September 13, 2020

Baha’u’llah as Protector – by Mabel Hyde Paine

In whatever way we view Baha'u'llah, awe and wonder and an inability to comprehend must loom large in our attitude. An early pilgrim wrote of 'Abdu'l-Baha, "As we gazed on Him I realized that we could in no way comprehend Him; we could only love Him, follow Him, obey Him and thereby draw nearer to His beauty. I understand that we could not fathom the mystery of His being, we could only hope to be engulfed therein." [1] How much more, even, is this true of Baha'u'llah.

Yet, as Baha'is, we are not shut out as by a veil from Him. We recognize in Him the living Word of God, that same Word of which St. John wrote: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life and the life was the light of men.  ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father."[ 2] As Baha'is we have the enlarged conception of "the Only Begotten of the Father", that it applies to all the great Messengers or Manifestations of God. As Baha'is, adoring Baha'u'llah, we adore Jesus the Christ, Muhammad, all those great Ones who come to this earth, but Who at the same time always abide in the heaven of the creative power of God.

God has willed that these great Ones, Who were with Him from eternity and to eternity will abide with Him, should come to earth and take up the human life and live it perfectly. They are the channels through which the power of God may come to us. They are our help in troubles and in peril, our sanctuary of protection. As Isaiah put it, "A man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." [3]

Among the ways by which we may come to an abiding sense of the reality of this protective power of the Manifestations is study of Their Words, which are deeply creative. Another way is a deep acquaintance with the lives They led while on earth.

Nabil's Narrative, ‘The Dawn-Breakers’, gives us many glimpses into Baha'u'llah's life. Let us study them all, gain a fuller understanding of His purity and strength, and thus learn to trust the protective power of God and His Manifestations.

Here is an incident told by Nabil that reveals Baha'u'llah as Protector. When the followers of the Báb were some of them besieged in the fortress of Tabarsi, Baha'u'llah visited them and promised to return. Some time after, He set out to fulfill His promise. Three other Bábis accompanied Him, Mulla Baqir, Mirza Jani, and Baha’u’llah's half-brother, Mirza Yahya. Baha’u’llah had signified His wish that they allow no pause in their journey and reach the fort that night, as guards were stationed by the enemy at different places to intercept any who might try to bring aid to the besieged. But His companions pressed Him to stop for a few hours of rest. Although He knew this would involve great risk He yielded to their request. They stopped at a deserted house, had supper, and His companions all retired to sleep. Baha'u'llah alone remained wakeful. While He watched, guards appeared and, recognizing Him as the leader of the party, proceeded to put them all under arrest. Baha’u’llah assured the guards they were bringing no aid and advised them to act in such a way as to cause them no regret in the future. This warning, uttered with dignity and calm, induced the guards to treat them with courtesy. But all were bade to mount their horses and proceed to the Governor of Amul.

In Amul they were brought before a conclave of the priests and religious leaders of the town and, after an unjust and insulting inquiry, were all sentenced to receive the bastinado. The first to receive the bastinado was Mulla Baqir. "I am only a groom of Baha'u'llah," he urged, "I was on my way to Mashhad when they suddenly arrested me and brought me to this place."

Baha'u'llah interceded for him and for the other two, saying that He was responsible for any charges brought against them. "None of them is guilty of any crime. If you insist on inflicting your punishment, I offer Myself as a willing victim of your chastisement." And so Baha’u’llah received the bastinado.[4]

How true this story runs to human weakness and Divine strength, patience and protection. As we meditate on it we gain in wisdom and understanding. There was the right way pointed out by Baha’u’llah, His followers unwilling or unable to follow it, the trouble that ensued, the retribution, which would have been to a certain extent just, and Divine love intercepting it. Sometimes it is not intercepted, but we know that the love is still there.

Here is another story Nabil tells, revealing the compassion, the deep understanding and the strength of Baha’u’llah, that strength, understanding and compassion from which flow His protective power.

After one of the followers of the Báb, crazed by the persecutions his friends and relatives had suffered, made an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the Shah, terrible persecutions came upon the Bábis. Baha’u’llah, known as a Bábi leader, was arrested. On foot and exposed to the fierce rays of the midsummer sun He was compelled to go bare-footed and bareheaded the whole distance from His summer home to a prison in Tihran. Several times He was stripped of His garments and was overwhelmed with abuse and ridicule. All along the route He was pelted and vilified by the crowd. The whole population had been persuaded that He was the enemy of their sovereign and his realm.

