And it is good . . .

from ashes to hope

March 15, 2021

Awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the immensity of your own presence.
Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses. . . .
Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven
around a heart of wonder.
For Presence, John O’Donohue

I take part in a group that engages in heart/spirituality/psychology work and looks at how the three (and more parts of us) intertwine and relate to one another.  Our group tends to reflect beyond boundaries and boxes that religious and other institutions have established while still realizing that those boundaries and boxes exist.  Mostly, we take all of these parts and delve into the heart because we believe that it is in the heart, in the seat of Divine Love, that healing and wholeness take place.

Last week, our facilitator invited us to take part in an exercise.  The instructions were to fill in the blank with our own name and write it down:  “It is good to be _________.”    This exercise might be easy for many, but to be honest, I didn’t want to do it.  I could already sense tears pressing against my eyelids because it hasn’t always been “good to be Rosemary.”   That statement opened the floodgate for past mistakes, difficult experiences, betrayals, inadequacies and failings to swamp me.  But I wrote it down, and as I knew would happen, that judgmental part of me began to have a party.  If the silence and expressions on the faces of others in the group were any indication, I suspect that they were dealing with the same judge.

Yet as I sat a bit longer with the statement, something shifted.  Six simple words were on the page.  Nothing else.  No reasons, explanations, or justifications.  “It is good to be Rosemary.”  Period.  My heart shifted and I began to feel that yes, it is good to be me. Period. No reasons, explanations, or justifications. My mistakes (both past and future), my complexity of emotions and intentions, my background, my sacred stories, my particular choices and journey have shaped me into who I am.  They have all given me my voice, not someone else’s.  No one else can possibly be me but me.  That is a sacred truth, one that the world will never tell us, one that we can only discover where Love dwells, waiting to welcome us home.

Gerald May, spiritual writer and psychiatrist, wrote:  “Creation would miss us if we were not here.  We are significant, precious, and needed, not just for the choices we make and the actions we take, but for our very presence.  The scriptures of every major religion attest to it:  the love in which we exist loves us for our very being” (The Awakened Heart). “For our very being,” no reasons, explanations, or justifications.

As we shake off the ashes of the past year and move toward the new life of spring, what if the gift we gave ourselves was that very statement—it is good to be who we are?  Just that and nothing more. What if we planted it like a seed in our hearts and let it take root?  It would not only change us, but quite possibly help transform the world.

Whoever is reading this blog, it is good to be you.  You are precious, honored, and loved.  Creation would miss you if you weren’t here.  I would miss you if you weren’t here. Believe it. Blessings ~ Rosemary

How Shall We Rise?

March 10, 2021

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Covid-19 being declared a worldwide pandemic.  I don’t believe this is the type of anniversary where we will fetch balloons and champagne, but anniversaries, like birthdays, invite us to reflect on where we were a year ago and where we are now, along with who we were a year ago and who we are now.

Where were you this time of month one year ago?   I was at a poetry retreat with a group of six beautiful souls at a monastery run by Benedictine nuns.  None of us is Catholic, so when you see the word “Benedictine,” equate it with hospitality, for the sisters surely were that.  Covid, of course, was in every headline, but there had not yet been a documented case in our state.  We knew we might be pushing the envelope, but the meeting area was large, with a dispenser of Clorox wipes prominently in sight on the communal table.  The photos in this blog are of the retreat grounds in early spring last year.

When I reflect on that experience and how safe we all felt in our bubble of words, musings, song, and imagination, I am humbled by the gift of that time and struck by how much we all have given up this past year.  Since that weekend in March, I have not seen those poets except on Zoom.  We have not sung together, shared a meal, or embraced.  I have not sat in a worship service in the company of the broken and hopeful.  I have not dined with a single friend. I haven’t spent time with family, either, all of us determined to keep each other safe and not contribute to the spread of the virus.  And I have lost people I know and care about as have so many of you. 

That is my experience of the pandemic. But more was going on, a double-disaster.  In the United States, the past year smothered and soiled us with ugly and soul-searing political divide, with the clear evidence of ongoing racism and anti-Semitism, with the huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots and the fact that those who have are frightened that what they have isn’t enough to share.  Fear proclaims itself in conspiracy theories and violence. Patriotism and Nationalism have become the golden idols for so many who claim to worship God.  Gas-lighting not only became a new word in my vocabulary but a new personal experience.  What have I lost, myself?  Trust in my fellow country-people.  Pride in a country that I believed to be gracious and generous, where people cared for their neighbors.  A sense of belonging.  The fears and the troubles of the past year will not simply go away as people get vaccinated.  I come into this anniversary in a large part, bereft.  The scars are deep, the trauma real.

What about you?  How and where are you one year later?  Can you sit among your ashes and count your losses?  Can you name them for what they are?  Can you honor them?  Yet once we do that, there is another necessary step that awaits us, a decision to be made.  Do we stay in the ashes, waiting for things to “go back to normal,” as if normal was all good?  As if normal truly defined who we are as individuals and as a country?  Or do we decide to rise up from the ashes as something and someone better?  We are face to face with a challenge and an opportunity:  what kind of people do we truly want to be and what kind of world do we want to pass on to those who will come after us?

The one hope that has sustained me through this year is that I will somehow be different, be more grounded, more whole, more caring because of my experiences; that I won’t be satisfied with going back to, but will insist on going toward.  In this liminal time between seasons when many faith traditions invite us to take an honest look at our souls, can we search for courage, compassion, and clarity and resolve to carry those attributes forward?  For any of this turning toward to be meaningful, to be real, to be strengthened, it must be rooted, like the ancient magnolia, in the ground of Divine Love, by whatever name we call our God.

A year ago, I was scared.  I still carry some of that fear today, but more than that, I embrace Love.  It is the one transforming power that will prevent us from going back to normal.  It can be the new breath that blows over us and through us, igniting those ashes back into a fire that both heals and creates. 

Blessings to you who have stumbled across this blog. My prayers are for your healing and wholeness, and for your memories and losses, as we journey toward the next year.  ~ Rosemary

Anniversary
Marking one year of Covid

No one serenades neighbors from a balcony
anymore
Gone are photos of shared scenes
outside windows from a locked-down world
When hopefulness faced reality
the clever, humorous videos of life
in quarantine faded from social media
At a half-million dead flags went half-mast
Did anyone notice?

How long, O Lord, how long, we cried.
Now, we know.

Yet here we are–the survivors.
How, then, shall we rise? Stumbling
out of ashes,
who shall we be?

Let us call on the prophets
to arise and announce
that Beauty will lead
and Love will witness.
Let poets pen Compassion
and painters color Wisdom
singers chant Hope
while sculptors chisel
Courage. Let potters go
to their wheels to spin Truth
and quilters pick up their needles
to stitch Healing, let actors
strut across old stages
to proclaim with fresh voices
that the proverbial phoenix
has risen–and she will not go
back to normal
she will not return to ashes
she will not be battered
by hate
she will not be chained
by division
but will blaze her way upward
leaving a brilliant trail of flame
for those brave enough
to follow.

© Rosemary McMahan

Spring Cleaning 2021

March 8, 2021

During this past year of pandemic and politics, I admit that I have not accomplished the numerous projects I’ve heard other people claim during this “stay at home” time.  I have not repainted a single room.  I have not learned a new language.  I have not come to love cooking, especially after doing it three times a day for a year.  I most definitely have not lost any weight.  In many respects, I feel like I’ve been treading water instead, trying to stay afloat, dodging the tidal waves of illness, sorrow, division, hatred, judgment, violence, fear, and anger—sometimes cresting a wave, other times getting pulled under, but somehow miraculously staying afloat. 

Now, in March, in the Christian season of Lent (the Germanic origin simply means springtime), I find myself surrounded by clutter.  The yard needs weeding, re-mulching, and general tidying while the house could use a good scrubbing top to bottom.  It’s time to wash out the empty flower pots on my deck and decide how to fill them this spring when everything was so limited last year.  My study, my sacred space, has transformed into a jungle of piles of books and papers and journals.  I find myself seeking space and simplicity, some breathing room, some emptiness.

Spiritually, it’s no coincidence that Lent coincides with springtime.  These seasons of introspection and reversal beckon us to clear out the clutter of our hearts, just as tradition and the turn of the seasons invite us to do a bit of spring cleaning.  The ancient prophet Joel told his people to rend their hearts, not their garments, as they turned away from themselves and back toward God.  It is the deep cleansing, not the surface appearance, that truly transforms us.  When I imagine rending my heart, I see it being torn open so that all the clutter that distracts me from space and simplicity spills out.  Just as weeds take root and books fill up floor space, so negativity, anxiety, comparisons, grudges, and even self-righteousness can fill up our hearts so that there is no room for Divine Love to dwell, or simply to sit a while for a cup of tea.

