Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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The tabernacle of unity hath been raised

Image courtesy of artist Jeannie Hunt

 

The evidences of discord and malice are apparent everywhere, though all were made for harmony and union.

The Great Being saith: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.

Artwork courtesy of Julie Bond Genovese.

We cherish the hope that the light of justice may shine upon the world and sanctify it from tyranny.

If the rulers and kings of the earth, the symbols of the power of God, exalted be His glory, arise and resolve to dedicate themselves to whatever will promote the highest interests of the whole of humanity, the reign of justice will assuredly be established amongst the children of men, and the effulgence of its light will envelop the whole earth.

~ Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh

If we look reflectively upon the material world, we realize that all outer phenomena are dependent upon the sun. Without the sun the phenomenal world would be in a state of utter darkness and devoid of life. All earthly creation — whether mineral, vegetable, animal or human — is dependent upon the heat, light and splendor of the great central solar body for training and development. Were it not for the solar heat and sunlight, no minerals would have been formed, no vegetable, animal and human organisms would or could have become existent. It is clearly evident, therefore, that the sun is the source of life to all earthly and outer phenomena.

In the inner world, the world of the Kingdom, the Sun of Reality is the Trainer and Educator of minds, souls and spirits. Were it not for the effulgent rays of the Sun of Reality, they would be deprived of growth and development; nay, rather, they would be nonexistent. For just as the physical sun is the trainer of all outer and phenomenal forms of being through the radiation of its light and heat, so the radiation of the light and heat of the Sun of Reality gives growth, education and evolution to minds, souls and spirits toward the station of perfection.

~ Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace

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The season that calls us home

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You should go home to your hermitage; it is inside you.

Close the doors, light the fire, and make it cozy again.

That is what I call “taking refuge in the island of self.”

If you don’t go home to yourself, you continue to lose yourself. You destroy yourself and you destroy people around you, even if you have goodwill and want to do something to help.

That is why the practice of going home to the island of self is so important. No one can take your true home away.

 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education … But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being.

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Photo: David Campbell

Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.  Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes.

At least, if for nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct, to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you. Regular meditation, say about 15 minutes a day before you turn in, can be very fruitful in this regard.

You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative features in your life, but the 10th attempt may yield rich rewards. Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.

~ Nelson Mandela


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The gifts of fear

541_1099255106753633_2986521664856853477_nFear can be instructive when I experience it, though I’m not meant to dwell on it, or in it.

If I understand the inner signals of fear, whose purpose is to educate and inform me, I can choose to make the necessary adjustments in belief and behavior that will prevent for me the unhealthy and painful mental state of being consumed by that fear.

Most often, that state seems one of attempting to avoid the fear, rather than meeting it and receiving what it has to reveal.

12540955_1083557441675049_3476144824824426026_nIn the physical world, a fear signal is often a potentially life-saving reaction that prompts me to move quickly out the way of harm to my physical self. In spiritual terms, I can also experience triggers of fear that point to what could pose danger to my own true and most enduring reality. This signal often arises when I cross the line of moderation and form an attachment to some aspect of the material world.

For every worldly attachment I make, I can gain an unhealthy fear, then easily become overwhelmed by such fears. The remedy, detachment, is in refraining from allowing my physical possessions, the things I do, the things I think, feel, believe, to possess me. For these are what perish.

WTOEimage.phpThe heart, it seems, is never at rest and never finds real joy and happiness until it attaches itself to the eternal, to what does not perish.

 

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

http://www.amazon.com/Thine-Own-Eyes-Imitate-Investigate-ebook/dp/B00I1JPC7I/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 


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The unexpected ways that love arrives

8b1eb59397011a81c3ee5df8596ef411My new novel, The Munich Girl, is about many things, including a secret friendship between two women, one of whom was Hitler’s mistress, and later wife, Eva Braun.

But it is really about two realities that matter a great deal to my heart.

