By Heidi Lakshman
Presentation on the 25th Anniversary of the Gravenhurst Bahá’í Community, 25 March 2000
There are different milestones in the evolution of a Bahá’í community, and today we remember the arrival 25 years ago of the first Bahá’í pioneer, Francis Cowan, in Gravenhurst, and the development of the local Bahá’í community since then.
When our Assembly was in the middle of planning this event last summer, someone discovered in the back cover of the 1934-36 Bahá’í World Volume a map of the United States and Canada, showing localities where Bahá’ís resided as of May 1st, 1935. There were 229 localities in all, only 8 of which were situated in Canada, scattered right across the land: there was an Assembly in Montreal and one in Vancouver (with at least 9 Bahá’ís in each), and centers with only 1 isolated believer (meaning very lonely Bahá’í) living there, — one in Alberta, one in Saskatchewan, one in New Brunswick, one in Prince Edward Island, and two in Ontario: one in Toronto, and the other — lo and behold — in WEST GRAVENHURST! We got out a magnifying glass to make sure we were seeing right, and sure enough, there it was …
This meant that the history of the Gravenhurst Bahá’í community had obviously started much earlier than we realized, and that there was another milestone to be uncovered here. The search for this early believer began immediately, and what followed had all the characteristics of a true detective story.
Our first move was to put an ad in BAHA’I CANADA (September 1999 issue), inviting anyone with information about this believer to contact us, but — not surprisingly — no one did. Next, we contacted the Records Department and Archives Office at the National Bahá’í Center in Toronto, but they could not help us either since their records go back only to 1948, when the Canadian National Spiritual Assembly came into existence. All prior records were still being kept at the National Bahá’í Center of the United States in Wilmette, Illinois.
Next, we searched in Dr. van den Hoonard’s book, The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada, for any clues about a believer in Gravenhurst, but found nothing there either.
In the meantime, we had started making inquiries with some of the senior citizens in town as to whether anyone remembered meeting a Bahá’í in the 1930’ies. But without knowing the name of the person we were looking for, nor even whether it was a man or a woman, this effort was going nowhere.
Eventually, we succeeded in obtaining the email address of Dr. van den Hoonard at the University of New Brunswick and asked for his assistance in identifying the believer who resided in West Gravenhurst as of May 1935. On the very next day (August 30) he responded as follows:
“…. you will be happy to know that the history of West Gravenhurst goes even further back! Between March 1916 and May 1940, Mrs. Caroline Lehmann lived in West Gravenhurst. She was taught the Faith by Isabelle Brittingham. Her previous religion was Lutheran and she was of German background. You can find a reference for her in Bahá’í World (vol. 8: 699 [actually 703] and the [American] Bahá’í News (July 1940: 10).”
This was the news we were hoping for, and now that we had a name, a gender, and a 24-year time frame, our search could begin in earnest.
There were a few Lehmanns listed in the local telephone book with which we could start. But then, on the same day as the above message arrived, one of my Red Cross Homemakers (Claudia) mentioned that her colleague’s (Sherry Rheaume’s) grandfather, who had passed away a few months earlier, was a Mr. Carl Lehman. As she was going to meet Sherry that night at the Leisure World Nursing Home, Claudia offered to ask her, whether Caroline Lehmann was any relation of hers.
Sherry had never heard of this name before, but was going to ask her grandmother (Carl Lehman’s widow) about it. A couple of days later, Sherry gave Claudia the amazing news that Mrs. Caroline Lehmann was her very own great-great-grandmother!!
It is interesting to note that Sherry was one of the Red Cross Homemakers assigned to me, when I first visited the Cowans in August 1997 in order to prepare my move to Gravenhurst. She lived just a block away from the Cowans and was known to Fran since her childhood. Sherry continued to provide homecare services to me for more than a year following my move to Lofty Pines Drive, and we had a good many conversations about her Bible studies as well as the Bahá’í Faith. She took some literature, as well as a Bahá’í colouring book and some balloons and prayer cards for her children. When her grandfather was ill, she borrowed the “Health and Healing” booklet, and when he passed away, she read the “Death — Messenger of Joy” booklet and found it very comforting, particularly as she had also lost her father not long before that. After her grandfather’s funeral, Sherry and I took a walk over to the Mickle Cemetery, just down the road from my place, and had some prayers at the Lehmann family grave. Little did we know then, that we were praying for the descendants (two sons and a grandson) of the first Bahá’í of Gravenhurst!
On 12 September 1999 I called Sherry’s grandmother, Mrs. Lila Lehman, and she confirmed that Caroline was her great-grandmother-in-law, and that she had lived “in a pink house on the first farm on the right going towards Bala”. She also said that Caroline and her husband had operated the General Store in Kilworthy (a suburb of Gravenhurst), and that they are both buried at the Kilworthy Lutheran Cemetery.
It was a beautiful Sunday, and Shapour Ostadi (a local Bahá’í friend) and I went looking for the pink farm house on the road to Bala. But nothing we saw there fitted that description. We then drove to Kilworthy, where we easily found the Kilworthy General Store. The present owners confirmed that it had indeed belonged to the Lehmanns, who had operated it until the late 1920s. Judging from its aged looks, it probably hasn’t changed much since the times the Lehmanns had been there.
For more (heartbreaking) pictures of this once lovely building
We received directions to the Lutheran Cemetery, which is located on top of a hill, in a bend near the end of Muskoka Road 19 (of all numbers!). It is a well-kept, peaceful place, surrounded by forest on three sides.
We found the Lehmann grave near a low lilac bush, almost in the center of the cemetery. We were extremely moved to read on the gravestone that Caroline Lehmann (nee Yaekel) was born in 1845 — just one year after the inception of the Bahá’í Faith — and that she was 95 years old in 1940, when she passed away.
