Category Archives: Stillness

Small mercy

“The Lord repented, not because the people are innocent, but because they are small. His judgment is never final. There is always a dimension of God’s pervading affection where compassion prevails over justice, where mercy is a perpetual possibility.”

 

Abraham Heschel

The Prophets

In the middle of the grey, cold rainy weekend the sun broke through. The cedar tree in our little yard sparkled in the light. The drops glistened from branches in the sudden brightness.

My daughter, with her artist’s eye, and her deep instincts, went straight outside. She cane back in with images that were breathtaking. The beauty stopped me, and I found myself taking long, deep breaths.

It wasn’t just the angle of the shot that called o my spirit. It was the noticing. I could have kept going through the tasks of the weekend, briefly glancing up as the light changed. But she called me to stop, to look, to really see.

Mercy is a perpetual possibility…

The Advent Writings: Christmas night

All the stories start with Christmas morning. But what about the night?

I am a birthkeeper. I enter those spaces in the hours before and after birth, with reverence.

I know to keep the lights dim. A baby is new to the world. Eyes used to womb light, rosy in tone, are unsure about bright lights. The time is now, these hours of imprinting on mom’s face and dad’s voice.

Voices are low and singsong. Baby’s ears have heard these familiar sounds through the abdominal cushion. The startle reflex comes too easily, limbs out, eyes wide, head arched. We fold the arms and legs into the familiar, swaddling the wee one.

Smells are important too. The salty smell of amniotic fluid lingers on the skin. Vernix rubbed into soften, the new baby smell that Johnson & Johnson can never replicate. The baby follows the unique smell of the mother, able to pick out that one mom from a roomful by 24 hours of age.

Smells draw, and instincts follow, leading the baby to latch onto the breast. The golden milk, packed with goodness, drips out bit by bit. All this baby needs is here, unique for the gestational age, the perfect balance of protein and fat laced with sweetness.

And touch. Not the myriad of painful ways a baby encounters the world today. But gentle touch, reassuring this new one that the world is a safe space.

Was it like this, that holy night more than two millennia ago? One undisturbed birth, interrupted only by some sheep herders accustomed to dark and lonely quiet spaces.

It matters how we are born. It matters how we welcome new humans. And this more than a baby, welcomed as a caravan stopped for a government rule, deserved no less.

Oh Holy Night after.

The Advent Writings: watching the star

Last night I watched a star. Round and amazingly bright, it did a dance with the evergreen that tried to hide its brilliance.

I watched the star for hours.

I am sick, 3rd in the family to succumb to a viral throat morphed into bronchitis… miserable combo. Any mom of littles knows, coughing is worse at night. So finally I gave up on sleep and sat by the fire, watching the star.

photo: The star at sunrise

There were some smart fellows that did that some years back. Most people thought they were crazy. You see, they loved to get up in the night and look at the heavens. (That’s an old fashioned word for the sky). Then, get this…they made an international, once in a lifetime trip not because it got a five star rating; but because of a star.

A star.

This star, it seemed, was unusual. It moved. All stars move, in a seasonal pattern. And the stars in the Southern Hemisphere are a whole different sky. I don’t know quite where they lived, in the East. But these smart folks knew this one was doing its own dance. They couldn’t figure it out.

And they followed it.

Okay. I am identifying with this part of the story more this year. I am following a dream; or more accurately, a disruption. I didn’t invite it, and I tried to make it go away. Instead of diminishing, it got bigger, welling up in the most unwelcome places. Wise women around me began to affirm that this was not my imagination. The star, in fact, was moving.

And so we came. The star went north, where the air is clear (cloudy actually) and the stars bright. The whole group of us. And now we wait, for a sign. (An acceptance to grad school actually. It’s like a long pregnancy…September to May).

And when they came…they worshiped.

This is so often quoted it can get cliché. But really, take the churchy voice out and think about it. What do you do when you have no idea what you are doing? How do you respond when you come close to Mystery?

You fall on your face.

And maybe that is worship.

Late at night, coughing my socks up, and watching a star.

My epiphany.

The Lenten Writings: strong in the wind.

The Observer
by Rainer Maria Rilke

 

I can tell a storm by the way the trees are whipping, compared to when quiet, against my trembling windows, and
I hear from afar things whispering
I couldn’t bear hearing without a friend or love without a sister close by.

There moves the storm, the transforming one,
and runs through the woods and through the age, changing it all to look ageless and young:
the landscape appears like the verse of a psalm, so earnest, eternal, and strong.

How small is what we contend with and fight;
how great what contends with us;
if only we mirrored the moves of the things and acquiesced to the force of the storm, we, too, could be ageless and strong.

For what we can conquer is only the small, and winning itself turns us into dwarfs;
but the everlasting and truly important will never be conquered by us.
It is the angel who made himself known
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
for whenever he saw his opponents propose to test their iron-clad muscle strength,
he touched them like strings of an instrument and played their low-sounding chords.

Whoever submits to this angel, whoever refuses to fight the fight,
comes out walking straight and great and upright, and the hand once rigid and hard
shapes around as a gently curved guard.
No longer is winning a tempting bait.
One’s progress is to be conquered, instead, by the ever mightier one.

Source: “The Observer” from Pictures of God; Rilke’s Religious Poetry, translated by Annemarie Kidder.   Livonia, MI: First Page Publications, 2005. I am standing. I am feeling the movement of the wind of the spirit of God. I am standing. I am listening for the voice underneath. I am standing. I am speaking voiced truth.I am standing. I am keeping my eyes open, and asking for courage to see.I am standing.

The Lenten Writings: the Mystery

Days pass when I forget the mystery.

Problems insoluble and problems offering

their own ignored solutions

jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber

along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing

their colored clothes; caps and bells.

And then

once more the quiet mystery

is present to me, the throng’s clamor

recedes: the mystery

that there is anything, anything at all,

let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,

rather than void: and that, 0 Lord,

Creator, Hallowed one, You still, hour by hour sustain it.

Source: “Primary Wonder” by Denise Levertov, from SANDS OF THE WELL, copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996 by Denise Levertov

The mystery.

So hard to find amidst the cacophony of noise. She pictures it here in metaphor, like courtiers, brightly colored clothes swirling in dance.

And it is through that crowd, in a quiet place beyond, that the mystery is found.

There are many things swirling for me right now. The voices clamor for my attention. Each one distinct, each need important.

Problems also line up for solutions, jostling for a better place. Perhaps some, as she points out, are insoluble. Others, if given a voice, present their own solutions.

They too can distract from the mystery.

Yet even those voices, strident in their need, recede as I come near to the Mystery.

The mystery, wisely, is not named. How could it be?

And yet, it is there, as my very being is sustained for another breath.

And all the noise recedes.

And it is enough.

The Lenten Writings:

Don’t run

when faced with

something or someone

that seems like an adversary

Stay with it

Try to hear it

Let the process unfold

Do not judge

Let it all be

Sooner or maybe later

what is constricted

will lift its head

and surprise you

with how simple the truth is

In the meantime

keep returning

to the center

surround your heart

with love

let the ugly thoughts

and harsh feelings

fade away

Don’t shove them out

And never

let them take over

Listen and learn

Source: “my soul feels lean” from my soul feels lean; poems of loss and restoration, Joyce Rupp, Sorin Books, Notre Dame, IN.,2013.

The Lenten Writings: exposed to God

“Somehow by day, no matter what, I patch myself together whole, But all my effort can’t offset–the nightly nakedness of soul– When Angels in a dark descent–strip off my integument.

I am a cornered rebel pinched–Between night’s armies and my lack, And when inside the bedclothes hunched- I feel the force of their attack, I hardly know what I can do, Exposed to God at half past two.

I once believed my being full, But night thoughts prove that it is not. Waking scared and miserable, I scrape the bottom of the pot. And then must bow down and confess–totality of emptiness.

Kings once ventured, it is said. To offer gold and frankincense But I send nothing from my bed–except a tattered penitence. So very little has accrued–From years of doubtful plenitude.

God who tear away my cover, Oh, pour your Spirit into me–until my emptiness runs over with golden superfluity, and so bow down and offer up–Yourself within my earthly cup.”

Night Thoughts by William F. Bell

For all of you who have wrestled with God at half past two….

Everything is more intense at night. Long ago times and spaces swirl with the present in a dance of cellular memory.

Perhaps in those spaces there is also a wrestling in the places unseen.

God who tear away my cover…

I love the poet William Bell’s honesty. Those Kings of old? Gold and frankincense were in their hands. Me? I send nothing from my bed. Even my prayers are tattered.

And then the paradox. Until my emptiness runs over…

And the cup is full. Of something other than me.

I see this again and again in the still spaces between Day and night. These are the spaces between, in which babies like to be born.

It is always when the woman is utterly at the end of herself that the baby births, right into the mama’s waiting hands.

That image feels appropriate here, reflecting on these haunting words. It is holy ground, the long waiting in the long night.

And I bow down and offer up, Yourself within my earthen cup.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

Bell, William F. “Night Thoughts” from America Magazine, Vol. 187, No. 18, 12/02/2002.

Mystic musings. 

My ego is like a fortress–I have built its walls stone by stone to hold out the invasion of the love of God. 

But I have stayed here long enough. 

There is light–over the barriers.   Oh my God–

The darkness of my house forgive And overtake my soul. I relax the barriers.


I abandon all that I think I am, all that I hope to be, all that I believe I possess. 

I let go of the past, I withdraw my grasping hand from the future, and in the great silence of this moment,

 I alertly rest my soul.

As the seagull lays in the wind current, so I lay myself into the Spirit of God.

My dearest human relationships, my most precious dreams, I surrender to his care.

All that I have called my own I give back. All my favorite things which I would withhold in my storehouse from his fearful tyranny.

I let go. 

I give myself unto Thee, oh my God.

Amen. 

Howard Thurman 

Come and see 

I found myself saying this phrase today. It was couched in an afternoon so thick with redemption that you could smell Jesus.

He’s crazy like that, you know. 

Crazy enough to bring together a babysitter and  a little girl, now in grown up bodies, to share story. 

Stories of Harm, and stories of goodness, with silly stories of the every day mixed between. 

History, we call it; the stories of Long Ago. This was a space for “her-story”. Infinitely more sacred, and raw and it’s beauty and pain. 

These two crazy fishermen were talking one day. Probably the one was asking the other why in the world he had given up the business, when it had been in the family for generations. And all that, to follow a new guy in town that people said was crazy?! Definitely illegitimate at the very least. And in a place where bloodlines matter, that was unforgivable.

And what did the smelly fisherman say?

Come. And. See. 


Photo:  

aspen circle near snow bowl, Flagstaff, Arizona