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







An Invitation to Peace

August 26, 2021

In his book, The Music of Silence:  A Sacred Journey Through the Hours of the Day, Brother David Steindl-Rast recalls the story of attending the ordination of Bernie (Tetsugen) Glassman Roshi as Abbot of the Riverside Zendo in New York.  Zen teachers worldwide had gathered to celebrate this solemn ceremony, which was why it was so startling when someone’s wristwatch began beeping at noon in the middle of the event.  As everyone glanced around to see whose it might be, the Abbot himself stepped forward and claimed it was his own watch.  He said, “I have made a vow that regardless of what I am doing, I will interrupt it at noon and will think thoughts of peace.”  He then invited everyone at the gathering to take a moment and do the same for a world that so desperately needed—and needs—peace.

In telling this story, Brother David goes on to explain the history of the Angelus prayer, which was intended to announce a prayer for peace, said by many Roman Catholics throughout the centuries.  At noon, when the church bells used to ring, no matter where people were—working at home, in the fields, in towns—they would stop and pray peace for the world.  In the monastery where Brother David lives, that practice continues with monks lifting prayers for peace at noon.  Brother David continues, “I find that people are eager to help revive this custom.  Now, all over the world, people are praying at high noon for peace. . . .”

If you are like me, perhaps you, too, have wondered “What can I possibly do?” in the face of the dire and disturbing news coming out of Afghanistan.  Or maybe if you live as far away as I do from the Holy Land, the ongoing conflict there is nothing more than a blip on your radar, and, like me, you just shake your head.  Perhaps, like me, contention over Covid and how to respond to its never-ending presence in the wake of so much division makes you feel disillusioned, if not angry, and powerless.  Perhaps the radicals in any political party or religion stir up angst in you, and you feel helpless or worried or aggravated, as I often do.  So when I read Brother David’s story, I realized there IS something I can do.  I can accept his invitation and commit to praying for peace each day at noon–which I have begun to do.

When I stop what I am doing, around lunch time, I stand at my kitchen window and I breathe out, “Peace for my city.  Peace for my state.  Peace for my country.  Peace for our world, the ‘peace that surpasses all understanding.’ And peace for myself.” Then I name those distinct places most in need of peace.  Sometimes those places are in my own heart, so I include myself in that prayer because what we pray leads to how we act.  Finally, I close with St. Francis’ well-known prayer for peace:

Lord make Me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness joy.
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’s in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born
To eternal life.

The entire prayer takes a minute or two.  Admittedly, I am not perfect since accepting this invitation to peace.  Sometimes I forget.  But most of the time, I do remember to pray for peace, and as I do so, I imagine the invisible community across the world doing the same, in whatever ways they pray or meditate and by whatever names of God they use, making the same offering, and I feel like I have “done something,” something essential, in the presence of so much unrest.  Maybe you would like to accept the invitation, too.  May peace abound.  May peace be with you.  Blessings~ Rosemary     20rosepoet20@gmail.com

God is Love

August 12, 2021

“God is love.” (1 John 4:16)

I’m told confession is good for the soul.  Let’s find out.  Often in my blogs, I comment on how essential it is in this turbulent and angry world to be still, to take a time out, to step back, to watch what we say.  However, sometimes I fail to heed my own advice, especially when someone cuts me off in traffic.  A couple of days ago, as I, ironically, was on my way to a group gathering where we discuss psychology and spirituality and how we can become more heart-centered, I was trying to merge from a turning lane into the left lane.  Only one other car was in my way, and it was, of course, in that same left lane, speeding up to keep me from moving over.  The driver easily could have changed lanes since the right lane was empty, or he could have slowed down just a bit to allow me to move over.  But no.  He sped up and blocked me.

I wish that I could say that this is the point, car to car, inches apart, where I looked over at him with love, but that would not be true.  I did indeed look over, but it was to mouth some rather unkind words and flippant suggestions.  If he saw me, he simply ignored me and sped on past, which probably was a good thing.  Yet almost as soon as I had allowed anger to control me, I realized that my reaction had caused nothing positive at all—not for the other driver, and certainly not for me.  Now, not only was I angry at what I considered rude, “all about my rights” driving, but I was also frustrated with myself.  So much for deep-hearted living.

We exist in a time where, it seems to me, love is difficult to practice, if it’s even on the radar.  We hear constant outrage and blame in the mouths of politicians.  We hear the relentless bickering of talking heads.  We watch the maskers and the anti-maskers go at it.  We are bombarded by personal rights that ignore the rights of others.  Even in our own groups of friends, if we pay attention, we hear ourselves judging others.  Our behavior becomes brutish and self-centered.  And yet, I do believe that God is love and that we, creations of that love, by whatever name we call Ultimate Love, are also supposed to be manifestations of it.

There is more to this ancient scripture verse from John, a witness to Love.  It continues, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. God is love, and he (she) who abides in love abides in God, and God in him (her).”  Yes, we are called to, made for, love, but what kind of love is this?  Another ancient witness to Love, the apostle Paul, advised his people to “be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3) or “before yourselves,” as some translations put it.  And to another group, he wrote, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love” (Ephesians 4:31-32; 5:1).  Paul wasn’t offering a list of suggestions or a pick and choose checklist; he was, instead, reminding his people that followers of Love choose love as a deliberate action. 

So, what to do in a noisy and unstable and, often, unloving world, so that we ourselves do not become noisy, unstable, and unloving?  I can only speak for myself, but I am convinced that the way to love is to be still with Love each day, if only for a few moments, so that I can anchor myself there and remind myself and be enveloped in the gaze of Love.  And when I fail to be loving?  To be calm?  To step back?  Then I know it is time, again, to go back to the Source.  Maybe I will meet you there.  Blessings, Rosemary  20rosepoet20@gmail.com  

Then Stop

When the world is too much with us,
when it tumbles over yesterday’s promises
leaving them a remnant on the shore,
when the voices in our heads
and in the crowds crash
in waves of fear and despair,
crying out
that the sky is falling—
indeed it must be–
it is time to stop,
stop feeding our eyes
with hopeless words,
stop filling our ears
with divisive discourse
that cause our hearts to drown
and our souls to bury their heads
in the sand.
When the world is too much with us,
stop.
Put it all away, lock it in a trunk,
stuff it on a shelf, close the door
and be.
Sit in this one sacred moment
and do nothing else
but breathe in unison
with the Breath that breathed
life into you in the depths
of the earth.
Wrap stillness around you
like a blanket woven together
with the rhythm of your heart
and the countless stars
nodding to themselves
on the face of the ancient ocean.
Ground yourself like deep old roots
into the Truth that has always been,
is, and always will be,
that is so much larger than you,
or me, or us, or them,
that whispers “Love”
across the turbulent waters
that comes like daylight
to announce a new beginning.
All is not lost, promises Love,
for those who will stop and claim
that peace that surpasses
our understanding, that whispers
prayer, into our world.

© Rosemary McMahan

Covid-19 Infects Us All

August 3, 2021

The Old Testament of the Bible contains an odd story, among many odd stories: the story of Job.  For those not familiar with it, the plot revolves around a bet made between God and Satan in which Satan claims that no one is strong enough to remain faithful to God in the midst of unending adversity.  Job, a faithful, righteous, and prosperous man, is selected as the “guinea pig” for the bet, and so his calamities begin.

This blog is not an interpretation of the Book of Job, but takes two passages from it that speak to today’s Covid situation in the United States.  The first passage is from Chapter 38, verses 1-2, when God finally speaks after hearing a multitude of words from Job and his companions:  “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:  ‘Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?’”  Clearly, we have been in a whirlwind since March 2020, and just as we thought the whirlwind might be sputtering out, it has reappeared with greater force as the Delta variant.  And it spread and continues to spread by the proliferation of “words without knowledge.” 

Words Without Knowledge

After listening to their queries, theories, and speculations, God basically is asking Job and his human companions exactly who they think they are. It is these same “words without knowledge” that infect each one of us, whether we actually contract the Covid/Delta virus or not.  We read them.  We hear them on the news.   They spill out of the mouths of politicians.  We share them with family members and friends.  Tinier than the tiniest droplet of virus, these words are carried on the air and land on all of us.

