Service

‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, ‘… all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 151)


In 1914 The Christian Commonwealth carried words of praise for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: ‘It is wonderful to see the venerable figure of the revered Bahá’í leader passing through the narrow streets of this ancient town [Akká], where he lived for forty years as a political prisoner, and to note the deep respect with which he is saluted by the Turkish officials and the officers of the garrison from the governor downward, who visit him constantly and listen with the deepest attention to his words. “The Master” does not teach in Syria as he did in the West, but he goes about doing good, and Mohammedans and Christians alike share his benefactions. From sunrise often until midnight he works, in spite of broken health, never sparing himself if there is a wrong to be righted or a suffering to be relieved. To Christians who regard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with impartial and sympathetic eyes, this wonderful selfless life cannot fail to recall that life whose tragic termination on Calvary the whole Christian world recalls…’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


Bahiyyih Randall was only thirteen years old when she went to Haifa to see the Master. She recalled that ‘there was a perfectly wonderful person who always sat on the right of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at dinner. His name was Haydar-‘Ali and he had been a follower of Bahá’u’lláh and was so meek and so beautiful. His hands would shake so that he could not eat. He was such an old, old man, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would feed him with such tenderness. One day I saw him sitting out in the garden and I asked him what he had ever done. Of course, he could not speak English and I could not speak Persian, but we somehow seemed to understand. A man came along to interpret just then, and I told him what I had asked: ‘What have you done to serve the Faith?’ ‘Haydar-‘Ali looked up with his eyes to heaven and said, “I have not done as much as an ant could do in the path of God.” Then the interpreter told me that he had been dragged across the desert, tied on a bag on a camel, and that his whole life had been one series of martyrdoms – yet he had said, “I have not done as much as an ant could do in the path of God!” (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 94)


This man who was close to the Divine Threshold was the respected son of Ali-‘Askar-i-Tabrizi. Full of yearning love, he came with his father from Tabriz to Adrianople, and by his own wish, went on with joy and hope to the Most Great Prison. From the day of his arrival at the fortress of ‘Akká he took over the coffee service, and waited upon the friends. This accomplished man was so patient, so docile, that over a forty-year period, despite extreme difficulties (for day and night, friend and stranger alike thronged the doors), he attended upon each and every one who came, faithfully helping them all. During all that time Husayn-Aqa never offended a soul, nor did anyone, where he was concerned, utter a single complaint. This was truly a miracle, and no one else could have established such a record of service. He was always smiling, attentive as to the tasks committed to his care, known as a man to trust. In the Cause of God he was staunch, proud and true; in times of calamity he was patient and long-suffering.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 158)


At one time a high official in the federal government of the United States questioned ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about the best way to serve his people and his government. The Master had a ready answer: ‘You can best serve your country … if you strive, in your capacity as a citizen of the world, to assist in the eventual application of the principle of federalism underlying the government of your own country to the relationships now existing between the peoples and nations of the world.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 115)


