Hospitality

Later that day, a group of Californians, including Helen Goodall, Ella Cooper and Harriet Wise, arrived in New York to see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. After a bath and dinner, the women took a taxi to the house where He was staying. Arriving, they stepped out of the cab to find ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sitting on the steps of the house awaiting them. “Very welcome! Very welcome! It is good that you have come", He said.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 149)


The following touching incident took place one day when we were seated at table with the Master. A Persian friend arrived who had passed through ‘Ishqabad,. He presented a cotton handkerchief to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who untied it, and saw therein a piece of dry black bread, and a shrivelled apple. The friend exclaimed: “A poor Bahá’í workman came to me: ‘I hear thou goest into the presence of our Beloved. Nothing have I to send, but this my dinner. I pray thee offer it to Him with my loving devotion.’” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spread the poor handkerchief before Him, leaving His own luncheon untasted. He ate of the workman’s dinner, broke pieces off the bread, and handed them to the assembled guests, saying: “Eat with me of this gift of humble love.”
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)


He told Carrie Kinney, while I am in your home, I will be the host and you will be the guests.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 138)


When, as the guest of Lady Blomfield, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sat down to dinner on Christmas eve, He said, playfully, that He was not hungry, but He had to come to the dinner table because Lady Blomfield was very insistent; two despotic monarchs of the East had not been able to command Him and bend His will, but the ladies of America and Europe, because they were free, gave Him orders.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 176)


One day, in London, while several people were talking to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, a man’s voice was heard at the door. It was the son of a country clergyman, but now he looked more like an ordinary tramp and his only home was along the banks of the river Thames. He had walked thirty miles to see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The man was taken to the diningroom, he was given food, and after he had rested for a while, he said, ‘Last evening I had decided to put an end to my futile, hateful life, useless to God and man! In a little country town yesterday, whilst taking what I had intended should be my last walk, I saw a face in the window of a newspaper shop. I stood looking at the face as if rooted to the spot. He seemed to speak to me, and call me to Him!...I read that He is here, in this house. I said to myself, “If there is on earth that personage, I shall take up again the burden of my life.”...Tell me, is He here? Will He see me? Even me? The lady replied, ‘Of course He will see you...’ Just then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself opened the door, extending His hands as though to a dear friend whom He was expecting. ‘"Welcome! Most welcome! I am very much pleased that thou hast come. Be seated.” Trembling the poor man sank into a chair by the Master. “Be happy! Be happy!...Do not be filled with grief...” encouraged the Master. “Though thou be poor, thou mayest be rich in the Kingdom of God."’ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke these and other words of comfort, strength and healing. The man’s cloud of misery seemed to melt away in the warmth of the Master’s loving presence. Before the man left, he said that he was going to work in the fields, and that after he had saved a little money, he was going to buy some land to grow violets for the market.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 89)


Howard Colby Ives recalled one meal at which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá served me with His own hands most bountifully, urging me to eat, eat, be happy. He Himself did not eat but paced regally around the table, talking, smiling, serving.’ Later he wrote that ‘He has been known to go into the kitchen and prepare a meal for His guests. He never failed in such small attentions as seeing that the room where His visitors were entertained contained every possible comfort.’ His response when He was at one time asked to act as honorary chairman of a Bahá’í Assembly was simply, ‘‘Abdu’l-Bahá is a servant.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 104)


He stayed at a rented house in Montclair, often going to the market and preparing the meals Himself, for invited friends and visitors. In general, during His travels, He would always supervise kitchen matters. For himself, He required the least possible amount of food, but for His guests He provided lavishly.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 145)


