Thornton Chase, the First Western Baha'i, in his Study
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmete, Used With Permission

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Abdu'l-Baha, and Saffa and Vafa Kinney

Saffa and Vafa Kinney were pillars of the Faith, immensely blessed by the Master.  Edward was his birth name, but everyone knew him by the name the Master gave him, Saffa -- Serenity; and they called Carrie by the name the Master gave her, Vafa -- Certitude.

When Abdu'l-Baha's ship arrived in New York Harbor, and a multitude was awaiting Him on the dock, He asked Mr. Kinney to come on board, and He spoke with him.  Then He directed everyone to go to the Kinneys' home, and wait for Him there.  His first address on American soil was in the Kinney home:
How are you? Welcome! Welcome!
    After arriving today, although weary with travel, I had the utmost longing and yearning to see you and could not resist this meeting. Now that I have met you, all my weariness has vanished, for your meeting is the cause of spiritual happiness.
    I was in Egypt and was not feeling well, but I wished to come to you in America. My friends said, "This is a long journey; the sea is wide; you should remain here." But the more they advised and insisted, the greater became my longing to take this trip, and now I have come to America to meet the friends of God. This long voyage will prove how great is my love for you. There were many troubles and vicissitudes, but, in the thought of meeting you, all these things vanished and were forgotten.
    I am greatly pleased with the city of New York. Its harbor entrance, its piers, buildings and broad avenues are magnificent and beautiful. Truly, it is a wonderful city. As New York has made such progress in material civilization, I hope that it may also advance spiritually in the Kingdom and Covenant of God so that the friends here may become the cause of the illumination of America, that this city may become the city of love and that the fragrances of God may be spread from this place to all parts of the world. I have come for this. I pray that you may be manifestations of the love of Bahá'u'lláh, that each one of you may become like a clear lamp of crystal from which the rays of the bounties of the Blessed Perfection may shine forth to all nations and peoples. This is my highest aspiration.
    It was a long, long trip. The more we traveled, the greater seemed the expanse of the sea. The weather was brilliant and fine throughout; there was no storm and no end to the sea.
    I am very happy to meet you all here today. Praise be to God that your faces are shining with the love of Bahá'u'lláh. To behold them is the cause of great spiritual happiness. We have arranged to meet you every day at the homes of the friends.
    In the East people were asking me, "Why do you undertake this long voyage? Your body cannot endure such hardships of travel." When it is necessary, my body can endure everything. It has withstood forty years of imprisonment and can still undergo the utmost trials.
    I will see you again. Now I will greet each one of you personally. It is my hope that you will all be happy and that we may meet again and again.
Several important talks in the City of the Covenant recorded in The Promulgation of Universal Peace were in the Kinneys' home.

When the Master fell asleep on John Bosch's shoulder during an automobile drive in New York, that drive ended at the Kinneys' home.

When the Master told Howard MacNutt, who had followed Khayrullah and then came back to the Covenant, and for a bountiful reward was directed to compile all of the Master's addresses into The Promulgation of Universal Peace -- when the Master told Mr. MacNutt to go and tell the people, "I was like Saul, now I am Paul" -- that was at the Kinneys' house, as recounted here.

In the movie of Abdu'l-Baha at the MacNutt home in Brooklyn, Mr. Kinney and Mr. Getsinger at the beginning of the movie are together walking up the sidewalk after the Master does.

