June 15, 2010

The Servant of God -- An address by Albert Vail, April 30th, 1919

Delivered at the Ninth Session of the Baha’i Congress, held in Hotel McAlpin, New York City, Wednesday evening, April 30th, 1919. Stenographically reported.

“The doors of the Kingdom are open; the Sun of Truth is shining upon the world; the daysprings of mercy have appeared." What does this mean? Evidently it means that this little world in which we live, in the sight of God is like a tiny ball floating in a universe of infinitely wonderful light. In the sight of God, this handful of dust, the world, is but one home and all the prayer of the eternal world is that this world may be in unity. Now when the darkness and the storm spread over the earth, it seems very dark to us who are underneath the clouds. But if we can rise a little in the altitude of the spirit and see the Sun of Truth eternally shining from the heaven of God's presence, no cloud which ever came over the world would be more than a temporary passing mist.

The God who made this little world also made all the heavenly and divine worlds. He evidently has a clear purpose for this world on which we dwell, and that purpose is that, after the thousands of years of war, it should enter into a millennium of peace. The world could have no other meaning than that this strife and confusion would at last prepare the hearts of men for the sweetness of the kingdom of universal peace.

Now, when the King begins to send His light into the world the people catch only a few rays of the dawning Sun of Reality as it rises over the horizon of man's limitation and breaks through the clouds of his suspicion, his ignorance and his prejudice. The first few rays in this new day, are the desire for a League of Nations, the longing for democracy; the prayer for woman's suffrage, for equality between men and women, the longing for universal education, for science, for civilization, for new arts, that great yearning that touches the hearts of all men all over the world and, stirring in their hearts, tells them that the new day is here, the divine world is breaking into the human world.

What we want to know is the next step toward the realization of this universal prayer. Is there a soul on this globe today who is not praying in his heart for the dawn of the Most Great Peace amongst the nations? How can it be brought about? That is the one problem around which all other problems revolve. Politically, the League of Nations is the first great step. We need a society of nations, a democracy of the world. We also need woman's suffrage so that women, tender, loving and intuitive, may more completely direct the operations of the nation. But the fundamental problem goes deeper than any political, democratic, economic or educational organization. ‘Abdu’l-Baha in his classic story has put the world situation like this: He says that the governments of the world are much in the state of three men who went out sailing in a boat. One was a Christian, one was a Mohammedan and one was a Jew. The Mohammedan bowed down as a storm approached over the water and he said, "O Allah, drown in the depths of the water this infidel of a Christian." The Christian said, "0 God, sink in the depths of the sea this infidel of a Mohammedan." The Jew remained silent. They said, "Are you not praying in this moment of calamity He replied, "Oh yes, I was praying that both of your prayers might be answered." (Laughter)

That is the world situation which we need to transform today. That is the world's heart which needs to be made into a new heart. Now, how is this to be done? The only way is to teach these people who look at each other so bitterly to see something in each other which is supremely beautiful and glorious. If that Christian there in the boat could have looked into the Mohammedan's heart and seen that he was worshipping the same God as he, only under another name, the Mohammedan and the Christian could have become brothers; and if the Jew could have looked into both of their hearts and said, "0 blessed Christ, you made the Torah celebrated all over the world; you made Moses celebrated, you made all Hebrews celebrated; you are the prophet of Israel,"' then there could be peace. If the Mohammedan could see the good in the Christian, if the Christian could see the good in the Mohammedan, if the Jew could see that every great prophet in the world is one of God's messengers; if all could look into each other's hearts and see there the love of the Eternal Father, then there would begin on earth the Most Great Peace.

When you meet a stranger, says ‘Abdu’l-Baha, say, "Yonder is coming to me a letter sent me by God." The outside of the envelope may be dirty, and torn and broken, but if we could open the envelope of the life that comes before us and look within the envelope and learn to read the writing, we would find in every human soul which crosses our threshold or which is yonder over the man made national border, a message from God, and if we could understand the message it would be God's benediction to us. There is only one hope for humanity today and that is to see all human beings as rays of the one divine sun which is God, as pearls of the one ocean which is God, flowers of the one garden whose Gardener is God, and to see all as potentially the light of the one sun which shall be diffused, waves of the one sea which shall overflow the world. This is the foundation of peace upon the earth, to realize, as Paul said from Mars Hill, that "God made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him, though He be not far from any one of us." ‘Abdu’l-Baha says that God, the divine Gardener, looking over the garden of humanity, sees that it would be a monotonous garden if He made us all white, like white roses, and so, in His love of beauty and variety He made some of the roses yellow like the Mongolians and some brown like the Hindus and others red like the red men and others black like the colored people. God in His universal vision loves all the varieties, and for this reason He put these different colored roses, His children, in the garden of humanity. If we could see that they all come from one garden and they all diffuse one fragrance and they are all under the sun of one God, then would these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars pass away and upon this little planet the Most Great Peace of God would come.

