In Between ~ Welcome 4

April 16, 2022

Thank you to those of you who have followed my prayer and spiritual reflections this Lenten Season.  I have tried—and continue to try—the three basic tenets of Zen Peacemaking:  the not knowing what will happen at any point in time; the bearing witness to all the different feelings (“parts”) of us without judgment but with compassion; and taking action in any situation as a thoughtful response instead of a reaction:  https://zenpeacemakers.org/the-three-tenets/.

Along with that practice, I have incorporated the Welcoming Prayer, as together we’ve looked at the spiritual concept of “relinquishment,” of being able to let go of those things/people we think we can control or fix and to instead open our hands to accept what IS while making room for the Divine Spirit to pray for and with us often wordlessly, “in sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).   None of these actions includes apathy or fatalism.  We aren’t called to be doormats and victims.  Instead, we are invited to listen to our deepest selves and to live in this ever-changing, often broken and dark world, from a place of serenity and calm that then influences the choices we make.

This Saturday before Easter is an in-between time, a waiting time, but not, no, a passive time.  God, by whatever name we choose, does God’s best work in the dark.  By being led in the ways of peacemaking and grounded in the prayer of acceptance, we find that resurrection in all its many forms does happen.

May new life flourish with you.  And speaking of new life, I will be taking some time away from this blog to discern and listen for what the Spirit is inviting me to do next:  to continue with this format, to concentrate more on my poetry, to produce a newsletter, or to do something entirely different.  I ask your prayers, and I will let you know where I am led.  Thank you so very much for walking with me. ~ Blessings, Rosemary

Listen
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 awe.

© Rosemary McMahan

Welcome, Welcome ~ 3

April 10, 2022

Palm Sunday is a fitting day for reflection on the third “relinquishment” of the Welcoming Prayer, a prayer I have visited in the previous two blogs.  It is also a fitting day for reflecting on our response to the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine and to any injustice that invites us to act, to “walk our talk.”  The Welcoming Prayer is a contemplative practice in which we are invited to open our hands and hearts and “let go” of our desires for power and control, for affection, esteem, and approval, and today, for safety and security, perhaps the most difficult. 

This prayer offers us a way of being.  When we let go (or try to let go), we welcome the Spirit and make room for it to work within us, instead of clutching and clinging to all we believe to be important or essential which, in reality, is transitory illusion.  This prayer welcomes us to put our faith and trust in something bigger than us and so is not an easy prayer.

“I relinquish my desire for safety and security.  Welcome, welcome, welcome.”

Saints, heroes, and martyrs exist in many of the world religions, and in these people, we witness a letting go of what the world claims we must have in order to be worth anything. They face down what our spirits and souls know is wrong, unloving, and unjust.  In my tradition, Jesus Christ is the prime example of relinquishment.  On Palm Sunday, we recall how he rode into Jerusalem to the cheers of his followers and the waving of palm branches, but by the end of the week, he was dead, crucified by the occupying government (Rome) for speaking his Truth that challenged those in power, crucified for offering light, love, and inclusion instead of darkness, hatred, and repression.  Christ relinquished his own safety and security, his very life, for a Higher Good.

“Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.…” Phil 2: 7-8.

Yesterday, April 9, was the anniversary of the martyrdom of 39 year-old German theologian and minister, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned for his active work against Hitler and Nazism. After two years in prison, relinquishing his own safety and security, Bonhoeffer was transferred to Flossenburg concentration camp where, without jury or witnesses or legal aid, he was sentenced to death and hanged, one month before the arrival of the Allied Forces and the end of WWII.

“When a madman is tearing through the streets in a car, I can, as a pastor who happens to be on the scene, do more than merely console or bury those who have been run over.  I must jump in front of the car and stop it.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The list goes on and on of those who have relinquished safety and security for a Higher Good:  Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero, the four religious women raped and murdered in El Salvador, Martin Luther King, Jr, the unidentified Chinese man who stepped in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square, etc, and etc, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Now, we watch President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine relinquish his own safety and security to stand up against the Russian warmonger Putin, along with the Ukrainian soldiers who have relinquished loved ones, homes, security, and safety for a Higher Good, just as their wives/husbands and children have done. We can follow the war through the courage of Maia Mikhaluk who posts daily updates on Facebook about the reality and horror of living in a war-torn country, risking her own safety and security.  We can hear (and heed) the words of Rev. John Burdin, a Russian Orthodox priest, who has ignored his own safety and security by speaking out against the war and Russia’s invasion.

“I don’t consider it possible to remain silent on this situation. It wasn’t about politics.  It was about the Bible. … If I remain silent, I’m not a priest.”  Rev. John Burdin

We need only glance at the news to witness the thousands of Russian people who have been fined, or worse, imprisoned for choosing to voice their dissent to this illegal, immoral, inhumane invasion, surrendering safety and security for Truth. 

нет войне.  нет войне. 

No to war. 

If we are engaged in the lives of others, in those across the world, we marvel, and we wonder.  And we are welcomed to go deeper.  In the silence of our hearts and our souls, we can ask the question:  How much of my own safety and security am I willing to relinquish in order to act for the Higher Good, or, for those of us who are Christians, are we willing to follow Jesus Christ, or just worship him?  Opportunities abound every single day to set aside our own comfort, safety, approval, security and esteem and face down the evil and unjust forces of this world.  Do we have that courage?  Do I? May it be so.

Walking with you ~ Rosemary

Forever Witness

Whip. Spit. Thorns. Nails.
Noose. Rifles. Shot guns.
Poison. Rape. Murder.
Hard labor. Isolation.
Bombs. Tanks. Deprivation.
Isolation. Betrayal. Cut off.
Death.
The reaction to words that speak Truth.
The reprisal for words that demand Justice.
The program for words that Enlighten.
The fear of words that Reflect.
The consequence of words that set safety
to the wind
words that rise up against all that is shadow
darkness denial oppression repression
words that swallow lies
words that will not die
words that survive to nurture
the soil in a small rocky corner
of a field where a sunflower
lifts its yellow head,
a daffodil nods in the breeze.

© Rosemary McMahan

Image credit: Pixabay

Welcome, Welcome ~2

April 2, 2022

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

Journey Blessing

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.

© Rosemary McMahan

Photo credit: Pixabay

Welcome, Welcome

March 28, 2022

If you have never wanted to control a person or fix a situation, if you have never wanted to step in and take over because you knew your way was best, if you have never tossed and turned in the night because of worry, then raise your hand.  That’s what I thought.  As humans, we all want some degree of power and we all want to be in control of our lives.  Our many cultures teach us that power and control are the ultimate achievements.  But are they?  Or are they simply illusions that control us?

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You.
May Your will be my delight today.
May You have perfect sway in me.
May your love be the pattern of my living.

In these forty days before Easter, this Lenten season, I have been sharing my journey about practicing (practicing being the operative word) surrender and acceptance.  Today’s blog explores a Christian form of contemplative prayer called The Welcoming Prayer.  Contemplative prayer is often wordless prayer where, instead of dictating our desires to God (power and control?), we surrender our own voices and open ourselves to the work of the Spirit in our hearts: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).   

The Welcoming Prayer is a prayer of surrender and acceptance, two behaviors quite countercultural in today’s world.  Surrender is the act of moving ourselves aside; acceptance is being receptive to what is.  This prayer is a prayer of relinquishment, of letting go of what we so often hold tightly.  It is not an easy prayer.

I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.
Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will.

The first step in The Welcoming Prayer is to settle ourselves quietly and “welcome” the Spirit, or the Christ, or God, or Allah, or the Buddha, or Nature, or whatever is we believe is the source of Divine Love. Our first surrender is this:  I relinquish my desire for power and control.  Welcome, welcome, welcome.  Then we sit in the silence for a few minutes, surrendering everything or everyone we are trying to control and releasing where we are fighting for power over others.  We let it all go, and welcome in its place Love.  This is not an easy prayer.

I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future.
Care for them with a care that I can never give.

For the last four years, my adult daughter has walked through fire.  Her journey has included a toxic work environment where she was emotionally and verbally harassed, a divorce, a job change that took her across the country during the worst days of the pandemic, working remotely over a year in a city where she knew no one, and now dealing with an immature and jealous co-worker who is undermining her work.  I cannot count the number of times I have wanted to tell her “what do to” or how she “should” respond or what other courses of action she could take.  I have tossed and turned with worry over her.  I have wanted to fly to be with her and fix her problems.  But . . . I  . . . cannot.  Her journey is her journey, and I, while I will always be present to her, have to relinquish (surrender) my desire for power and control (as if those will make everything all right, anyway), and accept that this is where she is right now.  I have to take myself out of the equation in order to give space to Divine Love to show me how to respond with love, wisdom, and care.  This relationship is simply one example of the many situations in which I crave control and power, yet I know that that craving is not leading me where I want to be spiritually.  Control and power do not make me a gift to this world.

I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity.

Seeking to relinquish power and control and “fixing” is not the same as being apathetic, uncaring, or giving up.  It is, instead, an acquiescence that God is God and I am not, that in reality, I am powerless over everything except how I choose to respond in this life.

Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your Kingdom on earth.
For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

The prayer which I have quoted here is the Prayer of Relinquishment composed by the Quaker theologian and spiritual author and teacher, Richard Foster.  It is not an easy prayer, yet it is a prayer for a more loving and peaceful world.  Welcome, welcome, welcome.

Walking with you ~ Rosemary

A Way to Be: Taking Action

March 18, 2022

“Fate of Hundreds Unknown: Missiles Hit City in Ukraine’s West”

“13 Year Old Boy Drives Truck into Van, Killing Nine People in Texas”

“Powerful Storms Could Bring Tornadoes To the Southeast (USA)”

“An International Agency Warns About a Global Energy Crisis”

“If you know how to make good use of the mud, you can grow beautiful lotuses. If you know how to make good use of suffering, you can produce happiness.” Thich Nhat Hanh

These headlines are just a sample of what I, and you, awoke to this morning. They are enough to make us head for the nearest cliff, or weep, or drink. Nothing seems fair, especially since we were just beginning to breathe again as Covid seems to take a step back. How, then, do we live?

This Lent, I have been trying to practice the three tenets of Zen Peacemaking as a way to grow in my own spirituality and do something meaningful for myself and for the world, since my actions- and yours- impact others. The first two tenets are Not Knowing and Bearing Witness, which I discussed in the previous two blogs. The third is Taking Action, the kind of action that arises from practicing not knowing and bearing witness.

So often we do not know what will happen next. If the last two years have taught us anything, surely the pandemic and war have proven how little we know about what is around the next corner. It is anyone’s guess. Christ knew that. It is why he so often spoke about the need to “stay awake” and pay attention to this moment, this day. Most spiritual leaders make that same demand because all we can be sure of is what is happening here, now. The challenge is how we will choose to respond to each moment.

So when the next thing does happen- a pandemic, war, terminal illness, lost job, death of a loved one, broken dream-how will we respond? As the second tenet invites, we bear witness to all our feelings and consciously choose which ones we will “feed.” Hopefully, the feelings we choose will lead to the third tenet: taking action in a compassionate way.

In an anxious and tired world, these three Zen tenets can lead to meaningful responses instead of violent reactions in any situation. If we want to change in any spiritual way, choosing to act from our hearts, from the seat of the Loving Divine, in a way that heals and comforts, is surely essential. Judgment, rigidity, self-righteousness, and violence are all contrary actions to caring from the heart, with compassion.

Sometimes the action we take is simply to continue to practice not knowing and bearing witness. Or perhaps the action we take is doing the daily things life calls us to from a place of peace, calm, and gratitude, avoiding all the noise of those who know no other way. Or maybe we speak out in the face of injustices. Our actions reflect who we are; they impact the world, a world that desperately needs care.

Walking with you~ Rosemary

Women Folding

Across the world, she pulls
crisp white dresses from a rope
suspended above baked mud,
her saffron turban wrapping her hair
on a windless hot day
while she folds each dress
with strong dark hands, her fingers
smoothing each crease in a longing
for Sabbath and hope.

Somewhere north, she picks up shirts
scattered like toys across a bedroom floor,
buttons them carefully, then folds them,
placing them in a drawer, her soft hand lingering
a moment on the collar while she remembers
her son as a child, wishing him love.

And to her east, she dries the last teacup
and folds the frayed dish towel
hanging it evenly over the empty bowl
before turning off the light, her long day
complete, her action a trust.

West of her, where bombs and missiles shatter peace,
she sits in a subway tunnel, sewing a button
on the jacket her brother is not there to wear
before folding each sleeve, along with her fear,
into place as she settles to wait.

Folding, folding, eons of folding,
creases smoothed,
squares, rectangles, triangles a way
of life, a way to life, a folding
that encompasses some sense
of order, a resistance to chaos,
an answer to not knowing,
an action, a prayer,
this ritual of a woman’s care.

© Rosemary McMahan

Image credit: Pixabay

A Way to Be: Bearing Witness

March 11, 2022

The Table

You know these voices,
if you have ears to hear.
They are legion, whispering
(or shouting) within you
desperate to be noticed,
coming from all corners
of your life, east and west,
north and south, from infancy,
to old age, and all the seasons
in between,
soloists tugging at
your sleeve for attention.
You wonder why they bother
you and what they want
while you try to swat at them
like so many buzzing gnats
and go your unlived way.
It is, after all, so much easier
pretending to be deaf, instead
of inviting them in for tea,
laying your table
with a freshly pressed cloth,
fetching the fine china cups,
the ones you keep in the glass-
fronted cabinet,
or even the chipped mug,
brewing the tea and baking
the cookies. But if you did
greet them as guests,
what would you say to each
voice, each self, that approaches
your table with caution
and desire? Maybe your only
role as host is to be silent,
do nothing but pour the tea,
pass the cookies, listen
to their stories unfolding
like morning glories,
exchanging compassion
for the gift they bring,
the wisdom of your own
unique life.

© Rosemary McMahan

You may be familiar with this story:  An old Cherokee Indian chief was teaching his grandson about life.  “A fight is going on inside me,” he told the young boy, “a fight between two wolves.  The Dark one is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The Light Wolf is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you and inside of every other person on the face of this earth.”  The grandson pondered this for a moment and then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”  The old man simply said, “The one you feed.”

During this season of Lent, as I consider my own choices, my own life, I am looking beyond my spiritual traditions and exploring the three tenets of Zen Peacemaking as a way of being in this often turbulent and always changing world.  The poem and this story are both examples of the power of the second Zen tenet:  bearing witness.  (See the previous blog for the first tenet, “Not Knowing”  https://spirit-reflections.org/2022/03/07/a-way-to-be-not-knowing/). When we bear witness, we acknowledge all the different feelings, or parts of ourselves, that arise at any given moment, whether it be full of joy or suffering, or somewhere in between.  We wake up to the current situation and give attention to whatever feelings, thoughts, or judgments arise, without condemning or stuffing any of them, but instead deciding which one we will attend to, or, as the Cherokee grandfather says, “feed.”  What comes out of our mouths, as Christ said, reveals what is truly in our hearts (Matthew 15:18).

“When you bear witness you open to the uniqueness of whatever is arising and meet it just as it is. When combined with not-knowing, bearing witness can strengthen your capacity for spaciousness, thus enabling you to be present to the very things that make you feel as if you have lost your center.”

As the first tenet confirms, we cannot know for certain what will happen next, not even in the next minute of our lives.  (The trout lily, pictured above, did not know yesterday that today it would be covered in a late snow.) But we do know that something will happen and whatever that something is, it may open a wide range of feelings, attitudes, opinions, and biases.  Bearing witness asks that we hear all those voices and respect them for whatever wisdom or lessons they may bring, and then we decide which one we will feed.

“Bearing witness can allow you to eventually come to terms with the most difficult life circumstances. The practice is always available to you regardless of the time, place, situation, or people involved. There is nothing that you cannot bear witness to, from dusting the lint off your sweater to living in a pit for two years.” 

With the possibility of a growing war, and in the midst of so much division, to live from the center of our lives, to live in balance, to be able to respond to these present times instead of react, to choose what brings Light instead of Darkness, may be the single most important gift we can give to our world. 

Walking with you ~ Rosemary

Quoted material from Zen Peacemakers:  https://zenpeacemakers.org/the-three-tenets/.

A Way to Be

March 2, 2022

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

Morning Prayer

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.

