A Pail of Cherries

August 9, 2022

Some years back, my daughter authored a “good news” blog which, I believe, was called “Silver Linings.”  She spent hours culling different news sources in search of something positive, and, inevitably, she would indeed find an uplifting story and post it.  Her purpose was to remind her readers that good things do happen and good people do exist.  Unfortunately, she had few eager followers and fewer “likes,” so she closed the blog, which says much about how we humans prefer to spend our attention.  Her experience reminds me of Don Henley’s song, Dirty Laundry, and the oft reported notion that bad news “sells.” 

Yes, dirty laundry and bad news attract us, if today’s headlines and social media posts are any indication.  Both can become addictive which is why, I believe, so many of our great spiritual leaders urged us to seek silence and solitude in order to find solid grounding, balance, and a new vision, just as they did.  Isn’t there a part of us that craves the Light?  That wants the noise that the sky is falling, and we are falling with it, to cease? A part of us that seeks a reason to hope?  Yes. That part of us might be called our “soul” or our “heart” or our “True Self.”  And the good news is that good news does still exist.

Maia Mikhaluk is a Ukrainian citizen who lives in Kyiv.  Since the Russian invasion back in February of this year, she has posted daily on Facebook about what is going on in her beloved country.  If you use Facebook, you can find her there and follow her personal accounts.  They are not always for the faint of heart, and there are days when I honestly cannot digest the cruelty of what her people are experiencing.  Many other days, she posts about the good things that are happening, the light that shines and that keeps the Ukrainians going.  Maia writes, As much as it hurts to be a witness to the worst that humanity is capable of, we do get to also see a rise in courage, sacrificial generosity, kindness, care, and love.”  If courage, generosity, kindness, care, and love can exist in the deepest voids of war-torn Ukraine, surely they can exist where we live.  Surely, such acts are around us, if we have eyes to see, and are within us, if we have the courage to witness.

A couple weeks back, Maia described a sacrificial kindness.  She and some fellow church members packed food baskets to distribute to those in villages that had been ransacked by Russian soldiers.  In one such village, as Maia’s team was leaving, a woman named Anna rushed up to the truck with a pail of freshly picked cherries, giving away her cherries not out of abundance but out of gratitude.  One of the team members accepted the cherries and made cherry pirozhki, fruit-filled buns, which she then took to the church the next Sunday.  Those who had shared food with Anna and others like her now shared the gift that Anna had given, without ever knowing each other.  Again, as Maia writes, “That’s how we survive this war—by not allowing our hearts to be consumed by hatred for the enemy, but rather filling our hearts with concern and kindness towards each other.  This is how the light overcomes darkness.”

A pail of cherries.  A plate of pirozhki.  Intertwined lives.  A light shining in the darkness.  The philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) wrote, “The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms . . . ”  We each have a choice as to what we attend to, how we respond, and how we ground our souls, hearts, and True Selves. We each have an opportunity, a calling, to share the Light, no matter how inconsequential it may seem.

With love and light ~  Rosemary

Pail of Cherries

Across the world,
war uncurls as one country eats another
like a snake swallowing its own tail
like a serpent trailing itself through a saffron
and indigo garden, devouring anything
everything in sight with
unceasing appetite.

Across the world,
in ruined villages and gutted towns,
men and women stumble to their gardens
in futile search
of what they had planted–of what
they had dreamed.
They lift empty hands in prayer
in despair
for a world snarled in black storm,
inky palls, the uncertainty of gray.

Across the world,
where emptiness gnaws,
a stranger, a woman,
appears through the dust
that circles a hungry village, a pail of
bright cherries in her hands,
hands that have just gathered
this offering of bright red cherries
from bomb-singed branches, cherries
to be shared, bright cherries
in a pail, a spot of crimson, glowing
against the gray scorched
soil in a shadowed world
where, for a moment, the snake
pauses and blinks.