The first is the experience of reunion with and “coming home to” our truest self that we all must eventually encounter in our life. We each have our own timetable for this, but my opportunity to accompany many people toward the end of their lives has assured me that this is so.

The second, and particularly fascinating, for me, is the mysterious role that others play in that process, often in highly unexpected ways.

munichgirl_card_frontAs a child in Germany, and when I returned to visit as an adult, I heard little about the years of the Second World War — mostly just “thank God it’s behind us.”

Yet, similar to characters in the story, some of the kindest, most morally courageous people I knew were those Germans who never wanted the war, or National Socialism, and found creative ways to outlast it and to help others as they did.

They found the way to endure, not lose heart, and keep faith and hope in times of enormous destruction and suffering.

And, they made meaningful choices wherever they could, mostly on behalf of others, more than themselves.

11072937_833787143357991_5837640068723456300_nI believe that the example in their lives applies more than ever in our world, and that we’ve barely tapped into the spiritual gifts and lessons they offer.

As Elizabeth Sims, novelist and contributing editor at Writer’s Digest noted in her kind comments about the novel:

Love can manifest itself in enigmatic—and unexpected—ways.”

This month, life unfolds a continuing series of wonders about how our human family is going forward together, whether or not war — and hatred — try to assert their presence in the world. I am humbled daily in my encounters here in Germany with those who are seeking a safe life for their children and themselves, and those who have open willing hearts to help them. There is so much learning (and laughter!) on both sides of this engagement and interaction. A new culture of learning together, one might even say. Wertroofs76971_374138912682406_791237199_n

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would write a novel with Hitler’s wife as one of its characters.

Never for a moment did I imagine that the book would come out into the world while I am in Germany. Certainly, I never planned for that.

And never could I have imagined that I would find the themes of that book’s story reflected back to me as the descendants of those who were once in flight for safety here themselves — plus a few who remember the actual experience from childhood — so willingly offer their hands and hearts to the many who are arriving here.

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/


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The many angels on my way

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Photo: David Henderson

It’s a landmark birthday for me, this year. Reflecting, as I do at this time each year on four seasons of gratitude, I’m supremely aware of all that relates to the connections my heart has with others. I want to honor and bless every single soul I have encountered on the path, who, as Gangaji so aptly states, is “my own self”.

The publication of my newest work, The Munich Girl, brought the opportunity for that most delightful of gratitude exercises, writing the Acknowledgements, with all that they reflect about how accompanied I am on my path. I had forgotten what a very satisfying way this is to reach the completion of a written work.

I’m also grateful for the work that others entrusted to me this year, quite a wondrous collection of projects that, magically, arrived at the just-right time in my own creative life and process.

Each brought with it a powerful lesson about mutual cooperation and reciprocity. I have known that creative process embodies this spiritual principle, and hope to one day create a book about how creativity and spirit work together in our lives as forces that shape each other, and us.

The first of these gifts arrived in February, when musicians Randy Armstrong and Volker Nahrmann of Unu Mondo asked whether I’d serve as a sort of word custodian for the liner notes of their newest work, Beyond Borders. I have loved their music for so long. It has, most truly, been a soundtrack of my life and work. The ice-cream experience in this for my spirit is that all through the concluding stages of my own work-in-progress, I had this out-of-this-world music to accompany me. It literally transported me to the very last pages of my book. Some days, I know it was the push, or pull, that got me there, helped me remember to let my mind go quiet so that something could be born through my heart.

Then a longtime writer friend, V L Towler, extended the opportunity to be a sort of doula as she brought her novel, Severed,  to completion. I knew the minute that she asked that this was a part of my own blueprint’s grace. Stage by stage, I have been humbled as I watched the level of dedication, consecration, and resilience she has shown as her work comes whole. I’ll thank divine bounty forever that she is the particular company that my fiction-writing self has received on the last leg of my book’s journey.

