Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details

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The increase and advance of love

Israel 058It’s a special time for Bahá’ís around the world as we remember The Báb.

His life and the spiritual revolution in its story was my first encounter with the Revelation of the Bahá’í Faith. From those earliest days, these words of The Báb’s have traveled with my grateful heart:

     “O peoples of the world! Whatsoever ye have offered up in the way of the One True God, ye shall indeed find preserved by God, the Preserver, intact at God’s Holy Gate.” Israel 004


Every sparrow, every hair of our head, every feather and seed and blade of grass is accounted for.

Imagine the real spiritual presence of each one of our willing efforts and actions.

It is easy to feel dismayed by the world as we see it around us.

But the building of the good is what is preserved — the increase and advance of love in the coming forth of what is of God.

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The grace that wakes my heart

When I awake with a prayer running through my head like a song, I know that my day is already wide open to happiness.

Instead of finding myself awash in thoughts run rampant — or consciousness dragging to life like sluggish motor oil, here is a mild, reassuring rhythm already oscillating inside me. All-embracing, and transporting.

This affects me so deeply that when it’s time to read the prayers I customarily say with my husband each morning, the mere sight of words like “the All-Merciful, the Ever-Forgiving” and “the ocean of Thy nearness” overwhelm me to astonished tears, like immersion in an ocean of light.

I am embarking upon what members of the Bahá’í Faith sometimes call the “Season of Restraint.” This is a period at the close of our calendar year when, for 19 days, we are asked to undergo a material fast from food and drink during daylight hours as “an outer token of the spiritual fast … the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God.” 

Fasting from the appetites of the body reminds me how insistent these appetites can be; how unsatisfied, and unsatisfying.


Photo: Saffron Moser

And it also helps me be aware of how much time the business of survival can consume in my day, and my awareness — especially when it’s overemphasized by the culture around me to the point at which I might begin to forget that I have a spiritual life at all.

Fasting reminds me that there is an entirely other possibility waiting in my living that’s like a portal to a wider, kinder refuge. One in which I am visited and accompanied by a grace like the prayer that woke my heart.

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


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“The Spirit of God is working in your midst.”

There’s a string of days that glimmer like pearls for me. They occurred around this time of  year, when my friend Marian shared the last stage of her earthly life.

A deep love of spiritual life brought us together. I was 20,  she was 80, and from our first encounter, my young eyes saw that her ageless spirit had found its way far past the world’s pain and confusion and wasn’t limited by them any longer, in any way. How, I wondered, do you find a life like that?

The answer she shared out of her experience became my own: the path of the Bahá’í Faith. I watched her example of being a willing, hopeful, and incredibly creative servant of the human family who was also gifted at helping others feel the limitless possibilities of love. She helped me understand that most often, human souls don’t recognize the potential that’s been treasured in each of us — and that life gets better and better as we encourage and welcome this in ourselves and others.

Marian treated everyone like precious little mines of gems, and maintained a happy, positive tone in this treasure hunt that simply left no room for negativity to make a nest. I’m so thankful I had this reality reflected for me while I was so young, because it’s given me more time to try to share it in my own life.

The mystical experience that accompanied her affirming love could be startling. I’d often receive a call or letter in which she addressed matters that were precisely what I’d been struggling with — but hadn’t shared with anyone. Her gentle suggestions or ideas — sometimes, simply helpful questions — were always an absolutely perfect remedy.

I hadn’t seen her for almost a year the day I first drove over to the small apartment she’d rented after her husband died. Her face was a vivid gold when she met me at the door. I noticed that she talked animatedly about finishing all of the projects she was working on.  Two weeks later, surgery revealed an inoperable tumor on her pancreas.

DCwondersky419732_10151485192181802_265278193_nShe set about the projects she had yet to complete, wanting to be sure that others could carry on the work that was her heart’s desire, which encouraged seeing spirituality and science as allies. She believed that just as religion and science were created to embrace and inform each other, so, our rational and spiritual selves are meant to be collaborators for our own benefit, and our world’s. The educational programs she developed usually reached first toward those whom society tends to overlook or forget.

