239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

Day
79
 | 
June 28, 1912
Englewood, NJ
Storify Feature

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s “Feast of Unity”

THE ORIENTAL PASSENGER waved his arms on the steps of the train parked at Lackawanna station. He had to stall the train. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s attendants, “ten fez-wearing Persians,” as The New York Times put it, had already loaded their baggage on the train headed northeast from Montclair to West Englewood, New Jersey. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had not yet arrived. Missing the train could mean missing the event he had organized in nearby Englewood.

The distressed passenger pulled the bell rope, a job usually reserved for the conductor of the train to indicate an unplanned stop. Then one of the Persians – perhaps accidentally – knocked off the train conductor’s hat, distracting him. At last ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in his car, the train halted, and his friends hustled him into the coach.

The feast was to be held at the estate of Roy Wilhelm, a wealthy coffee importer. He was a Wall Streeter, little interested in religion until 1907, when he traveled to ‘Akká to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with his mother, who had insisted on the trip.

It was June 29, 1912, and between two and three hundred people gathered for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s feast of unity. The guests arranged the tables in a large circle under a cluster of tall pine trees. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked among them and greeted them individually. Before they ate, he led them underneath the trees. He noted that most of the time “people are drawn together by physical motives or in furtherance of material interests,” but that “this meeting is a prototype of that inner and complete spiritual association in the eternal world of being.”

By the time ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had finished speaking, the food was ready. Then, as if on cue, thunder crashed from above, black clouds boiled up and big drops of rain pelted their tables. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked calmly to the end of the driveway, and stopped at a crossroad where a single chair stood. He sat in the chair and turned his face upward toward the sky. Soon, as if the weather was merely testing them, “the clouds began to race away; blue patches appeared above and the sun shone out,” Juliet Thompson wrote.

Abdu’l-Bahá told them that “This assembly has a name and significance which will last forever.” He paced back and forth as he spoke: “Hundreds of thousands of meetings shall be held to commemorate this occasion. . . .”

Once the friends organized themselves around the tables, a colorful Persian rice pilaf, sherbet, and many sweets were served. The food had been cooked in New York and transported to Englewood by ferry in large new garbage cans. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did not sit down. Instead, he walked around the tables anointing each of his guest’s foreheads with attar of rose.

The sun began to set, but a group of fifty or sixty friends had no interest in leaving. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sat on a chair at the top of the porch, and the others joined him on the steps and the lawn below. The summer skirts of the women made pleated circles on the grass, and the tapers in their hands kept away the mosquitoes. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke again: “[T]his association of ours is in order to bring about and proclaim the oneness of the world of man. . . .”

Juliet Thompson later wrote: “Before He had finished He rose from his chair and started down the path still talking, passing between the dim figures on the grass with their lighted tapers, talking till He reached the road, where He turned and we could no longer see Him.”

ADD A NEW COMMENT

  • Shahin

    Thank you for this feature.  My family and I make an annual effort to be at the “Souvenir Picnic” as it is now called.  I can witness that many times the clouds keep coming around 3 p.m. when the program begins and they seem to wait until the keynote speech is finished before it starts pouring.  For those of you who can make it, try to be at the 100 year anniversary, I am sure it will be a memorable one. The address is 126 Evergreen Place, Teaneck, New Jersey.   Hope to see you there!!

  • Gary Hill

    I have to go to one of these things before I ascend.

  • Marywilson19

    St. Joseph Michigan Baha’is are hosting a picnic and hope to commemorate this event among the Baha’is in our electoral unit.  It is so wonderful to have this story to tell!  Thank you so much!

  • http://twitter.com/bkling Barbara Klingsporn

    Thank you for including so many interesting details, such as the picnic food being carried by ferry in new garbage cans. (1912 was pre-George Washington Bridge.) Glimpses into the monumental logistics of the Master’s visit are fascinating.  Who cooked all that Persian rice?  Who transported it? Who sent the invitations, by what means, and to whom? Since then, how many Baha’is and friends have attended the annual Souvenir Picnics and heard the Master’s words repeated? We can barely grasp the long-term effects of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit.   

    • DAvid Bulman

       Barbara, very good point, the logistics! There were a lot of busy devoted hands, and a lot of pocketbooks that laid out resources in love to make it happen.

  • Sbentler

    This is a particularly moving entry. Probably all of us who are Baha’is today
    in North America owe our capacity to understand the profundity of Baha’u'llah’s teachings to the efforts of ‘Abdul Baha. I can’t help but feel a deep connection to the description of this lovely Unity Feast and the enchanted people who heard ‘Abdul Baha’s words on this day 100 years ago.

  • Kamelia

    Where can we find the words of AbdulBaha on that day?