Susan Gammage visiting her grave site
As such, her life spanned almost the entire first century of the Bahá’í Era and made her a contemporary of both the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, `Abdu’l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi! She was 71 years of age in 1916, when she accepted the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, — only 4 years after `Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to Canada — and was among the very first resident Canadians to do so. (According to Dr. van den Hoonard’s book, there were only 31 Bahá’ís in the whole of Canada as of 1916, some of whom would no doubt have been pioneers from other countries.)
Through her acceptance of Bahá’u’lláh, the light of God’s new Revelation has dawned upon this small community of Gravenhurst only 72 years after the Faith began in Persia! This is all the more remarkable when one recalls how long it took all the other major world religions to reach Canadian shores.
Having come empty-handed, we gathered some wild flowers to put on her grave, and Shapour chanted some beautiful Persian prayers there, — likely the first one to ever do so at that site.
Having solved the mystery of who this early West Gravenhurst believer was, our focus no shifted to learning more about her life and finding someone — anyone — who might still have a living memory of Caroline. Regrettably, her last living son, Carl, had passed away just a few months before we even knew about her existence. According to Sherry Rheaume’s own research, no one among the members of her family has any personal memory of her, nor do they have any photographs or other documentation of her life and activities. They did mention, however, that she was not the only Bahá’í here, but that another Bahá’í lady who had taught her the Faith was with her for some time, and they believe it may have been her sister.
The only person who still vaguely remembered the old Lehmanns was a Mrs. Hazel Schell, longtime resident of Kilworthy, and grandmother of Joan Allen, another one of my Homecare workers. I talked to her by telephone in late Fall 1999, and she confirmed to have met the old Lehmanns in her youth, but better recalled their daughter, Emily Beatty, who took over the Kilworthy Store from her parents. Hazel Schell, herself in her ninetieth, passed away just a few weeks after we had this conversation.
Her grand-daughter, Joan Allan, had referred me to a book about Kilworthy, A Legacy almost lost, published by the Kilworthy Historical Committee, which contained several references to the Lehmanns. It also provided a fairly good picture of what life was like for the early pioneer settlers in the 19th century, when they were there.
For More Information
The book contains a census of the Townships in Muskoka of the year 1871, in which Gustav and Caroline Lehman, and 2 of their children, are listed as having come from Prussia (East-Germany), and that they were then 39 and 23 years of age. It also shows that the Lehmanns had a farm “on the north shore of Sparrow Lake”, and that Gustav Lehmann bought the Kilworthy Store in 1875 and started the first Post Office there in November 1876. Gustav Lehmann was Postmaster until 1914 and, in 1927, turned the Post Office and the Store over to his daughter, Emily Beatty.
Apparently, he and Caroline then moved to the farm in West Gravenhurst, where Gustav passed away in 1929 and Caroline in 1940.
The case lay dormant over the winter but, during the Fast earlier this month (March 2000), Shapour and I ventured out once again in search of the “pink house” in West Gravenhurst. We rang some doorbells in the general area and were directed to 270 North Street, which turned out to be Carl Lehman’s place. We took some pictures of their old house and also had an opportunity to briefly talk to his widow, Mrs. Lila Lehman, who said that Caroline visited that home on occasion and stayed there for one week, when her youngest son (Sherry’s father) was born. She then gave us direction to the Lehmann farm, which is located about 2 miles further toward Bala, beyond the small convenience store and just around the bend on the right hand side. There is an old barn and a (green) house standing close to the road, and the old building on the back of that property was the Lehmann homestead. We found it to be a larger building with several added sections, yellowish in colour, empty, and in dilapidated condition. Only on the back did we see reddish siding that some people might consider “pink”. No wonder we couldn’t find it before! We photographed the building from all sides and had prayers there as well. (The address is lot #1272 on Highway 169, and the current tenants’ name is Waggs).
We were determined to also find the first Lehmann farm on Sparrow Lake and, on the following day, called the Franklins who, according to the book about Kilworthy, had bought the farm from the Lehmanns.
We spoke to a Mrs. Harvey Franklin who said that the Lehmann farm had been purchased by her uncle and is the property where the Silver Pines Cottage Resort is now located, about 3 miles West from the Kilworthy store. Shapour and I went there and spoke with the proprietor, Andy Fisher, who confirmed that this was the old Lehmann farm, but that Lehmanns did not build the house on his property. He had acquired the place only 15 years ago and did not know where their homestead would have been.
We drove down to the lake and along the shoreline just to look around a bit, and there, about 2 lots away from the Silver Pines property, discovered a whole complex of very old abandoned farm-type buildings along a creek! The first one, though much smaller, looked strikingly similar in style, age, and colour to the Lehmann house we had seen in West Gravenhurst! We photographed it, of course, and went back to Andy Fisher to ask him about these buildings. He didn’t seem to be aware of them nor who the present owners were, but he confirmed that the original farm was much larger than his current lot and had gone all the way over to the Delmonte Resort. This meant that the old buildings we had found were located well within the boundaries of the old farm.
We went back to the Kilworthy Store to ask the owners about the farm, and they directed us to Mr. Bruce Schulz, whose grandfather had bought the Kilworthy Store from Emily Beatty, Lehmann’s daughter. Mr. Schulz is a member of the Kilworthy Historical Society who had published the book, and he was very interested in our research and in receiving a copy of our findings for the Kilworthy Archives. Although he had no information about the Lehmann farm on Sparrow Lake, he said that he would try to find out about it at their next meeting.
Last not least, a letter was received from the National Bahá’í Archives in the United States in response to my inquiry, forwarding copies of the references about Caroline in Bahá’í World Volume 8 and the July 1940 edition of the American Bahá’í News. The first is a Bahá’í Directory of 1938-40, and the second an “In Memoriam” notice of her passing in 1940. The Archives could not provide any additional information about her at this time, nor verify when and where Isabelle Brittingham and Caroline Lehmann have met, and whether she might, in fact, have been the “other Bahá’í lady”, who had stayed with Caroline, as remembered by her family.