Dr J. E. Esslemont, author of the often-printed Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s guest in Haifa for two and a half months in the winter of 1919-20. He observed, ‘Both at lunch and supper He used to entertain a number of pilgrims and friends, and charm His guests with happy and humorous stories as well as precious talks on a great variety of subjects. “My home is the home of laughter and mirth,” He declared, and indeed it was so. He delighted in gathering together people of various races, colours, nations, and religions in unity and cordial friendship around His hospitable board.’
As He said on another occasion, ‘My home is the home of peace. My home is the home of joy and delight. My home is the home of laughter and exultation. Whoever enters through the portals of this home must go out with gladsome heart.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 172)


When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was in San Francisco, His hostess arranged an interview with the Mayor of Berkeley. Many dignitaries and university people were to gather at a reception. ‘As the appointed hour for departure approached the hostess went upstairs to warn ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that the time was near. He smiled and waved her away, saying, “Very soon! Very soon!” ‘She left him with some impatience, for there was no evidence of preparation for the trip. After some time she went up again, for the automobile was honking at the door, and it looked as if the Mayor of Berkeley would be kept waiting. But she met only a smile, and “Very soon! Very soon!” from the important guest. At last her patience was quite exhausted for she knew that they could not possibly arrive at the reception in time. Suddenly there was a ring at the door bell. Immediately ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s step was on the stair, and when the door opened he was beside the maid, pulling over the threshold a dusty and disheveled man whom no one had ever heard of, but whom ‘Abdu’l-Bahá embraced like a long lost friend.’ He had read of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the newspapers and felt he must see Him, but as he did not have enough money for the car fare, he walked the fifteen miles into San Francisco. Had ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left on time, they would have missed each other—but the Master had ‘felt his approach’ and would not leave until His guest was seated at the table with tea and sandwiches. Only then could the Master say, ‘Now I must go, but when you have finished, wait for Me in My room upstairs, until I return, and then we will have a great talk.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 56)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá and His party arrived in Salt Lake City on the afternoon of 28 September. Baháis traveled from other areas to have the bounty of seeing ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, including Feny Paulson, from Missoula, Montana. She had received a telegram stating that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would be in Salt Lake City on a certain date so she arrived a day early. Overnight, she shared a room at the YWCA, with which she was not impressed. Apart from the construction scaffolding in the entry hall and the dim light, the food was disgusting, with a fly in the German fries, a chicken still with many feathers attached and roaches at the soda fountain . . Later, Feny Paulson received a phone call telling her to come for an interview with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. His first words to her were “Luxury and comfort are not the all-important things in this life", recalling to her vividly her mentioning the dirty conditions at the YWCA. He also said that He was her father, which strongly affected her because she had never known her father. The Master then gave her locket sized photo of Himself as a father gives a treasure to one of his children.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 208, 209)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá was born on the same night that the Bab declared His Mission in Shiraz on 22 May 1844, so on that day in 1906 it was about the Bab, His work and message, that He spoke. For the occasion over two hundred guests were to dine at the Master’s table. Since dawn He had been busy helping with the work involved, Himself kneading dough to be put in the ovens, ‘in gay spirits, inspiring, uplifting, cheering all His helpers‘. Later He ‘assisted in passing the platters...the rice...the lamb...the fruits of the region (of such large size, such colour, and such fragrance as only the sunshine of the East produces and paints). Moving among His two hundred guests, He spoke to them as He served them, such Divine words of love and spiritual import.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 49)


Of the guests who remained to lunch or dinner, the Master would often hold out His hand to the humblest or most diffident, lead them into the dining-room, seat him or her at His right hand, smile and talk until all embarrassment had passed away, and the guest felt as though all uneasiness had changed into the atmosphere of a calm and happy home.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)


During this second stay in Chicago, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá chose to stay in Corrine True’s home for a day or two before moving to a hotel. When He arrived with His secretaries, Corrine serve them all tea. Unfortunately, it was a type of tea that Persians don’t like, and some of them remarked that “there was a better tea”. But the Master drank it anyway, saying, “This tea is very good because it is been prepared with love.”
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 192)