And, when a season of dark nights rose up like storms, another writer arrived with perfect timing to bring remedy, and offer me yet another chance to serve. Phyllis Peterson’s words reached right into my heart, as they had when I first heard her speak nearly 20 years ago, telling the truth without fear — or beyond it, at least. The arrival of her Authority of Self manuscript at this juncture in my life, and that of my own book, reminded me that when life can look the darkest, God sends the brightest messages of hope and mercy.

And last, but impossible to be anything but most, dear Larry Gray, those little intervals you invited me to spend with your text may just have saved me from my biggest problem and challenge: my insistent self.

Each day, as your beautiful beads pass through my fingers now, my prayerful heart soars in gratitude.


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Author of wild, unpredictable circumstance: my dad

2005 China Slide Show 001Eight years after my father’s death, a memory of him blooms as faithfully each June as the flowers erupting all around.

Days after his death, I was lamenting the achingly empty rooms of his house when something pulled my attention to his back garden.

The brilliance waiting there nearly bowled me over — I remember literally gasping to get my breath back. Every bush, shrub, and bulb he’d ever planted seemed to be in bloom at once, ecstatic testimony to the indomitable nature of life itself.

That indefatigable blooming brought to mind the last bit of gardening we’d done together the year before. Dad had a little strip of land on which he planted impatiens each year. That June, I’d spied two trays of them on his patio and realized that, since he could barely walk any longer, there was no way he could plant them. September 2007 225

We were quite a team that day, “helped” by his ever-eager miniature schnauzer, Patsy, namesake of the saint on whose day she was born. Dad churned up the soil with a long-handled trowel while I followed, nestling the little plants into place. It had just rained so the job was messy, the mosquitoes thick, and Patsy a determined quality-control inspector (i.e. right in my face) as I hunkered over those beds.

I knew the task was one of the very last things we’d do together.

Year by year, I discover the many intangibles my father helped bring to bloom. The day of my UMass graduation, he pulled the car to the side of the road on a rise that overlooks Amherst (he was inclined to try and execute things with a flourish), turned around to where I sat in back, and announced: “You graduated. And you did well. But most important is that you kept going. You didn’t give up. In time, you’ll value that more than anything else.” 11010530_988410544523863_8454246950852480917_n

This June’s new bloom is the next book that will take wing soon, the one on which I’ve been working since right after I met his eyes and watched him take his last breath that June day in 2007. As steeped as The Munich Girl is in Germany and World War II, he unquestionably had something to do with the wild combination of unpredictable circumstances that steered me headlong into it. (Wild combinations of unpredictable circumstances were one of his hallmarks, too.)

And yes, yet again, he was absolutely right about the value of perseverance, whose importance always becomes more visible in the light of time.

IMG_7118Thinking about plants and growth, I’m reminded of an instance in which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá counseled someone who’d experienced the loss of a loved one that while the pain of physical separation remains for those left behind, for the one who dies, it’s as though a wise and kind gardener has transplanted a struggling plant to a wider, more welcoming place where it can reach a whole new level of growth.

Many things in life, as well as death, bring that home to us each day.

Bloom on, Dad. And thanks for that reminder, much more useful than my degree ever was.

coverthumbFrom Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details.

More about the book at:

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details/dp/1931847673/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1FYGVM9S5BGBZH2TJHR4

   


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The increase and advance of love

Israel 058It’s a special time for Bahá’ís around the world as we remember The Báb.

His life and the spiritual revolution in its story was my first encounter with the Revelation of the Bahá’í Faith. From those earliest days, these words of The Báb’s have traveled with my grateful heart:

     “O peoples of the world! Whatsoever ye have offered up in the way of the One True God, ye shall indeed find preserved by God, the Preserver, intact at God’s Holy Gate.” Israel 004

 

Every sparrow, every hair of our head, every feather and seed and blade of grass is accounted for.

Imagine the real spiritual presence of each one of our willing efforts and actions.

It is easy to feel dismayed by the world as we see it around us.

But the building of the good is what is preserved — the increase and advance of love in the coming forth of what is of God.