How can we gain a belief in God vivid enough really to make this come about? There is only one way and that is to find someone who manifests all that our divines spirit wants to see of God. Now when we look within ourselves we find our divine nature is like a tiny flickering candle. When we look at the faces of most of our neighbors we know that their faces are sometimes dark and sometimes bright, like the passing of clouds and of sunshine, and we are never quite sure of our neighbor, whether he will be on his good behavior today, or tomorrow. We all vacillate and the divine side comes and goes. How can we be sure that the divine is the real thing in the world, in ourselves and in our neighbor? The only way is to know some being in whom the light of God's life is always shining, in whom the glory of God's presence is always resplendent, on the altar of whose sacrificed human self the eternal fire of God is always burning. There are human beings who are more than beings. There are human beings who are simply temples of flesh in which is manifest the eternal glory of God.

Jesus said, "Have I been so long a time with you, yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou, then, show me the Father?"

‘Abdu’l-Baha says that God in His boundless mercy wishing the Kingdom on earth to be established sends these Messengers, these Manifestations of the Kingdom that in a temple of human flesh the glory of God may be made manifest and in the human heart the love of the Eternal Father may shine with all its sweetness and its beauty. By sending the many Manifestations of His light does God make manifest within our scope and our horizon His eternal love, His being, His reality and His glory. When Jesus shone forth from the horizon of Palestine reflecting, like a mirror, the Sun of Reality, he united many nations for a time. And then the mirror was obscured by traditions and clouds and darkness and men no longer saw the Father in His pure glory shining in the heart of this Messenger and Manifestation. God had to send another Manifestation to make His truth apparent, for we forget, in this world, Oh, so easily, we forget about God. We forget what God is like. He had to send a long succession of Messengers to India. He had to send Zoroaster to Persia, and then Mohammed to the Arabian villages. And in this twentieth century, when the world is ready at last for the descent of the full splendor of the Kingdom, it is necessary, if we are to have a vision of God in the world, that there should appear again One in whom God's spirit can be seen so clearly that all the veils are stripped away, that all the doubts are burned away, and then we shall see face to face.

This has been the promise of the centuries: “Behold there will come a great Messenger, a Manifestation of the Eternal, the promised One at the end of the age." The Bible translators called this "the end of the world." And it is the end of the old world of prejudice, of war, of confusion. Then the Sun of the eternal Word will appear. The light of God will become manifest again and, shining from the horizon of a human heart there will dawn this bright light of God's love and His truth so that all can see and no one can doubt, so that all over the world men can behold His glory and enter into the consciousness of God.

Baha’u’llah brought this great revelation to the world, but it came in him with such sublime light that people were almost dazzled by its splendor. His splendor is so bright we can hardly look upon it. And so the next great Herald of the Kingdom takes the form of a servant, the humblest form a human being can assume. He lays aside his title; he calls himself simply, The Servant of the Glory of God.

He comes down right into the midst of men, living their life. He plants his garden; he cooks the meals for the sick people; he makes them broth in the prison; he goes up and down the country like a ministering angel of God's mercy; he is the tenderest, the simplest, the lowliest of beings in the world. When he is put in prison for teaching universal peace and universal brotherhood he counts this imprisonment the joy of his life. ‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us how when he was one day in the streets of Acca and the chains were around his waist and his neck, the jailor, his tender hearted jailor, said, "Why don't you put a robe over those chains so the boys won't throw stones at you?" ‘Abdu’l-Baha, turning to him, replied: "These chains are my badges of honor, my badges of glory, I could not conceal them."

Now it is this quality of service, in annihilation of self, that makes God's Holy Spirit manifest. When we visited ‘Abdu’l-Baha in Chicago and he met us there with all the freshness and joy of this eternal morning shining through his human spirit in its brightness and its beauty, and our hearts were thrilled with the consciousness that here was one who saw God face to face, nay, that made God's love manifest right in our midst. And he said to us, "You know it doesn't make any difference what happens to one in the physical world. I was a prisoner in a Turkish prison for forty years." Then he told us how he slept upon the ground or upon the stone floor, how he was starved and chained and put into dungeons. "And yet," he said, "every day when I awoke in the morning I praised God that another day was before me in which I could serve Him in His prison. And every night when I lay down on the stone floor of the prison I thanked God that He had allowed me to serve His Kingdom one more day in His prison."