Their letter (dated 16 March 2000) states that Caroline Lehmann
“does not appear on the 1916, 1920 and 1922 membership lists maintained by the Bahá’í Temple Unity [precursor of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada]. However, the lists were sent in by local communities, so not all isolated believers were listed, unless they were near an active community.” It also said that “the National Spiritual Assembly files are still not open so we cannot check if she corresponded with the National Spiritual Assembly.”
Consequently, it is possible that some information about Caroline Lehmann would eventually be found.
As for Caroline’s resting place, we asked Mr. Bruce Schulz about the future of the old pioneer cemetery where the Lehmanns are buried, and what would happen to it. He assured us that it is there to stay and is presently being looked after by some individuals including himself, and that it would eventually be turned over to the Municipality for maintenance. No doubt, the historical significance of this gravesite will be publicly recognized in due course. (It should be noted in this context that Mrs. Lehmann would have retained her church membership until the time of her death as was common among early Bahá’ís living in Christian communities.)
Had forwarded a shortened version of the above presentation to the Bahá’í Archives in Wilmette and, shortly thereafter, the following additional information was received:
Subject: RE: An early Gravenhurst believer
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2000 16:17:36 -0600
Dear Ms. Lakshman,
Thank you for the information on Caroline Lehmann. I have come across some more information about Caroline Lehmann. She had filled out an historical record card in the mid-1930s. I am mailing a photocopy of the historical record card to you. In the card Mrs. Lehmann wrote that she became a Baha’i in March 1916 in New York City. She had been making visits to her daughter, Helen Lehmann, and had learned of the Baha’i Faith. Isabella Brittingham*, Mother Beecher** and Ali Kuli Khan*** had been her teachers. She also gives her birth date as November 17, 1846.
There is a Mrs. Helen Lehmann in the 1916 and 1920 New York City membership lists but not in the 1922 New York City membership list.
With warm greetings,
Roger M. Dahl, Archivist [The National Baha’i Archives of the United States]
* One of the first believers in the United States, called the “Bahá’í-Maker” by `Abdu’l-Bahá
** Grandmother of Hand of the Cause, Dorothy Baker
*** Secretary of `Abdu’l-Bahá, and Persian Consul to the United States
The copy of the handwritten historical record card was received and is the first personal document we have of this early believer. — In 2003, a b&w negative of Caroline Lehmann’s photograph, which she had attached to the history card, was also provided by the U.S. Bahá’í Archives. The negative was digitally cleaned-up and several prints were made.
Both photograph and copy of the historical record card were included with a shortened story and other documents and pictures in the Lehmann binders forwarded in 2003/2004 to the following institutions:
The National Bahá’í Archives of Canada;
The National Bahá’í Archives of the United States;
The Local Spiritual Assembly of Gravenhurst;
The Archives of the Town of Gravenhurst;
The Sparrow Lake Historical Society
and Kilworthy Historical Committee
In the ages to come, though the Cause of God may rise and grow hundredfold and the shade of the Sadratu’l-Muntahá (Tree of Life) shelter all mankind, yet this present (20th) century shall stand unrivalled, for it hath witnessed the breaking of that Morn and the rising of that Sun. This century is, verily, the source of His Light and the dayspring of His Revelation. Future ages and generations shall behold the diffusion of its radiance and the manifestations of its signs. (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 67)
If it is possible, send ye teachers to other portions of Canada; likewise, dispatch ye teachers to Greenland and the home of the Eskimos. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 95-96)
God willing, the call of the Kingdom may reach the ears of the Eskimos, the inhabitants of the Islands of Franklin in the north of Canada, as well as Greenland. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 27-28)
Should the fire of the love of God be kindled in Greenland, all the ice of that country will be melted, and its cold weather become temperate — that is, if the hearts be touched with the heat of the love of God, that territory will become a divine rose garden and a heavenly paradise, and the souls, even as fruitful trees, will acquire the utmost freshness and beauty. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 27-28)
Effort, the utmost effort, is required. Should you display an effort, so that the fragrances of God may be diffused among the Eskimos, its effect will be very great and far-reaching. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 27-28)
The continent and the islands of Eskimos are also parts of this earth. They must similarly receive a portion of the bestowals of the Most Great Guidance. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 27-28)
If it is possible,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has also written, “send ye teachers to other portions of Canada; likewise, dispatch ye teachers to Greenland and the home of the Eskimos.” “God willing,” He further has written in those same Tablets, “the call of the Kingdom may reach the ears of the Eskimos…. Should you display an effort, so that the fragrances of God may be diffused among the Eskimos, its effect will be very great and far-reaching. (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 55)
The maintenance and consolidation of the first historic spiritual assembly in Anchorage, the northernmost administrative center of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh in the world; the multiplication of Bahá’í centers in that territory; the propagation of the teachings among the Eskimos, emphasized by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s pen in those same Tablets; the translation and publication of selected passages from Bahá’í literature in their native language; the extension of the limits of the Faith beyond Fairbanks and nearer to the Arctic Circle — these constitute the urgent tasks facing the prosecutors of the present Plan in the years immediately ahead. (Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 9)
The greatest care should be exercised to attract the attention, and win the support of other minorities in that land, such as the Indians, the Eskimos, the Dukhobors and the Negroes, thereby reinforcing the representative character of a rapidly developing community. (Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 11)
Nor can we fail to notice the special endeavors that have been exerted by individuals as well as Assemblies for the purpose of establishing contact with minority groups and races in various parts of the world, such as the Jews and Negroes in the United States of America, the Eskimos in Alaska . . . (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 379-380)
He feels that this is a very important opportunity which you have now obtained of teaching the Faith to the Eskimo people, and he hopes your efforts will be crowned with success. He would not advise you to teach them Esperanto, as we have no way of knowing whether it will ultimately be chosen as the auxiliary language of the world. He thinks the most direct and quickest way of communicating with them in a common tongue should be chosen; in other words either you should learn their language or they yours, whichever will yield the quickest results. As they are a relatively uncivilized people, unused to the modern cosmopolitan forms of life, and consequently not au courant with the thoughts which to us have become mere commonplace, he would advise you to approach them through love, friendliness, and association, until you are in a position to enter into their confidence, and gradually teach them, in a simple way, the great truths of our Faith. To confirm them in the Faith should be your main objective, always bearing in mind that faith and belief are different from learning and a full grasp of the implications of such a vast Cause as ours. You may be sure his loving prayers will be offered for the success of your historic mission, and he will be interested to hear how you are progressing.
