansion because, at that time, it was held by the Covenant-breakers. Instead, they were to spend the night in a small building near the Shrine of Baha'u'llah. Its four rooms surrounded an open inner garden, with an orange-tree. In the dining room, Khusraw had spread out the dinner - a platter of small squash stuffed with rice, meat and candied orange-peel. There was a bowl of yogurt at each place, as well as a glass of tea, also a pitcher of sour milk and a large bowl with oranges, pomegranates and bunches of Damascus grapes.
The conversation was engaging, but not profound. In fact, most of the talk was about food, with 'Abdu'l-Baha pointing out how tender the grapes were and how special the tea was. For Curtis the table-talk helped to pull him out of the state of heavenly intoxication. Around 'Abdu'l-Baha people did useful things. Being enveloped in a mystical trance was not conducive to furthering an 'ever-advancing civilization.' 'Abdu'l-Baha, Curtis knew, was the epitome of moderation. Even reading the Divine Word had its limits. A flight into spiritual realms shouldn't propel you away from the cares of the world, but should inspire you to be of service to others. Having been with the Master for nearly a month, Curtis discovered that He had a way of transporting you into those mystical realms and then gently leading you back to the world, which he considered a workshop where through serving others you sharpen and strengthen your character and draw closer to God.
About halfway through the meal, someone knocked on the outside door. 'Come in - in the name of God,' 'Abdu'l-Baha called out in Arabic. When Khusraw finally removed the cross-bar and opened the door, there stood a tall Arab, about six-foot-three, with a black mustache and goatee. He didn't budge, until the Master said again, 'Come in - in the name of God.'
A chair was placed to the right of 'Abdu'l-Baha, where the man was asked to sit. They engaged in an animated discussion, all in Arabic. At that point, the Master pushed His turban back on His head, and He and the man started laughing. Soon Ruhi began to laugh. It was contagious, because Curtis was swept up in the hilarity, even though he didn't understand a word that was uttered.
After the man left, Ruhi explained what had been discussed and what 'Abdu'l-Baha had learned from the discussion. It seemed the Master had asked the Arab if he belonged to a tribe where the husband had to steal something during the day in order for his wife to allow him to enter their tent that night. When the man acknowledged that he belonged to such a tribe, the Master inquired if he had ever been denied entrance to the tent. 'Never,' the man declared. At that point 'Abdu'l-Baha knew that the man sitting next to Him was the culprit who was stealing the sweet oranges in His garden in Bahji. So the Master asked the man if he had ever tried eating sour oranges. When the Arab grimaced, 'Abdu'l-Baha assured him that they tasted delicious with sugar. The next day 'Abdu'l-Baha discovered that many of the sour oranges had been stripped from His trees.
At the World Center the day began at dawn and Curtis was awake at 5:20, eager to start work on the lighting project. After breakfast, the Master led him to the Shrine and selected the room where the lighting plant should be placed. During the rest of the morning, Curtis did some surveying work. But his eye caught more than the proportions of the Shrine's foundations. He realized how involved the Master was; that He was always serving, always putting the affairs of others ahead of His personal desires. Curtis had thought that 'Abdu'l-Baha would find time to relax while at Bahji, because Haifa was the center of the Baha'i world; and Bahji, he thought, was a refuge, where one would be cut off from the whirl and demands of civilization. But that was not the case. Somehow people who had needs found the Master; and when they appeared, He didn't show surprise - and never annoyance. Because of His attitude, those who came were calmed by Him, received assurance from Him, were fed by Him, felt appreciated and loved by Him and felt free to call upon Him again and again.
That morning several Arabs came from the countryside, seeking the Master. He fed them, gave them money, cheered their hearts. What He told them and Curtis, without saying so, was that He was their brother who would always be available in time of need. In the afternoon, the Governor of 'Akka called on the Master, spending several hours, seeking advice. Curtis felt that the Governor and many others in 'Akka, and elsewhere in Palestine, knew 'Abdu'l-Baha's true authority. For He was the one who had answers to questions that others in high secular and ecclesiastical positions were unable to fathom.
At noontime, Curtis' spiritual longings were addressed by the Master, squeezing them in between the Arabs and the Governor. It was right after lunch while 'Abdu'l-Baha was still at table, that Curtis approached Him, to share an experience that he could find no answer to. No person, however scholarly, could unravel the mystery. And how people tried, including his dear mother. 'What was that music?' he asked the Master, 'that enchanting music that permeated my room, while I was so sick in bed years ago in my parents' home, and cured me of typhoid fever?'
