Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day After Day of Covenant

The Day After the Day of the Covenant

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 26, 4 Qawl 165 BE

Since it is the Day of the Covenant, today let us talk about the covenant. Okay, maybe that is a little ambitious. Covenant is a huge subject, the distinguishing feature of the Baha'i Faith; it pervades just about everything we think, read, write and do. Let me restrict myself today to what is new, to what I have learned about covenant lately. If we take "lately" to mean the past five years, in that time I have come to realize that covenant is, along with other things, a spiritual principle. Yes, it is a practical and administrative principle, but more than anything it can and should be classified along with oneness of God, power of the Holy Spirit and love as a primal spiritual phenomenon.

I have learned quite a bit about how covenant is unique, and how it is not. We all know the difference between the lesser and the greater covenant, that one refers to the Baha'i Faith especially, and the other to all Faiths, both past and future. But beyond that, there are features to the covenant that I used to think are unique to Baha'i, but they are not. For example, plastered on the back of one of our prayer books is the stern verse from the Aqdas,

"Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide. Whoso faileth to recite them hath not been faithful to the covenant of God and His testament, and whoso turneth away from these holy verses in this Day is of those who, throughout eternity have turned away from God. Fear ye God, O my servants, one and all."

What I have learned is that although the strength and centrality of this teaching may be unique to Baha'u'llah's Teaching, other religions, Christianity and Judaism in particular, treat daily reading as a necessary discipline -- this is evident, for instance, in the chapter on family in Comenius's Panorthosia that I have been going through on this blog during the past couple of months. And although it sounds strange to invoke the secular quasi-religion of the self-help movement, these advisors have observed that successful people inevitably start their day with a half-hour of reading some important text in their trade or profession. They counsel ambitious readers to do the same in their daily routine. Of course, there is no reason that a Baha'i cannot do both, read from the Writings, then read something from their own studies. In fact I did that for many years and was often struck by the coincidental insights gained by comparing the two sources of knowledge one after the other.

One of my major interests is history, and I have come to at least one new realization about the background of the covenant in general, and the history of the Day of the Covenant in particular. Here is how it happened. This summer I was listening to a professor of American history discuss his book about early African American Baha'is. Although it was very well done, I went away with a vague feeling that he had been doing the Master an injustice somehow. I could not put my finger on it until later. I saw that when somebody writes a comprehensive history of the Master's travels in America ("239 Days" does not pretend to be such, it is little more than a collection of anecdotes), they will have to put tremendous emphasis on a certain event that, I suddenly realized, has been all but ignored. I am talking about the title of this blog entry,

"The Day After the Day of the Covenant."

This day after event is told briefly in Mahmud's Diary, how Jim Crow kept the African Americans out of the formal banquet in a snooty hotel, and how the White Baha'is on their own initiative decided to hold a meeting the next day for the Blacks who had to miss it, where they personally served them their food. I will include the full text of Mahmoud's account at the end of this post. I now see that this meeting after the covenant banquet merits much more attention than we have been giving it. If anything we treat it like a footnote to a footnote, but now I see that it was one of the brightest highlights of the Master's visit, if not (in view of how important covenant was in the eyes of the Master -- see the Tablet about the Covenant that He had published earlier on that year in the Star of the West, 13 July, 1912, which is enclosed at the end of today's blog entry) the very climactic event of the trip to America. We have a photo of the formal, Whitey-only affair, a poor reproduction of which I have posted at:

I often think about how this second banquet came about.

The Master had the option to cancel that first, formal banquet in the hotel completely. He probably could have found a place where all races are allowed, though hardly such a posh venue. It would not have been the first time He made such a stand on principle. But no, He let it happen, and left it up to the White believers to right the balance. He wanted Whites to take the extra step, to go beyond staid complacently and make an effort to right the balance of inequality. This is very significant, and very telling about what the Covenant is meant to be teaching us.

Nobody that I know of took a picture of the Whites serving the Blacks -- probably the lightest of several darker reasons that the event is so obscure and often overlooked. Baha'i artists, here is your chance, draw a painting of how you imagine this event might have looked. Or better still, why not have a re-enactment? Let us face it, it was probably all White ladies who did the serving of African Americans at the banquet, so why not wipe out all tinges of sexism as well as racism and have a banquet where white men serve everybody else, non-white men, and all women and children? Speaking as a white man myself, in view of the harm our arrogance in ascendency has done in the world, this would be the very least we could do...

I have a lot more to say on this, but for today I cannot resist giving the last word to the Master Himself. Maybe I will have the rest of my say in the upcoming essay on the Ascension of Abdu'l-Baha.




Covenant Banquet, and the Day After

Tablet on the Covenant


Covenant Banquet

from Mahmud's Diary, pp. 405-407

Saturday, November 23, 1912 [New York]

The friends arranged a banquet in commemoration of the Day of the Covenant and the journey of the beloved of all hearts. Today many came to the Master with bouquets of flowers in their hands. The banquet was held in the ballroom of New York's Grand Northern Hotel. The hall was decorated similarly to that in Washington with festoons, banners, ornaments and exquisite screens, with the Greatest Name suspended above all on the stage in its customary calligraphy.

In the center of the ballroom were two rectangular tables, between which was another large table exquisitely set. Around these tables on both sides were placed small circular tables bedecked with colorful flowers, a variety of sweets and crystal glassware. The electric lighting reflected the glassware and caused the whole room to shine brilliantly. More than three hundred guests, formally attired, attended. Several friends and specifically Miss Lali Lloyd served at the banquet.