[PS in the Guardian’s handwriting]: Assuring you of my abiding gratitude and appreciation for the magnificent services you are rendering, and for the laudable spirit you are demonstrating in your historic activities and achievements in these days of stress and peril, and assuring you also of my special and constant prayers for the success of every effort you exert, and every step you take in the path of service, (Shoghi Effendi, to Janet Whitenack (Stout) who had secured a school teaching position in the village of Tuluksak on the Kuskokwim River, High Endeavours – Messages to Alaska, p. 6)
Abdul-Bahá was most anxious that the Eskimo people should be taught the Message of this New Day, and it is a source of happiness to all Bahá’ís that you, a member of that race, have arisen to spread these teachings. God has surely guided your steps and blessed your search for divine Truth. (Shoghi Effendi, to Melba Call (King), who was the first Eskimo to become a Bahá’í. While she was born and raised in Alaska, she was residing in New Mexico when she heard of the Faith and became a Bahá’í, High Endeavours – Messages to Alaska, p. 7)
He feels that the most important thing at the present time is, of course, the establishment of the first Bahá’í Spiritual Assembly of Alaska. He hopes that, after the assembly is well established and has a sufficient number to maintain its status, you will again be able to do pioneer teaching work among the Eskimos. Your talk on the Faith in the church of Tuluksak may, indeed, have reached some of them, and left a seed of Truth in their minds. (Shoghi Effendi, High Endeavours – Messages to Alaska, p. 8)
It was very kind of you to think of sending gifts to the Guardian made by Eskimos, and he will value them as tokens of your love and the handiwork of a people whom he is most anxious should receive the Divine Message. He hopes that your Assembly will endeavour to reach the Eskimos with the Message; he fully realizes how difficult a task this is, but it is also one of great importance. If but one of these souls should become truly enkindled, he or she could then teach others in their own language and a manner suited to their minds. (Shoghi Effendi, High Endeavours – Messages to Alaska, p. 13)
Nor must the vital obligation of converting as speedily as possible, both the Eskimos and the American Indians, who, as time passes, must assume a notable share in the diffusion of the Faith and the establishment of its rising Order in these regions, be, under any circumstances neglected . . . (Shoghi Effendi, High Endeavours – Messages to Alaska, p. 37)
He was also delighted to hear Mr. Oliver is anxious to translate some of the Writings into Eskimo; please assure him this would be rendering both the Eskimos and the Cause a great service. If anything is printed in that language the Guardian would like to receive copies for the libraries here. He hopes through the “Arctic Trails Shopping Service” you will be able to demonstrate the fairness, uprightness, and nobility of the adherents of the Bahá’í Faith to the people it deals with, as this will more than anything else attract their attention to the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, High Endeavours – Messages to Alaska, p. 47)
The Guardian is extremely anxious that the Eskimos be brought into the Faith. He values very highly indeed the very wonderful services rendered by Mrs. Wells. He feels that she has sacrificed very deeply in order to carry the light of guidance to the seeking peoples of the world, particularly in Alaska, and now with the Eskimos. You may be sure the Guardian will pray for her spiritual success and her spiritual happiness. (Shoghi Effendi, High Endeavours – Messages to Alaska, p. 51)
He very deeply appreciates the contribution which you have made in behalf of the Eskimos of Alaska. Receipt therefor is enclosed herewith. It is fitting that the Eskimos of Alaska be associated with the work of the Shrine of the Báb, and your having made this gift in their behalf is very appropriate, especially as you are endeavoring to work with the Eskimos in that country. (Shoghi Effendi, High Endeavours – Messages to Alaska, p. 53)
He urges you to concentrate on attracting the natives as much as possible, by that he means the Eskimos. These people have a right to hear of the glorious message of Bahá’u’lláh, and he hopes you will be instrumental in attracting many of them to the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, High Endeavours – Messages to Alaska, p. 57)
The Guardian has communicated with the National Spiritual Assembly with regard to the efforts being made by yourself and Mrs. Wells as well as others in connection with the introduction of the Faith amongst the Eskimos, asking them to render every possible assistance to this most important work. It is impossible to let you know how important the Guardian feels the introduction of the Faith amongst the Eskimos is at this particular time. (Shoghi Effendi, High Endeavours – Messages to Alaska, p. 51)
The initial steps should be relentlessly followed by additional measures designed to . . . incorporate a steadily growing element, representative of both the Indian and Eskimo races, into the life of the community. Obstacles, however formidable, will have to be determinedly surmounted. Any reverses that sooner or later may be suffered should be met with stoic fortitude, and speedily offset by victories in other fields. The glorious vision now unveiled to your eyes must never be dimmed. The illuminating promises enshrined in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablets should not be forgotten for a moment. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 11)
The initiation of a systematic and sustained campaign beyond the frontiers of that Dominion, and in obedience to the Mandate of the Author of the Divine Plan, to which it stands inescapably pledged, and aiming at the introduction of the Faith in Greenland and the conversion of the Eskimos still remains to be undertaken . . . As the operation of the Plan gathers momentum the members of this community must evince a still greater measure of solidarity, rise to higher levels of heroism, demonstrate a greater capacity for collective achievement, and attract still more abundant blessings on the varied enterprises on which they have embarked. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 14)
Though the process of the multiplication of Bahá’í centres, over the length and breadth of so vast a territory, has been, steadily and speedily, gathering momentum, the number of groups that have achieved Assembly status is still relatively insignificant, while the pioneer activity designed to awaken and stimulate the interest of the Eskimos in the Faith and enlist their support may hardly be said to have been vigorously and adequately launched. The call to which this newly-fledged community has been summoned is admittedly urgent and challenging. The character of the tasks alloted to it is, in many respects, unique. The resources at its disposal for the discharge of its peculiar responsibilities are no doubt as yet inadequate. The obstacles that stand in its way and obstruct its path seem almost insurmountable. Its membership, when viewed in relation to the range over which it operates, is no doubt wholly inadequate yet the spirit which has consistently animated the members of the entire community, and the energy and determination which have distinguished their elected representatives in the discharge of their sacred duties, are such as to fortify the hopes which I, as well as their fellow-workers in both hemispheres, have cherished in our hearts, since the inauguration of their first collective enterprise in a land so rich in promise, so vast in its potentialities, and so honoured by the visit of the Centre of the Covenant Himself as well as by the glowing references made to it by Him in His immortal Tablets. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 17)
The obstacles confronting it whether in Greenland, or among the Indians and the Eskimos of the extreme North, are truly formidable. Yet the potency infused into this community, through the Revelation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Divine Plan, and the spiritual capacity engendered in its earliest members through His visit to their native land — distinctions which it fully shares with its sister community in the Great Republic of the West — empower it to discharge — if it but rise to the occasion — all the responsibilities it has undertaken and consummate the task to which it stands pledged. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 25)
