Remembering Dorothy Baker

Around the 12th of January 1954, a sodden purse was found on a seashore. The purse had belonged to a woman travelling on a flight from Rome to London. The plane had crashed into the sea two days earlier, killing all passengers on board. Inside the purse was a pamphlet with information about the Baha’i Faith. The pamphlet was given to her by another passenger – Dorothy Baker – moments before both the giver and recipient were killed. Thus to the very end of her life Dorothy Baker was sharing the Healing Message of Baha’u’llah. Her wish to “die in her runners” was fulfilled when she died, teaching the Faith and on the way to meet her husband at their international pioneering post, at the age of 55 years.

The inspiration of Dorothy Baker’s life lies not only in the service, sacrifice and spiritual qualities she shared with her fellow Hands of the Cause. Her story also inspires through the hope it offers to those of us who have had the privilege of knowledge of Baha’u’llah’s Teachings, but who have not yet allowed the Faith to move to the centre of our lives. For Dorothy’s transformation into the “distinguished Hand of the Cause, eloquent exponent of its teachings, indefatigable supporter of its institutions, valiant defender of its precepts”[1], as she was described by the Guardian she adored, was neither instant nor linear. In her early life, despite being the granddaughter of a staunch and renowned Baha’i – Mother Beecher – and despite meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at the critical age of thirteen years, she was at times distracted by the world around her. Continue reading

Ellen “Mother” Beecher: A Sheaf of Light

Ellen Tuller Beecher known affectionately as "Mother Beecher" (1840-1932)

In 1844 Siyyid Ali Muhammad, known to the world as the Bab, spent a quiet evening in His home, with Mulla Husayn. That evening, outwardly unnoticed, signified the birth of a new dispensation, era, and cycle in humanity’s history. Four years earlier, in the United States, a woman was born who was destined to become one of the spiritual progeny of the energy released into the world from that momentous conversation.

When, at the end of the 19th century, Ellen Tuller Beecher declared her belief in Baha’u’llah as the Manifestation of God for this Day, she was nearly 60 years old. At the time she was one of only several hundred individuals in the United States who were registered members of the Baha’i community. She immediately entered into correspondence with Abdu’l-Baha. Some of the letters from Him to Mother Beecher, as she came to be known, contain many well-known passages from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha regarding the importance of unity:  Continue reading

The Life of Effie Baker

Life of Effie Baker

Euphemia (Effie) Eleanor Baker, 25 March, 1880 – January 1, 1968.

As most of the world celebrates the new year, January 1st also commemorates the passing of someone special: Effie Baker. In fact, if you visit bahaullah.org (a wonderful photographic narrative of the life of Baha’u’llah) you’ll notice that many of the photographs of 1930’s Iran are credited to Effie Baker. A western Baha’i woman photographer in Iran in those days? I was a fish on a hook and needed to know more.

Effie (a nickname for Euphemia) Eleanor Baker was born 25 March, 1880 in Goldsborough, Australia. She was petite but energetic and had brown hair and blue eyes. Her childhood was spent with her grandparents in Ballarat. Her grandfather founded the Ballarat Observatory and if you visit it today, you can still see a specimen of his award-winning astronomical work: a 26 inch telescope called “The Baker”. Effie inherited an enthusiasm for science, a facility with technical instruments, and a keen observing eye from her grandfather. For a turn-of-the-century country girl, Effie was very well educated and when she wasn’t at school, she could be found exploring the countryside on a white pony named Nugget.

Effie studied and then worked as a visual artist. Armed with a formal understanding of colour, light and composition, Effie became enamored with photography. She also excelled at toy-making at a time when imported toys were scarce in Australia. In 1914 she published Australian Wild Flowers, a small volume of hand-painted photographs of local flora.

