‘Abdu’l-Bahá was not afraid of silence; indeed, He knew its virtue. Howard Colby Ives has recalled: ‘To the questioner He responded first with silence – an outward silence. His encouragement always was that the other should speak and He listen. There was never that eager tenseness, that restlessness so often met showing most plainly that the listener has the pat answer ready the moment he should have a chance to utter it.’ And Ives recounts a charming story about another Unitarian minister who was interviewing ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for an article on the Bahá’í Faith. His questions were long. The Master listened ‘with unwearied attention’, replying mostly in monosyllables, but relaxed and interested. A great ‘understanding love’ flowed from Him to the minister. Ives grew impatient, but not the Master; His guest must be heard fully. When at last His questioner paused, after a brief silence, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke to him with wisdom and love, calling him, ‘my dear son’. Within five minutes the minister ‘had become humble, for the moment, at least, a disciple at His feet.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of “‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
Again I [Howard Colby Ives] was alone with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá … The room was very still. No sound came from the street nor from the lower rooms. The silence deepened as He regarded me with that loving, all-embracing, all-understanding look which always melted my heart. A deep content and happiness flooded my being. A little flame seemed lit within my breast. And then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 3, p. 341)
I asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá one day: “Why should I believe in Bahá’u’lláh?” He looked long and searchingly as it seemed into my very soul. The silence deepened. He did not answer. In that silence I had time to consider why I had asked the question, and dimly I began to see that only I myself could supply the reason. After all, why should I believe in anyone or anything except as a means, an incentive, a dynamic for the securing of a fuller, deeper, more perfect life?
(Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 42)
This is part of the account Howard Colby Ives wrote of that first memorable meeting with the Master: I could not speak. We both sat perfectly silent for what seemed a long while, and gradually a great peace came to me. Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá placed His hand upon my breast saying that it was the heart that speaks. Again silence: a long, heart-enthralling silence. No word further was spoken, and all the time I was with Him not one single sound came from me. But no word was necessary from me to Him. I knew that, even then, and how I thanked God it was so.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 109)
Another characteristic always apparent was His silence. In the world of social and intellectual intercourse to which I was accustomed silence was almost unforgivable. From the collegiate with his, or her, “line,” to the lawyer, doctor, minister, statesman-a ready answer, a witty bon mot, a wise remark, a knowing smile was stock-in-trade. They all had their “line,” and it was upon their readiness or unreadiness to meet every occasion verbally that their reputation largely rested. How differently ‘Abdu’l-Bahá met the questioner, the conversationalist, the occasion:. To the questioner He responded first with silence-an outward silence. His encouragement always was that the other should speak and He listen. There was never that eager tenseness, that restlessness so often met showing most plainly that the listener has the pat answer ready the moment he should have a chance to utter it. I have heard certain people described as “good listeners,” but never had I imagined such a “listener” as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. It was more than a sympathetic absorption of what the ear received. It was as though the two individualities became one; as if He so closely identified Himself with the one speaking that a merging of spirits occurred which made a verbal response almost unnecessary, superfluous. As I write, the words of Bahá’u’lláh recur to me: “When the sincere servant calls to Me in prayer I become the very ear with which He heareth My reply” That was just it! ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seemed to listen with my ears.
(Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 194)