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

Thin Place

Lake Guntersville

February 9, 2022

In Celtic Spirituality, there is an understanding that certain places become the meeting ground between heaven and earth, the “holy ground” of Moses before the burning bush.  Such spaces are called “thin places” because the division between the holy and the ordinary disappears and the time spent there usually is fleeting.  In a thin place, all of our senses are fully awake and we are aware of that present moment only.  Sunrises and sunsets, forests and mountain tops, oceans and streams are often places that become “thin” if our eyes and ears and hearts are open.  As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven.” In these holy moments, we recognize that we have received a gift of presence from Divine Love.  May we practice opening our eyes and our hearts in a world that often trembles. Blessings ~ Rosemary

Thin Place

A bald eagle lifts from her nest to roost on a pine bough
against a cerulean sky before thrusting herself forward
over the wide expanse of lake,
while photographers turn their massive lenses
skyward, laughing and pointing in flannelled
camaraderie. A pair of brown-haired children,
coats off and sailing like kites in their hands,
race along the path past them,
their bemused mother smiling as she struggles
to keep up. Behind, a young flower-laden
couple pose with hope-filled eyes while a friend
snaps pictures of a moment never to be reclaimed
and beyond, a seasoned man and woman perch
on a bare rock, tossing bread from a wrapper
to two fat geese waddling after each crumb.
Out on the water, weightless as dandelion puffs,
five white pelicans with long yellow beaks
drift on the current of a jon boat
where a lone fisherman stands erect,
silhouetted in black by the clear afternoon
sun, his line as straight and steady
as he is. In this simple moment,
like transient etchings, heaven dissolves
into the earth, earth evaporates
into the heavens,
past and future are shut out
while all creation does what it was created
to do, and I remove my shoes
to stand on holy ground.

©  Rosemary McMahan

The Return Trip

February 2, 2022

Counting Coats

If you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn’t have any.””  Luke 3:11

I consider the number of coats
I own. More than two.
Seven? Eight? Ten?
Not all coats, of course.
Some are jackets
a pink fleece
a purple raincoat.
In the checkout lane
the woman in a wind-thin
blue sweater
fumbles with food stamps
to pay for three packages
of cheap hot dogs,
a dollar short.
I turn to search
for a faster aisle
then stop and notice
the loaf of fresh bread
a bottle of good wine
that I am holding.
I pay for her hot dogs.
She turns her plain face
to me and blesses me–
not just me
but also my family
those I love.
When she leaves,
the clerk says
I’ve done something
wonderful.
I am grateful
no one is behind
me to hear her.
I blush, hurry,
leave
with a loaf of fresh bread
a bottle of good wine
and a blessing
held in the hollows
of my heart.

© Rosemary McMahan

Ever forgotten something at the grocery store, something that couldn’t wait, and so you had to circle back and make a second trip?  I found myself in that annoying situation a couple of weeks ago, grumbling to myself about the inconvenience and waste of time as I headed back.  As it turns out, though, I was meant to make this second trip.

I quickly nabbed the forgotten item, along with a bottle of wine (my condolence prize) and got in the checkout aisle.  In front of me, a woman was fumbling in her purse, trying to come up with another dollar to pay for three packages of no-brand hot dogs.  The charge was $6, and she was short the amount.  I noticed the aisle next to me was empty, and I almost moved there, when I looked at my own purchase—a loaf of freshly baked sourdough bread and a good bottle of Chardonnay.  The woman in front of me was now explaining that since it was near the end of the month, she was short on food stamps and was trying to make them stretch over the next couple of days, counting on cheap hot dogs to feed her and perhaps others.  She was about to settle on two packs when I offered to pay for all three.  She gratefully accepted.

I don’t tell this story to brag.  Six dollars is not much to me.  I am no hero.  I tell this story because this woman then turned and blessed me.  She offered a blessing for me and for those I love, for health and well-being, when she obviously needed that blessing, herself.  After she left, as I paid for my own items, the clerk told me I had done a wonderful thing.  No, I hadn’t.  I had done a human thing.

Whether you believe in God, Destiny, Fate, Karma, whatever, I believe I was sent back to that store to receive this woman’s blessing—not a blessing, be clear, that I deserved—but a gift of grace.  I think of her from time to time for she has become a kind of role model of humility and graciousness for me, and I whisper the blessing back to her.