  • Kamelia

    29 June 1912 2
    Talk at Unity Feast, Outdoors
    West Englewood, New Jersey
    Notes by Esther Foster
    This is a delightful gathering; you have come here with sincere intentions, and the purpose of all present is the attainment of the virtues of God. The motive is attraction to the divine Kingdom. Since the desire of all is unity and agreement, it is certain that this meeting will be productive of great results. It will be the cause of attracting a new bounty, for we are turning to the Kingdom of Abha, seeking the infinite bestowals of the Lord. This is a new Day, and this hour is a new Hour in which we have come together. Surely the Sun of Reality with its full effulgence will illumine us, and the darkness of disagreements will disappear. The utmost love and  214  unity will result; the favors of God will encompass us; the pathway of the Kingdom will be made easy. Like candles these souls will become ignited and made radiant through the lights of supreme guidance. Such gatherings as this have no equal or likeness in the world of mankind, where people are drawn together by physical motives or in furtherance of material interests, for this meeting is a prototype of that inner and complete spiritual association in the eternal world of being.
    True Bahá’í meetings are the mirrors of the Kingdom wherein images of the Supreme Concourse are reflected. In them the lights of the most great guidance are visible. They voice the summons of the heavenly Kingdom and echo the call of the angelic hosts to every listening ear. The efficacy of such meetings as these is permanent throughout the ages. This assembly has a name and significance which will last forever. Hundreds of thousands of meetings shall be held to commemorate this occasion, and the very words I speak to you today shall be repeated in them for ages to come. Therefore, be ye rejoiced, for ye are sheltered beneath the providence of God. Be happy and joyous because the bestowals of God are intended for you and the life of the Holy Spirit is breathing upon you.
    Rejoice, for the heavenly table is prepared for you.
    Rejoice, for the angels of heaven are your assistants and helpers.
    Rejoice, for the glance of the Blessed Beauty, Bahá’u'lláh, isdirected upon you.
    Rejoice, for Bahá’u'lláh is your Protector.
    Rejoice, for the everlasting glory is destined for you.
    Rejoice, for the eternal life is awaiting you.
    How many blessed souls have longed for this radiant century, their utmost hopes and desires centered upon the happiness and joy of one such day as this. Many the nights they passed sleepless and lamenting until the very morn in longing anticipation of this age, yearning to realize even an hour of this time. God has favored you in this century and has specialized you for the realization of its blessings. Therefore, you must praise and thank God with heart and soul in appreciation of this great opportunity and the attainment of this infinite bestowal — that such doors have been opened before your faces, that such abundance is pouring down from the cloud of mercy and that these refreshing breezes from the paradise of Abha are resuscitating you. You must become of one heart, one spirit and one susceptibility. May you become as the waves of one sea, stars of the same heaven, fruits adorning the same tree, roses  215  of one garden in order that through you the oneness of humanity may establish its temple in the world of mankind, for you are the ones who are called to uplift the cause of unity among the nations of the earth.
    First, you must become united and agreed among yourselves. You must be exceedingly kind and loving toward each other, willing to forfeit life in the pathway of another’s happiness. You must be ready to sacrifice your possessions in another’s behalf. The rich among you must show compassion toward the poor, and the well-to-do must look after those in distress. In Persia the friends offer their lives for each other, striving to assist and advance the interests and welfare of all the rest. They live in a perfect state of unity and agreement. Like the Persian friends you must be perfectly agreed and united to the extent and limit of sacrificing life. Your utmost desire must be to confer happiness upon each other. Each one must be the servant of the others, thoughtful of their comfort and welfare. In the path of God one must forget himself entirely. He must not consider his own pleasure but seek the pleasure of others. He must not desire glory nor gifts of bounty for himself but seek these gifts and blessings for his brothers and sisters. It is my hope that you may become like this, that you may attain to the supreme bestowal and be imbued with such spiritual qualities as to forget yourselves entirely and with heart and soul offer yourselves as sacrifices for the Blessed Perfection. You should have neither will nor desire of your own but seek everything for the beloved of God and live together in complete love and fellowship. May the favors of Bahá’u'lláh surround you from all directions. This is the greatest bestowal and supreme bounty. These are the infinite favors of God.  216 
     (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 213)

    • Jan

       Thank you so much for posting the loving word of Abdu’l-Baha!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rosamond.brenner Rosamond Brenner

    Love and Unity for eternity!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rosamond.brenner Rosamond Brenner

    Love and Unity through eternity!

  • Roberta

    As someone who grew up in the next town over and went to weekly gatherings at “The Cabin” as well as the annual Souvenir Picnic from the late 60s through the late 80s, I am devastated that I couldn’t make the trip back to the 100th anniversary Souvenir.  I can tell you that many times on that day the weather prediction would be for rain, and we sometimes did get rain but it always cleared for the reading of Abdu’l-Baha’s talk and the festivities were never dampened.