Monday, Advent 1: Escape

The Psalms of Advent, Nov. 28, 2022

Please light a candle if you wish and join me in today’s meditation on the psalms designated for the four weeks of the Advent Season.  How do I select these psalms?  I am not pulling them out of the air, I promise.  They are found in a formalized daily listing of biblical scripture, called The Revised Common Lectionary (1993), that includes readings from the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms, the Gospels, and the letters that compose the New Testament.  These passages were selected in conjunction with Catholic and various Protestant scholars across the States and Canada in hope of creating a sense of unity among denominations that choose to “follow the lectionary,” especially for Sunday teaching, preaching, and worship. It is not a haphazard listing but one made with theological thoughtfulness.

The psalms of Advent were chosen because they reveal something about the themes of Advent: waiting, anticipation, hope, peace, pilgrimage, darkness, and light. The psalm/song/poem selected for the first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the first week of Advent is Psalm 124: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%20124&version=CEB, giving the reader/worshipper/seeker ample time to sit with this song.  Other psalms will also be repeated. 

Like our psalm from Sunday, this song was also sung on the journey to Jerusalem and recited in worship.  Pilgrimages are an important part of the Book of Psalms, perhaps because pilgrimages are universal.  In some way or another, we are all on journey to something or to someone in our lives.  Sometimes we find ourselves deep in the valley and other times we’ve made it to a mountaintop.  In this psalm, the author has experienced both—a time of great fear, and a time of redemption:

Praise be to the LORD,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird
from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
(Verses 6-8, Common English Bible)

The word that catches me in this psalm is escaped, used twice. When a psalmist repeats anything, he does so for emphasis. Here, his people were in trouble, almost “torn” by the enemy’s teeth. Perhaps an army was about to invade when the “Maker of heaven and earth” intervened, and the psalmist gives great praise.

Escape. As I sat with the word, my first inclination was to ponder how we might escape from all that troubles us, and there certainly is a vast amount of trouble: divisive politics, gun violence, unfounded conspiracy theories and lies, and growing antisemitism and prejudice, all in the U.S. alone. Within my own private life, I have traits and habits I would prefer to flee from or ignore. We all do. No one enjoys being “snared” by what is unpleasant, frightful, upsetting, or painful.

Then I thought about God intervening in the life of all humanity. Instead of escaping divisive politics, an occupied country, lies, slander, and manipulation, injustice, sickness, and poverty, God entered into it. For Christians, God did so through Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, “God-with-us.” For those of other faiths, God did so through various prophets. God enters humanity through nature, relationships, love, and Spirit. God enters; God does not escape.

No matter how far along the spiritual journey we find ourselves, we sometimes have trouble admitting that we need help, particularly, at times, God’s help. Needing God’s help makes us feel less in charge. “God helps those who help themselves,” we are told, so we take it upon ourselves to save ourselves. But that little motto is nowhere to be found in Scripture and is, according to Psalm 124, patently false. God helps those who cannot help themselves; God is for us, not against us. What is, is where God is. This psalm and the journey of Advent toward a birthday entrance are both about the promise of God’s presence. As long as I remember that, I don’t need to plan my escape.
Blessings ~ Rosemary

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

Flint Creek in Autumn

October 16, 2022

For as long as I can remember, Autumn has been a melancholy/bittersweet season for me. Amidst the splendor of the brilliant hues of the dying leaves, there is a sense of time gone by, a memory of mourning something, or someone, that cannot be reclaimed. Yet Autumn also offers each of us a choice: we can either hang on with all our might to what we think defines us, or we can let go and trust the wisdom of this season with its unending offers of possibility as acorns fall to the ground to become trees, and seeds from shriveled flowers waft in the wind. ~ Rosemary

Flint Creek in Autumn

Forrest Gump understood the feather had
a journey to take
drifting through
frame after frame
marking time’s passage.

But the lone leaf I watch
does not. It anchors itself
to the slender elm,
refusing the wind’s
invitation. Just yesterday, its companions let go
cascading
like amber
and scarlet butterflies
down the trail to the mossy green creek.
Some landed on soil some on
dusty picnic tables others remained in damp
clusters stuck
to the muddy red bank while
a few spun away riding the current
past saffron asters, purple thistle
enjoying their last great hurrah!

