Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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The very spirit of this age

Artwork: Kathy Gilman

At the year’s final full moon, as winter solstice draws near, I’m reminded of words of Pearl Buck’s:

“It is good to know our universe.

What is new is only new to us.”

The newness of the season arriving now can be a quiet kind, and an invitation to quiet, and stillness.

To waiting, and listening, in order to hear.

Here in the northern hemisphere, the Solstice brings with it such a distinct meeting place of light and dark.

Photo: N. Augusta Vincent

And yet, as with the sun’s gradually returning light, we can be warmed by the understanding that the forces at work in human life are drawing us away from a dark, centuries-old preoccupation with survival and “fighting evil” toward our highest destiny: a creative, collaborative and potentially limitless building of the good.

This is a prospect in which every one has a part to play and every culture has unique contributions to make.

Frederick Buechner expressed this reality beautifully:

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

“Renewal is the order of the day,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá declared when he visited North America in 1912.

Photo: Hertha Götz

“And all this newness hath its source in the fresh outpourings of wondrous grace and favor from the Lord of the Kingdom, which have renewed the world.

“The people, therefore, must be set completely free from their old patterns of thought, that all their attention may be focused upon these new principles, for these are the light of this time and the very spirit of this age.”

Completely free. All of our attention.

My reminder, as the season changes, and 2020 arrives.


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Love, power, and the meaning of family

Publishing a book is a gateway to the unexpected in countless ways, as well as an ever-evolving curve of learning and discovery.

One delightful part of the experience is encountering the connection that readers make with a book, its world, and its story.

In her review at Goodreads, reader Mary Spires called The Munich Girl “a story of love, power and the meaning of family.” goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70

She wrote:

“Readers see 1930s and ’40s Germany through the eyes of young women growing into adulthood. In the midst of increasing chaos, they fall in love, develop allegiances and make sacrifices.

“While family secrets unfold to the next generation, we see how their support for one another has allowed each to play out her role in a period of transition. These themes cross barriers of time, nationality and political persuasion.”

Eva Braun near Berchtesgaden in the late 1930s.

As a lover of historical fiction, I have read from a variety of different perspectives of World War II,” writes reviewer Melissa Lee. “However this was the first time I had read about German citizens who lived ‘freely’ in the presence of the Third Reich. I use the word ‘freely’ loosely, as regular German citizens were far from free during Hitler’s reign. …

Eva Braun at Hitler’s Berghof with Hanni Morell, Erna Hoffmann, and Heinrich Hoffmann.

“I was pleased that this book wasn’t centered around, or bogged down with the politics of World War II. Instead it was more of a tale about friendship, sacrifices and legacies.”

Reading The Munich Girl was like taking a journey to another place and another time,” writes Cynthia Minor. “It is difficult to know where the ‘real’ ends and the ‘possible’ begins.The story weaves itself across continents and decades, and is a beautiful image of the way our lives are not only connected to those we know and share life with, but with those in our past, whom we may or may not even be aware of.

Eva Braun and her mother, Franziska.

“As the author states:

‘One could look at another’s life and judge or envy what it seemed to show. But things were almost always more complex than they appeared.’

This was and is still true, of everyone we meet.”

 

Find the Goodreads page for The Munich Girl here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27914910-the-munich-girl#other_reviews


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Gate to the Glory of God

 

His life is one of the most magnificent examples of courage which it has been the privilege of mankind to behold.”

 ~19th century writer A.L.M. Nicolas, writing about The Bab

 

Photo courtesy D. Kirkup Designs

This week members of the Baha’i Faith worldwide celebrate the Bicentenary of a holy day known as the Birth of the Bab, a key figure in our faith described as “matchless in His meekness” and “imperturbable in His serenity.”

The Bab, whose name means “Gate”, also started a spiritual revolution in the mid-1800s that resulted in the creation of the Baha’i Faith.

Many of us became Baha’is because we couldn’t help but feel that divine messengers, including Jesus, Muhammad, and Buddha, weren’t intended to be competing factions, but rather part of a single, harmonizing, progressive process through which the Creator is guiding humanity forward. The teachings of the Baha’i Faith describe how the world’s major religions are related and united.

Image courtesy Judy Wright.

And it all began with the Bab, whose story is like a brief, intense storm that reshapes a landscape overnight, or what some have likened to a “thief in the night.”

Born Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad 200 years ago in 1819 in what was then called Persia, the Bab lived in a time of millennial zeal in which many Christians and Muslims held an expectation that scriptural prophecies were about to be fulfilled. Orphaned early in life, The Bab was raised by his maternal uncle, who was one day told by his nephew’s teacher, an esteemed cleric, that there was nothing more he could teach his prodigious and unfailingly courteous pupil.

Shrine of the Bab, Mount Carmel, Israel.

Later, in extending guidance to humanity, The Bab reminded that in order for a soul to recognize and receive divine inspiration, “eyes of the spirit” are necessary — a vision unclouded by personal attachments or preconceived notions. The promised Day of God, He declared, required new standards of conduct and a nobility of character that the Creator had destined for humanity, but which it had yet to achieve. “Purge your hearts of worldly desires,” the Bab told his earliest followers, “and let angelic virtues be your adorning.”

In a society in which moral breakdown was rampant, the Bab’s assertion that the spiritual renewal of society depended on “love and compassion” rather than “force and coercion” stirred enormous hope among all classes of people in Persia. His call for spiritual reformation — in particular, the uplifting of women and the poor, and the promotion of education for all — provoked an angry, fearful response from those who held religious and secular power in an oppressive society that had changed little since medieval times.

Persecution of the Bab’s followers rapidly ensued, and thousands were killed in brutal massacres. The remarkable courage — even joy — that many of His followers exhibited in the face of such carnage was documented by such Western observers as Leo Tolstoy. Eventually, the Bab was imprisoned and publicly executed before a crowd of 10,000 in 1850.

A century and a half later, the spirit of the Bab informs the lives of Baha’is, more than 5 million of us, who see ourselves as citizens of one world and friends of all faiths.

Adapted from: Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details: 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B5MR9B0


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Wonder and mystery, and freedom

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

From the sketchbook of Kathy Gilman.

 

Man is My mystery, and I am his mystery.

~ Bahá’u’lláh

It is through the power of the soul that the mind comprehendeth, imagineth and exerteth its influence, whilst the soul is a power that is free.

The mind comprehendeth the abstract by the aid of the concrete, but the soul hath limitless manifestations of its own.

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Photo: Kathy Gilman.

Stay ye entirely clear of this dark world’s concerns, and
become ye known by the attributes of those essences
that make their home in the Kingdom.

Then shall ye see how intense is the glory of the heavenly Day-Star, and
how blinding bright are the tokens of bounty coming out
of the invisible realm.

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá


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Writing, Germany, and plenty of snacks

The German town where I lived as a child with my military family, and where I was staying when The Munich Girl published.

The Portsmouth Review, right here in my home state of New Hampshire, shared a fun interview about The Munich Girl:

 

Tell me a little bit about who you are and where you live.

I’m a long-time writer, and a military brat for whom the whole world has always felt like home.

One of my earliest homes was Germany, which is unquestionably why it’s such a big part of my life today, and at the heart of my newest book. I’ve lived in New Hampshire for more than 40 years

Are there any favorite local spots you like to visit, ones that inspire your creativity?

Hand-crafted yummies at St. Anthony’s Bakery in Exeter, NH.

Many scenes in my novel, The Munich Girl, were written over outstandingly good coffee and pastries at one of two local favorites:

St. Anthony’s Bakery in Exeter (https://www.facebook.com/St-Anthonys-Bakery-335466463285414) and Kaffee VonSolln in Portsmouth (https://www.kaffeevonsolln.com).

Wow us with shock value. Is there anything about you that would surprise readers?

Eva Braun, age 19.

In the unexpected category, I once walked around Portsmouth for the better part of an afternoon dressed as a nun with local photographer Nick Thomas — and the portrait of Eva Braun around which my novel’s story revolves is one I happen to own.

What interested you to become a writer rather than something else such as neurosurgeon?

I grew up in a family of them (writers, that is) and tried to avoid it in multiple ways for a long time: working in a state park, in nursing, teaching, among other things.

I’m a big believer in nourishment of all kinds. 🙂

Finally, when I began writing and editing for publications in the area, I recognized that I hadn’t accepted the fact that writing is a pretty essential part of who I am.

Writing book-length fiction was another stage, however. I first finished a novel when I was in my early 30s but then put off engaging in this kind of work until our kids had grown, because the nature of it is far too absorbing. I inhabit it too deeply.

If you could spend a day with any author, living or dead – who would it be and why?

Erich Mühsam, called an anarchist in his time because thinking couldn’t recognize what a world citizen he was. He died in a concentration camp in 1934, is included in my new novel, The Munich Girl, and frankly, I also think he somehow instigated it. Perhaps one day, I’ll find out.

Find the interview here: https://portsmouthreview.com/interview-local-author-phyllis-edgerly-ring

Find The Munich Girl at:  https://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast-ebook/dp/B01AC4FHI8

and: https://books2read.com/u/3LGRZN


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To forgive the very world

Photo courtesy of N. Augusta Vincent.

 

After both of my parents had died, I put off sorting through the boxes of their belongings that had accumulated like small mountains in our house.

Then I woke one day with the urge to explore them.

I was plunged into stirred-up memories and stored-up feelings.

