“The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms . . .” George Santayana
The Book of Psalms in the Old Testament of the Bible is a collection of ancient Hebrew poem-songs (written between 3500 and 2500 years ago) that demonstrates the truth of the philosopher Santayana’s description about the world. Here we find poems that celebrate beauty, nature, creativity, forgiveness, and love and that also include poems that wrestle with lament, grief, confusion, death, hurt, fear, and anger. No emotion is too big or two small, no feeling too positive or “negative,” for the authors of this book who chose to be honest before Yahweh/God/Allah or whatever word it is we use for the Holy One. The psalms are a human encounter with the Divine.
During the Season of Advent, a Christian tradition that sets aside the four weeks before December 25 as a time for introspection, preparation, and stillness, and during this “season of light in the darkness” when Hanukkah and Diwali are also observed, the daily scripture readings include a psalm. Reflecting on these poems or songs about the human heart and its connection with God is a way to keep us rooted in the universal Reality of Love, a love that does not change while the world around us seems to do so every second. Each psalm, in its own way, becomes a flicker of light and hope in a dark world. Each psalm has a whispered message for us.
Advent is a journey toward the celebration of Love, of welcoming “God-with us” and honoring the “God-in-us,” each one of us. No matter how you experience the presence of God or a Higher Being, I invite you to join me in reflecting on one word a day from an Advent psalm.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
This poem, The Second Coming, was penned by the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats in response to Bloody Sunday, the aftermath of the Irish revolution of 1916, and the continuing quest for independence from England. Yet how relevant it is for this day, this world, as the inhumane Russian invasion of Ukraine continues and so much radical division exists in our world. How can the “centre” hold?
Much of my Lenten journey this season has been focused on how to stay grounded to the center, which, for me, is God. For others, it might be something or someone else. Today, I continue to look at the Welcoming Prayer, a contemplative prayer that invites a Greater Power (in my case, the Spirit of God) to work within us to let go those things that keep us imbalanced. The first “relinquishment” is power and control. The second is the relinquishment of “affection, affirmation, and approval.” As I said previously, the Welcoming Prayer is not easy because it goes against all we’ve been taught to cling to and obtain.
From our birth, we long to have people love us, like us, admire us, reward us, and praise us. Perhaps you are like me, raised on the mantra, “What will the neighbors think?” and so have spent too much energy doing everything you can to make sure the neighbors (parents, spouses, partners, bosses, co-workers, friends) can only approve and admire. Maybe you, too, have been shamed for being judged as “less than” and have felt the keen edge of another’s disappointment in you or disapproval of you. Many of us choose professions where we can work hard to earn others’ love and esteem by what we do, and so meeting those expectations becomes our first, and impossible, goal. Being first, being best, being loved, being admired, being on top of that rickety pedestal is what drives us. It is exhausting. It is an illusion.
Consider this wisdom written by Thomas a Kempis in The Imitation of Christ:
A person who cares nothing for praise or blame knows great inward peace….Praise does not make you holier than you are, nor blame more wicked. You are exactly what you are, and cannot ever be any better or worse than that, in the eyes of God. Attend to what is really within you, then, and you will not care what others say of you. People look at externals, but God looks at the heart. They weigh actions; God knows your intent….To feel no need of human support and assurance is a mark of inward confidence – of those who truly walk with God in their hearts.
“Attend to what is really within you, then, and you will not care what others say about you.” I am attending to writing this blog and composing poetry that brings some degree of solace and beauty into this world. I have little idea of who reads it or whether it has any impact. I know others who think I “should” (always watch out for the “shoulds”; they are another person’s agenda for you) be doing something more “productive.” So the truth and challenge of a Kempis’ words relies on our awareness and trust that what is within us is our unique belovedness. We are loved and valued by the One who created us, and nothing we do, or others think, can separate us from that love. We may walk away from Love, but Love does not walk away from us. So we can let go of our need and striving for transitory affection, affirmation, and approval as we pray, “I relinquish my desire for affirmation, affection, and approval. Welcome, welcome, welcome,” and sit quietly, making room for the transformative power of that which is greater than us.
Look to the spiritual leaders and see how they let go of what others thought. Look to the Christ, who kept his eyes on his purpose, not on what others thought of him. Letting go is not an easy prayer to make, but it is a way to greater freedom and a path toward holding to the center.