When the Master appeared, all rose from their seats and with smiling faces cried out, 'Allah-u-Abha!' Many of the hotel guests saw the banquet and were astonished to see the grandeur of the Master and the sincerity and enthusiasm of the friends. After the Master took His seat, Mr Hoar, on behalf of the Baha'is, read an address of welcome expressing obedience and firmness in the Covenant. The Master rose and responded with an address about the divine teachings and the oneness of humanity. He then walked around the tables and perfumed the heads and faces of the friends with attar of rose. When He returned to His chair, the friends, accompanied by the piano, sang songs of praise to Him.

Later the Master spoke about the wars and massacres of the nations and the need for the teachings of the Greatest Name. He encouraged all towards peace, harmony and sincere love for all the people of the world. After His talk, the Consul General, Mr Topakyan, and others gave short speeches praising 'Abdu'l-Baha.

This evening's banquet was so grand that the hotel staff were curious to know about the Cause. They came to see the Master to ask about the banquet and why so many distinguished Americans were praising and glorifying a person from the East. Indeed, it was a banquet for a king and a source of awakening to every person of insight.

Two photographs were taken with a good quality glass and special lighting. Although the photographs do not show the entire group, they tell much about the banquet.


The Day After

Sunday, November 24, 1912 [New York]

A gathering of black Baha'is was held at the home of Mrs Kinney. They had been invited by the New York Baha'is to attend the banquet of the Covenant but when the proprietor of the hotel heard about it, he was not pleased. The more the friends endeavored to persuade him, the more vehement was his refusal. He said, 'If the people see that one colored person has entered my hotel, no respectable person will ever set foot in it and my business will go to the winds.' Such is the depth of prejudice between blacks and whites. Since it was impossible to invite the black Baha'is to the banquet, the friends arranged today's feast for their black brothers. Many white women came forward to serve their black guests, showering them with love. The Master approved of this meeting very much and He said:

Today you have carried out the laws of the Blessed Beauty and have truly acted according to the teachings of the Supreme Pen. Behold what an influence and effect the words of Baha'u'llah have had upon the hearts, that hating and shunning have been forgotten and that prejudices have been obliterated to such an extent that you arose to serve one another with great sincerity.

The Master's words made a great impression. The meeting embodied the grandeur of the Covenant and demonstrated the power and influence of the Cause in uniting, in sincerity and love, two races of humanity.


Tablet on the Covenant

from: Star of the West, Vol. 3, No. 7, p. 16, July 13, 1912

Star of the West editor's note: The time has come when the Baha'is of the West should understand what is intended by "The Center of the Covenant," therefore we are pleased to publish in this issue the article from the pen of Charles Mason Remey, "`Abdu-l-Baha, the Center of the Covenant." A tablet regarding this important subject was recently revealed by `Abdu'l-Baha through Mr. Remey. We publish it herewith:


To his honor Mr. Remey.

Upon him be Baha'u'llah-el-Abha!

O thou who art firm in the Covenant! Thy letter was received and I was informed of its contents. Explain the matter according to the following Teachings, and do not add one word thereto:

His Holiness Abraham -- Upon him be Peace! -- took the Covenant of His Holiness Moses and gave the glad tidings of His appearance. His Holiness Moses took the Covenant of the Promised One, His Holiness the Christ, and gladdened the world with the glad tidings of His Manifestation. His Holiness the Christ took the Covenant of the "Paraclete" which means His Holiness Mohammed and announced the glad tidings of His Appearance. His Holiness Mohammed took the Covenant of His Holiness the Bab, and the Bab was the Promised One of His Holiness Mohammed, for He gave the good news of His Coming. His Holiness the Blessed Perfection Bahaullah WAS the Promised One of His Holiness the Bab. The Blessed Perfection has prophesied of the coming of a Promised One after one thousand years, or after thousands of years. That Personage is the Promised One of the Blessed Perfection, and He will appear after one thousand years or after thousands of years. Likewise with the trace of the Supreme Pen He has taken a great Covenant and Testament from all the Baha'is that after His Departure they must obey the Center of the Covenant and must not deviate one hair's breadth from obedience to him. He has commanded in the most explicit term in two instances in the Book of Akdas and He has appointed most unmistakably the interpreter of the Book.

In all the Tablets, especially the chapter of "Branch," whose meanings are all Abdu'l-Baha, that is, "the Servant of Baha," everything that is necessary as revealed from the Supreme Pen. As Abdu'l-Baha is the interpreter of the Book, he says that the chapter of "Branch" means Abdul-Baha, it refers to the servitude of Abdu'l-Baha and nothing else.

In brief, one of the special favors of this dispensation of His Holiness Baha'u'llah which is not seen in past Manifestations is this that He has left no place for difference. For in His own Day, with the Trace of His own Supreme Pen He has taken a Covenant and a Testament. He has pointed to the one who should be looked upon as authority by all, He has shown the interpreter of the Book and has closed the doors of outside interpretation.

Everyone should thank God that in this Blessed Cause He has tranquilized all and has left no place for hesitation. Therefore obedience and submission must be shown and the face turned completely to him (the Center of the Covenant)

Restrict discussion to this and do not exceed thereto, so that it may become the cause of fellowship and the remover of differences.



Translated by M. Ahmad Sohrab, Montclair



John Taylor




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