What are these infectious words?  They are words of division.  Of superiority.  Of ridicule.  Of self-righteousness.  Of fear.  Of violence (Capitol attack, Jan 6, 2021).  They are words of ignorance.  Words of blame.  Words of suspicion.  Words of scorn.  Often they are selfish and self-centered words.  They are words that break down the system (our very country), not words that heal and unite.  They are words that cause anxiety, depression, bewilderment, and hopelessness. They are Republican, Democratic, Independent words that know no single party or faith. Heated words.  Searing words.  “I am right and you are wrong” words that carry no real knowledge but which continue to infect and divide, again and again, into “us” and “them.”

A tiny virus has taught us that we cannot make creation, God, or others bend to our wills, and we are infuriated.

Another Way

But there is a way out of this whirlwind, a way to avoid this virus.  The second passage in the story of Job is found in Job’s reply to God, and it is a relevant piece of ancient wisdom:  “See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?  I lay my hand on my mouth.  I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further” (Chapter 40: 3-5).  In the midst of adversity, Job chooses humility.  Job doesn’t know why what is happening to him is happening.  He is not going to spread conspiracy theories.  He is not going to proclaim that he is more righteous or smarter than others.  He is not going to spout his opinions or try to control others as if he were God because Job knows that he is not God.  Neither are we.

I lay my hand on my mouth.  The 16th century mystic, Saint John of the Cross, once wrote: “God’s first language is silence.”  How many of us are willing to lay our hands on our mouths during this ongoing pandemic, to attempt this way out of the whirlwind?  How many of us are willing to admit with all humility that we don’t have all the answers?  How many of us are able to make the decisions for ourselves that we feel we need to make, to take the actions that we believe are in our best interest, and then lay our hands over our mouths?  When our words do not contribute to unity, to hope, to dialogue, to trust, and to healing, they are not words that need to be said, or spread.

For me, the words I need to anchor myself to are the teachings of the Christ.  That is my faith tradition, the one I best know, the one whose words promise that the Light cannot be overcome.  For others it may be the words of Yahweh, Allah, Nature, Spirit, Love, Poetry, the Universe.  Wherever love is uttered, wherever peace is proclaimed, wherever the Light is shining is where we are called, now, to ground ourselves so that the virus cannot continue to take root in us.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@rosemarymcmahan

“Going” on the Prayer Path

July 26, 2021

(C) Rosemary McMahan

Decades later, I still remember a cross-stitched saying in a plain wooden frame that hung on the wall of my family doctor’s office.  It read, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”  As a child of five or six, I recall being bemused by that quotation.  Were hurrier and behinder really words?  And how could a person get behind if that person was, in fact, hurrying?  I asked my mother to explain the meaning behind those tightly, perfectly stitched words, and ever since then, when I find I am tripping over myself in haste to get ahead, I remember the wisdom on a wall in a doctor’s small office from a long time ago.

The last two weeks, I’ve been sharing my reflections on morning prayer, called “Prime” in the Liturgy of the Hours, and its relationship to three ancient monastic vows:  stability, conversion, and obedience.  I’ve related the vows to the simple instructions that a parent teaches a child before crossing a street:  Stop, look, and go. These steps are an analogy for a prayer method described by Brother David Steindl-Rast in his book, Music of Silence:  A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day.  Stability is the “stop” we take before we begin our day, our invitation to sit with our God, by whatever name we call the Holy Other.  Conversion involves the moments we take to look about us and listen for the Spirit’s nudging before we run ahead of ourselves with our own plans for the day.  Today, I invite you to consider the last step:  Go.

As Brother David writes, if we go without stopping and looking (as in, the hurrier I go, the behinder I get), we may find ourselves swallowed up in other people’s expectations and agendas, or we may find ourselves spending so much time “producing” that we fail to notice God in the present moment, the God who is “I AM.”  For those of us on a creative journey, if we go before connecting to the Great Creator, we may soon find our creative energies blocked, scattered, or stalled.  On the flip side, stopping and looking don’t mean much if we don’t finally go.  We can sit with God all day, or muse about all the possibilities in the next 24 hours, but if we don’t get up and actually cross over, nothing will happen.  So after some moments of stopping and looking, we are called to go into our day.

