Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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A girl, a bat, and a story about courage and compassion

NEW RELEASE

Life delivered a very sweet gift when my children’s book, illustrated by wonderful Maine artist Leona Hosack, came into the world this week, published by Baha’i Publishing.

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Illustration: Leona Hosack

Jamila Does Not Want A Bat in her House is the story of a little girl frightened by the bat swooping around inside her house, especially when her parents can’t get it outside.

It flies out of their reach, over their heads, and disappears where they can’t see it. Jamila does not like this game of hide-and-seek at ALL.

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Illustration: Leona Hosack

When she finally sees the bat up close, she discovers that it’s very small, and that it might be as scared as she is.

That’s when she finds the compassion, and the courage, to help the bat, her family, and herself. Along the way, she learns about perseverance, cooperation, and the real power of prayer to help us meet the challenges that can arrive in our lives like unwelcome visitors.

Bats have visited my family’s Victorian house regularly through the years. Over time, as our family solved the challenge of freeing them, we learned a lot, as Jamila does, about the value of empathy, and of working together for the benefit of all (including the bat).

Find more about Jamila Does Not Want A Bat in her House here:

http://www.bahaibookstore.com/Jamila-Does-Not-Want-A-Bat-In-Her-House-P8761.aspx

 

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In a season of restraint

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Photo: Wertheim.de

The word “relinquish” has a special attraction for me whenever it appears in prayers and passages of inspiration. In a time of fasting that has become a reprieve, as well as a “season of restraint,” I begin to notice how interrelated the experiences of restraint and relinquishment can be.

A description for restraint that really appeals to me is “self-possession.” Might that be true possession, of one’s truest self?

While restraint seems like a condition that arises from my taking responsibility for my self and actions, “relinquish” means to surrender or hand over. This almost makes these two sound like some sort of opposites—or maybe complementary partners

11014906_824910567597565_94928212601865149_nSurrender and handing over can be very tall orders. But there are two other synonyms that offer accessible first steps in that process: “let go by” and “let pass.”

Relinquishment offers an invitation to freedom—from the erroneous notions and occasional tyranny of my own thoughts. Not the thoughts I experience when engaged in focused, constructive intent, but the ones that spin round and round, either in the past or in the presumed future. They usually suggest unhelpful things and never, ever, take me anywhere new. “Noise,” some might call them.

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Photo: Kathy Gilman

Something well worth restraining or moderating.

How? By choosing what meditators know is an always-available option: letting thoughts go by as they arise, like the clouds, the weather. Not identifying with them, or defining myself by them. Remembering that Reality is so very much greater than anything those thoughts are trying to reinforce; those opinions of which they’re so certain.

Choosing instead to spend my time, and attention, in what inspires and uplifts me—claiming back the resources that scattered, frenzied, fired-up thoughts often consume and using them for something better.

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Cover illustration: Corinne Randall

In a book called The Seven Valleys, Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “A servant is drawn unto Me in prayer until I answer him; and when I have answered him, I become the ear wherewith he heareth … ”

When I relinquish something lesser for something greater, I seem to catch the sweet notes of that greater kind of hearing. As insistent as my thoughts can be, when I’m willing to relinquish them, what appears in place of them feels positively eternal. And always life-giving.

 


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The ear wherewith he heareth

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Painting: “River of Life”, Diane Kirkup

The word “relinquish” has a special attraction for me whenever it appears in prayers and passages of inspiration. In this month of fasting that has become a reprieve, as well as a “season of restraint”,  I’m noticing how interrelated both restraint and relinquishment can be.

Synonyms for the first include words and phrases like “self-control” and “self-discipline”, as well as “moderation”. (As in moderating one’s self toward balance?)

One description for restraint that really appeals to me is “self-possession”. Might that be true possession, of one’s truest self?

IMG_2758

Painting: “Waves” by Diane Kirkup

Where restraint seems like a condition that arises from my taking responsibility for my self and actions, “relinquish” means to surrender or hand over. This almost makes the two sound like some sort of opposites — or maybe complementary partners.