Walking with you ~ Rosemary
Wherever you are on your particular ancient path may you give up expectations, your own and others, of what you “should be,” when you “should have” arrived, what you “should have” accomplished by now along with worry over whether you have truly achieved enoughness.
May you leave behind those expectations, your own and others, stuffed in the carry-always luggage you dread hoisting once more above your head into the compartment already filled with bundles and backpacks of those who could not unpack.
May you honestly assess what you have chosen to carry: old records coated in dust, ingrained “shoulds” that did not arise from your own innocent soul, snapshots yellowing with age of what people think of you, manipulations and mind-traps of every weight and shape to make you into another’s image.
May you rummage through your luggage with courage and keep only what is you, by you, of you, and then may you love yourself enough to set your suitcase aside, trusting the lightness of what is precious to lead you freely onward.
In the Christian tradition, today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the six-week period called Lent and is a day to ponder our own mortality. Considering the last two years of perpetual Lent co-existing with the pandemic, it seems sometimes that pondering our own mortality is all we have been doing. And now, with the war in Ukraine and the possibility of that war extending throughout Europe and even beyond, Ash Wednesday feels redundant. We get it. We are all going to die. Besides that, what can we really do about any of these trials and tribulations?
I have been pondering that question, and the answer I have received is twofold: I can continue to create, and I can continue to pray. I have read several bloggers recently who lament that they cannot write their stories, poems, essays because of the weight of this current darkness. Yes, it is difficult because there are no words that can make any sense out of war. Further, does what we write even matter? But what I hear is, “Keep writing anyway.” Keep creating because creating is an act of life. Keep offering whatever it is you have to offer because the rest of us need to witness that faithful resilience.
And I also hear “Keep praying.” I admit that prayer is tricky and that I sometimes wonder if prayer “works,” but “works” is a human term, not a spiritual one. Prayer is an admission, or humble realization, that there is indeed something/someone larger, more infinite, more caring than any of us can ever be. However we choose to pray, prayer grounds us, roots us, in each other and in God (by whatever name we each call God) and in this crazed, white-water world, I need grounding. I need to know I am not alone.
So, on this first day of Lent, when so many of us are tired, frightened, or at a loss for words, I offer a prayer. God breathed God’s name with the two-syllable word “Yahweh.” The country we currently hold in our hearts has a two-syllable name, Ukraine. I breathe in “Yah” and breathe out “weh.” I breathe in “U” and breathe out “Kraine.” I trust that the One Who is Bigger than Us will fill in the blanks.
I honestly do not know what else to do except to be, and “being” includes, for me, creating and praying. I remind myself that the word Lent comes for an old Germanic word meaning “spring,” and with spring come new life and hope. Winter cannot last forever.
“Being” with you this Lent ~ Rosemary
And this is prayer: The black cat perched on my lap this new morning silky fur against one hand the weight and aroma of the coffee mug in the other as we two creatures gaze at Spring’s emerald leaves clapping together in the early breeze. Only yesterday, it seems, bare branches alone reached heavenward but today hickory and elm wear veils of green in praise before the Creator. The cat purrs, I lift my palms, both offering our amen.
. . . you cannot stop the Lenten rose’s pale white blossoms from unfurling nor can you command the pink-tinged buds of tulip trees to fold inward. When you choose war, know that the grass still greens in spring, the titmouse seeks its “peter-peter,” the black and white cat curls herself in the dust-moted spill of sun. When war is your choice, prepare yourself for deep-souled words that fall from pens in rivers of black, for multi-colored hues to unveil themselves like dreams across acres of blank canvas for fresh music to lift and scatter like so many blackbirds across a sky so bright you will shield your eyes. When you choose war, no matter your imagined power, you cannot shroud the human spirit you cannot even destroy love and loyalty and while you may—indeed—conceive tears, never can you thwart whispered prayers from ascending in legions toward all that is more eternal than you.
The Old Testament of the Bible contains an odd story, among many odd stories: the story of Job. For those not familiar with it, the plot revolves around a bet made between God and Satan in which Satan claims that no one is strong enough to remain faithful to God in the midst of unending adversity. Job, a faithful, righteous, and prosperous man, is selected as the “guinea pig” for the bet, and so his calamities begin.