© Rosemary McMahan

Foreign Land

July 11, 2022

Apologies to those who follow this blog for my rather lengthy hiatus these past few months.  I took some time away to discern whether and how to continue publishing a blog.  During that time, so much changed here in the States that, at first, I couldn’t summon the energy to write.  All my attention was on holding tightly to the white river raft: the repercussions of the 2016 election.  The Covid-19 pandemic.  The repercussions of the 2020 election.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Rising food and gas prices.  Mass shootings.  School children murdered.  Parade-goers slaughtered.   Gun laws loosened.  Supreme Court decisions limiting freedoms.  Constant turmoil of some kind or another.  I felt I was being shoved under by the piling on of one extreme event after another.  Why write?  What difference would it make?  I felt I could barely keep my head above water.  At times, I still feel that way.

Then a memory returned to me.  When my two children were teenagers and wanted to go see popular horror movies/slasher films with their friends, I advised them against going.  My reasoning was two-fold:  1) It can be difficult to remove terrifying images from our minds, even if they are imaginary; and 2)  Giving attention to such violence feeds such violence.  Better to give attention to those things that are life-giving instead of life-draining.  These admonitions have come back to me in regard to my own present action or inaction.  I can choose to give attention to the chaos, and only the chaos, which then gives power to the chaos, or I can choose to respond in a life-giving way.  Chaos has its purpose:  it WILL demand change.  How we respond to the change and how we help mold the change are up to each one of us.

Let’s face it.  What we knew and expected of life five, ten years ago, is gone.  We can’t go home again.  Across the globe, a Pandora’s Box has been opened.  The pandemic didn’t help it, nor did the characters of the various people who chose to lift the lid.  What had been brewing, simmering, for so long has been let loose, there can be no doubt, and that fact can actually be an opportunity for us to re-examine our cultures, make amends, and reclaim the good.  To do that, though, requires that we don’t allow the chaos to suck us in.  For me, that means I return to writing.

I think of my words like dandelion fluff.  I ponder them, write them, publish them, and then blow them into the wind.  I don’t know where they will land or who will hear them.  Only the Spirit does. But I have to keep sending them into the wind, believing that along the way they will offer a bit of hope, a bit of love, a bit of resolve, and a bit of community, giving energy and intention to the good.  It is, indeed, a strange new world, and it is up to us to keep the Light shining in whatever ways we can.

Adding my light to yours ~ Rosemary

Brothers of Joseph

O Joseph, favored son of the brightly colored coat,
see how all your brothers gather again
in these strange and foreign days.
Watch them tear at your garment, again,
ripping it to shreds in their envy,
destroying what they do not want others
to possess. They turn their backs
on ancient Jacob in his grief, their hands
splattered with innocent blood.
Joseph, your brothers have arrived, raising their guns
high and taking aim. They toss freedom of conscience
into your dusty pit, burying it with the innocent victims
of their rigid rights, shaping their own morality
into a golden calf. Watch them take their scythes
to nature, destroying it with their open, hungry
mouths, selling their (our) birthrights
to the highest bidder, chiding old Jacob
in his grief. See them judge love: who can love,
how to love, when they themselves have no love.
Joseph, your brothers are here, unchanged,
trampling on others, unraveling the good,
filled with the hot passion
of the anger and envy
that almost killed you.
Joseph, your brothers are here, and we turn our heads,
plant our seeds, raise our hands to the sun, lift our prayers,
and wait to dance with Miriam in freedom.

© Rosemary McMahan

Half-Mast

May 25, 2022

Our flag slides down the silver pole
once again
stopping halfway
again
its trajectory now rooted in its memory.
This time it pauses and wavers
in remembrance of nineteen children
two school teachers
trapped and murdered in a classroom,
each crumbling one after another
onto the blood-stained floor.
I see their photos, smile after smile
on brown faces, white faces,
hopeful faces,
one child wears a t-shirt
“Difference maker” emblazoned
in white.
Gone, they are gone,
sacrificial lambs
placed upon the great red brass altar
of the American Gun,
copper, tin, and zinc bow down,
and all the priests
in royal garb and meaningless chant
surround it with their “rights”
and their endless hungry fear.
I go outside where my summer plants
have begun to bloom, and I prune them,
setting each loose blossom
to the wind
in prayer for children who will not
race in the sun.

