Darkness into Light: A Poem for Advent

“Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.” ~ Fr. Alfred Delp, martyred in Nazi Germany, age 38

As we enter the darkest time of year, my hope and prayer is that each of us will shine the light we have been given, be the light for one another.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Candle-Prayer

In the small still shadow of a darkened morning
before the screeching of this broken world repeats,
I strike a match and set it to a stub of wick:
an offering of light being birthed yet again.

Before the screeching of this broken world repeats,
I breathe sacred flame-glow into heart, psyche, soul
an offering of light being birthed yet again,
a single, slender candle singing prayer.

I breathe sacred flame-glow into heart, psyche, soul,
imagine the brilliance of a hundred million candles
burning quietly on the edges of every dawn
before the screeching of this broken world repeats.

I strike a match and set it to a stub of wick,
my hope for this wounded world one fluttering flame,
a single, slender candle singing prayer
in the small still shadows of a darkened morning.

(C) Rosemary McMahan

Packing Bags

October 27, 2021

A most intriguing photo of a little girl, carrying a suitcase while she walks down train tracks, can be found at Istockphoto.com.  The link is https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/little-girl-with-suitcase-walking-down-train-tracks-gm108150513-1752798.  I do not know who took this photo, but for years I have kept a copy taped to my desk, hoping that one day it will inspire a poem.  So much intrigues me about the photo, such as where the girl is going and whether anyone knows she is missing.  Or perhaps she is returning?  What prompted her travel? But I also wonder about what is in her suitcase.  What did she deem important enough to pack for this particular journey?

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have done a good bit of traveling this fall.  While I relish the travel, I do not at all enjoy packing for my trips.  My anxiety level seems tethered to the act of packing.  I don’t want to forget any of the “essentials,” of course, but then I also worry about changes in the weather—what should I pack for rain?  Or changes in the predicted temperatures.  Do I need an extra sweater if it gets cold?  Shorts and a t-shirt if it gets too hot?  And what about shoes??  I can’t wear hiking books to a nice restaurant, after all.  (Actually, I could. That old record is the problem.)

This whole idea of “packing light” is always my goal, but by the time I have rolled (not folded) the clothes I think I need, and put in some extras, “just in case,” and made sure I have my glasses as well as my contact lenses, I feel dismayed and discouraged at everything I have come to believe I really need. Surely I can survive without half of these items!  I  want to be like that little girl who can carry one suitcase lightly in her hand as she traipses down the rail of a train track.

My packing anxiety is a decent analogy for the journeys we are all on in life.  Whether we are young, middle-aged, or older, we carry luggage with us, often wherever we go.  What we pack each day is habitual from years of lugging around the same things.  We throw in old records (you aren’t pretty enough, handsome enough, smart enough, successful enough, whatever-enough that our parents, teachers, companions, religions, told us, and we replay so often).  We roll other people’s expectations of what we “should” do, be, think, believe into the suitcase.  Let’s not forget past mistakes or shame.  And failures?  Everyone has them.  Toss those in, as well.  We unfortunately believe that these are the things we need, the items that define us, and if we don’t carry them with us, then who are we?

All of the spiritual mentors and leaders, from whatever world religions and philosophies, speak to us about the reality of “packing light,” or of “the open hand,” or of “letting go.”  My spiritual mentor, the Christ, said, basically, that to travel this life journey, I am invited to tether to him (not my over-filled suitcase) and to let my baggage be “light.”  Come to me, all you who are weary,” he said, “and burdened, (from lugging those heavy suitcases)  and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  I have often wondered if Christ had a double-meaning in mind for the word “light,” the burden being light to the touch because it no longer was something material, but something luminous, that he was inviting us to carry.

For me, I will continue to try to let things go, open my hands, and travel light, not just in my packing for physical journeys, but even more importantly, the spiritual ones.  I am drawn to the idea and vision of a burden of “light.”  If you need someone to help you carry your load, I’m available.

Traveling with you.  ~  Rosemary  20rosepoet20@gmail.com.

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
above, 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

On the Road

White Mountain Range, New Hampshire

October 21, 2021

Greetings, friends.  It has been five weeks since I have posted a blog, which calls for some sort of explanation.  Here in the States, I have been traveling from one coast to the other.  In September, we were able to meet good friends in Sonoma, California, where we explored the wine country for four days and enjoyed the beauty of Northern California.

Sutter Mill, California

Then we headed over to Nevada to see family who—due to Covid—we were well overdue in visiting.  We hiked in the foothills of the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains, savored the aroma of pinion pines, and laughed a lot together. 

After being home for a week, we packed up again and flew to Boston to visit our daughter.  When we helped her move a year ago, Covid was on a rampage, so we were not able to visit the city.  This time, we had the opportunity to explore and also took a side trip to catch the fiery autumn colors in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  In spite of being a bit uncertain about the safety of travel, we were careful, vaccinated, and masked, and extremely grateful to be able to reunite with family and friends and to see the natural wonders of our country.

