In a quest to learn more about the Baha’ís in Egypt during the time of the Master’s travels I stumbled upon Stories for the Delight of Hearts, the memoirs of Hájí Mírzá Haydar-‘Alí. The connection is tenuous: Hájí Mírzá Haydar-‘Alí was sent to Egypt by Bahá’u’lláh in 1867 and was arrested and suffered enourmous hardship. At times, he attests, he was beaten more than he “had appetite for” (10). He recounts, for example, being tied to a camel with fellow exiles and states, “although we were in great pain and torture, as we watched each other hanging from the camels, the sight was so ridiculous that we could not help laughing” (46-7).
This quality reflects an attribute of the Master that is demonstrated in one of my favorite stories:
In the United States, in August 1912, Mrs Parsons, a devoted Bahá’í of Washington, D. C., invited Him to Dublin, New Hampshire […]. Mrs Parsons arranged a luncheon party at her home and asked some twenty people, all outstanding in various walks of life, to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Culture, science, art, wealth, politics, achievement – all were represented. The hostess was eager that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá should tell those leaders of society about Bahá’u’lláh and the Faith He had proclaimed to mankind. Probably the guests thought that they were in for a lecture. But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told them a story which made them laugh. He Himself laughed heartily, and again with them when they, encouraged by the lead He had given, also told amusing stories. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and his guests were full of mirth throughout the luncheon. It was ‘good to laugh’, He told them; ‘laughter is a spiritual relaxation’.
At this point He referred to His years in prison. Life was hard, He said, tribulations were never far away, and yet, at the end of the day, they would sit together and recall events that had been fantastic, and laugh over them. Funny situations could not be abundant, but still they probed and sought them, and laughed. Joy was not, He told them, a by-product of material comfort and affluence. Were it so, dejections would have ruled every hour of their lives in those days, whereas their souls were joyful. Those Americans, distinguished in public life, had received the impact of truth, often absent from their daily experience, and they looked with new eyes at the visitor from the East, eyes that mirrored deep admiration and respect. And the great heart of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had enveloped them all. Afterwards He asked His hostess whether she was pleased with Him. (31-32)
Although reading Stories from the Delight of Hearts did not tell me a lot about Egypt in 1911-1912 it offered me insights into the significance of the Mystery of God and His travels. Hájí Mírzá Haydar-‘Alí paraphrases Bahá’u’lláh as having prophetically stated:
The utterances of the Most Great Branch [‘Abdu’l-Bahá] and His power are now concealed. Later it will be seen how He, singly and alone, will raise the banner of the Faith in the world. He will gather all mankind under the Tabernacle of peace and submission (106).
Stories from the Delight of Hearts by Hájí Mírzá Haydar-‘Alí
‘Abdu’l-Bahá: The Centre of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh by H. M. Balyuzi
Photo from http://communitybaha.blogspot.com