The turning point in her life was when she heard Hyde Dunn speak publicly about the Baha’i Faith in 1922. He and his wife Clara responded to the Master’s Tablets of the Divine Plan by moving to Australia two years prior. Effie noticed something radiant about Hyde’s face and during his talk, she wholeheartedly accepted the Faith. Continue reading

Leonora Armstrong: Spiritual Mother of South America

Leonora Holsapple Armstrong (June 23, 1895 – October 17, 1980) on board the S. S. Vasari bound for Brazil in 1921. (Photo: courtesy of Kristine Leonard Asuncion Young)

“Leonora, what are you waiting for? Go!” Those were the words of May Maxwell to Leonora Holsapple Armstrong. Leonora wanted to go pioneering to South America but her resolve weakened in the face of her friends’ and family’s concerns.

Leonora, like Dorothy Baker, learned of the Faith from her grandmother and she attended the 1919 Baha’i Convention in New York City when the Tablets of the Divine Plan were unveiled. She wrote to Abdu’l-Baha, expressing her wish to pioneer and be of service. In His reply, He “expressed the hope that she might become a ‘spiritual physician,’ and this hope of His became her highest aspiration.” Martha Root encouraged her to go to Argentina and she began studying Spanish but a contact in Brazil interested in the Faith made her change her plans.  Continue reading

‘The Calling’: A New Book About Tahirih

Hussein Ahdieh and Hillary Chapman have just released an insightful and exciting new book titled The Calling: Tahirih of Persia and Her American Contemporaries. This dynamic duo was behind Awakening: A History of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths in Nayriz and have most recently worked together to produce a captivating history of women’s suffrage and the women’s rights movement in both Iran and the United States in the 1840’s. Dr. Dorothy Marcic of Columbia University has praised the book with these words:

Moving back and forth between the two struggles in such distant lands, the authors skillfully illustrate the common themes of what might otherwise seem as disparate social phenomenon. The book reads smoothly, and the reader wants to keep turning the page to find out what happens. How unusual is such writing in a work as thoroughly researched and referenced as The Calling. Writing such as this is not easy, and yet the authors make it appear as effortless as an autumn leaf blowing in a chilly wind.

Hussein graciously agreed to tell us more about his new book and the history it uncovers.  Continue reading

Remembering Clara Dunn

Clara Dunn 12 May, 1869 – 18 Nov, 1960 (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

“Oh what an enormous duck! Oh what a wonderful duck! How splendid was this great big glorious duck!”

Clara Dunn was present on the occasion that ‘Abdu’l-Baha recounted a story of a person who spoke in such a manner.

Her humility and spiritual receptivity, combined with the fact that the Master was looking directly at her throughout the story, lead her to understand that the Master was counseling her to refrain from exaggeration and to speak with honesty and accuracy.

Clearly she learnt this spiritual lesson well, and many more, for in 1939 Shoghi Effendi gifted a copy of The Advent of Divine Justice to Clara Dunn and her husband Hyde Dunn, accompanied by a personal letter written by his secretary:

The tribute so abundantly and yet so deservedly paid by the Guardian in this unique epistle to your magnificent teaching services is assuredly destined to transmit to future Bahá’í generations, and in particular to the Bahá’í teachers & pioneers of succeeding centuries, such measure of inspiration and such example of the pioneer service as cannot but inspire and guide them to follow in your footsteps and emulate your noble example.

When ‘Abdu’l-Baha asked the Baha’is of North America to travel to remote climes to spread the Faith of Baha’u’llah, Clara and Hyde Dunn’s response was immediate. On 10 April 1920, Clara and Hyde Dunn arrived in Australia with the single purpose of establishing the Baha’i Faith in an area explicitly mentioned by the Master in the Tablets of the Divine Plan. So determined were they to go despite their age and lack of funds, that when challenged on the wisdom of their decision Hyde replied that “he would sooner die than not respond to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s call”. Continue reading

The Birth of Baha’u’llah

Tehran, Iran, the Birthplace of Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith. (Photo taken by Effie Baker in 1930. Courtesy: Baha’i Media Bank)

194 years ago, on 12 November 1817 in Tehran, Baha’u’llah was born.