This experience of Howard Colby Ives was in the Kinneys' home:
Not long after that great first experience with 'Abdu'l-Bahá I was again talking with Him. It was in the beautiful home of Mr. and Mrs. Kinney, a family of the friends who seemed to feel that the gift of all which they possessed was too little to express their adoring love. Entering their home the roar of the city, the elegance and luxury of Riverside Drive, the poverty and wealth of our modern civilization all seemed to merge into a unity of nothingness and one entered an atmosphere of Reality. Those heavenly souls who thus demonstrated beyond any words their self-dedication had a direct influence upon my hesitating feet of which they could have had no suspicion. My heart throughout all worlds shall be filled with thankfulness to them.
    In this home I had become a constant habitue. I could not keep away. One day 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the interpreter and I were alone in one of the smaller reception rooms on the ground floor. 'Abdu'l-Bahá had been speaking of some Christian doctrine and His interpretation of the words of Christ was so different from the accepted one that I could not restrain an expression of remonstrance. I remember speaking with some heat:  "How is it possible to be so sure?" I asked. "No one can say with certainty what Jesus meant after all these centuries of misinterpretation and strife." He intimated that it was quite possible. It is indicative of my spiritual turmoil and my blindness to His station, that instead of His serenity and tone of authority impressing me as warranted it drove me to actual impatience. "That I cannot believe." I exclaimed. I shall never forget the glance of outraged dignity the interpreter cast upon me. It was as though he would say: "Who are you to contradict or even to question 'Abdu'l-Bahá!" But not so did 'Abdu'l-Bahá look at me. How I thank God that it was not! He looked at me a long moment before He spoke. His calm, beautiful eyes searched my soul with such love and understanding that all my momentary heat evaporated. He smiled as winningly as a lover smiles upon his beloved, and the arms of His spirit seemed to embrace me as He said softly that I should try my way and He would try His.
    It was as though a cool hand had been laid upon a fevered brow; as though a cup of nectar had been held to parched lips; as though a key had unlocked my hard-bolted, crusted and rusted heart. The tears started and my voice trembled, "I'm sorry," I murmured.
    Often since that day have I pondered on the tragic possibilities of the effect of an expression of the face. I have even thought I should like to write a book on The Glance that Saved the World, taking as a theme the way Jesus must have looked upon Peter after the three-fold denial. What could that glance have carried to the fear-stricken, doubting, angry Peter? Surely not the self-righteous, dignified look in the eyes of the interpreter for 'Abdu'l-Bahá. As surely it must have been something in the nature of the expression of all-embracing love, forgiveness and understanding with which 'Abdu'l-Bahá calmed and soothed and assured my heart.  ("Portals to Freedom," pp. 36 ff.)
Juliet Thompson records in her diary that during her Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1906, at which the Kinney family were fellow-pilgrims, these events occurred:
First, with a father's tender care, He came to the carriage with us and watched us start. At the house in Bahji He joined us in a cool, whitewashed room, its door and window-trimmings painted blue, the usual linen-covered divan lining its walls, under three wide windows. Outside stood wonderful trees, like still sentinels guarding the Tomb. Sanctity hung in the air, a brooding spirit. Nowhere else in the world is the beauty of nature so impregnated with the soul of Beauty, a reflection from another world. In the air of 'Akká and Carmel is -- Life.
    On a table was a single photograph, Lua's. Our Lord called me to sit by His side, then, pointing to the photograph, said: "Your friend!"
    I got it and placed it on a little table close to His elbow, between the couch where He sat and my own chair. As I did this His face lit up with a smile of heaven.
    Tea was brought in -- in the little clear glasses always used in 'Akká -- and He served us with His own hands. Then, seating Himself again on the divan, He called the four children who were with us: two of his own little grandsons (Shoghi Effendi and Ruhi) and the two Kinney boys, and with a lavish tenderness, a superabundance of overflowing love, such as could only have come from the very Centre and Source of Love, He drew all four to His knees, clasped them in His arms, which enclosed them all, gathered and pressed and crushed them to His Heart of hearts. Then He set them down on the floor and, rising, Himself brought their tea to them.
`Words absolutely fail me when I try to express the divine picture I saw then. With the Christ-love radiating from Him with the intensest sweetness I have yet witnessed, He stooped to the floor Himself to serve the little children, the children of the East and the children of the West. He sat on the floor in their midst, He put sugar into their tea, stirred it and fed it to them, all the while smiling celestially, an infinite tenderness playing on the great Immortal Face like white light. I cannot express it! In a corner sat an old Persian believer, in a state of complete effacement before his Lord, his head bowed, his eyelids lowered, his hands crossed on his breast. Tears were pouring down his cheeks.
Abdu'l-Baha and the Kinney family
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette
Used With Permission

During a meal during that Pilgrimage, Juliet writes:
He called Mr. Kinney's attention to the rice. "Rice. Rice," He said in English, "very good." Then looking at me and laughing: "She is smiling at My English!" "I smile because Your voice makes me happier than anything in the world."
    Soon, sensing my wish to speak to Him, only for the sake of speaking to Him: "Speak. Speak."
    But I had really nothing to say! I brought forth this: "Even this physical food is the best in the world."
"That is because of your intense love. A poison given by a friend is like honey. A Persian poet says: 'The poison which comes from  Thee to me is my antidote. A wound from Thee is remedy.' Certainly these physical dishes are tasteful to you because you have the greatest love."
    I supplicated that He might give me poison and wound me in His Cause, that I might be found worthy of this. "I will. When afflictions and bitter conditions taste sweet to man, this shows that he is favoured in the sight of God." Mr Kinney said: "I am not eating now, but my Master is feeding me." Our Lord: "I, Myself, am the Food." As He spoke His head was bowed, His hands upturned, like cups, in His lap. He sat, the embodiment of Divine humility. A great Mystery flooded the room, and a tremendous Power. "How like Jesus that sounds!" whispered Mr Kinney. "Jesus," said our Lord, His head still bowed, "was the Bread that came down from Heaven, but I am the Food prepared by the Blessed Beauty, Bahá'u'lláh."

Mr. Kinney recounted that the New York Spiritual Assembly met in the Kinney home: 
Mr Kinney: "The Board of Council has met for three years past in my studio and I am very proud of it."
Our Lord: "It is indeed worthy to be proud of. I hope your home may always be the place of the gatherings; that the beloved of God may always come together there, be engaged in commemoration of God, have heavenly talks and speak through the confirmation of the Holy Spirit. Your home will be one of the heavenly constellations, Insha'llah, and the stars will gather there."
Mr Kinney: "What could I ask for more?"
Our Lord: "There is nothing superior to this."

The Master permitted the Kinneys to remain as pilgrims in the Holy Land for eight months during 1906.  They asked Him for the privilege of returning the favor, imploring Him to visit America, and when He did, to stay as a guest in their home.  He did, and while in their home in New York He told Mrs. Kinney, "I am returning your visit, but while I am in your home I will be the host and you will be the guests."
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette
Used With Permission

On the occasion of Saffa Kinney's passing, Shoghi Effendi cabled to the Baha'i world:


"Saffa was so human."
(Statement by one of Saffa Kinney's friends after his passing.)

That beautiful scene recounted in Portals to Freedom (pp. 50 ff.), when Howard Colby Ives followed the Master up the stairs when the Master was so tired, and asked Him about Renunciation, was in the Kinneys' home.

One day the Master asked Saffa Kinney to walk with Him on Riverside Drive.  He stopped and looking deep in to Saffa's eyes asked in heart-piercing tones,
"Do you love Me?  Do you love Me?  Do you love Me?"

The next-to-last talk of the Master on America's shores was at the Kinneys' home:
I am greatly pleased with you all and rejoice that you have shown me the utmost kindness and affection. It is my desire that Bahá'u'lláh shall be pleased with you, that you may follow His precepts and become worthy of His confirmations. The requirements are that your minds must be illumined, your souls must be rejoiced with the glad tidings of God, you must become imbued with spiritual moralities, your daily life must evidence faith and assurance, your hearts must be sanctified and pure, reflecting a high degree of love and attraction toward the Kingdom of Abha. You must become the lamps of Bahá'u'lláh so that you may shine with eternal light and be the proofs and evidences of His truth. Then will such signs of purity and chastity be witnessed in your deeds and actions that men will behold the heavenly radiance of your lives and say, "Verily, ye are the proofs of Bahá'u'lláh. Verily, Bahá'u'lláh is the True One, for He has trained such souls as these, each one of which is a proof in himself." They will say to others, "Come and witness the conduct of these souls; come and listen to their words, behold the illumination of their hearts, see the evidences of the love of God in them, consider their praiseworthy morals, and discover the foundations of the oneness of humanity firmly implanted within them. What greater proof can there be than these people that the message of Bahá'u'lláh is truth and reality?" It is my hope that each one of you shall be a herald of God, proclaiming the evidences of His appearance, in words, deeds and thoughts. Let your actions and utterances be a witness that you are of the Kingdom of Bahá'u'lláh. These are the duties enjoined upon you by Bahá'u'lláh.
    Bahá'u'lláh endured the greatest hardships. He found neither rest by night nor peace by day. He was constantly under the stress of great calamity -- now in prison, now in chains, now threatened by the sword -- until finally He broke the cage of captivity, left this mortal world and ascended to the heaven of God. He endured all these tribulations for our sakes and suffered these deprivations that we might attain the bestowals of divine bounty. Therefore, we must be faithful to Him and turn away from our own selfish desires and fancies in order that we may accomplish that which is required of us by our Lord.
Abdu’l-Bahá seated in the Kinneys Home, New York City, 1912
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette
Used With Permission

Abdu’l-Bahá Farewell at New York Harbor, December 5, 1912
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette
Used With Permission


  1. What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing, Brent. ~Robert Sherrill

  2. Such an informative and inspiring blog. I'm so glad I was guided to it. We met when my wife and I were pioneering in Arizona, in Lukachukai.


  3. I enjoyed your article on the huffington post site, and enjoyed this blog as well. Hope to read more of your work soon. -Camille

  4. Mr. Poirier,

    I don't know how to reach you other than in this venue. I was wondering if you could help me out being so knowledgeable about the Baha'i Writings.

    Several years age I know I read something by 'Abdu'l-Bahá regarding the high station of the Sufi poet, Rumi. I've been searching and cannot find it.

    Do you know of such a quote?

    Appreciate any help you could give me.


  5. Hi Billy. I have heard that Abdu'l-Baha stated that because of Rumi God extended the duration of the Dispensation of Islam from 500 years to 1000 years (260 A.H. time of the 12th Imam, to 1260 A.H. = 1844 A.D. when the Bab declared). But I do not have a source for this, nor do I know whether it was a pilgrim's note or in a Tablet. I suggest you ask a knowledgeable Persian Baha'i.
    I have also read that at times Baha'u'llah would give a "zikr" -- a written remembrance, a verse to recite and reflect upon -- to various believers. Generally these would be verses from Baha'u'llah's own Writings, but sometimes from an earlier Scripture, and sometimes a verse from Rumi -- an extraordinary sign of respect, coming from the Manifestation (e.g. Memorials of the Faithful, p. 30. As you know Baha'u'llah quoted from Rumi in the Seven Valleys and in the Four Valleys, and Abdu'l-Baha quotes from Rumi in The Secret of Divine Civilization and in Memorials of the Faithful, as an Ocean search or search on will show.
    As for contacting me, I will put my email address on the bottom of this website; I should have done so previously. I urge you to do the same with your blogs, as I tried to contact you other than through this comment.
    Good to hear from you

  6. They were the spiritual fathers of Salomon Pacora Estrada (Pacora Blue Mountain), one of the first Bahá'í Peruvians. In the 1960s, Salomon was one of the pillars of the Baha'i community of Ecuador.