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.

"When I was here yesterday he said I felt a power, an influence that I had felt once before in my life, when for a period of three months I was continually in communion with God. I felt during that time like one moving in a rarefied atmosphere of light and beauty. My heart was afire with love for the supreme Beloved, I felt at peace, at one with all my fellow-men. Yesterday when I left you I went alone down the Champs Elysees, the air was warn and heavy, not a leaf was stirring, when suddenly a wind struck me and whirled around me, and in that wind a voice said, with an indescribable sweetness and penetration, 'Christ has come again! Christ has come again!' "

With wide startled eyes he looked at me and asked if I thought he had gone crazy. "No," I said smiling, "you are just becoming sane."

What hours we spent together; how readily he grasped the full import of the Message; how his thirsty soul drank in every word; I told him of the youthful Bab , His exalted Mission, His early martyrdom, of the thousands of martyrs in whose sacred blood the Faith was established; I told him of Baha’u’llah, the Blessed Beauty Who upon the world as the Sun of eternity, Who had given to mankind the law of God for this age – the consummation of all past ages and cycles.

I gave him all the little we had to read, and told him of my visit to the Prison of ‘Akka, the days spent in the presence of the Master, until his heart was filled with such longing that all his former life was swept away, he gave up his journey, canceled his plans, and had but one hope in life, to be permitted to go himself and behold the face of ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

At that time a young Baha’i, Herbert Hopper, had received permission to go to ‘Akka, thus they planned to travel together, and Thomas Breakwell wrote the fallowing supplication to the Master.

"My Lord, I believe, forgive me,
Thy servant Thomas Breakwell."

In its depth and simplicity this petition was characteristic of his whole short and vivid life, although not until later did I learn the full significance of his appeal for forgiveness.

I Wrote the Master enclosing the words of Breakwell, begging Him to send his reply to Port Said, to which Port these two young pilgrims eagerly embarked.

That evening I went to the Concierge of our apartment to get my mail, and there lay a little blue cablegram from 'Abdu'l-Baha! With what wonder and awe I read His Words. "You may leave Paris at any time!" Thus by implicit and unquestioning obedience in the face of all opposition the Master’s Will had been fulfilled, and I had been the link in the chain of His mighty purpose.

My feet were winged as I returned to tell the good news to Mrs. Jackson, and to prepare to leave the following morning.

How gratefully my heart dwells on the divine compassion of the Master, on the joy and wonder of my mother as I told her everything, and when she read the Master's cablegram she burst into tears and exclaimed, “You have, indeed, a wonderful Master.”

When in the autumn we gathered once more in Paris, the influence of Breakwell made itself felt in ever widening circle of friends.

Those days in the Prison of ‘Akka, when the Master's all consuming love and perfect wisdom had produced that mystic change of heart and soul which enabled him to rapidly free himself from all earthly entanglement, and to passionately attach himself to the world of reality, brought great fruits to the Faith.

He had become the guiding star of our group, his calmness and strength, his intense fervor, his immediate and all penetrating grasp of the vast import to mankind in this age of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, released among us forces which constituted a new Epoch in the Cause in France. In the meetings he spoke with a simplicity and eloquence which won the hearts and the souls, and the secret of his potent influence lay in his supreme recognition of the Manifestation of God in the Bab and in Baha’u’llah, and of the sublime Center of the Covenant, ‘Abdu'l-Baha. Not by reason but by faith did he triumph.

When he and Herbert Hopper arrived in the Prison of 'Akka, they were ushered into a spacious room, at one end of which stood a group of men in oriental garb. Herbert Hopper's face became irradiated with the joy of instant recognition, but Breakwell discerned no one in particular among these men. Feeling suddenly ill and weak, he seated himself near a table, with a sense of crushing defeat. Wild and desperate thoughts rushed through his mind, his first great test, for without such tests the soul will never be unveiled.

Sitting thus he bitterly lamented: Why had he come here? Why had he abandoned his projected journey and come to this remote prison, seeking – he knew not what? Sorrow and despair filled his heart, when suddenly a door opened, and in that opening he beheld what seemed to him the rising Sun. So brilliant was this orb, so intense the light that he sprang to his feet and saw approaching him out of this dazzling splendor the form of ‘Abdu'l-Baha.

He seldom mentioned this experience which transformed and transfigured his life. In the course of his interview with the Master, he told Him briefly of his position in the cotton mills of the South, his large salary, his responsibility, and his sudden conviction of sin, for he said, "These mills are run on child labor." The Master looked at him gravely and sadly for a while, and then said, "Cable your resignation." Relieved of a crushing burden, Breakwell eagerly obeyed, and with one blow cut all his bridges behind him.