Surrender and handing over can be very tall orders, of course. But there are two other synonyms that sound like accessible first steps in that process: “let go by” and “let pass”.

What I now hear in the possibility of relinquishment is an invitation to freedom — from the erroneous notions and occasional tyranny of my own thoughts. Not the thoughts I experience when engaged in focused, constructive effort, but the ones that spin round and round, either in the past or in the presumed future. They usually suggest unhelpful things and never, ever, take me anywhere new. Noise, some might call them.

Something well worth restraining or moderating.

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Image: Kathy Gilman

How? By choosing what meditators know is an always-available option: letting thoughts go by as they arise, like the clouds, the weather. Not identifying with them, or defining myself by them. Choosing instead to spend my time, and attention, in what inspires and uplifts me — claiming the resources that scattered thoughts so often consume and using them for something better.  

In a book called The Seven Valleys, Baha’u’llah wrote, “A servant is drawn unto Me in prayer until I answer him; and when I have answered him, I become the ear wherewith he heareth … “

When I relinquish something lesser for something greater, I seem to catch the sweet notes of that greater kind of hearing.

As insistent as my thoughts can be, when I’m willing to relinquish them, what appears in place of them feels positively eternal. 

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

http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=leaofthetre-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=1931847673″

 


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The grace that wakes my heart

When I awake with a prayer running through my head like a song, I know that my day is already wide open to happiness.

Instead of finding myself awash in thoughts run rampant — or consciousness dragging to life like sluggish motor oil, here is a mild, reassuring rhythm already oscillating inside me. All-embracing, and transporting.

This affects me so deeply that when it’s time to read the prayers I customarily say with my husband each morning, the mere sight of words like “the All-Merciful, the Ever-Forgiving” and “the ocean of Thy nearness” overwhelm me to astonished tears, like immersion in an ocean of light.

I am embarking upon what members of the Bahá’í Faith sometimes call the “Season of Restraint.” This is a period at the close of our calendar year when, for 19 days, we are asked to undergo a material fast from food and drink during daylight hours as “an outer token of the spiritual fast … the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God.” 

Fasting from the appetites of the body reminds me how insistent these appetites can be; how unsatisfied, and unsatisfying.

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Photo: Saffron Moser

And it also helps me be aware of how much time the business of survival can consume in my day, and my awareness — especially when it’s overemphasized by the culture around me to the point at which I might begin to forget that I have a spiritual life at all.

Fasting reminds me that there is an entirely other possibility waiting in my living that’s like a portal to a wider, kinder refuge. One in which I am visited and accompanied by a grace like the prayer that woke my heart.

coverthumbAdapted 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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The state of mind that approaches prayer

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Photo: Kathy Gilman

Gleanings found here and there:

The important thing is to work in a state of mind that approaches prayer.

~ Henri Matisse

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.

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Photo: Saffron Moser

~ Wendell Berry

The practice above all practices is to relinquish the immature desire to be taken care of (by our parents, spouse, government, guru, church, etc.), and to parent our own originality. To give ourselves the support that we may never have received.

To get behind the creation of one’s life is to recognize your influence in ‘the way things are,’ and nurture your vision with protective discipline until it is strong enough to serve in the world on its own.

~ Toko-pa

Wertskyline10628299_827947707229100_5000927020300862535_nWe must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for in our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.

~ Hermann Hesse

The mind asks, the heart is the answerer.

~ Elizabeth Peru


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Learning to fly, again

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All Photos: David Campbell

I was discussing the ebb and flow of life with a friend recently. Naturally, a topic like that led to thoughts about the weight of the world’s pain, and the often contrasting lightness of the things a soul feels called, attracted, toward.

The conversation turned up the possibility that sometimes our doing what we do is a kind of imitation of our own past, a habitual need or effort to control what goes on around us to eliminate surprises or feelings of powerlessness. But that doesn’t relieve pain.