(c) Rosemary McMahan

Thin Place

Lake Guntersville

February 9, 2022

In Celtic Spirituality, there is an understanding that certain places become the meeting ground between heaven and earth, the “holy ground” of Moses before the burning bush.  Such spaces are called “thin places” because the division between the holy and the ordinary disappears and the time spent there usually is fleeting.  In a thin place, all of our senses are fully awake and we are aware of that present moment only.  Sunrises and sunsets, forests and mountain tops, oceans and streams are often places that become “thin” if our eyes and ears and hearts are open.  As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven.” In these holy moments, we recognize that we have received a gift of presence from Divine Love.  May we practice opening our eyes and our hearts in a world that often trembles. Blessings ~ Rosemary

Thin Place

A bald eagle lifts from her nest to roost on a pine bough
against a cerulean sky before thrusting herself forward
over the wide expanse of lake,
while photographers turn their massive lenses
skyward, laughing and pointing in flannelled
camaraderie. A pair of brown-haired children,
coats off and sailing like kites in their hands,
race along the path past them,
their bemused mother smiling as she struggles
to keep up. Behind, a young flower-laden
couple pose with hope-filled eyes while a friend
snaps pictures of a moment never to be reclaimed
and beyond, a seasoned man and woman perch
on a bare rock, tossing bread from a wrapper
to two fat geese waddling after each crumb.
Out on the water, weightless as dandelion puffs,
five white pelicans with long yellow beaks
drift on the current of a jon boat
where a lone fisherman stands erect,
silhouetted in black by the clear afternoon
sun, his line as straight and steady
as he is. In this simple moment,
like transient etchings, heaven dissolves
into the earth, earth evaporates
into the heavens,
past and future are shut out
while all creation does what it was created
to do, and I remove my shoes
to stand on holy ground.

©  Rosemary McMahan

The Return Trip

February 2, 2022

Counting Coats

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

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

© Rosemary McMahan

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

Wood Walking

Jan. 28, 2022

As the Covid viruses rage and mutate while people the world over tire of wearing masks, rebel against distancing, and refuse to concern themselves with others’ safety, I find myself dismayed by humanity’s loss of the Golden Rule, and I head to the woods.  I am not the first to do so “when the world is too much with us,” as William Wordsworth phrased it, so I take my path following the wisdom of others throughout the ages who sought Nature in times of turmoil. The mystery of the woods reminds me that God the Creator is still in control, that beauty and love always win the day.

Winter, as I learned last year during Covid, is a unique time to walk the woods.  With the leaves gone, each tree becomes vulnerable, exposing its true form in all its vastly odd shapes.  Nothing is growing where just short months before there was life, and barren rock formations rise up sharply against an empty space.  The birds are quiet; nothing skitters but a lone chipmunk or grey squirrel.  The wind whispers itself cold on my face.  Yet here I find delight.  I find peace.  Here I spot the Creator’s whimsy, the Creator’s smile, the chuckle and affirmation, in the midst of a trembling world.  Our souls were made for beauty; the Creator knows this, and in the woods, obliges.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary

Wood Walking

The end of January, the weight
of pandemic and politics as heavy
as blizzard snow, I take to the woods,
down an empty path
made by sojourners before me.
The sky, a swath of painted winter blue,
a hard and vivid hue, is canvas to limb
after charcoal limb reaching upwards,
each turn of branch, each sliver of twig,
an intimate etching. A sparse yet green
Resurrection Fern holds tight
in mid-January in a wash
of pale winter sun while
a slender tree stands bare except
for a smattering of Turkey Tail fungi,
fringed in blue and gray, forming
a face on the rutted bark:
two eyes with brows, a nose,
a mouth. I nod and say “hello”
in passing.
Rounding the corner, I catch sight
of a kissing tree, or so I name it,
where a canker has formed and is
pressed hard against a lichen-
mottled limestone outcrop
in a touch of lips. I turn away
and walk, delighted by icy clusters of
long dagger-like icicles clinging
to the edge of a leaf-littered
ledge in 50-degree weather.
How can this be? A snake-green vine
encircles a tree and climbs upward
in embrace, too realistic to touch.
I step over slender roots scattered
upon the way like skeleton bones,
mindful not to break one. As evening falls,
multitudes of bare branches
in naked vulnerability
shift and weave themselves
into intricate netting that traps
the day’s last pink rays,
while God laughs in the garden
of delight.

© Rosemary McMahan