'It was a true spiritual experience. You heard music of the Kingdom.' 'Abdu'l-Baha said, 'and it caused your spiritual awakening. '
The day they were to leave Bahji, Curtis was up at five.
Before breakfast he pumped enough water to shower the garden, then walked toward the house. The sun was barely up. Sitting on the porch was the Master, facing the sea. A plate full of jasmine blossoms was on a chair in front of Him. As Curtis approached the porch, he could smell the blossoms. It was like being in the Shrines, where floral fragrance was always present, and there was peace. 'Abdu'l-Baha motioned to Curtis to sit beside Him, then poured Curtis a cup of tea.
'Did you sleep well?' Curtis asked.
The Master smiled and said in English, 'Last night I sleep very well.' Continuing to smile and looking at Curtis with a twinkle in His eye, He paused and then asked, 'Is my English good?'
'Yes,' Curtis responded. 'And I must learn Persian.'
'That would be very good.'
After that, nothing more was said. 'Abdu'l-Baha and his American electrician watched the dawn chased away by the brilliance of golden daylight.
Later that morning, the Master asked Ruhi and Curtis to accompany Him to the Shrine of Baha'u'llah. Before entering, they removed their shoes. There was Curtis, tall, slender, open-faced, standing beside Ruhi and about three feet behind the Master at the threshold of the sepulcher that contained the bodily remains of the Blessed Beauty. Again, this simple young man from the West had been lifted into a heavenly state. Nothing but the pleading voice of 'Abdu'l-Baha could be heard. Every other sound and thought vanished. Though he couldn't understand a word, Curtis was moved by the emotion of 'Abdu'l-Baha chanting the Tablet of Visitation. There was no semblance of self from the figure before Curtis - just a total expression of devotion, a surrendering of will, an outpouring of love so intense that it seemed the Master was offering his heart to Baha'u'llah.
After prostrating before the Threshold for several minutes, 'Abdu'l-Baha stood and asked Curtis and Ruhi to collect the rugs and ornaments in the Shrine, because they were to be taken to the House of 'Abbud in 'Akka that afternoon. When that was done, the Master asked Curtis to come with Him. Curtis didn't wonder where they were going, or what was going to happen. That no longer mattered. What was real was the Master's request.
They walked in silence toward the Mansion. Halfway there, 'Abdu'l-Baha stopped and asked Curtis how he planned to arrange the lighting of the Shrine of Bahji. A surge of confidence swept over Curtis, and without hesitating, he explained that he would place underground lighting in the inner garden of the Shrine so that light would shine up through the flowers; that he would electrify the oil lamps, thus preserving their nineteenth-century character. And finally, he would place lights around the cornice of the Shrine. The Master nodded positively and exclaimed, 'Balih! Balih!'
As they walked closer to the Mansion, Curtis noticed an elderly man approach the Master. After introducing the believer to Curtis, 'Abdu'l-Baha pointed out that the man, who was a mason, would help build the stone enclosure that was to house the lighting plant. The fact that the man didn't speak English and Curtis didn't know Persian or Arabic was never mentioned. It was understood that all would work out well. In 'Abdu'l-Baha's mind, Curtis felt, the electrification project was done; it was only a matter of time before the world would appreciate the effort. The only thing that was necessary was the implementation of the plan.
When 'Abdu'l-Baha and Curtis reached the small house where they had spent the night, they found the Master's four-seater high buckboard wagon standing at the entrance with Isfandfyar, the wagon's driver. All that had to go to 'Akka and Haifa was aboard.
They didn't go directly to the House of 'Abbud, but stopped at the Most Great Prison, where 'Abdu'l-Baha had spent two years. Nothing extraordinary occurred; 'Abdu'l-Baha simply gazed at the massive sandstone structure. In His silence, He seemed to say to Curtis that only a few people in the world knew that this foul place was where a divine Manifestation of God was sent to perish.
The House of 'Abbud was only a few minutes' ride from the prison. Inside, the dining-room table was set, with three extra places. Minutes after 'Abdu'l-Baha had arrived, the guests appeared. Three Druzes, including the chief of those people and his two sons, showed up for dinner, obviously invited by the Master, who greeted them warmly. The chief, in his nineties, did most of the speaking during the dinner and afterwards. Curtis sensed that the man, who respected and loved 'Abdu'l-Baha, was distressed. Speaking in a pleading voice, expressing puzzlement, and at times weeping, the chief searched 'Abdu'l-Baha's face for some assurance.
