Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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A season of renewal and hope

Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau: Top of the Johannisstrasse, 1908

Author and friend Reiner Lomb once shared a story about how surprising – and kind – the human heart can be.

Toward the end of World War 2, on Good Friday, some of his ancestors were expecting their tiny village to be overrun at any moment by U.S. soldiers. The German troops were retreating, and my friend’s family members, six adults and two children, were trying to decide whether they should stay put or hide in hills above the village.

In a previous war, their village had been wiped out in a similar situation, with every single person killed, so they were quite fearful.

They also had a family member who was a prisoner of war overseas, one with whom they would later be reunited, and who would become my friend’s father.

All they wanted to do was to be able to live their simple life in terrible times, during a war they’d just as soon had never happened.

They decided to stay in their home, and within hours, several vehicles pulled into their farmyard and U.S. soldiers climbed out and ordered them upstairs while the soldiers took over the lower floor of the house.

Photo: Nelson Ashberger

What my friend’s aunt, who was among those present, most remembers is how young these soldiers looked to her at the time. As she and her sister peeked down from upstairs, she saw that the soldiers were having trouble figuring out how to light the cook stove, and so, to her family’s horror, she bounded down to help them. (Her sister would later tease her that the only reason she’d done this was because those soldiers were so handsome.)

That weekend, they all eventually feasted together on the farm’s fresh eggs and the soldiers’ rations in a shared meal around that kitchen table. On Easter Sunday morning, the family came downstairs to find the soldiers gone, along with a basket of hard-boiled eggs that the family had colored earlier that week. In the basket’s place was a huge stash of chocolate.

“My family hadn’t seen chocolate for years,” my friend says, “and this, combined with how carefully the soldiers had left everything in its place when my family had expected them to ransack the house, gave everyone great heart, and the possibility of believing that maybe things would be all right after all.”

The miracle of his father’s return a short while later was the very best evidence of that, of course, and soon spring bulbs were blooming in the yard and, despite the ravages of the war, his family knew that they’d see green fields again.

It’s no coincidence that the essence of Easter – resurrection — is about restoration and renewal.

Whatever our faith, or lack of it, spring brings that glorious reminder that, no matter what has happened, no matter how long our personal winters may have been, the spiritual pulse of springtime always offers us a new beginning.

 

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

https://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0


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Born of certitude, inhabiting our lives fully

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Photo: Liz Turner

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

The inner joy that every individual seeks, unlike a passing emotion, is not contingent on outside influences; it is a condition, born of certitude and conscious knowledge, fostered by a pure heart, which is able to distinguish between that which has permanence and that which is superficial.

 ~ The Universal House of Justice

The beauty of the terrible situation that we are in is that it forces us back into ourselves to fully inhabit our own lives.

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

~ Jim Haba

Acceptance of what is – and the way it makes you feel – is the mother of invention.

Balance does not mean uniformity. It means arranging things in way that enables energy to move FREELY.

Creative energy is magnetic emotional energy. It attracts. It draws us to it – and draws itself out of us.

 ~ Christine DeLorey


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Art and the elixir of life

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Landscape 2 by artist Honnie Goode

 

It’s an honor to have an excerpt from my novel, The Munich Girl, included as the fiction offering of the latest issue of the arts journal,  e*lix*ir.

The publication is designed to “showcase the work of artists who find inspiration in the Bahá’í revelation and to foster an aesthetic whose key ingredient is the conviction that the mission of art is to inspire, transform, and uplift individuals and communities.”

Editor Sandra Hutchison offers soul-stirring reflection in the issue’s editorial, “Art at the Intersection of the Worlds.”

The words from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that she includes from The Promulgation of Universal Peace embody this theme, and the intent behind the creative efforts that many of us attempt:

“For material civilization is like unto a beautiful body, and spiritual civilization is like unto the spirit of life. If that wondrous spirit of life enters this beautiful body, the body will become a channel for the distribution and development of the perfections of humanity.”

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Photo: Wertheim.de

Sandra writes, “Through the experience of creating art, the artist becomes acquainted with that invisible plane of existence that is just as real and necessary to our survival as the earth on which we plant our feet.”

It’s this sort of inner vision that I attempt to describe in the artist’s statement I was invited to provide:

I seek to uncover the noblest possibilities in the human heart and to discover how history, culture, spirituality, and the natural world shape the journey of the human family.

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Image: Diane Kirkup

The vision of the future that the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh evoke, is one of prosperity and hope, so as a writer of stories, I am alert to every evidence of these I can find, even, perhaps especially, when circumstances may appear dark or chaotic.

More than any other kind of writing I’ve done, book-length fiction requires an absorption that leads me to what must be realized in a story. For me, this is an utterly spiritual experience–to weave together mysterious unseen threads into a reality that the emotions and spirit can recognize as true.

To encounter truth in this way is an experience that transcends this earthly life.”

Find the latest issue of e*lix*ir here: http://www.elixir-journal.org/issue2/


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The many kinds of homecomings

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QUICK UPDATE: She was here, then she was gone.

Yes, THE MUNICH GIRL is in process of becoming a published book, an interesting process for this author working with a book designer, with an ocean between us, at present! And I thought I already knew what big learning curves looked like. Sometimes, whole extra curves get thrown into the mix.

For those with any questions about the book, please feel free to email me at the address at the bottom here. For those awaiting your orders, know that they will come! 🙂

Yesterday, my husband and I had the opportunity — privilege – to be of some small service to a family of 16 from Syria as they made their way by train from my former hometown in Germany to Frankfurt. I think, if I am fair, that no matter what may transpire in a day, I’m going to have to search very hard to find what I could call problems in this life I’ve been given. Now, back to the regularly scheduled blog post:

I have the opportunity to spend time in Germany just as my novel, The Munich Girl, comes full-circle.

In the weeks I spent reading the book’s galleys, the scenes drew me back to settings I will carry with me always, whether as part of my inner geography, or because they are actual locations in which the story takes place. Many of these, from cobblestone passageways to Alpine vistas, tiny villages to market squares filled with symphonies of church bells, are ones in which I did the actual writing.

Much like the book’s protagonist, Anna, I repeatedly experience the many kinds of homecomings, spiritual and material, that life brings to us. Much like her, I often find myself in a kind of unbelieving daze as I sit in the same café I’ve known since childhood. Two years, ago, and maybe also five, I sat here capturing down pieces of a story that has always felt more like finding my way toward a puzzle’s finished image than it has any strategic plotting.

If the remedy for feeling out-of-sync in life is to reside in the moment, then we are all here today as I type this: my child self, sitting alongside my parents; that story-struck one who aspired to go the distance with wherever the writing process led (and wondering, at times, whether I truly would); and my self today, blessed to reach a point of completion. 15852216

A highlight for me this month was my return to the first place in Germany where my family lived when I was that child, a village on the Main River called Dorfprozelten. On a cloudy Saturday afternoon, as my life reached six decades, I was able to stand facing the river and offer my prayerful thanks at the grave of Herr and Frau Geis, who shared their house with my family back in 1960.

At the age I am now, seasons pass the way a month used to, but in those lovely days, my ten months in that village still seem like a little lifetime. I know that’s partly because since my military family lived “on the economy” in this way, we established much closer ties with actual Germans themselves, something that has played an important part in my life ever since.

984243_885496241474499_535556467277297526_nThe story of The Munich Girl is about many things, including, of course, Eva Braun and history from the time of the war in Germany. 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.

The novel is also a story about outlasting that chaos and confusion by valuing, and believing in, the ultimate triumph of all of the good that we are willing to contribute to building, together. When my family arrived at the Geis family’s home, there had been some very dark times, the kind that can make it easy to lose hope. Yet within months, we would embark on what we’d remember as some of our happiest years. munichgirl_card_front

As one character in my novel 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.”

Find more about The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War at;
http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/

To be on the mailing list for news about the book and author events, please email info@phyllisring.com.


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Possibility arrives anew in each moment

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

With the return of each day’s light comes an invitation to investigate, throughout the span of that day, rather than imitate the past.

Do I accept it, and apply myself to what it invites?

It arrives in a world of imperfection, one that can easily draw negative reactions from my lower nature, which must find its way in that world.

Yet I’ve surely had opportunity to learn that dwelling on imperfections, berating myself or others for them, serves only to increase my perception of them. It’s a circle of suffering I draw for myself. It saps my time, energy, and attention (those aspects of life over which I have choice) when I could instead offer them for something that is always calling, if softly, at times: the building of the good that I’m invited into each day.

In responding to that call, I discover how very much there is to become aware of and relinquish—how much preoccupation with negativity can surround my life and fill my thoughts and absorb my personal resources.

This, in many lives, is the debilitating presence of blind imitation of the past, including the kind of thinking that was born in earlier, fearful experiences and has led to attitudes, behaviors, assumptions, and beliefs that have no basis in reality—nor, indeed, anywhere near it.

My encounter with imperfection extends an invitation, too—one urging me to recognize and accept how much I don’t know, or can’t change, yet I can always discover the limitless possibilities of love in the most essential kind of response I’ve been designed and equipped to make. Rather than exercising my survival-driven instinctual reaction to fight imperfection, or try to escape it, I can turn toward an innate, indwelling response—the possibility of it—that is better-aligned with the purpose for which I’ve been created.

As it invites me into the freedom of not fighting any one or any thing (including myself), it also reminds that every human interaction (including with myself) is either an act of giving or an act of receiving. By asking questions that encompass both giving and receiving, my sensitivity to my own true needs and those of others is increased daily.

Each part of this questioning is equally important, because giving depends on someone willing and capable of receiving from me, and receiving depends on someone willing and capable of giving to me.

The following two service questions have been conceived as a way to help us focus on and clarify reality for ourselves in the course of the countless decisions we are called upon to make each day.

These junctures of possibility arrive moment by moment, and as I seek to draw away from blind imitation of the past toward the true investigation of my own and others’ deepest reality, I return to these questions again and again:

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  1. At this moment in time, what is the act of service I am capable of giving that the other person is capable of receiving?
  2. At this moment in time, what is the act of service I am capable of receiving that the other person is capable of giving?

Adapted from With Thine Own Eyes: Why Imitate the Past When We Can Investigate Reality?

Find more about the book at: http://www.amazon.com/Thine-Own-Eyes-Imitate-Investigate-ebook/dp/B00I1JPC7I/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8


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Eternity is a part of every true gift

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Artwork: Judy Wright

My friend, Carol, gave me a wonderful surprise at about the last place I’d have expected it — her funeral.

She received the devastating news about her cancer the same day her employer told her that she would soon be out of a job.

Things happened even faster for Carol, after that – fast especially for someone who, like most of us at this stage of life, was never looking to include life-threatening illness in her life experience. By early September, she’d been given three months to live. Her goal was to make it through all three of them, which, God willing, would be just enough time to see her first grandchild.

I made a trip to see Carol that week and brought a small CD player I’d picked up. She’d been feeling so terrible that even reading and watching TV were impossible, but she could still enjoy listening to music. However, her own CD player had broken.

CD playerThere was so much I couldn’t do for her. This, at least, seemed like one small thing I could offer. Knowing how weak she was, I searched for a little machine that was lightweight and, hopefully, something she’d be able to move herself.

The day I saw her, despite the fact that she was essentially drifting between worlds, she, as always, received my gift graciously.

But my heart was saddened by two things that were clear from the moment I watched the home-health nurse call for an ambulance to take her to the hospital: Carol was never going to use that CD player, and she wasn’t going to live to see her grandchild born.

A week later, I sat in a small Victorian church whose beautiful stained-glass windows flooded its pews with rosy light. Waiting for Carol’s funeral service to begin, I was thinking about her life, and all of the things that would never be, when I noticed that among the vases of cut flowers and the pretty candles that had been set out on a small table up front, there was something familiar.

Read the rest at BoomerCafe:

DSCF3564http://www.boomercafe.com/2014/07/14/touching-story-love-friendship/

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

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=


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In the soul’s secret symmetry

Gleanings found here and there:

Love gives life to the lifeless. Love lights a flame in the heart that is cold. Love brings hope to the hopeless and gladdens the hearts of the sorrowful. In the world of existence there is indeed no greater power than the power of love.

   ~ ’Abdu’l-Bahá

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and scared. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the earth.

~ Rumi

O God! Prepare for us all those things which are the cause of unity and accord! O God! Descend upon us Heavenly Fragrance and change this gathering into a gathering of Heaven! Grant to us every benefit and every food. Prepare for us the Food of Love! Give us the Food of Knowledge! Bestow on us the Food of Heavenly Illumination!

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.

Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul. May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.

~ John O’Donohue