239 Days in America

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

August 24, 1912
Malden, MA
Storify Feature

“The Unmistakable and Universal Reformation”

‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ WAS STEPPING into the automobile when he noticed Fred Mortensen standing in the crowd that had gathered at Green Acre to bid him goodbye. Just two days earlier, Mr. Fred Mortensen had arrived at the conference center in Eliot, Maine, after having traveled 1,600 miles as a stowaway on the rails. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá asked Fred to get into the car. The former convict would be his personal guest for the next week.

At 1 p.m. they arrived in Malden, Massachusetts, the next stop on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s journey in America. He was staying at the home of Maria Wilson, who, twelve years earlier, had sailed with Sarah J. Farmer, her best friend, to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá while he was still a prisoner. At the time, he had told Miss Wilson: “When I come to America I will visit you.” On August 23, 1912, he made good on that promise.

On ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s third evening in Malden, he made the ten-mile trip to nearby Boston, to deliver a talk to the New Thought Forum. To ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s surprise, the president of the society announced that he would speak on the subject of “Captivating the Souls.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, more than a little adept at improvisation, complied.

“It is easy to bring human bodies under control,” he began. “In former centuries kings and rulers have absolutely dominated millions of men. . . . If they desired to send men to the field of battle, none could oppose their authority; and if they decreed their kingdoms should enjoy the bliss and serenity of immunity from war, this condition prevailed.” The point, he said, is “that to gain control over physical bodies is an extremely easy matter, but to bring spirits within the bonds of serenity is a most arduous undertaking.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá argued that captivating the souls of men is something that can only be achieved by the power of the Holy Spirit. He noted that “Christ was capable of leading spirits into that abode of serenity.” In this age, he added, “Bahá’u’lláh has appeared and so resuscitated spirits that they have manifested powers more than human.”

It was a subject that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá returned to often during his time in America: the authority of divine teachers — such as Moses, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, Bahá’u’lláh — and the imperative for their teachings to be renewed in every age.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá drew some analogies to make his point about the need for the reformation of civilization. He asked: “Are the laws of past ages applicable to present human conditions?” He added: “If modes of transportation had not been reformed, the teeming millions now upon the earth would die of starvation . . . How could great cities such as New York and London subsist if dependent upon ancient means of conveyance?”

Why, indeed, was it, that modern people would never confine society within the bounds of ancient technology, but seemed content with spiritual teachings that were thousands of years old?

“In the unmistakable and universal reformation we are witnessing,” he asked them, “when outer conditions of humanity are receiving such impetus, when human life is assuming a new aspect, when sciences are stimulated afresh, inventions and discoveries increasing, civic laws undergoing change and moralities evidencing uplift and betterment, is it possible that spiritual impulses and influences should not be renewed and reformed?”


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=736563072 Michael Alcorn

    Agree with Abddul Baha’s statement wholeheartedly!

  • Loie Mead

    The relationship between the material and the spiritual aspects of civilization is like two cocoanut trees standing side-by-side. The trees grow and develop upon the same ground and they share the seasons. They have cast their cocoanuts upon the ground covering their roots. Between the trees exists a mist-like, invisible communication known only to God. When will the children return to gather the fruits of this season?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ilona.weinstein Ilona Sala Weinstein

    It occurred to me, especially after reading about Sarah Farmer the issues of women at that time, that this website could be useful in the classroom. I have sent a note to http://www.tolerance.org/ which provides educational materials with the goal of reducing prejudice. They should know about Abdu’l-Baha and His journey in America.

  • lili shang

    Thank you again and again for this mighty effort! It is a pure pleasure to read these articles daily. Somehow, reading these helps me feel more connected to the Faith in the USA. Lili in Singapore

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pascal-Molineaux/1203381202 Pascal Molineaux

    ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave us illuminating thoughts on how humanity needs education, how humanity approaches perfection as it is educated. The human spirit is guided in its exploration of the unending depths of the spiritual worlds by the Words and Example of the Manifestations of GOD. The thirst for understanding in the material world is guided by the endless curiosity of the human mind, awakened at a very early age. Both the spiritual and material world are ruled by overarching laws and guided by principles. As we thirst for understanding these laws and principles, discover and learn to llive according to them, so does human civilization progress. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá telles that they go hand-in hand as reality is one.

  • Daniel Pschaida

    Captivating the souls: “By the righteousness of God! It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms. Our mission is to seize and possess the hearts of men. Upon them the eyes of Baha are fastened.” –Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 6

  • Louise Profeit

    I love the fact that the Master held no prejudice and was able to wholeheartedly invite Fred Mortensen to accompany him as his guest. What better way to ensure the consolidation of his soul and those who were also in His company. Thanks for this site. It makes us all able to accompany Abdu’l Baha, as his guest!

  • Maria Chouchtari

    Words of Wisdom!

  • Maria Chouchtari

    This internet site is raising souls to reflect on such matters. How great is that? Science and technology combined with the spiritual words of Abdu’l-Baha said 100 years ago. Back then they had only the press (the newspapers).

  • Myra Grassfield

    I really appreciate ‘Abdul-Baha’s message. It is an arduous task to offer souls serenity as a solution to life’s problems. Also, it’s amazing that people are ready for a new iPhone or car every two years and will pour over research in that regard. But when it comes to researching alternatives to ones Spiritual perspective, it’s easier to stick with religious practices that are suited to another time and condition or to decide that all religion is obsolete.

    I’m so grateful that Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdul-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and so many of the faithful dedicated themselves to the arduous task of bringing serenity to the world.