This blog is not an interpretation of the Book of Job, but takes two passages from it that speak to today’s Covid situation in the United States. The first passage is from Chapter 38, verses 1-2, when God finally speaks after hearing a multitude of words from Job and his companions: “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?’” Clearly, we have been in a whirlwind since March 2020, and just as we thought the whirlwind might be sputtering out, it has reappeared with greater force as the Delta variant. And it spread and continues to spread by the proliferation of “words without knowledge.”
Words Without Knowledge
After listening to their queries, theories, and speculations, God basically is asking Job and his human companions exactly who they think they are. It is these same “words without knowledge” that infect each one of us, whether we actually contract the Covid/Delta virus or not. We read them. We hear them on the news. They spill out of the mouths of politicians. We share them with family members and friends. Tinier than the tiniest droplet of virus, these words are carried on the air and land on all of us.
What are these infectious words? They are words of division. Of superiority. Of ridicule. Of self-righteousness. Of fear. Of violence (Capitol attack, Jan 6, 2021). They are words of ignorance. Words of blame. Words of suspicion. Words of scorn. Often they are selfish and self-centered words. They are words that break down the system (our very country), not words that heal and unite. They are words that cause anxiety, depression, bewilderment, and hopelessness. They are Republican, Democratic, Independent words that know no single party or faith. Heated words. Searing words. “I am right and you are wrong” words that carry no real knowledge but which continue to infect and divide, again and again, into “us” and “them.”
A tiny virus has taught us that we cannot make creation, God, or others bend to our wills, and we are infuriated.
But there is a way out of this whirlwind, a way to avoid this virus. The second passage in the story of Job is found in Job’s reply to God, and it is a relevant piece of ancient wisdom: “See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further” (Chapter 40: 3-5). In the midst of adversity, Job chooses humility. Job doesn’t know why what is happening to him is happening. He is not going to spread conspiracy theories. He is not going to proclaim that he is more righteous or smarter than others. He is not going to spout his opinionsor try to control others as if he were God because Job knows that he is not God. Neither are we.
I lay my hand on my mouth. The 16th century mystic, Saint John of the Cross, once wrote: “God’s first language is silence.” How many of us are willing to lay our hands on our mouths during this ongoing pandemic, to attempt this way out of the whirlwind? How many of us are willing to admit with all humility that we don’t have all the answers? How many of us are able to make the decisions for ourselves that we feel we need to make, to take the actions that we believe are in our best interest, and then lay our hands over our mouths? When our words do not contribute to unity, to hope, to dialogue, to trust, and to healing, they are not words that need to be said, or spread.
For me, the words I need to anchor myself to are the teachings of the Christ. That is my faith tradition, the one I best know, the one whose words promise that the Light cannot be overcome. For others it may be the words of Yahweh, Allah, Nature, Spirit, Love, Poetry, the Universe. Wherever love is uttered, wherever peace is proclaimed, wherever the Light is shining is where we are called, now, to ground ourselves so that the virus cannot continue to take root in us.
Blessings to you ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@rosemarymcmahan
Decades later, I still remember a cross-stitched saying in a plain wooden frame that hung on the wall of my family doctor’s office. It read, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” As a child of five or six, I recall being bemused by that quotation. Were hurrier and behinder really words? And how could a person get behind if that person was, in fact, hurrying? I asked my mother to explain the meaning behind those tightly, perfectly stitched words, and ever since then, when I find I am tripping over myself in haste to get ahead, I remember the wisdom on a wall in a doctor’s small office from a long time ago.
The last two weeks, I’ve been sharing my reflections on morning prayer, called “Prime” in the Liturgy of the Hours, and its relationship to three ancient monastic vows: stability, conversion, and obedience. I’ve related the vows to the simple instructions that a parent teaches a child before crossing a street: Stop, look, and go. These steps are an analogy for a prayer method described by Brother David Steindl-Rast in his book, Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day. Stability is the “stop” we take before we begin our day, our invitation to sit with our God, by whatever name we call the Holy Other. Conversion involves the moments we take to look about us and listen for the Spirit’s nudging before we run ahead of ourselves with our own plans for the day. Today, I invite you to consider the last step: Go.