Obedience is the third vow we make to the creative and aware life and the one that equates with “go.”  The root meaning of the word obey is to hear or to listen.  Think of a parent saying, “Listen to me!”  Obedience is expected to follow.  We go to, or obey, the callings of the day which we have discerned through our time with God.  We obey the call to prayer, and to service, to family and to friends, to the work that requires our attention, that gives us our livelihood, even obeying that call to wash the dishes.  The difference is that we are not going in a hurry; we are not falling “behinder.”  We are going with awareness to each task, inviting the Spirit along the way, and paying more attention to the gifts that surround us.  For all of us who create, in whatever way that might be, we become obedient, again and again, to that which gives us life, to the creative world.  Whether it’s painting, photography, writing, quilting, gardening, designing, woodworking, whatever, obedience is the “go” that gets us to that work.  Truly, if the world needs anything at this particular time, it needs acts of beauty, of love, of hope that can arise from the work we do.

With going/obedience in mind, I invite you to consider these questions with holy curiosity:

  1. How are you being invited to listen more closely to the call of your creative life?
  2. Can you identify any resistance to the call and invite that resistance into conversation, listening to it, blessing it, and asking it to trust your call?

Loving and compassionate Creator, we yearn to be obedient to your call to create and to be aware of the gift of Life.  This broken world is in so much need of light and beauty, song and dance, paintings and photos, poetry and prose that come from a heart aligned with yours.  We believe with all humility that you have called us to create in imitation of you, the Great Creator.  Send your Holy Spirit upon us to embolden us and to make us ever faithful to this call.  May it be so.

Stop.  Look.  Go.  //  Stability.  Conversion.  Obedience.  These are the practices and the vows we are invited to embrace to live our days with thoughtful attention and with joy.  May God the Creator take each of us by the hand and heart and lead us forward. Blessings as you go ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@gmailcom.

Before Going

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get,”
stated the cross-stitched message
framed on a wall in the doctor’s office
of my childhood.
How often in the many seasons
since then have I recalled
that strange bit of wisdom
while tripping over myself,
arms filled with the day’s work,
on the way to my car.
How often have those words
returned to me when I have awakened
to immediacy and rushed into the precious
minutes of a new morning only
to realize later that I missed
the rising sun or the faithful
early praise of the cardinal.
“Get up, get up. Get going.”
How often have I scurried
at the voice of another’s agenda,
failing to heed the one
that gives life to me? To this world?
Yet what is there of meaning
in the hurry? What happens
to the eyes that hear and ears
that see in the white-water rush
of the day? What happens
to the longing of the heart
and the joy of being?
The world would sweep us along
like so many crumbs on a broom
but I want something more. I
want to be anchored to the Source
of All Being, I want to hear the gentle
whisper of the Spirit that guides me
toward joy, I want to know where
I am going before I say “yes.”

© Rosemary McMahan

Stopping on the Prayer Path

July 12, 2021

As a poet, writer, and spiritual seeker, the description of my blog, Spirit-reflections, reads:  “Walking the ancient path and shining the Light with prose, poetry, and prayer.”  I believe that we, as spiritual beings, have much to learn from our ancestors who also trusted in something bigger than themselves.  If we fail to look back, we miss a plethora of wisdom, insight, encouragement, and grace offered to us from the world’s spiritual teachers who faced many of the same challenges, questions, and disappointments that we do.  I also believe I am called to shine the Light (in my case, it is the Light of the Universal Christ defined by Love) in this often unloving, frightened, dark and wounded world.  My medium is words, and as a creator, I use them in prose and poetry, and often in prayer.  We are all creators of some sort, fashioned by and made in the image of THE Creator, so my hope is that this blog speaks to anyone drawn to Light, Hope, Respite, Healing, Beauty, Love, and Peace in their creative, spiritual, and active lives.

However, trust me that I am no saint.  Far from it, I assure you.  Lately, I have been struggling with my own prayer life and with my understanding of who the spiritual journey is inviting me to be.  In reading various books, I came across this quotation from Brother Lawrence, who was born in 1614 and became a Carmelite monk in Paris, famous (ironically, since he cared nothing for fame) for his book Practicing the Presence of God):  “Having found different methods and practices to attain the spiritual life, I decided that they would serve more to hinder me than to facilitate me in what I was seeking.”  What profound truth.  We can spend so much time seeking methods to find God and exploring various ways to discover God that we fail to be with God or to notice God in the present moment.  We each have to find our own way.  Parts of two books have helped me unfold this truth in this disheveled period of my prayer life.  Perhaps they may offer you wisdom, too.

