Pilgrimage

May Bolles (Maxwell) was one of fifteen fortunate pilgrims welcomed in the prison-city from December 1898 to early 1899. She recorded her experiences in An Early Pilgrimage—a divine love story! In the Holy Land, whose very air was ‘laden with the perfume of roses and orange blossoms‘, she found ‘Abdu’l-Bahá whose love, wisdom and gentleness penetrated her very soul. In ‘Akká the Holy Family had vacated their own rooms that the pilgrims might be comfortable. Early each morning the Master would inquire about their happiness and health, and at night He would wish them ‘beautiful dreams’ and a good rest. There, for three precious days and nights, they heard nothing ‘but the mention of God‘. Never, elsewhere, had she seen such happiness, or heard so much laughter. The Master wanted no tears. At one time He asked some pilgrims who were moved to tears to weep no more for His sake. Only when all were fully composed would He teach the friends. She wrote, ‘We had learned that to be with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was all life, joy and blessedness.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 63)


After the war, pilgrimages were resumed. Among the last of those fortunate pilgrims to visit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were the members of the Edwin Mattoon family. In their great longing to reach His side, they had asked if they might come from the United States ‘if only for a day‘. Permission was granted. With their two little daughters, Florence (Zmeskal) and Annamarie (Baker), the latter only three months old, they joyously set sail. They were asked to take a part of an automobile so that the Master’s – sent by American friends – might be repaired. Somehow they managed that, too. Annie Mattoon remembered later that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said to them, ‘You must never forget Christ.’ With this encouragement, they included visits to the Holy Places of Christianity. “Today, also, Bahá’ís frequently make the ‘wider pilgrimage‘.) (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 123)


Our Lord: “Since the day you arrived you have daily progressed and you have almost changed. Some souls come here and return unaltered. It is precisely like one who comes to a fountain and, not being thirsty, returns exactly as he came. Or, like a blind man who goes into a rose garden: he perceives not, and, being questioned as to what he has seen in the rose garden, answers, ‘Nothing.’ “But some souls who come here are resuscitated. They come dead; they return alive. They come frail or ill in body; they return healed. They come athirst; they return satisfied. They come sorrowing; they return joyous. They come deprived; they return having partaken of a share. They come athirst; they return satisfied!
"These souls have in reality done justice to their visit. Praise be to God, you are of these souls and you must be exceedingly happy. If a cow should go to a prosperous town, a city full of bounties and divine blessings, and should be asked as to what it had found in this town, it would say, ‘Nothing but cucumber peels and melon rinds.’ But if a nightingale should fly to a rose garden, when it returns the reply would be, ‘Verily, I have scented delicious fragrances, seen most beautiful flowers, most delightful verdure, drunk most refreshing water from gushing fountains; and I have found new life!’ Now the reply of a beetle would be, ‘All you have heard concerning the rose garden is false. There is neither a delightful fragrance nor beauty of verdure, nor is it joyous. In fact, when I entered it, I was displeased. All you have heard is false. Had I not escaped, I should have died!‘”
(Diary of Juliet Thompson, 7 July 1909, 9 p.m. At dinner)


After Bahá’u’lláh’s confinement in the Most Great Prison in ‘Akka had ended, but while He was yet residing in the town, an Egyptian merchant, ‘Abdu’l-Karim, afire with God’s latest message, desired to visit Him. He wrote for permission to go on pilgrimage. He must have been greatly surprised when the reply arrived: he might go on pilgrimage but only after all his debts were paid.
He had been in business for many years. His caravans crossed the desert with precious cargo. He had quite naturally been interested in expanding his business, but now his consuming interest was to ‘owe no man anything‘. It followed that when he received payment, instead of investing it for further gain, he paid off a debt. This continued for five years, until at last he was debt-free.
His business shrank. No longer did ‘love of wealth’ consume him. When all his debts were paid, he had only enough to keep his family going in his absence and to pay for deck passage on a ship bound for Haifa. Formerly, he would have travelled first-class. Now he had neither bed nor warm stateroom. Never mind! He was going to see Bahá’u’lláh. As he crossed the gangplank, his shawl slipped into the water. The night would be chilly, but his heart was glad and he felt ‘alive with prayer‘.
Bahá’u’lláh informed His family that He was expecting an honoured guest. A carriage was sent to Haifa to pick up the merchant, but the attendant received no description of this very special guest. As the passengers disembarked, he watched them very carefully—surely he would recognize someone so distinguished—but the passengers appeared quite ordinary and in due time he returned to ‘Akka with word that Bahá’u’lláh’s visitor had not arrived. The merchant had expected to be met. He had no money left to hire a carriage. Bitterly disappointed, he seated himself on a bench, feeling forlorn and destitute. Bahá’u’lláh knew that His distinguished guest had arrived, even though he had not been recognized. This time He sent ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who, in the twilight, recognized ‘the disappointed figure huddled upon the bench‘. Quickly the Master introduced Himself and explained what had happened. Then He asked the traveller if he would like to go to ‘Akka that very night or if he would prefer to wait until morning. The merchant had already spent hours in prayer in preparation for his meeting with Bahá’u’lláh, but now he found that bitterness had seeped into his heart—he had felt so forgotten and alone upon his arrival in Haifa. He had even begun to wonder about the very station of Bahá’u’lláh. For what had he given up his fortune? He was in spiritual torment. However, in the presence of this welcome and gentle Man, doubts and suspicions ebbed out of his soul; yet he felt the need of hours of prayer to feel spiritually ready to meet God’s Emissary. As the story is told, ‘Abbas Effendi knew instinctively that His new friend would not wish to seek a hotel at His expense, so finding that he preferred to wait until morning for the journey to ‘Akka, ‘he unbuttoned the long cloak that enveloped him, seated himself beside the pilgrim, and wrapped both on its ample folds. So they passed the night praying together, lost in that ecstasy of prayer that brings realization.’
The next morning they proceeded towards the prison-city of ‘Akka. At long last the Egyptian appeared before Bahá’u’lláh with a glad heart, purified through five years of testing.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 61)


