“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

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

Asking for Guides

Northern Wales

January 27, 2021

“Stand at the crossroads and look; and ask for the ancient paths where the good ways lies and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”  Jer. 6:16

I enrolled in an online course this past fall that explored the interplay between contemplative practices, such as meditation and prayer, and the creative arts.  We spent a good deal of time discussing ancient wisdom that comes from those who walked these life-journeys before us, and at one point in the course, each participant was invited to imagine a personal guide or guides.  Having a past guide is no stranger than believing in angels or totem animals, after all.  As Hamlet phrased it so well to Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies,” as well as in mine, so I opened myself to who might appear.

At first, however, I struggled with who I would like to guide me on my spiritual and creative writing journey.  Certain friends and relatives, now deceased, who had influenced me in some way came to mind, but I wanted to “save” them for something else.  It wasn’t until I stopped to sit on a boulder in the woods that two guides came to me; and then, from them, two more appeared.

Sitting in the woods, I can’t say I was surprised that Mother Earth and Stillness showed up to offer themselves.  Nature has been my lifeline during this pandemic.  I have noticed the trees in each season more than I have ever noticed them before, along with the distinct spiritual lessons they offer.  Stillness has often been my companion, and again, sitting in quiet, in the heart of God (however we envision or call God), has been another anchor.  So I quickly and gratefully embraced them both.

Over the next several weeks, Sophia knocked on my heart’s door.  Who doesn’t need Wisdom in these trying and uncertain times?  The Book of Proverbs, an ancient text, is filled with the steadfastness that Wisdom offers, including the request to seek guidance.  And then Ruach, the Spirit of Creation, the Spirit of God, the Ancient Wind that has blown for eternity, reminded me that it has been with me since a very distinct occurrence in my adolescence.  Of course, I have often relied on Ruach spiritually, and now I open to its presence creatively, as well.

Each guide in my circle holds deep, deep experience and prudence, along with constancy and grounding, and open-handed steadfast connection.  Each understands with a special reverence all that this journey requires, and so I am grateful.  Who might your personal guides might be? Stand at the crossroads and ask. Blessings to you ~ Rosemary

Ancient Paths
Stand at the crossroads and look; and ask for the ancient paths. Jer. 6:16

Stand at the crossroads and ask,
says the prophet, and so I do
calling on Sophia clothed
in sun to guide me
with ageless wisdom, illuminating
my crowded mind, bringing
to light the myriad memories
hidden within my heart
with her golden whisper.
I invite Gaia, Mother Earth,
arrayed in verdant garments
stitched with woodlands
from Eden’s landscape
to instruct me
in gentle acceptance,
grounding and courage
that the constancy of oak and hickory
reveal. I ask Ruach
ancient silver breath to blow
invisible across my soul, my senses
and hover over my chaos
in blessing, while I beseech
Stillness, swathed in the blue of sea,
to embrace me in the wind
to point direction
in the nodding of each wildflower
so that each step I take is not
just another step toward
life’s ending, but part of
the journey to
beginning.

© Rosemary McMahan