Whatever is Lovely

Winter camellia in bloom.

Week Three: Monday

As we seek the Light through the experience of joy this week, the ancient guide Paul of the Bible’s New Testament arrives with a message:  “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians chapter 4, verse 8).  What words of light for us to heed in this shadowed time of year.

So many things appear dark right now, and yes, darkness yearns to draw us in.  It is so easy, so effortless, to fill our minds with bleak thoughts, angry thoughts, hopeless thoughts, about all that is happening in our world.  Darkness will never deny us entry; in fact, it longs for it.  When my children were teenagers and the “slasher” movies like Halloween and the Friday the 13th series were all the rage, they wanted to go see them because all of their friend were going.  I doubt they understood me when I told them no and said, “When you sit and watch that kind of stuff, you feed the darkness.”  I still believe that.  Darkness begets darkness.  And so Paul shows us another way, a light-filled way.  We are to notice and spend time with whatever is of the Light, in whatever moments reveal truth, nobility, purity, loveliness, and admiration. 

In this winter season, we are invited, as so many prophets of different faiths proclaim, to “Wake up!  Be alert!” to the beauty, the loveliness, the good, that is around us. In these last two weeks of Advent and beyond into the winter months, my hopeful intention is to be awake and to see with new eyes, to give attention to, that which is worthy.  If darkness begets darkness, then beauty and loveliness and light beget themselves.  Such light can be found in the simplest of things, if we are willing to look beyond the shadows. Blessings to you.

Dawn Prayer

Let my prayer be the geese
whose honking rises
in raucous praise;
let it be the black-capped chickadee,
chitting in the bare limbs of the hickory,
the pin-points of light sprinkled
across the lake’s placid face
where fog rises like incense
around two fishermen, silent, somber
awaiting a gift from the depths
of the slow-awakening waters.
Let my prayer be my partner
settling himself with a holy sigh
on the porch chair near me,
the scent of his coffee a sacred aroma.
Let me say “yes” to the gray-striped tabby
curled in a glow of sun spot, the rise
and fall of his furred side
as rhythmic as chant.
Let my prayer be each tawny-tinged leaf
that releases itself
to settle on fallow ground
and let it be the waft of smoke
from a neighbor’s fire that drifts
like angels’ wings
through the screened windows.
Let my prayer arise
like this very silence
and be acceptable:
a worship without words.

© Rosemary McMahan

Deeply, Joy

Week Three: Sunday

In the Christian tradition, the focus or theme of the third week of the four-week season of Advent is joy.  In this dark time of year, in a “holiday” season that for many of us will be different from what it has ever been before, where do we find joy?  If this is our first winter season without a loved one because of death or because of the boundaries and safeguards of the pandemic, or if this is a time of year that conjures up memories of those we have lost along the way, how can we expect joy?  Isn’t missing someone or grieving for what or who has been lost antithetical to joy?  Can we grieve and be joyful?  The answer depends on how we define joy.

Happiness and joy are not synonymous, though we usually think of them that way.  Happiness is based on things outside of us—we are happy with a good meal, a nice day, a job well-done, a child who excels, a Christmas gift, a pleasant vacation.  Happiness, however, is temporary.  Joy is something deeper; joy is an assurance of a truth deep within us which external circumstances cannot change.  One wise guide for us in this area is Henri Nouwen (d.1996), a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian who spent the last ten years of his life working in a group home with mentally and physically disabled adults. He believed that while happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.”  Unconditionally loved, just as we are, no matter what.  That kind of love is something we find difficult to offer and sometimes even more difficult to receive.  Yet being anchored to Love is the definition of joy.

Yes, we can grieve losses and still be joyful, as foreign as that sounds. In fact, if joy is the anchor that binds us to that who is Beyond us, that who loves us completely, it may be the only way through grief. This fallow time of year is an opportunity to honor our feelings of loss while experiencing that kind of quiet joy that emanates from the Creator who dwells in our own holy of holies, the sanctuary of our hearts. Joy is not often raucous.   It is, instead, a sure and certain connection to the eternal truth that we were created simply because we were desired.  We can know we are loved because we are. May we take time to sit with that truth this Joyful Sunday and hear it repeat itself, “You are beloved, you are beloved, beyond space and time, you are beloved,” in the beating of our hearts.  Blessings to you.


