A Way to Be:  Not Knowing

March 7, 2022

I won’t speak for you, but I want to know how the war in Ukraine is going to end.  I want to know now.  I want to know if we are through with the crisis of Covid-19 or if another variant will emerge this spring or summer or fall with all its turmoil and grief.  I want to know now.  I want to know if I will still be alive tonight as I begin to think about our evening meal, and I want to know now.  Our desire for certainty masks our false sense of control because the truth is that we cannot know what is going to happen next.  We may predict, but we cannot know.

In the Not Knowing

It is a bright March afternoon
foreshadowing the spring to come
but not yet.
Forecasters predict possible
tornadic activity, falling temperatures
for tomorrow.

At this present time, with the presence of war, life feels very unstable, but life has always been unstable.  This reality is not something any of us wants to easily admit.  We also don’t want to accept that our biases, our convictions, our perceptions that may have influenced us since our births are not the only “true” ones and that our personal biases, convictions, and perceptions are not what make the world go round. 

I barely catch a glimpse of them
as I drive by. The red blanket
spread on the green lawn
catches my eye, the young woman
sitting there, head tilted back
in laughter, dark hair spilling
down her yellow sweater.

Accepting our not knowing, then, becomes a spiritual practice and a way of staying grounded in the flux of our ever-changing, unpredictable world and lives.  In the Zen tradition, not knowing involves letting go of our rigid perceptions about ourselves, others, and the world, releasing all our “isms”: racism, sexism, classism, etc.  It is a form of compassion that involves meeting life without any preconceived ideas, interpretations, or judgments. In the Christian tradition, not knowing is similar to the practice of Centering Prayer where we sit in silence, empty ourselves of ourselves, and allow the Spirit to pray and work within us, without our interference.  Not knowing can be expressed in many forms of mindfulness, meditation, and other types of contemplative prayer and practice that guide us to a place of stillness ( where “I AM” dwells) and that help us to stay in the present moment, where Truth resides.  Not knowing does not lead to indifference, indecision, inaction or complacency but instead helps us to become more aware of what we choose to let in and more open to what we might have previously excluded.

A jean-clad man, standing on the edge
of the blanket, smiles, holds
a basket while a chestnut-colored
Lab lounges at the woman’s feet,
the trio complete.

In this Lenten Season, as a way of being, the practice of not knowing, of giving up any self-righteousness, rigidity, and control resonates with me.  It is also a way to make real the peace that the Christ promised, a peace that is “not as the world gives . . . so do not let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:26–27).

This moment is all they know
all they need to know-
a front yard picnic
on a bright March day-
none of us knowing what tomorrow
will bring.

© Rosemary McMahan

Image credit: Pixabay

Sacred Cycles

New Hampshire woods, Fall 2021

Nov. 17, 2021

I have been extremely fortunate this fall to see so much colorful foliage.  Here in the southern states, the leaves typically dry up, turn brown, and tumble away, but this year, perhaps due to all the summer rain, they transformed themselves into muted reds and vibrant yellows.  In New Hampshire, the autumn foliage stunned me at every turn, and even outside of Chicago, on what used to be prairie land, the leaves and grasses lit up in color.  The problem with all this beauty is that I don’t want it to end.  I don’t want the trees to drop those rich, warm hues of delight, and yet they will.

New Hampshire Fall 2021

Autumn is the most subtle of seasons.  With all its beauty, it knows what is next—the letting go.  It is also the season that most stirs my soul and touches my heart.  When I had young children, autumn marked the start of school, an exciting time of growth, and a recognition of another year gone by, preparing me, like an autumn tree, for that not-so-distant letting go.  Now that I am older, autumn reminds me where my days will eventually take me, to a final letting go, and letting go of those I love.  Autumn demonstrates for us the truth that life will be different in the future.  The wheels do turn.  But if wheels did not turn, we’d be stuck.

Autumn also offers us an opportunity to assess our lives and to discern in the early shadows of the afternoon what we might be holding too tightly, so tightly that we are keeping ourselves from opening a space for something else.  It could be anything—an emotion, a grudge, a fear, a lost love or opportunity.  It could be a material possession to which we are too attached or perhaps a lost dream begging to be let go in order to let a new dream breathe.  Autumn invites us to trust the open palm that understands something has to be released in order for future birth to take place.  Creatively speaking, autumn invites us to consider letting go of an art form that is comfortable and familiar in order to embrace and create something new.