As Brother David writes, if we go without stopping and looking (as in, the hurrier I go, the behinder I get), we may find ourselves swallowed up in other people’s expectations and agendas, or we may find ourselves spending so much time “producing” that we fail to notice God in the present moment, the God who is “I AM.” For those of us on a creative journey, if we go before connecting to the Great Creator, we may soon find our creative energies blocked, scattered, or stalled. On the flip side, stopping and looking don’t mean much if we don’t finally go. We can sit with God all day, or muse about all the possibilities in the next 24 hours, but if we don’t get up and actually cross over, nothing will happen. So after some moments of stopping and looking, we are called to go into our day.
Obedience is the third vow we make to the creative and aware life and the one that equates with “go.” The root meaning of the word obey is to hear or to listen. Think of a parent saying, “Listen to me!” Obedience is expected to follow. We go to, or obey, the callings of the day which we have discerned through our time with God. We obey the call to prayer, and to service, to family and to friends, to the work that requires our attention, that gives us our livelihood, even obeying that call to wash the dishes. The difference is that we are not going in a hurry; we are not falling “behinder.” We are going with awareness to each task, inviting the Spirit along the way, and paying more attention to the gifts that surround us. For all of us who create, in whatever way that might be, we become obedient, again and again, to that which gives us life, to the creative world. Whether it’s painting, photography, writing, quilting, gardening, designing, woodworking, whatever, obedience is the “go” that gets us to that work. Truly, if the world needs anything at this particular time, it needs acts of beauty, of love, of hope that can arise from the work we do.
With going/obedience in mind, I invite you to consider these questions with holy curiosity:
How are you being invited to listen more closely to the call of your creative life?
Can you identify any resistance to the call and invite that resistance into conversation, listening to it, blessing it, and asking it to trust your call?
Loving and compassionate Creator, we yearn to be obedient to your call to create and to be aware of the gift of Life. This broken world is in so much need of light and beauty, song and dance, paintings and photos, poetry and prose that come from a heart aligned with yours. We believe with all humility that you have called us to create in imitation of you, the Great Creator. Send your Holy Spirit upon us to embolden us and to make us ever faithful to this call. May it be so.
Stop. Look. Go. // Stability. Conversion. Obedience. These are the practices and the vows we are invited to embrace to live our days with thoughtful attention and with joy. May God the Creator take each of us by the hand and heart and lead us forward. Blessings as you go ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@gmailcom.
“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get,” stated the cross-stitched message framed on a wall in the doctor’s office of my childhood. How often in the many seasons since then have I recalled that strange bit of wisdom while tripping over myself, arms filled with the day’s work, on the way to my car. How often have those words returned to me when I have awakened to immediacy and rushed into the precious minutes of a new morning only to realize later that I missed the rising sun or the faithful early praise of the cardinal. “Get up, get up. Get going.” How often have I scurried at the voice of another’s agenda, failing to heed the one that gives life to me? To this world? Yet what is there of meaning in the hurry? What happens to the eyes that hear and ears that see in the white-water rush of the day? What happens to the longing of the heart and the joy of being? The world would sweep us along like so many crumbs on a broom but I want something more. I want to be anchored to the Source of All Being, I want to hear the gentle whisper of the Spirit that guides me toward joy, I want to know where I am going before I say “yes.”
On the spiritual journey, it helps to remember that we are created to be spiritual beings as well as human doings. Life isn’t all about what we produce. It also involves who we are becoming, and if we believe we are made in the image of Something Bigger than us, of a holy Other, of God, than what we are becoming is Love.
Of course, being made in the image of Love is not what the world proclaims or helps assist us to attain. Too often we hear we are to be #1, the best, the only, and that our own needs and wants are more important than anyone else’s. If you know of any religious traditions that teach that, please inform me because I don’t find that heresy in the world religions with which I am familiar. Listening to those voices that deny Love is detrimental to our spirit and to life all around us.
So, for those of us on a prayer journey, to whom or what do we give our attention? In last week’s blog, I began a three-part series on the liturgical hour of “Prime,” or morning prayer, when we begin our day. In referring to Brother David Steindl-Rast’s book, Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day, I used his analogy of morning prayer being similar to the “Stop, look, go” that a parent teaches a child when learning to cross the street. Last week’s post explored the richness of stopping to be with God before we start our day and the monastic vow of stability. The next step is to look, or listen, which involves the monastic vow of conversion.
What is conversion? It seems the Christian tradition has hijacked the term to mean being converted to a believer in Christ. But conversion in the monastic and contemplative sense has a much fuller, deeper meaning. In her book, The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, Christine Valters Painter writes that conversion includes stepping “into the unknown space between our egos and our deepest longings.” It is the place where we set ego aside and take that leap of faith, where surprises happen and mysteries become clearer, where change and transformation are birthed, not because of what the world is shouting but because of what the breath of the Spirit is breathing in us and inviting us to look at. After we stop to be with God, then we look and listen. We have to be careful about which direction we choose and which voices we pay heed to.
Brother David encourages us to use our senses in prayer as we look at what is around us, outside our windows, in our rooms, across the street, or in our laps, which is usually my tabby cat. While looking, we listen as the Holy Spirit helps us design the day ahead. What are our priorities? What is God possibly calling us to attend to? Who is being placed on our hearts? Where will our creative work fit into this day? What within the upcoming day is truly life-giving and worth our time? Reflecting prayerfully on the day ahead, we may be surprised by something that calls for our attention that we didn’t expect, or we may decide that what we had planned to do earlier has now become different. The way we move into our day—mindfully not absently–says something about the conversion and transformation that we are allowing in our very lives.
With looking/listening in mind, we might consider these questions with holy curiosity:
How much of our ego is tied to what we produce?
Is it difficult for us to let go of our plans in order to discern God’s invitations for the day?
In what areas of our life might we need to grow in cultivating compassion for ourselves, our choices, and our desires so that we can be open to surprise and change?
If even for a few moments, stop a moment to be with God, to let God look at you with love, just as you are. Then look around you, use your senses, and listen, as the monastics say, “with the ears of your heart.” Then will you be ready to go, our step for next week.
Loving and patient Creator, every single day holds a multitude of surprises and mysteries. Often we miss them because we are so intent on following our well laid-out plans and accomplishing something, anything, that somehow proves our worth. Give us the grace, we ask, to be open to surprise, to practice flexibility, and to discern what is truly life-giving and what brings us the fruit of your joy. May it be so. Walking with you on the journey ~ Rosemary email@example.com
When the wind blows across your skin, listen for the voice of an ancestor guiding you toward your dream.
When you catch the glimpse of silver dancing across the waves, listen for the ancient secret that directs your path.
Listen to the way the breeze forms grooves in the sand and learn about the symmetry of your own life.
Listen to the way the pelican rides on the currents or glides across a cloudless sky, inviting you to let go.
Listen to the hibiscus when it unfurls its orange petals to receive the Light, holding its breath at its own glory and be amazed at each bright word it utters.
Listen to your own heartbeat, what it calls you to remember and listen for the One seeking that same heart.
Listen and become the sacred vessel that treasures each sound it’s given with reverent wonder.
As a poet, writer, and spiritual seeker, the description of my blog, Spirit-reflections, reads: “Walking the ancient path and shining the Light with prose, poetry, and prayer.” I believe that we, as spiritual beings, have much to learn from our ancestors who also trusted in something bigger than themselves. If we fail to look back, we miss a plethora of wisdom, insight, encouragement, and grace offered to us from the world’s spiritual teachers who faced many of the same challenges, questions, and disappointments that we do. I also believe I am called to shine the Light (in my case, it is the Light of the Universal Christ defined by Love) in this often unloving, frightened, dark and wounded world. My medium is words, and as a creator, I use them in prose and poetry, and often in prayer. We are all creators of some sort, fashioned by and made in the image of THE Creator, so my hope is that this blog speaks to anyone drawn to Light, Hope, Respite, Healing, Beauty, Love, and Peace in their creative, spiritual, and active lives.
However, trust me that I am no saint. Far from it, I assure you. Lately, I have been struggling with my own prayer life and with my understanding of who the spiritual journey is inviting me to be. In reading various books, I came across this quotation from Brother Lawrence, who was born in 1614 and became a Carmelite monk in Paris, famous (ironically, since he cared nothing for fame) for his book Practicing the Presence of God): “Having found different methods and practices to attain the spiritual life, I decided that they would serve more to hinder me than to facilitate me in what I was seeking.” What profound truth. We can spend so much time seeking methods to find God and exploring various ways to discover God that we fail to bewith God or to notice God in the present moment. We each have to find our own way. Parts of two books have helped me unfold this truth in this disheveled period of my prayer life. Perhaps they may offer you wisdom, too.
In Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day, Brother David Steindl-Rast writes about “Prime,” the liturgical hour of waking and beginning our day, by using an analogy of a child learning to cross the street. He writes that adults will instruct the child to 1) stop; 2) look; and 3) go. His explanations of each step remind me of the three ancient monastic vows we are invited to make to support our creative lives: 1) obedience; 2) stability; and 3) conversion. In this blog, I invite you to consider “stopping” in your prayer life.
Brother David explains that the “stop” is the pause we take before rushing into the day’s activities. Think about this. Like a child stopping before rushing into a street, we stop before taking up our work. In this pause, we simply sit with God, look at God, and allow God to look at us. Nothing more is needed, not even words, other than showing up for this intentional time to stop as, paradoxically, we begin our day.
Stopping is part of the vow of stability. We root ourselves in the presence of the Creator who calls us to create before plunging into the myriad demands around us. Whenever we stop, even for a few moments, we then can anchor ourselves to prayer or to silence or to creativity or to life itself, focusing on the present moment where “I AM” dwells. Christine Valters Painter explores these vows and writes in Week Five of The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, that “Stability means not running away from yourself. When the creative work becomes challenging or the inner voices and judgments rise up, stability summons us to stay present to the process and see what we discover.” The same is true of prayer. Stability means not running away from God in whatever way we name God. When we are tempted to begin our day without God, stopping summons us to stay present. It protects us from plunging thoughtlessly into the day while it reminds us that we are human beings, not human doings.
I wonder about myself and why it is sometimes difficult for me to stop before beginning my day. I wonder about my restlessness and my need to get on with it even while I crave an intimacy with my Creator. Perhaps you wonder these things, as well. Perhaps we might, together, lift our wondering to God.
Loving and inviting Creator, we seek to vow stability to the work of creation with which you have gifted us. Our world is always in a hurry, and often, so are we. Sometimes it’s easier to do a load of laundry and mark that off the list rather than stopping, just stopping, to be with you or with our creative work. Spill your Holy Spirit who stills us and helps us focus on what truly matters upon each one of us. May it be so.
Next week, I will explore “looking” and the vow of conversion. You are welcomed to join me. Blessings to you in your stopping. ~ Rosemary
A Simple Invitation
What would it take for you to stop before you even begin? To release the tight agenda the blocked-off calendar the color-coded “To Do” list in order to simply be? Are you able to cradle your mug of coffee or cup of tea and sit for just a moment only a moment to gaze at the wind stirring the pine or the bird singing praise from a wire or your neighbor’s laundry clapping like joyful hands in the morning air? Can you soften your gaze and see yourself for the wondrous creation that you are, just as you are, in the miracle of this moment where Love gazes at you with such deep longing that your heart can only reply with a sigh? For when you stop before you even begin, when you still your mind and open the door to your soul, if just for a moment only a moment you will remember, and in the remembering, you will discover your Truth.
We recently returned from western North Carolina where we had the opportunity to visit Lake Junaluska, situated in the heart of a Methodist Camp and Conference Center and surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and numerous old shade trees. If ever there were a place to commune with the Divine, by whatever name one calls it, Lake Junaluska is certainly at the top of the list.
A friend had suggested that we visit Memorial Chapel, nested against the lakeshore. The picturesque small stone church with a view of the placid lake through its arches calls for guests, for those who seek peace to come and sit inside and rest/pray awhile. We approached a groundskeeper and asked if the chapel was open. Her response was, “During Covid it was opened 24 hours a day for people to come in and pray, but now that things have gotten better, it is not opened as often.” Then, half-embarrassed by the irony of her reply, she chuckled a bit, shrugged, and returned to watering the flowers.
My instant thought was, “Isn’t that just like human nature?” I guess we didn’t need God anymore. There we were, in the midst of a religious community, and the chapel was closed because things had “gotten better.” I realized, again, how often we want God, Yahweh, Allah, Abba, Jesus, Divinity on our own terms, when we want it, when we need it. I recalled the amazing increase in worship after 9/11, until we realized that—at least for a time—the terrorist attacks were over and life could return to somewhat normal. The sky hadn’t fallen, yet, so God could be put on hold.
