Can You Paint Me in a Half Hour? 1
“YOU KNOW CHRIST DIDN’T look like a woman, the way all the pictures of Him look.” That was Juliet Thompson, talking to God, when she was just ten years old. “Please let me paint Him when I grow up as the King of Men.” She held onto this wish for the next twenty-six years.
Juliet lived, and wrote, with her heart on her sleeve. Her diary is filled with Biblical metaphors, capitalized pronouns, and a highly personal, poetic language which, while heartwarming, can also be off-putting if you don’t like that kind of thing. It is a diary, after all, not a newspaper, and it offers a unique insight into the kinds of close personal relationships ‘Abdu’l-Bahá formed with a handful of Americans — in this case an effusive, rising portrait artist from Greenwich Village.
Juliet traveled to ‘Akká to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1909. But her first meeting with him dashed her hopes of ever painting the Christ. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked into a room, she wrote, “His effulgence struck me blind.” “Could the sun with the whole universe full of its radiations, or endless flashes of lightning be captured in paint?” Besides, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was adamant that he wasn’t Christ.
Then, the night before the SS Cedric docked in New York, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá cabled a message: “On My arrival in America Miss Juliet Thompson shall paint a wonderful portrait of Me.” (Those would be Juliet’s pronouns.) She described her “surprise and dismay, fear, joy and gratitude all mixed together” at hearing the news.
Such a day shall never be forgotten 2
In the morning, a group of the friends gathered in the Master’s residence. He spoke to them about the Unity Club’s children’s event, explaining divine education and morals. He then went to Mrs Newton’s home in Brooklyn. The servants of Abdu’l-Bahá were also invited to accompany Him for lunch at the home of Mrs Newton and Mrs Rivers.
Today a new guest came from the East to see the Master and to be in His presence, Mírzá ‘Alí-Akbar Nakhjavání. At the table the Master asked him about conditions in the East. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a brief discourse at the table:
Nothing in the world of existence is greater than such gatherings as these because they have been called solely for the love of God. Observe with what love people from the East are seated at the same table with people from the West. Such love and unity were previously impossible. The power of Bahá’u’lláh has created an affinity in these hearts and has drawn these souls under the canopy of one Word. No family ever gathers with such love and associates with such happiness and joy. It is through the divine power and through the potency of the Word of God that we are assembled here with such gladness and delight. We are turned towards the Abhá Kingdom and like the plants of the flower garden we are swayed by the breezes of His kindness and favor. Today is a day which shall never be forgotten, for we are under the shadow of the Blessed Beauty. Our hearts are joyous with His glad tidings; we breathe the fragrant breezes of the Abhá Kingdom; our ears are delighted with the divine summons, and our spirits are alive through heavenly bounties. Such a day shall never be forgotten.
In the afternoon, after a short ride in the large public park of Brooklyn, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá returned to New York. A group of people had assembled at His residence to see Him. Saying that He wanted to be alone for awhile, He went to a small garden by the bank of the river near His residence. After a few minutes He returned and spoke to the friends of the heavenly melodies.
New York, Philadelphia, New York 3
On Thursday, June 6, one newspaper carried an article headed “Tracing Darrow Fund,” which described how the lawyer, Clarence Darrow, had been accused of jury bribing. Abdu’l-Bahá, in addition to speaking with the scores of people who surged to His home, took time for a ride in a public park in Brooklyn and a walk alone in the little garden near His home..
- Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “Can You Paint Me in a Half Hour?” 239 Days in America, 6 June 2012, https://239days.com/2012/06/06/can-you-paint-me-in-a-half-hour/. [return]
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=4#section74 [return]
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 87. [return]