Week Two: Saturday

Today marks the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death.  Catherine H. Rice, as she always called herself, was 94 when she died due to complications from Parkinson’s and dementia.  Her illness was what a friend accurately called “the long goodbye” as this woman who was once the matriarch and centerpiece of the house slowly gave up control of so, so much.

Dec. 12.  I still remember how I felt at that time, not knowing if I would be opening a Christmas card or a sympathy card when I gathered the mail.  I recall feeling mocked by the Christmas cards full of joy that wished me a “Merry Christmas,” knowing there would be nothing “merry” about this particular Christmas.  My mother wasn’t perfect—just as I have not been a perfect mother, myself—and our relationship was a mixed bag, but she was still my mother, the one who knew in her heart that I existed when she first felt me stir in her womb.  Rarely a day has gone by since her death when I haven’t missed her.

Perhaps the biggest gifts my mother gave me were introducing me to a sense of Mystery and Awe, a holy reverence, found in God and a belief in the Light.  She used to share a story with me at Christmas about a car ride in my childhood when my parents took us to see Christmas lights.  Mom said that each time I saw a house lit up, I cried out excitedly, “Look!  They believe!”  I don’t recall that episode, but my mother did, and to this day I do love the light and taking drives to see the houses aglow, aware of a deep-hearted recognition that yes, I do believe in the Light, even in the darkest of days.  Looking back, that was the true message from that mixture of Christmas and sympathy cards: the Light shines on.

Author Edith Wharton wrote, “There are two ways to spread the light:  One is to be the candle; the other is to be the mirror.”  In regard to the Light, my mother was the candle.  As I light many candles in remembrance of her this day, may I continue to be the mirror.  Blessings to you.

Lighting Our Own Flame

Week Two:  Friday

Today, December 11, marks the second day of the eight day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, the festival of lights. For those not familiar with this celebration, here is a synopsis:

“In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in G‑d. Against all odds, a small band of faithful but poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G‑d.

“When they sought to light the Temple’s Menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.  To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah.”  source:  Chabad.org.

How relevant this ancient story is today.  We, too, are facing mighty foes:  an out-of-control pandemic; a democracy in the midst of chaos; a distrust of science; a fragile earth and environment nearing complete fatigue; a world where no country truly trusts its neighbor; a country (USA) where many no longer trust their own neighbors.  We, too, at least in the United States, live in a time where many want to force their beliefs on each other–political, moral, and religious–and if we disagree, we are the enemy.  We who are on this particular journey toward the Light seem to be a small band facing enormous opponents.  Where is our magic oil?

Of course, in the story of the Maccabees, the oil is not magic.  Its presence and sufficiency are signs of the manifestation of God in their midst.  Perhaps the oil is a metaphor for the flame already burning within the hearts of Judah and his followers, to right an injustice and oppression, to be the bearers of the Light of God in their dark and anxious world.  Though small in number, their trust in God gave them the courage and the strength to reclaim God’s rightful place.  We can be empowered and emboldened to do the same.

The Light shines on in this season of Hanukkah.  The candles of the Menorah remind us that even in our own small attempts to glow, together we can shine, for peace, for reconciliation, for healing, for unity, if we lay aside our fear and distrust of the other, if we are willing, if we believe.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, a British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, author, and politician who died in 2013, guides us forward with his words:  “For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world.”  Amen and yes. That has been my hope in these daily Spirit-led devotions; that is my prayer.  Let us light our candles, wherever we are, whatever our faith, and offer healing to our world.  Blessings to you.