© Rosemary McMahan

In Between ~ Welcome 4

April 16, 2022

Thank you to those of you who have followed my prayer and spiritual reflections this Lenten Season.  I have tried—and continue to try—the three basic tenets of Zen Peacemaking:  the not knowing what will happen at any point in time; the bearing witness to all the different feelings (“parts”) of us without judgment but with compassion; and taking action in any situation as a thoughtful response instead of a reaction:  https://zenpeacemakers.org/the-three-tenets/.

Along with that practice, I have incorporated the Welcoming Prayer, as together we’ve looked at the spiritual concept of “relinquishment,” of being able to let go of those things/people we think we can control or fix and to instead open our hands to accept what IS while making room for the Divine Spirit to pray for and with us often wordlessly, “in sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).   None of these actions includes apathy or fatalism.  We aren’t called to be doormats and victims.  Instead, we are invited to listen to our deepest selves and to live in this ever-changing, often broken and dark world, from a place of serenity and calm that then influences the choices we make.

This Saturday before Easter is an in-between time, a waiting time, but not, no, a passive time.  God, by whatever name we choose, does God’s best work in the dark.  By being led in the ways of peacemaking and grounded in the prayer of acceptance, we find that resurrection in all its many forms does happen.

May new life flourish with you.  And speaking of new life, I will be taking some time away from this blog to discern and listen for what the Spirit is inviting me to do next:  to continue with this format, to concentrate more on my poetry, to produce a newsletter, or to do something entirely different.  I ask your prayers, and I will let you know where I am led.  Thank you so very much for walking with me. ~ Blessings, Rosemary

Listen
When the wind blows across your skin, listen
for the voice of an ancestor
guiding you toward your dream.

When you catch the glimpse of silver
dancing across the waves, listen
for the ancient secret that directs your path.

Listen to the way the breeze forms grooves
in the sand and learn about the symmetry
of your own life.

Listen to the way the pelican
rides on the currents or glides
across a cloudless sky, inviting you
to let go.

Listen to the hibiscus when it
unfurls its orange petals to receive
the Light, holding its breath at its own glory
and be amazed at each bright word
it utters.

Listen to your own heartbeat,
what it calls you to remember
and listen for the One
seeking that same heart.

Listen and become the sacred vessel
that treasures each sound it’s given
with reverent awe.

© Rosemary McMahan

Welcome, Welcome ~ 3

April 10, 2022

Palm Sunday is a fitting day for reflection on the third “relinquishment” of the Welcoming Prayer, a prayer I have visited in the previous two blogs.  It is also a fitting day for reflecting on our response to the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine and to any injustice that invites us to act, to “walk our talk.”  The Welcoming Prayer is a contemplative practice in which we are invited to open our hands and hearts and “let go” of our desires for power and control, for affection, esteem, and approval, and today, for safety and security, perhaps the most difficult. 

This prayer offers us a way of being.  When we let go (or try to let go), we welcome the Spirit and make room for it to work within us, instead of clutching and clinging to all we believe to be important or essential which, in reality, is transitory illusion.  This prayer welcomes us to put our faith and trust in something bigger than us and so is not an easy prayer.

“I relinquish my desire for safety and security.  Welcome, welcome, welcome.”

Saints, heroes, and martyrs exist in many of the world religions, and in these people, we witness a letting go of what the world claims we must have in order to be worth anything. They face down what our spirits and souls know is wrong, unloving, and unjust.  In my tradition, Jesus Christ is the prime example of relinquishment.  On Palm Sunday, we recall how he rode into Jerusalem to the cheers of his followers and the waving of palm branches, but by the end of the week, he was dead, crucified by the occupying government (Rome) for speaking his Truth that challenged those in power, crucified for offering light, love, and inclusion instead of darkness, hatred, and repression.  Christ relinquished his own safety and security, his very life, for a Higher Good.

“Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.…” Phil 2: 7-8.

