Stories about 'Abdu'l-Bahá

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s conversation with Reverend Percy Grant

The Diary of Juliet Thompson
July 12, 1912
New York, NY

On Friday[July 12] in the afternoon he[Percy Grant] stopped for me. We were expecting the Master in the evening — He was to bless our house with a visit — and at the moment Percy arrived I was telephoning Marjorie, who had offered to bring some light refreshment. Percy, sitting in the living room, heard. But I couldn’t invite him, for I knew it would spoil Mamma’s evening with the Master — she mightn’t even come into the room.

While I was putting on my gloves Percy produced a large and ornate pocketbook. “Juliet,” he said, “here is an empty pocketbook which someone brought me from Italy. Will you accept it? I thought you might have in mind some Oriental person to whom you would like to give it.”

When we started out he proposed going up in a cab, but I objected on the grounds that it would be slow and we were already half an hour late.

I am bringing the Master down here at six and you would have no visit at all if we took a slow cab.”

Well, for the matter of that, Juliet”—and his upper lip grew very stiff — “any visit I might pay would be merely an expression of affection and courtesy. As for all you could get from a visit of this sort, where conversation must be through an interpreter and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá will go off into a monologue on some subject that interests Him — well, as I said, it is merely a mark of courtesy.”

I never saw his[Percy Grant’s] mouth so stubborn as when we entered the Master’s house. The Master was waiting for us, sitting in the bay window of the English basement.
“Marhaba, Dr. Grant! It is a long time since I have seen you, a long time.”

But His welcome was more reserved than it had been before.

Well, Dr. Grant,” He said, after a moment, “what is the very latest news, the very latest?”

Remembering Percy’s remark, that the Master always indulged in monologue, I couldn’t help smiling at this.

The latest news,” said Percy with a wicked look, as obstinate, pugnacious and self-confident as I have ever seen, “is in the field of athletics.”

The Olympic games?” asked the Master.

Yes,” said Percy, surprised.

You know,” the Master went on, “that these games originated in ancient Greece and it was a necessity of that time to develop the body to its fullest strength, the nations being constantly at warfare and the men wearing armour and fighting hand to hand. Heavy swords had to be driven through coats of mail;bodies had to be strengthened to endure the mail.”

But explain to the Master,” said Percy, very much de haut en bas, “that because of the people all centring in the cities and thus depleting their constitutions, the necessity for physical development is just as great now as it was then, though the basis is different.”

The Master answered with the utmost sweetness: “We do not deprecate physical development, for the sound mind should work through a sound body, but We think that the people of the West are too much concerned with mere physical development. They forget the need of spiritual development.”

But Percy was bent upon argument. The development of the spirit, he maintained, could not even begin till the body had first been built up; and he looked so absurdly condescending, so pompous, so sure of his power to defeat the Master, that I could scarcely control my mirth. The Master did not control His.

Man thinks too much of perfecting the body,” He smiled delightfully, “but of what use is it to him without the perfecting of the spirit? No matter how much he develops his muscles and sinews he will never become as strong as the ox, as brave as the lion or as big as the elephant! Physically he is an animal, yet inferior to the animals, for animals acquire their sustenance with the greatest ease, whereas man has to toil incessantly, to labour with infinite pain, for a mere livelihood. So, in the physical realm, the beast is nobler than man. But man is distinguished from the beast by his spiritual gifts and these he should develop with the other, both together. There should be the perfect balance, the spiritual and the physical. A man whose ideal side only is developed is also imperfect. We do not deprecate comfort. If I could find a better house than this I would certainly move into it. But man should not think of comfort alone.”

I looked at Percy. He was still like a fighting-cock, ready for another bout. He would never give in before me, I knew, so I slipped quietly into the kitchen. When I returned the whole atmosphere had changed. His face had softened, his stiff mouth relaxed. As I entered the room the Master was saying: “When one prays, one sometimes has divine glimpses. So, when one is spiritually developed, a sublimity of nature is obtained, a delicacy of vision such as could not otherwise be found. Not only this, but tranquillity and happiness are secured.

Do you think if it had not been for spiritual assurance I could have been happy all those years in prison? Think of it, forty years! You have just been telling me, Dr Grant, that forty years is the average American life. I spent My American life in prison. Yet all that time I was on the heights of happiness. Many believers in Persia have been forced to give up everything: their possessions, their families, and, in the end, their lives, but they never lost their happiness.

Remember Christ, when they placed the crown of thorns on His head. At that very moment, as the thorns wounded His brow, He looked down the vista of the centuries and beheld innumerable kings bowing their jewelled crowns low before that crown of thorns. Do you think He did not know, that He could not foresee?” (Again I stole a glance at Percy. He looked utterly melted now and his eyes shone.) “When they spat in the face of Christ,” the Master went on, “when they made a mock procession and carried Him around the streets, He felt no humiliation.”

Just then I rose to go, first asking permission, with my eyes, of the Master, Percy was not inclined to go, even when we were on our feet. In spite of that momentary softening — perhaps partly because of it — he still wanted to stay and argue and I could hardly tear him away.

While we were standing, he swung the master’s divine subject to a combative one, “the Occident versus the Orient”: that was the substance of it. And if ever I saw the Occident embodied, it was at that moment in that man.

The Master leaned close to him and with the utmost gentleness and patience tried to appeal to him. The people of the East, He said, were content with less than the people here, so their hours of work were shorter. He touched too on the absence of suicide in the Orient.

When He spoke of suicide, and also while He described the humiliations heaped on Christ, which could not humiliate Him, I had a strange sense of impending tragedy for Percy Grant, of something dreadful to happen in the future in which he would utterly “lose his happiness” and would feel humiliation, when perhaps these words of the Master would come back to him.

On the way down in the cab the Master talked about economics. “The most important of the questions here,” He said, “is the economic question. Until that is first solved nothing can be done. But if it should not be solved there will be riots.”

Percy spoke of democracy.

But your poor man,” the Master replied, “cannot even think of economics; he is so overburdened.”

I asked Percy to tell about his work and when he had done so, with some hesitation (for he seldom speaks of himself), the Master said sweetly: “May you make peace here. May you unite the classes.”

Whereupon Percy’s face beamed.

But he steeled himself again and at my door he turned to go, though I did invite him in, and the Master also said: “Are you not coming in?”

No, no,” and he hurried away, with a huffy look.

I can still see the Master on my steps, so in command.

Au revoir, Dr. Grant,” He said.

Percy had mentioned the yacht trip to the Master and asked if He could make it the following Monday, but the Master had several appointments Monday and could not accept for that day.

I will try,” said Percy, “to get the yacht for Tuesday.”