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Since returning, I’ve struggled with what to post.  Travel is so rich with inspiration, but this blog isn’t a travelogue; it’s a place for travelers, for pilgrims and sojourners on the way, seeking and sharing wisdom and insights and beauty and meaning, connecting with each other and with The Creator.  Travel, even for enjoyment, isn’t easy.  There are always slow-downs and detours and risk-taking.  There is always the unexpected, and there is also the return, the settling back into whatever is routine.  As in life, travel involves both receiving and letting go.

White Mountain Range, New Hampshire

I am in the “settling back into” mode and am not at the moment sure where the Spirit is leading me or what the Spirit is guiding me to share in this space to which I have invited you.  But I am here, and I am listening, and I will post again soon as we continue our exploration of and our journeys to our own true selves.   We are, each one of us, an essential pilgrim on the way. I am grateful for you. Blessings to you ~  Rosemary

On the road, Boston, MA

The Eyes of Wabi-Sabi

photo credit (c) Dennis McMahan

September 1, 2021

I recently was introduced to the Japanese Buddhist tradition of Wabi-sabi.  According to Leonard Koren, “Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.  It is a beauty of things modest and humble.  It is a beauty of things unconventional”  (Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers).  Wabi-sabi has an ancient history which began with Chinese Buddhists and eventually made its way to Japanese Buddhists who influenced its current meaning.  Wikipedia explains that “Around 700 years ago, particularly among the Japanese nobility, understanding emptiness and imperfection was honored as tantamount to the first step to satori, or enlightenment. In today’s Japan, the meaning of wabi-sabi is often condensed to ‘wisdom in natural simplicity.’ In art books, it is typically defined as ‘flawed beauty.’” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi

I suppose what captures my attention about wabi-sabi is how counter-cultural it is to our Western philosophies and ideals of what is beautiful.  We admire those who are fit and glamorous, perfectly “put together.”  We envy those who own homes with impeccable gardens and golf course lawns.  We fill our thrift stores with the flawed objects we have tossed out to be replaced by that which is new and shiny.  We often revere successful people who have “made it to the top.” We even teach our children at a very young age that to color correctly (and thus with beauty), they must stay within the lines.  And as we age, we despair of every gray hair, every wrinkle, every age spot that somehow diminishes what our world confirms is worthy.  Washed away in our strivings to be “beautiful people” are humility and acceptance.

A couple of days ago, my partner and I took a hike through the woods near our home.  I wanted to practice paying attention to what was in the woods, not just blindly stomping past trees, rocks, plants, the sky.  I was surprised by how often I caught myself drifting away, and also grateful for those moments when I did, in fact, see a partially hidden spider web shimmering with drops of dew and a single perfect purple spiderwort in full bloom, both beautiful and unspoiled.  But it was the hickory tree, pictured above, that made me stop in wonder—the wabi-sabi hickory tree.

We ventured close to examine the trunks, yes, trunks, of this single tree.  It appears that as the tree first began to grow, something bent it over.  I am not an arborist, so I have no idea why the trunk decided to curve and bend and then somehow root itself again before growing straight upwards, at least 20 feet high, with bright, abundant green foliage.  But for all the tree’s mystery, it isn’t a beautiful tree.  It is an odd hickory, an anomaly in a woods full of trees that knew how to grow upward from the beginning.  Yet it touched me more than any of the others because of its strangeness, its awkwardness, and so I keep reflecting on what wisdom, enlightenment, satori, I might receive from it.

Growing out of the humus, the earth, this hickory reminds me of wabi-sabi and the spirituality of accepting our imperfections, flaws, limitations, and impermanence with humility and with compassion.  In my own faith tradition, Jesus Christ was able to do that for others, to see them through “wabi-sabi” eyes. The bent tree reminds me of the story in the New Testament, in Luke’s gospel, Chapter 13:10-17, of the woman bent over for 18 years who Jesus saw with compassion, not revulsion, and healed. Our culture clamors for perfection; we spend so much energy, so much of our lives, trying to impress, trying to prove we are, indeed, worthy, trying to “stand up straight.”  Yet perhaps our worthiness resides not in what we do or how we look or what we produce but in honoring ourselves as we are, and others, as they are. This misshapen (at least by our standards) hickory tree reminds me that all of us—all of creation—are vitally connected not by our perfection but by our own imperfections, incompleteness, and impermanence in a way that, if we truly want to see as the Christ sees, makes us somehow beautiful.  We are all, each one of us, “fearfully and wonderfully made” as the ancient Jewish psalmist proclaimed (Psalm 139, verse 14) and the hickory tree echoed.

It wouldn’t hurt our Western world to practice a bit more humility, a bit more compassion, a bit more awareness of what is truly important and what is not.  So it seems rather fitting that a tree would be that messenger for me.    Blessings, Rosemary     20rosepoet20@gmail.com.

The Shell Collector

Imagine God by whatever holy name you
utter, walking along the sandy beach, the waves
roiling and tumbling across feet and ankles
while God collects sea shells.
See God picking up a pearly gray clamshell–
one you would value—
only to toss it back to the sea.
Or perhaps God chooses a whole
sand dollar, perfectly intact,
so rare, and then flings it
into the frothy waves
while you gasp.
Maybe God fancies that cockle shell
with its raised ribs and God remembers
Irish Molly Malone selling her shells
in the streets of Dublin and God smiles
before leaving it on the sand.
You wonder why.
And then imagine that you are a shell,
lying with chipped edges
after your rough ride
through the oceans
and God comes to you.
God lifts you from the tide,
and with a tender hand brushes off
the stray strand of seaweed
to notice your blemishes.
God says to Godself, knowingly,
“This one’s been wounded,”
and pulls from God’s pocket
a burlap pouch and adds you to it,
along with the shell
broken by an affair;
one chipped by divorce;
one marred by grief,
one that’s been lost
for so long it no longer
gleams—none beautiful
or perfect but instead treasured
and precious, and God
walks and walks the beach
seeing in each broken shell
God keeps
God’s own exquisite image.

© Rosemary McMahan







An Invitation to Peace

August 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

Lord make Me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness joy.
O Divine Master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved, as to love.
For it’s in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born
To eternal life.

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

An Invitation to See

August 19, 2021

I recently came across a quotation from John O’Donohue that made me stop.  He wrote, “Many of us have made our world so familiar that we do not see it anymore.  An interesting question to ask yourself at night is, ‘What did I really see this day?’”

What did I really see this day in my own familiar world?  To what did I stop and truly attend?  What did I notice right in front of me?  To be honest, I think I go through most of my days rather blindly, so I have tried to pay attention to those common, every day, familiar items that are, in fact, miracles of their own.

Take, for instance, the tomato I had with breakfast this morning.  Not a single mar on its perfect skin.  I watched as the keen edge of the knife sliced through it to reveal the rich red fruit inside, which only a summer tomato can hope to yield.  I attended to how I sliced it, evenly, instead of hacking it quickly.  I “saw” a tomato, and it was wondrous.

Now I see the rain coming down.  It creates a misty veil across the landscape and runs freely against the curb.  My mother used to say raindrops in puddles looked like the marching feet of soldiers, and I see that, too.

I remember looking at the sky yesterday and noticing two cumulous clouds that resembled a puppy kissing a little girl on the nose.  What magic!  Today, I see a solid slate of gray, the proverbial wet blanket hanging over the city, but in pockets among the trees on the hills, steam pools like miniature hot springs.

I reflect on O’Donohue’s quotation and think of the person with whom I live and the friends that I visit.  How much do I truly see them?  I know the color of my partner’s eyes (thank God!) but I couldn’t say with complete confidence what color my friends’ eyes are.  Yet, how many times have I looked them in the face?  What fabulous palettes of color have I missed while sharing our lives?

The playwright Henry Miller wrote, “The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”  What do I tend to give attention to?  Bad news.  The dumbfounding actions (or inactions) of others.  Getting through another day Covid-free.  All these things are reality.  Yet while the philosopher George Santayana acknowledged that reality, he also reminded us that the world is “shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms.”

I believe part of our journey as spiritual beings is to incorporate those practices that help the spirit to bloom.  Our wisest religions and philosophies stress the importance of paying attention, starting with  paying attention to what we are paying attention to! When we become too familiar, we lose awe, humility, and gratitude.  Great losses, indeed, for each one of us and for our world.

In this current season of so much uncertainty, noise, confusion, and angst, O’Donohue’s question is a centering one:  “What did I really see today?”  There is time to look.  There is time to pay attention, no matter how time-strapped or worry-obsessed we have convinced ourselves we are.  Who knows how that glimpse of one familiar object might wake us up, might fill us with wonder, might cause us to give thanks, might help transform our world?  Even a mockingbird is worth the time to see.

Seeing with you. ~ Blessings, Rosemary    

Mockingbird on Sunday Morning

If birds speak in tongues
then surely does the mockingbird
attired in clerical grays
and whites suitable
for Sunday worship.
This morning, a male lifts
his frenzied, praise-filled song
in notes of cardinal,
blue jay, wren, and titmouse
in constant, raucous
harmony, enamored
by the sun’s early rays
the first breath of a new day
or the female mockingbird
high in a limb
cocking her head
in anticipation of just
the right melody
that praises her.

(c) Rosemary McMahan

Covid-19 Infects Us All

August 3, 2021

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

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

Words Without Knowledge

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

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

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

Another Way

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

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

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

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@rosemarymcmahan

“Going” on the Prayer Path

July 26, 2021

(C) Rosemary McMahan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before Going

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

© Rosemary McMahan

“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