Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Seed of Reality, Tree of Life

Photo: N. Augusta Vincent

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

From the seed of reality religion has grown into a tree which has put forth leaves and branches, blossoms and fruit. After a time this tree has fallen into a condition of decay. The leaves and blossoms have withered and perished; the tree has become stricken and fruitless. It is not reasonable that man should hold to the old tree, claiming that its life forces are undiminished, its fruit unequaled, its existence eternal.

The seed of reality must be sown again in human hearts in order that a new tree may grow therefrom and new divine fruits refresh the world. By this means the nations and peoples now divergent in religion will be brought into unity, imitations will be forsaken, and a universal brotherhood in reality itself will be established.

~ ‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace

Artwork: Tobey A. Ring

Even though we find a defective branch or leaf upon this tree of humanity or an imperfect blossom, it, nevertheless, belongs to this tree and not to another.

Therefore, it is our duty to protect and cultivate this tree until it reaches perfection. If we examine its fruit and find it imperfect, we must strive to make it perfect.

There are souls in the human world who are ignorant; we must make them knowing. Some growing upon the tree are weak and ailing; we must assist them toward health and recovery. If they are as infants in development, we must minister to them until they attain maturity.

We should never detest and shun them as objectionable and unworthy. We must treat them with honor, respect and kindness; for God has created them and not Satan. They are not manifestations of the wrath of God but evidences of His divine favor. God, the Creator, has endowed them with physical, mental and spiritual qualities that they may seek to know and do His will; therefore, they are not objects of His wrath and condemnation.

In brief, all humanity must be looked upon with love, kindness and respect; for what we behold in them are none other than the signs and traces of God Himself. All are evidences of God; therefore, how shall we be justified in debasing and belittling them, uttering anathema and preventing them from drawing near unto His mercy? This is ignorance and injustice, displeasing to God; for in His sight all are His servants.”

 ~ Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 230

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The warmth of others

I am so thankful to share this heart-sustaining Guest Post from writer and blogger Jane Bullock.

Sketch by Kathy Gilman

Her blog, luluopolis, provides daily inspiration (and often delightfully humorous company). Today, these thoughts of hers took my breath away.

 

Bird Wisdom

By Jane Bullock

Ever notice how some birds fly in a sort of formation? They wheel and dip and soar together, and when they are tired of that, they all roost on telephone poles and wires. They also like to cluster in trees together, gossiping and scolding each other. They remind me of old women who love to cluck and complain about the youth of each generation.

Photo: N. Augusta Vincent

When I lived in Texas, I became very fond of the birds who liked to perch in the trees next to my apartment. It would be just about the time when the sun started descending into the hills, and the moon would show her shining face to us. It was just as if the birds knew that it was time to settle in for the night, and have their last bit of chatter before sleep.

There was a sweet story I heard long ago about birds in the winter. When the days grew cold and there was little shelter for the birds, the little birds would ask the larger birds if they could cuddle up under one of their wings. The body heat of the big bird would keep a little bird warm and safe during a cold night.

Artwork: Jeannie Hunt

While many of the big birds allowed this, some did not. When an extremely cold night came, the birds sheltered up together to stay warm. However, there were a few of the big birds who refused to shelter the little ones.

When morning came, the sun came out and the air began to warm a bit. All the big birds and the little birds that they sheltered made it through the cold night. But all the big birds who refused to shelter the little ones died of the cold.

Even as little as the birds were who sheltered under the wings of larger birds, their tiny warmth kept the big birds alive. And of course, the warmth of the big birds kept the little ones alive. But those who wouldn’t share died cold and alone.

This little story always reminds me how of important it is to reach out to others, to share what warmth we have to give, and to cherish the warmth of others. We need each other, not just to weather a hard time, but to remember that we are all in this life together.

Find Jane’s blog, luluopolis, here: https://luluopolis.com


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On a first-name basis with an angel

Through the generosity of several kind book bloggers, readers have been finding — and responding to — excerpts from my novel, The Munich Girl.

The following is from a chapter in which two lonely 16-year-olds are about to become friends when they meet on a train traveling from the Austrian border to Munich in February of 1928:

 

Excerpt from The Munich Girl:

 

As I reached for Eva’s hand, the door to the main corridor slid open and the conductor seemed to fill it with his blue uniform.

“Where did you come from?” he asked my companion accusingly.

I smelled schnapps on his breath. And saw tears gleam in Eva’s blue eyes.

“From Simbach, where she waited for this tardy train. It’s not as though she was invisible.”

His head snapped back.

“With no one there to help, she barely made it on board,” I accused.

“But I saw no one at Simbach!”

“It’s hard to see, when you’re not on the platform yourself.” Then I asked Eva, “Do you have your ticket?”

Nodding quickly, her expression like a chastened child’s, she started digging in her leather shoulder bag.

The conductor was weaving in the doorway, tapping his boot impatiently. Just like most of these useless bloody uniforms, throwing their authority around. God help you if you actually need their help. They’ll be too busy having a nip and a smoke out of sight, as this joker obviously had. Probably been drinking since we’d left Linz—he’d even neglected to announce some of the stops.

When Eva found her ticket and handed it over, he snatched it without a word, fumbling for the hole punch dangling from a chain on his waistcoat. Then he thrust it back without looking at her, muttering to me, “Your parents should have taught you better manners.”

“My parents taught me people should do their jobs, especially when jobs are scarce. And that men who want to be taken for gentlemen should behave like one.”

I took great satisfaction in saying this, though I did so in English.

Across from me, recognition sparkled in Eva’s eyes.

As he stared at me, I asked in German, “How long will it be to Munich?”

“A little over an hour,” he mumbled. When he lurched back, the door his bulky frame had propped open slid closed with a thump.

Eva burst into a shower of radiant giggles. “Now I know you are an angel.”

“As I was starting to say before we were so rudely interrupted, I’m happy to meet you, Fräulein Braun. I’m Peggy Adler.”

“Nein, nein—Eva,” she insisted. “If you don’t mind.” She used German’s familiar “du” pronoun. “I think I should be on a first-name basis with an angel, don’t you?”

“Yes, let’s dispense with formality,” I agreed, relieved. I reached into my rucksack for my Lucky Strikes. “How about a smoke? Help us relax after that ordeal?”

Eva’s eyes were like stars as she reached for one tentatively, then settled back in her seat after I lit it. Her lids fluttered shut as she took an extended drag, then exhaled with luxurious pleasure. “How wonderful. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a cigarette. And I’ve wanted one so often.”

As I inhaled deeply on my own, she said, “You speak English, and your name is English, too, yes?”

I nodded. “My real name’s Margarete, but I never use it. My father is English, and I lived there until—I came away to school in Austria.”

I’d been very close to saying, “Until my parents separated.”

“I love what you told the conductor!”

“Oh, in English, you mean? You understood?”

“Absolutely!” she replied in heavily accented English, then lapsed back into her Bavarian German. “I thought I’d choke, trying not to laugh!”

“Are you studying English at school?”

“Oh, not so very much. From films, mostly.”

Now that she’d touched on one of my favorite subjects, the time and kilometers flew past as we talked about actors and music, jazz, dancing—and clothes. When I pulled out a movie magazine for us to look at, her chubby face came alive as she offered succinct assessments of the actresses’ clothes.

“I had to hide my magazines at school. Under the mattress,” she said. “My family thinks I’m going back next fall, but it’s not the life for me. I haven’t told them yet. The Sisters or my family.”

“Sounds like we’ve made the same decision. I’m not going back, either.” The thought of the scene that likely followed my unexpected departure last night launched a plummeting sensation in my stomach.

“Don’t you want to be out there in life—really live?” Eva said. “These are modern times, nicht? Not our grandmother’s days. There’s more to life than finding some lord and master and being under his thumb. I swear I’ll never live in such a prison!”

“You know,” I decided to confide as I leaned forward to light us fresh cigarettes. “My mother’s more independent now.”

I stopped, suddenly. What was I doing? I never talked about the divorce.

Eva was looking at me kindly. “Oh, my parents had a time, too. When I was small.”

“My parents divorced,” I relinquished, finally. “After the war.”

Might as well get it over with. I’d probably never see her again anyway.

She reached across the gap between our seats for my hand.

“My brother was killed, just before his nineteenth birthday. Right near the end of the war.” My voice was suddenly growing tight.

“I am so very sorry.” Eva moved to the seat beside mine and was offering a soft handkerchief.

“I tried.” I could barely get words out now. “To tell them. I knew, you see.”

I had seen it before it happened, that final end that was so horrible not only for Peter, but so many others lying there around him in that muddy, hellish mess. That place I didn’t want to see. Didn’t want to look. But it had kept coming back.

When I had tried to tell them—beg them—not to let him go, Father had called it morbid. Wicked. Been enraged that I would even suggest the danger that loomed.

Then, afterward, he’d looked at me as though I’d made that terrible thing happen to Peter, simply because I’d seen it ahead of time. And tried to warn them.

 


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What future is Spirit inviting for us?

As the new week, month, and year all arrive at once, I’ve been reflecting on themes that are surfacing in the hours of these fast-changing times.

The planet and the undeniable presence of Spirit in the world are speaking.

What are they calling for?

How are we listening, or not?

How are our hearts — Spirit’s intended home, by Divine design — responding?

“All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory;” Bahá’u’lláh wrote nearly a century and a half ago, “yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame.”

Photo: N. Augusta Vincent

Our indigenous family, Native peoples in every part of the planet, know and honor the truth carried in these words. They know the truth of what is home for every being, and the sacredness that the heart holds as spirit’s home.

These are the essentials for going forth into the waiting future, the one that we all play a part in bringing forth.

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time,” author Terry Tempest Williams has written. “To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. … Wild mercy is in our hands.”

“Be thou severed from this world, and reborn through the sweet scents of holiness that blow from the realm of the All-Highest.

“Be thou a summoner to love, and be thou kind to all the human race.

“Love thou the children of men and share in their sorrows. Be thou of those who foster peace. Offer thy friendship, be worthy of trust.

Be thou a balm to every sore, be thou a medicine for every ill. Bind thou the souls together.

 ~ Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá


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Let us be light

O Son of Being! With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of might I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light.

O Son of Being! Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee. Get thou from it thy radiance and seek none other than Me. For I have created thee rich and have bountifully shed my favor upon thee.     Baha’u’llah

Every once in a while, a piece of truth that’s been looking me in the face for years, making no attempt to hide itself, stops me in my tracks. Often it’s something in recent life experience that sounds an inner chord and makes words I think I’ve heard and understood come through with new implications as loud and unmistakable as a siren.

An experience I had in the dark gave me a whole new appreciation for light, and lamps.

I suppose that darkness, ironically, is as good a place as any to have an epiphany about these.

When my husband and I rented a small vacation apartment in Germany, the landlord showed us around the place and cautioned, “Remember the light.”

When we returned home later that night, it quickly became obvious why he’d said this. We had neglected to put on the exterior light.

And on this overcast night, the narrow old-town streets, most of which are also hills, were incredibly dark. The uneven, irregularly spaced steps down into the tiny alley on which our apartment’s front door was located were treacherous.

We groped our way down slowly, VERY carefully, in the thick black. The cobblestones underfoot were still slippery from rain. We were relieved to finally step inside without any sprains or falls.

Waiting the very next morning as I spent some quiet time at the start of the day were those two passages above. This is definitely a way the angels have their fun with me, sometimes.

And there was this passage from ‘Abdu’l-Baha to go with them:

The good pleasure of God is love for His creatures.

The will and plan of God is that each individual member of humankind shall become illumined like unto a lamp, radiant with all the destined virtues of humanity, leading his fellow creatures out of natural darkness into the heavenly light.

Therein rests the virtue and glory of the world of humanity.

One light, and so very many lamps — each and every member of humankind.

Just what kind of brilliant light might all of those “destined virtues of humanity” provide that makes it bright enough to lead us from the “natural darkness” of a sore-tried world into the safe, joyful freedom of “heavenly light”?

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B5MR9B0


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The lights of the love of God

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE

Man has two powers; and his development, two aspects.

One power is connected with the material world, and by it he is capable of material advancement.

The other power is spiritual, and through its development his inner, potential nature is awakened.

These powers are like two wings. Both must be developed, for flight is impossible with one wing.

Praise be to God! Material advancement has been evident in the world, but there is need of spiritual advancement in like proportion. We must strive unceasingly and without rest to accomplish the development of the spiritual nature in man, and endeavor with tireless energy to advance humanity toward the nobility of its true and intended station.