Sky Lights

Week Two: Thursday

“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

In this winter season when the sun sets before 5 pm here in the Southeastern USA, I recall this startling quotation.  What if the stars indeed only came out once in a thousand years?  Can you imagine how it would feel to be the honored person whose days of life included that one spectacular, holy night, that one sacred, star-filled, sight, and how awesome, magical, magnificent, wonder-filled that night sky would appear? How could you ever be the same again? How could you ever quit talking about that experience?

Yet, how often do we think to look up?  That very same miracle is above us.  Yes, city lights obscure the stars, and we are often in a rush to get out of the house and then back into the house, without a glance upwards.  Or it’s too cold.  Or too hot.  Or too windy or rainy. Mostly, we just never think about the stars, but what if they all simply disappeared? Would we even notice?

If this winter/Advent season is about anything, surely it is about stars, lights that shine on in the darkness, whether there is pandemic, war, division, hatred, injustice, poverty, a dying earth.   Throughout history, stars have been the useful tools of navigation, for ships on the water to wise men in the desert.   Stars are metaphors for the Creator’s constancy, the Universe’s presence.  The stars still shine—even now, especially now–and it is in their faithful shining that we, too, can find our faithfulness, our assurance, our hope for our own glowing.  Looking up is where we reconnect with wonder and with childlike trust.

Here are just a few verses about the stars from ancient guides.  The stars invite you to read them, and then go outside tonight.  Blessings to you.

“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”  Martin Luther

“When you come upon a path that brings benefit and happiness to all, follow this course
as the moon journeys through the stars.”   Buddha

 “Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.” Isaiah 40:26-27

“He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. He counts the stars and calls them all by name. ” Psalm 147:3-5

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place— what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:3-5

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  Matt 2:2

Week Two: Wednesday


Yesterday, I offered to pray for anyone with a specific request and asked that you use the email 20rosepoet20@gmail.com to send your concern.  I understand that some people had a problem trying to click on that link, so please cut and paste the address to whatever email platform you use.  If you did not get a reply from me, I did not receive your prayer request.  Many regrets, so please try again.

In this dark season as we awaken to the Light, because it is always present in some way, the Old Testament Jewish prophet Isaiah is a prominent guide.  How can we not relate to these verses from Isaiah 64 addressed to the Creator: 

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence–as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (1-2).

Here, in this time of ongoing pandemic and unsettled transfer of leadership, with hungry people laid off from jobs and parents doing double-duty as mothers/fathers and teachers, with vaccinations tempting us but not yet guaranteed, with hearts empty, don’t we long for God to come down and make the mountains quake!  Come down now!

But if God asked us what we wanted God to do, right now, this instant, what would our answer be?  Fix everything?  Is that really the job description of the Creator/Spirit/Universe, to “fix” what we ourselves caused or made more problematic?  I don’t think so.  Instead of asking God to come down and make things right so that we can live more comfortably and securely and have our own needs met, perhaps we are invited at this time to ask God to come down and enter our hearts.  Before we can envision where God is at work in our world, perhaps we might ask ourselves where God is at work in us.

This fallow season is an opportunity for us to surrender to what is (not admit defeat, but surrender to that which is bigger than us)—to give up our personal agendas, our “wants,” our prejudices, biases, and self-righteousness, all of our “other” gods—and to allow God to claim the central place in our hearts.  We are being beckoned to let the fire that kindles brushwood and causes water to boil be set aflame in us.

I often listen to this song by Luke Parker as a way to pray for my own surrender:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCx6kUkYHxM. May it speak to you and bless you. 

Week Two: Tuesday

The flickering light of prayer.

Flickers of Flame

In yesterday’s blog, I wrote about peace and how it is so often sung about in Christmas carols and proclaimed in scriptures.  At this point in history, the image of a lion lying down with a lamb is one for which we all long.  But for peace to become a reality in our lives, homes, country, and world, it has to begin within us.  I used the first half of the Prayer of St. Francis to offer a way we might approach those unpeaceful or shadowed parts within us in order to invite them into the Light and into harmony so that we might become whole and more at peace.

