Throughout His visit to the West ‘Abdu’l-Bahá regularly met children. On the streets of cities and towns, little ones were attracted to Him and followed Him – like the children in New York who followed Him and were invited to the home of the Kinneys. There the Master gave them chocolates and most tenderly taught them about beauty in the diversity of the human race. On 24 April 1912 (Washington) and on 5 May (Chicago), He explicitly addressed children.
In these talks ‘Abdu’l-Bahá emphasized the true identity of these young souls:
… your hearts are exceedingly pure and your spirits most sensitive. You are near the source; you have not yet become contaminated. You are the lambs of the heavenly Shepherd. You are as polished mirrors reflecting pure light[i].
He also explained the importance of education so that this purity – this simplicity and sincerity greatly praised by Jesus Christ – would be maintained and bear fruit through adult reason and intelligence[ii].
Besides the story of His encounter with the “black rose”[iii], two other accounts stand out for me. They fill one with joy, delight, hope and inspiration. These accounts cannot give us the full experience of what occurred, yet, despite this inherent shortcoming, they are very powerful examples of how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, being a perfect example of purity, interacted with the young – interactions of light upon light:
At a meeting on 5 May 1912:
…. He called each child to him in turn, took them in his lap, petting and stroking the hair and hugging and kissing the little ones, pressing the hands and embracing the older ones, all with such infinite love and tenderness shining in his eyes and thrilling in the tones of his voice, that when he whispered in English in their ears to tell him their names, they answered as joyfully and freely as they would a beloved father. To each child he gave a little different touch, patting some on the breast, some on the back and some on the head. He blessed them all. There was no suggestion of haste and a hush fell upon the group—a quiet, vibrant, eloquent silence—making many to feel that it was just such a picture Jesus must have made and which has touched the hearts of all child-lovers for these two-thousand years.
The children’s joy and his own happiness seemed to culminate when one dear little tot ran to him and fairly threw herself into his arms. When he let her go she stood for a second and then suddenly laughed aloud with perfect joy, which found its instant echo in a ripple around the whole circle[iv].
There were several children’s parties with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, reminiscent of the one in Chicago. During a fête at Helen Goodall’s house, marshmallows were the treat of the day, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave them out, walking among the children and telling each one, “Two hands! Two hands!” because He wanted to make sure every child got as many as possible… [v]
[i] Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talk at Children’s Meeting, Chicago, 5 May 1912, pp.91-2.
[ii] Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talk at Children’s Reception, Washington, 24 April 1912, pp.52-3.
[iii] Portals to Freedom by Howard Colby Ives (George Ronald, Oxford, 1937), chapter 4: The attraction of perfection. The boys from the Bowery. A black rose and a black sweet.
[iv] Star of the West: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with the children of the friends of Chicago (Vol III, no 7), p.6.
[v] A Love Which Does not Wait, by Janet Ruhe-Schoen (Palabra Publications, Riviera Beach, Florida, 1998) p.243
Photo from www.abdulbahawest.blogspot.ca