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







“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

“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

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

“Remember me”?

June 23, 2021

In my early years of ministry, I found myself in a life-changing position for all involved.  A teenager and her mother came to me for direction because the single teen (I will call her Beth) was pregnant.  Beth had the support of her mother for whatever decision she made, but it was clear that what both wanted was my blessing for an abortion, a life and soul-changer for me.

Throughout my upbringing, my parents and my previous denomination had ingrained in me the conviction that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder and thus a serious sin with dire consequences for the mother and her salvation.  For years, I heard the minister pray for “unwed mothers” in his litany of intercessions (but never for unwed fathers who somehow got off the hook on this one).  I knew enough psychology to speak about the very real after-effects of abortion on the mental health of the mother, the guilt and shame that quite possibly could haunt her the rest of her life.  And I knew something of the soul and its spiritual health.  But could I condone an abortion?  This may have been the ultimate test of my ministry.

In my current denomination, a gracious doctrine states that “God alone is Lord of the conscience.”  I am convicted by that.  Only God knows the human heart, and no single person can force her or his beliefs on another.  The Good News of the gospels can be shared, and is shared, but no minister has control over another’s conscience.  In that moment I realized that no matter what I, personally, believed, this decision was not mine to make, condone, or to judge.  All I could do—and what I did do—was reassure Beth how much she was loved, not just by her mother and by me, but by God.

Today’s headlines surrounding conservative American Catholic bishops who hope to bar President Biden from the communion table because of Biden’s pro-choice stance both stun and sadden me, and also resurrected this years-past memory of Beth.  When did abortion become the ultimate sin?  When did homosexuality?  According to Jesus Christ, there are quite a few sins of which we are guilty, including evil thoughts, theft, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness  (see Mark 7: 21-22).  If I recall correctly (and I do), Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, pardoned the thief crucified with him, commissioned the woman at the well as his first disciple (see John 4), forgave Peter for betraying him, and washed the feet of Judas, his traitor, including him in the first communion around the Seder table.  As Jesus did so, he said, “Remember me.”

How well are we remembering the Christ—or whoever we follow who models love–in today’s politically charged, divisive and abusive environment?  Where do we see grace and love being practiced?  How do we condone our actions and our allegiances in relation to what the gospels proclaim?  What I am witnessing daily is Christ’s body being broken in countless ways that have nothing to do with what he taught.  Our current president doesn’t hide his religious devotion but embraces it and relies on it to lead him.  And the powers that be are threatened, not unlike the religious leaders of Jesus’ time.  Not only are they trying to punish a faithful believer, who like the rest of us—and like them—is not perfect, but they are also dredging up all the hurt, the shame, the loss, and the guilt that surround so many women who have had abortions.  They are making the “woman’s” sin the ultimate sin.

Pray God that we do remember Christ and all other spiritual leaders that teach love, compassion, inclusion, and healing.  But may we do more than remember.  May we act like them.  Blessings to you~ Rosemary   20rosepoet20@gmail.com.

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

Lakes, Chapels, God, and Prayer

Memorial Chapel, Lake Junaluska, North Carolina/Rosemary McMahan

May 25, 2021

We recently returned from western North Carolina where we had the opportunity to visit Lake Junaluska, situated in the heart of a Methodist Camp and Conference Center and surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and numerous old shade trees.  If ever there were a place to commune with the Divine, by whatever name one calls it, Lake Junaluska is certainly at the top of the list. 

Memorial Chapel, Lake Junaluska, North Carolina/Rosemary McMahan

A friend had suggested that we visit Memorial Chapel, nested against the lakeshore.  The picturesque small stone church with a view of the placid lake through its arches calls for guests, for those who seek peace to come and sit inside and rest/pray awhile.  We approached a groundskeeper and asked if the chapel was open.  Her response was, “During Covid it was opened 24 hours a day for people to come in and pray, but now that things have gotten better, it is not opened as often.”  Then, half-embarrassed by the irony of her reply, she chuckled a bit, shrugged, and returned to watering the flowers.

Memorial Chapel, Lake Junaluska, North Carolina/Rosemary McMahan

My instant thought was, “Isn’t that just like human nature?”  I guess we didn’t need God anymore.  There we were, in the midst of a religious community, and the chapel was closed because things had “gotten better.”   I realized, again, how often we want God, Yahweh, Allah, Abba, Jesus, Divinity on our own terms, when we want it, when we need it.  I recalled the amazing increase in worship after 9/11, until we realized that—at least for a time—the terrorist attacks were over and life could return to somewhat normal.  The sky hadn’t fallen, yet, so God could be put on hold.  

Yet that notion is so contrary to at least three world religions.  Jesus Christ constantly modeled prayer.  Paul of the New Testament stated we should, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, ” (1 Thessalonians, verses 16-18).  Early in monastic life, the “Liturgy of the Hours” was developed that outlined seven times for prayer each day, following the Jewish example of seven times of prayer found in Psalm 119, verse 164:  “Seven times a day I praise you . . . ” Muslims are instructed to pray five times a day.  Nowhere is there a stipulation to pray only in a crisis.  We fickle humans seem to have invented that one ourselves.

The closed chapel also made me wonder how much we tend to use God, just like we sometimes use other people.  When we are in need of something bigger than us, or beyond our control, we cry out for help and healing, solace and sympathy.  When the crisis is over, we often forget our relationship with the Divine until another crisis or hard time hits.  We forget we are invited into a two-way relationship, one that includes awareness, intention, gratitude, and love from both partners, instead of a relationship where we treat the Divine (or the other) like a genie in a bottle.

Lake Junaluska, North Carolina/Rosemary McMahan

Certainly, we don’t need a chapel in order to commune with Love.  Sitting under a tree by the lake will work just as well as waiting at a red light in traffic.  Divine Love is all around us, simply waiting to be noticed and received.  Yet here was a chapel, dedicated for prayer and worship, closed because things had “gotten better,” and apparently people no longer felt an intense need to pray.  Perhaps Covid has gotten better here in the States, but not everywhere, and surely many more needs exist to be lifted up in prayer, along with many thanksgivings. How precious are the opportunities for sitting in the quiet company of God where often words are not even necessary.

Lake Junaluska, North Carolina/Rosemary McMahan

I’m very grateful that we visited Lake Junaluska.  I felt the presence of the Creator all around us.  More importantly, our brief chapel interlude presented me with an opportunity to reflect on my own prayer life and to admit how many times I turn to God in need and then allow God to fade away when things are going well.  I would like my heart to be a chapel that is open 24 hours a day, inviting God in, not only in the difficult times, but in the peaceful, as well.   Blessings ~ Rosemary  20rosepoet20@gmail.com

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

A Time to Keep

Garden Benches (C) Rosemary McMahan

April 30, 2021

“A time to keep, and a time to throw away.” Eccl. 3: 6

A few days ago, we entertained a couple in our home for dinner—a couple we had not seen in well over a year due to the pandemic.  On the one hand, the experience felt surreal, and on the other, it felt like we had picked up right where we left off, as if the pandemic had been some kind of time warp.

After catching up on our lives over the past thirteen months (not that there was a lot to tell), our friend asked a question.  He said, “What it is that you want to keep from this pandemic experience, that you don’t want to lose as we go back to our routines?”  I found his question thought-provoking and deserving of reflection.  As I have mentioned in a couple of former blogs, I believe that the pandemic gave all of us, the global community, a time to reassess and reconsider how we want to spend our lives and who we want to be, who we want our communities, our nations, our world to be.  The four of us shared our various thoughts, and a common thread was a desire to keep a sense of discernment before jumping right back into all those obligations and commitments, to weigh what and who are life-giving and what and who are not, to decide where and with whom we are called to expend energy, and where and with whom we are not.  In other words, we have been given the opportunity to decide, with love and wisdom, what time to keep and what time to let go.

After reflecting on the conversation, the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes Chapter Three of the Old Testament came to mind.  The Book of Ecclesiastes is considered part of the “Wisdom” tradition of Hebrew Scripture and is thought to have been written sometime between c. 450–200 BCE, over two thousand years ago. The first eight verses state that there is a time and a season for every aspect and experience of human life.  Plagues and pandemics and political upheaval were as much a part of life then as they are now, and the author knew something of what he wrote.  As he pairs each experience, each time and season, he invites us to discern, to listen with our hearts, to the seasons that we are in and to perhaps even discover a blessing, or at least a reassurance, that there is something to be learned, a gift to be received.  Who we are as we exit each season says something about how we lived through it.

We have been in a long and, in parts of the world, continuing season of dying, of weeping, of not touching, of silence, and we are all ready for it to end, but what will we keep without rushing back to a normal that no longer really exists?  What has become something unexpectedly precious to us?  What is one insight, one observation, one “ah ha!” moment, one touch of the heart, one glimpse of the Divine One, one understanding that gently unfolded for us and has the capacity to make us more loving and our lives more sacred?  Those are questions worth our reflection; those are questions that can transform us, and, in turn, transform the world.  Blessings to you ~ Rosemary

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.