Chicago, IL Fall 2021

I wonder how this season of fall presents itself to you, in your life, in your creative work, in your daily work, and in your spiritual journeys.  What memories surface?  What experiences?  What feelings?  While pondering, don’t forget to to relish a final glimpse of the colors and listen to their wisdom before they tuck themselves in until the next turn of the wheel. Walking with you~  Rosemary    

Sacred Cycles

Long narrow roots of the maple stretch
like old slender fingers grasping the leaf-
littered ground, fingers fumbling over saffron
scarlet brown offerings of time
evidence of sacred cycles.
Branches themselves evolve into bare black
arms that know when to release
to let go, to set free, a black made vivid
by its bareness.
It is the bittersweet time of year—
everyone knows this—
bidding goodbye to all that came before
within another turning of the wheel–
but no not a dead season.
The multi-hued tapestry spread on the ground
becomes food for moss and mushrooms.
Empty branches recognize the slow sap
circling in anticipation of the next
creation. And though we do not
see them as well in summer through the shady
canopies, autumn stars still light
upon bare black limbs
and ancient slender fingers.
© Rosemary McMahan
20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Outside my window, after the leaves have let go.

Creative Community

Nov. 10, 2021

During the fall of 2020, in the midst of the ever-threatening Covid-19 pandemic, I enrolled in an online course with an emphasis on creativity and spirituality, based on Christine Valters Paintner’s book, The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (https://abbeyofthearts.com/). This course tugged at my heart because after years of not writing poetry, I was making a return, and I was also intrigued by the idea of interweaving arts and spiritual practices. 

For twelve weeks, this large group met virtually every Monday for a workshop led by Christine.  Artists of every sort showed up with participants from the UK, Ireland, and Canada, as well as many of the states.  Christine invited us each week to explore different areas of contemplative prayer as well as to practice some artistic endeavors, sharing our responses on a group wall.  Never have I felt so enriched or so excited because here were people that spoke my language.  That realization was incredibly reassuring in the Fall of 2020 here in the States, where a raucous and contentious election was taking place, causing me to wonder who we had all become.  This gathering of artists and monks became a sanctuary, a place to reclaim my own identity and sanity.

From politics to pandemic, a harsher, more divisive side of us has been revealed.  In the face of so much upheaval and confusion, I wondered what one action I could take that would make any difference, and I have realized that what matters now, perhaps more than ever, is creating beauty, however I can, with my own artistic medium—words.

The online community reminded me that beauty can be found in so many forms:  in poignant prose and poetry, in color when artists paint and quilters stitch, in the sculptor’s chisel, the musician’s instrument, the gardener’s green thumb, the photographer’s sense of shadow and light.  Beauty became my goal.  My spiritual practices of silence and meditation became my pathway.

When this course ended, Christine offered the opportunity to create small groups who wanted to continue the journey.  I joined such a group.  Initially there were ten of us when it began; we are now six—a solid six.  One member lives in the UK, two live in Canada, one in Washington state, one in New York state, and me, the Southern US representative.  We have never personally met, yet we gather monthly on Zoom to review what we learned with Christine, to share our art, to offer meditations and spiritual practices, and, most importantly, to create community where we all speak the same language, no explanations needed.  Every artist needs soulmates. 

I am so very grateful for these five artists in my life.  They are “church” to me because true church (religion, spirituality, philosophy, whatever gives Life) reminds us of beauty.  True church reminds us that we were created by Love so that we can create love.  Like the Creator, we are each called to create in the midst of this present darkness and to lift our offerings like candles that shine with hope and beauty.

Whatever your creation is, whatever your art form is, the world needs it, and I thank you for it.

Blessings to you  ~  Rosemary    20rosepoet20@gmail.com.

Gathering

for Monique, Lois, Liz, Jacque, and Berenice

They are like candles, this gathering of artists,
candles whose flames illuminate the darkness
of those who live on the edge, those whose language
is often foreign to the ears
of the world. Tall, slender tapers
of various hues—royal purple, saffron yellow
river green, desert sage, and rich dark bronze—they are
like candles shimmering and flickering,
casting images and shadows in paint
in words in texture in black and white
and color. Together, they create
a luminous light that fills the soul
and feeds the soul, befriends
the soul, shifting to the shapes
that ruach* whispers upon their flames.
Their art is wonder, the delicate stream
of smoke that rises from each of them,
a holy incense wafting to heaven
an act of brave beauty.

(c) Rosemary McMahan

*ruach: The Hebrew word for breath, spirit.

God is Love

August 12, 2021

“God is love.” (1 John 4:16)

I’m told confession is good for the soul.  Let’s find out.  Often in my blogs, I comment on how essential it is in this turbulent and angry world to be still, to take a time out, to step back, to watch what we say.  However, sometimes I fail to heed my own advice, especially when someone cuts me off in traffic.  A couple of days ago, as I, ironically, was on my way to a group gathering where we discuss psychology and spirituality and how we can become more heart-centered, I was trying to merge from a turning lane into the left lane.  Only one other car was in my way, and it was, of course, in that same left lane, speeding up to keep me from moving over.  The driver easily could have changed lanes since the right lane was empty, or he could have slowed down just a bit to allow me to move over.  But no.  He sped up and blocked me.

I wish that I could say that this is the point, car to car, inches apart, where I looked over at him with love, but that would not be true.  I did indeed look over, but it was to mouth some rather unkind words and flippant suggestions.  If he saw me, he simply ignored me and sped on past, which probably was a good thing.  Yet almost as soon as I had allowed anger to control me, I realized that my reaction had caused nothing positive at all—not for the other driver, and certainly not for me.  Now, not only was I angry at what I considered rude, “all about my rights” driving, but I was also frustrated with myself.  So much for deep-hearted living.

We exist in a time where, it seems to me, love is difficult to practice, if it’s even on the radar.  We hear constant outrage and blame in the mouths of politicians.  We hear the relentless bickering of talking heads.  We watch the maskers and the anti-maskers go at it.  We are bombarded by personal rights that ignore the rights of others.  Even in our own groups of friends, if we pay attention, we hear ourselves judging others.  Our behavior becomes brutish and self-centered.  And yet, I do believe that God is love and that we, creations of that love, by whatever name we call Ultimate Love, are also supposed to be manifestations of it.

There is more to this ancient scripture verse from John, a witness to Love.  It continues, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. God is love, and he (she) who abides in love abides in God, and God in him (her).”  Yes, we are called to, made for, love, but what kind of love is this?  Another ancient witness to Love, the apostle Paul, advised his people to “be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3) or “before yourselves,” as some translations put it.  And to another group, he wrote, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love” (Ephesians 4:31-32; 5:1).  Paul wasn’t offering a list of suggestions or a pick and choose checklist; he was, instead, reminding his people that followers of Love choose love as a deliberate action. 

So, what to do in a noisy and unstable and, often, unloving world, so that we ourselves do not become noisy, unstable, and unloving?  I can only speak for myself, but I am convinced that the way to love is to be still with Love each day, if only for a few moments, so that I can anchor myself there and remind myself and be enveloped in the gaze of Love.  And when I fail to be loving?  To be calm?  To step back?  Then I know it is time, again, to go back to the Source.  Maybe I will meet you there.  Blessings, Rosemary  20rosepoet20@gmail.com  

Then Stop

When the world is too much with us,
when it tumbles over yesterday’s promises
leaving them a remnant on the shore,
when the voices in our heads
and in the crowds crash
in waves of fear and despair,
crying out
that the sky is falling—
indeed it must be–
it is time to stop,
stop feeding our eyes
with hopeless words,
stop filling our ears
with divisive discourse
that cause our hearts to drown
and our souls to bury their heads
in the sand.
When the world is too much with us,
stop.
Put it all away, lock it in a trunk,
stuff it on a shelf, close the door
and be.
Sit in this one sacred moment
and do nothing else
but breathe in unison
with the Breath that breathed
life into you in the depths
of the earth.
Wrap stillness around you
like a blanket woven together
with the rhythm of your heart
and the countless stars
nodding to themselves
on the face of the ancient ocean.
Ground yourself like deep old roots
into the Truth that has always been,
is, and always will be,
that is so much larger than you,
or me, or us, or them,
that whispers “Love”
across the turbulent waters
that comes like daylight
to announce a new beginning.
All is not lost, promises Love,
for those who will stop and claim
that peace that surpasses
our understanding, that whispers
prayer, into our world.