For many years during the Master’s late life there occurred a constant ‘flow of pilgrims’ who ‘transmitted the verbal messages and special instructions of a vigilant Master‘. World War I brought a rude halt to these heavenly journeys. ‘A remarkable instance of the foresight of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was supplied during the months immediately preceding the war. During peace times there was usually a large number of pilgrims at Haifa, from Persia and other regions of the globe. About six months before the outbreak of war one of the old Bahá’ís living a Haifa presented a request from several believers of Persia for permission to visit the Master. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did not grant the permission, and from that time onwards gradually dismissed the pilgrims who were at Haifa, so that by the end of July, 1914, none remained. When, in the first days of August, the sudden outbreak of the Great War startled the world, the wisdom of His precaution became apparent.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 123)


Our Lord: “Since the day you arrived you have daily progressed and you have almost changed. Some souls come here and return unaltered. It is precisely like one who comes to a fountain and, not being thirsty, returns exactly as he came. Or, like a blind man who goes into a rose garden: he perceives not, and, being questioned as to what he has seen in the rose garden, answers, ‘Nothing.’ “But some souls who come here are resuscitated. They come dead; they return alive. They come frail or ill in body; they return healed. They come athirst; they return satisfied. They come sorrowing; they return joyous. They come deprived; they return having partaken of a share. They come athirst; they return satisfied!
"These souls have in reality done justice to their visit. Praise be to God, you are of these souls and you must be exceedingly happy. If a cow should go to a prosperous town, a city full of bounties and divine blessings, and should be asked as to what it had found in this town, it would say, ‘Nothing but cucumber peels and melon rinds.’ But if a nightingale should fly to a rose garden, when it returns the reply would be, ‘Verily, I have scented delicious fragrances, seen most beautiful flowers, most delightful verdure, drunk most refreshing water from gushing fountains; and I have found new life!’ Now the reply of a beetle would be, ‘All you have heard concerning the rose garden is false. There is neither a delightful fragrance nor beauty of verdure, nor is it joyous. In fact, when I entered it, I was displeased. All you have heard is false. Had I not escaped, I should have died!‘”
(Diary of Juliet Thompson, 7 July 1909, 9 p.m. At dinner)


On pilgrimage May Maxwell came to realize that every word and every act of the Master’s had meaning and purpose. The pilgrim party was invited to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá under the cedar trees on Mount Carmel where He had been in the habit of sitting with Bahá’u’lláh. She recalled that ‘on Sunday morning we awakened with the joy and hope of the meeting on Mount Carmel. The Master arrived quite early and after looking at me, touching my head and counting my pulse, still holding my hand He said to the believers present: “There will be no meeting on Mount Carmel to-day...we could not go and leave one of the beloved of God alone and sick. We could none of us be happy unless all the beloved were happy.” We were astonished. That anything so important as this meeting in that blessed spot should be cancelled because one person was ill and could not go seemed incredible. It was so contrary to all ordinary habits of thought and action, so different from the life of the world where daily events and material circumstances are supreme in importance that it gave us a genuine shock of surprise, and in that shock the foundations of the old order began to totter and fall. The Master’s words had opened wide the door of God’s Kingdom and given us a vision of that infinite world whose only law is love. This was but one of many times that we saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá place above every other consideration the love and kindness, the sympathy and compassion due to every soul. Indeed, as we look back upon that blessed time spent in His presence we understand that the object of our pilgrimage was to learn for the first time on earth what love is, to witness its light in every face, to feel its burning heat in every heart and to become ourselves enkindled with this divine flame from the Sun of Truth, the Essence of whose being is love.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 87)