The Master said little - simply trying to comfort the old man, patting his back from time to time.
Several months later Curtis understood why the Druze chief was so depressed. He probably sensed that he would never see 'Abdu'l-Baha again, his adviser, his comforter, his friend, his wise counselor, and in a sense, his spiritual father. The Master's trip to Bahji with Curtis was His last visit there: about a month later 'Abdu'l-Baha passed away. The Druzes, a religious sect, shun serious association with outsiders. But they considered 'Abdu'l-Baha an honored member of the community, a rare distinction. They grieved deeply over the Master's passing.
After dinner, Curtis, Rul:If and Isfandfyar packed the buckboard wagon again and the Master led them back to Haifa via a road along the sea. It was a delightful journey. Nature seemed to soothe the senses, burying the experience of the weeping Druze chieftain deep in Curtis' memory, far from his conscious mind. Halfway back, they noticed a magnificent sunset over Mount Carmel. They stopped so Curtis could snap a picture of it. A few minutes later it was night-time. The reflection of the moon on the sea, the clusters of stars, the balmy night, the nearness of the Master were a symphony that drove every care away. Curtis didn't notice how long it took to reach Haifa; he didn't care that 'Abdu'l-Baha didn't utter a word all the way. He and Ruhi sat behind the Master, who was behind the driver. Curtis focused on 'Abdu'l-Baha's back, noticing how His long white hair fell over his shoulders. Curtis never felt more secure.
Only years after his experiences with 'Abdu'l-Baha was Curtis able to fully appreciate the tranquil and happy atmosphere at the World Center. Almost every day there was laughter. Racial and cultural prejudice was nonexistent. Persian, Arab, Japanese and American mingled naturally. No issue - pro or con - was made over someone's ethnic background. It was completely understood that all humans were part of the same family, God's family. And there was never any complaining, no sarcasm, no expressions of negativity. Backbiting wasn't experienced. And that was remarkable considering the turbulence and intrigue that swirled around the Master. The Covenant-breakers were in His midst, always plotting against Him, trying to embarrass Him before the governmental authorities and scheming to seize all of the Holy properties; and they were in control of the Bahji Mansion, neglecting to repair what would break or stop functioning. There was always news of the believers being persecuted in Persia and elsewhere, and outbreaks of discord in the fledgling Baha'i communities around the world. There was the daily pressure of guiding the infant Faith, nurturing it in such a way that the believers wouldn't lose heart, or feel so unworthy of being able to live by the Baha'i standard that they withered into apathy. Every day He would write letters, scores of letters, usually answering correspondence He had received from Baha'is around the planet; and no subject was avoided, however silly it might appear on the surface. People in the Holy Land, Jew, Christian, Druze and Muslim, often clergymen, sought Him out for advice. While carrying the weight of the world, with all of its open wounds, He managed to tend to the sick and poor in the Haifa area and be a concerned husband and father.
Though Curtis experienced tranquillity and happiness in Haifa, people worked and worked hard.
The Abha Kingdom, he reflected later in life, must be like the World Center as it was while the Master lived there. It certainly wasn't an isolated sanctuary where people floated about in pleated white gowns, perpetually smiling and strumming miniature harps. People had chores, and they believed that what they were doing was helping, in a small way, to create a brighter future, to build that world civilization that Baha'u'llah shares with us through His revelation. They worked - but without complaining, backbiting, gossip and negativity; no cheating, lying and scheming for power. For Curtis it was that atmosphere that made the World Center Heaven on Earth. While in Haifa, Curtis felt everything Baha'u'llah called for was attainable; that in time, if the believers put into practice what He urged them to do, they would be able to remake the world as He envisioned it would be. Back in America it seemed more difficult to maintain that perspective. There were so many distractions. But it could be done by developing a dependence upon the Revelation for guidance in every aspect of life. That's what Curtis - after many tests and failures - eventually learned to do.
To Curtis the World Center was light, constantly flowing; and 'Abdu'l-Baha generated it. It was easier to be happy there. In fact, while he was there, Curtis never thought about happiness because he was experiencing it. It was like the fish who was oblivious of water, because he was' always immersed in it. The Master was happy despite the troubles and problems He faced, because He understood the day in which He lived. Baha'u'llah was pointing the way. So the Master followed and rejoiced, and those near Him in spirit also rejoiced. (He Loved and Served, The Story of Curtis Kelsey, by Nathan Rutstein, George Ronald, Oxford, pp. 35 – 66)