Darkness into Light: A Poem for Advent

“Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.” ~ Fr. Alfred Delp, martyred in Nazi Germany, age 38

As we enter the darkest time of year, my hope and prayer is that each of us will shine the light we have been given, be the light for one another.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Candle-Prayer

In the small still shadow of a darkened morning
before the screeching of this broken world repeats,
I strike a match and set it to a stub of wick:
an offering of light being birthed yet again.

Before the screeching of this broken world repeats,
I breathe sacred flame-glow into heart, psyche, soul
an offering of light being birthed yet again,
a single, slender candle singing prayer.

I breathe sacred flame-glow into heart, psyche, soul,
imagine the brilliance of a hundred million candles
burning quietly on the edges of every dawn
before the screeching of this broken world repeats.

I strike a match and set it to a stub of wick,
my hope for this wounded world one fluttering flame,
a single, slender candle singing prayer
in the small still shadows of a darkened morning.

(C) Rosemary McMahan

How, then, Shall We “Live” Thank You?

Nov. 25, 2021

In the United States, here we are again, though in a different way from Thanksgiving 2020.  Many of us who did not gather with family and friends last year will, thanks to vaccinations, be able to do so this year, and that seems more than enough for all the thanks we can give—to be together, to be alive, to be with those we love.  This year, we will gather with new appreciation (I hope) around that table that bears the weight of too much food, more than enough for one sitting, for those of us fortunate enough to have family, friends, a home, health, and food.  It is fitting, always, to give thanks.

Our great spiritual ancestors from all traditions stress the importance of giving thanks, particularly in the Psalms, such as Ps. 92:1, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to the Most High.”  The apostle, Paul, advised, “Give thanks in all circumstances”  (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Jesus Christ, when faced with feeding a crowd, took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd,” (Matt. 15:36).  The Buddha taught that gratitude is essential to integrity (ponder that one), while the Dali Lama wrote that, When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect towards others.”  My personal favorite is from the ancient mystic Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Yes, so many of us have so very much for which to be thankful.  And yet . . . being thankful is just half of the process of gratitude.  The other half of the process is being aware of those who do not have—do not have enough food, do not have affordable housing, do not have equal opportunities/rights, do not have family, do not have a country, do not know they are loved, precious, important.  If we only focus on how “blessed” we may be, we lose sight of the human responsibility to act in some way for those who are not.  That is why the radical John the Baptist reminded us that if we are fortunate enough (and thankful) to have two coats, we give one away, or as the social worker and activist Dorothy Day said, “If you have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor.”

Yes, I am grateful for this life, not always an easy life and certainly a journey with twists, turns, obstacles, and challenges, but it is my life, an abundant one, and I say “thank you” to all who have shared it with me in some way, and to the One who called me here. I am also thankful for the awareness that with gratitude and blessings come opportunities to give, to share, to act, to stand up for someone else, to include, to love (“thanks” plus “giving”).  What we do with our “thanks giving” is what can change the world.

Blessings ~  Rosemary  20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Bearing With . . .

Nov. 22, 2021

A week or so ago, a friend of mine was sharing the recent sudden death of her brother-in-law with our group.  As she described being with her sister and her sister’s children, she became choked up and teary-eyed, asking us to “please bear with” her while she took a moment to compose herself.  Witnessing the love and sorrow on her face and feeling my pain stemming from her pain, I suddenly understood the true meaning of those three words.  She meant them as we commonly do—to please be patient while she collected herself—but I was aware of them as an action.  We, a group she trusted, were indeed “bearing with” her, bearing her sorrow, bearing her tears, bearing her grief, out of love for her.  Did it change the reality of the situation?  No, but I trust that our communal bearing somehow eased her own burden a bit.

This morning those three words came back to me.  I was listening to the morning news, only to hear about a driver who crashed through the barricades of a Christmas parade seven hundred miles from me, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, yesterday, killing five people and injuring almost fifty others.  A Christmas parade.   With children in strollers and elderly people with walkers and kids marching down the street in bands.  A festive, innocent affair where nobody who showed up would have wondered if attending that parade that afternoon would end their lives or haunt them forever.

“Bear with me.”  I thought of all the grief surrounding those deaths, of all the worries in the hearts of those with loved one in the hospitals, of all the shocked and stunned lives, of a devastated community.  “Bear with me.”  I thought of the family of the driver, of his friends or loved ones, of the driver himself who apparently did not believe he had anyone to “bear with” him, of the tragedy of all of it, yet another tragedy marking a world scarred and hardened by tragedies.

But how do we “bear with” those we don’t even know, who live half a country, or half a world, away?  How do we let them know that our hearts ache, our tears flow, our souls sigh, that their pain isn’t simply a news bleep or headline we have forgotten about almost as soon as we have heard it?   I do not know.  Yet I do know that if we do not feel with those affected, if we do not realize that their losses are our losses, as well, we risk losing our humanity.  I must believe that whatever prayers I lift for them, whatever Light I ask to shine upon them, whatever angels of comfort I call upon somehow reach them because we are all part of the whole, knit together by the Creator who called us in to being.  As the priest and poet John Donne wrote so long ago, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. … Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” 

Any man’s, any woman’s, any child’s.  I write this to ask you to let me know how you “bear with” others in these heart-searing situations.  I honestly would like to know.  I write this as my small offering of care for those in sorrow, shock, and pain in that community.  I also ask anyone who reads this to lift a prayer for those crying in Waukesha, light a candle, whisper comfort, or send a vision of Light.  No, we cannot fix the tragedy or change the reality, but together, we can wrap Waukesha in a shawl of love.

Walking with you ~  Rosemary   20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Sacred Cycles

New Hampshire woods, Fall 2021

Nov. 17, 2021

I have been extremely fortunate this fall to see so much colorful foliage.  Here in the southern states, the leaves typically dry up, turn brown, and tumble away, but this year, perhaps due to all the summer rain, they transformed themselves into muted reds and vibrant yellows.  In New Hampshire, the autumn foliage stunned me at every turn, and even outside of Chicago, on what used to be prairie land, the leaves and grasses lit up in color.  The problem with all this beauty is that I don’t want it to end.  I don’t want the trees to drop those rich, warm hues of delight, and yet they will.

New Hampshire Fall 2021

Autumn is the most subtle of seasons.  With all its beauty, it knows what is next—the letting go.  It is also the season that most stirs my soul and touches my heart.  When I had young children, autumn marked the start of school, an exciting time of growth, and a recognition of another year gone by, preparing me, like an autumn tree, for that not-so-distant letting go.  Now that I am older, autumn reminds me where my days will eventually take me, to a final letting go, and letting go of those I love.  Autumn demonstrates for us the truth that life will be different in the future.  The wheels do turn.  But if wheels did not turn, we’d be stuck.

Autumn also offers us an opportunity to assess our lives and to discern in the early shadows of the afternoon what we might be holding too tightly, so tightly that we are keeping ourselves from opening a space for something else.  It could be anything—an emotion, a grudge, a fear, a lost love or opportunity.  It could be a material possession to which we are too attached or perhaps a lost dream begging to be let go in order to let a new dream breathe.  Autumn invites us to trust the open palm that understands something has to be released in order for future birth to take place.  Creatively speaking, autumn invites us to consider letting go of an art form that is comfortable and familiar in order to embrace and create something new.

Chicago, IL Fall 2021

I wonder how this season of fall presents itself to you, in your life, in your creative work, in your daily work, and in your spiritual journeys.  What memories surface?  What experiences?  What feelings?  While pondering, don’t forget to to relish a final glimpse of the colors and listen to their wisdom before they tuck themselves in until the next turn of the wheel. Walking with you~  Rosemary    

Sacred Cycles

Long narrow roots of the maple stretch
like old slender fingers grasping the leaf-
littered ground, fingers fumbling over saffron
scarlet brown offerings of time
evidence of sacred cycles.
Branches themselves evolve into bare black
arms that know when to release
to let go, to set free, a black made vivid
by its bareness.
It is the bittersweet time of year—
everyone knows this—
bidding goodbye to all that came before
within another turning of the wheel–
but no not a dead season.
The multi-hued tapestry spread on the ground
becomes food for moss and mushrooms.
Empty branches recognize the slow sap
circling in anticipation of the next
creation. And though we do not
see them as well in summer through the shady
canopies, autumn stars still light
upon bare black limbs
and ancient slender fingers.
© Rosemary McMahan
20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Outside my window, after the leaves have let go.

Creative Community

Nov. 10, 2021

During the fall of 2020, in the midst of the ever-threatening Covid-19 pandemic, I enrolled in an online course with an emphasis on creativity and spirituality, based on Christine Valters Paintner’s book, The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (https://abbeyofthearts.com/). This course tugged at my heart because after years of not writing poetry, I was making a return, and I was also intrigued by the idea of interweaving arts and spiritual practices. 

For twelve weeks, this large group met virtually every Monday for a workshop led by Christine.  Artists of every sort showed up with participants from the UK, Ireland, and Canada, as well as many of the states.  Christine invited us each week to explore different areas of contemplative prayer as well as to practice some artistic endeavors, sharing our responses on a group wall.  Never have I felt so enriched or so excited because here were people that spoke my language.  That realization was incredibly reassuring in the Fall of 2020 here in the States, where a raucous and contentious election was taking place, causing me to wonder who we had all become.  This gathering of artists and monks became a sanctuary, a place to reclaim my own identity and sanity.

From politics to pandemic, a harsher, more divisive side of us has been revealed.  In the face of so much upheaval and confusion, I wondered what one action I could take that would make any difference, and I have realized that what matters now, perhaps more than ever, is creating beauty, however I can, with my own artistic medium—words.

The online community reminded me that beauty can be found in so many forms:  in poignant prose and poetry, in color when artists paint and quilters stitch, in the sculptor’s chisel, the musician’s instrument, the gardener’s green thumb, the photographer’s sense of shadow and light.  Beauty became my goal.  My spiritual practices of silence and meditation became my pathway.

When this course ended, Christine offered the opportunity to create small groups who wanted to continue the journey.  I joined such a group.  Initially there were ten of us when it began; we are now six—a solid six.  One member lives in the UK, two live in Canada, one in Washington state, one in New York state, and me, the Southern US representative.  We have never personally met, yet we gather monthly on Zoom to review what we learned with Christine, to share our art, to offer meditations and spiritual practices, and, most importantly, to create community where we all speak the same language, no explanations needed.  Every artist needs soulmates. 

I am so very grateful for these five artists in my life.  They are “church” to me because true church (religion, spirituality, philosophy, whatever gives Life) reminds us of beauty.  True church reminds us that we were created by Love so that we can create love.  Like the Creator, we are each called to create in the midst of this present darkness and to lift our offerings like candles that shine with hope and beauty.

Whatever your creation is, whatever your art form is, the world needs it, and I thank you for it.

Blessings to you  ~  Rosemary    20rosepoet20@gmail.com.

Gathering

for Monique, Lois, Liz, Jacque, and Berenice

They are like candles, this gathering of artists,
candles whose flames illuminate the darkness
of those who live on the edge, those whose language
is often foreign to the ears
of the world. Tall, slender tapers
of various hues—royal purple, saffron yellow
river green, desert sage, and rich dark bronze—they are
like candles shimmering and flickering,
casting images and shadows in paint
in words in texture in black and white
and color. Together, they create
a luminous light that fills the soul
and feeds the soul, befriends
the soul, shifting to the shapes
that ruach* whispers upon their flames.
Their art is wonder, the delicate stream
of smoke that rises from each of them,
a holy incense wafting to heaven
an act of brave beauty.

(c) Rosemary McMahan

*ruach: The Hebrew word for breath, spirit.

For ALL the Saints

Nov. 1, 2021

“The essential work of religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in ourselves and everything else too.”  Fr. Richard Rohr

I was born into a Roman Catholic family with devout (dogmatic) parents.  Yet what I remember most about All Saints’ Day, one of the major feast days in that tradition observed on the first day of November, is not a celebration of the holy elite or a desire to be like them, but having that day off from school.  One of the perks of attending a private Catholic school was that we were given holidays that our Protestant friends did not receive, and, as a child, All Saints’ Day was my favorite because it gave me the opportunity to sort all my Halloween candy.  Even as I grew up, All Saints’ Day never particularly spoke to me.  Looking back, I think it is because I never thought I’d be good enough, holy enough, sacrificial enough, in love with God enough, to be called a “saint.”

Let’s face it.  Most of us have some struggle with our own self-worth.  If we did not solidly receive (and accept) the message that we are loved simply because we are, simply because God chose to create us out of desire, then it is going to be difficult to imagine ourselves in the upper echelon of God’s beloved.  And the Church itself (both Catholic and Protestant) has not been particularly helpful in stressing our original goodness but has done a very good job of reminding us of our original sinfulness.  It’s no wonder so many of us have just given up on believing in our beloved-ness.

However, the very first book in the Bible, Genesis, tells us plainly that we (all of us, not some of us) are created in the image of God, and that God calls us (all of us, not some of us) “very good.”  Unfortunately, we’ve perhaps heard this phrase so often that it has lost its wonder.  We, you and I, whoever and wherever we are, are made in the image of the Divine.  We are, essentially, very good, not very bad.  We are loved by the One who loved us into being.  As the mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.”  We are called into being in joy, no matter what our human circumstances are.  If we could ever really “get” that truth, and see that truth both in ourselves and in each other, we would understand how significant we truly are.  We would ache to love back the One who loves us.

In Fr. Richard’s Rohr’s daily reflections, found at https://cac.org/category/daily-meditations/ he quotes author Danielle Shroyer (Monday, October 25, 2021) on this theme of original goodness, the foundation of our sainthood.  She writes: 

Sin is not the primary thing that is true about us. Before we are anything else, we are made in God’s image, and we are made to reflect that image in the way we live. Before scripture tells us anything else about ourselves, it tells us we are good. I think that’s because that’s the way God intended it. When we ground ourselves in the fact that God created us good, we are capable of confronting all the other things that are true about us, even the difficult things. Love is tremendously healing.   (from Original Blessing: Putting Sin in Its Rightful Place)

Eventually, the Catholic Church and I parted ways.  While there is much I still remember and revere about that tradition, there was much I also needed to let go.  I discovered that in the Protestant tradition, we are all considered saints, or, at least, invited to grow more and more in the image of the loving Christ.  Sainthood isn’t for the super elite but is available to each one of us.  We, ordinary, flawed and human people walking our spiritual journeys, are already, now, part of a great “communion of saints” composed of those ordinary, flawed and human people who walked before us, are walking with us now, and will be part of the future.  We don’t do this faith thing alone; in fact, we cannot.  We need each other, in our ordinary, flawed sainthood, as we walk together toward the Light.

Thankful for ALL the saints ~  Rosemary    20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Packing Bags

October 27, 2021

A most intriguing photo of a little girl, carrying a suitcase while she walks down train tracks, can be found at Istockphoto.com.  The link is https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/little-girl-with-suitcase-walking-down-train-tracks-gm108150513-1752798.  I do not know who took this photo, but for years I have kept a copy taped to my desk, hoping that one day it will inspire a poem.  So much intrigues me about the photo, such as where the girl is going and whether anyone knows she is missing.  Or perhaps she is returning?  What prompted her travel? But I also wonder about what is in her suitcase.  What did she deem important enough to pack for this particular journey?

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have done a good bit of traveling this fall.  While I relish the travel, I do not at all enjoy packing for my trips.  My anxiety level seems tethered to the act of packing.  I don’t want to forget any of the “essentials,” of course, but then I also worry about changes in the weather—what should I pack for rain?  Or changes in the predicted temperatures.  Do I need an extra sweater if it gets cold?  Shorts and a t-shirt if it gets too hot?  And what about shoes??  I can’t wear hiking books to a nice restaurant, after all.  (Actually, I could. That old record is the problem.)

This whole idea of “packing light” is always my goal, but by the time I have rolled (not folded) the clothes I think I need, and put in some extras, “just in case,” and made sure I have my glasses as well as my contact lenses, I feel dismayed and discouraged at everything I have come to believe I really need. Surely I can survive without half of these items!  I  want to be like that little girl who can carry one suitcase lightly in her hand as she traipses down the rail of a train track.

My packing anxiety is a decent analogy for the journeys we are all on in life.  Whether we are young, middle-aged, or older, we carry luggage with us, often wherever we go.  What we pack each day is habitual from years of lugging around the same things.  We throw in old records (you aren’t pretty enough, handsome enough, smart enough, successful enough, whatever-enough that our parents, teachers, companions, religions, told us, and we replay so often).  We roll other people’s expectations of what we “should” do, be, think, believe into the suitcase.  Let’s not forget past mistakes or shame.  And failures?  Everyone has them.  Toss those in, as well.  We unfortunately believe that these are the things we need, the items that define us, and if we don’t carry them with us, then who are we?

All of the spiritual mentors and leaders, from whatever world religions and philosophies, speak to us about the reality of “packing light,” or of “the open hand,” or of “letting go.”  My spiritual mentor, the Christ, said, basically, that to travel this life journey, I am invited to tether to him (not my over-filled suitcase) and to let my baggage be “light.”  Come to me, all you who are weary,” he said, “and burdened, (from lugging those heavy suitcases)  and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  I have often wondered if Christ had a double-meaning in mind for the word “light,” the burden being light to the touch because it no longer was something material, but something luminous, that he was inviting us to carry.

For me, I will continue to try to let things go, open my hands, and travel light, not just in my packing for physical journeys, but even more importantly, the spiritual ones.  I am drawn to the idea and vision of a burden of “light.”  If you need someone to help you carry your load, I’m available.

Traveling with you.  ~  Rosemary  20rosepoet20@gmail.com.

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
above, 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

On the Road

White Mountain Range, New Hampshire

October 21, 2021

Greetings, friends.  It has been five weeks since I have posted a blog, which calls for some sort of explanation.  Here in the States, I have been traveling from one coast to the other.  In September, we were able to meet good friends in Sonoma, California, where we explored the wine country for four days and enjoyed the beauty of Northern California.

Sutter Mill, California

Then we headed over to Nevada to see family who—due to Covid—we were well overdue in visiting.  We hiked in the foothills of the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains, savored the aroma of pinion pines, and laughed a lot together. 

After being home for a week, we packed up again and flew to Boston to visit our daughter.  When we helped her move a year ago, Covid was on a rampage, so we were not able to visit the city.  This time, we had the opportunity to explore and also took a side trip to catch the fiery autumn colors in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  In spite of being a bit uncertain about the safety of travel, we were careful, vaccinated, and masked, and extremely grateful to be able to reunite with family and friends and to see the natural wonders of our country.

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Since returning, I’ve struggled with what to post.  Travel is so rich with inspiration, but this blog isn’t a travelogue; it’s a place for travelers, for pilgrims and sojourners on the way, seeking and sharing wisdom and insights and beauty and meaning, connecting with each other and with The Creator.  Travel, even for enjoyment, isn’t easy.  There are always slow-downs and detours and risk-taking.  There is always the unexpected, and there is also the return, the settling back into whatever is routine.  As in life, travel involves both receiving and letting go.

White Mountain Range, New Hampshire

I am in the “settling back into” mode and am not at the moment sure where the Spirit is leading me or what the Spirit is guiding me to share in this space to which I have invited you.  But I am here, and I am listening, and I will post again soon as we continue our exploration of and our journeys to our own true selves.   We are, each one of us, an essential pilgrim on the way. I am grateful for you. Blessings to you ~  Rosemary

On the road, Boston, MA

Cherish the Day

September 14, 2021

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”—Thornton Wilder

I will be leaving on a 12-day trip tomorrow to visit my sister and her family who live across the country.  Yes, I am anxious, not just about the usual worries that come with air travel, but about the Coronavirus and being in such close proximity with people who may not be vaccinated, may be carrying the delta variant, and may decide masking just isn’t for them.  Any travel is a risk; yet, we had to cancel our visit last year because of Covid, and when will travel really be “safe” again?  Was it ever?

Much conversation and many decisions and choices these days still revolve around Covid, this microscopic virus that is doing what viruses do—infecting its hosts—and so often leaving us feeling helpless, hopeless, divided, or angry, especially here in the Southeastern United States.  We are so eager to know when things will be “normal” again that many act as if it already is:  thus, the rise of the delta variant.  But “wanting to know” is really code for wanting to feel in control again.  The truth is, though, that the world has always been an uncertain place where we liked to believe we had control; now the Coronavirus has taught us that the world is not certain, and we, mere humans, do not have control of it. 

Instead, whether we like it or not, we are holding the tension between what we would like our present experience to be, our ideal, and what it actually is.  It is in that space between the two poles that we now must live.  How, then, do we live?  Albert Einstein once said that “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”  Indeed, we do have options for changing ourselves in order to live more gracefully in the now of not knowing, options that include practicing discernment, wisdom, trust, faith, and gratitude.  And, I would add, living in the present moment, aware of its many gifts.

