December 27, 2009

Thomas Breakwell – ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s “dear one”; "the first English believer"

(by May Maxwell)

How poignant are the records of the early days of the Baha'i Faith in the West, when the freshness and beauty of the spiritual Springtime awakened the souls and led them, quickened and aflame to the knowledge of Baha’u’llah, often to the very Presence of ‘Abdu'l-Baha in the Prison of ‘Akka. Such is the record, the divine significance of the conversion of Thomas Breakwell, a young Englishman living in the Southern States of America, holding an important position in a cotton mill, spending his long summer vacations in Europe. During his vacation of 1891 he crossed on the steamer with Mrs. M., and as she found him interested in Theosophy she mentioned a group of friends in Paris whom she said were interested in kindred subjects. Although she knew nothing of the Baha’i teaching and had closed her ears to its message, yet she was impelled to bring this youth to see me on their arrival. I was at that time in a small apartment connected with the beautiful home of Mrs. Jackson – which she had placed at my disposal, when my family had left for the summer.

My dear Mother -- although broad and fine in all matters, had resented my constant work in the service of the Baha'i Cause, especially since my pilgrimage to the Prison of ‘Akka, and when ‘Abdu'l-Baha had refused, at her urgent appeal, to permit me to accompany her during the summer to Brittany, saying that I must on no account absent myself from Paris, my unhappy and indignant Mother had closed our home and left me alone.

Thus it was on a lovely summer day that, in response to a knock I found Mrs. M. and Thomas Breakwell standing at my door, and my attention was riveted on this youth; of medium height, slender, erect and graceful, with intense eyes and an indescribable charm. As they entered, Mrs. M. said smiling, "He was a stranger and she took him in." We spoke together for about half an hour of Theosophy -- his work, his projected trip through Europe, and I discerned a very rare person of high standing and culture, simple, natural, intensely real in his attitude toward life and his fellowmen. Although no word of the divine Revelation was spoken, and he assumed I was interested in Theosophy, yet he studied me with a searching gaze, and as they left, he asked me if he might see me the following day. He arrived the next morning in a strangely exalted mood, no veil of materiality covered this radiant soul – his eyes burned with a hidden fire, and looking at me earnestly he asked if I noticed anything strange about him. Seeing his condition I bade him be seated, and reassured him, saying he looked very happy.

December 13, 2009

Howard Colby Ives – The Outstanding Promoter of the Faith

The life of Howard Colby Ives is a saga of the spirit. It was not its events but his interpretation of them that portrayed his genius. He had, it would seem, been born with a degree of awareness that made, even of ordinary existence, a swing between ecstasy and torture. God favored him in that He had bestowed upon him the grace of a martyr's heart: a head willing to bow, a spirit straining to soar.

Howard Ives in his spiritual autobiography "Portals to Freedom" divided his life sharply in two. The forty-six years before he met ‘Abdu'l-Baha he compares to the experience of a child of ten! He was horn in Brooklyn in 1867 and after the death of his father his family lived in Niagara Falls, N. Y., until Howard was seventeen and then returned again to Brooklyn. We hear of his spending many months on a ranch in Wyoming while overcoming a lung difficulty and are given a picture of a nineteen year old youth tending sheep on the mountain sides alone sometimes for weeks and writing poetry by the light of the moon. In 1902 he entered a Unitarian theological school at Meadville, Pennsylvania, and was graduated in 1905, 38 years of age. Of this period in his life his daughter Muriel Ives Barrow writes: