The Return Trip

February 2, 2022

Counting Coats

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

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

© Rosemary McMahan

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

The Waiting ~ A Poem of Advent

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

The Waiting

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

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

© Rosemary McMahan

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