From Chapter VII of The Dawnbreakers, “The Báb’s Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina”:
There came to Him…the vision of those holy men, those pioneers and martyrs of the Faith, who had fallen gloriously on the field of battle, and who, with their life-blood, had sealed the triumph of the Cause of God. Their sacred dust seemed as if reanimated by the gentle tread of His feet.
…They seemed to be addressing to Him this fervent plea:
“Repair not unto Thy native land, we beseech Thee, O Thou Beloved of our hearts! Abide Thou in our midst, for here, far from the tumult of Thine enemies who are lying in wait for Thee, Thou shalt be safe and secure. We are fearful for Thee…”
“Fear not,” The Báb’s indomitable spirit replied, “I am come into this world to bear witness to the glory of sacrifice.”
The Martyrdom of the Báb, the Forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh and the Herald of the dawn of a New Day, took place at noon on 9 July A.D. 1850, in a barracks square in Tabriz, Iran. Exactly 160 years later, on the island of Dominica, the Bahá’í community of the Carib Territory commemorated this Holy Day.
For Roushanac, Liz (author of an earlier blog posting “A Woman’s Work,” who is serving here for the month of July) and I, the day began by reading the above excerpt from The Dawnbreakers, a historical account of the earliest days of the Bábi Revelation, the precursor to the Bahá’í Faith. Tears streamed from our eyes as we sat on the front porch in the early morning light, and read these stories of heroism, of sacrifice, of a love so great that—as described by Nabil-i-Azám, author of The Dawnbreakers:
If the branches of every tree were turned into pens, and all the seas into ink, and earth and heaven rolled into one parchment, the immensity of that love would still remain unexplored, and the depths of that devotion unfathomed.
In an earlier chapter of this book, we learned that the first gift sent from Bahá’u’lláh to the Báb was a loaf of Russian sugar. The day before the Holy Day, I, too, had received a gift of sugar (in a slightly different form) in a care package from my dear friend Tamara. The package contained a canister of Godiva cocoa, and an enormous bag of Tootsie Rolls. Both of these sugary gifts factored prominently in our Holy Day commemoration.
Marvis came over as we finished our morning reading, and—toting colorful fabrics, scented candles, and that bag of Tootsie Rolls—the four of us headed down the Carib Territory road to the one-roomed Bahá’í Centre in St. Cyr. There, under the direction of Marvis and Liz, and joined by Briana and Dillon (ages 9 and 6, respectively), we set about beautifying the Centre for the Holy Day. We covered the table with a turquoise scarf, and draped the remaining fabrics over the wooden cabinets. Marvis found two glass coke bottles, and converted them into beautiful vases with the help of colored tissue paper and ribbon. The children picked flowers from Granny’s garden to fill the vases and adorn the tops of the cabinets. We poured the Tootsie Rolls into a basket, which we placed on the table next to the prayer books and candles. Someone swept the floor, someone dusted the shelves, someone else straightened the benches and the Centre was—to use a favorite phrase of Francillia’s—“Bon pou alé.” Good to go.
Typically, this Holy Day is commemorated right at noon, the hour of the Báb’s martyrdom. Although there is never a formula for how Bahá’í Holy Days should be carried out, there is a special prayer—the Tablet of Visitation—that is recited on the anniversaries of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. The prayer is several pages long, and is usually read or chanted by one person, while everyone else stands. Again, though, there are no formulas…and we forget this, sometimes. Liz, however, does not forget this, and she suggested that we try offering this prayer in a more dynamic and participatory manner. We—along with Francillia and the children and youth with whom we were planning the Holy Day—wrote out verses from the prayer on pieces of pale green cardstock, which we then decorated with crayons. Each person then chose a card—some ahead of time, some during the commemoration itself—and shared the verse in whatever way their heart moved them: singing, chanting, repeating a powerful line over and over and over. This resulted in a rich tapestry of voices, weaving in and out of one another, and ringing out from the Bahá’í Centre at the hour of noon. The eye of Creation hath never gazed upon one wronged like Thee!
After the prayer, songs were sung, the story of the Báb’s martyrdom was shared and reflected upon, and lunch—lovingly prepared by Francillia and her family—was served. The prayerbooks, candles, and turquoise blue scarf on the table were replaced by platters of food, nearly all of which came from Francillia’s backyard. We feasted on saltfish in coconut broth, thick slices of roasted breadfruit, cucumber-garlic salad, and extra-strong ginger beer. And, of course, Tootsie Rolls.
We wanted to spend the whole day in one another’s company….so when the meal was finished, and the Centre was cleaned, some of us took a trip to the sea. We were nine altogether: Natarshar, Vern, Marvis, Kira, Dillon (the sole male representative), Briana, Liz, Roushanac, and I. The hike down to the ocean took about 45 minutes, and we sang for much of the way. The sun was shining benignly as we meandered down the steep green mountainside, but when we emerged from the foliage and reached the rocky shoreline, the sea before us was anything but mild. I think I’ve mentioned in previous blog postings that the Carib Territory is situated on the Atlantic side of the island, where the waters are usually pretty rough. Today, however, they were raging. Although the sky was still blue (for the time), the ocean was a frothy purplish-grey, and the thrashing waves pounded against the rocks like thunder. We beheld the scene with nervous excitement. Those waves were formidable, yes…but not quite formidable enough to keep us from going in.
It is good to be humbled by Mother Nature, and to be reminded that we are totally at her mercy. Painful, sometimes, but good. Natarshar and Roushy—who had already experienced the ferocity of the waves that day—offered a warning, which I glibly brushed aside. Nothing was gonna stop me from submerging myself in that sea. But I had barely dipped my toes in when the mother-of-all-waves descended upon me. CRASH!!!! Scrape! Gurgle! Ouch. I’d been flipped over and flung against a boulder like a floundering piece of driftwood, and my right knee was quickly turning a stormy shade of purple. Of course, my comrades on the shore were cracking up. “We warned you!” they hooted. I had to laugh, too…and resigned myself to spending the rest of the afternoon a safe distance from those waves.
We stayed there for a couple more hours, telling stories, playing cards, and napping on the flat, table-like rocks. We would have happily stayed ‘til nightfall, but when the sun abruptly disappeared, and the sky turned an ominous shade of gray, we realized it might be wise to head home. We hurriedly assembled our belongings, and scampered along the rocky path back to St. Cyr, racing against the rain. Yet again, Mother Nature was the unequivocal victor. About halfway between the sea and the Bahá’í Centre, the clouds began to rumble…and then they tore open, accompanied by dramatic cracks of lightning. We were drenched within an instant, and not even the widest-leafed banana tree could provide shelter against this tempest. In situations such as this, where any attempt to stay dry is rendered utterly futile, all you can really do is just enjoy it. And we did. The storm seemed to intensify with every step, but we were grinning as we marched. And though the raindrops were relentless, they were warm.
It was fitting that this day should be characterized by such a storm. In another excerpt from The Dawnbreakers, we read of the storm that took place on July 9th, 1850, immediately following the Báb’s martyrdom:
The very moment the shots were fired, a gale of exceptional severity arose and swept over the whole city. A whirlwind of dust of incredible density obscured the light of the sun and blinded the eyes of the people. The entire city remained enveloped in that darkness from noon till night.
It was nearly sundown when we finally reached home, soaked to the bone, but exhilarated. We bundled ourselves up in socks and sweatshirts, and—as the storm continued to rage around us—sat on the porch and sipped our hot chocolate, savoring the sweetness of the day.
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