The work started among the Eskimos and Indians should be maintained at its present level, and should not be permitted to decline. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 26)
The Guardian was most happy to hear of the excellent work some of the Bahá’ís are doing with the Eskimos and the Indians, and considers their spirit most exemplary. They are rendering a far greater service than they, themselves, are aware of, the fruits of which will be seen, not only in Canada, but because of their repercussions, in other countries where primitive populations must be taught. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 28)
The personality of the Bahá’í who accepts this invitation should be carefully considered, because to be a guest of people in a different climate and environment, of a different nationality and speaking a different language, so far away, might be a little trying, and of course the impression that this Bahá’í creates will be of infinite importance to the Faith in its future development in Greenland. Whether … makes the sacrifice and goes, or some other individual is chosen, he urges your Assembly to above all consider this matter tactfully and from the human standpoint, rather than the religious one, if one can put it that way. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 28)
Of equal importance is the strenuous yet highly meritorious obligation to add, steadily and rapidly, to the number of the American Indian and Eskimo adherents of the Faith, and to ensure their active participation in both the teaching and administrative spheres of Bahá’í activity — a task so clearly emphasized by the Pen of the Centre of the Covenant, and in the consummation of which the Canadian Bahá’í Community is destined to play so conspicuous a part. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 61)
The long overdue conversion of the American Indians, the Eskimos and French Canadians, as well as the representatives of other minorities permanently residing within the borders of that vast Dominion, must receive, in the months immediately ahead, such an impetus as to astonish and stimulate the members of all Bahá’í communities throughout the length and breadth of the Western Hemisphere. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 69)
Under whatever conditions, the dearly loved, the divinely sustained, the onward marching legions of the army of Bahá’u’lláh may be laboring, in whatever theatre they may operate, in whatever climes they may struggle, whether in the cold and inhospitable territories beyond the Arctic Circle, or . . . in the lonely, far-away, backward and sparsely populated islands . . . amidst the diversified tribes of . . . the Eskimos and the Lapps of the Arctic regions . . . to them all, as well as to those who, as the fortunes of this fate-laden Crusade prosper, will be called upon to unfurl the standard of an all-conquering Faith . . . I direct my impassioned appeal to obey, as befits His warriors, the summons of the Lord of Hosts, and prepare for that Day of Days when His victorious battalions will, to the accompaniment of hozannas from the invisible angels in the Abha Kingdom, celebrate the hour of final victory. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Baha’i World – 1950-1957, p. 36-38)
Let anyone who feels the urge among the participators in this crusade, which embraces all the races, all the republics, classes and denominations of the entire Western Hemisphere, arise, and, circumstances permitting, direct in particular the attention, and win eventually the unqualified adherence, of the Negro, the Indian, the Eskimo, and Jewish races to his Faith. No more laudable and meritorious service can be rendered the Cause of God, at the present hour, than a successful effort to enhance the diversity of the members of the American Bahá’í community by swelling the ranks of the Faith through the enrollment of the members of these races. (Shoghi Effendi, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
We are heartened at the prospect that from indigenous peoples of this vast oceanic area, the Ainu, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Koreans, the Okinawans, the Micronesians, the American Indians, the Eskimos, and the Aleuts vast numbers will soon enter the Faith. (Universal House of Justice, Japan Will Turn Ablaze, p. 112)
The representative character of the Bahá’í community should therefore be reinforced through the attraction, conversion and support of an ever-growing number of new believers from the diverse elements constituting the population of that vast mainland and particularly from among Indians and Eskimos about whose future the Master wrote in such glowing terms. In the glorious freedom which enables you to proclaim, to teach and confirm, to educate and deepen yourselves and others in the verities of the Faith, you have precious opportunities of service denied to many of your fellow believers elsewhere. If your blessed communities are to lead the world spiritually, as the Master envisaged, then the Faith must strike deeper roots in your hearts, the spirit of its teachings must be exemplified in ever greater measure in your lives, and God’s Holy Cause must be taught and proclaimed with ever greater intensity. In His immortal Tablets addressed to the Bahá’ís of North America ‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures each one of you that “whosoever arises in this day to diffuse the divine fragrances, the cohorts of the Kingdom of God shall confirm him (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 560)
Your view that Baha’is “should be able to honestly appreciate and respect the historical function of polygamy within aboriginal societies, such as Inuit society, without assuming a superior moral attitude” is commendable. Of course, when a member of such a society becomes a Baha’i, he is then bound by the Baha’i law in this regard. The Baha’I Faith accepts as valid marriages those polygamous unions that a man has entered into before becoming a Baha’i, whether these unions were solemnized under civil or religious law or by tribal custom. To require such a man to give up one of his wives would destroy a family unity which has already been established, and that would be against the spirit of the Faith. However, once he has become a Baha’i, such a man becomes subject to Baha’i law and cannot enter into any more marriages. Even should one of his wives die or be divorced he cannot replace her unless the time comes when he is entirely without a wife; only then would he be free to marry again. (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 6 April 1994)
Heroes and martyrs, individuals drawn from every stratum of society, old people and young children, representatives of not only the Asiatic and European civilizations, but Africans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders and Eskimos, have swelled the ranks of pioneers, each in his own way and in his own part of the world, contributing to this glorious testimonial of belief in the Manifestation of God in this day. (Custodians, Ministry of the Custodians, p. 238)
On one occasion a pilgrim from Canada had informed the Guardian that in teaching the Faith to the Eskimo people it was very difficult for them to understand the meaning in such similes as the nightingale and the rose because these things were entirely unknown to them. The reaction of Shoghi Effendi to this was typical. When he said good-bye to this friend he gave her a small vial of the Persian attar of rose, the quintessence of what a rose is, and told her to anoint the Eskimos with it, saying that perhaps in this way they would get an inkling of what Bahá’u’lláh meant when He wrote of the rose. (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, p. 58)
Constantly remembering ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words in the Tablets of the Divine Plan to “give great importance to teaching the Indians, i.e., the aborigines of America” Shoghi Effendi pursued this objective until the last months of his life, when he wrote, in July 1957, to the Canadian National Assembly, that the “long overdue conversion” of the American Indians, the Eskimos and other minorities, should receive such an impetus “as to astonish and stimulate the members of all Bahá’í communities throughout the length and breadth of the Western Hemisphere. (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, p. 188)
I’d like to start with a personal reflection on courage, written when I was on a travel teaching trip to Nunavut, in Canada’s arctic.
