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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

Shoghi Effendi: A Bridge to the World

Shoghi Effendi, 1 Mar, 1897 – 4 Nov, 1957. (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

The year was 1922, and a young Iranian man, only 24 years old, had arrived at the foot of the Swiss Alps. His face was round and young, but his eyes were old and heavy with worry.

His name was Shoghi Effendi, and just weeks earlier, he had learned the news that his beloved Grandfather had died, and it now fell to him to lead a nascent, embattled religion. He had come to the Alps to, in his words, “conquer, himself that is, to come to terms with the end of the sort of life that most of us are familiar with, before taking up the mantle of authority of the most precious institution the world had ever known. Continue reading

To Live to Teach: Keith Ransom-Kehler

Keith Ransom-Kehler (February 14, 1876 – October 23, 1933)

After returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines and the beloved Guardian in 1926, Keith Ransom-Kehler, penned a letter to the National Convention of the Baha’is of the United States and Canada. She had witnessed first hand the terrible burden with which the Guardian was weighed down in the form of hundreds of letters from the American Baha’is expressing criticism of each other. She wrote, “Any one of us is ready to die for [Shoghi Effendi]” and then asked rhetorically, “but can we conscientiously number ourselves among those who are willing to live for him?”

Shoghi Effendi would later write, “The Cause at present does not need martyrs who would die for the faith, but servants who desire to teach and establish the Cause throughout the world. To live to teach in the present day is like being martyred in those early days. It is the spirit that moves us that counts, not the act through which that spirit expresses itself; and that spirit is to serve the Cause of God with our heart and soul.”

Keith Ransom-Kehler would come to be one of those who could indeed “conscientiously number [herself] among those who are willing to live for him”. Thus, though she died quietly in Isfahan, Iran, of illness and exhaustion at the age of 57, she was declared by the Guardian to be the first American martyr to give her life for the Faith. Additionally, on the day after her death, on 24 October 1933, she was elevated to the rank of Hand of the Cause of God. She was the first woman so appointed. Continue reading

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

Searching for the Footsteps of Abdu’l-Baha

In 1912, Abdu’l-Bahá spent from April to December touring North America. He is shown here (at center) with Bahá’ís at Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois, USA. [Photo: Baha'i Media Bank]

In a small breakfast restaurant in downtown Chicago I received a jolt, a surprising reminder of what was really important to me.

“That’s a nice ring,” a young African-American waiter said to me, after glancing at my Baha’i ring with its symbols of unity, the fundamental principle of the Baha’i Faith.

It was the first time that anybody had ever commented on it, and the remark came when there was strong competition for my attention.

In the final two weeks of the 2012 presidential election campaign, the media drumbeat was increasing in intensity as the people of the United States were subjected to special pleading to win their votes.

It was a fascinating and important time to be in that country, but the young man’s inquiry reminded me that the eternal realities, the things of the spirit are far more enduring and significant than current contests for political power.

The many personalities being promoted for political purposes seemed almost one dimensional in my eyes compared with one who had visited the United States in 1912.

I left the restaurant, and as planned, took the train to Wilmette where 100 years ago, the head of the Baha’i Faith, Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921), laid the cornerstone for a Temple that is now one of the most outstanding architectural features of a city that is deservedly famous for its buildings. 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

What Makes a Person Great: A Tribute to Dr. Peter Khan

Dr. Peter Khan 1936 - 2011

When a person of the caliber of Dr Peter Khan passes away, it is not only a time to grieve but also a time to reflect on what makes a person “great”.

In this context we are not using the word “great” as often applied to a sporting star, musician or actor. In such cases, the assessment is usually based on a limited range of unusually developed attributes. Nor are we talking about the merely famous. Journalists, friends and family know that these folk often have feet of clay.

To be a truly great person, in my opinion, requires a much wider range of qualities, always including those of personal integrity or “goodness”. Such people might include Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Dalai Lama.

To call someone “great” should not, however, imply a spiritual judgement. That is not ours to make – nobody has any idea of a person’s spiritual potential or the extent to which they have fulfilled it. However,  the general consensus among those who heard, met or worked with Dr Khan is that he was, unquestionably, a great man who lived an inspiring life.

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