Nothing is more precious than being in the present moment. Fully alive, fully aware.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Every day, each moment, there is something to celebrate and something to cherish, if we have the eyes to see.  “Consider the lilies,” Jesus Christ advised.  Just that.  I am trying to practice this awareness, and yesterday I noticed for the first time the vivid saffron-colored coreopsis (pictured above) springing up in a corner of my yard where I did not plant them.  I felt as if the Creator had dropped off flowers for me.  This morning, I watched three hummingbirds defy each other to sip from the feeder as they performed their aerial aerobics.  Then, my plump tuxedo cat circled the sink, twice as he ritualistically does, before “asking” for a drink. These are moments to cherish, moments that may never come again, moments in which to be grateful for life.  These are the moments that fortify me, and perhaps you, for whatever does come next.

“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough.  Each moment is all we need, not more.” –Mother Teresa

Often in my blogs, I will share a poem I’ve written that accompanies my theme.  But today I am grateful to offer a special gift.  A poet friend of mine, Susan Luther, recently composed a piece that captures all that I am trying to convey in this blog and is lovingly willing to share it.  It is a powerful, yet gentle, reminder to trust that there is something to cherish.  There is something, or someone, calling us to have the courage to open our eyes to see it and our hearts to give thanks.   There is reason to “cherish the day,” when we are “conscious of our treasures.”  May you be blessed with moments of cherishing, and know that you are cherished, as well.

Blessings, Rosemary    20rosepoet20@gmail.com.

Ghazal on an Imperfect Haiku

Glorious Morning

two Carolinas
the high script of clouds hot green
tea – cherish the day

– SL

In pain, war, grief, joy: our days are few. Cherish the day.
– And if we find no clear reason to cherish the day?

Does the Carolina wren worry about death? Do
the clouds? Does the day demand its due? Cherish the day.

The doorbell rings. A friend wearing a mask brings ripe figs,
flower, a book splattered with fig juice. Cherish the day.

Arcs, swirls, circles – rainbows of red, green, gold, lilac chalk.
The sidewalk artist’s gift defies the blues: cherish the day.

Give us melons! But in Auschwitz, a meal of used spaghetti-
cooking water was a heaven-sent boon. Cherish the day.

What’s the silliest thing you can think of? The Chicken Dance?
Whatever it is, laugh like a loon, and cherish the day.

You say: the day you first saw me, BAM! you fell in love.
I took a little longer, but oh, cherish the day.

Melancholy, the black dove. When she swoops close, settles
on your shoulders – Eat. Sleep. Breathe. Live. Hope. Cherish the day.

‘Love the years of longing; love the brief days the desert blooms’ –
the brief, glorious days the desert blooms. Cherish those days.

The dragonfly’s wings move independently, yet it flies:
as we – sans factions – could learn to do. Cherish the day.

Script, prescription: hand, glide across the keyboard, the blank page.
Eyes: watch the inchworm inch its sure, slow way. Cherish the day.

Human, your days are few. A bristlecone might admonish you:
It’s a cliché, but true. Cherish, cherish the day.

© Susan Luther

Give us melons! See Numbers 11:5-6.

‘Love the years of longing . . .’
– see Edith Södergran, trans. Stina Katchadourian:
We should love life’s long hours of illness
and narrow years of longing
as we do the brief moments when the desert blooms.
from “Nothing,” in Love & Solitude

Bristlecone: bristlecone pine. These trees can live thousands of years, like the “Methuselah Tree” in the White Mountains of California, which is over 5,000 years old.

The Eyes of Wabi-Sabi

photo credit (c) Dennis McMahan

September 1, 2021

I recently was introduced to the Japanese Buddhist tradition of Wabi-sabi.  According to Leonard Koren, “Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.  It is a beauty of things modest and humble.  It is a beauty of things unconventional”  (Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers).  Wabi-sabi has an ancient history which began with Chinese Buddhists and eventually made its way to Japanese Buddhists who influenced its current meaning.  Wikipedia explains that “Around 700 years ago, particularly among the Japanese nobility, understanding emptiness and imperfection was honored as tantamount to the first step to satori, or enlightenment. In today’s Japan, the meaning of wabi-sabi is often condensed to ‘wisdom in natural simplicity.’ In art books, it is typically defined as ‘flawed beauty.’” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi

I suppose what captures my attention about wabi-sabi is how counter-cultural it is to our Western philosophies and ideals of what is beautiful.  We admire those who are fit and glamorous, perfectly “put together.”  We envy those who own homes with impeccable gardens and golf course lawns.  We fill our thrift stores with the flawed objects we have tossed out to be replaced by that which is new and shiny.  We often revere successful people who have “made it to the top.” We even teach our children at a very young age that to color correctly (and thus with beauty), they must stay within the lines.  And as we age, we despair of every gray hair, every wrinkle, every age spot that somehow diminishes what our world confirms is worthy.  Washed away in our strivings to be “beautiful people” are humility and acceptance.

