Stories about 'Abdu'l-Bahá

Renunciation, and "Very Great Things"

Portals to Freedom
April 15, 1912
96th St
New York, NY

It was not many days after that when there occurred one of the most poignantly remembered incidents. Ever since I had first read a sentence in the “Prayer for Inspiration” it had rung in my mind with insistent questioning. “Prevent me not from turning to the Horizon of renunciation.” What has renunciation to do with inspiration? I wondered. Why should I pray for the gift of renunciation? Renounce the world? That was an ascetic concept. It smacked of papacy and the monkish cell. What had this modem world to do with renunciation? Yet across the ages came a Voice. “If a man love father or mother, wife or child more than Me he is not worthy of Me.” My mind rebelled but my heart responded. I thank God for that. I resolved that I must know more of this matter.

So one cold spring day, a strong east wind blowing, I made a special journey to ask ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about renunciation. I found the house at Ninety-sixth Street almost deserted. It seemed that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was spending a day or two at the home of one of the friends on Seventy-eighth Street and so I walked there and found Him on the point of returning to the home I had just left. But I was too intent on my mission to allow difficulties to interfere. I sought one of the Persian friends and, pointing to the passage in the little volume I carried in my pocket, I asked him if he would request ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to speak to me for a few moments on this subject, and I read it to him so that there should be no mistake: “Prevent me not from turning to the Horizon of renunciation.”

Returning, he handed me the book saying that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá requested that I walk with Him back to Ninety-sixth Street and He would talk with me on the way.

I recall that there was quite a little procession of us, a dozen or so, mostly composed of the Persian friends but a few others; Lua Getsinger was one, I remember. The east wind was penetrating. I buttoned my coat closely with a little shiver. But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá strode along with his ‘aba (cloak) floating in the wind. He looked at me as we walked together at the head of the little group, with a slightly quizzical glance: He said that I seemed cold, a slightly amused glance accompanying the words, and I unaccountably felt a little disturbed. Why should I not feel cold? Could one be expected to live even above the weather? But this slight remark was indicative. Always His slightest word affected me as a summons. “Come up higher!” He seemed to say.

As we walked a few paces ahead of the others He talked at length about Horizons. Of how the Sun of Reality, like the physical sun, rose at different points, the Sun of Moses at one point, the Sun of Jesus at another, the Sun of Muhammad, the Sun of Bahá’u’lláh at still others. But always the same Sun though the rising points varied greatly. Always we must look for the light of the Sun, He said, and not keep our eyes so firmly fixed on its last point of rising that we fail to see its glory when it rises in the new Spiritual Springtime. Once or twice He stopped and, with His stick, drew on the sidewalk an imaginary horizon and indicated the rising points of the sun. A strange sight it must have been to the casual passer-by.

I was greatly disappointed. I had heard Him speak on this subject and had read about it in “Some Answered Questions.” It was not of horizons I wanted to hear, but of renunciation. And I was deeply depressed also because I felt that He should have known my desire for light on this subject, and responded to my longing even if I had not been so explicit in my request; but I had been most explicit. As we approached our destination He became silent. My disappointment had long since merged into a great content. Was it not enough to be with Him What, after all, could He tell me about renunciation that was not already in my own heart Perhaps the way to learn about it was by doing, and I might begin by giving up the longing to have Him talk to me about it. Truly, as the outer silence deepened, my heart burned within me as He talked with me on the way.

We came at last to the steps leading up to the entrance door. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá paused with one foot resting on the lower step while the little group slowly passed Him and entered the house. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made as if to follow, but instead He turned and, looking down at me from the little elevation of the step, with that subtle meaning in eyes and voice which seemed to accompany His slightest word, and which to me was always so unfathomable and so alluring: He said that I must always remember that this is a day of great things, very great things.

I was speechless. It was not for me to answer. I did not have the faintest inkling of what lay behind the words, the resonant voice, that penetrating glance. Then He turned and again made as if to ascend but again He paused and turned His now luminous face towards me. My foot was raised to follow but as He turned, I, of course, paused also and hung uncertainly between rest and motion.

He repeated, saying to me so impressively, so earnestly, that I must never forget this, that this is a day for very great things.

What could He mean? What deep significance lay behind these simple words? Why should He speak so to me? Had it anything to do with that still alluring thought of renunciation?

Again ‘Abdu’l-Bahá turned to ascend and I made to follow; but for the third time He paused and, turning, as it seemed, the full light of His spirit upon me. He said again, but this time in what seemed like a voice of thunder, with literally flashing eyes and emphatically raised hand: that I should remember His words that This is a Day for very great things—VERY GREAT THINGS. These last three words rang out like a trumpet call. The long, deserted city block seemed to echo them. I was overwhelmed. I seemed to dwindle, almost to shrivel, where I stood, as that beautifully dominant figure, that commanding and appealing voice, surrounded me like a sea, and blotted out for the moment, at least, all the petty world and my petty self with it. Who and what was I to be summoned to accomplish great things, very great things? I did not even know what things were great in this world awry with misbegotten emphases.

After what seemed a very long moment, in which His burning eyes probed my soul. He gently smiled. The great moment had passed. He was again the courteous, kindly, humble host, the Father whom I thought I knew. He touched His fez so that it stood at what I called the humorous angle, and a slightly quizzical smile was around His mouth as He rapidly ascended the steps and entered the open door. I followed closely. We passed through the few steps of the hall to the stairs. I remember the wondering, slightly envious glances that followed me as I followed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá up the stairs. The upper hall was empty and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá swept through it and up another flight to His room, a large front room on the third floor. And still I followed. I have often marveled since at my temerity. Had I known more or felt less I never should have dared. It is said that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Perhaps that is the way that fools are cured of their folly.

We came to the door of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s room. He had not invited me there, nor had He looked once behind Him to see that I was following, and it was with much inward trepidation that I paused at the threshold as He entered the room. Would He be displeased? Had I overstepped the bounds of the respect due ‘Abdu’l-Bahá? Had I been lacking in due humility? But my heart was humility itself—He must know that. He swung the door wide and turning beckoned me in.

Again I was alone with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. There was the bed in which He slept, the chair in which He sat. The late afternoon sunlight lay palely across the floor, but I saw nothing. I was conscious only of Him and that I was alone with Him. 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: He simply asked me if I were interested in renunciation.

Nothing could have been more unexpected. I had entirely forgotten the question which had so engrossed my thoughts an hour since. Or was it that in that hour during which the word renunciation had not been mentioned, all that I wished or needed to know about it had been vouchsafed me? I had no words to answer His question. Was I interested? I could not say I was and I would not say I was not. I stood before Him silent while His whole Being seemed to reach out to embrace me. Then His arm was around me and He led me to the door. I left His Presence with my soul treading the heights. I felt as though I had been admitted, for the moment at least, into the ranks of the martyrs. And it was a goodly fellowship indeed. During all the long years of renunciation that followed, the memory of that walk with Him; my disappointment that He had not understood; His ringing challenge: This is a Day for very great things: my following Him up those long stairs without even knowing whether He wished me to or not, and then the question wrapped in that sublime love: Are you interested in renunciation? has risen before me, a comforting and inspiring challenge. Indeed I was interested and my interest has never flashed from that day to this. But I never dreamed that renunciation could be so glorious.