Yesterday, April 9, was the anniversary of the martyrdom of 39 year-old German theologian and minister, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned for his active work against Hitler and Nazism. After two years in prison, relinquishing his own safety and security, Bonhoeffer was transferred to Flossenburg concentration camp where, without jury or witnesses or legal aid, he was sentenced to death and hanged, one month before the arrival of the Allied Forces and the end of WWII.

“When a madman is tearing through the streets in a car, I can, as a pastor who happens to be on the scene, do more than merely console or bury those who have been run over.  I must jump in front of the car and stop it.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The list goes on and on of those who have relinquished safety and security for a Higher Good:  Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero, the four religious women raped and murdered in El Salvador, Martin Luther King, Jr, the unidentified Chinese man who stepped in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square, etc, and etc, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Now, we watch President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine relinquish his own safety and security to stand up against the Russian warmonger Putin, along with the Ukrainian soldiers who have relinquished loved ones, homes, security, and safety for a Higher Good, just as their wives/husbands and children have done. We can follow the war through the courage of Maia Mikhaluk who posts daily updates on Facebook about the reality and horror of living in a war-torn country, risking her own safety and security.  We can hear (and heed) the words of Rev. John Burdin, a Russian Orthodox priest, who has ignored his own safety and security by speaking out against the war and Russia’s invasion.

“I don’t consider it possible to remain silent on this situation. It wasn’t about politics.  It was about the Bible. … If I remain silent, I’m not a priest.”  Rev. John Burdin

We need only glance at the news to witness the thousands of Russian people who have been fined, or worse, imprisoned for choosing to voice their dissent to this illegal, immoral, inhumane invasion, surrendering safety and security for Truth. 

нет войне.  нет войне. 

No to war. 

If we are engaged in the lives of others, in those across the world, we marvel, and we wonder.  And we are welcomed to go deeper.  In the silence of our hearts and our souls, we can ask the question:  How much of my own safety and security am I willing to relinquish in order to act for the Higher Good, or, for those of us who are Christians, are we willing to follow Jesus Christ, or just worship him?  Opportunities abound every single day to set aside our own comfort, safety, approval, security and esteem and face down the evil and unjust forces of this world.  Do we have that courage?  Do I? May it be so.

Walking with you ~ Rosemary

Forever Witness

Whip. Spit. Thorns. Nails.
Noose. Rifles. Shot guns.
Poison. Rape. Murder.
Hard labor. Isolation.
Bombs. Tanks. Deprivation.
Isolation. Betrayal. Cut off.
Death.
The reaction to words that speak Truth.
The reprisal for words that demand Justice.
The program for words that Enlighten.
The fear of words that Reflect.
The consequence of words that set safety
to the wind
words that rise up against all that is shadow
darkness denial oppression repression
words that swallow lies
words that will not die
words that survive to nurture
the soil in a small rocky corner
of a field where a sunflower
lifts its yellow head,
a daffodil nods in the breeze.

© Rosemary McMahan

Image credit: Pixabay

Welcome, Welcome ~2

April 2, 2022

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

This poem, The Second Coming, was penned by the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats in response to Bloody Sunday, the aftermath of the Irish revolution of 1916, and the continuing quest for independence from England.  Yet how relevant it is for this day, this world, as the inhumane Russian invasion of Ukraine continues and so much radical division exists in our world.  How can the “centre” hold?

Much of my Lenten journey this season has been focused on how to stay grounded to the center, which, for me, is God.  For others, it might be something or someone else.  Today, I continue to look at the Welcoming Prayer, a contemplative prayer that invites a Greater Power (in my case, the Spirit of God) to work within us to let go those things that keep us imbalanced.  The first “relinquishment” is power and control.  The second is the relinquishment of “affection, affirmation, and approval.”  As I said previously, the Welcoming Prayer is not easy because it goes against all we’ve been taught to cling to and obtain.