A couple of days ago, my partner and I took a hike through the woods near our home.  I wanted to practice paying attention to what was in the woods, not just blindly stomping past trees, rocks, plants, the sky.  I was surprised by how often I caught myself drifting away, and also grateful for those moments when I did, in fact, see a partially hidden spider web shimmering with drops of dew and a single perfect purple spiderwort in full bloom, both beautiful and unspoiled.  But it was the hickory tree, pictured above, that made me stop in wonder—the wabi-sabi hickory tree.

We ventured close to examine the trunks, yes, trunks, of this single tree.  It appears that as the tree first began to grow, something bent it over.  I am not an arborist, so I have no idea why the trunk decided to curve and bend and then somehow root itself again before growing straight upwards, at least 20 feet high, with bright, abundant green foliage.  But for all the tree’s mystery, it isn’t a beautiful tree.  It is an odd hickory, an anomaly in a woods full of trees that knew how to grow upward from the beginning.  Yet it touched me more than any of the others because of its strangeness, its awkwardness, and so I keep reflecting on what wisdom, enlightenment, satori, I might receive from it.

Growing out of the humus, the earth, this hickory reminds me of wabi-sabi and the spirituality of accepting our imperfections, flaws, limitations, and impermanence with humility and with compassion.  In my own faith tradition, Jesus Christ was able to do that for others, to see them through “wabi-sabi” eyes. The bent tree reminds me of the story in the New Testament, in Luke’s gospel, Chapter 13:10-17, of the woman bent over for 18 years who Jesus saw with compassion, not revulsion, and healed. Our culture clamors for perfection; we spend so much energy, so much of our lives, trying to impress, trying to prove we are, indeed, worthy, trying to “stand up straight.”  Yet perhaps our worthiness resides not in what we do or how we look or what we produce but in honoring ourselves as we are, and others, as they are. This misshapen (at least by our standards) hickory tree reminds me that all of us—all of creation—are vitally connected not by our perfection but by our own imperfections, incompleteness, and impermanence in a way that, if we truly want to see as the Christ sees, makes us somehow beautiful.  We are all, each one of us, “fearfully and wonderfully made” as the ancient Jewish psalmist proclaimed (Psalm 139, verse 14) and the hickory tree echoed.

It wouldn’t hurt our Western world to practice a bit more humility, a bit more compassion, a bit more awareness of what is truly important and what is not.  So it seems rather fitting that a tree would be that messenger for me.    Blessings, Rosemary     20rosepoet20@gmail.com.

The Shell Collector

Imagine God by whatever holy name you
utter, walking along the sandy beach, the waves
roiling and tumbling across feet and ankles
while God collects sea shells.
See God picking up a pearly gray clamshell–
one you would value—
only to toss it back to the sea.
Or perhaps God chooses a whole
sand dollar, perfectly intact,
so rare, and then flings it
into the frothy waves
while you gasp.
Maybe God fancies that cockle shell
with its raised ribs and God remembers
Irish Molly Malone selling her shells
in the streets of Dublin and God smiles
before leaving it on the sand.
You wonder why.
And then imagine that you are a shell,
lying with chipped edges
after your rough ride
through the oceans
and God comes to you.
God lifts you from the tide,
and with a tender hand brushes off
the stray strand of seaweed
to notice your blemishes.
God says to Godself, knowingly,
“This one’s been wounded,”
and pulls from God’s pocket
a burlap pouch and adds you to it,
along with the shell
broken by an affair;
one chipped by divorce;
one marred by grief,
one that’s been lost
for so long it no longer
gleams—none beautiful
or perfect but instead treasured
and precious, and God
walks and walks the beach
seeing in each broken shell
God keeps
God’s own exquisite image.

© Rosemary McMahan