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

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

Asking for Guides

Northern Wales

January 27, 2021

“Stand at the crossroads and look; and ask for the ancient paths where the good ways lies and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”  Jer. 6:16

I enrolled in an online course this past fall that explored the interplay between contemplative practices, such as meditation and prayer, and the creative arts.  We spent a good deal of time discussing ancient wisdom that comes from those who walked these life-journeys before us, and at one point in the course, each participant was invited to imagine a personal guide or guides.  Having a past guide is no stranger than believing in angels or totem animals, after all.  As Hamlet phrased it so well to Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies,” as well as in mine, so I opened myself to who might appear.

At first, however, I struggled with who I would like to guide me on my spiritual and creative writing journey.  Certain friends and relatives, now deceased, who had influenced me in some way came to mind, but I wanted to “save” them for something else.  It wasn’t until I stopped to sit on a boulder in the woods that two guides came to me; and then, from them, two more appeared.

Sitting in the woods, I can’t say I was surprised that Mother Earth and Stillness showed up to offer themselves.  Nature has been my lifeline during this pandemic.  I have noticed the trees in each season more than I have ever noticed them before, along with the distinct spiritual lessons they offer.  Stillness has often been my companion, and again, sitting in quiet, in the heart of God (however we envision or call God), has been another anchor.  So I quickly and gratefully embraced them both.

Over the next several weeks, Sophia knocked on my heart’s door.  Who doesn’t need Wisdom in these trying and uncertain times?  The Book of Proverbs, an ancient text, is filled with the steadfastness that Wisdom offers, including the request to seek guidance.  And then Ruach, the Spirit of Creation, the Spirit of God, the Ancient Wind that has blown for eternity, reminded me that it has been with me since a very distinct occurrence in my adolescence.  Of course, I have often relied on Ruach spiritually, and now I open to its presence creatively, as well.

Each guide in my circle holds deep, deep experience and prudence, along with constancy and grounding, and open-handed steadfast connection.  Each understands with a special reverence all that this journey requires, and so I am grateful.  Who might your personal guides might be? Stand at the crossroads and ask. Blessings to you ~ Rosemary

Ancient Paths
Stand at the crossroads and look; and ask for the ancient paths. Jer. 6:16

Stand at the crossroads and ask,
says the prophet, and so I do
calling on Sophia clothed
in sun to guide me
with ageless wisdom, illuminating
my crowded mind, bringing
to light the myriad memories
hidden within my heart
with her golden whisper.
I invite Gaia, Mother Earth,
arrayed in verdant garments
stitched with woodlands
from Eden’s landscape
to instruct me
in gentle acceptance,
grounding and courage
that the constancy of oak and hickory
reveal. I ask Ruach
ancient silver breath to blow
invisible across my soul, my senses
and hover over my chaos
in blessing, while I beseech
Stillness, swathed in the blue of sea,
to embrace me in the wind
to point direction
in the nodding of each wildflower
so that each step I take is not
just another step toward
life’s ending, but part of
the journey to
beginning.

© Rosemary McMahan

Light-invitation

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

As the daylight hours shorten and we approach a fallow time of year, many Christian denominations prepare for the season of Advent, the month-long period of waiting for the celebration of the birth of the Christ-Child, the Light of the World. Other faith traditions, such as Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, celebrate Diwali, a festival of lights, while our Jewish sisters and brothers prepare for Hannukah. Darkness calls humanity to seek the light, eon after eon.

Our current pandemic is certainly a dark place, while social and political upheaval in the United States and in other parts of the world create heavy shadows. But each of us has been given a spark of light, and this time of year, in particular, is an appropriate, and much-needed, season to reflect on how we can shine our lights together. As Father Delp, a Jesuit priest hanged for treason in Nazi Germany, invited, we are to shine humbly in whatever way our souls, spirits, psyches call us to, in whatever places and situations we find ourselves, in order to stave off the darkness and encircle our world with the healing power of light.

During this Season of Advent/Diwali/Hannukah, etc., I will be sharing my reflections on how we may be called to both wait in the darkness and to illuminate the shadows in a series called Light in a Dark Season. I invite you to join me as a Light-Bearer so that together we might spread a mantle of brightness over our wounded world.

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.

© Rosemary McMahan