What the Trees Said

This effort to distinguish yourself
is so hard on you.”

The summer issue of Holy GroundWhat the Trees Said – celebrates
the wonder of trees and how the natural world restores and draws us
into God’s embrace. What is it in nature that calls you and makes you stop,
still and wordless, as if held and absorbed in One beyond yourself?

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Lost Light, Stolen Joy

New Issue of Holy Ground!

This, my dear

is the greatest challenge

to being alive.

To witness injustice in the world

and to not allow it to consume our light.

Thich Nhat Hahn

Beloved one, how is your light? Do you know where it is? What is the quality of your light – a dim sputtering flame, a sparkler in the dark, a burning sun? Or has the injustice of the world gobbled up your light? We are all easy prey for the temptations of despair, fear, and hopelessness.

Nothing could prepare Jesus’s disciples for what it would mean to follow him. They just had to do it and be overcome by it. It will always be “too much.” Nothing can really prepare us for this process of inner and outer crucifixion and death to ourselves. Still, we each must kneel in our own Gethsemane and come to terms with that sticky web of self-deceit, confusion, and fear which binds our minds and bodies in endless knots that blind us to the brilliant light of God within us and our responsibility to lift it up for all to see.

Caring for Souls: The Call and the Cost

CHILDREN,  HAVE YOU ANY FISH?

Just after daybreak,  Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them,  “Children, you have no fish, have you?”  John 21:5

After breakfast –

did they push back the plates
brush away the crumbs
and leaning on their elbows
drain the last of the coffee?

when they had finished breaking
the fast
that knot that moored them
to the earth –

did they hear the crack
as lack was smashed
and denial strewn in shards
all round their dawn drenched faces
while Fullness rose before them,
a grinning fry-cook,
presiding at the flame?

So when they had completed that shattering
that breaking of self-imposed want
and self itself
and tasted, savored, chewed, digested
that Fish
who had eluded their nets all night

then Feast asked:

Do you love me?

Peter takes the bait
Yes, Lord.
Do fish swim? Is the sea wet?

 Feed my lambs.

 A second time Feast casts the net:

 Do you love me?

 Yes, Lord. You know.
Peter turns, twisting in the webbing.

Tend my sheep.

And then the charm:

 Do you love me?        

Flailing, inextricably caught
flesh straining, tormented –

I am putty in your hands.  You know me.
Why press me up against the edges of this love
to lie gasping, gills seared by sanctity
on the far shore of heaven?
You who have lured me here,
you know, you know.

Then quick
the deft Cleaver
a swift slash of blade
and he is flayed open
on his soft underside
from gullet to dorsal fin.

And it comes:

Feed my sheep.  Again.

O Peter, Peter
once you swam where you would
through silent green darkness
in and out of rotting keels among the stems
lying in wait for your supper
to enter your heart’s snare.
Now you are trawled
where you do not wish to go
where you will be filleted
in the bright morning sun
for someone else’s breakfast.
O Peter,  Peter there may still be time
run
run!

In some nook
you will lean across a table
called remember
and another’s hunger will tear out your entrails
and you will wash down your cheerios
with each other’s tears.

The line is forming, Peter.
Hear their cries.
See them coming,
heaving themselves out of the waters
like great sad whales
beached on this foreign strand.

Tend them, Peter. They are mine.
Be gentle with their wounds
the raw red
festering places
seeming so incurable.
Teach them to clean
to wrap
to bind up the hurt
with these stained winding cloths.

Give them a poultice
for drawing out the poison,
a potion for a contrite heart.

Wipe their tears.
Sing their lament.
Carry their ache in your heart
long after they leave
and wake to it when you rise.

You will not wish to meet such suffering.
You will look for ways to turn its tide
to swim back to your ancient watery grave
where life eased slowly into you once removed
through gossamer wings you wore waving on each side.

Now your lungs screech
as the air
the air
slams into you
immediate
as this picnic breakfast, Pete.

You have seen me
known me
loved me
now you will be food for them to eat.

                            Sheep

A woman stops on her porch at dusk.
Sifting through the branches
Grace greets her.
Dare she kneel?
What will the neighbors think to spy
her caught in prayer on the threshold?
Grocery sacks spill down the stair
crispy critters, wonder bread,
instant breakfast fill the air.

The man searching for peace
having lost his love
now paces through the word
hunting for the key.

Another flops over and over
trying to get her bearings.
Which way is up?

The shy awkward magician
in a dazzling burst of courage
pulls out the hidden emerald of her heart
and bows triumphant
while drums roll and rabbits scamper all around.

The one who never stops talking
weaves his fear in rambling fables.

The one, awakening, sings possibility and promise
and perches on the edge of wonder,
enchantment, waiting to be opened.

All beached, scarred, encrusted with barnacles
thrust up against each other in the hush of dawn,
gasping, lungs laboring, gulping at the Spirit.

Carried

 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”  This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” (John 21: 18-19) NKJV

In accompanying others on their journey into the heart of God –
making our way together through the clotted underbrush
the heavy growth of jungle foliage
trekking across the endless stretches of barren tundra
waiting out the storms in bus depots
napping in the meadows –
what seems most apparent now
is the oneness
the mutuality of laughter shared
joy celebrated
and anguish felt.

I have seen myself hesitate on the frontier
holding back
keeping myself in reserve 

Let’s have a nice holy talk and then we can all go home.

But Jesus never was much on talk alone
and like some mother determined to get her children off to a good start
fries up some fish for breakfast
and sees we must take in,
consume redemption
carry it in our bellies,
eat the pain of one another
feel it ease into our blood and bone
and, tasting theirs, so we embrace our own.

Fish out of water,
our task is learning how to breathe in two worlds
to walk the treacherous path
that cuts an ever widening swath in our hearts,
the gorge of sorrows where compassion feeds.

You there singing in your prayer
weeping, screaming,
I do not know where the way leads
into what dark forests, what caves, what dizzy peaks.
I only know I go along
and where once I went alone,
swam girded solitary in the reeds,
charting a course myself
now am lifted
swept by this net of love
and carried
carried
even as I carry you in me,
carried into bright and alien lands
carried toward the One
who ever holds our breakfast
in his hands.

 Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of  Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn grey I will carry you.  I have made, and I will bear;  I will carry and I will save.   Isaiah 46: 3-4

Reflection questions:

  • How do Jesus’ words to Peter in John relate to you as you care for the souls of family, friends, clients, and others Jesus sends to you, or sends you to?
  • What have you observed about how people develop their faith and love for God? What seems to be your role in that process? How do you feed Christ’s  sheep?

I first published this poem here 10 years ago.  Before that I think it was published in Presence Magazine. The poem explores Jesus’ final words to Peter on the shore on the Sea of Tiberius (John 23)  and some of what I have experienced in feeding Christ’s sheep.

I entertain myself by spying on the hidden mystery of how the Holy Spirit shapes, purifies, and refines souls for holy purposes. This work of caring for souls has been my focus for over forty years. I figure I have spent several thousand hours listening to people tell me about their lives in God.

In some cases I have been privileged to walk with individuals for many years, observing periods of suffering, impasse, joy, and growth. Trained in the practice of spiritual direction, I offer my presence, love, and attention to those, who share with me the intimate and profound desires of their hearts.

I have learned a lot about the way of God in a person’s soul and the way of a human being as he or she struggles, resists, and seeks the One beyond his or her control or manipulation. I have seen the common traps and temptations, and the unfailing grace of Christ. I have learned to recognize  patterns of deepening spiritual maturity. What I have to give, which seems the most important at this point,  are my prayers and my faith.  Stop flailing about – or don’t stop – whatever you wish. We are still and always carried, ever carried into the steadfast peace of each new moment.

Love and peace, Loretta

Somebody Needs to Bow

Will it be you?

A new self, a true self, a self, grounded, not in its own willfulness and endless needs, but in the abundant life in Christ, waits in the wings for its cue. To stand clueless and empty-handed in the midst of the mystery of our being is to dwell in the realm of God.

Living Near to the Heart of God

There truly is a place of calm and repose in every heart. I believe you have been there, have been held in the stillness, and been quietly nurtured by a forgiving, healing Presence greater than yourself.  You may not have spent hours in prayer or engaged in various forms of meditation or spiritual practices in order to be held by this grace. More likely, you simply fell into it, that is, fell in Love.

What might get in the way of dwelling near to the heart of God? Evelyn Underhill writes about the temptation for turning toward what is new or odd or startling, as well as “a dusty crowd of devotional knickknacks that distract from the simplicity being present to the nearness of God.

Temperance requires a spirit of renunciation, checking the love of what is new, odd or startling, which so easily kills the taste for simple things and the tendency to assimilate odds and ends which swamp our few real treasures in a dusty crowd of devotional knickknacks. Temperance then is the teacher of humility and asks us to acknowledge the sacred character of the ordinary which was good enough for God to love and enter into in Jesus. Evelyn Underhill

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May the new year bring you deep joy and peace!

Forerunners

For me the cicada song is like waves crashing and receding on the shore of the ocean. The rhythmic sweep of sound from the trees carry me back to my childhood in Iowa on barefoot summer nights – fireflies, hide and seek, popsicles, and kids screaming with laughter, as we plucked the critters’ brown, brittle exoskeletons from trees and threw them at each other.

cicada-after-emerging-from-shell.

I long to abandon the brittle, cramped casing I call my “self” in a burst of resonant sound like my molting neighbors. I have been trying to die to myself this summer.

This was not my idea, and the notion has been at work in me for several years. It  is one of those, pesky, persistent summons out of scripture, which keeps popping into one’s awareness in various ways –  prayer, a book you randomly pick up and open, a conversation, a rhyme or song repeating itself. In my case I would add to these my own weariness with the burden of this self, which desires and grasps, resists and repels all real and imagined threats to its existence, as well as my self’s loud and raucous seizure of center stage in my life. 

cicada-shell

What does it mean to die to oneself? How does it feel? Self denial is not a popular notion. Many of us may feel that we have already denied or been denied more than enough times already. 

Yet I have been wondering if self-denial out of love for God and others may be the particular spiritual work and mark of a Christian in our age. For the survival of our species and a remnant of a civil society, we need people who willingly set aside their own needs and desires, who divest themselves of their power and privilege, and say to our neighbors of all species, “I must decrease, and you must increase.”

Read more here:

  Vol.32, No. 2 Summer 2021 Holy Ground

You in that Old Ratty Sweater

Aim for the simple 

hidden acts of love
which keep time ticking 
like tiny golden gears 
in the pocket-watch of the stars.

Reach for the ordinary goodness
that rarely makes the news 
but forms the loamy ground on which we walk.
Paths our ancestors wore in the living of their days
now yield to our imprint, gently propelling us 
out of the gravity of singularity 
to leap beyond ourselves and see that I am 
because they were and we are.

Take the unassuming 
nondescript scrap
tossed by the wind across the parking lot
holding the list written in your hand 
bread, eggs, fruit, mustard
milk

and
the essential
worker 
driving the bus, behind the counter, 
leaning over the patient.

Care little for pithy memes and what is trending now
or the preening of curated selves
in your reflection on the screens.

It is you in that old ratty sweater
rising up 
to lean down and put on your shoes,
pouring milk on your cereal
praying for your children 
you
whom I am trusting in and living for.

The woman in the red hat
waiting at the corner for the light to change 
waves back when I wave. 

For a moment, an eternity, 
the struck flame of connection 
crackles between us
tugs us from our separate cells,

uniting to say 
we are one here on this corner
and indeed, we are made of miracles.

Every day 
communion is served on a corner near you
eucharist pours from heaven
runs down the street 
children jump in the puddles -
maybe you do too.



