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Twenty-some years ago, in the basement of an old house where I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, before I became a Baha’i, I prayed and asked Abdu’l-Baha for some relief from unpleasant dreams that had visited me several nights in a row.
After my prayers that night, while I slept peacefully, in my dream I found myself waiting with a huge crowd at the harbor in Shanghai, where I grew up. But the dream took place long in the past, in the time of steamship sea travels. I saw a simple passenger ship docking, and a Persian gentleman with flowing long white hair walked onto the deck.
Roaring cheers from the crowd greeted him. He waved his arm warmly at the welcoming masses, joked with his entourage and disembarked the ship. I waited by the passageway. He saw me and walked towards me. He stood right in front of me and lovingly put his hand on my cheek, and said, “Does Tom know you can light a candle?” to which I replied “No.”
He looked into my eyes and said “That’s something you should tell your husband.” At that moment, I knew I was standing before Abdu’l-Baha.
Then I found myself at my alma mater, a medical school in the former French Concession in Shanghai, where Abdu’l-Baha was giving a talk to an audience that had filled the large auditorium and had spilled out of the doors. Unable to get pass the packed doorway, I floated over to my classroom on the fifth floor of another building. (Aren’t dreams wonderful?) There I saw my classmates standing on ladders taking down posters of inspirational words from famous scientists off the walls, in anticipation of Abdu’l-Baha’s impending visit. When they saw me, they explained: “We wanted Him to see a clean environment.”
When I woke, I realized that I had been given a dream that would forever change my life. That evening, I went to a “fireside” (an informal gathering of Baha’i’s and friends to share understandings of the Baha’i Faith), and in profound gratitude, declared my belief in Baha’u’llah as the Messenger of God for this day.
Sometime later, I learned that, Abdu’l-Baha had wanted to go to China but wasn’t able to make the trip due to his health. And while reading the Baha’i writings I found a statement he made that said, “In China one can teach many souls and train and educate such divine personages, each one of whom may become the bright candle of the world of humanity.”
Years later, I came across a photograph of Abdu’l-Baha’s 1912 arrival in New York on the steamship Cedric. I gasped when I saw it, because the picture was identical to the scene in my dream, down to the last detail. The wonderment that washed over me was beyond what words can describe!
Dreams have long fascinated poets and scientists alike for centuries. In response to questions from a Sufi mystic in Iraq, Baha’u’llah wrote The Seven Valleys, which follows the path of the soul on a spiritual journey through different stages — the Valleys of Search, Love, Knowledge, Unity, Contentment, Wonderment, and True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness. In His description of the Valley of Wonderment, Baha’u’llah wrote:
One of the created phenomena is the dream. Behold how many secrets are deposited therein, how many wisdoms treasured up, how many worlds concealed. – Seven Valleys, p. 32.
In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. … When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty. This sometimes happens in sleep… – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 96.