I had a dream about a cougar, which symbolizes courage. Richard Hastings, a Bahá’í who analyzes dreams suggested in part:
The cougar is a symbol of being courageous and independent. So you are trying to take back your courage and independence. You can bring the cougar inside of you as if you are a cougar. The exercise would be to bring the cougar inside as if you were a cougar and then feel and see and hear what that is like, then use it. The goal is be a cougar with pure intentions. When you can let go of physical concerns, bring the resources inside of you and use them, then amazing things will happen.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:
Take courage! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 30)
I realized that I don’t know much about courage, though I think my life has been a courageous one in many ways, so I’m curious about what the Bahá’í Writings can shed on this concept and invite you along on my exploration.
The first quote that comes to mind is:
The source of courage and power is the promotion of the Word of God, and steadfastness in His Love. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 155)
I have this one memorized but I realize now, that there are 2 parts to the quote:
- Promotion of the word of God
- Steadfastness in His love
This trip has not been one of teaching, curiously enough, given that I’m on a travel teaching trip! Instead it’s been one of learning about love.
Before coming here, I was feeling unloved, unloveable and pretty sorry for myself! Single, alone and lonely! God had systematically removed every significant relationship from my life through estrangement and divorce (parents, siblings, spouse, significant others and son). Nothing I did to try to bring unity back into these relationships seemed to matter.
Since everything I read suggested we need relationships to heal, and I didn’t have any, I asked God to show me I was loved and loveable. And look what He did for me! He brought me to Rankin Inlet, in the middle of a polar desert, to show me how much I’m loved!
He’s used relationships with Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í friends and acquaintances around the globe, who follow my adventure on Facebook and on my blog, to prove my worth! Every day people call to pray with me; send words of encouragement through phone, email and Facebook; and send presents to meet my most basic of needs for warmth and vision – the physical mirroring the spiritual! It’s amazing, awe-inspiring, humbling and I am grateful!
Since coming here, there are many ways God shows me I’m loved every day; which helps me trust His love so I can stay steadfast in it, which is one source of courage I’m working on, and it’s unfolding easily and effortlessly and I am grateful!
The first part of the quote is much harder! Much, much harder!
Although on the one hand, there are many ways to teach the Faith, and I’m doing a lot, it never feels like it’s enough of the right kinds of teaching. I can be really quick to judge myself for not doing more direct teaching in my own neighborhoods, whether at home or here in this community.
Fortunately I’m in good company, as even the Bab didn’t think He was doing enough of the right things!
I beg Thee to forgive me, O my Lord, for every mention but the mention of Thee, and for every praise but the praise of Thee, and for every delight but delight in Thy nearness, and for every pleasure but the pleasure of communion with Thee, and for every joy but the joy of Thy love and of Thy good-pleasure, and for all things pertaining unto me which bear no relationship unto Thee. (The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 79)
My goal in coming here was threefold:
- To maintain a Bahá’í presence in an Inuit community while the only Bahá’í leaves for 10 weeks
- To have an adventure
- To have a writer’s retreat
This is clear in my mind; and clear with the pioneer and those then are my marching orders.
So what then is courage in this situation, and what does being a cougar look like?
I keep coming back to the fact that I need more courage to promote the word of God; and that the only way I get it is to teach the Faith directly. Is that an accurate reading of this quote? Is that coming from my lower nature to “beat me up” or from my higher nature?
As a Bahá’í-inspired life coach I would ask a client which felt better, and I have to say that in my heart of hearts, I know that God is happy with what I am doing and is giving me exactly what I need; guiding me to what’s good for me and for this community and I can let go of any expectations to do more than what I’m doing right now. My biggest job on this trip is to learn about His love as the source of my courage.
It’s good that another thing my dream is teaching me is to be independent, because the relationship between steadfastness in God’s love as a source of courage is certainly not out there in the larger community!
Let’s look at another quote:
Whatever decreaseth fear increaseth courage. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 32)
I like this one too, because it brings me back to love. How you ask? ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:
It was the Love of God that . . . gave to Moses courage and patience. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 82)
But more importantly, as Bahá’u’lláh tells us in the Four Valleys, love and fear can’t exist in the same heart:
Love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear. (Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, p. 58)
So it seems to me that God is telling us that love, by decreasing fear, increases courage.