Blessings to each of you, wherever you find yourselves.  ~ Rosemary

Photo credit: Pixabay

Wood Walking

Jan. 28, 2022

As the Covid viruses rage and mutate while people the world over tire of wearing masks, rebel against distancing, and refuse to concern themselves with others’ safety, I find myself dismayed by humanity’s loss of the Golden Rule, and I head to the woods.  I am not the first to do so “when the world is too much with us,” as William Wordsworth phrased it, so I take my path following the wisdom of others throughout the ages who sought Nature in times of turmoil. The mystery of the woods reminds me that God the Creator is still in control, that beauty and love always win the day.

Winter, as I learned last year during Covid, is a unique time to walk the woods.  With the leaves gone, each tree becomes vulnerable, exposing its true form in all its vastly odd shapes.  Nothing is growing where just short months before there was life, and barren rock formations rise up sharply against an empty space.  The birds are quiet; nothing skitters but a lone chipmunk or grey squirrel.  The wind whispers itself cold on my face.  Yet here I find delight.  I find peace.  Here I spot the Creator’s whimsy, the Creator’s smile, the chuckle and affirmation, in the midst of a trembling world.  Our souls were made for beauty; the Creator knows this, and in the woods, obliges.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary

Wood Walking

The end of January, the weight
of pandemic and politics as heavy
as blizzard snow, I take to the woods,
down an empty path
made by sojourners before me.
The sky, a swath of painted winter blue,
a hard and vivid hue, is canvas to limb
after charcoal limb reaching upwards,
each turn of branch, each sliver of twig,
an intimate etching. A sparse yet green
Resurrection Fern holds tight
in mid-January in a wash
of pale winter sun while
a slender tree stands bare except
for a smattering of Turkey Tail fungi,
fringed in blue and gray, forming
a face on the rutted bark:
two eyes with brows, a nose,
a mouth. I nod and say “hello”
in passing.
Rounding the corner, I catch sight
of a kissing tree, or so I name it,
where a canker has formed and is
pressed hard against a lichen-
mottled limestone outcrop
in a touch of lips. I turn away
and walk, delighted by icy clusters of
long dagger-like icicles clinging
to the edge of a leaf-littered
ledge in 50-degree weather.
How can this be? A snake-green vine
encircles a tree and climbs upward
in embrace, too realistic to touch.
I step over slender roots scattered
upon the way like skeleton bones,
mindful not to break one. As evening falls,
multitudes of bare branches
in naked vulnerability
shift and weave themselves
into intricate netting that traps
the day’s last pink rays,
while God laughs in the garden
of delight.

© Rosemary McMahan

Don’t Let the Light Go Out

January 6, 2022

“Pointing to another world will never stop vice among us; shedding light over this world can alone help us.” Walt Whitman

In the Christian tradition, January 6 marks the Feast of the Epiphany, the moment that the Christ-Child was recognized by those beyond his small world and so made universal. Astrologers, we are told, followed a star that led them to the home where the Light was alive. Their gifts not only identified him (gold for a king) and frankincense (incense for a priest) but also prophesied the shadows in his future: myrrh, an embalming ointment, symbolizing his death.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Desmond Tutu

In tragic irony, January 6, 2021, was the date chosen by those who planned and carried out the assault on the Capitol Building of the United States of America. It was the bleakest day of my life, and the images are seared in my mind as much as those of the crumbling twin towers. This assault came from within, from hatred and anger. This assault shattered my naive belief in the “united” states and threatened the gift and privilege of democracy while also marring a feast day that I have celebrated since a child, a feast day of Light.

“An age is called ‘dark’ not because the light fails to shine but because people refuse to see it.” James Michener

On social media, a woman commented recently that we should forget the assault, ignore its anniversary, because it overshadows both Epiphany and her husband’s birthday. “Overshadowing” is exactly why we need to remember January 6, 2021 because we continue to be overshadowed by lies, deceit, conspiracies, hate, and violence. We need the Light, however and whoever we perceive it to be, in the darkness of this present time where the King Herods of the world are intent on destroying anything or anyone that threatens their power. We need to be the light.

“Light. Light. The visible reminder of Invisible Light.” T.S. Elliot

The only action I know to take this day of solemn, sorrowful, and painful remembrance and this day of recognizing joy, light, and love in our world is to light candles, everywhere I can, to pay homage to the Light, to recommit myself to it, to light whatever candle of truth, peace, justice that may dwell within me.

“Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.” Alfred Delp

I had researched several more quotations about light to include in this blog, but instead will leave with this link to an old, and so relevant, song by Peter, Paul, and Mary: Light One Candle. Their words speak much more eloquently than mine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTRfVnygo1U

Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts

May it be so. Blessings ~ Rosemary

Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

O Antiphons ~ Radiant Dawn

December 21, 2021

O Radiant Dawn, you are the splendor of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

Four days before the birth of the Light, on this Winter Solstice, in the O Antiphons, the ancient prayer-song of waiting and expectation, the fifth title given to the Christ (or Light, or Love, if you prefer) is Radiant Dawn.  Of the seven names that compose the antiphons, this one, based again on the words of the prophet Isaiah, resonates most with me:  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

Last year at this same time, as Covid was killing off thousands of people around the globe and vaccinations were not yet available, we were all living in deep darkness, indeed.  I wrote daily blogs about the presence of the Light and encouraged myself and others to “Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are” (Fr. Alfred Delp, martyred by the Nazis).  Here we are, a solid year later, still in the midst of pandemic, of political unrest, of inequality, of doubts and fears that persist throughout the years.  Yet still, through the darkness, the Light does shine.  It happens every single day as the sun rises on us once more, offering the grace of new beginnings.  We have been given another day to shine, to be courageous enough to light our candles.

Who needs our light?  It could be the person behind us in the check-out line, the exhausted mother trying to live up to holiday expectations, the child hurt by that same mother’s impatience, an Uber driver, the friend saying goodbye to a beloved pet, the person facing a first Christmas without a loved one, the one with whom we live daily.  Or maybe it is us.  Light shines in any form of compassion.

“The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5).  This is a promise, a reality, and a gift for all of us.  Together, may we reflect the Light across the world.

Prayer:  O Radiant Dawn, each day when the sun crests the horizon, you offer us another day of life.  Help us not to take that gift for granted but to celebrate it.  Show us how to shine our own lights, no matter how small or insignificant we may think they are, on a world dwelling in fear and sorrow.  Let our lights be beams of love that fall on those who sit in any kind of darkness, and may we each be open to receiving your Light.  May it be so.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary       20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Photo credit Pixabay

O Antiphons ~ Key of David

December 20, 2021

O Key of David and scepter of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captives from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Five days before the birth of the Light, in the O Antiphons, the ancient prayer-song of waiting and expectation, the fourth title given to the Christ (or Light, or Love, if you prefer) is Key of David, as described in Isaiah 22:22:  I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. 

What do keys do?  They open doors.  And, they lock doors.  Keys are symbolic of power and ownership.  To have a key to something is to have the authority to access it.  To own a key enables us, both literally and figuratively, to let someone in or keep someone out.

In this season of longing, I acknowledge the feelings (captives) I have locked in my heart–former wounds, fresh hurts, old records, new disappointments– that might be preventing me from unlocking the door to Love and Light and to others, and I lift them like rising candle smoke. Some have languished in that dark prison a long time; others are just arriving. Keys are powerful. How we use them matters. On my own, I cannot turn the key to release them, but I can lift my desire for Grace to do so.

Prayer: O Key of David, the promise you carry is that you will unlock the doors that hold our captives in darkness, that you will set them free, and so set us free. We pray for all those who hold keys to power and privilege to turn toward your Light and hand you their keys. We pray for ourselves, as well, knowing those captives that need to be let out of the darkness and into your Light. O come, O come, and empower us to trust you with our keys. May it be so.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Picture credit Pixabay

O Antiphons ~ Root of Jesse

December 19, 2021

O Root of Jesse, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings fall silent before you; nations bow down and worship you. O come to deliver us and do not delay.

In the O Antiphons, the ancient prayer-song of waiting and expectation, the third title given to the Christ (or Light, or Love, if you prefer) is Root of Jesse, as described by the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, in 11:1:  “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.”  Jesse was the father of King David, the greatest king in Jewish history.  The Light was prophesied to come out of this particular lineage of royalty, faithfulness, and humanity.

This morning, as I perused the headlines (something that I limit for my own soul’s well-being), I realized that for the second year in a row, we will not be attending Christmas Eve Worship.  The Omicron variant is in our state, along with the ongoing presence of Delta, and no mask or vaccine mandate is in force.  The service will be full of people and guests whose vaccination status I cannot insure.  Our daughter, who lives alone, will be traveling from Boston, and we cannot take a risk of exposing her and sending her home sick.  As a minister, missing the celebration of the birth of Christ, Love, and Light (again) is difficult.