Another aspect of peace is to guide the world toward it, but how, especially in a time of pandemic, do we do that?  As I have tried to follow the CDC guidelines and not become a burden on family or on our health care system, I have found it difficult to offer a service of peace to my community.  How does one serve apart from others, especially in offering peace?  The answer that came to me is “prayer.”

In a virtual class I took on creativity and spirituality, we were invited to take some deep breaths, move from our heads into our hearts, and then pray silently for all those in our group; next, we were invited to pray outwards to all those in need of any sort in our community, then our country, and then our world.  Our small group, in the sanctuary of our hearts, blanketed the world in silent prayer, and I felt the prayers offered for me, along with feeling whatever power comes from God, in whatever name we use for God, flow out of our group to the world.  Our prayer was a movement toward peace, a light in a dark season.

Consider the second part of St. Francis’ prayer: 

O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Prayer can be an extension of peace to those who need to be consoled, to be understood, to be loved, to be given to, to be pardoned, to know that even when they do not have the words to pray, someone else is praying for them, and a Greater Being is receiving those prayers into a loving and compassionate heart.

In this season, I am praying for whoever happens to come across this blog.  Some of you I know; others I do not.  Each time I come to this place, I light a candle for all of you.  I don’t know your specific need, but I ask God/Spirit/Universe to bless you with your highest good, whatever that may be for you.  Beyond that, I invite you to accept an offering from me, to email me at 20rosepoet20@gmail.com with any personal prayer request you might have so that I can add that request to my candle circle of light and lift that request skyward.  (Each prayer will be kept in confidence.) When I extinguish the candles, I imagine the smoke a holy incense that carries the requests of our hearts to the heavens.   May peace be with you, and may you be blessed.

Week Two: Monday

Finding Peace Within

In this fallow season, in a world that so desperately needs peace, as we hear the ancient carols proclaim, “Peace on earth, good will to men,” I wonder about the peace we have within ourselves.  We are told that we cannot truly love others until we first love ourselves, and so it follows that we cannot really extend peace to others until we find peace within ourselves.

We are composed of many selves, or parts, or voices, of shadows and of light.  The voices of which we approve (because society, religion, people we want to please, and authority figures told/tell us that those voices were/are “good”) are the ones we listen to first and foremost.  The others, perhaps those selves speaking from the broken or alienated parts of us, desperate to be heard, are the ones we deny or bury or avoid. Doing so prevents us from becoming holy (whole) and sets us in opposition with ourselves; thus, peace within becomes difficult to find.

If this dark season is truly a time to find peace, then it is also an invitation to make peace with all the clamoring, or hidden, or ashamed, or hurt parts inside of us.  In considering how to make that kind of peace, an ancient guide came to mind, St. Francis of Assisi, and the well-known prayer of peace attributed to him that begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”  I don’t know the mind of Francis at the time he supposedly penned this prayer, but my guess would be that he intended it to be a prayer for his community, even for the world.  But it is also a prayer for our various inner voices and parts. 

I consider the words of the prayer in regard to all the parts of me:

Where there is hatred toward myself (because of faults and failings and comparisons), may I listen and sow love there;

Where there is injury (old wounds from old records, past hurts from former grievances, current slights), may I listen and grant pardon;

Where there is doubt (in my “enoughness”), may I acknowledge it and have faith;

Where there is despair (that I will ever be “good enough”; that I will ever “get it right”), may I hear with the ears of my heart and embrace hope;

Where there is darkness (in all my unique losses, missed opportunities, personal fears and anxieties), may I acknowledge the pain and allow the light to shine;

And where there is sadness (for this present time; this broken world) may I hold it with compassion and introduce it to the daily miracles around me.

The Buddha is claimed to have said, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”  The Christ said, “Love others as you love yourself.”  May the Light lead us into those shadows places that need its recognition, acceptance, acknowledgment, and healing, and then may it lead us to peace, the deep peace of knowing we are beloved, just as we are.  Blessings to you.