From our birth, we long to have people love us, like us, admire us, reward us, and praise us.  Perhaps you are like me, raised on the mantra, “What will the neighbors think?” and so have spent too much energy doing everything you can to make sure the neighbors (parents, spouses, partners, bosses, co-workers, friends) can only approve and admire.  Maybe you, too, have been shamed for being judged as “less than” and have felt the keen edge of another’s disappointment in you or disapproval of you.  Many of us choose professions where we can work hard to earn others’ love and esteem by what we do, and so meeting those expectations becomes our first, and impossible, goal.  Being first, being best, being loved, being admired, being on top of that rickety pedestal is what drives us.  It is exhausting. It is an illusion.

Consider this wisdom written by Thomas a Kempis in The Imitation of Christ

A person who cares nothing for praise or blame knows great inward peace….Praise does not make you holier than you are, nor blame more wicked. You are exactly what you are, and cannot ever be any better or worse than that, in the eyes of God. Attend to what is really within you, then, and you will not care what others say of you. People look at externals, but God looks at the heart. They weigh actions; God knows your intent….To feel no need of human support and assurance is a mark of inward confidence – of those who truly walk with God in their hearts.

“Attend to what is really within you, then, and you will not care what others say about you.”  I am attending to writing this blog and composing poetry that brings some degree of solace and beauty into this world. I have little idea of who reads it or whether it has any impact. I know others who think I “should” (always watch out for the “shoulds”; they are another person’s agenda for you) be doing something more “productive.” So the truth and challenge of a Kempis’ words relies on our awareness and trust that what is within us is our unique belovedness.  We are loved and valued by the One who created us, and nothing we do, or others think, can separate us from that love.  We may walk away from Love, but Love does not walk away from us.  So we can let go of our need and striving for transitory affection, affirmation, and approval as we pray, “I relinquish my desire for affirmation, affection, and approval.  Welcome, welcome, welcome,” and sit quietly, making room for the transformative power of that which is greater than us.

Look to the spiritual leaders and see how they let go of what others thought.  Look to the Christ, who kept his eyes on his purpose, not on what others thought of him.  Letting go is not an easy prayer to make, but it is a way to greater freedom and a path toward holding to the center.

Walking with you ~ Rosemary

Journey Blessing

Wherever you are
on your particular ancient path
may you give up expectations,
your own and others,
of what you “should be,”
when you “should have” arrived,
what you “should have” accomplished
by now
along with worry over whether
you have truly achieved
enoughness.

May you leave behind those expectations,
your own and others,
stuffed in the carry-always luggage
you dread hoisting
once more above your head
into the compartment
already filled
with bundles and backpacks
of those who could not
unpack.

May you honestly assess
what you have chosen to carry:
old records coated in dust,
ingrained “shoulds” that did not
arise from your own innocent soul,
snapshots yellowing with age
of what people think of you,
manipulations and mind-traps
of every weight and shape
to make you into another’s image.

May you rummage through your luggage
with courage and keep only
what is you,
by you, of you, and then
may you love yourself enough
to set your suitcase aside,
trusting the lightness
of what is precious
to lead you freely onward.

© Rosemary McMahan

Photo credit: Pixabay

Welcome, Welcome

March 28, 2022

If you have never wanted to control a person or fix a situation, if you have never wanted to step in and take over because you knew your way was best, if you have never tossed and turned in the night because of worry, then raise your hand.  That’s what I thought.  As humans, we all want some degree of power and we all want to be in control of our lives.  Our many cultures teach us that power and control are the ultimate achievements.  But are they?  Or are they simply illusions that control us?

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You.
May Your will be my delight today.
May You have perfect sway in me.
May your love be the pattern of my living.

In these forty days before Easter, this Lenten season, I have been sharing my journey about practicing (practicing being the operative word) surrender and acceptance.  Today’s blog explores a Christian form of contemplative prayer called The Welcoming Prayer.  Contemplative prayer is often wordless prayer where, instead of dictating our desires to God (power and control?), we surrender our own voices and open ourselves to the work of the Spirit in our hearts: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).   

The Welcoming Prayer is a prayer of surrender and acceptance, two behaviors quite countercultural in today’s world.  Surrender is the act of moving ourselves aside; acceptance is being receptive to what is.  This prayer is a prayer of relinquishment, of letting go of what we so often hold tightly.  It is not an easy prayer.

I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.
Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will.

The first step in The Welcoming Prayer is to settle ourselves quietly and “welcome” the Spirit, or the Christ, or God, or Allah, or the Buddha, or Nature, or whatever is we believe is the source of Divine Love. Our first surrender is this:  I relinquish my desire for power and control.  Welcome, welcome, welcome.  Then we sit in the silence for a few minutes, surrendering everything or everyone we are trying to control and releasing where we are fighting for power over others.  We let it all go, and welcome in its place Love.  This is not an easy prayer.

I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future.
Care for them with a care that I can never give.

For the last four years, my adult daughter has walked through fire.  Her journey has included a toxic work environment where she was emotionally and verbally harassed, a divorce, a job change that took her across the country during the worst days of the pandemic, working remotely over a year in a city where she knew no one, and now dealing with an immature and jealous co-worker who is undermining her work.  I cannot count the number of times I have wanted to tell her “what do to” or how she “should” respond or what other courses of action she could take.  I have tossed and turned with worry over her.  I have wanted to fly to be with her and fix her problems.  But . . . I  . . . cannot.  Her journey is her journey, and I, while I will always be present to her, have to relinquish (surrender) my desire for power and control (as if those will make everything all right, anyway), and accept that this is where she is right now.  I have to take myself out of the equation in order to give space to Divine Love to show me how to respond with love, wisdom, and care.  This relationship is simply one example of the many situations in which I crave control and power, yet I know that that craving is not leading me where I want to be spiritually.  Control and power do not make me a gift to this world.

I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity.

Seeking to relinquish power and control and “fixing” is not the same as being apathetic, uncaring, or giving up.  It is, instead, an acquiescence that God is God and I am not, that in reality, I am powerless over everything except how I choose to respond in this life.

Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your Kingdom on earth.
For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

The prayer which I have quoted here is the Prayer of Relinquishment composed by the Quaker theologian and spiritual author and teacher, Richard Foster.  It is not an easy prayer, yet it is a prayer for a more loving and peaceful world.  Welcome, welcome, welcome.

Walking with you ~ Rosemary

A Way to Be: Taking Action

March 18, 2022

“Fate of Hundreds Unknown: Missiles Hit City in Ukraine’s West”

“13 Year Old Boy Drives Truck into Van, Killing Nine People in Texas”

“Powerful Storms Could Bring Tornadoes To the Southeast (USA)”

“An International Agency Warns About a Global Energy Crisis”

“If you know how to make good use of the mud, you can grow beautiful lotuses. If you know how to make good use of suffering, you can produce happiness.” Thich Nhat Hanh

These headlines are just a sample of what I, and you, awoke to this morning. They are enough to make us head for the nearest cliff, or weep, or drink. Nothing seems fair, especially since we were just beginning to breathe again as Covid seems to take a step back. How, then, do we live?

This Lent, I have been trying to practice the three tenets of Zen Peacemaking as a way to grow in my own spirituality and do something meaningful for myself and for the world, since my actions- and yours- impact others. The first two tenets are Not Knowing and Bearing Witness, which I discussed in the previous two blogs. The third is Taking Action, the kind of action that arises from practicing not knowing and bearing witness.

So often we do not know what will happen next. If the last two years have taught us anything, surely the pandemic and war have proven how little we know about what is around the next corner. It is anyone’s guess. Christ knew that. It is why he so often spoke about the need to “stay awake” and pay attention to this moment, this day. Most spiritual leaders make that same demand because all we can be sure of is what is happening here, now. The challenge is how we will choose to respond to each moment.

So when the next thing does happen- a pandemic, war, terminal illness, lost job, death of a loved one, broken dream-how will we respond? As the second tenet invites, we bear witness to all our feelings and consciously choose which ones we will “feed.” Hopefully, the feelings we choose will lead to the third tenet: taking action in a compassionate way.