Feeling unloved by my parents, siblings, spouse, significant others and child has been the way God has used to teach me to turn to Him for love instead of seeking it in human beings:
I have detached myself from my kindred and have sought through Thee to become independent of all that dwell on earth and ever ready to receive that which is praiseworthy in Thy sight. (The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 21)
OK, I confess, I didn’t consciously detach myself from my kindred! I went kicking and screaming! But eventually I gave up and accepted what is, realizing:
We . . . turn nowhere for a haven but unto Thy safekeeping. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 22)
I came to realize that since the very purpose of our lives is nothing less than to know God and to worship Him, something had to happen so I could attain my purpose:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. (Bahá’u’lláh, Short Obligatory Prayer, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3)
So to get back to the topic of courage, I can’t get courage without turning to God:
Strive as much as ye can to turn wholly toward the Kingdom, that ye may acquire innate courage and ideal power. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 206)
Once I learn to have love on the inside, and courage on the outside, I need to bring it inside myself, to calm the parts of me who aren’t feeling so courageous:
May you be a source of courage to the affrighted one. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 425)
Enough about me. Let’s take this quote to you, my readers.
As we’re learning, courage has 2 parts:
Promotion of the Word of God:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá gives us a clear link between courage and teaching and shows what we need to do:
Rest assured that the breathings of the Holy Spirit will loosen thy tongue. Speak, therefore; speak out with great courage at every meeting. When thou art about to begin thine address, turn first to Bahá’u’lláh, and ask for the confirmations of the Holy Spirit, then open thy lips and say whatever is suggested to thy heart; this, however, with the utmost courage, dignity and conviction. It is my hope that from day to day your gatherings will grow and flourish, and that those who are seeking after truth will hearken therein to reasoned arguments and conclusive proofs. I am with you heart and soul at every meeting; be sure of this. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 269)
A perfect story to illustrate this is:
Abdul-Bahá tested both the faith and courage of many of the Baha’is He met and Corinne True was one He really challenged. First, He had put her in charge of the Temple project, a woman dealing with many men. Then, as they stood at the train station before He left for Minneapolis, Abdul-Bahá told her, “Mrs. True, I want you to speak in public. I want you to tell the people about the faith.” This completely floored Corinne and she objected, saying, “But Master, I can’t do it; I have no training, no experience. I’m too frank.” “The faith”, she Thought, “had many gifted speakers, but she didn’t consider herself to be one of them.” Knowing what she was frantically thinking, Abdul-Bahá told her how to do it: “Forget what you can’t do. Stand up and turn your heart wholly toward Me. Look over the heads of the audience and I’ll never fail you.” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 195)
And another good one:
To another He said: “Man is like a bird in a cage. A bird cannot attain freedom merely by knowing that in the free world there are pure breezes, spacious skies, beautiful gardens, pleasant parks and fountains; rather, the bird must find the power to break the cage and soar into the wide firmament.” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 205)
I can really use stories like these to beat myself up. While valid for many people, at many times, I don’t think this is what God’s calling on me to do on this trip. This isn’t what God wants from me right now. That’s not what “steadfastness in His love” looks like for me.
Steadfastness in His Love
‘Abdu’l-Bahá lovingly reminds us of the relationship between tests, persecutions and calamities as a way to acquire courage.
Consider thou the lives of the former sanctified souls; what tests have they not withstood and what persecutions have they not beheld; while they were surrounded with calamities they increased their firmness and while they were overwhelmed with tests they manifested more zeal and courage. Be thou also like unto them. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 302)
For years I’ve been trying to overcome a lifetime of tests, by learning to apply the “divine remedy” to my healing, and as Bahá’u’lláh reminds us, nothing short of a mystic transformation can turn agitation into peace; doubt into certitude and timidity into courage.
It is evident that nothing short of this mystic transformation could cause such spirit and behaviour, so utterly unlike their previous habits and manners, to be made manifest in the world of being. For their agitation was turned into peace, their doubt into certitude, their timidity into courage. Such is the potency of the Divine Elixir, which, swift as the twinkling of an eye, transmuteth the souls of men! (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 156-157)
It has and I am grateful!
By “following the instructions, I have been able to rid myself of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and as a result no longer have TMJ (grinding teeth at night). And I am grateful!
But having faith, patience and courage is only the beginning!
Only have faith, patience and courage — this is but the beginning, but surely you will succeed, for God is with you! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 101)
Surely you will succeed because God is with you! I love God’s promises!
For More in this Series:
What is Fear?
What are we Afraid Of?
Reactions to Fear
Fight, Flight or Freeze
Doubt and Fear
What is the Purpose of Fear?
What about the Fear of God?
What Makes us Susceptible to Fear?
Understanding the Link Between Fear and Sin
Overcoming Fear – Introduction
Overcoming Fear By Turning to God
Overcoming Fear with Prayer
Overcoming Fear By Reading the Writings
Overcoming Fear By Focusing on the Virtues
Overcoming Fear Through Love
Overcoming Fear with Faith
Overcoming Fear with Patience
Overcoming Fear through Teaching and Service
Overcoming Fear By Changing your Thoughts
Overcoming Fear through Forgiveness
Overcoming Fear through Using Role Models
Overcoming Fear through Tests and Difficulties
What Can Others Do, To Help Those Who Are Afraid?
Prayers to Eliminate Fear
This is what I’m learning about courage. What can you add to the discussion? Post your comments here:
by Rachel Perry
Recently I was considering the possibility of short term pioneering, but was unable to fulfill my intent. I was consulting with my dear friend and life coach Rachel Perry (yes, even life coaches need to be coached!). She sent me the following email and it was so wise and filled with a perspective on pioneering I hadn’t considered before, that I wanted to share it with my readers. Here is her email:
As you know from having met me, my desire to physically dwell in a location that is a benefit to the Cause is strong as well. So you can imagine that when I was given the opportunity recently to move across the country I thought it would be good to re-locate as a pioneer. In my prayers and meditations around this topic, my soul continued to prompt me to not travel as a pioneer. Instead, I was guided to focus on my health and well-being, to put my focus on being an effective parent, to put my attention on developing a strong co-parenting partnership with my ex-husband, and even…to enjoy the companionship of a new relationship. It didn’t make sense to me at the time. But I followed the “song of my heart” and gave up the role as pioneer in order to give my attention to my little divided family, and my health.