For the body of man is accidental; it is of no importance. The time of its disintegration will inevitably come.

But the spirit of man is essential and, therefore, eternal.

It is a divine bounty. It is the effulgence of the Sun of Reality and, therefore, of greater importance than the physical body.

 ~ ‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace

 

Today the world of humanity is walking in darkness because it is out of touch with the world of God. That is why we do not see the signs of God in the hearts of men. The power of the Holy Spirit has no influence.

When a divine spiritual illumination becomes manifest in the world of humanity, when divine instruction and guidance appear, then enlightenment follows, a new spirit is realized within, a new power descends, and a new life is given. It is like the birth from the animal kingdom into the kingdom of man.

When man acquires these virtues, the oneness of the world of humanity will be revealed, the banner of international peace will be upraised, equality between all mankind will be realized, and the Orient and Occident will become one.

Then will the justice of God become manifest, all humanity will appear as the members of one family, and every member of that family will be consecrated to cooperation and mutual assistance.

The lights of the love of God will shine; eternal happiness will be unveiled; everlasting joy and spiritual delight will be attained.

~ ‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Baha during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912 

https://www.bahaibookstore.com/Promulgation-of-Universal-Peace-P6382.aspx


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How our choices become our stories

It’s an extra special gift when I can be in Europe at all, and when a trip coincides with the history and story of my novel, The Munich Girl, it’s an added blessing.

An interview I had with the writers’ blog It’s Write Now helped me reflect and delve back into the atmosphere of the book and its story, as the scenes in which it unfolds are appearing around me once again in real life.

What originally inspired you to craft a story about a portrait that turns into a journey to uncover World War II secrets?

My original intent was (and remained) to explore more about the lives of everyday Germans during World War II. When life led me to information about Eva Braun, it opened up whole new questions, particularly because she came from a background of everyday Germans – not what many would expect to be Hitler’s choice at all. When the question: “What if you had known Eva Braun, but hadn’t known the role she played in his life?” arose, the story’s momentum became unstoppable for me. A number of people actually did have this experience with her, didn’t find out the truth of her situation until after her death, because she was required to remain an invisible secret in Hitler’s life. That way, he could sustain the adulation he received through the myth that “his bride was Germany”.

The whole fact of Eva Braun as a character naturally brings a range of response. That includes those who connect, even empathize with her, those who connect with the story but struggle with connecting with her, and those who absolutely don’t want to connect with her, who object to her being there at all. I’ve been astonished when readers who I might not expect to easily relate to her – those whose families experienced huge losses during the Holocaust, for example – actually have a lot of empathy for what she reveals as a character. One editor asked early in the book’s process, “How are you going to get people past the fact it’s her?” I knew I wasn’t. Readers are either willing to go that distance or they’re not. It’s never been my intent to redeem her in any way, but rather for her to act as a motif for the self-suppression and repression that are still rampant in many lives. For me, she also represents that we are a mixture of strengths and character deficiencies, and we make a meaningful life through the choices we make in relation to those.

The experiences of Germany through this period is really told through the characters that the readers meet during the book. How you breathe life into these characters?

The dynamic that each of the three women in the book experience, of never feeling that she can be fully herself – of having to choose between things, based on others’ views of her, is conditioning that overshadowed my own life for a long time. Today, I know that I experience my own power of choice more deeply as a result of the process of letting myself explore a potentially controversial or volatile subject like Hitler’s mistress in as neutral a way as possible, to see what sort of larger picture might emerge as this story unfolded for me.

You really are tackling a controversial or volatile subject in ‘The Munich Girl’. What did you want to give readers who were brave enough to explore this subject with you?

Initially, it was to give a glimpse into the experience of Germans during the war, and show how varied it was. Though they lived in a very dangerous place they could not necessarily escape, many Germans took risks to help and protect others, but many of these stories got lost once they were seen as part of the “losing enemy” country. Within the first year of writing, I also began to accept that the goal, to the best of my ability, was to convey themes that the story was suggesting. These include that any good we seek to do will always have an enduring effect, sometimes for successive generations. Another is that it is our willingness to build what is good, together, that is the legacy of love that always outlasts war, destruction, and violence.

What line do you feel best sums up ‘The Munich Girl’?

“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.”

Find the whole interview at: