Greetings, friends. It has been five weeks since I have posted a blog, which calls for some sort of explanation. Here in the States, I have been traveling from one coast to the other. In September, we were able to meet good friends in Sonoma, California, where we explored the wine country for four days and enjoyed the beauty of Northern California.
Then we headed over to Nevada to see family who—due to Covid—we were well overdue in visiting. We hiked in the foothills of the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains, savored the aroma of pinion pines, and laughed a lot together.
After being home for a week, we packed up again and flew to Boston to visit our daughter. When we helped her move a year ago, Covid was on a rampage, so we were not able to visit the city. This time, we had the opportunity to explore and also took a side trip to catch the fiery autumn colors in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In spite of being a bit uncertain about the safety of travel, we were careful, vaccinated, and masked, and extremely grateful to be able to reunite with family and friends and to see the natural wonders of our country.
Since returning, I’ve struggled with what to post. Travel is so rich with inspiration, but this blog isn’t a travelogue; it’s a place for travelers, for pilgrims and sojourners on the way, seeking and sharing wisdom and insights and beauty and meaning, connecting with each other and with The Creator. Travel, even for enjoyment, isn’t easy. There are always slow-downs and detours and risk-taking. There is always the unexpected, and there is also the return, the settling back into whatever is routine. As in life, travel involves both receiving and letting go.
I am in the “settling back into” mode and am not at the moment sure where the Spirit is leading me or what the Spirit is guiding me to share in this space to which I have invited you. But I am here, and I am listening, and I will post again soon as we continue our exploration of and our journeys to our own true selves. We are, each one of us, an essential pilgrim on the way. I am grateful for you. Blessings to you ~ Rosemary
I recently was introduced to the Japanese Buddhist tradition of Wabi-sabi. According to Leonard Koren, “Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional” (Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers). Wabi-sabi has an ancient history which began with Chinese Buddhists and eventually made its way to Japanese Buddhists who influenced its current meaning. Wikipedia explains that “Around 700 years ago, particularly among the Japanese nobility, understanding emptiness and imperfection was honored as tantamount to the first step to satori, or enlightenment. In today’s Japan, the meaning of wabi-sabi is often condensed to ‘wisdom in natural simplicity.’ In art books, it is typically defined as ‘flawed beauty.’” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi
I suppose what captures my attention about wabi-sabi is how counter-cultural it is to our Western philosophies and ideals of what is beautiful. We admire those who are fit and glamorous, perfectly “put together.” We envy those who own homes with impeccable gardens and golf course lawns. We fill our thrift stores with the flawed objects we have tossed out to be replaced by that which is new and shiny. We often revere successful people who have “made it to the top.” We even teach our children at a very young age that to color correctly (and thus with beauty), they must stay within the lines. And as we age, we despair of every gray hair, every wrinkle, every age spot that somehow diminishes what our world confirms is worthy. Washed away in our strivings to be “beautiful people” are humility and acceptance.
A couple of days ago, my partner and I took a hike through the woods near our home. I wanted to practice paying attention to what was in the woods, not just blindly stomping past trees, rocks, plants, the sky. I was surprised by how often I caught myself drifting away, and also grateful for those moments when I did, in fact, see a partially hidden spider web shimmering with drops of dew and a single perfect purple spiderwort in full bloom, both beautiful and unspoiled. But it was the hickory tree, pictured above, that made me stop in wonder—the wabi-sabi hickory tree.
We ventured close to examine the trunks, yes, trunks, of this single tree. It appears that as the tree first began to grow, something bent it over. I am not an arborist, so I have no idea why the trunk decided to curve and bend and then somehow root itself again before growing straight upwards, at least 20 feet high, with bright, abundant green foliage. But for all the tree’s mystery, it isn’t a beautiful tree. It is an odd hickory, an anomaly in a woods full of trees that knew how to grow upward from the beginning. Yet it touched me more than any of the others because of its strangeness, its awkwardness, and so I keep reflecting on what wisdom, enlightenment, satori, I might receive from it.
Growing out of the humus, the earth, this hickory reminds me of wabi-sabi and the spirituality of accepting our imperfections, flaws, limitations, and impermanence with humility and with compassion. In my own faith tradition, Jesus Christ was able to do that for others, to see them through “wabi-sabi” eyes. The bent tree reminds me of the story in the New Testament, in Luke’s gospel, Chapter 13:10-17, of the woman bent over for 18 years who Jesus saw with compassion, not revulsion, and healed. Our culture clamors for perfection; we spend so much energy, so much of our lives, trying to impress, trying to prove we are, indeed, worthy, trying to “stand up straight.” Yet perhaps our worthiness resides not in what we do or how we look or what we produce but in honoring ourselves as we are, and others, as they are. This misshapen (at least by our standards) hickory tree reminds me that all of us—all of creation—are vitally connected not by our perfection but by our own imperfections, incompleteness, and impermanence in a way that, if we truly want to see as the Christ sees, makes us somehow beautiful. We are all, each one of us, “fearfully and wonderfully made” as the ancient Jewish psalmist proclaimed (Psalm 139, verse 14) and the hickory tree echoed.
It wouldn’t hurt our Western world to practice a bit more humility, a bit more compassion, a bit more awareness of what is truly important and what is not. So it seems rather fitting that a tree would be that messenger for me. Blessings, Rosemary firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Shell Collector
Imagine God by whatever holy name you utter, walking along the sandy beach, the waves roiling and tumbling across feet and ankles while God collects sea shells. See God picking up a pearly gray clamshell– one you would value— only to toss it back to the sea. Or perhaps God chooses a whole sand dollar, perfectly intact, so rare, and then flings it into the frothy waves while you gasp. Maybe God fancies that cockle shell with its raised ribs and God remembers Irish Molly Malone selling her shells in the streets of Dublin and God smiles before leaving it on the sand. You wonder why. And then imagine that you are a shell, lying with chipped edges after your rough ride through the oceans and God comes to you. God lifts you from the tide, and with a tender hand brushes off the stray strand of seaweed to notice your blemishes. God says to Godself, knowingly, “This one’s been wounded,” and pulls from God’s pocket a burlap pouch and adds you to it, along with the shell broken by an affair; one chipped by divorce; one marred by grief, one that’s been lost for so long it no longer gleams—none beautiful or perfect but instead treasured and precious, and God walks and walks the beach seeing in each broken shell God keeps God’s own exquisite image.
In his book, The Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey Through the Hours of the Day, Brother David Steindl-Rast recalls the story of attending the ordination of Bernie (Tetsugen) Glassman Roshi as Abbot of the Riverside Zendo in New York. Zen teachers worldwide had gathered to celebrate this solemn ceremony, which was why it was so startling when someone’s wristwatch began beeping at noon in the middle of the event. As everyone glanced around to see whose it might be, the Abbot himself stepped forward and claimed it was his own watch. He said, “I have made a vow that regardless of what I am doing, I will interrupt it at noon and will think thoughts of peace.” He then invited everyone at the gathering to take a moment and do the same for a world that so desperately needed—and needs—peace.
In telling this story, Brother David goes on to explain the history of the Angelus prayer, which was intended to announce a prayer for peace, said by many Roman Catholics throughout the centuries. At noon, when the church bells used to ring, no matter where people were—working at home, in the fields, in towns—they would stop and pray peace for the world. In the monastery where Brother David lives, that practice continues with monks lifting prayers for peace at noon. Brother David continues, “I find that people are eager to help revive this custom. Now, all over the world, people are praying at high noon for peace. . . .”
If you are like me, perhaps you, too, have wondered “What can I possibly do?” in the face of the dire and disturbing news coming out of Afghanistan. Or maybe if you live as far away as I do from the Holy Land, the ongoing conflict there is nothing more than a blip on your radar, and, like me, you just shake your head. Perhaps, like me, contention over Covid and how to respond to its never-ending presence in the wake of so much division makes you feel disillusioned, if not angry, and powerless. Perhaps the radicals in any political party or religion stir up angst in you, and you feel helpless or worried or aggravated, as I often do. So when I read Brother David’s story, I realized there IS something I can do. I can accept his invitation and commit to praying for peace each day at noon–which I have begun to do.
When I stop what I am doing, around lunch time, I stand at my kitchen window and I breathe out, “Peace for my city. Peace for my state. Peace for my country. Peace for our world, the ‘peace that surpasses all understanding.’ And peace for myself.” Then I name those distinct places most in need of peace. Sometimes those places are in my own heart, so I include myself in that prayer because what we pray leads to how we act. Finally, I close with St. Francis’ well-known prayer for peace:
Lord make Me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness joy. O Divine Master grant that I may Not so much seek to be consoled as to console To be understood, as to understand. To be loved, as to love. For it’s in giving that we receive And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned And it’s in dying that we are born To eternal life.
The entire prayer takes a minute or two. Admittedly, I am not perfect since accepting this invitation to peace. Sometimes I forget. But most of the time, I do remember to pray for peace, and as I do so, I imagine the invisible community across the world doing the same, in whatever ways they pray or meditate and by whatever names of God they use, making the same offering, and I feel like I have “done something,” something essential, in the presence of so much unrest. Maybe you would like to accept the invitation, too. May peace abound. May peace be with you. Blessings~ Rosemary email@example.com
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
In my early years of ministry, I found myself in a life-changing position for all involved. A teenager and her mother came to me for direction because the single teen (I will call her Beth) was pregnant. Beth had the support of her mother for whatever decision she made, but it was clear that what both wanted was my blessing for an abortion, a life and soul-changer for me.
Throughout my upbringing, my parents and my previous denomination had ingrained in me the conviction that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder and thus a serious sin with dire consequences for the mother and her salvation. For years, I heard the minister pray for “unwed mothers” in his litany of intercessions (but never for unwed fathers who somehow got off the hook on this one). I knew enough psychology to speak about the very real after-effects of abortion on the mental health of the mother, the guilt and shame that quite possibly could haunt her the rest of her life. And I knew something of the soul and its spiritual health. But could I condone an abortion? This may have been the ultimate test of my ministry.
In my current denomination, a gracious doctrine states that “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” I am convicted by that. Only God knows the human heart, and no single person can force her or his beliefs on another. The Good News of the gospels can be shared, and is shared, but no minister has control over another’s conscience. In that moment I realized that no matter what I, personally, believed, this decision was not mine to make, condone, or to judge. All I could do—and what I did do—was reassure Beth how much she was loved, not just by her mother and by me, but by God.
Today’s headlines surrounding conservative American Catholic bishops who hope to bar President Biden from the communion table because of Biden’s pro-choice stance both stun and sadden me, and also resurrected this years-past memory of Beth. When did abortion become the ultimate sin? When did homosexuality? According to Jesus Christ, there are quite a few sins of which we are guilty, including evil thoughts, theft, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness (see Mark 7: 21-22). If I recall correctly (and I do), Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, pardoned the thief crucified with him, commissioned the woman at the well as his first disciple (see John 4), forgave Peter for betraying him, and washed the feet of Judas, his traitor, including him in the first communion around the Seder table. As Jesus did so, he said, “Remember me.”
How well are we remembering the Christ—or whoever we follow who models love–in today’s politically charged, divisive and abusive environment? Where do we see grace and love being practiced? How do we condone our actions and our allegiances in relation to what the gospels proclaim? What I am witnessing daily is Christ’s body being broken in countless ways that have nothing to do with what he taught. Our current president doesn’t hide his religious devotion but embraces it and relies on it to lead him. And the powers that be are threatened, not unlike the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. Not only are they trying to punish a faithful believer, who like the rest of us—and like them—is not perfect, but they are also dredging up all the hurt, the shame, the loss, and the guilt that surround so many women who have had abortions. They are making the “woman’s” sin the ultimate sin.
Pray God that we do remember Christ and all other spiritual leaders that teach love, compassion, inclusion, and healing. But may we do more than remember. May we act like them. Blessings to you~ Rosemary email@example.com.
A couple of days ago, I happened to find myself a lane over and behind a compact car that sported two identical bumper stickers which read: “All Religions Suck.” I guess the driver wanted to make her or his point twice. I wished at that moment that I could have stopped the car and gone over to the driver and had a conversation about the bumper stickers. What was the story, the experience, that led this person to so emphatically pronounce this opinion? All religions suck? Not, perhaps, just a few? But the traffic light changed, the car turned off the main road, and I am stuck wondering, days later, about those bumper stickers.
Having been raised in a dogmatic Christian Church which eventually I left, I can understand how a person can be wounded by religion. I still fight that old, ingrained guilt instinct. But I didn’t leave religion; I moved on to something more in line with the Christ as my soul understands the Christ to be. Having pastored churches for almost twenty years, I can understand why someone would resist the autocratic system of so many of our denominations, along with the rules that sometimes make quite clear who is “in” and who is “out.” I understand religion’s insider lingo and have worked to make the language more welcoming, clear, and inclusive. I’ve seen, and even been part of, the “raw meat” work of institutionalized religion, aware that sometimes what we do doesn’t match what we say we believe. Religion is, after all, a human product and therefore flawed, no matter whose religion it is.
But I wonder if it all sucks?
Years ago, when I was listening for the Spirit to prompt me to a new place of worship, my husband and I happened to walk into a church where the pastor was preaching on the difference between The Law and Love. I knew plenty about The Law, so I was interested in hearing what he had to said. He told a personal story about being raised in a church that relied on The Law, and that when his parents were divorced in the 1940’s because of his father’s alcoholism, his mother, who had custody of the children, was not longer allowed to receive communion. Divorce was a sin, no matter what. Yet every Sunday his mother took her two sons to that same church, dropped them off for worship, sat in her car and prayed until they were through, at a time when she most needed her faith community. The pastor vividly remembered all of this—the shame, the embarrassment, the exclusion, the indifference of his church, the consequences of The Law. Yes, religion sucked at the time for him and made such an impact on him that he went to seminary in the same denomination, was ordained, and spent his vocation teaching about practicing Love over The Law, about how Love embraces those who are wounded, about how Love includes, not excludes, about how Love offers a mercy so deep and so wide that nothing we do can ever break that bond. His message resonated with me and my own experiences and changed me that day. We joined that particular church, and ten years later, I found myself called into ministry where I preached—and still preach—Love. The Law has its place, but when we idolize it over God, we lose Love.
I wish I could have listened to that driver’s story. I suspect it might be very similar to this pastor’s experience. I wish for so many people that religion didn’t suck, but that within religion they might find an opening, a thin space, that leads them to experience being loved, just as they are, just because they are.
We all come from the same Divine Source, a source of Love. When we look at what wounds us or offends us about religion, it usually has to do with how we, humans, have twisted and tried to control the gift given so freely to us because it is so hard for us to love. What I am invited to do is to continue to believe in and practice Love where I can, as I can, and to tell anyone who comes along this blog that you, too, are loved. Don’t let religion tell you otherwise. Blessings to you ~ Rosemary20rosepoet20@gmail.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.