As he was approaching the dungeon, an old and decrepit woman came out from the crowd with a stone in her hand, eager to cast it at the face of Baha’u’llah. Her eyes glowed with a determination and fanaticism of which few of her age are capable. "I adjure you," she pleaded, as she ran to overtake those into whose hands Baha’u’llah had been delivered, "give me a chance to fling my stone in His face."

"Suffer not this woman to be disappointed," were Baha’u’llah's words to His guards, as He saw her hastening behind Him. "Deny her not what she regards as a meritorious act in the sight of God." [5]

How deeply He understood human nature, how careful He was not to interfere with the human conscience even when so undeveloped! How sublimely selfless!

These two stories often come to my mind as I seek to understand a little of the Divine compassion of Baha'u'llah. Perhaps some others of the many in The Dawn-Breakers have become revealing to you. Baha'u'llah's life, as we meditate on it, is one way in which we may seek to "draw nigh to Baha'u'llah that He may draw nigh to us" and reveal to us His protective power.

The protection of Baha'u'llah involves also prayer and communion. Here again we are reminded of His life and of His experience in the dungeon in Tihran. He and His fellow Bábi prisoners were placed in two rows facing each other, their feet in stocks, the heaviest of chains galling their necks, the air they breathed laden with impurity. Baha'u'llah taught them to seek the protection of God. He taught them to chant, one row chanting, "God is sufficient unto me, He verily is the All-sufficing," while the other would reply, "In Him let the trusting trust." Thus they chanted with extreme fervor through the long night. Nabil says, "The chorus of their gladsome voices would continue to peal out until morning, filling the dungeon and piercing its massive walls." [6] Thus did they find the protection of God.

This protection is our birthright, but we must seek it, find it and abide in it. In one of the prayers revealed by Baha'u'llah He shows us that such an effort is needed on our part if we are to benefit by God's protection: "I have wakened in Thy shelter, O my God, and it becometh Him that seeketh that shelter to abide within the Sanctuary of Thy protection and the Stronghold of Thy defense."

Perhaps our greatest need is to be protected from self. Baha'u'llah prayed, "Thou seest, O My Lord, how Thy servants are held captive by their own selves and desires. Redeem them from their bondage, O My God, by the power of Thy sovereignty and might, that they may turn towards Thee when He Who is the Revealer of Thy names and attributes is manifested unto men." [7]

Almost all our natural traits are selfish, our likes and dislikes, our lack of faith, hope and love, our pride, our coldness, our appetites and passions, our envy, our "habit of detraction", the ascription to others of what we would not like to have ascribed to ourselves. From all these tendencies Baha'u'llah protects us and shows us how to gain, whether gladly and rapidly or painfully and slowly, the opposite characteristics, all present potentially in our higher selves, such as sincerity, faithfulness, wisdom, illumination, mercy and pity. This comes through centering our thoughts and our lives in God and His Cause rather than in ourselves. "Remembrance of Me cleanseth all things from defilement, could ye but perceive it." [8]

In another place He says, "I testify that if Thy servants were to turn towards Thee with the eyes Thou didst create in them and with the ears wherewith Thou didst endow them, they would all be carried away by a single word sent down from the right hand of the throne of Thy majesty. That word alone would suffice to brighten their faces, and to assure their hearts and to cause their souls to soar up to the atmosphere of Thy great glory, and to ascend to the heaven of Thy sovereignty." [9]

The protection Baha'u'llah gives may be from temporal and material difficulties. 'Abdu'l-Baha tells how in a period of great difficulty in Persia Baha'is were all protected. Almost every Baha'i could give an example of prayer for temporal protection which was answered. But not always. Sometimes the avalanche descends. Then our protection is spiritual. We gain assurance, courage, spirit, which will sustain us whatever comes.

Trusting Baha'u'llah as protector is not a passive state. Trusting Him means drawing nearer to Him, obeying Him, longing to have our will one with His. As one of the Hidden Words reveals, "My love is My stronghold; he that entereth therein is safe and secure, and he that turneth away shall surely stray and perish." [10]

How does Baha'u'llah protect His Cause? Sometimes it seems that the Cause of God is not protected, such dire calamities does it suffer. Rather He would seem to have endowed it with such power that nothing can shake its invincibility. As Baha'u'llah said, addressing His countrymen: "Give heed to my warning, ye people of Persia. If I be slain at your hands, God will assuredly raise up one who will fill the seat made vacant through my death; for such is God's method carried into effect of old, and no change can ye find in God's mode of dealing." "Should they attempt to conceal His light on the continent, He will assuredly rear His head in the midmost heart of the ocean and, raising His voice proclaim: 'I am the lifegiver of the world!'”

When the fanatical clergy of Persia had used their power to do away with the Báb, to martyr with atrocious cruelty over 20,000 of His followers and finally to banish Baha'u'llah, it seemed that His Cause had been annihilated. But no power could stand in the way of its growth. The very banishment of Baha'u'llah was the means of the spread of the Cause. The personality of Baha'u'llah and above all the inherent strength of the Revelation which He personified gave His Cause a fresh impetus despite the calculations of its enemies.

The Faith rapidly revived and spread to states beyond its previous confines. Baha’u’llah's stupendous claims, their proclamation in challenging epistles to the crowned heads of the earth, the enthusiasm this proclamation aroused in the hearts of countless followers, the transference to the Holy Land of  the center of His Cause; the gradual relaxation of the severity of His confinement which marked the closing days of His life; the lifting of the ban which had been imposed by the Sultan of Turkey on His intercourse with visitors and pilgrims who flocked from various parts of the East to His prison; the awakening of the spirit of inquiry among the thinkers of the West; the utter disruption of the forces that had attempted to effect a schism in the ranks of His followers; above all, the sublimity of those teachings with which His published works abounded, were among the chief factors which showed those who had attempted to kill this Cause that it was indestructible. It had proved itself able to rise phoenix-like from its ashes and press forward along the road leading to undreamt of achievements.[12]

Baha’u’llah is "the refuge of all". That the world has not yet sought this refuge becomes startlingly clear as we witness humanity strayed so far from the path of God that its leaders could not recognize the face, the life and the message of His latest great Messenger. In a letter written in March, 1941, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, has made it abundantly clear that Baha'u'llah's message was brought to all the greatest leaders of the nineteenth century. But what was the response? In the words of Shoghi Effendi: "Who is the ruler, may it not confidently be asked, whether of the East or of the West, who, at any time, since the dawn of so transcendent a Revelation, has been prompted to raise His voice either in its praise or against those who persecuted it? Which people has, in the course of so long a captivity, felt urged to arise and stem the tide of such tribulations? Who is the sovereign, excepting a single woman, shining in solitary glory, who has, in however small a measure, felt impelled to respond to the poignant call of Baha’u’llah? Who amongst the great ones of the earth was inclined to extend this infant Faith of God the benefit of his recognition or support? Which one of the multitudes of creeds, sects, races, parties, classes and ... schools of human thought, considered it necessary to direct its gaze towards the rising light of the Faith, to contemplate its unfolding system, to ponder its hidden processes, to appraise its weighty message, to acknowledge its regenerative power, to embrace its salutary truth, or to proclaim its eternal verities? Who among the worldly wise and the so-called men of wisdom and insight can justly claim, after the lapse of nearly a century ... to have considered impartially its claims, to have taken sufficient pains to delve into its literature, to have assiduously striven to separate facts from fiction, or to have accorded its cause the treatment it merits? Where are the preeminent exponents, whether of the arts or sciences, with the exception of a few isolated cases, who have lifted a finger, or whispered a word of commendation, in either the defense or the praise of a Faith that has conferred upon the world so priceless a benefit, that has suffered so long and so grievously, and which enshrines within its shell so enthralling a promise for a world so woefully battered, so manifestly bankrupt?" [13]

Only slowly and painfully do the leaders of the world and the rank and file of the people come to see the truth that Baha’u’llah is "the refuge of all and our great protection".[14]

[1] May Maxwell, "An Early Pilgrimage", p. 27

[2] John 1 :1-4,14

[3] Isaiah, 32:2

[4] The Dawn Breakers, pp. 368-372

[5] See The Dawn Breakers, pp. 607, 608

[6] The Dawn Breakers, p. 632

[7] Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, pp. 25I, 252

[8] Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 294

[9] Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, p. I9I

[10] Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words (Arabic) No. 9

[11] The Dispensation of Baha'u'llah, p. 16

[12] Condensed from The Epilogue to The Dawn-Breakers, by Shoghi Effendi

[13] Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come, p. 12

[14] 'Abdu'l-Baha

(World Order magazine, July 1942)