Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Building the good, together

The castle above my childhood hometown of Wertheim

A highlight for me, as my novel, The Munich Girl, came into the world, was my return to the first place in Germany where my family lived when I was a child.

On the cloudy November afternoon that the book published, I faced the Main River in the tiny village of Dorfprozelten and offered my thanks at the grave of Herr and Frau Geis, who shared their house with my family back in the early 1960s.

It was because my military family lived “on the economy” with them that my sense of myself as a citizen of the world began so early.

Eva Braun in the 1940s

The fact that my family established close ties with German people in post-war Europe also inevitably led me to want to understand the experience of Germans themselves during the war.

I would never have imagined that this path would take me through Hitler’s living room as it drew me into the life of his longtime mistress, later wife, Eva Braun.

Reader N. Augusta Vincent

“How will you ever get readers past the fact that it’s her – that she’s such a large part of the story?” is a question I grew used to hearing.

I wouldn’t. I knew that from the start. Readers would embark on that particular journey only if they were willing to.

This story in no way seeks to exonerate or “redeem” her.

Rather, she makes a good motif for looking at the ways in which many people, women in particular, suppress our own lives – or often don’t even claim those lives fully at all. It also explores how those who do not fully face and own all aspects of their own life and self often project onto, even demonize others.

The story of The Munich Girl is about many things, including, of course, Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun, and many facets of history from the time of the war in Germany.

Artwork: Judy Wright

It is also about the power of friendship, and the importance of our often ignored and overlooked inner life, without which our world careens increasingly out-of-balance, as it did in those wartime days.

At its heart, it’s a story about outlasting that chaos and confusion that unavoidably visit us, in both public and private wars, and how we transcend those challenges. We seem to do that by valuing, and believing in, the stronger possibility in all of the good that we are willing to contribute to building together.

Part of our ability to do that, I’ve come to believe, rests in being able to recognize that human beings aren’t usually all good, or all bad, but a complex mix of where our experience, understanding, and choices have led us.

Eva Braun age 17, the year she met Hitler

As one character in The Munich Girl observes: “Sometimes, we must outlast even what seems worse than we have imagined, because we believe in the things that are good. So that there can be good things again.”

Much like the book’s protagonist, Anna, I repeatedly experience what invites me to look beyond what I think I know, and have understood about life. The process of uncovering the story has helped me remember many kinds of homecomings, spiritual and material, that life brings to us.

When the process of this writing this novel began, I also couldn’t have imagined what those words might come to mean in the atmosphere of our world today. I thank every reader who’s giving the book time, and also offering thoughtful reflection that helps me to continue learning from the pathway of this story, every day.

Find more about The Munich Girl here:

https://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987


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What always outlasts war

As a U.S. military brat in the 1960s, my first friends were German families.

Then I married another brat who’d also spent part of his childhood in Germany and we began returning there as often as we could.

I realized that if I wanted to understand this culture I love so much (as I struggled to relearn its language), I needed to understand more about Germany’s experience during the war.

Never could I have imagined how quickly that intention would take me straight to Hitler’s living room. Within a week, I received a copy of British writer Angela Lambert’s biography of Eva Braun. Then a combination of unexpected circumstances led to my owning the portrait of Braun that unwound the sequence of events in my novel, The Munich Girl.

A major turning point in the story’s development occurred when I discovered, while researching the Trials at Nuremberg, that an action of Eva Braun’s in the last week of her life saved the lives of about 35,000 Allied prisoners of war. Two members of my mother’s family were likely among them.

This led me to new levels in the unfolding book’s story, spurred by the idea that the reality of situations is always deeper and more complex than things may appear on the surface.

I was also struck by how the power of real friendships, no matter the circumstances around them, can have beneficial effects in many lives, effects that can linger on generations later.

The question people asked me from the beginning is one they still ask: “Why Eva Braun? Why THIS woman?” Of course, lots of people feel strongly that she deserves no time or attention at all.

The story’s goal has never been to try to exonerate or “redeem” her, or how she is perceived. She’s an excellent motif for examining how people, especially women, suppress our own lives, and what forces and factors lead us to do that.

She also offers a way to look at the reality that human beings are complex. She clearly had a conscience, and acted on it, and, like most of us, tried to make good choices — choices to serve good — when she could. She also made choices that served neither herself nor others very well.

Do we negate or devalue the contributions that someone makes because they also do things that are misguided, ill-advised, or even personally destructive?

Do we not all share this same complexity in experience? And how might that help us to gain new understandings about compassion and forgiveness? These are themes I wanted to explore.

The novel’s timeline alternates between the period of the war and 50 years after the end of it. That later time frame was an important juncture for humanity, I feel, one that invites us to look again, and more deeply, at what remains unrecognized and unresolved, and perhaps overlooked, in that immense, human-initiated catastrophe that was the second world war.

The year 1995 is also already “historical” in fiction’s terms, because it’s from about that point that technology of the virtual world began asserting itself, rendering a very different human experience in our world today. To the extent that this material advancement isn’t matched by the development of inner-life values, deepening awareness about our world and its history, and willingness to investigate and face truth, I believe we continue to experience — even prolong — pain, chaos, and suffering.

One revelation I encountered in my research was that much of what had been written about Eva Braun was often incomplete, frequently inaccurate — and sometimes, the details of an entirely different person’s life. Yet these things have been widely circulated and accepted as truth.

This made me wonder: how much of the truth do 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?

And, how much of our unwillingness to investigate truth for ourselves blinds us to reality?

We live in a time of bigger cycles revealing bigger truths. On the most human level, how might compassionate, united perspective, and a willingness to begin with unity assist our progression through this?

How might we be guided by what always outlasts war — the legacies of love?

Find more about The Munich Girl at: http://smarturl.it/qkttw4


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What waits, beyond limits

Photo: Liz Turner

The sky is not the limit.

The mind is.

~ Bruce Lipton

Don’t confuse the limits of your mind with the limits of possibility.

~ Davis Icke

The options for finding peace are many. …

How you heal is your choice, but you must consciously decide to rest and process.

~ Chris-Anne Donnelly

It’s hard to grasp that a breakthrough can be about Being when you’re in the midst of the Doing and Having parts of a creation cycle. Solutions look like they must be about more doing and having: If I had different neighbors. If I made more money. If I could get enough healing clients. The ego wants a full-blown strategic plan in ten clearly defined steps to be accomplished in a week.

Without entering the Void, however, we miss the kindness, magic, and miracles in life. Your home frequency will surface as soon as you stop paying attention to what isn’t in alignment with your truest, deepest self. It will surface in silence. It will surface so you can feel it as soon as you turn your thoughts toward soul qualities. It’s waiting for you when you stop. It meets you halfway when you walk toward it.

~ Penney Peirce, Frequency


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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