As if whispered into my thoughts, an idea I’d encountered years ago in the work of psychologist Erik Blumenthal reminded:

“The person who comes to understand his parents can forgive the world.”

Photo courtesy D. Kirkup Designs / https://www.etsy.com/shop/DKirkupDesigns.

The writer, who grew up Jewish in Nazi Germany, knew firsthand how painful experience often makes forgiveness seem impossible.

Yet he emphasized two needs that he believed eventually call to each of us: to become more understanding, beyond our rigid “certainties”, and to accept the freedom that forgiveness bestows.

As I unpacked my parents’ things, I gained a deeper view of what they had faced and the weight of the efforts and decisions they made. When they met, they were two people in their 20s entering a cross-cultural marriage at a time when no one knew what the next day would bring, who would live or die, or even what language everyone would be speaking, depending on the outcome of the biggest war the world had known.

A bird’s-eye view of the German town where I lived with my military family.

I can now see, and appreciate even more fully, that whatever their circumstances, troubles, and significant mistakes or missteps, they made a place for me in this world, and stuck with that commitment.

I’m reminded of words of Rumi’s:

“When you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you will keep saying again and again, this is certainly not like we thought it was.”

As I uncovered a broader view of my parents’ lives, I could see that most of my own resistance to forgiveness was forged at a stage when the imprint of my parents’ perceived omnipotence led me to believe that they were always in charge, in the know, in control of all situations.

I now share with them the certainty that that was never true, and the humbling realization that, whatever the hurts, it is not, indeed, as I thought it was.

It’s been observed that many people hold back from forgiveness because they believe it might go against the grain of justice, might excuse a wrong or deny its occurrence.

But when we find a willingness to see beyond our own view about any situation, especially the actions and choices of others, it disarms that tendency our perception has to keep us wedded to beliefs that not only make us feel bad, but impede our healing and progress, too.

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details.


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Spiritual breadcrumbs and a dictator’s mistress

Grateful for the Author Interview that Many Books shared with me this month:

With WWII family-history author, Marina Dutzmann Kirsch, at an author event for her book, Flight of Remembrance.

You spent childhood years in Germany, studied ecology, worked as a nurse and traveled all over the world. How has this influenced your writing and your world view?

Growing up in a military family, I felt both like an American and a world citizen.

People’s interrelatedness with each other and our world are at the heart of everything I explore. I focused on friendship in a story set partly in Nazi Germany because friendships are what get people through terrible times, and are what helped many everyday Germans survive the war. They also helped protect and save those who were most vulnerable to persecution by the Nazis.

I was also intrigued by the paradox that people can know and care about each other yet never know about the parts of their lives that could seem to put them on different “sides.”

Your book also explores how German citizens were forced to endure Hitler’s reign. Please tell us more about this.

Eva Braun gathering wild iris in the 1940s.

Similar to characters in my novel’s story, some of the kindest, most morally courageous people I knew were those Germans who never wanted the war, or National Socialism, and found creative ways to outlast it and to help others as they did. They found the way to endure and maintain hope in times of enormous destruction and suffering. And, they made meaningful choices wherever they could, mostly on behalf of others, more than themselves. Many events from their time were things they didn’t know about or couldn’t see coming, which, for me, makes judging them from the perspective we have today unrealistic and even unjust. I think the very fact that we don’t or won’t recognize this is why history, sadly, continues to repeat itself.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing The Munich Girl?

Aside from tracking historical accuracy, a question someone asked early on actually proved to be a helpful challenge: “How are you going to get readers past the fact it’s HER?” (Eva Braun). I knew that I wasn’t. The reader’s journey depends entirely on the reader’s willingness.

With the help of many kind readers, The Munich Girl was placed in Little Free Libraries all over the US this summer.

Some may be unhappy that the story gives focus to someone associated with “such a monster.” The story never aimed to redeem her, but to look at the ways we come at truth and information, when human beings themselves are so very complex. Much of what had been written about Eva Braun was often incomplete, inaccurate, or even the details of a different person’s life. Yet these things have been widely accepted as truth. This made me wonder how much of the truth we miss because we approach finding it with ingrained, inherited — often blindly imitative — assumptions. In other words, how much do our biases trip us up before we even get started?

What are you working on right now?

Memoir – something I never expected or planned to write, anymore than I did a novel with Hitler’s wife as a character. I’m revisiting the cascade of synchronistic experiences that led the way through writing The Munich Girl, like spiritual breadcrumbs. They ranged from my unexpected discovery of Eva Braun’s portrait to a phone call that brought important research information, though neither I nor the person on the other end had initiated the call! That’s when I began to recognize undeniable, if mysterious, forces at work in the process.

Find the whole interview at: https://manybooks.net/featured-authors/phyllis-edgerly-ring-uncovering-long-buried-ww2-secrets