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

Week Two: Sunday

Saying “Yes”

Dag Hammarskjöld, a Swedish economist and diplomat, served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations during the 1950’s and into the early 1960’s when his tenure was cut short due to an airplane crash, in which he died.  He was on his way to the Congo to negotiate a cease-fire effort in that area.  Speculation still exists as to the cause of the accident—a true mechanical or pilot error, or an assassination?  Hammarskjöld, a Lutheran, was one of those rare public servants who lived by a high moral code, his spirituality an integral part of his work life.

A few months after he become Secretary General in January of 1953, he wrote this affirmation:  “For all that has been, Thanks! For all that will be, Yes!”  He wrote it as the world was still in recovery from the horrors of WWII and as wars continued to break out in Korea, the Congo, the Middle East, and South America—witness of humanity’s inability to learn from itself.

I read this quotation some years ago, and I recall being struck by its total faithfulness.  Today, as we enter the second week of our journey toward the Light, it has come back to me.  I doubt that is a coincidence.  Here we find ourselves, in a December like no other in our memories, in a year that has been wrought with pandemic, racial unrest, political division, natural disasters (anyone remember the Australian wildfires?) and distrust of all we formally held inviolable (along with whatever challenges our private lives have handed us this year) and Hammarskjöld’s phrase jumps out at me.  We are invited to say thanks.  Thanks for what in this dark season?  And there lies the question for each one of us, if we are willing to take time and listen for its prompting.  The question doesn’t concern only the last nine months, but “all” that has been–the heartbreaks and the joys, the losses and the gains, the illnesses and the health, the failures and the successes. All of life.

The second part of the quotation prompts us to say “yes” to all that will be.  But we don’t know what will be, and we are a people who prefer to know before committing.  We will have a new administration in the United States, new protocols for dealing with the pandemic, access to new vaccinations., new routines for travel.  We will have challenges coming out of the pandemic just as we had challenges going into it.  Life will not go back to what it was, because the Light never, ever, leads us backwards.  The Light always moves us forward.  Perhaps the opportunity that this bare-boned Advent, this winter season, gives us is time to sit with this question, too: “Can we say ‘yes for all that will be?'”  Are we willing to take that leap of faith? Are we able to believe that God/Spirit/ Universe is intimately involved in all of what will be? In this season, this now, can we have that kind of trust, that kind of faithfulness, that kind of perseverance? 

What if the greatest gift this pandemic gives us is the ability to proclaim, as Hammarskjöld did in the midst of his unknowns and challenges, a thank you for what we have endured and a yes to what will be?  We would be a transformed people ready to shine a new, and yet ancient, light into a weary world.  Blessings to you.

Week One: Saturday

Eyes on the Light

Here we are already, a week into our journey toward the Light in this season of darkening days, waiting for the Winter Solstice, waiting for Christmas, waiting for Hanukkah, waiting for a new year to begin, waiting for transformation, waiting to understand how we are to bear our individual lights.  As we come to the end of this week and prepare to begin another one, I go back to the instruction that prompted me to publish a blog:  “Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.” ~ Fr. Alfred Delp, martyred in Nazi Germany, age 38

Knowing that Alfred Delp lit his candles with hands shackled in a damp, confining cell, his future uncertain, with no control of his own except his ability to bear a flame, and his trust in the breath of God, I hear a call to become a Light-Bearer in this world that is too often in deep shadows. Our mutual darkness calls us to seek the Light and, as we discover it along the way—because it is there—to notice it and to share it, both with people who are similar to us and with those who are not.

Some questions that I continue to ponder from this week are:  “How will we assist the flame that is called to be rekindled, and what commitment will we make to being Light-followers so that we can become Light-Bearers?”  And the second: “What do we take with us on this journey, and what hinders us that we need to leave behind?”

I don’t have all my answers yet—there is time in this season of waiting for doing what Christ’s mother did when faced with mystery:  treasuring these things in my heart.  I continue to rely on ancient paths, ancient guides, deep breaths and silence, the breath of God, flickers of light, and my fellow sojourners as we meet at a crossroads and choose our direction.  I am grateful to each person who stops by. Blessings to you.