So as I turn toward what in my home needs some loving attention and I begin to de-clutter and create space, I hope to do so with my heart in mind.  I want all that is not-Love to spill out, especially the built-up drudge and ashes from the past 12 months.  With each pot I wash, I also wash my heart.  With each book I re-shelve, or let go, I let go of what no longer needs to take up room in my heart.  While I wash windows, I open my heart to the Light.  As the space on my desk opens up, I invite my heart to do the same and reclaim its own spaciousness which always births creativity.  My prayer is that when the time comes to open the windows and allow the spring breeze to flow through my home, ruach, that ancient breath of new beginnings, will find a welcome space.  Blessings to you ~ Rosemary

Each New Day

Sunrise on the lake

March 5, 2021

At the beginning of each day,
after we open our eyes
to receive the light
of that day,

As we listen to the voices
and the sounds
that surround us,

We must resolve to treat each hour
as the rarest of gifts,
and be grateful
for the consciousness
that allows us to experience it,
recalling in thanks
that our awareness is a present
from we know not where,
or how, or why.
–Benedict of Nursia

The ancient passage above, some 1500 years old, comes from a book entitled Always We Begin Again by John McQuiston.  It is a modern paraphrase taken from a section of spiritual guide Benedict’s  “Rule,” a series of lessons written for Italian monks in the hills of Subiaco, Italy, concerning how to live in community.  This “Rule of St. Benedict,” as spiritual wisdom often does, has not only guided Italian monks but also non-Italians and non-monks over the centuries.  Benedict offers a wisdom we are invited to listen to and embrace in our hearts.

Always We Begin Again is a clear description of what it means to rise from ashes to hope, the journey we find ourselves on in this present time.  Each new day, no matter what has happened to us or to our world, we open our curtains and shades to the grace of a new beginning.  We are given the opportunity to start over.  Benedict advises that one way to do so is to “treat each hour as the rarest of gifts.”  That advice requires that we pay attention to each hour, but how difficult that is with all the noise around us.  If we are not inundated by outer noise, we are mired in the noise in our own heads.

Since reading this passage a couple of days ago, I have been trying (trying being the operative word) to make an effort to “wake up” to each hour, to give my attention to each hour, to remind myself to stop and notice the blue jay foraging in my front yard, to admire the miraculous way my cat moves across the room, to savor what I am drinking or eating instead of gulping it down with my thoughts a hundred miles away.  This practice of noticing, or being in the moment, necessarily leads to another direction in Benedict’s passage:  expressing gratitude and giving thanks.  Who gave me the gift of vision so that I can appreciate the colors of the jay?  What did I do to earn the privilege of owning a pet?  Why am I gifted with food three times a day while others are not?  When we pause, even to notice our very breath, we begin to realize that everything we have is a present from Someone greater than us.  How, then, can we not express gratitude and wonder? When we live from a place of attentiveness to the moment, we discover the solid ground of hope that sustains us, even among the ashes.  Blessings ~ Rosemary

Just This

What do I need to do at this moment
that is more important than petting my cat,
the tuxedo that rarely gets the choice spot
in my lap? What do I have to do
at this very moment
that is more urgent than stroking–
up and down–black fur softer than spring rain?
More vital than admiring spats and cummerbund
of white on this gentleman
dressed to take his girl to the show?
What must be done right now
that is so pressing that I would forego the solid
weight on my lap, betray the rumbling purr
that vibrates against my leg, disregard
the green eyes half-closed in pleasure,
to walk away from being?

© Rosemary McMahan

Fissures and Light

March 1, 2021

I belong to a group called “The Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks,” a title that resonates with me because it breaks the mold of how the world sees “religion.”  The people in this group are artists:  writers, poets, painters, dancers, sculptors, songwriters, and more—anyone willing to embrace creativity–and we delight in letting THE Creator out of the box.  We are “monks” in the sense that our creativity is dependent on our various contemplative and spiritual practices, all intended to bring beauty and joy into a dark and broken world.

One topic that often comes up is our indoctrinated quest for perfection.  We hear it from our earliest ages:  “Do your best,” and “Practice makes perfect.”  Being human, however, at some point we run straight into the truth that it is impossible to do our best all the time, that we make mistakes, some with very serious consequences, and then we struggle with our sense of “enoughness” because for some of us, we feel we will never be enough.  We will never live up to the expectations others have ingrained in us, or those we have ingrained in ourselves.  We fear we cannot be loved if we are not perfect; perhaps we’ve even experienced rejection or betrayal when our imperfections revealed themselves.  So we bear the brokenness, the cracks, from those experiences, and wonder how we can ever be whole again, how we can ever be loved again.

Too many of us have only heard of our sinfulness, our shame, and our guilt, as if these are all that define us.  These seasons of atonement, like Lent, if we are not careful, can mire us in a sense of hopelessness:  we will never be good enough to be loved.  But what if we turn away from that thinking, what if we give up those false beliefs for Lent, for our lives, and we instead turn toward the Light that assures us we are indeed loved–wounds, fissures, and all?

No one is perfect.  No one.  And none of us ever will be perfect, thank God, literally.  Instead, we are on a mutual journey of discovery that leads us to be gentle with our woundedness, our cracks, our imperfections.  As singer, songwriter, and spiritual guide Leonard Cohen writes, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”  These cracks can become the breeding ground of compassion and empathy, for ourselves and for others, and that ground becomes holy.  We should all be walking around with bare feet! “Every heart to love can come, but like a refugee,” sings Cohen.  Aren’t we all refugees seeking acceptance, belonging, love, and the assurance that we are, just as we are, “enough”?  Punishment, shame, and fear will never move us along in our spiritual journeys; they are only control mechanisms to keep us stuck.  Instead, we turn to Love, to the Light, to the Divine Source of our Being from which we were created who desires to shine in us, who desires to heal us, who desires to see us dancing in holy disorder.

This same Being offers you two gifts today.  The first is a short parable about the beauty of brokenness.  The second is the song Anthem by Leonard Cohen.  May you listen to both with the ear of your heart and know that you are, indeed, enough.  Blessings ~ Rosemary

The Parable of Two Flower Vases

Let us suppose that there are two flower vases made of fine china. Both are intricately carved and of comparable value, elegance, and beauty. Then a wind blows, and one of them falls from its stand and is broken into pieces.

An expert from a distant land is called. Painstakingly, step by step, the expert glues the pieces back together. Soon the broken vase is intact again, can hold water without leaking, is unblemished to all who see it.

Yet this vase is now different from the other one. The lines along which it had broken, a subtle reminder of yesterday, will always remain discernible to an experienced eye.

However, it will have a certain wisdom, since it knows something that the vase that has never been broken does not: it knows what it is to break and what it is to come together again.” 

Dr. Salman Akhtar in Broken Structures

Leonard Cohen, Anthem:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8-BT6y_wYg

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

Enjoy

Ocean City Beach, Maryland

February 19, 2021

As I contemplated moving from ashes to hope during this yearly transition between winter and spring, and giving to instead of giving up for Lent, I noticed this sign during a recent beach visit, and it struck me with its mixed message.  Do not take your dog to the beach.  Do not sleep on the beach.  (Not even a nap?) Do not drink alcohol on the beach, particularly in forbidden glass containers, do not set off fireworks, and do not play music.  But, YES!  Have fun!  How similar, I thought, to our various organized and institutionalized religions.  Each presents us with a long list of “do not’s” and then commands, “But, YES!  Love God!”  It’s rather difficult to love a Being that is akin to a task masker, especially when the beach patrol is always watching to make sure we follow the rules.

My own spiritual journey and love-relation with the Divine have been varied and have taken me places I never would have dreamed of going.  Currently, I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which has its own particular codes, rules, and regulations and is known for “doing things decently and in order.”  Doesn’t that sound fun?  But one of the tenets I most appreciate that helps me overlook the others is the belief that we are created “to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.”  What?  Enjoy God? That’s not what I was taught as a child.  Aren’t we supposed to fear God, keep our distance from God, bow down before God, try to please God, earn at least a little of God’s respect?  Avoid punishment at all costs?  What is this enjoy business about?  And how does a person do it?

I once had a conversation with a spiritual confidante concerning what I felt God wanted me to do with my life.  His reply was, “Maybe God wants you to do what you want to do.”  I still remember being stunned by that reply, which at first hearing I was sure could not be correct.  No one in my life had ever come close to suggesting such a thing.  But over the years, I’ve pondered his remark and have, at times, allowed it to direct me toward tasks and occupations that I did, indeed, want to do and that not only gave me life, but also gave others life.  I also allowed his remark to help me close doors when I no longer wanted (or, rather, felt called to) stay in a certain position.  That advice nudged me on a path toward choosing love over obligation and then mysteriously moved me closer to loving and to enjoying the Creator who desires to love and enjoy me.

In this time of Lent or seasonal transition, as daylight lasts a bit longer and a few signs suggest I may have one foot out of the ashes, I am giving to myself, to the world, and to the Divine, who created me—and you–something I want to do, which is to create with words. When we find ourselves caught up in what delights us and gives us life, when we are using the gifts the Universe has granted us, we do find one particular way to enjoy God.  Theologian and spiritual author Frederick Buechner had that figured out when he wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

The beach, by the way, was very wild, beautiful, and free just beyond that sign which reminded me to release the “Do not’s” and instead embrace the “Do’s,” the “Do’s” that feed not only my heart and spirit, but hopefully the hearts and spirits of others.  I invite you to do the same.  The world needs whatever we have to give, and God is waiting for our enjoyment.  Blessings to you. ~ Rosemary

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