As followers of Baha’u’llah’s faith, we are familiar with the profound wisdom of His writings and the dramatic events of His life. But there is a mystery that remains around His early years.

This is true of all other Manifestations of God too. I often marvel at the images of “baby Jesus” that we see in the ubiquitous nativity scenes every Christmas. It’s difficult to imagine that the Manifestations of God, who revealed teachings that revitalised entire human civilizations and who suffered the greatest tribulations while demonstrating the qualities of God, were once children!

Continue reading

New Zealand Celebrates 100 Years of the Baha’i Faith: A Personal Reflection

The first Baha’i Feast in New Zealand 1923. Hands of the Cause John Henry Hyde-Dunn and Clara Dunn are pictured in the back row, fourth and fifth from the left respectively.

For much of the world, New Zealand is known as the scenically spectacular location of the Lord of the Rings movies.

But for me it is the place of my birth and where I heard about a different lord, a nobleman named Baha’u’llah, who founded the Baha’i Faith.

This year, the New Zealand Baha’i community is celebrating its centenary, so by the late 1970s when I first encountered some of its members, the Baha’i Faith was well-established.  Continue reading

The Life of Martha Root

Martha Louise Root, Aug. 10, 1872 – Sept. 28, 1939. (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

If a fairy godmother appeared and guaranteed to fulfill one wish, for what would we wish? Would we wish to remove the wrinkles from around our eyes or dimples from around our thighs, for gender equality, racial unity or world peace?

Perhaps the wish that arches over and informs all other wishes is to achieve, through our thoughts, words and actions, the good-pleasure of God, whatever form that might take for each of us.

As we take the time to remember and reflect on the life of Martha Root, we know we are looking at someone for whom that wish came true. While there were certainly angelic hosts involved, there was no fairy godmother. There was a small middle-aged woman with poor health, restricted financial means and limited worldly power. The magic wand was a heart filled with the love of God and a willingness to sacrifice everything in the path of that love.

Martha Root was 36 years old when she embraced the Faith of Baha’u’llah in 1909. She was taught the Faith by Hand of the Cause, Roy Wilhelm (before his appointment as a Hand of the Cause) and the first American believer Thornton Chase. Three years later, as both an adoring follower and as a journalist, she travelled with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá through several eastern states of America, deepening her understanding of profound spiritual truths and documenting His travels. She was privileged to have two private audiences with the Master during that period. Continue reading

Create in Me a Pure Heart: An Interview with Luke Slott

Create in Me a Pure Heart, Luke Slott

The “Create in me a pure heart” prayer by Baha’u’llah has long been one of my favourite prayers for spiritual growth. Whenever I read this prayer, my mind is drawn to the beauty of its imagery, and regardless of how I was feeling when I began reading the prayer, I begin to feel a profound tranquility.

Luke Slott’s beautiful musical rendition of this prayer is befitting and always reminds me of one of my favourite lines from the prayer: “Let Thine everlasting melodies breathe tranquility on me”.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover that Luke’s rendition of Create in Me a Pure Heart is merely part of a larger project: an album of devotional music! (Not to mention the beautiful album artwork by Shirin Sahba!)

I decided to catch up with Luke to find out more about his devotional album, his future plans, as well as his thoughts on being a Baha’i musician.

Baha’i Blog: So tell us a bit more about yourself and how you started making music.

When I was 12 years old, my father, who was a jazz trumpet player, gave me a gift of one of his trumpets and started giving me lessons. After about a year of teaching me at home, my dad insisted that I get a classical music education at an established institute. So I enrolled for trumpet lessons at the College of Music & Drama in Dublin. Around the same time, I started taking piano lessons at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and guitar lessons with a local teacher. In my teens, I started writing songs and for a few years I played in a rock band with some school friends. Continue reading