Tag Archives: wisdom

The Advent Writings: holy ground

tonight I took off my shoes….

Sitting by the tree, I was studying herbs. Latin names swirled with the lights as I reached into my memory bank for their common English counterparts. Spanish names danced through, adding color and spice. Classes, and mechanisms of action, layered with properties and contraindications. The course goes back to old Materia Medica material, looking at ancient patterns of use. This rivaled my long ago nursing school pharmacology class! Where in the world did the notion of herbalists as some sort of back woods witch come from?!

The course also invites a stretch, exploring intuition and delving into story. To be a healer, a person must be a student of their own story. You cannot go where you have not gone yourself.

We watched “The Nativity” this weekend. It is a beautiful rendition of what might have been, woven with the well known threads of the story in the ancient texts. It gives permission for my imagination to wonder. As this young man ran through the town, wouldn’t someone have whispered the name of a local healer; a midwife or an herbalist? Where were the wise women? Perhaps not, as birth in its raw and natural state is most often powerful and safe. But there have always been those who honed their gifts. And in a small town, like an inner city Neighborhood, those women are called. I have gone to a woman’s house, unknown to me, with herbs to soothe or a simple syrup to calm. I have held a woman’s hand, gazing deep into her eyes and swaying in the ancient dance; and later learned her name when words returned. Who came alongside in this holy night, in space set apart by the raw power coursing through her body?

The movie also touches on the scandal. Whispers, eyes averted, the presence of absence. These things happen in small towns. My story was hushed, silence protected at all costs. Conservative circles share similarity with small towns.

The old songbook says that the rocks themselves will cry out…. I know that is true. Our very cells, scientists now know, carry cellular memory. Trauma, in particular, imprints in a bath of catecholamines embedded in sensory markers. Until the time is right, and the story births…

After the flight in the night, the refugee years in another country, they returned. Did the whispers begin anew? Small towns have long memories. Particularly around a scandal….

In the glow of the tree, as the firelight danced, conversation flowed with another young man. Teenagers need silent spaces to talk. Then another teen came and plopped down, wanting to share her writing. I looked down, and caught the outline of my Danskos kicked off under the tree. Maybe for a reason….

Perhaps this too, was holy ground. A space, set apart on a Monday, for the herbs and the wondering, teenage talks and the smell of pine.

I need only to listen

We went out tonight to explore Multnomah village. A mama daughter date, to talk.

  • A decision was before us. I asked what she might need for the conversation. Pen, paper, journal….?
  • I need only to listen”

I stopped, startled by the simplicity of her words.

There are many decisions in front of me, of us. Adult in size and weight, things like housing and jobs and schools. I can get caught up in the task, scrolling through data and going back and forth between supposed options.

  • “I need only to listen”… comes with the whisper of Jesus’ invitation.
  • Cease striving, and know.

Listen.

The Lenten Writings: footprints

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream! —

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our heats, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead

Act,- act in the living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead.

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

a forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,

with a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.

The story beneath, the relentless pull to life. The hint that perhaps there a footprints of another.

These are the echoes that whisper in the dark corridors of my journey. And the voice speaks to my core lie and says “you are not alone.”

And that is enough. O to be accompanied.

Source: “A Psalm of Life” from The Complete Poetical Works of Longfellow

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1893.

The Lenten Writings: a hidden poem

(from the healing of the man born blind: John 9:1-41)

First a path made of clay,

then a path made of grass,

then a path of forget-me-nots

that runs straight to the sea.

My heart of shells.

My heart of flesh and blood.

My heart – a bruised star torn from your sky –

This is the one I bring to you, my God,

As a humble offering.

Your name is Truth,

Your Word is love.

My Jesus, teach me the small truths like:

“I love you, mother!”

“I understand you, my son.”

“I pray for you all.”

When the small flower

Sends her small truth

Into the world

I don’t think of the fallen cardinal

Covered with a newspaper

Or the fists that knocked my hair down

As if into a tomb,

Or the hatred like a radioactive cloud

Invading my past.

When all these truths disappear,

I lift my eyes to the cross

From which forgiveness comes.

And

I learn to forgive,

I learn to help the blind

How to see again love.

I was moving through the dust of years

When on the Sunday of the Blind

I looked for my soul and could not see it.

I began to pray

And You cleaned all the mud

With which I have covered my body

And gave me back

My eyes

My prayer is hidden in this humble poem,

A tiny ladder toward You,

My Lord.

Source: by Liliana Ursu. Source: Matthew 4:8-11, by David Craig, A Praying the Gospels through Poetry: Lent to Easter, Peggy Rosenthal, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2001.

The Lenten Writings: Compassion

Compassionate God,

your generous presence

is always attuned to hurting ones. Your listening ear is bent

toward the cries of the wounded

Your heart of love

fills with tears for the suffering.

Turn my inward eye to see that I am not alone.

I am a part of all of life.

Each one’s joy and sorrow is my joy and sorrow,

and mine is theirs. May I draw strength

from this inner communion. May it daily recommit me

to be a compassionate presence for all who struggle with life’s pain.

Source: “The Heart of Compassion” from Your Sorrow is My Sorrow, by Joyce Rupp. New York: The Crossroads Publishing Co., 1999.

The Lenten Writings: Kindness

Kindness

By Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept

     him alive.

Before you know kindness as

     the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as

     the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that

     makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day

     to gaze at bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you

everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

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: revisiting old stories

Matthew 4:8-11

“It’s not much, I know, what with slums and the dubious types

who eat at the better tables. Still one can whine forever, can’t one? Take what comes when it’s ripe,

I say. Pleasure’s no evil if taken as a sign

That life is good. There IS an ease one finds

In this place: the limited joys that come with largess. I’ve come to like it, a shock, perhaps from a mind

Once filled with higher saws. Welcome … to “The Best We Can Do.’ Allow me to pour you a middling sherry. The decanter is chipped, but the maids are lively,

can laugh.

And, if you allow, performers will keep us merry.

I’ll call for a tweedler, one who knows his craft.” “You serve yourself at table, eat your tail,

While my quiet lovers reach, even now for the nails.”

(This is a resetting by David Craig of Satan’s third temptation:

offering Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor)

I love it when a story gets reworked. It gives me pause. Here is an old familiar one, if you grew up in church circles. Revisited…

It’s always been a curious thing to me, the story of Jesus’ Temptation. First of all, it’s sort of an oxymoron. Is it possible that Jesus was tempted, Truly? Hebrews indicates yes. In fact one prof who loved the book said he thought Jesus experienced Temptation 150% compared to us at maybe 20%.

I don’t really know how that theology works; but I do know that this story is included in the book. When I write, I think about Story. I think about what has shaped me, and I think about what will impact those who read my words. So I don’t think it’s there accidentally.

Then there’s this. It sounds like he offers him all the kingdoms of the world. When I think about the kingdom we live in right now, I would say you can have it. No thank you. Wherever you land politically, it’s been a tough year.

So how was that really a Temptation?

And then, if you hold to the idea that a supreme being is all powerful, and that’s what Jesus was, then why was this something he wanted from someone else?

Lots of questions, few answers.

Maybe that’s Lent.

Space to sit in the questions.

Room for silence.

No answers.

Sounds about right.

Source: Matthew 4:8-11, by David Craig,

A Praying the Gospels through Poetry: Lent to Easter,

Peggy Rosenthal, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2001.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries

The Lenten Writings: righteous indignation

Possible Answers to Prayer

“Your petitions—though they continue to bear

just the one signature—have been duly recorded.

Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent

entertainment value—nonetheless serve

to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath

a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more

conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,

the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes

recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly

righteous indignation toward the many

whose habits and sympathies offend you—

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend

how near I am, with what fervor I adore

precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.”

What rouses your passion? Or maybe more accurately, your judgments? Do you have a favorite sin that you like to rant about? Or maybe a lifestyle choice or sexual orientation that really gets you going? Is it immigration status that riles you up? Politics? Vaccines? Home birth?

This prayer is hauntingly disturbing. It raises more questions than answers. In a time of Lent, where the focus is on self reflection and prayer; it points the finger back.

Sometimes in group work we play with the idea of a mirror. Another person’s actions of words trigger my opinions or judgments. Often, it is because he or she is a mirror to me. It is my imperfect self that I see in the other that gives me a rise, or provokes a strong reaction.

Before breakfast, we had a rousing conversation at our house. (That’s not the norm, in case you are wondering). My husband was telling the story of the woman caught in adultery. She was in the very act of it. No question. And Jesus pointed back. “Let the one among you who has no sin cast the first stone.” And then He just sits and starts playing in the dirt with a stick. When Jesus looks up, the air is still, no one is left. And then the words, gentle, perhaps with tears. “Neither do I condemn you… ”

This is a good place for me to sit today. And the lyrical storytelling that I heard it in this in this morning, three teenagers interrupting themselves to add details, made the story come alive.

Sometimes, I have a really hard time with the church. Not surprising, I suppose, as my wounds occurred within that context. And so, as I wrestle, I am brought back again and again to the words of Jesus. Not the church lens, thick like my grandmother’s glasses, through which I often see people.

No judgment.

I want to show up that way. Heart first, ready to listen, led by love. It’s in that space that real conversation starts.

And maybe in that place, I will begin to apprehend how very near the Presence is…

Scott Cairns, “Possible Answers to Prayer” from Philokalia: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002 by Scott Cairns. Reprinted with the permission of Zoo Press.

Source: Philokalia: New and Selected Poems (Zoo Press, 2002)

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