In an anxious and tired world, these three Zen tenets can lead to meaningful responses instead of violent reactions in any situation. If we want to change in any spiritual way, choosing to act from our hearts, from the seat of the Loving Divine, in a way that heals and comforts, is surely essential. Judgment, rigidity, self-righteousness, and violence are all contrary actions to caring from the heart, with compassion.

Sometimes the action we take is simply to continue to practice not knowing and bearing witness. Or perhaps the action we take is doing the daily things life calls us to from a place of peace, calm, and gratitude, avoiding all the noise of those who know no other way. Or maybe we speak out in the face of injustices. Our actions reflect who we are; they impact the world, a world that desperately needs care.

Walking with you~ Rosemary

Women Folding

Across the world, she pulls
crisp white dresses from a rope
suspended above baked mud,
her saffron turban wrapping her hair
on a windless hot day
while she folds each dress
with strong dark hands, her fingers
smoothing each crease in a longing
for Sabbath and hope.

Somewhere north, she picks up shirts
scattered like toys across a bedroom floor,
buttons them carefully, then folds them,
placing them in a drawer, her soft hand lingering
a moment on the collar while she remembers
her son as a child, wishing him love.

And to her east, she dries the last teacup
and folds the frayed dish towel
hanging it evenly over the empty bowl
before turning off the light, her long day
complete, her action a trust.

West of her, where bombs and missiles shatter peace,
she sits in a subway tunnel, sewing a button
on the jacket her brother is not there to wear
before folding each sleeve, along with her fear,
into place as she settles to wait.

Folding, folding, eons of folding,
creases smoothed,
squares, rectangles, triangles a way
of life, a way to life, a folding
that encompasses some sense
of order, a resistance to chaos,
an answer to not knowing,
an action, a prayer,
this ritual of a woman’s care.

© Rosemary McMahan

Image credit: Pixabay

A Way to Be: Bearing Witness

March 11, 2022

The Table

You know these voices,
if you have ears to hear.
They are legion, whispering
(or shouting) within you
desperate to be noticed,
coming from all corners
of your life, east and west,
north and south, from infancy,
to old age, and all the seasons
in between,
soloists tugging at
your sleeve for attention.
You wonder why they bother
you and what they want
while you try to swat at them
like so many buzzing gnats
and go your unlived way.
It is, after all, so much easier
pretending to be deaf, instead
of inviting them in for tea,
laying your table
with a freshly pressed cloth,
fetching the fine china cups,
the ones you keep in the glass-
fronted cabinet,
or even the chipped mug,
brewing the tea and baking
the cookies. But if you did
greet them as guests,
what would you say to each
voice, each self, that approaches
your table with caution
and desire? Maybe your only
role as host is to be silent,
do nothing but pour the tea,
pass the cookies, listen
to their stories unfolding
like morning glories,
exchanging compassion
for the gift they bring,
the wisdom of your own
unique life.

© Rosemary McMahan

You may be familiar with this story:  An old Cherokee Indian chief was teaching his grandson about life.  “A fight is going on inside me,” he told the young boy, “a fight between two wolves.  The Dark one is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The Light Wolf is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you and inside of every other person on the face of this earth.”  The grandson pondered this for a moment and then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”  The old man simply said, “The one you feed.”

During this season of Lent, as I consider my own choices, my own life, I am looking beyond my spiritual traditions and exploring the three tenets of Zen Peacemaking as a way of being in this often turbulent and always changing world.  The poem and this story are both examples of the power of the second Zen tenet:  bearing witness.  (See the previous blog for the first tenet, “Not Knowing”  https://spirit-reflections.org/2022/03/07/a-way-to-be-not-knowing/). When we bear witness, we acknowledge all the different feelings, or parts of ourselves, that arise at any given moment, whether it be full of joy or suffering, or somewhere in between.  We wake up to the current situation and give attention to whatever feelings, thoughts, or judgments arise, without condemning or stuffing any of them, but instead deciding which one we will attend to, or, as the Cherokee grandfather says, “feed.”  What comes out of our mouths, as Christ said, reveals what is truly in our hearts (Matthew 15:18).

“When you bear witness you open to the uniqueness of whatever is arising and meet it just as it is. When combined with not-knowing, bearing witness can strengthen your capacity for spaciousness, thus enabling you to be present to the very things that make you feel as if you have lost your center.”

As the first tenet confirms, we cannot know for certain what will happen next, not even in the next minute of our lives.  (The trout lily, pictured above, did not know yesterday that today it would be covered in a late snow.) But we do know that something will happen and whatever that something is, it may open a wide range of feelings, attitudes, opinions, and biases.  Bearing witness asks that we hear all those voices and respect them for whatever wisdom or lessons they may bring, and then we decide which one we will feed.

“Bearing witness can allow you to eventually come to terms with the most difficult life circumstances. The practice is always available to you regardless of the time, place, situation, or people involved. There is nothing that you cannot bear witness to, from dusting the lint off your sweater to living in a pit for two years.” 

With the possibility of a growing war, and in the midst of so much division, to live from the center of our lives, to live in balance, to be able to respond to these present times instead of react, to choose what brings Light instead of Darkness, may be the single most important gift we can give to our world. 

Walking with you ~ Rosemary

Quoted material from Zen Peacemakers:  https://zenpeacemakers.org/the-three-tenets/.

A Way to Be:  Not Knowing

March 7, 2022

I won’t speak for you, but I want to know how the war in Ukraine is going to end.  I want to know now.  I want to know if we are through with the crisis of Covid-19 or if another variant will emerge this spring or summer or fall with all its turmoil and grief.  I want to know now.  I want to know if I will still be alive tonight as I begin to think about our evening meal, and I want to know now.  Our desire for certainty masks our false sense of control because the truth is that we cannot know what is going to happen next.  We may predict, but we cannot know.

In the Not Knowing

It is a bright March afternoon
foreshadowing the spring to come
but not yet.
Forecasters predict possible
tornadic activity, falling temperatures
for tomorrow.

At this present time, with the presence of war, life feels very unstable, but life has always been unstable.  This reality is not something any of us wants to easily admit.  We also don’t want to accept that our biases, our convictions, our perceptions that may have influenced us since our births are not the only “true” ones and that our personal biases, convictions, and perceptions are not what make the world go round. 

I barely catch a glimpse of them
as I drive by. The red blanket
spread on the green lawn
catches my eye, the young woman
sitting there, head tilted back
in laughter, dark hair spilling
down her yellow sweater.

Accepting our not knowing, then, becomes a spiritual practice and a way of staying grounded in the flux of our ever-changing, unpredictable world and lives.  In the Zen tradition, not knowing involves letting go of our rigid perceptions about ourselves, others, and the world, releasing all our “isms”: racism, sexism, classism, etc.  It is a form of compassion that involves meeting life without any preconceived ideas, interpretations, or judgments. In the Christian tradition, not knowing is similar to the practice of Centering Prayer where we sit in silence, empty ourselves of ourselves, and allow the Spirit to pray and work within us, without our interference.  Not knowing can be expressed in many forms of mindfulness, meditation, and other types of contemplative prayer and practice that guide us to a place of stillness ( where “I AM” dwells) and that help us to stay in the present moment, where Truth resides.  Not knowing does not lead to indifference, indecision, inaction or complacency but instead helps us to become more aware of what we choose to let in and more open to what we might have previously excluded.

A jean-clad man, standing on the edge
of the blanket, smiles, holds
a basket while a chestnut-colored
Lab lounges at the woman’s feet,
the trio complete.

In this Lenten Season, as a way of being, the practice of not knowing, of giving up any self-righteousness, rigidity, and control resonates with me.  It is also a way to make real the peace that the Christ promised, a peace that is “not as the world gives . . . so do not let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:26–27).

This moment is all they know
all they need to know-
a front yard picnic
on a bright March day-
none of us knowing what tomorrow
will bring.

© Rosemary McMahan

Image credit: Pixabay