Then ‘Abdu’l-Baha, turning to us with a light in his face and a joy that was almost overwhelmingly beautiful said, "I was' in prison for forty years, and every day was a day of perfect joy." As he said "joy" his spirit shone so bright that in our hearts we thought we had never before known what joy and happiness meant. The people who were in the room said, "Isn't it amazing; when we are talking here with this Servant of God, all we can think of is God; we do not even see ‘Abdu’l-Baha." And one woman said: "I do not even know he is here; all I see is the Spirit of God shining in him as in a crystal or a diamond." When she went away she did not think anything about ‘Abdu’l-Baha the human personality; all she knew was that for one half hour she had been in the presence of the eternal world. Like a door into the Kingdom was ‘Abdu’l-Baha, transmitting the light of eternity. As she left his presence she said for the first time in her life she knew that God was King, and that there was no God but the God of this universe, and we could trust our lives to Him, our fortunes to Him, everything to Him because God is the Reality of realities.

What ‘Abdu’l-Baha brings to us is this consciousness of God. Some people are troubled about the thought of his personality. Those who see ‘Abdu’l-Baha's spirit cannot understand why they are troubled, for they never see his personality as a limitation. It is just a mirror reflecting the light, and the light of God's presence shines so beautifully that after a while they do not even see the mirror. They see only the light which is the Sun of Truth shining into this world, made manifest through this human Manifestation.

This, then, is the station of servitude and this is the station also of transfiguration. “He took the form of a servant: wherefore God highly exalted him, and gave him a Name that is above every name." That is the way in which this Manifestation comes into the world today. The wonderful thing, however, is this, that when we see the great Servant of God, the perfect One, then we are inspired with a new and irresistible power to walk in his pathway. ‘Abdu’l-Baha with the sweetest humility can say, “Look at me; be as I am; take nothought for yourself, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, whether ye shall sleep, whether ye are comfortable, whether ye are with friends or foes, whether ye receive praise or blame; for all these things must ye care not at all. Look at me and be as I am, and so shall ye die, to yourself and to the world, and be born again into the Kingdom of God."

The great Servant, the great Messenger, the promised One brings to us so vivid a consciousness of God that this consciousness begins to dominate and sway our life, makes us know that these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away and the Kingdom of Peace shall come. He conveys his certainty to us by contagion, he conveys his humility to us, he conveys to us his purity, he conveys to us his holiness, he conveys to us his love, he becomes like the mirror of the eternal One reflecting into our receptive hearts the love, the light, the holiness of God. When we turn our faces toward that eternal Sun, then petty, selfish things are melted away and the lower nature is burned away, and we say, "How little have we to give up, a few human ambitions and comforts and the things of this transitory earth how little, if we may reflect just a few rays of this Kingdom into the hearts of the men and the women of this nation and the world."

In a word, God is again sending forth His angels with a great sound of a trumpet and they are calling: "Arise ye! O ye people, arise ye from the graves of your bodies, the graves of yourselves, the graves of limitation, of fear, of hatred; arise, O ye people. Lo! the light of life hath come, the Beloved of the heart hath come, the most great Servant of God hath come, and His is the trumpet of the resurrection ringing through the world. He has really come upon this planet; the Twentieth Century is the great resurrection day for all nations, and peoples and races of the world.

"The spirit of Christ is risen again. The trumpet of resurrection calling today from Palestine is the voice of this wondrous Servant of God, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, humble, lowly, nothing in his outward personality, just the Voice through which the eternal God speaks. O ye people, the hour of reconciliation is here, the hour of the most great federation of nations is here, the hour when all races are to become as one race has dawned, the hour when religions will become one religion, has now struck upon the clock of the eternal world."

And with his divine voice calling, crying, pleading and triumphantly urging, this Center of the Covenant, this Center of light is able to raise a multitude of people from all lands and races. Think of us, here in America, on the other side of the world, hearing that voice raised in Palestine and finding in that voice the melody of God and in that heart the love of God! Think of the people in India, in Burma, in Persia, in Russia, in Egypt, in China, in Japan from all over the world they are rising from the graves of their limitations and of their bodies because the trumpet of unity, the trumpet of universal light, the trumpet of the Kingdom has sounded from Palestine. There again, the voice of God rings with a clear, bell like tone summoning all nations to climb the mountain which is above the valleys of their separation, above the vales of exclusiveness and sectarianism, and ascends to the bell that is ringing there on the top of the mountain. And as they draw near to the summit of transfiguration all the people, Mohammedans, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and all religions, look into each other's faces and there on the mountain top of unity behold they are one, as their God is one!

Now God's great message, which is so clear that every one of us hears it and feels it in his heart, is this, that those who know the glad tidings of the light made manifest must go forth through this country and through the world and proclaim the news of its manifestations. The people are perishing for lack of this Water of Life. They are dying of thirst; and the fountain of the Water of Life eternal is now flowing. Whoever has the cup, whoever has found the fountain and whoever dips the cup into the crystal fountain he becomes the cupbearer of unity, he becomes a servant of the oneness of the human world.
(Star of the West, Vol. 11, No. 3, April 28, 1920)