In Music of Silence:  A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day, Brother David Steindl-Rast writes about “Prime,” the liturgical hour of waking and beginning our day, by using an analogy of a child learning to cross the street.  He writes that adults will instruct the child to 1) stop; 2) look; and 3) go.  His explanations of each step remind me of the three ancient monastic vows we are invited to make to support our creative lives:  1) obedience; 2) stability; and 3) conversion.  In this blog, I invite you to consider “stopping” in your prayer life.

Brother David explains that the “stop” is the pause we take before rushing into the day’s activities.  Think about this.  Like a child stopping before rushing into a street, we stop before taking up our work.  In this pause, we simply sit with God, look at God, and allow God to look at us.  Nothing more is needed, not even words, other than showing up for this intentional time to stop as, paradoxically, we begin our day.

Stopping is part of the vow of stability.  We root ourselves in the presence of the Creator who calls us to create before plunging into the myriad demands around us.  Whenever we stop, even for a few moments, we then can anchor ourselves to prayer or to silence or to creativity or to life itself, focusing on the present moment where “I AM” dwells.  Christine Valters Painter explores these vows and writes in Week Five of The Artist’s Rule:  Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, that “Stability means not running away from yourself.  When the creative work becomes challenging or the inner voices and judgments rise up, stability summons us to stay present to the process and see what we discover.”  The same is true of prayer.  Stability means not running away from God in whatever way we name God.  When we are tempted to begin our day without God, stopping summons us to stay present.  It protects us from plunging thoughtlessly into the day while it reminds us that we are human beings, not human doings.

I wonder about myself and why it is sometimes difficult for me to stop before beginning my day.  I wonder about my restlessness and my need to get on with it even while I crave an intimacy with my Creator.  Perhaps you wonder these things, as well.  Perhaps we might, together, lift our wondering to God.

Loving and inviting Creator, we seek to vow stability to the work of creation with which you have gifted us.  Our world is always in a hurry, and often, so are we.  Sometimes it’s easier to do a load of laundry and mark that off the list rather than stopping, just stopping, to be with you or with our creative work.  Spill your Holy Spirit who stills us and helps us focus on what truly matters upon each one of us. May it be so.

Next week, I will explore “looking” and the vow of conversion.  You are welcomed to join me.  Blessings to you in your stopping.  ~ Rosemary

A Simple Invitation

What would it take for you to stop
before you even begin?
To release the tight agenda
the blocked-off calendar
the color-coded “To Do” list
in order to simply be?
Are you able to cradle your mug of coffee
or cup of tea and sit for just a moment
only a moment
to gaze at the wind stirring the pine
or the bird singing praise from a wire
or your neighbor’s laundry clapping
like joyful hands in the morning air?
Can you soften your gaze and see
yourself for the wondrous creation
that you are, just as you are,
in the miracle of this moment
where Love gazes at you
with such deep longing that your heart
can only reply with a sigh?
For when you stop before you even begin,
when you still your mind and open
the door to your soul, if just
for a moment
only a moment
you will remember,
and in the remembering,
you will discover your Truth.

© Rosemary McMahan

Do All Religions “Suck”?

June 14, 2021

A couple of days ago, I happened to find myself a lane over and behind a compact car that sported two identical bumper stickers which read:  “All Religions Suck.”  I guess the driver wanted to make her or his point twice.  I wished at that moment that I could have stopped the car and gone over to the driver and had a conversation about the bumper stickers.  What was the story, the experience, that led this person to so emphatically pronounce this opinion?  All religions suck?  Not, perhaps, just a few?  But the traffic light changed, the car turned off the main road, and I am stuck wondering, days later, about those bumper stickers.

Having been raised in a dogmatic Christian Church which eventually I left, I can understand how a person can be wounded by religion.  I still fight that old, ingrained guilt instinct.  But I didn’t leave religion; I moved on to something more in line with the Christ as my soul understands the Christ to be.  Having pastored churches for almost twenty years, I can understand why someone would resist the autocratic system of so many of our denominations, along with the rules that sometimes make quite clear who is “in” and who is “out.”  I understand religion’s insider lingo and have worked to make the language more welcoming, clear, and inclusive.  I’ve seen, and even been part of, the “raw meat” work of institutionalized religion, aware that sometimes what we do doesn’t match what we say we believe.  Religion is, after all, a human product and therefore flawed, no matter whose religion it is.

