New York: The Melting Pot on the Hudson: 1912-2012 1
Just as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had spoken of the need for an international council with a mandate for peace, an early version of it emerged, making an unlikely neighborhood in New York City its headquarters. In 1912, down 43rd Street in Turtle Bay, slaughterhouses, packing sheds, cattle pens, and noisy railroad piers lined the banks of the East River. By the 1920s fashionable townhouses had taken over, and a large communal garden ran through the backyards of the homes on 48th and 49th Streets. When the United Nations was formed after World War II, its Modernist headquarters rose in Turtle Bay between 1949 and 1952, replacing six blocks of slaughterhouses. Today, on clear mornings, the sunrise reincarnates itself in the UN Secretariat’s glass facing, bathing the passersby on the East River in a wash of gold.
“I am greatly pleased with the city of New York,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said on his first day in America, “Its harbor entrance, its piers, buildings and broad avenues are magnificent and beautiful.” But he had an admonition. “As New York has made such progress in material civilization, I hope that it may also advance spiritually. . . .” Spiritual civilization is not as easy to see as material. It requires perception and the ability to look beyond outward appearances, to the selfless acts of millions of people that are often forgotten by history.
But just as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had stood up for women’s emancipation as he pulled into New York harbor, seated an African American lawyer at the head of his table in Washington, argued for peace to an arms dealer, spent the week with a former convict, wiped away the tears of a reverend, met with children, servants, students, government officials and crowds in the thousands, he expended his energy to the utmost, planting the seeds of what he called a spiritual civilization. “This timely seed,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told an audience on April 12, “when planted in the hearts of the beloved of God, will be watered by showers of divine mercy and warmed by the sunshine of divine love. Its fruitage and flower shall be the solidarity of mankind, the perfection of justice and the praiseworthy attributes of heaven manifest in humanity.”
Final Days in America: New York City 2
On Friday, November 29, He moved to the Emery home. In an evening meeting at the Kinneys’, He spoke with the friends about their offers of money. He said, “‘Distribute it among the poor from Me. It will be as if I have given it to them. The most acceptable offering to Me is the unity among friends, service to the Cause of God, diffusing the Divine Fragrances, and acting upon the admonitions of the Beauty of Abhá.’”
Friday, November 29, 1912 3
At the request of Mrs Emery, the Master moved to her home. The time of His departure was drawing near. On reaching the house, He said, ‘Today I must rest for I am extremely tired.’ Nevertheless, the friends and seekers continued to come to visit Him at the homes of Mrs Emery and Mrs Kinney. One of His discourses today was this:
“One of the bounties of religion and faith is the attainment of peace of the heart and soul and the joy of spirit and conscience. This station can only be gained through faith and understanding. Peace of mind is the soul’s delight, as it is the means of acquiring that extraordinary state in which man finds happiness in times of affliction and tranquillity in trouble. In spite of poverty he acquires a sense of affluence and in a state of riches and power he offers help and protection to the weak because the well-assured soul is like a tree which has strong roots and is not shaken by any event. This cannot be attained except through complete faith and understanding. How many are the people who have all means of comfort, luxury, security and wealth and every means of enjoyment and good living, yet they have no peace of mind and are ever anxious and uneasy! If outwardly they are happy one day, they become depressed and anxious the next. If they find physical rest at one moment, they face suffering and misfortune the next, until the time comes to leave this world, then they will do so with utmost regret and distress.
“But those who have faith in God act according to the divine teachings; even though they need a little food to survive, they will pass their lives in the utmost happiness and joy. This is one of the bounties of religion; this is eternal happiness, life everlasting and real affluence. Without this all riches lead to woe and all power and strength are the cause of hardship and affliction. Therefore, offer praise unto God that you are endowed with this imperishable wealth and have attained this supreme blessing.”
Today some of the friends offered money to the Master but He would not accept it despite their pleading. Instead He told them, ‘Distribute it among the poor on my behalf. It will be as though I have given it to them. But the most acceptable gift to me is the unity of the believers, service to the Cause of God, diffusion of the divine fragrances and adherence to the counsels of the Abhá Beauty.’
The believers were saddened because He did not accept their gifts. However, since these were the last days of His visit and He was about to leave, the New York Bahá’ís collected several gifts for the women of the holy household and for the Greatest Holy Leaf.
Talk at Home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. Kinney, 780 West End Avenue, New York 4
This evening I wish to speak to you concerning the mystery of sacrifice. There are two kinds of sacrifice: the physical and the spiritual. The explanation made by the churches concerning this subject is, in reality, superstition. For instance, it is recorded in the Gospel that Christ said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.” He also said, “This [wine] is my blood … which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” These verses have been interpreted by the churches in such a superstitious way that it is impossible for human reason to understand or accept the explanation.
They say that Adam disobeyed the command of God and partook of the fruit of the forbidden tree, thereby committing a sin which was transmitted as a heritage to His posterity. They teach that because of Adam’s sin all His descendants have, likewise, committed transgression and have become responsible through inheritance; that, consequently, all mankind deserves punishment and must make retribution; and that God sent forth His Son as a sacrifice in order that man might be forgiven and the human race delivered from the consequences of Adam’s transgression.
We wish to consider these statements from the standpoint of reason. Could we conceive of the Divinity, Who is Justice itself, inflicting punishment upon the posterity of Adam for Adam’s own sin and disobedience? Even if we should see a governor, an earthly ruler punishing a son for the wrongdoing of his father, we would look upon that ruler as an unjust man. Granted the father committed a wrong, what was the wrong committed by the son? There is no connection between the two. Adam’s sin was not the sin of His posterity, especially as Adam is a thousand generations back of the man today. If the father of a thousand generations committed a sin, is it just to demand that the present generation should suffer the consequences thereof?
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to Its Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “New York: The Melting Pot on the Hudson: 1912-2012.” 239 Days in America, 29 Nov. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/11/29/new-york-the-melting-pot-on-the-hudson/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 189-190. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=9#section251 ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 449. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/33#112906790 ↩