So, the image of being rooted in someone bigger than me, someone more faithful than me, someone more loving than me, someone ever-present, touches me deeply this advent of looking and longing in a world where the tiniest of viruses, of beings, has taught us that we are not in control.  The promise is that from this root of Jesse a flower will blossom.  Roots grow in darkness, yet from the darkness comes great beauty.  I hold that promise to my heart with great anticipation.

Prayer:  In this long season of continuing darkness, pandemic, suspicion, division, fear, doubt, and anger, we call on you, Root of Jesse, to ground us in wisdom and in hope, in faithfulness and in love. Whatever our beliefs, whatever name we use for God, help us to hold fast to you and to give our loyalty to you.  Use us, we ask, to help make the flowering a part of our lives in a world that so desperately needs your presence and your grace.  May it be so.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Photo credit Pixabay

O Antiphons ~ Adonai

December 18, 2021

O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the law on Mount Sinai. O come and stretch out your mighty hand to redeem us.

In the O Antiphons, the ancient song of waiting and expectation, the second title given to the Christ (or Light, or Love, if you prefer) is Adonai, the Hebrew word for Lord.  “Lord” is not a title Americans are used to or even really appreciate because it sets someone higher than us, or apart from us, in this land of mythical equality.  We don’t want to be beholden to a lord. Yet its meaning here holds much relevance for us today because we are in dire need of “someone higher than us,” any of us, to redeem us.  Now.

Pandemic.  Inflation.  Division.  Anger.  Fear.  Tornado.  Fire.  Destruction.  Name it, and we are walking in the midst of it.  This winter season of waiting is a time for us to acknowledge our human need for redemption from all the noise and turmoil around us and within us that threatens to drown us, a need so great that no president or priest can save us.  We need THE Lord.

This antiphon is based on the story of Moses and the burning bush in the Old Testament.  If we listen closely, we notice that the Lord did not come down and lead the people out of slavery, but the Lord indeed knew who would.  Moses himself tried to squirm and shirk his way out of that calling even while the Lord was empowering Moses to do what needed to be done.  And so God’s people were set free because of love, the love of the Lord and Moses’ love of the Lord and the Lord’s people.

I wonder this Advent where the Lord wants me to go, who the Lord wants me to assist, how the Lord wants to use me in setting others free.  Yes, we need the mighty arm of Love to redeem us, and we are also invited to be willing vessels of that Love.

Prayer:  In this long season of continuing darkness, pandemic, suspicion, division, fear, doubt, and anger, we call on you, O Adonai, to claim us and protect us.  You have promised never to leave us alone, and you have called us to be your presence in this oft-broken world.  Just as you empowered Moses to heed your call, so give us the eyes to see and the courage to go into the dark places where your Light most needs to shine.  You are Love and love overcomes all fear (1 John 4:18). Grant us in this season of gift-giving the gift of love and then embolden us to practice it.

O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might

who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height

in ancient times didst give the law,

in cloud, and majesty, and awe. 

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary    20rosepoet20@gmail.com 

The Waiting ~ A Poem of Advent

For all who wait in hope for the coming Light. Blessings, Rosemary

The Waiting

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear. I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13

O, Isaiah, ancient prophet of doom, prophet of ancient hope,
your proclamations resound like cymbals
jarring this still and frozen December heart,
this frozen and still December world.
Like your own people, we are waiting
in this season of ancient hope, waiting
through each shortening hour
waiting while our divisions grow wider
than the separate waters
of the Red Sea.
We wait for your promise that the lion
will lie down with the lamb.
We wait for the winds of your words
to blow injustices away like chaff,
for the threshing sledge to make even
the high and mighty palaces of the
blind and powerful.
Even as sunlight fades into shadows
we wait in the darkness for your springs
of water to wash over the dry land
of poverty, for war to be
no more.
We wait for the fragrance of the cedar and myrtle,
the fruit of the olive, to inhabit
the deserts of our wilderness
where anger, fear, and hate take root.
We wait for the open rivers on the barest
of heights to pour down and bathe us,
to wash us clean, to make us new.
O, Isaiah, ancient prophet of doom,
prophet of ancient hope,
like your people we wait
in this ancient season of hope,
lifting our prayers,
lighting our simple candles–
the flames as old as God–
our single act of resistance against the night, our right hand
clasping your promise.

© Rosemary McMahan