During those days after her diagnosis, she thanked God continually for the mental clarity that allowed her to pursue her work in the last weeks of her life. “Prayer, and the Word of God, can be mighty powerful nourishment,” she’d tell me with a huge twinkle in her eye. She was tremendously kind and patient with her physical self as it grew weaker each day, an example of loving-kindness I will always value.

On one especially difficult day, she suddenly beamed at me with what felt like an in-rushing of great, surging force and declared,  “We continually overlook the power of love.” IMG_6181

Neighbors and friends still talk about those last hours in her home, when the room seemed to fill up with love and happiness and they didn’t want to leave.

Surprisingly, she used to tell me that, at an earlier time in her life, being ungrateful and impatient had been two of her most difficult spiritual battles, something I found impossible to imagine.

“Then, when I was ready to completely give up on this life, something told me that it was time to stop my fighting, and I heard those words, what Jesus promised: ‘The Spirit of God is working in your midst.'”

From the day she accepted this reality, I believe she became an unfailing channel for its truth. I can still feel her love at work in my life today, and feel my undying connection with her most strongly when I strive to do the same.

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


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A fathomless Ocean, closer than our life-vein

Great, indeed, is this Day.Storm 236

“Were ye to discover the hidden, the shoreless oceans of My incorruptible wealth, ye would, of a certainty, esteem as nothing the world, nay, the entire creation.

“ … My holy, My divinely ordained Revelation may be likened unto an ocean in whose depths are concealed innumerable pearls of great price, of surpassing luster.Israel 138

“ …This most great, this fathomless and surging Ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you. Behold it is closer to you than your life-vein! Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty.

Israel 127Could ye apprehend with what wonders of My munificence and bounty I have willed to entrust your souls, ye would, of a truth, rid yourselves of attachment to all created things, and would gain a true knowledge of your own selves—a knowledge which is the same as the comprehension of Mine own Being. Ye would find yourselves independent of all else but Me, and would perceive, with your inner and outer eye, and as manifest as the revelation of My effulgent Name, the seas of My loving-kindness and bounty moving within you.

“ … Obstruct not the luminous spring of thy soul with the thorns and brambles of vain and inordinate affections, and impede not the flow of the living waters that stream from the fountain of thine heart.

~ From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh


A father’s gift of prayerful confidence

sprgbluphoto 3

Painting: Judy Wright

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.

~ Mahatma Gandhi

As I reflect with gratitude on the role my children’s father has played in their lives, I recall the tone he set right from the start in connecting them with the resource of prayer.

Following surgery, our toddler daughter, returned from the recovery room swathed in medical tubing, looking lost in a cage-like crib that prevented us from reaching or touching her.

“Please say prayers,” her tiny, post-anesthesia voice croaked as we hung over her, feeling helpless. Not quite 3, and she already knew exactly what to do first in any uncertain situation. Her dad had stood over her every night at bedtime, from the day of her birth, and recited the prayer for healing she no doubt then also knew by heart.

When her younger brother came along, we whispered prayers into his tiny ears, too. Both children also saw our own prayers as a part of daily life. (“Thank you for being quiet now. Daddy is praying.”)

But one day, our small son showed me that using prayer and having confidence in it are very different things. I know instictively that this is something he learned from his dad. I was driving a pretty exciting sports car that my husband’s brother had loaned us while our own car was in the shop. As I was driving to pick up our son at his preschool, it started to snow. At first, it was just a pretty coating on the trees, but by the time I reached his school, wet snow was coming down fast and had covered the roads.

sprbluesphoto 2

Painting: Judy Wright

I picked up our son, and as we pulled away from the school, seat belts safely fastened, the big racing tires on that car sent it into a frightening spin. After I regained control, I realized that it was going to be a very difficult drive home on twisting back roads. I was scared, and remember saying something out loud that was surely a prayerful plea.

I saw my son fold his hands, drop his head, and remain silent during that 20-minute crawl that usually took 10. When we reached our driveway, he released a large exhalation of relief and asked, “Is it OK to stop praying now?”

I looked at him, astonished, and realized that this was what he’d been doing as I’d struggled to get us home safely. And of course, his 5-year-old’s literal logic simply knew that those prayers had done their job, right?

The prayer he had used is one that many Baha’is throughout the world employ when faced with challenges: “Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!”

