Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Out from under the old

The world is in travail, its agitation boiling over as chaos and confusion increase daily, even hourly. Some days, I barely get my eyes open before the spectre of these assails my inner and outer senses.

Thankfully, many of us recognize this time of immense transition for our human family, this new stage of inner evolution we’re being summoned to. I could say “invited”, but I must remind myself that, whether or not I accept, the big event is going to happen, with or without me.

If left to the limits of my human nature, I would surely be in despair. I would live there, like a permanent address.

“The true joy of every soul is the realization of the divine Spirit,” says Hazrat Inayat Khan. “Absence of realization keeps the soul in despair.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá offers an observation that is particularly timely about this process of realization:

“When woman’s point of view receives due consideration and woman’s will is allowed adequate expression in the arrangement of social affairs, we may expect great advancement in matters which have often be grievously neglected under the old regime of male dominance — such matters as health, temperance, peace, and regard for the value of the individual life. Improvements in these respects will have very far-reaching and beneficent effects.”

What remedies lie waiting if we give such due consideration and allow such adequate expression?

How does it FEEL, within us,  to contemplate what it means to be “grievously neglected”?

Artwork: Judy Wright

And what curious term did ‘Abdu’l-Bahá choose to describe something grossly imbalanced that has ceased to provide benefit and, quite often, causes harm? He calls it a “regime”.

What has any of this to do with my own choices, perception, and thoughts — the powers of my own birthright? It’s so much easier to read a passage like this and feel pulled downward, toward hopelessness, or outward, to make judgments about current conditions and others’ behavior.

Yet what keys do the things ‘Abdu’l-Bahá identifies here hold for the “realization of the divine Spirit”? He also said:

“The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.”

As he points to the bright possibility of this balance, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is saying that the regime of dominance, which has ruled with force, is losing that dominance. Two questions that immediately come to mind are: Do I believe that?” and “How am I working in harmony with that reality?” Other considerations might include: “Are there ways that I still resist that liberating truth — or in which I prop up that obsolete regime?”

As travail, chaos, and confusion escalate, even engulf our world, I can recognize the effective remedy that awaits me, and the world, in the qualities described here. Of course, part of the paradox is how much the social conditioning of that “old regime” degrades these very qualities, even seeks to destroy them, when it can’t co-opt them for its own self-serving agenda, most of which doesn’t sustain life, but imperils it.

The delightfully good news is that these qualities ‘Abdu’l-Bahá names are unlimited, and indestructible. Unlike that regime.

What does a world in which “mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service” are valued — even prized — look like? Feel like?

In the midst of any noisy, confused chaos, I can look for and discover this in myself and others, every day.

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How copper becomes gold

Photo: Saffron Moser

 

Some words that particularly guide the way for me, right now —

“The teachings of the Bahá’í Faith instruct us to work to reshape society based on principles of love, inclusiveness, and reciprocity.

“This requires that our means be consistent with our ends―that is, by transcending current approaches that tend to divide people into contending groups, raising consciousness in such a way as to bring them together in the earnest and honest search for solutions.

Photo: Diane Kirkup

“The language we use and the attitudes we take, while not ignoring the harsh realities that exist in the world, should appeal to the nobler aspirations of our fellow-citizens. They should reflect assurance that the vast majority of us sincerely desire justice, and must be unifying rather than divisive.

“Above all, our approach must be suffused with the spirit of the sacred Word, which grants us access to immense spiritual resources. Indeed, it is the one power on earth that can transform the copper of human consciousness into the gold of spiritual perception and behavior.”

 ~ National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, February 25, 2017.


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Roots of hunger, role of justice

munichgirl_card_frontI have read a lot about about hunger — and destruction — on the road to my novel The Munich Girl.

There was a lot of hunger, in a lot of places, before, during, and after the second World War. I have an abundance of first-person accounts from people in my own family who have never forgotten what it feels like.

Many of them paid a big price for it with their health, or lived in fear afterward with cupboards they can never empty before the contents spoil. From my earliest days, I listened to stories of what it feels like — what you feel like — when you don’t have enough to eat.

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Photo: David Campbell

I wonder what those who sought to remake the world with justice after the war would think of where we find ourselves as a world today? There is still hunger. There is unbearable savagery.

There is a collective consciousness that remains unconscious of the reality, precious value, and imperative of soulhood.

In fairness, it’s hard to remake a world in “justice” in the midst of unimaginable destruction. If you only operate out of what you think you know about justice, what you think history and experience have shown it to be, the possibilities in such imitation are, inevitably, quite limiting.

If you don’t know what the very purpose of justice is, it’s like traveling without a map, or even a polar star.

The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men.

~ Bahá’u’lláh

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Photo: David Campbell

Unambiguous, this declaration is. And doubtless, very difficult to conceptualize — and apply — if you act only from what you believe you know about human beings, and potential, based on what you believe you know about human history and experience.

As I continue to study the war that launched our world into entirely unimagined directions, many of which have congealed in blighted possibility, like plants insufficiently watered, I think I’m discovering what the root of all hunger really is. There is much we have not yet mined, nor learned, from “history.” History itself often remains a narrow category deliberately designed to keep certain things in, and certain things out — essentially what has always led to violence of every kind.

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Photo: Diane Kirkup

But there is also a legacy that always outlasts that — a brilliant jewel of indestructible power whose facets reflect those qualities of justice and unity that Bahá’u’lláh has pointed to. I believe that it is the only reason there is any possibility of either survival or advancement, just as I believe that humanity continues, if blindly, to let itself be convinced to treasure trash, while overlooking the one true treasure it has.

John O’Donohue has recognized what it is, and why it triumphs, and why we suffer so deeply — every kind of hunger we know — when we betray ourselves by depriving ourselves of it:

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Photo: Timothy Jette

Our time is hungry in spirit. In some unnoticed way we have managed to inflict severe surgery on ourselves. We have separated soul from experience, become utterly taken up with the outside world and allowed the interior life to shrink.

Like a stream disappears underground, there remains on the surface only the slightest trickle. When we devote no time to the inner life, we lose the habit of soul. We become accustomed to keeping things at surface level.

The deeper questions about who we are and what we are here for visit us less and less. If we allow time for soul, we will come to sense its dark and luminous depth.

If we fail to acquaint ourselves with soul, we will remain strangers in our own lives.  

~ John O’Donohue


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Deciding the life we live

The grassy footpath over the cliffs 375

Photo: Kathy Gilman

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

Justice is what love looks like in public.

 ~ Dr. Cornel West

When I hear somebody sigh, “Life is hard,” I am always tempted to ask, “Compared to what?”

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Photo: Karen Olin Darling

~ Sydney J. Harris

Best work we can do on ourselves is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.

~ Carl Jung

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.

~ Kahlil Gibran

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

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

~ Flora Whittemore

Wisdom is instinct in body, emotion in heart, knowledge in mind and intuition in spirit.

~ Ian Lawton

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

~ William James


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For whom the bell did not toll

Oneycover

A wonderful resource about Ona Judge.

Though she spent the greater part of her life in my home state of New Hampshire, Ona Judge lived literally in the shadow the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia – without one morsel of the freedom it has come to represent.

Now the Liberty Bell itself has a history full of irony. When it first arrived from where it had been cast in London and was hung outside the Pennsylvania State House to test its sound, it cracked at the stroke of its own clapper, a rather inauspicious sign. Tradition maintains that it was tolled in 1774 to declare the inauguration of the First Continental Congress.   Abolitionist newspaperman William Lloyd Garrison coined the name “Liberty Bell” to describe it when it was used as a symbol in an 1839 pamphlet produced by the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Although the bell had been recast after it cracked, a second crack occurred that required it to be repaired yet again in 1846. Perhaps days later, the bell was rung for several hours in honor of George Washington’s birthday. It was during that time that a crack advanced from the top of the repaired crack to the crown, and the bell was rendered unusable. LibertyBellVisitPhillySite

A venerable part of the nation’s history all the same, the bell was removed from its tower in 1852 and displayed to the public in a variety of locations, the most recent, and presumably final, the Liberty Bell Center pavilion in Philadelphia, just south of where George Washington had lived in the 1790s. At that time, this home was the equivalent of the White House, which had yet to be built in what was then the wilderness of the future District of Columbia.

During the design and construction of the bell’s display pavilion, planners discovered that the site was adjacent to the living quarters of black people who’d been enslaved – ones owned by the “Father of Our Country.” And, it turned out, visitors to the Liberty Bell were accessing the bell by walking directly over the quarters where the home’s slaves had been housed.

Among those enslaved servants was Ona Judge, hopefully a figure who will one day have name-recognition for every American school child, well beyond the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Hers is a tale of how a black woman challenged and bested her “master,” who also happened to be the leader of the nation.

Oney_Judge_Runaway_Ad“Born into” the slave-holdings of Martha Washington, Ona had become a famous face herself, one often seen at the many grand events Martha hosted, and which Ona’s arduous workdays made possible. At the age of 15, Ona had already had one wrenching parting from all of those she knew and loved when she was one of seven slaves to leave Mount Vernon and accompany the First Family to its new Philadelphia executive residence.

Small surprise that, when Martha announced her intention a few years later to bestow Ona as a wedding gift upon her granddaughter, Ona, whose trustworthiness and good service facilitated her coming and going freely in Philadelphia, simply walked out the front door while the family was eating dinner. Uneventful as it was, this escape would have brought severe penalties had she been caught.

Heaven knows what pluck and resourcefulness helped her get all the way to Portsmouth, NH, where she was promptly recognized on the street by the daughter of Senator John Langdon, as the Langdons knew the Washingtons very well. Ironically, although in covert ways, it would be Langdon who would help Ona keep her freedom by ensuring she had sufficient warning whenever Washington’s appointed agents came to find her.

BeckyBrownOnaJudge 1

Excellent info. about Ona Judge and history of her times: http://civilwarquilts.blogspot.com/2014/01/threads-of-memory-1-portsmouth-star-for.html

Ona made a life for herself as a free black, even as she knew that slave-hunters could appear at any time to seize her, along with any children she might have, and she’d have no recourse at all. “Mistress of her needle,” as Washington himself had called her, she found a work as a seamstress and married a Black sailor, Jack Staines, and the couple had three children.

Some years later, after his retirement from the Presidency, Washington – no doubt at the chiding insistence of an outraged Martha, said to be the stronger personality of the two – dispatched yet another hunter, his nephew, Burwell Bassett, Jr., to try and fetch Ona back. One again, John Langdon’s intervention helped warn her in advance.

Although Ona died a ward of the state in her own home in 1848, having outlived her children, the citizens in her small community of Greenland, NH, cared about her enough to help keep her stocked with essentials. Her life as a free woman was unquestionably more difficult, in terms of material comforts than it would have been had she stayed with the Washingtons.

More than once, she was asked how she could relinquish the “silks and satins” of that “fine way of life” she had known for inevitable poverty. Her reply: “I am free, and have, I trust, been made a child of God by the means.”

It seems it was richness in spirit she was after, and the real freedom the Liberty Bell had come to symbolize: the ability to read and learn, to worship as she chose; and to spend the hours of her time as she, herself, determined to.

LAFS6377506I wonder how history will come to view and redefine the kind of liberty that’s been symbolized by a bell that lost its voice, and a woman who found hers, and sounded the bell of her own freedom?

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=