I wonder at the lone leaf’s
reluctance
to release its hold
when all around has fallen
having no choice
but to become
the change itself
to become the very dust
on the picnic table
or the musty soil
underfoot or the nutrient
that feeds the moss upon the
creek’s red bank.

But not yet.
I will that single leaf to let go
trust the wind
will it to take the journey
down the water below
spinning past aster and thistle
dizzying itself in the current
gazing up at the limbs
that released it
to become itself,
the messenger announcing
the passing of time
frame after frame.

© Rosemary McMahan

A Pail of Cherries

August 9, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

With love and light ~  Rosemary

Pail of Cherries

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

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

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

© Rosemary McMahan

Foreign Land

July 11, 2022

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

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

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

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

Adding my light to yours ~ Rosemary

Brothers of Joseph

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

© Rosemary McMahan

In Between ~ Welcome 4

April 16, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Rosemary McMahan

Welcome, Welcome ~2

April 2, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking with you ~ Rosemary

Journey Blessing

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

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

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

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

© Rosemary McMahan

Photo credit: Pixabay

Welcome, Welcome

March 28, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking with you ~ Rosemary

A Way to Be: Taking Action

March 18, 2022

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

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

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

“An International Agency Warns About a Global Energy Crisis”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking with you~ Rosemary

Women Folding

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

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

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

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

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

© Rosemary McMahan

Image credit: Pixabay

A Way to Be

March 2, 2022

In the Christian tradition, today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the six-week period called Lent and is a day to ponder our own mortality.  Considering the last two years of perpetual Lent co-existing with the pandemic, it seems sometimes that pondering our own mortality is all we have been doing. And now, with the war in Ukraine and the possibility of that war extending throughout Europe and even beyond, Ash Wednesday feels redundant.  We get it.  We are all going to die.  Besides that, what can we really do about any of these trials and tribulations?

I have been pondering that question, and the answer I have received is twofold:  I can continue to create, and I can continue to pray.  I have read several bloggers recently who lament that they cannot write their stories, poems, essays because of the weight of this current darkness.  Yes, it is difficult because there are no words that can make any sense out of war.   Further, does what we write even matter?  But what I hear is, “Keep writing anyway.”  Keep creating because creating is an act of life.  Keep offering whatever it is you have to offer because the rest of us need to witness that faithful resilience. 

And I also hear “Keep praying.”  I admit that prayer is tricky and that I sometimes wonder if prayer “works,” but “works” is a human term, not a spiritual one.  Prayer is an admission, or humble realization, that there is indeed something/someone larger, more infinite, more caring than any of us can ever be.  However we choose to pray, prayer grounds us, roots us, in each other and in God (by whatever name we each call God) and in this crazed, white-water world, I need grounding.  I need to know I am not alone.

So, on this first day of Lent, when so many of us are tired, frightened, or at a loss for words, I offer a prayer.  God breathed God’s name with the two-syllable word “Yahweh.”  The country we currently hold in our hearts has a two-syllable name, Ukraine.  I breathe in “Yah” and breathe out “weh.”  I breathe in  “U” and breathe out “Kraine.”  I trust that the One Who is Bigger than Us will fill in the blanks.

I honestly do not know what else to do except to be, and “being” includes, for me, creating and praying.  I remind myself that the word Lent comes for an old Germanic word meaning “spring,” and with spring come new life and hope.  Winter cannot last forever.

“Being” with you this Lent ~ Rosemary

Morning Prayer

And this is prayer:
The black cat perched
on my lap this new morning
silky fur against one hand
the weight and aroma of the coffee mug
in the other
as we two creatures gaze
at Spring’s emerald leaves
clapping together
in the early breeze.
Only yesterday, it seems,
bare branches alone reached heavenward
but today hickory and elm wear veils of green
in praise before the Creator.
The cat purrs,
I lift my palms,
both offering our amen.

(c) Rosemary McMahan