Wednesday, Advent 1: Humility

The Psalms of Advent

You are invited to light a candle and join me in our final reflection on this particular Psalm of Advent, Psalm 124.  Please sit with these verses:

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
—let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive . . .
(Verses 1-3, New Revised Standard Version)

You may find the rest of the psalm here:  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%20124&version=NRSVUE.

This psalm ends with an affirmation of the grace of the Holy One:  “Our help is in the name of the Lord; who made heaven and earth”  (Verse 8).  My understanding of grace is that it is a gift given with no strings attached, given to those who have done nothing to earn it, and this author fully acknowledges that gift. 

As I reflected, again, on this psalm that has become more of a friend than a stranger to me over these past few days, the word that came to me is not a word found in the psalm and yet is a word that glimmered over these verses:  humility.  Here we find Jewish pilgrims on their way to the temple in Jerusalem, and while they ascend the temple steps, they sing this psalm that admits it is God, Yahweh, not themselves, who has saved them from danger.  If their God had not been on their side, repeated twice, they realize they would have found themselves in grave peril.

Here, in this psalm, notice that bragging is absent.  Here, in these ancient lines, boasting is unfathomable.  Here, in this song of worship, arrogance has no place.  The Jewish people have survived a crisis not because of their own efforts, and so the Holy One is given the credit where credit is due.  Yet, how often in our modern times do we hear politicians, bosses, religious leaders, celebrities, and perhaps even family and friends (or maybe ourselves) speak of what they have accomplished, all on their own?  In the United States, our politicians and political parties vie with one another over who has done the most, who has claimed the victory and sealed the deal, all by themselves, conveniently forgetting the American motto, “In GOD we trust.”   Our business people and multibillionaires brag about making things better, bigger, just by the touch of their hands.  “My rights” means I don’t need to consider anyone else. Psalm 124 will have none of that boasting or self-reliance, instead proclaiming that help comes from the Holy One.

Humility is tough.  We want to be seen, affirmed, and admired for our gifts, skills, accomplishments, looks, etc, etc.   We want to be appreciated.  We especially want to be paid, and paid well. And then here comes humility, reminding us that someone else, human and/or divine, has something to do with where and who we are.  Here comes humility, reminding us about that log in our own eye instead of worrying about the speck in another’s. Here comes humility, reminding us that there will always be someone better at what we do than us and still encouraging us to offer our gifts and talents anyway, not just for our good, but for the greater good. 

The root word for humility is humus, which means dirt or earth.  Humility is not about self-abasement or shame but is, instead, about being grounded enough to recognize both our blessings and gifts and our limitations and challenges.  Humility is a realization that, yes, we do need each other, and yes, we do need the Holy.

For those of us who are Christians, the prime example of humility is the Divine One who chose to lower itself to become a Human, and not any human, but a poor, blue-collar male human with no social standing or status and who never achieved a palace, a White House, a Kremlin, prestige, wealth, or rave reviews for all his efforts.  Yet in this lowering of self, the Divine-human was able to serve, teach, minister, pray, and demonstrate a kind of love that no one else could have imagined, an all-inclusive love, a grace that is extended to all people, a humility grounded in love.

I wonder, in this dark season, where I might surrender to a humbler spirit, and so I give thanks for the messages whispered from Psalm 124.    Blessings ~ Rosemary

A Psalm of Humility
after Psalm 124

If it had not been for the Spirit
who gives me courage
—let me say it—
if it had not been for the Spirit
who gives me words
when my own doubts of relevance
my own reservations of self
my own questions
about my worth
nearly drown me or stop me,
then I would not create,
I would not take the risk
to open my heart.

If it had not been for
others
—let me say it—
who encourage me
support me and remind me
that whatever gift I have
seeks to be used
for the revelation of Beauty
and Love,
for the honor
of the Holy One
here and now,
I would slink away
embarrassed
to ever bare my soul.

How grateful I am to that Spirit
and to each person, whoever
she is, whatever he believes,
who stumbled upon
this page
for sitting here with me,
for catching the bit
of dandelion fluff I blew
from these words
into the Universe
at the Spirit’s nudging,
and for listening with me
to whatever sacred message
these wonderings might reveal.

©  Rosemary McMahan

Photo credit:  Rosemary McMahan

Tuesday, Advent 1:  Waiting and Watching

The Psalms of Advent, November 29, 2022

An interesting, and perhaps intentional, aspect about the Psalms of Advent is that there are really only seven of them appointed for this season of preparation.  When I first considered this blog, I assumed there would be a different psalm every day, but not so, according to the listing in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Each psalm is given three to four days, instead of leading to a new one for a new day.  I can’t say for sure what the reasoning is behind that decision, but I will speculate that it illustrates two things about Advent preparation: waiting and anticipation.

Waiting is what the majority of us do not like to do.  Instant gratification is our siren call.  We love drive-through anything and dinners delivered right to our door.  Asking us to wait is an insult to our well-beloved and hoarded time.  Waiting can be tiring.  We can only tread water for so long.  Yet waiting is also a spiritual discipline, no matter what faith we follow.  When we wait, we realize that everything isn’t about us and that there truly is little over which we have control, other than how we wait.  We can wait with patience and trust or with anger and frustration. Waiting with each psalm intentionally slows us down and gives us the time to attend to the words, to the poetry, to the imagery.  Waiting keeps us still for a time, and in that stillness we can listen.

What else happens when we wait?  We anticipate the outcome of our waiting.  Many times, we wait for something good to happen and that anticipation feels exciting; other times, we wait with a sense of foreboding–for a test result, a goodbye, a change of well-planned dreams, a releasing.  For the authors of the Book of Psalms, anticipation was almost a constant in their journey of what would come next.  A new king?  Another oppressor?  Land of their own?  A messiah? And so they waited, sometimes faithfully, and sometimes not, just like the rest of us.

In this season of darkness and shadows, what are we waiting for and what are we anticipating?  Can we observe how we are waiting?  The psalmist tell us “To be still and know that God” is God (Psalm 46:10).  Can we trust that God is in the waiting, in the watching, in the anticipation with us?  These are the questions I ponder this season, and you are invited to ponder with me or share your own.  I would honor hearing them.

Blessings ~ Rosemary

Sunday, Advent 1: Peace

The Psalms of Advent

I invite you to light a candle and join me on this first Sunday of Advent, as we wait with the psalms and listen for a word to guide us during this dark season of winter.  We begin with the psalm appointed for today, Psalm 122, described as a “pilgrimage song,” appropriate for this winter journey. You can find the entire psalm here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%20122&version=CEB. Another word may very well speak to you, but the one that calls to me is repeated three times: peace.

Pray that Jerusalem has peace:
Let those who love you have rest.
Let there be peace on your walls;
let there be rest on your fortifications.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I say, “Peace be with you, Jerusalem.”
(Verses 6-8, Common English Bible)

The pilgrims singing this song are on their way to Jerusalem, a city where justice prevails on the throne of King David.  Their pilgrimage replicates our own as we journey this life, sometimes knowing exactly where we are going, with determination and joy, and sometimes not, confused and lost.  Yet even within this sacred city, the psalmist makes a cry for peace.  Considering the never-ending turmoil in the Middle East, this psalm could have been written today as well as thousands of years ago: the plea for peace, both within and without.

Peace.  If ever our world needed peace, it is now.  If ever our own lives needed peace in these confusing and turbulent times, it is now.  Someone once said that peace isn’t the absence of worry or conflict but the ability to stay centered within it.  That is quite an ability, keeping other people’s choices and voices from disrupting our own grounding in Love.

What would it take for you, and me, to stay centered within the whirlwinds of our private lives and the life of this world?  I have developed an unhelpful habit of reaching for my phone first thing in the morning and checking the news.  Nothing like seeking peace when reading about gun violence, the war in Ukraine, and politics in America a I start my day!  This Advent Season, I am putting the phone aside and instead sitting in quiet where, in the inmost chambers of my heart, I envision God’s light shining in and on all the areas of my life and the world’s that need peace.  Practicing peace is both a grounding, a guide, and a gift.  How will you practice it?  I would like to know. Peace be with you.  ~  Rosemary

Peace

You can’t stay there forever, you know,
in that fern glade hidden in the woods
or sitting on the bench under the
golden ginkgo tree where the leaves
spread a silent blanket before you
and you remember, as a child,
the innocence of burying yourself
in them.
You can’t keep to the rippling mountain stream
cascading over velvety moss-covered rocks
white foam spraying thickets
of budding rhododendron
(though you wish you could)
nor can you hide forever on the empty
hilltop with the sun
caressing your face
as spring’s first breath
whispers into your hair.
Oh yes, you would like to stay
because here you are at peace
you are peace
and it’s yours, yours, yours.
But you have a way to go,
a gift to give,
a presence to share.
Now grounded, inhale the ginkgo
the fern the stream the breeze.
Drop them like anchors
into your soul
and go breathe them upon
this heartbroken and turbulent
world
before returning to find your center
again.

