Turning toward Love

February 26, 2021

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works.” Psalm 139: 13-14

“If you never make a mistake, you’re probably not a very good engineer.”  That quotation is attributed to my husband’s former boss and mentor, Mark.  They were discussing an employee’s very costly monetary mistake in a product that was about to go out the door, and Mark’s reply was filled with gracious acceptance and nonjudgment.  The engineer responsible had been working on a completely new product with new technology which required taking risks.  This particular risk did not work, but lessons were learned, the most important one probably being the engineer’s appreciation for the gift of grace.

Mark’s comment touched me and led me to expand it.  “If you never make a mistake, you’re probably not a very good engineer . . . If you never make a mistake, you’re probably not a very good parent . . . not a very good teacher . . . not a very good writer . . . not a very good partner or friend . . . not a very good Believer in whatever or whomever you place your beliefs.”  For most of us, we hear the exact opposite.  Mistakes are to be avoided.  Mistakes equal punishment, even shame.   Mistakes diminish we who are.  Yet in the eyes of Divine Love, which Mark was just a mere reflection of, we are loved despite our mistakes or maybe—shockingly—even because of our mistakes.

Spiritual guide and psychiatrist Gerald May wrote this about love, which includes love of ourselves, in his book The Awakened Heart:  “Every religion has moral commandments intended to promote kindness toward others . . . .The real commandment of love is an invitation born in our own yearning, not an externally imposed ‘should.’ . . .Jews and Christians honor the great commandment to love God with one’s entire being, and one’s neighbor as oneself.  The very name of Islam implies surrendering completely to God.  The heart of the Hindu Song of God, the Bhagavad-Gita, is God’s request for complete, unconditional love.  Buddhism seeks the inherent compassion existing at the root of reality. . . .In every deep world religion, the greatest commandment goes to the very core of being, and there it depends radically on grace” (p.14).

We are invited to love something bigger than us, and that invitation also implies that whatever is bigger than us also loves us.  We are invited to love our neighbor, and that same invitation includes love of ourselves.  Each one of us composes part of that Love Triangle.  If that is so, that we are loved beyond measure, that we are included in the equation of Love, then in this season of turning, we can turn back from our own lack of self-love and turn toward that Source who makes us whole, just as we are.  We are made for Love.

We Christians are fond of saying that Jesus Christ came to save us.  But I often ask, “Save us from what?”  Sin?  Death?  Despair?  I’ve come to believe that Jesus Christ and other spiritual leaders come to save us from ourselves, from our own lack of love for ourselves, just as we are, both broken and beautiful, composed of shadow and light, yearning to know Love.  Yes, we make mistakes, but those mistakes don’t ever define who we are.  When we turn back to Divine Love, we can give up our lack of self-worth and give to ourselves the compassion and grace that remind us how wonderfully created we are.  Wonderful are Love’s works.  ~ Rosemary

A Blessing for Whoever You Are

May you be entranced by the hue of your eyes—
emerald green, slate gray, cornflower blue, burnished brown,
and all the wondrous shades in between that were selected
just for you.
May you be blessed by Love’s design for the color
of your skin—ebony, ivory, bronze, cream, caramel—
and the marvelous blends on the palette
created with care for you.
May you receive the blessing of your shape, your size,
your height which are a delight to Love’s eyes
because you were created in Love’s image.
Love breathes in you.
May you be blessed by releasing all that says
you are less than, you are not enough, you are unlovable
and wrap your arms around your very heart.
May you be blessed by the sacred place within you,
the chamber where Love waits simply to gaze
upon you. And may you believe that gaze
that washes over you and whispers,
“Love. Love. Love. Just as you are. Just because
you are.”

© Rosemary McMahan

Reflection

Ice on trees, February 2021, Virginia

February 24, 2021

“The power of God is present at all places, even in the tiniest tree leaf. Do you think God is sleeping on a pillow in heaven? . . . God is wholly present in all creation, in every corner, behind you and before you. God’s entire divine nature is wholly and entirely in all creatures, more deeply, more inwardly, more present than the creature is to itself. God is entirely and personally present in the wilderness, in the garden, in the field.”

A major part of rising from the ashes of this past year has been, for me, Nature.  I don’t necessarily mean sitting in the woods all day, though I sometimes wish I could do just that, as much as simply paying attention to all the many miracles of wonder and awe that surround us daily.  Take, for instance, ice.

I recently had reason for travel that included a stretch of Interstate 81 across the state of Virginia.  Snow had fallen as part of the huge storm that affected 2/3 of the country, but snow wasn’t the issue by the time of my travel—the frigid temperatures and the arctic winds were.  Yet even with that discomfort, which can certainly remind us of who is in charge, I was blessed with a most wondrous display of exquisite beauty:  iced trees.  As my husband and I rounded a corner, before us lay a display that only cliches can really describe—a “fairy world,” a “winter wonderland,” ice that “sparkled like diamonds.”  The western afternoon sun reflected off of millions and millions of ice crystals that bejeweled the trees against a vivid blue sky. Trying to take pictures with a phone camera in a vehicle moving at 70 mph does not good photography make, but perhaps offers just a glimpse into the miracle with which we were gifted, mile after mile. We were spellbound.

When I got home and looked through the photos on the laptop, I was disappointed that we hadn’t been able to capture the full glory of that brilliant, shimmering display, but then I considered that Nature, and God, aren’t intended to be “captured.”  They are intended to be received.  When we stop to receive them, however fleeting they may be, we are reminded of the constancy of beauty and goodness.  Creation itself becomes an anchor to all that is most important.  It rises, not only from the ashes, but above the ashes, whispering, “And God saw that it was good.”  That is what I hope to focus on and give my attention and energy to as we move from winter to spring, as we make a turn around from all the disruption and pain of this past year—that which is good.

The quotation at the beginning of this reflection was written by the great Reformer, Martin Luther.  I can only imagine the horror of the Church at the thought that God might be present in the “tiniest leaf” instead of in power and wealth and control.  But those things mean nothing to God, and nothing to Nature.  So may we move forward and find God, the Source of our Being who is indeed rooted in us, in our wilderness places as well as in our gardens.  Blessings to you. ~ Rosemary 

Returning

Frost-bitten Lenten Rose, 2021

February 22, 2021

Metanoia is a Greek word we Christians hear much about, especially during the Lenten Season when our focus is intentionally on the journey which Christ took and on how faithfully we are following.  The word itself basically means a change of direction, turning around, or turning back towards, and so we look for places in our lives where we need to make spiritual U-turns and head back toward the Light.  This liminal time between winter and spring suggests such a turn as we watch Nature begin to wake up.

One of my favorite perennials is the Lenten Rose because it embodies strength, resilience, beauty, and because it knows the real struggle of returning year after year.  The Lenten Rose spoke to me last year as we entered our first Lenten season at the beginning of what we assumed would be a short-lived pandemic.  Today in the United States, we approach the half-million dead count to this virus, so it wasn’t so short-lived after all.  Yet as I watched this plant push itself through frozen stubble and bloom despite its weathered, frost-bitten leaves, I couldn’t help but think of the hope of resurrection, of rising from ashes, which for most of us happens more than once in our own lives.  We are somehow banished from what or who we love or from a dream we cherished or from a familiar way of life and there is no going back to that one, particular time.  Still, we are empowered by the Spirit to make a return somehow, just as those multitudes of families and friends must do who lost loved ones to Covid, or to other circumstances.  We are empowered to say “yes” to life.  We, too, are invited by the Light to scrabble and scratch through the debris of whatever haunts us in order to rise and bloom, as many times as it takes, because we do not take that journey alone. Love goes with us.

This year, my Lenten Roses got caught in 10 degree weather just as they were beginning to bloom.  I feared the freeze would kill them, but it did not.  They are a bit stunted (as I believe we all are as this plague drags on), yet they still offer their beauty.  Their message of hope speaks deeply to me while we step into the second year of pandemic, and I rely, again and again, on their example of beauty and new life.

Perhaps that is what this specific time is about:  returning, like the rose, to our deepest, truest selves, despite the rubble (or even in appreciation of it), knowing that while the rubble can teach us, it cannot contain us.  When we return to our deepest selves, we find our Creator, the One who formed us out of nothing but desire, the One who knit us together and called us wonderful, and we begin to bloom once more. Blessings to you. ~Rosemary

Banished
Lenten Roses are a perennial plant. A member of the buttercup family, they bloom near Lent and require little care.

Think of it as hibernation
or incubation
or even dormancy
but call it what it is—
banishment—
driven beneath the soil
to disappear
to be no more. At least for now.
There is no choice
when a fiery revolving sword
and resolute cherubim
bar your return.
In the dark, you dream, you weep
for all
that has been lost—
your splendor gone
your essence buried
your precious names forgotten:
Christmas Rose, Elegance Pearl,
Ivory Prince, that made you
you
while above, wrens skitter
in brittle-brown leaves.

But I want to know
what the turning was like—
the desire to push back
the resolve to reach up
the Self-love that broke
through time-worn debris
to proclaim
“Here I am”
and show buds like roses
that unfold in the purple hues
of Lent.

© Rosemary McMahan

Lenten Rose in full bloom, 2020

Ash Wednesday

Feb. 17, 2021

And we are put on earth a little space
That we might learn to bear the beams of love.

William Blake                                                 

No matter where we have lived this past year, we all have one experience in common:  the pandemic. We all know how it feels to have our personal freedom and choices and pleasures denied as a deadly virus swept over the globe and continues to spread and infect.  We all have experienced to a certain extent what existing in a perpetual Lent feels like.  I assume you have given up some of the same things as I have:  being with family during holidays; having dinner with friends; going out to eat or to the movies; attending our places of worship as a community.  Further, we all are entering a second year, a second time, of honoring our seasons of atonement during this pandemic.  If we knew last year what we know now and how long this would last, would we have made it to this point?  Yet here we are.

We have given up and fasted from so much that it is beyond my own ability to even consider giving up something else this Lent.  Instead, I have been led to reflect on giving to—giving to myself in ways that lead me closer to the Light; giving to the world through whatever it may receive or glean from my words; giving attention to beauty over ugliness; giving the practice of Love over the hate that permeates my own country, the United States; giving light instead of darkness.  What the Spirit is leading me to this Lent is a journey of the heart.

In the book The Awakened Heart by spiritual psychiatrist Gerald May, now deceased yet one of my guides, he invites his readers to reflect on all the varied messages about God they have received throughout their lives—in childhood, from religious authorities, from parents, into adulthood, including their own perceptions of God.  Then he advises to let all of those go—just throw them to the wind, so to speak—and to, instead, “let God be God.”  We can’t, after all, put God in a box, though God knows how hard we try.  Then May continues in his own grace-filled way to add, “And let you be you.”  Sit with that guidance for a bit.

To let God be God requires an awful lot of trust.  To let me be me requires an awful lot of compassion.  So, the journey of Lent this year is a real invitation to go inward, to seek God in the holiest of holies, that place within our hearts where only God and I (or only God and you) are present.  It is there, if we go with trust and with compassion, that we will begin to be able to give.  Blessings to you.   ~ Rosemary

Sifting Ashes

What would you do
if you were invited
to enter your heart
in this season
of self-honesty?
If you were encouraged
to leave reason and judgment
behind and instead
ask grace to be your
companion?
Would you accept the flashlight
offered when you crossed
the threshold, the decoder ring
needed to decipher
each message that begs
revelation?
Could you look?
Once inside, would you willingly
sift through the ashes
that have accumulated
over your life
like the layers
of cinder in your
unswept fireplace?
Finger the silt-soft remains
of grief, remorse, regret,
guilt, even shame,
letting them fall
through your fingers
like the fair hair
of a child?
For here, you will hear
the stories that make you
you, filled with ashes
and hope, shadows and light, death
and life.

And after you have sat
among the ashes,
know that it is your choice
to decide which to wash away,
which to bury, and which
to hold to your heart
like a locket,
as you emerge
to breathe the bright air
of Spring.

©  Rosemary McMahan

Lent 2021: From Ashes to Hope

Winter Honeysuckle

Feb. 16, 2021

Honesty alert! It would be a challenge for me to try to write a Lenten blog from anything other than a Christian perspective, since I have been a Christian my entire life.  Yet my hope is that this blog will resonate with anyone who has felt like it is time to rise from the ashes of this last year of pandemic and politics, or to rise from the ashes of any past event that burdens or wearies or makes us feel less-than. Like the honeysuckle that blooms even in the bitter cold of winter, we, too, have the Creator-given potential to birth beauty and hope and to be nurtured by both.

So many faith traditions offer a time of metanoia, an invitation to contemplate one’s life intentionally and do a turn-around or a turn-toward or a turn-back-to that which is bigger than we are, be it God, Christ, Yahweh, Allah, Spirit, the Divine, the Universe, the Source of All Being, a Higher Power.  Lent, Ramadan, and Yom Kippur are just a sampling of such seasons of intentionality, fasting, and soul-searching.  None of us, no matter what we believe or where we come from or what we look like, will get through this life without experiencing some sort of “ash” event which has the power to leave us stuck, send us in a downward spiral, or lift us to some new awareness and a life-giving transformation.  This blog is not so much about what we give up in these ash-filled times but instead is about what we can give to make ourselves and our world more whole, more loving, more sacred.  That is, after all, the root meaning of the word “sacrifice”:  to make holy.

So I invite anyone who is open to going on a journey that may meander outside the safe boxes of what our particular religions, or our own secular beliefs, have taught (or constricted?) us to explore how we can transition from ashes to hope.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I will be sharing my own musings, poetry, and music along the way, counting on ancient spiritual guides.  My hope is that you will share your musings and reflections in return and that, together, we may turn toward Love.

Blessings to you. ~ Rosemary