This was a somewhat long prayer for such a small boy to have committed to memory. He referred to it at the time as the “e-mover.” He had, quite possibly, first begun to hear it said out loud when his father would say it when we saw an auto accident on the road as we traveled.

The unity and love in a family bestow gifts on every one of its members. The inner confidence our children learned from their father about the power of prayer continues to help me learn that everything benefits when prayer is applied to it, and that every answer, whatever its outward appearance, is a blessing.



Thank you, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá


Detail, Shrine of The Báb, Haifa, Israel.
Photo: Nelson Ashberger

I think a lot about gratitude each November, of course. I’m also reflecting on the relationship between gratitude and generosity — between thanks and giving. Recent experience is suggesting to me that the more you consciously cultivate one, the more you automatically intensify the other.

Nowhere is this personified for me more thoroughly — and inspiringly — than in the life of someone who also comes to mind for me around the end of November. That’s because Nov. 26 and 28 are dates associated with events in the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, whose father, Bahá’u’lláh, was the prophet founder of the Bahá’í Faith.


Photo: D Kirkup Designs

Picture someone who consistently put others before himself and exuded remarkable happiness while doing so, and you have a rough idea of why so many loved ‘Abdu’l-Bahá so much. From 1853 until 1910, from the time he was 9 until his late 60s, he was more or less a prisoner, together with the rest of his family. That was because the things his father suggested about what would remedy humankind’s ills never found much favor among those who held positions of power and authority. As one source put it, “They didn’t find their personal interests advanced by his teachings.”

Stories about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá play a key part in the life of Bahá’í families because he exemplified precisely what a life would look like when guided entirely by spiritually motivated choices. His actions illustrate in a concrete way the very qualities that his father urged humanity to explore, develop and, perhaps most important of all, apply.

In raising our children, we found no better example to turn to when looking at questions of spiritual integrity. This was so much the case that the question we typically found ourselves asking in the face of many challenges was, “What would ‘Abdu’l-Bahá do?”


‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 1912, Dublin, New Hampshire, US

Once he was finally free in 1910, he began a three-year journey through Europe and the United States. His goal was to impart what his father had brought, a light that illuminated ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s own path so brightly that even those who had declared themselves his enemies eventually arose to love and protect him.

One story about him remains my favorite because it illustrates both literally and symbolically just what sort of person he was. It occurred when he was probably about 6, at a time when his family, who had descended from nobility, still had wealth. (A few years later, it would be seized by the government and they would all become exiles.)

On the day in question, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was sent out with an adult companion to inspect the work of the shepherds tending his father’s sheep. When the inspection was finished and he turned to leave, the man who had accompanied him said, “It is your father’s custom to leave a gift for each shepherd.”

Abdu’l-Bahá grew quiet for a while. He hadn’t known or expected this — and what would he give them?

Then an idea came to him that made him very happy. He would give them the sheep!

Abdu'l-Baha walking Haifa-1

Abdu’l-Bahá walking in Haifa, Israel, early 1900s.

When his father heard about this, he was, rather than angry or displeased, absolutely delighted with this early evidence of truly spontaneous generosity. He humorously remarked that everyone had better take good care of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, because someday he would give himself away.

And that is exactly what history shows that he did, over and over, all while bringing joy everywhere he went.

Although I’m a long way from emulating that myself, I do know that gratitude and generosity are two prime factors in the equation I believe can – and will — help heal a whole world. 312q7DGYsbL._PJlook-inside-v2-small,TopRight,1,0_SH20_

Excerpted from:
Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details,
available here: http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details/dp/1931847673/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385394942&sr=8-1&keywords=Life+at+First+Sight


‘neath the shadow of justice and truthfulness

Israel 139

Sending love and prayerful blessings to all

on this anniversary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah.

“The incomparable Friend saith:

The path to freedom hath been outstretched; hasten ye thereunto. Israel 150

The wellspring of wisdom is overflowing; quaff ye therefrom.

Say: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised;

regard ye not one another as strangers.

Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.

Storm 230Verily I say, whatsoever leadeth to the decline of ignorance

and the increase of knowledge hath been, and will ever remain,

approved in the sight of the Lord of creation.

Say: O people! Walk ye neath the shadow of justice and truthfulness

and seek ye shelter within the tabernacle of unity.”

 ~ Baha’u’llah, The Tabernacle of Unity