Yet that notion is so contrary to at least three world religions. Jesus Christ constantly modeled prayer. Paul of the New Testament stated we should, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, ” (1 Thessalonians, verses 16-18). Early in monastic life, the “Liturgy of the Hours” was developed that outlined seven times for prayer each day, following the Jewish example of seven times of prayer found in Psalm 119, verse 164: “Seven times a day I praise you . . . ” Muslims are instructed to pray five times a day. Nowhere is there a stipulation to pray only in a crisis. We fickle humans seem to have invented that one ourselves.
The closed chapel also made me wonder how much we tend to use God, just like we sometimes use other people. When we are in need of something bigger than us, or beyond our control, we cry out for help and healing, solace and sympathy. When the crisis is over, we often forget our relationship with the Divine until another crisis or hard time hits. We forget we are invited into a two-way relationship, one that includes awareness, intention, gratitude, and love from both partners, instead of a relationship where we treat the Divine (or the other) like a genie in a bottle.
Certainly, we don’t need a chapel in order to commune with Love. Sitting under a tree by the lake will work just as well as waiting at a red light in traffic. Divine Love is all around us, simply waiting to be noticed and received. Yet here was a chapel, dedicated for prayer and worship, closed because things had “gotten better,” and apparently people no longer felt an intense need to pray. Perhaps Covid has gotten better here in the States, but not everywhere, and surely many more needs exist to be lifted up in prayer, along with many thanksgivings. How precious are the opportunities for sitting in the quiet company of God where often words are not even necessary.
I’m very grateful that we visited Lake Junaluska. I felt the presence of the Creator all around us. More importantly, our brief chapel interlude presented me with an opportunity to reflect on my own prayer life and to admit how many times I turn to God in need and then allow God to fade away when things are going well. I would like my heart to be a chapel that is open 24 hours a day, inviting God in, not only in the difficult times, but in the peaceful, as well. Blessings ~ Rosemary firstname.lastname@example.org
“A time to keep, and a time to throw away.” Eccl. 3: 6
A few days ago, we entertained a couple in our home for dinner—a couple we had not seen in well over a year due to the pandemic. On the one hand, the experience felt surreal, and on the other, it felt like we had picked up right where we left off, as if the pandemic had been some kind of time warp.
After catching up on our lives over the past thirteen months (not that there was a lot to tell), our friend asked a question. He said, “What it is that you want to keep from this pandemic experience, that you don’t want to lose as we go back to our routines?” I found his question thought-provoking and deserving of reflection. As I have mentioned in a couple of former blogs, I believe that the pandemic gave all of us, the global community, a time to reassess and reconsider how we want to spend our lives and who we want to be, who we want our communities, our nations, our world to be. The four of us shared our various thoughts, and a common thread was a desire to keep a sense of discernment before jumping right back into all those obligations and commitments, to weigh what and who are life-giving and what and who are not, to decide where and with whom we are called to expend energy, and where and with whom we are not. In other words, we have been given the opportunity to decide, with love and wisdom, what time to keep and what time to let go.
After reflecting on the conversation, the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes Chapter Three of the Old Testament came to mind. The Book of Ecclesiastes is considered part of the “Wisdom” tradition of Hebrew Scripture and is thought to have been written sometime between c. 450–200 BCE, over two thousand years ago. The first eight verses state that there is a time and a season for every aspect and experience of human life. Plagues and pandemics and political upheaval were as much a part of life then as they are now, and the author knew something of what he wrote. As he pairs each experience, each time and season, he invites us to discern, to listen with our hearts, to the seasons that we are in and to perhaps even discover a blessing, or at least a reassurance, that there is something to be learned, a gift to be received. Who we are as we exit each season says something about how we lived through it.
We have been in a long and, in parts of the world, continuing season of dying, of weeping, of not touching, of silence, and we are all ready for it to end, but what will we keep without rushing back to a normal that no longer really exists? What has become something unexpectedly precious to us? What is one insight, one observation, one “ah ha!” moment, one touch of the heart, one glimpse of the Divine One, one understanding that gently unfolded for us and has the capacity to make us more loving and our lives more sacred? Those are questions worth our reflection; those are questions that can transform us, and, in turn, transform the world. Blessings to you ~ Rosemary
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.