Certain of those who thronged to see the Master, having travelled from far countries, were naturally anxious to spend every possible moment with Him, Whose deeds and words appealed to them as ever-filled with grace and love. Therefore it came about that day after day, whilst the Master was teaching, the luncheon gong would sound, and those who remained would be invited to sit at food with Him. We grew to expect that there would be nineteen guests at table, so often did this number recur. These were much-prized times; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would continue the interrupted discourse, or tell some anecdote, often humorous, meanwhile frequently serving the guests with His own hands, offering sweets, or choosing various fruits to distribute to the friends.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)


To a minister who came to call on the Master in the Maxwell Home in Montreal, ‘‘Abdu’l-Bahá presented an armful of gorgeous American Beauty roses, standing in a tall vase at His side, sending him away with amazement and awe at the regal manners and gentle courtesy of this Prisoner from the East.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 98)


Two ladies from Scotland, delighted that their request to have an evening with the Master while He was in London had been granted, were warmly received by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. How they relished having this intimate evening! Half an hour passsed in His warm presence, when suddenly they were filled with consternation—an aggressive reporter strode into their midst and seated himself—he wanted information about the Master. His talkative, impolite manner left the ladies speechless—such an intrusion could spoil that precious evening. Then, to their surprise, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood up and, beckoning the reporter to follow Him, led the way into His room. The ladies had indeed got rid of the intruder, but they had also lost ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. What were they to do? Before long the hostess went into the Master’s secretary and asked that He be informed ‘that the ladies with whom the appointment had been made are awaiting His pleasure.’ Very soon kind words of farewell were heard. Then the Master returned, pausing by the door. Gravely, He looked at each and said, ‘You were making that poor man uncomfortable, so strongly desiring his absence; I took him away to make him feel happy.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 54)


Julia Gundy, an early pilgrim, described a beautiful supper at which many friends were welcomed by the Master Himself in Akka. He passed out napkins, embraced and found plates for each. All were individually anointed with attar of rose. He served pilau, a Persian rice dish, to each guest. There were also oranges and rice pudding. ‘Throughout the supper, which was very simple in its character and appointment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the Servant of the believers. This was indeed a spiritual feast where Love reigned. The whole atmosphere was Love, Joy, and Peace.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


Mary Bolles (Maxwell) took an early pilgrimage to the prison city. She heard that the food man eats is of no importance, as its effect endures but a short time. But the food of the spirit is life to the soul and its effects endure eternally. She heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tell the touching ’story of the hermit‘. Bahá’u’lláh ‘was traveling from one place to another with His followers’ and ‘He passed through a lonely country where, at some little distance from the highway, a hermit lived alone in a cave. He was a holy man, and having heard that Our Lord, Bahá’u’lláh, would pass that way, he watched eagerly for His approach. When the Manifestation arrived at that spot the hermit knelt down and kissed the dust before His feet and said to Him: “Oh, my Lord, I am a poor man living alone in a cave nearby; but henceforth I shall account myself the happiest of mortals if Thou wilt but come for a moment to my cave and bless it by Thy Presence.” Then Bahá’u’lláh told the man that He would come, not for a moment but for three days, and He bade His followers cast their tents, and await His return. The poor man was so overcome with joy and with gratitude that he was speechless, and led the way in humble silence to his lowly dwelling in a rock. There the Glorious One sat with him, talking to him and teaching him, and toward evening the man bethought himself that he had nothing to offer his great Guest but some dry meat and some dark bread, and water from a spring nearby. Not knowing what to do he threw himself at the feet of his Lord and confessed his dilemma. Bahá’u’lláh comforted him and by a word bade him fetch the meat and bread and water; then the Lord of the universe partook of this frugal repast with joy and fragrance as though it had been a banquet, and during the three days of His visit they ate only of this food which seemed to the poor hermit the most delicious he had ever eaten. Bahá’u’lláh declared that He had never been more nobly entertained nor received greater hospitality and love. “This,” explained the Master, when He had finished the story, shows us how little man requires when he is nourished by the sweetness of all foods – the love of God."’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


Mr Holley recalled one dinner: ‘Our party took seats at two adjoining tables. The dinner was throughout cheerful and animated. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá answered questions and made frequent observations on religion in the West. He laughed heartily from time to time – indeed, the idea of asceticism or useless misery of any kind cannot attach itself to this full-developed personality. The divine element in Him does not feed at the expense of the human element, but appears rather to vitalize and enrich the human element by its own abundance, as if He had attained His spiritual development by fulfilling His social relations with the utmost ardour.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 168)


In London it was noted that inquirers often hated to leave. If any were still present when luncheon or dinner was to be served, they were inevitably invited to dine also. To smother embarrassment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would extend His hand to the humblest and lead him personally into the dining-room, seating him at His right and talking with such warmth that soon the surprised guest felt completely at ease. As many as eighteen might find themselves being served by the Master Himself, but He was prone to continue His interrupted conversations or to tell an anecdote, often sparkling with his humour.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 57)


He has been known to go into the kitchen and prepare a meal for His guests. He never failed in such small attentions as seeing that the room where His visitors were entertained contained every possible comfort, though He paid no attention to His own comfort.
(Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 240)


As the guests were served, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went from one to another with a vial of Attar of Rose, anointing each one of the friends.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 147)


‘That day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had bestowed many sixpences, and people had come from the neighboring villages, bringing their children to receive the blessing from “the holy Man”—and of course the sixpences! About nine o‘clock in the evening the ladies decided that no one else must see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that night. But as they waited outside the cottage, a man came up the path, carrying one baby, and with others clinging to him. When he asked for “the holy Man", however, he was told severely that he could not be seen, he was very tired and had gone to bed. The man sighed, as he said, “Oh, I have walked six miles from far away to see Him. I am so sorry!” ‘The hostess responded severely, feeling that the desire for sixpences had prompted the journey perhaps more than religious enthusiasm, and the man sighed more deeply than ever, and was turning away, when suddenly ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came around the corner of the house. The way in which he embraced the man and all the babies was so wonderful, that the hearts of the too careful friends melted within them, and when he at last sent away the unbidden guests, comforted, their hearts full of joy, their hands bursting with sixpences, the two friends looked at one another and said: “How wrong we were! We will never again try to manage ‘Abdu’l-Bahá!”
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 73)


Two pilgrims had just arrived in ‘Akka in January 1908, after a long journey in the midst of winter. They described their first meeting with the Master, only minutes after they had entered His home.
‘He came at once, the joyous ring of His voice reaching us even before we saw Him, calling, “Welcome! Welcome! I am glad you are here!” and adding to His warm, strong hand-clasp, the greater welcome of His wonderful eyes and heavenly smile. He made us sit down with Him and immediately asked about the American believers … When we mentioned those who had sent Him special greetings, His beautiful face beamed with happiness.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 132)


This woman who makes the tea had been married only one year to one of these brothers. Having lost all of her relatives through the persecution, and Persian women having no openings for self-support, the Master took her into His household. What a wonderful household this is – over forty people living here in one home, some black, some white, Arabic, Persian, Burmanese, Italian, Russian and now English and American! Not a loud command is heard and not one word of dispute; not one word of fault-finding. Every one goes about as if on tip toes. When they enter your room, their slippers are left before the door and they come in with stocking feet and remain standing until you invite them to sit down.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 93)


One July evening in 1919 a pilgrim held a sumptuous banquet at Bahji. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself served about forty guests. Bedouins camping nearby also received a generous share. When their children came, the Master gave a coin to each. In the morning their fathers came to the Master, who was sitting in the garden by the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, writing Tablets, to express their appreciation and to seek His blessing.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 99)


I used to make broth for people, as I had much practice, I make good broth,’ the Master testified laughingly.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 170)