Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Balance sheets of light and dark

Photo: Saffron Moser

Spring flowers remind us to be happy.

It’s as though God treasured this invitation in each one,

then spread them abundantly about the landscape

to ensure we wouldn’t miss it.

Spring and flowers and happiness all dwell together in a snapshot scene from a long-ago Equinox.

As I packed up our Toyota for the Naw-Rúz (New Year, for Baha’is) party that night, I opened the car door to find our small son sitting in the backseat so surrounded by a mass of daffodils that I could barely see him. To ensure that the flowers traveled safely, my husband gave him the task of holding them and it was the first time he’d seen these harbingers of spring.

It’s hard to remember which was bigger, or brighter — that explosion of golden blooms, or his huge grin as he clutched his precious cargo. That smile was about the only part of him I could see.

This scene had prophecy in it. Today, our son grows hundreds of thousands of plants and sends them out into the wide world.

As I remember that day on this spring morning nearly 30 years later, with the sounds of wild geese flying over the house, I feel a soft sadness brush against me, rather the way a dog or cat might.

Image: Cary Enoch

Such feelings seem the inevitable outcome of simply living through the decades, a necessary component of the blessing of life, the contrast between happy memories and wistful ones, wintry days and brilliant spring sunshine, dark and light.

When we pause to reflect, it’s so often the contrast we come to see and recall. As one character in my novel, The Munich Girl, observes when confronted with the passage — and wages — of  time:

Didn’t it all turn out differently than we expected?

Didn’t it once seem there would be the whole sky to fly in?”

It did, no doubt for all of us.

It’s not what we thought, or perhaps planned or expected.

Photo: Saffron Moser

And yet, like the flowers and other plants that bloom and reappear so faithfully around us each year, there is fresh beauty and possibility in each new day.

 

No, it’s never what we thought, because it’s so very much bigger. When we look. And see. It really is the whole sky, and it will come to meet us when we stop hurling ourselves against it.

In their essence, daffodils, like so many spring flowers, remind us to be happy. It’s as though God treasured this special invitation in each one and then spread them abundantly about the landscape to make sure we wouldn’t miss it.

May each new springtime remind us we are truly unlimited  beings, however earthly our journey often seems.

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Nourished by the Mystery

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Image: Lauren Chuslo Shur

When the spring equinox arrives, a very special time of year comes to an end, for me.

Over these last 19 days, I’ve been more conscious than usual of the sun’s rising and setting, since between those demarcations of the day, I’m pursuing the fast I make each year at this time.

Fasting from “the appetites of the self” has made me more aware, again, of immortal words of Wordsworth’s: “The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers …”

The hours have also reminded, as author Thomas Moore suggests: “We usually try to explain the mysterious. It would be better to cultivate wonder and reflection.”

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

It seems easier to feel the truth of this when the day has the added space in it that fasting can provide.

Sometimes, within that space, things can arise that might otherwise stay masked in our busy lives, things that can confuse and baffle.

After several decades of this particular blessing of the Fast, I know what Rumi says is true: “Don’t worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” IMG_3375

The end of the Fast brings Naw Ruz, literally “New Day”, as spring arrives and along with it, a new year in the Baha’i calendar.

At the threshold of that year, 19 blessed days have also reminded me of what ever-inspirational Flora Whittemore pointed out so wisely:

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”


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The circle that includes us all

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Photo: Tim Jette

Six years ago, my husband, Jon, our two grown kids, and our new son-in-law were on our way to Haifa, Israel, to share a Baha’i pilgrimage. Nineteen years earlier, Jon and I had visited this same spot and I’d prayed that, if it were truly in the best interest of all involved, we might return one day as a family. And so, here we were, living into a heart’s prayer answered; a dream realized.

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Photo: Tim Jette

In the golden evening glow of the Bab’s shrine, the reality of the larger spiritual reunion I am part of came home to me in a sweetly unexpected way. It was close to sunset on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, when many in Haifa close their shops or leave work early to prepare for this day kept sacred. A mood of impending reverence and quiet settled in as the streets grew vacant.

I sat in the silence of the shrine, aware of the atmosphere of spiritual preparation going on all over this bustling city. Bells started to toll from the Carmelite monastery, located near one of the caves of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, as more lovers of God began turning to prayer as the day drew to a close.

Then, from the minaret of a nearby mosque, the melodious call to prayer began to sound with soul-stirring beauty.

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

And here, we Baha’i pilgrims, assembled from throughout the world, lovers of all faiths, with personal roots in many different ones, were all gathered in the spot that honors one whose martyrdom, akin to Christ’s, aimed to help free mankind from its deepest bondage, and help it finally come home together.

As human beings grow, they lead the most spiritually actualized lives not when they cling to the small circle of family and what is familiar, but as they learn to embrace ever-widening circles and bonds with others. The pain in the world today seems directly proportionate to the degree to which we haven’t yet found the love for God and our fellow beings that will transcend our own limited knowledge and assumptions, that will make us eager to seek our Beloved, by whatever name we call Him, in every face.

The changeless faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future, draws a circle meant to include each and every one.

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

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We will all, verily, abide …

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Thirty-five years ago this week, my husband and I, on one of the coldest nights of our lives, faced each other and declared, “We will all, verily, abide by the will of God.”

There were seven other people in the room with us that night, two of them the witnesses required for our Bahá’í marriage to be legal.

Most of the evening is a blur, quite frankly, though I do remember one especially poignant moment when my mother read a prayer, and these words stood out: “Cause them to become the signs of harmony and unity until the end of time.”

These were still echoing in my head when, as we drove toward Canada for our wedding trip, Jon remarked that he had also noticed the spirit of what those words evoked when he felt a whole new significance about the vow we’d each spoken. The essentials of a Bahá’í marriage ceremony can seem so simple that it’s easy to overlook their depths. Iceland and Mexico and Spring 06 Germany 130

“I realized,” he told me, “that when I said, ‘We will all, verily, abide by the will of God’, I was referring not just to the two of us, but something we were committing to with every one there with us, supporting our marriage, and our future children, and every soul that we’ll know. THAT was the commitment we are making. And our marriage itself is WHERE we’re committing to do that.”

And indeed, the spiritual resonance of that vow has been with us ever since, though we had no idea where it would take us. As another Year of the Horse opens, we’re naturally remembering the last one, 12 years ago, which we spent in China. The spirit of our marriage vow was and is a foundation for us as parents, accompanies our every shared decision, our many travels, the bonds we forge with others, even our reconnection with our mutual childhood home of Germany.

EB pix Germany and more 182In this past year, I finally had the opportunity to dedicate two books to this partner, this soul mate, who abides with me at the very center and core of my life and being. What I recognized as I wrote those dedications is that our marriage is a means by which we help each other learn to be encouraged about the potential in our truest selves, and kind about the struggles and confusions of our very human ones. I’m coming to believe that this is the essence of what that vow we said is pointing to.

There are some things we cannot know or understand without the passing of time, and the accumulation of experience, as well as reflection on that experience. What I feel more deeply each day is that the commitment of our marriage, the fortress for well-being that it is designed to be in the advancing – and spiritualizing – of civilization, seems a little-understood jewel. But it is unquestionably an ever-revealing treasure that illuminates my life, and my heart, each and every day.