Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Protection from our own ignorance

Stranded Lighthouse 589

“Stranded Lighthouse” image: Kathy Gilman

“…when thou traversest the regions of the world, thou wilt conclude that all progress is the result of association and cooperation, while ruin is the outcome of animosity and hatred. Notwithstanding this, the world of humanity doth not take warning, doth not wake from the slumber of heedlessness. Man is still causing differences, quarrels and strife in order to marshal the cohorts of war and, with his legions, rush into the field of bloodshed and slaughter.”

~’Abdu’l-Bahá

“Consider the pettiness of men’s minds.

They ask for that which injureth
them, and cast away the thing that profiteth them.

1509698_850882424962881_3108057775060869577_nThey are, indeed, of
those that are far astray.

We find some men desiring liberty, and priding themselves therein. Such men are in the depths of ignorance.

Liberty must, in the end, lead to sedition, whose flames none can quench.
Thus warneth you He Who is the Reckoner, the All-Knowing.

Know ye that the embodiment of liberty and its symbol is the animal.

That which beseemeth man is submission unto such restraints as will protect him from his own ignorance, and guard him against the harm of the mischief-maker.

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“Little Lamb Laying Low” image: Kathy Gilman

Liberty causeth man to overstep the bounds of propriety, and to infringe on the dignity of his station. It debaseth him to the level of extreme depravity and wickedness.

Regard men as a flock of sheep that need a shepherd for their protection. This, verily, is the truth, the certain truth. We approve of liberty in certain circumstances, and refuse to sanction it in others. We, verily, are the All-Knowing.”

~ Bahá’u’lláh

 

 

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Tending the smoldering fire

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Artwork: Judy Wright

The use — and misuse — of the power of speech has certainly been in the spotlight lately. At what point, I wonder, might our collective values rise to a high enough level to affirm that freedom of speech was never intended as license to debase others — and ourselves?

The Bible calls the tongue a double-edged sword.

Baha’u’llah encouraged refraining from idle talk, reminding that, “the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison.

Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century.”

There’s one childhood memory that continues to serve as a reminder about policing my speech. Iceland, China, Sandra's Christmas & School Spring-Summ (13)

My best friend’s father was one of my favorite people, the quintessential great dad. He was kind, soft-spoken, gently humorous and thoughtful. A hard-working man with a big family, he always made time to interact with his kids and their friends, whether drawing caricatures of us as we watched, giggling, or hunkering down his 6-foot-6-inch frame to help us construct the miniature villages that took over his living-room floor. Whenever he spoke with me, as he always made time to do, I felt supremely special, as though I truly mattered.

One day, this kind dad gave me a real gift, even though it felt like something quite different at the time. I was riding in the back seat of his wood-paneled station wagon after he picked up a small gang of us from a Girl-Scout party. We were all comparing the gifts we’d drawn in the gift exchange, and I wasn’t very happy with mine. When one of my peers leaned over and observed under her breath that someone had obviously spent the low end of the price range for it, I felt license to begin holding forth on how worthless and disappointing it was and how unfair that I got it. I was probably enjoying my companions’ attention as I bewailed my plight and began berating both the gift and the giver. Iceland, China, Sandra's Christmas & School Spring-Summ (32)

I’ll never forget the look in that dad’s eyes as they met mine in the rear-view mirror and he said evenly but firmly, “Hey now, that’s enough.” I’d never heard this man raise his voice, and he didn’t this time — just set an unmistakable limit. Although I wanted to disappear in that moment, I’m as thankful today for this unexpected disciplinary action as I am for the hundreds of kindnesses he bestowed on me.

Knowing that he was disappointed and displeased with my behavior had an enormous impact on me. I was stunned and then, appropriately, embarrassed and remorseful.

He didn’t need to point out things like how potentially hurtful what I was saying was, how the donor of that gift could have been sitting in the car, for all I knew. Awareness of all of this came very quickly once I was jolted out of my little rant. Iceland, China, Sandra's Christmas & School Spring-Summe (3)

All he had to tell me, this man whose opinion I cared about so much, was that it was time to stop, with four words that changed my life forever. He spoke up when my behavior was eroding into meanness and helped set a limit for me that has somehow become internally reinforcing. I believe that he helped activate my healthy sense of shame, and I’m eternally grateful.

Obviously, we’re responsible first for our own behavior. But what kind of change might we effect if, as adults, we accept the role and authority that maturity supposedly confers and determine to intervene and intercept that deadly poison of hurtful speech, even if it’s awkward to do so?

Some people I know creatively interrupt such things by leaving the room, creating a distraction, or changing the subject.

KBb5664cfca316d0ef0b0103802430026aThe always-thoughtful Kindness Blog is posting installments called The Year of Speaking Kindly. As I take more responsibility for the power of speech, I’m finding it a helpful companion:

http://kindnessblog.com/2015/01/02/the-year-of-speaking-kindly-day-2-by-mike-oconnor/

coverthumbBlog post adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details –

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details/dp/1931847673/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=16JVJ8Z8AKN1RT1M5ZMV


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Entirely a spiritual practice

EB pix Germany and more 368    After writing — and reading — nonfiction for weeks, I’m now seeking novelists’ words for company once again.

A friend’s invigoratingly beautiful response to a soul-sized, soul-evoking novel launched this quest. Wise, experienced words from several fiction writers I admire then shifted my inner compass in fiction’s direction. I paused to breathe that in, recollect how much I’ve missed my connection with that inner realm.

Re-entering pages of my current work, I’m enveloped by scenes like those captured in the photos here, taken by one of the story’s characters long ago. They show a time and place when telephones were scarce; when people left a room when someone received a call, as a sign of respect and courtesy.

No one could have imagined overhearing something so private.    EB pix Germany and more 345

It would have almost seemed indecent. The goal was to uphold modesty, privacy, and dignity. In a world that can look as though it has forgotten what these are, they remain my own daily goals, and those of many. Some days, however, the attempt to value and practice them can feel like navigating a very murky swamp.

Perhaps that is why the work of writing feels so welcome. As the awareness that it offers begins to shift me into a slower, steadier rhythm, more like that of the decades in the book’s story, I feel my inner life slow down to presence again. I think of words novelist Elizabeth Gilbert shared in an interview with Karen Bouris in Original Story:

“I think creativity is entirely a spiritual practice. It has defined my entire life to think of it that way. When I hear the way some people speak about their work, people who are in creative fields who either attack themselves, or attack their work, or treat it as a burden rather than a blessing, or treat it as something that needs to be fought and defeated and beaten. . . . There is a war that people go to with their creative path that is very unfamiliar to me. To me, it feels like a holy calling and one that I am grateful for.

… I was given a contract, and the contract is: ‘We are not going to tell you why, but we gave you this capacity. Your side of the contract is that you must devote yourself to this in the highest possible manner, you must approach it with the greatest respect, and you must give your whole self to this. And then we will work with you on making progress.’ That’s sort of what it feels like for me.”EB pix Germany and more 523

What good companionship I find here, as she speaks for my own heart.

The entire interview can be seen at http://www.dailygood.org/view.php?sid=413

Good wishes this week to all who bravely enter the writing realm.

And may all who read find words that keep our hearts the best of company.