At times like these, I’m reminded of a phrase from a prayer I’ve been saying daily. It’s a kind of acknowledgement that I — and others — can feel like a bird struggling to fly again:

” … grant that this broken-winged bird attain a refuge and shelter in Thy divine nest that abideth upon the celestial tree“.

DCdove427315_10150775762841802_1281660509_nMy friend wondered whether our part, in relation to what this passage points to, is a matter of following our heart, and keeping that heart connected to what is its Source. A bird, we recognized, flies in accord with the forces that make its flight possible, in spite of what may pose obstacles or threaten to impede that.

When in such a heart-open, flight-focused mode, my companion noted, “I understand that what we do is like a river. It flows and moves, it changes its course according to conditions … I have to flow with it — and I never arrive.

She cited a passage she especially loves:

I am the royal Falcon, on the arm of the Almighty. I unfold the drooping wings of every broken bird, and start it on its flight.”

“I realize,” she said, “that the unfolding of the wings of this broken bird is from moment to moment. There is not some moment in the past when I was broken, and my wings were unfolded, and that was it. No, moment by moment by moment, my wings are unfolded and I am started on my flight.”

DCGanse996728_10151804325191802_146979027_nThat unfolding, she suggested, brings with it a changing of our perception, an inner knowing that helps us remember that we are never stuck, earthbound, if we don’t choose to be.

A willingness to have our wings “unfolded”, to listen and hear with our heart, seems to awaken and increase our capacity to respond, and to respond differently.

To fly free, again.

 

Cited passages from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.


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A father’s gift of prayerful confidence

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Painting: Judy Wright

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.

~ Mahatma Gandhi

As I reflect with gratitude on the role my children’s father has played in their lives, I recall the tone he set right from the start in connecting them with the resource of prayer.

Following surgery, our toddler daughter, returned from the recovery room swathed in medical tubing, looking lost in a cage-like crib that prevented us from reaching or touching her.

“Please say prayers,” her tiny, post-anesthesia voice croaked as we hung over her, feeling helpless. Not quite 3, and she already knew exactly what to do first in any uncertain situation. Her dad had stood over her every night at bedtime, from the day of her birth, and recited the prayer for healing she no doubt then also knew by heart.

When her younger brother came along, we whispered prayers into his tiny ears, too. Both children also saw our own prayers as a part of daily life. (“Thank you for being quiet now. Daddy is praying.”)

But one day, our small son showed me that using prayer and having confidence in it are very different things. I know instictively that this is something he learned from his dad. I was driving a pretty exciting sports car that my husband’s brother had loaned us while our own car was in the shop. As I was driving to pick up our son at his preschool, it started to snow. At first, it was just a pretty coating on the trees, but by the time I reached his school, wet snow was coming down fast and had covered the roads.

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Painting: Judy Wright

I picked up our son, and as we pulled away from the school, seat belts safely fastened, the big racing tires on that car sent it into a frightening spin. After I regained control, I realized that it was going to be a very difficult drive home on twisting back roads. I was scared, and remember saying something out loud that was surely a prayerful plea.

I saw my son fold his hands, drop his head, and remain silent during that 20-minute crawl that usually took 10. When we reached our driveway, he released a large exhalation of relief and asked, “Is it OK to stop praying now?”

I looked at him, astonished, and realized that this was what he’d been doing as I’d struggled to get us home safely. And of course, his 5-year-old’s literal logic simply knew that those prayers had done their job, right?

The prayer he had used is one that many Baha’is throughout the world employ when faced with challenges: “Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!”

This was a somewhat long prayer for such a small boy to have committed to memory. He referred to it at the time as the “e-mover.” He had, quite possibly, first begun to hear it said out loud when his father would say it when we saw an auto accident on the road as we traveled.

The unity and love in a family bestow gifts on every one of its members. The inner confidence our children learned from their father about the power of prayer continues to help me learn that everything benefits when prayer is applied to it, and that every answer, whatever its outward appearance, is a blessing.