But I wonder if it all sucks?

Years ago, when I was listening for the Spirit to prompt me to a new place of worship, my husband and I happened to walk into a church where the pastor was preaching on the difference between The Law and Love.  I knew plenty about The Law, so I was interested in hearing what he had to said.  He told a personal story about being raised in a church that relied on The Law, and that when his parents were divorced in the 1940’s because of his father’s alcoholism, his mother, who had custody of the children, was not longer allowed to receive communion.  Divorce was a sin, no matter what.  Yet every Sunday his mother took her two sons to that same church, dropped them off for worship, sat in her car and prayed until they were through, at a time when she most needed her faith community.  The pastor vividly remembered all of this—the shame, the embarrassment, the exclusion, the indifference of his church, the consequences of The Law.  Yes, religion sucked at the time for him and made such an impact on him that he went to seminary in the same denomination, was ordained, and spent his vocation teaching about practicing Love over The Law, about how Love embraces those who are wounded, about how Love includes, not excludes, about how Love offers a mercy so deep and so wide that nothing we do can ever break that bond.  His message resonated with me and my own experiences and changed me that day.  We joined that particular church, and ten years later, I found myself called into ministry where I preached—and still preach—Love.  The Law has its place, but when we idolize it over God, we lose Love.

I wish I could have listened to that driver’s story.  I suspect it might be very similar to this pastor’s experience.  I wish for so many people that religion didn’t suck, but that within religion they might find an opening, a thin space, that leads them to experience being loved, just as they are, just because they are.

We all come from the same Divine Source, a source of Love.  When we look at what wounds us or offends us about religion, it usually has to do with how we, humans, have twisted and tried to control the gift given so freely to us because it is so hard for us to love.  What I am invited to do is to continue to believe in and practice Love where I can, as I can, and to tell anyone who comes along this blog that you, too, are loved.  Don’t let religion tell you otherwise. Blessings to you ~ Rosemary   20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Showing Up

May mountain laurel / Rosemary McMahan

May 15, 2021

“Life is difficult.”  That three-word truth is the sentence that opens The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck’s well-known book integrating spiritual and psychological insights.  It doesn’t sound like a welcoming beginning, though it certainly sets the stage for an exploration into spiritual and psychological growth.  Admit it.  Life is difficult.  Once we have admitted it, then we can learn how to navigate it.

Writing is difficult.  At times, I wonder why I bother.  Other times, I tend to become frustrated and want to give up when I encounter a subject that eludes my art medium:  words.  Take, for instance, mountain laurel.  Where I live, in the southeastern United States, the shrub is in full glory.  It tends to grow in the most difficult places—on arid, rocky shorelines or tangled up in dense forests.  Every single part of it is toxic.  And yet, and yet, its blossoms enchant me, and I want to share that enchantment . . . but words don’t suffice . . . and I’m a writer and poet and so what do I do?  It’s difficult.

Prayer is difficult.  I believe in a Creator, The Creator, who is much greater than I am.  I believe in Divine Love and that that Love is greater than all of us and loves more compassionately and generously than we can.  And yet, and yet, at times I don’t want to sit still, embrace silence, allow myself to be looked at and held in Love.  Sometimes the love feels more like absence.  It’s difficult.

Relationships are difficult.  Name one that isn’t.  Being a daughter, I have mother issues.  (I’d like to find a daughter who doesn’t.)  Being a wife, I have some spouse issues.  Being a sibling, I have some “family of origin” issues.  Being a friend, I have some friend issues.  Yet I love all of these people, and trying to juggle all the pieces sometimes is difficult.  Life is difficult.

So what is the answer?  Avoidance?  Escape?  Giving up?  No, the answer is to show up anyway.  When the writing, or crafting, get tough, we show up and do it anyway.  When prayer is tough, we show up to sit there in the silence and simply be.  Again and again.  When the relationship gets tough, we show up to give the other the gift of presence.  We show up, again and again.

Showing up is a spiritual discipline that can be traced to one of the vows the earliest of monks took:  the vow of stability.  To vow stability meant that the monk would stay where he was, in his particular monastery, and when life got difficult with his work, his craft, his spiritual journey, his brothers in community, he would not take off to look for an easier, simpler path.  He would stay put, and show up, and learn how to get past the difficulties.

Our world doesn’t offer much support for showing up to situations that are difficult or uncomfortable, but it is through these situations that we learn to grow, to trust, to create, to love, and to reach beyond ourselves.  Life is difficult.  That is true.  It is equally true that each difficulty has the opportunity to be a blessing. When we show up, we not only gift ourselves, but we gift others, as well.

So, I faced the mountain laurel because though it is difficult and toxic, it is also magical and wondrous.  My words are limited, my painting half-done, but I showed up.  I hope you will, too.  Blessings ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Mountain Laurel

If you wish to forget yourself
seek out the mountain laurel
in mid-May when its pillowing buds
give way to the coaxing of the light.

Seek out the mountain laurel
on sandy, rocky slopes or Appalachian woods
in the wild places and lose yourself
in pale white blossoms tinged pink.

Listen while the blossoms like clusters
of small ringing bells on May Day
raise their bright tipped stamen
to catapult pollen upon each passing insect.

Notice how each bright tipped stamen
looks like delicate stitching
placed there by the hand of God or Gaia
on thick sturdy limbs gnarled like ancient fingers.

Kalmia latifolia, Freckles, Little Linda,
and Pink Charm will paint swathes of seduction
on sandy, rocky slopes or Appalachian woods
where you might imagine fairies would live.

If you wish to forget yourself
surrender to the coaxing of the light
and go seek out mountain laurel
in mid-May and bow your head in wonder.

© Rosemary McMahan

Let There Be . . .

Light (c) Rosemary McMahan

May 7, 2021

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,  the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”  So begins the story of creation in the Judeo-Christian scriptures.  In the middle of darkness and chaos, the Creator calls light into being.

As I look at our world today, I see so much darkness—the unending consequences of a global pandemic; the horror in India and in other countries still caught in Covid’s grasp; deep political, ethical, and moral division in the States; a lack of concern for what kind of environment, what kind of creation, we will leave not-so-distant generations; prejudices and biases coming forth in all their ugliness and woundedness, and much more.  Often in the face of so many shadows, I can feel hopeless, defeated.  After all, what can one person do to change the world so that it becomes as the Creator intended, attuned to Divine Love and abiding within the welcome and compassion of the Creator’s heart?  One answer is that the person can imitate the Creator and simply create.

As a poet who paints not by numbers but by words, I believe that art can, indeed, change the world by touching the heart and offering hope.  The act of creation can become the light that shines in the darkness, so that when all we can see is darkness, we can turn our eyes toward a poem, a painting, a sculpture, a garden, a beautifully laid table, a piece of woodwork, a quilt, a single yellow rose in a vase and remember where we come from and who we are.  Within us is ruach, the ancient breath that blew across the waters and ignited the light and which still blows, kindles, and ignites.  We are all creators of some sort, and the world needs us now.

If you are reading this blog, you are either a blogger yourself or a friend or relative.  You appreciate words and so writing may be your craft.  Then please write.  Maybe you paint, or you know the exact corner in which to place a chair so that the light catches it patterns.  Then paint and decorate. Perhaps you garden, and your light is found in tending each plant that delights our sight.  Thank you. Or you have the skill of cooking, which I do not, but which I greatly appreciate when it is shared.  Maybe you are an engineer or doctor or other technical person and your art is turning technology into miracles.  I appreciate you. We all have the ability to create because we are made in the image of THE Creator, who created out of nothing but desire and love, who created in order to bring Light into darkness.

So, I encourage you to take the leap of faith and scatter your creative seeds wherever they may land, on whomever they may land.  If you are creating, please continue. Production and success are not what matter—only the offerings of beauty, love, and light.  ~ Blessings, Rosemary

Promise

Everything you need is promised
in the single leap of faith
to trust the direction of your heart
and commit to it with wonder.

In the single leap of faith
jump into your art with desire
and commit to it with wonder
make vow to the journey of yourself.

Jump into your art with desire
no experience, expertise, or outside voices
make vow to the journey of yourself
as it weaves its way into creation.

No experience, expertise, or outside voices
to snag you or hold you back
trust the direction of your heart
everything you need is promised.

© Rosemary McMahan