There are many stories about beloved Grace Robarts Ober who, for so very many years, dedicated every moment of her life to the service of our glorious Cause. And this experience, she felt, was the ‘first small step’ - to use her words, that set her feet on the path. Grace had been introduced to the Cause by that early dedicated soul, Lua Getzinger, and Grace had, at once, recognized Bahá’u’lláh and become a Bahá’í. Not long afterward, Lua came to Grace and told her that very soon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was to arrive in New York and she, Lua, had been asked by Him to go to Chicago and prepare a place there in which he might stay when he arrived in that city. Would Grace like to go to Chicago with Lua and help with this preparation? Of course Grace would! So, together, they went to Chicago from Los Angeles, found a suitable apartment, prepared it and, eventually, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came to live in it. When His stay in Chicago was nearly over, suddenly one morning Grace realized what it would mean to go back to the dead stuffiness of her former life and leave this clear and radiant glory in which she‘d been living while she helped Lua keep house for the Master. So she went to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and begged that, when he returned to New York, she might help with that household too, as she had been privileged to do in Chicago. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá looked at her very searchingly and said, “Greece (His loving nickname for Grace) Greece, are you SURE you wish to serve ME?” Grace said, with great enthusiasm, “Oh, YES! More than anything else in the world!” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made no answer but walked away. The next morning this scene was repeated. On the third morning, Grace, frantic at the realization that this was the last morning before He was leaving to go farther West, went to Him a third time - and this time He became very stern. Are you VERY SURE you wish to SERVE ME? Grace was startled at the sternness but she didn’t waver. “YES I am VERY SURE.” So then he nodded. “Very well go, settle up your affairs, and we will meet in New York.” Jubilant and radiant, Grace settled up her ‘affairs’ - which consisted of subletting a cottage she had taken at Greenacre for the summer and doing a few other things. Then, with wings on her feet, she went to New York. Lua was already there and together they prepared for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s return. The day came. Many Bahá’ís had gone to meet Him, though Lua and Grace had remained at the house to welcome Him. The door opened, He came in. He welcomed Lua warmly, glanced at Grace as at a complete stranger, and turned away. Grace was appalled, shocked. Hadn’t He recognized her? Had He forgotten her? Had she misunderstood the permission to come to New York? Or had she displeased Him and was this punishment? Whatever it was, it continued with no let-up. During all the days that followed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá never showed by word or glance that He recognized her in any way - except to put her to work. Whenever she relaxed at all throughout any day, word would come at once, through Lua, setting her to work harder at some new task. She worked in that household until long after midnight - cleaning, cooking, scrubbing, and then she would rise at five in the morning to begin all over again. She worked as she had never worked before in all her life and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ignored her completely. If they ever chanced to meet he would draw aside His robe for her to pass and his glance would go through her as if she were not there. At last came the day when the movies of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were to be taken over in Brooklyn at the home of Howard MacNutt. And Grace thought, wearily, “at least I will be included in THIS since EVERYONE in the household is to go.” But, an hour before the several carloads of people were scheduled to leave, Lua came to Grace to say that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá felt that someone should remain at the house to welcome two ladies who were expected that morning, and Grace was to be the one to stay behind. So when the cars left - Grace stood at the top of the flight of brownstone steps and watched them all roll away. Then, she turned and went into the empty house. For a moment she stood there, fighting the feeling of desolation and abandonment and loneliness, and then she thought of the white roses that had been delivered that morning, as they were daily, for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s room. The one bright spot in these dreadful days for Grace had been that she was the one to arrange these roses each morning. So, with the long florists’ box in her arms, she climbed up to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s room at the top of the house, where He had wished to be. She reached the top of the third flight - and found the door not only closed, but locked against her. And always before it had stood wide open! This, for Grace, was the last straw. Overwhelmed by all the hurt and bewilderment of all these days, she sank down on the floor and wept
with the fallen roses scattered around her. At last, the sobs faded, her tears spent themselves, and, exhausted, she gathered up the roses and went back downstairs. The expected ladies had not arrived, nor did they ever arrive. But Grace - it was now past noon – was hungry. So, she went down to the kitchen to get something to eat. And in that house that fed, each day, so many dozens of people, there was nothing to eat but one egg and a small piece of leftover bread in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s bread-box.
(this bread was especially baked for Him by a Persian believer who had begged to come on this journey just so he might cook ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s food). So Grace boiled her one egg and put her small portion of bread on a plate. Putting the egg in an egg cup, she chipped the shell - and the egg, as bad as an egg can get, exploded in her face. She cleaned up the mess and returned to her bit of leftover bread. And, as she crumbled the bread, eating it crumb by crumb she realized, suddenly, exactly what she was doing - she was, blessedly, eating the crumbs of the bread of life from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s table. She began to eat even more slowly as the spirit of prayer came to possess her. Not long after this the household returned from Brooklyn - and that evening Lua came to Grace and said, “The Master has asked me to tell you that He knows you wept.” And this was the first time it had occurred to Grace that all this dreadful experience might have a reason, a pattern. And - if this were true she must find out what the reason could be. So she went up to her room to pray about it. To pray for illumination and wisdom and the selflessness to understand. And as she prayed she heard a small voice saying ‘Are you as happy scrubbing the garbage pails as you are arranging the roses?’ And she suddenly realized what the spirit of true service was. It was to rise to selfless joy in offering the service, no matter what form that service might take. And as this truth swept over her, suffusing her, illuminating her, the door opened, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked into the room. His arms were outstretched; His dear face was glorified. “Welcome!” He cried to Grace, “Welcome to the Kingdom!” And he held her close, embracing her deeply. And never did He withdraw Himself from her again.
(Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories: Stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 17-19)


Service to God, to Bahá’u’lláh, to family, to friends and enemies, indeed to all mankind – this was the pattern of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life. He wished only to be the Servant of God and man. To serve – rather than being demeaning and unfulfilling – was honour, joy and fulfilment. This motivated His entire day from Dawn to after midnight. He used to say, ‘Nothing is too much trouble when one loves, and there is always time.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 104)