He seemed to have no care for his future, burning like a white light in the darkness of Paris, he served his fellow-men with a power and passion to the last breath of his life.

So abandoned was he to the mighty creative forces latent in the revelatian of Baha’u’llah, that he was moved spontaneously in the smallest actions of his daily life to pour out that spirit of love and oneness to all.

Well I remember the day we were crossing a bridge over the Seine on the top of a bus, when he spied an old woman laboriously pushing an apple-cart up an incline; excusing himself with a smile, he climbed down off the bus, joined the old woman, and in the most natural way put his hands on the bar and helped her over the bridge. The rock foundation on which the Baha’i Revelation rests, "the oneness of mankind," had penetrated his soul like an essence, taking on every form of human relationship, imbuing him with an insight and penetration into human needs, an intense sympathy and genuine love which made him a hope and refuge to all. Those afflicted with sorrow and difficulties, beset with human problems, were drawn to him as to a magnet, and left him with shining eyes and uplifted head.

He was the first in the West to pay the Huquq, the tithes of the Baha’i Religion, and living in a cheap and distant part of Paris he walked miles to the meetings and to the homes of friends to save his fare and make his contribution to the diffusion of the teachings.

Although we were fellow Baha’is and devoted friends, with everything in common, yet when he came to our home he gave his whole loving attention to my beautiful Mother, with but a scant word for me, yet as he took my hand in farewell, he slipped a little folded note into my palm with words of cheer and comfort, usually Words of Baha’u’llah. He knew well secret of imparting happiness, and, was the very embodiment of the Master's Words, "The star of happiness is in every heart. We must remove the veils, so that it may shine forth radiantly." He burned with such a fire of love that his frail body seemed to be gradually consumed; he in the deepest sense shed his life for the Cause by which he was enthralled, and in a few brief months shattered the cage of existence and abandoned this mortal world. His traces are imperishable, his spirit, alive forevermore with the Attributes of God, lives, not alone in the hearts and memories of Baha’is, but is welded into the very structure of the World Order, which has arisen an the foundation of such lives.
(The Baha’i World, volume 7)

Tablet of Visitation for Thomas Breakwell – Revealed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha
(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha pp. 187-189)

Grieve thou not over the ascension of my beloved Breakwell, for he hath risen unto a rose garden of splendours within the Abha Paradise, sheltered by the mercy of his mighty Lord, and he is crying at the top of his voice: 'O that my people could know how graciously my Lord hath forgiven me, and made me to be of those who have attained His Presence!'

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
Where now is thy fair face? Where is thy fluent tongue? Where thy clear brow? Where thy bright comeliness?

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
Where is thy fire, blazing with God's love? Where is thy rapture at His holy breaths? Where are thy praises, lifted unto Him? Where is thy rising up to serve His Cause?

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
Where are thy beauteous eyes? Thy smiling lips? The princely cheek? The graceful form?

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
Thou hast quit this earthly world and risen upward to the Kingdom, thou hast reached unto the grace of the invisible realm, and offered thyself at the threshold of its Lord.

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
Thou hast left the lamp that was thy body here, the glass that was thy human form, thy earthy elements, thy way of life below.

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
Thou hast lit a flame within the lamp of the Company on high, thou hast set foot in the Abha Paradise, thou hast found a shelter in the shadow of the Blessed Tree, thou hast attained His meeting in the haven of Heaven.

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
Thou art now a bird of Heaven, thou hast quit thine earthly nest, and soared away to a garden of holiness in the kingdom of thy Lord. Thou hast risen to a station filled with light.

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
Thy song is even as birdsong now, thou pourest forth verses as to the mercy of thy Lord; of Him Who forgiveth ever, thou wert a thankful servant, wherefore hast thou entered into exceeding bliss.

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
Thy Lord hath verily singled thee out for His love, and hath led thee into His precincts of holiness, and made thee to enter the garden of those who are His close companions, and hath blessed thee with beholding His beauty.

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
Thou hast won eternal life, and the bounty that faileth never, and a life to please thee well, and plenteous grace.

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
Thou art become a star in the supernal sky, and a lamp amid the angels of high Heaven; a living spirit in the most exalted Kingdom, throned in eternity.

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
I ask of God to draw thee ever closer, hold thee ever faster; to rejoice thy heart with nearness to His presence, to fill thee with light and still more light, to grant thee still more beauty, and to bestow upon thee power and great glory.

O Breakwell, O my dear one!
At all times do I call thee to mind. I shall never forget thee. I pray for thee by day, by night; I see thee plain before me, as if in open day.

O Breakwell, O my dear one!