What I found when I got here was that everything was tested! In every way I was tested! My skills and character as a mother were tested because my daughter went into crisis that lasted several months and I had to be there for her as a parent in a way I had never done before. My skills and character as a co-parent were tested because I was forced to live temporarily with my ex-husband and I challenged myself to do so in a way that was peaceful and nourishing for my daughter. I was also tested as a Baha’i since I found that I was falling deeply, deeply in love with a person who was not a Baha’i and finding balance in this relationship was like trying to navigate a ship in a storm. Baha’u’llah’s plan for me, which I clearly see now, was internal spiritual development, and not community development – which is what I would have achieved if I would have been “pioneering.”
Having gone through these momentous tests, I find myself a new person. I find myself completely transformed. I find myself healthier, stronger, more balanced than I have ever been in my life. I find myself being the person I had always hoped I would be. This could not have been achieved if I had pioneered because when we pioneer externally, our focus is on sacrificing ourselves for the sake of our new community. In my situation, I see now that what was needed was careful consideration of myself because there were some very significant things about myself that I needed to learn about and develop. My sacrifice was that I surrendered the bounties that come to pioneers; however, I found that I was rewarded with tremendous insight into myself and my life path.
That being said, still there is this deep calling in my soul and it says to me “You are a pioneer. You are a pioneer. You are a pioneer.” How am I a pioneer? I know the answer now. I share this because maybe it will be meaningful for you too.
It starts with a dream I had when I got here – briefly, the dream was that I had a bone-deep wound on my left hand that went across the base of my middle finger and my ring finger. It was horrifically painful. At first no one would take me to the hospital, but finally I got there and then no doctor would help me. Finally a character from my favourite TV show approached me and he said he could help. He took me into a room and began applying a balm that eased the pain. Richard’s interpretation of this dream (which had more details which I have omitted for brevity’s sake) was that the wound represented the issue with my marriage – on the on one hand I have to cooperate with a man who I’m not married to anymore for the sake of raising our daughter well, and on the other hand I want to say “back off” because of the difficulties that we have. The dream is telling me that I am healed and healing is no longer needed, so now the next stage of development is actually in my character (thus an actor relieving the pain and not a doctor).
This makes so much sense to me! Yes, and it has given me a guiding light throughout the tests that I had in the 4 months after the dream.
So, how does all this relate to pioneering? It relates because:
1. Not everyone is willing to sacrifice pleasure in order for character development (which is what happens when we choose to follow the Writings and the Law of God – we know it is good for our character development even though it may be difficult or hurt)
2. Not everyone that tries is successful
3. Not everyone that is successful is conscious of the whole process and why it is significant to the spiritual advancement of the human race
4. Not everyone who is conscious of it’s significance to the human race has the passion and skills for talking and writing about it
5. Not everyone who has the writing and speaking skills wants to use them in the promotion of character development or knows how to use them (for example, how the Internet can be of assistance in teaching the Faith)
THEREFORE…….It is my life path to keep making these sacrifices in order to develop my character so that I can continue writing about it and continue to teach other people how to do it too…and this is pioneering into the land of my inner self which is just as important as pioneering into the land of the earth because with the treasures that I find and bring to the surface I can empower an entire generation….
WHICH BRINGS ME TO MY SECOND POINT ….the question becomes this….”why is it so important to develop my character and tell people about it?” the answer is this…..not everyone knows that developing our character brings us closer to God, and not everyone knows that the closer we get to God the more receptive we become to discovering Baha’u’llah,…..so this is a very important message to share…..but not only that….now we have the tools to use to share a message to a more far reaching demographic than ever, ever, ever before.
With the Internet, an entire generation is being transformed. We can share a message, easily, and within seconds it can be delivered to ANY ANY ANY place on the globe! That is just amazing. And when we share our message, via the Internet, we are “traveling” to that place and spreading our message. So, when we send our words to China, to Australia, to Japan, to India, to France, to Africa, via the Internet we are doing what Abud’l-Baha longed to do when He said He wanted to travel to every place on the globe to share the Message of the Baha’i Faith and when we do it for Him then we are fulfilling His wish.
In this time, Susan, everywhere we live on the globe matters. Being a Baha’i and living anywhere matters because we live in a time when the whole world is connected.
So to summarize – I am pioneering when:
- I chose to develop my character by following the Writings of Baha’u’llah and the promptings of my soul guiding me to manifesting my greatness – my True Self.
- I observe the process and write about it for sharing.
- I use the Internet to promote the experience for the benefit of others so that they too may become aware of the process and continue to make positive changes in themselves and their lives towards inner and outer peace.
So few have ever done this before because the Internet is just brand new and the opportunities before us are brand new too, as a woman, as a single mother, as a Baha’i. Never before in the history of the world have there ever been the opportunities available to Baha’is. We are on the forefront of a huge transformation and the Internet is an integral part of this evolution. Not the only part, but a big part.
When I accepted that this form of pioneering is just as important as physically moving somewhere I found a deeper level of acceptance with myself and my life path. And the thought occurred to me that if my writing is successful, and if my speaking becomes as motivational as I feel it can be, then I will indeed find opportunities to travel all over the globe and I can perform service when in these areas and I can choose to have short or long term pioneer posts at any time of my choice. But first, I have to develop my character, and write about it, and promote it…and then when I pioneer physically my message and my teaching efforts will be much more effective in transforming the hearts of men.
When the most recent Ridván message is read with this in mind, it becomes a very inspiring message to keep doing what we are doing.
How have you pioneered to the land of your inner self? Post your comments here: