Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details

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We’re finding our way, beyond war


Book Club Mom Barb Vitelli – don’t miss her Read this, not that! blog

Book Club Mom Barb Vitelli had already been kind enough to feature me as an indie author at her blog last month.

Then she surprised me by fitting The Munich Girl into her busy reading schedule, and sharing very thoughtful reflections about it.

Barb has her own special connection with German culture, in a family history that includes relatives from the region of the Black Forest. They owned and operated a small hotel, restaurant, and bakery there, in a building that was bombed by Allied forces and then rebuilt after the war.

broetchen-verschIn her review of the book, Barb writes, “People choose their life paths for many reasons and their decisions are sometimes hard to figure. During wartime, many ordinary people become trapped on these paths, in situations that are bigger than themselves.”

In these tumultuous days of our own, much of life can begin to feel something like wartime.

Yet our hearts can help each other remember there is so much more — real and enduring goodness — waiting for us to bring it forth into our world together. There is an important reality, what has been called “an atmosphere in which peace can emerge,” that begins with each one of us. 424

Overall, the intent of The Munich Girl is less about Eva Braun and what we may or may not think about her life and choices than it is about the very themes that Barb draws out. These invite us toward better prospects and possibilities, if we can find the collective will to work and learn our way toward them.

I thank every reader who is reading, sharing, responding to, reviewing, and introducing the novel to book groups, readers’ networks, and so many others.

So much is changing so fast in Europe, and our world. Yet you help me continue to trust that stories are a vital part of our connection, and our healing, our hope, and our power.

Find Barb’s review here: https://bvitelli2002.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/the-munich-girl-by-phyllis-edgerly-ring/

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The inner shapes the outer

4246fbb0b47db3620a87f203817e338c We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved.

Man is organic with the world. His inner life molds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it.

The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.


Courtesy: The Heirloom Gardener, John Forti / http://www.jforti.com/

~ Shoghi Effendi 

If an active, actual peace is brought about, the human world will attain to the utmost serenity and composure; wolves will be transformed into lambs … and terrors into divine splendors in less than the twinkling of an eye. 


Photo: David Campbell / http://www.GBCTours.com

~ ‘Abdu’l-Baha

If you want to change the fruits, you will first have to change the roots.

If you want to change the visible, you must first change the invisible.

~ T. Harv Eker


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Lighting the way


Love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear.

 ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Look ye not upon the present, fix your gaze upon the times to come.

In the beginning, how small is the seed, yet in the end it is a mighty tree.

Look ye not upon the seed, look ye upon the tree, and its blossoms and its leaves and its fruits.

 ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Do everything with a mind that lets go.

Don’t accept praise or gain or anything else.

If you let go a little you will have a little peace; if you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely you will have complete peace.

~ Ajahn Chah

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What the heart can never understand


Domstrasse, Würzburg, Germany, May 1945.

My writing world this week is all scenes of rubble and destruction as I pass day by day through the spring of 1945. Such devastation can weigh the heart down flat. I have to remember, as I visit the pages each day, that the subtitle of my work is The Legacies That Outlast War.

And when I turn to the world around us, humanity continues to make war on itself.

I was reminded that the Red Cross exists at all because the first Nobel-Peace Prize winner, Swiss businessman Henry Dunant, was so overcome by emotion at the sight of the unattended wounded on an Italian battlefield that his subsequent efforts led to both the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention.

So, the very first Nobel Prize, which launched a force for good still present in the world today, began with a response of the heart to what, in a sense, it could find no way to reconcile, so it offered itself in service to healing.

All week, my thoughts have turned to all that ‘Abdu’l-Baha said when he visited the U.S. in 1912, that it’s time for a whole world to understand what the Dalai Lama has summarized in this way:

At the end of a talk, the Dalai Lama was asked: “Why didn’t you fight back against the Chinese?”

He looked down, swung his feet just a bit, then looked back up and said with a gentle smile, “Well, war is obsolete, you know.”

Then, after a few moments, his face grave, he said, “Of course the mind can rationalize fighting back … but the heart, the heart would never understand.

“Then you would be divided in yourself, the heart and the mind, and the war would be inside you.”

And that, indeed, is something the heart will never understand. Perhaps this is what lies at the very heart of the proliferating violence that shocks us so. At its roots is this despairing, hopeless  battle — one that can never be won, by anyone. What the heart most longs for is to be part of a force for good.

Artist Barry Lane and his daughter Jessie have recorded a sweet reminder of where our real power and possibilities lie, even in a shattered world. Hear the song, “Only Love”, from Force Field for Good: https://barrylane.bandcamp.com/track/only-love


A useful kind of going astray

During the weeks I spent in Europe last spring, I got reacquainted with the power of the natural world to quiet my mind in order that my heart will be able to hear at all. For the voices that assist and guide it are soft and subtle, and are drowned out by the din of life and the world.

Because of the wide-open nature of so many European settings, the sky is a constantly-changing panorama I found myself stopping to watch like a movie, and there was always something on the horizon that I would set out on a long walk simply to see up close.

A Well Groomed and Tidy Land 86

Photo: Kathy Gilman

Ironically, more often than not I never made it there because I was waylaid by something magnificent along the way.

It could be the slant of the light on a field; the shape of a lone tree in the midst of hectares of rolling hills; one small, stunning blossom on a branch that brushed me as I walked past, like a woods creature trying to get my attention.

Diedenbergen_signs“To reach something good it is very useful to have gone astray, and thus acquire experience,” wrote Saint Teresa of Avila

Astray from what? I wonder.

My preconceived notions? Insistent, certain ideas or opinions?

When I leave room for wonder or miracles, it leads me back to something Pema Chödrön has summarized beautifully in her book,

Practicing Peace in Times of War:

“If we want there to be peace in the world, we have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid in our hearts, to find the soft spot and stay with it.

We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility.


Photo: David Campbell. http://gbctours.com

That’s the true practice of peace.”

And Pema has also captured the very fulcrum of living:

“Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live.”


Tending the smoldering fire

photo 2

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:


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



The Light keeps a place for each of us


Photo: David Campbell / http://gbctours.com

For two years in a row, I had the pleasure of wandering around the fairy-tale scenes of Germany in Advent. It’s a time full of the beauty and light that the Solstice brings, even as it’s paradoxically the time when our ancestors huddled near fires hoping their stored-up harvest would last long enough.

One December day, I made my way to the market I purposefully frequent for my own supplies. It’s a store that probably would have been put out of business by the much larger one built on the edge of town recently were it not for the one resource it provides that the other behemoth cannot: community.

Kauf2Every employee, without fail, says hello, even shares a thought or remark that invites conversation.

The aisles are narrow, yet we all seem to be able to find what we seek and, as if by tacit, unspoken agreement, move thoughtfully, so there never seems to be jostling or haste. Shoppers go to the larger store, if they’re looking for those things.

Customers wait patiently in the single check-out line, actually talking to each other, as the cashier assists the pensioner who moves quite slowly, and then forgets to retrieve his cane.

A young man leaves his place in front of me to run after him with it.

I watch their silent exchange outside through the window behind the cashier, who has also stopped to watch, along with the mother and toddler who are next in line.

Nobody seems to mind that this incident has brought everything to a halt.2501c71da8c20a0d6985117771781830

The old man’s face first looks startled, then lights like a sun. For an instant, it’s a boy’s face again.

The young man looks modest, then happy.

They part with a wave.

Seconds later, he reappears inside the store just as I’m arriving at the cashier. He shows no sign of expecting anything other than heading to the end of the line.

I have so little German – mainly a smile, and enough words to thank him, and tell him that his place in line has waited for him, right here, as I point in front of me.


Photo: David Campbell / http://gbctours.com

His face is a precise reflection of that sun in the old man’s.

My heart feels as though all time, and all happiness, are here with us in the perfect oneness of this moment. There is enough light in us never to leave anyone in the dark, nor cold or hungry, or lonely or forgotten.

What a bonus comes home with my shopping bags – the very Spirit of the Christkind, the Christ Child.

It didn’t cost me a thing. Yet how much poorer I’d feel without it.


Beyond the scaffold of our past

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


“If we want to see changes first of all we need to be in peace inside ourselves, and then we need to be patient with the ones that have not yet arrived in that place of peace.”

~ Grandmother Margaret Behan, Arapahoe-Cheyenne, fifth generation of the Sand Creek Massacre. grandmother-rita-

“The past is not a burden; it is a scaffold which brought us to this day. We are free to be who we are—to create our own life out of our past and out of the present.

“We are our ancestors. When we can heal ourselves, we also heal our ancestors, our grandmothers, our grandfathers and our children. When we heal ourselves, we heal Mother Earth.”

 ~ Grandmother Rita Pitka Blumenstein, Yup’ik mother, grandmother, great grandmother, wife, aunt, sister,friend, tribal elder.