The ladies of the family are admirable housewives. They make all their own simple wearing apparel, by the aid of a sewing machine from the western world. ...They typify the modern saint, the conception of whom obliges us to revolutionize our entire spiritual cosmogony. A fashionable woman of the western world, as helpless as are some of these artificial dames, and so eager for spiritual culture, was caught in the gentle household without a trunk, and so handsomely garbed that she felt disgraced in the presence of the lovely simplicity that reigns there. The Greatest Holy Leaf thereupon made her a print dress with her own beautiful hands, which was a model for grace and adjustment. The western woman is still puzzling perhaps over the problem of how such profound spirituality can be associated with such excellent practical skill and sense, but in reality they are always found side by side.
(Mary Hanford Ford, Oriental Rose, pp. 162-3; quoted in Janet Khan, Prophet’s Daughter, p. 92)
Recently I‘ve been reading Prophet’s Daughter, the biography of Bahíyyih Khánum by Janet Khan. Despite all the drama and spiritual significance of her life, the passages that have made an indelible impression upon me have been related to the most basic of human occupations. Ms. Khan quotes from Ella Cooper’s description of Bahíyyih Khánum’s daily round of work:
One day we caught a glimpse of her in the kitchen seated on a low stool, her firm, capable hands busy with a large lamb that had just been brought in from the market. Quickly dividing it, she directed which part was to be made into broth, which part served for the evening meal, which part kept for the morrow, and which sent to those poor or incapacitated friends who are daily supplied from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s table. On the shelves were huge pans holding rice soaking in clean water to be ready for the delicious pilau (a famous Persian dish), and there were many other visible evidences of the hours of preparation necessary to provide for the material welfare of the visitors. It was then we learned of her practical efficiency. The enormous amount of work attendant upon such entertaining with only the crudest and most primitive facilities, must be seen to be appreciated.
(Ella Gordon Cooper, “Bahíyyih Khánum—An Appreciation", Star of the West 23, no. 7 : 202; quoted in Janet Khan, Prophet’s Daughter, pp. 91-2)