(c) Rosemary McMahan

Photo credit: Rosemary McMahan

The Psalms of Advent

“The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms . . .”  George Santayana

The Book of Psalms in the Old Testament of the Bible is a collection of ancient Hebrew poem-songs (written between 3500 and 2500 years ago) that demonstrates the truth of the philosopher Santayana’s description about the world.  Here we find poems that celebrate beauty, nature, creativity, forgiveness, and love and that also include poems that wrestle with lament, grief, confusion, death, hurt, fear, and anger.  No emotion is too big or two small, no feeling too positive or “negative,” for the authors of this book who chose to be honest before Yahweh/God/Allah or whatever word it is we use for the Holy One.  The psalms are a human encounter with the Divine.

During the Season of Advent, a Christian tradition that sets aside the four weeks before December 25 as a time for introspection, preparation, and stillness, and during this “season of light in the darkness” when Hanukkah and Diwali are also observed, the daily scripture readings include a psalm.  Reflecting on these poems or songs about the human heart and its connection with God is a way to keep us rooted in the universal Reality of Love, a love that does not change while the world around us seems to do so every second.  Each psalm, in its own way, becomes a flicker of light and hope in a dark world. Each psalm has a whispered message for us.

Advent is a journey toward the celebration of Love, of welcoming “God-with us” and honoring the “God-in-us,” each one of us.  No matter how you experience the presence of God or a Higher Being, I invite you to join me in reflecting on one word a day from an Advent psalm. 

Blessings ~ Rosemary

Photo credit:  Pixabay

I Lift My Eyes

Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, USA

Oct. 13, 2022

Since January 2021, after participating in a twelve-week online spirituality/creativity workshop during the COVID-19 shutdown, I have been gathering regularly with five other sojourners whom I have yet to meet in person, via Zoom.  They are workshop participants, two from Canada, one from England, and two from NW and NE states. I am the lone Southerner.  We gather to practice spirituality together and to encourage each other in our respective arts—quilting, photography, painting, music, and writing.  In a very meaningful way, this group of fellow artists and seekers are “church” to me because I recognize the face of God in them.

(c) “I Lift Up My Eyes,” watercolor by Lois J.

Each month, one of us leads the group in a time of reflection, meditation, and creativity.  Last week was my turn.  I had just returned from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where I had asked to be open to what the Creator might send me to share.  What I received were panoramic vistas of the oldest mountaintops in the US, worn down from their once sharp peaks by time and the elements and yet still steadfast in their own right.  I received a multitude of mountain streams with brilliant water rushing over mossy stones and through hollows of dense-patched rhododendron.  What I received were peace from the craziness of this present world and grounding in what is Real.

Stream in the Smoky mountains

The Wisdom of the Brook

Rock upon mossy rock
No obstacle or dam
The flowing, crystal water
Will find its way downhill.

No need for barking orders
Or antagonistic judge
Just watch the stream’s soft glistening
And listen to its flow.
© Liz R.

While I was hiking, two psalms from the Old Testament kept echoing in my heart:  Ps. 121, which begins, “I lift up my eyes to the hills,” and Ps. 42, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”  I shared these psalms and some of my photos of mountains and streams with my group and then invited them to take some time to listen for and discern what they heard the Creator saying to them, each one a creator, herself.  What this group shared reflected the voice of the Spirit:

  • The effortlessness of water flowing over the boulders is a reminder of a way to create, to allow our art to happen without our judgment or force;
  • To create is an offering of love, grounded in Love;
  • How often are we real, as Nature is real, allowing our true selves to show and how often do we mask our own true beauty because we think it is insufficient?
  • Do we pay attention to what makes us thirsty for God and then spend time in those things, satisfying our thirst?
  • Creating is an act of being “in the flow.”
  • Creative energy is both steadfast, like the ancient mountains, and transient, like the wispy clouds above them.  God is present in both.

I needed to hear these sacred words.  I have been floundering with my own creativity lately, allowing distractions and the fears and noise of this world to usurp the desire to create.  I have been floundering with my own spirituality lately, questioning my significance.  So as I looked at each of my “companions on the way,” albeit it on a screen, I felt a great Love reminding me that creating out of love—for Creator God, for others, for myself—no matter who receives it, is vitally important and vitally precious.  My significance, and yours, whoever you are and however you create, comes from that Love. We can let go our masks as Nature does hers.

The watercolor included in this blog is an offering from one of our artists, Lois, and the poem above is an offering from our narrative writer, Liz.   Offerings of insight are from the others in this group, all an act of love.

Blessings and love to you ~ Rosemary

A Psalm Song

Love creates in the steadfastness
of the ancient green mountain range
braced against a cerulean sky
where wisps of clouds rise
like incense
to dissolve in a sigh, a whisper,
buried deep in the longings
of the heart.
Love harmonizes in the clear current
flowing over moss-slickened boulders,
casting its score in droplets shimmering
like so many bubbles
in the air.
Love teases in the gnarled roots and scattered stones
that pepper the ageless trail; and I do not
fall.
In the silent soul of the forest
in the abiding womb of the mountains
Love re-creates and enfolds
me, caressing me with the fingers
of a breeze, the murmur
of rolling water.
Love meets me in this place
where deep calls to deep
where longing is cherished
where tears are deemed precious
where I lift up my eyes and my heart
to the hills.

(c) Rosemary McMahan

Yet another creation by the Creator.

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

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

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







An Invitation to See

August 19, 2021

I recently came across a quotation from John O’Donohue that made me stop.  He wrote, “Many of us have made our world so familiar that we do not see it anymore.  An interesting question to ask yourself at night is, ‘What did I really see this day?’”

What did I really see this day in my own familiar world?  To what did I stop and truly attend?  What did I notice right in front of me?  To be honest, I think I go through most of my days rather blindly, so I have tried to pay attention to those common, every day, familiar items that are, in fact, miracles of their own.

Take, for instance, the tomato I had with breakfast this morning.  Not a single mar on its perfect skin.  I watched as the keen edge of the knife sliced through it to reveal the rich red fruit inside, which only a summer tomato can hope to yield.  I attended to how I sliced it, evenly, instead of hacking it quickly.  I “saw” a tomato, and it was wondrous.

Now I see the rain coming down.  It creates a misty veil across the landscape and runs freely against the curb.  My mother used to say raindrops in puddles looked like the marching feet of soldiers, and I see that, too.

I remember looking at the sky yesterday and noticing two cumulous clouds that resembled a puppy kissing a little girl on the nose.  What magic!  Today, I see a solid slate of gray, the proverbial wet blanket hanging over the city, but in pockets among the trees on the hills, steam pools like miniature hot springs.

I reflect on O’Donohue’s quotation and think of the person with whom I live and the friends that I visit.  How much do I truly see them?  I know the color of my partner’s eyes (thank God!) but I couldn’t say with complete confidence what color my friends’ eyes are.  Yet, how many times have I looked them in the face?  What fabulous palettes of color have I missed while sharing our lives?

The playwright Henry Miller wrote, “The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”  What do I tend to give attention to?  Bad news.  The dumbfounding actions (or inactions) of others.  Getting through another day Covid-free.  All these things are reality.  Yet while the philosopher George Santayana acknowledged that reality, he also reminded us that the world is “shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms.”

I believe part of our journey as spiritual beings is to incorporate those practices that help the spirit to bloom.  Our wisest religions and philosophies stress the importance of paying attention, starting with  paying attention to what we are paying attention to! When we become too familiar, we lose awe, humility, and gratitude.  Great losses, indeed, for each one of us and for our world.

In this current season of so much uncertainty, noise, confusion, and angst, O’Donohue’s question is a centering one:  “What did I really see today?”  There is time to look.  There is time to pay attention, no matter how time-strapped or worry-obsessed we have convinced ourselves we are.  Who knows how that glimpse of one familiar object might wake us up, might fill us with wonder, might cause us to give thanks, might help transform our world?  Even a mockingbird is worth the time to see.

Seeing with you. ~ Blessings, Rosemary    

Mockingbird on Sunday Morning

If birds speak in tongues
then surely does the mockingbird
attired in clerical grays
and whites suitable
for Sunday worship.
This morning, a male lifts
his frenzied, praise-filled song
in notes of cardinal,
blue jay, wren, and titmouse
in constant, raucous
harmony, enamored
by the sun’s early rays
the first breath of a new day
or the female mockingbird
high in a limb
cocking her head
in anticipation of just
the right melody
that praises her.

(c) Rosemary McMahan

“Looking” on the Prayer Path

July 20, 2021

On the spiritual journey, it helps to remember that we are created to be spiritual beings as well as human doings.  Life isn’t all about what we produce.  It also involves who we are becoming, and if we believe we are made in the image of Something Bigger than us, of a holy Other, of God, than what we are becoming is Love.

Of course, being made in the image of Love is not what the world proclaims or helps assist us to attain.  Too often we hear we are to be #1, the best, the only, and that our own needs and wants are more important than anyone else’s.  If you know of any religious traditions that teach that, please inform me because I don’t find that heresy in the world religions with which I am familiar.  Listening to those voices that deny Love is detrimental to our spirit and to life all around us.

So, for those of us on a prayer journey, to whom or what do we give our attention?  In last week’s blog, I began a three-part series on the liturgical hour of “Prime,” or morning prayer, when we begin our day.  In referring to Brother David Steindl-Rast’s book, Music of Silence:  A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day, I used his analogy of morning prayer being similar to the “Stop, look, go” that a parent teaches a child when learning to cross the street.  Last week’s post explored the richness of stopping to be with God before we start our day and the monastic vow of stability.  The next step is to look, or listen, which involves the monastic vow of conversion.

What is conversion?  It seems the Christian tradition has hijacked the term to mean being converted to a believer in Christ.  But conversion in the monastic and contemplative sense has a much fuller, deeper meaning.  In her book, The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, Christine Valters Painter writes that conversion includes stepping “into the unknown space between our egos and our deepest longings.”  It is the place where we set ego aside and take that leap of faith, where surprises happen and mysteries become clearer, where change and transformation are birthed, not because of what the world is shouting but because of what the breath of the Spirit is breathing in us and inviting us to look at.  After we stop to be with God, then we look and listen.  We have to be careful about which direction we choose and which voices we pay heed to.

Brother David encourages us to use our senses in prayer as we look at what is around us, outside our windows, in our rooms, across the street, or in our laps, which is usually my tabby cat.  While looking, we listen as the Holy Spirit helps us design the day ahead.  What are our priorities?  What is God possibly calling us to attend to?  Who is being placed on our hearts?  Where will our creative work fit into this day?  What within the upcoming day is truly life-giving and worth our time?  Reflecting prayerfully on the day ahead, we may be surprised by something that calls for our attention that we didn’t expect, or we may decide that what we had planned to do earlier has now become different.  The way we move into our day—mindfully not absently–says something about the conversion and transformation that we are allowing in our very lives.

With looking/listening in mind, we might consider these questions with holy curiosity:

  1. How much of our ego is tied to what we produce?
  2. Is it difficult for us to let go of our plans in order to discern God’s invitations for the day?
  3. In what areas of our life might we need to grow in cultivating compassion for ourselves, our choices, and our desires so that we can be open to surprise and change?

If even for a few moments, stop a moment to be with God, to let God look at you with love, just as you are.  Then look around you, use your senses, and listen, as the monastics say, “with the ears of your heart.”  Then will you be ready to go, our step for next week. 

Loving and patient Creator, every single day holds a multitude of surprises and mysteries.  Often we miss them because we are so intent on following our well laid-out plans and accomplishing something, anything, that somehow proves our worth.  Give us the grace, we ask, to be open to surprise, to practice flexibility, and to discern what is truly life-giving and what brings us the fruit of your joy.  May it be so. Walking with you on the journey ~ Rosemary  20rosepoet20@gmail.com

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 wonder.

© Rosemary McMahan