© Rosemary McMahan

Attic Wisdom

From the attic . . .

June 1, 2021

If you’ve ever expected a child, then you know something about the “nesting” period when suddenly you realize, instinctively, that the time is NOW to finish getting the nursery in order, counting the diapers, tidying up the house, and putting extra meals in the freezer because something waiting to be born is coming.  Lately, I’ve felt like I am back in the “nesting” period—though no baby is on the way—and that the time is NOW to put some things in order.  Part of that nesting is a current need to de-clutter, and my need led to the attic.

American attics are a sight to behold.  They certainly say much about our abundance, love for materialism, and our strange obsession to hold onto—or even hoard—so many things, which is a blog in itself.  But attics also reveal the history of our lives, including joys, lost dreams, love, and change.  At least that is what I discovered myself a couple of days ago as I began the challenging task of cleaning out our American attic.  What was I called to keep?  To give away?  To throw away?  To remember?

Some of the choices were simple, including computer satchels we had stored for computers we no longer own.  Why had we even kept them?  Or the suitcase that had been manhandled at the airport one too many times.  Why hadn’t I tossed that one earlier?  But there were other items that told stories of my life and the lives of those I love:

  • The punch bowl with its tea-cup sized glasses given to me in the early years of marriage by my mother-in-law who is now in her final stages of Alzheimer’s disease . . . . Every young woman needed a punch bowl to entertain properly, but gone are the days of hosting baby showers, and these days a metal tub holding beer and wine works just as well at parties.  Yet the punch bowl is a symbol of my mother-in-law’s constant love for me even as she forgets who I am.
  • The ceramic lamp fashioned into a Victorian-styled girl with two blonde braids painted by my aunt, for me, when I was twelve. . . . . I recall visiting her once a year on vacation and sitting in her musty, dusty ceramic shop where she invited me to choose anything I’d like to paint.  The ceramic angel I made there, hands folded, finished in a shiny cream glaze, sits on my desk, a reminder of my childhood and innocence long gone and an aunt, overweight and jolly, who paid attention to me.
  • The maroon trunk that my daughter used to take every year to summer camp. . . . . Why was it still in the attic?  When I opened the trunk, it was filled with her teen-aged summer shorts and t-shirts.  I shook out each piece and recalled what she looked like wearing it and how she acted and the pure joy she experienced at that special place.  Her journey has not been an easy one since then as she has traveled the road of depression, harassment, divorce, relocations, and I have cried many tears for my beautiful daughter with her courageous spirit and I have wondered why.  The clothes, all in good shape, will be given away, but the trunk stays for now, reminding me of her strength and perseverance and of all our distinct yet mutual journeys.
  • The car seat we have kept with hope since the birth of our first grandchild eight years ago . . . . My son and daughter-in-law expected and planned for a houseful of children.  But that’s not the way life has turned out.  It is a miracle, pure and simple, that they have a child and that we are blessed with a granddaughter, our one and only.  The car seat symbolizes acceptance of what is, and it is time to give it to someone else.

And so many other items and objects that are part of my life story, my personal history, that remind me of a time, a place, a person that is no longer.  As I take each item—the punch bowl, the lamp, the clothing, the car seat–to my car for delivery to a charity thrift store, I try to focus on two lessons:  the first is that The Creator has nudged me to create space, not only in my attic but more importantly in my heart, for whatever I know instinctively is waiting to be born.  The second lesson is to bless each item with gratitude for what it gave me, and now, for what it will give someone else as it becomes part of their own story.

I am reminded again in the wisdom of the attic that life is all about letting go:

A window closes
another story ends now
Open palms reach high

It is what all spiritual teachers try to prepare us for–letting go of what was, what could have been, what might have been, what did, in order to be open to whatever is waiting to be.  Our lives are not so much processes to be explained but mysteries to be lived, not with clutched hands and hearts because we fear loss, but with open hands and hearts because we trust.  Blessings to you ~ Rosemary  20rosepoet20@gmail.com.