What should I do?

Picture2

My friend, my client, the pastor, shaking their heads, confided to me, “I just don’t know what to do.” I hear this within myself, and also from organizations as they struggle to cope with change. What should we do? What we must do something!

Please show us how to fix this, repair this breech, heal these wounds, right these wrongs, stop this dying! is a chorus running through the subtext of communities that haunts our days and keeps us awake at night.

Asking such questions is the vital and anguishing work of weighing motivation, desire, and call in the context of chaos and loss. Anxiety rises, tempers flare in the urgency of taking action, any action, of doing something. Yet periods of great pain and suffering – when we do not know what to do and have little control over the situation, and no answer seems to be right – may not require us so much as to decide what to do, as to consider the kind of people that this moment is calling and forming us to become.

So much of our sense of identity and worth are tied up in what we do, accomplish, achieve, and fashion with our hands, minds, machines, and technology. When we fail, mess up, and make terrible mistakes in our personal lives, institutions, and systems, we must face the truth that we are not who we thought we were.

Here, perhaps, a different question emerges, “What kind of people are we becoming? What kind of people is this period of history crying out for us to be?  These issues are not just about us, our little tribes, communities, or social media followers. We need space to gather with all stakeholders for shared listening, for stillness, and prolonged silence to allow the emergence of a larger, kinder and more generous knowing than our own.

We need space to divest ourselves of our need to be right and of our weapons of defense. We need a desire within us to open our hearts to each other with a willingness to be wrong. We need to make space for humility.

How can we know what to do, if we do not really know who we are, who we are becoming, and what our responsibilities are to each other? Answering those questions require much more honesty, grief, and repentance than some of us are willing to give.

In the past several years I have been asking what should I do regarding several areas of my life, as a citizen of the USA, and a member of the homo sapiens species on this planet. Then this morning came these words:

What is true.

What is good.

What is necessary.

Hmm, that might help. To start each new moment with those words as my guide might enable me to be more present to what is (even when I do not prefer what is). As I trust, as life unfolds, minute by minute, perhaps knowing what to do will be obvious, clear, and attainable, as I ask what is true? What is good? What is necessary?

Actually this approach is very difficult for most of us, who like a neat guide or handy app for-what-to-do-and-how-to-always-make-good-decisions-and please,-we-cannot-afford-to-just-sit-around-in-silence-looking-at-our-navels-now, can we?

The urge of our faithless egos to take center stage and control the process prevents our access to the ever-present, ever-beyond our control Spirit of guidance, inspiration, creativity and power.

I say, let that ego fume, and whine and pontificate. It will wear itself out if you stop paying so much attention to it. And defy the fear with turning toward What is true. What is good. What is necessary. Of course, friends, this approach is not original with me. You know its origin. Read it over again here. See if it helps clear your vision.

Finally, beloved,

whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,

think about these things. 

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and
seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9

Peace, Loretta

Coming up soon is the Summer Issue of Holy Ground. Yes it is
still summer in my world. This issue is called Forerunners.
It is about the people who go ahead, as they seek to
decrease that others may increase. You are probably
a Forerunner yourself.

By the way –
Are you weary of reading on screens, virtual reality, and technology in general? Would you like something to hold in your hands, doodle and spill your coffee on?

Get real and read the print version of Holy Ground for just $35.00 for four copies each year.

(Ok if you insist, you can find the e-version here as well. I am just trying to get you to
slow down and relax.)

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Disillusionment

Disappointed? Didn’t get what you expected? Maybe something more
is going on, than what meets your eye and hurts your heart.

Life has a way of disappointing us and exposing our assumptions and
faulty beliefs. Disillusionment can be a brutal, disturbing experience.
Like all adaptation and change, it takes time to accept what we have
lost and begin to see what we have gained.

Yet, ultimately, to be disillusioned is to be set free. This action of grace
removes the plank in our own eyes, dethrones our egos, and much of
the healing process is hidden from our conscious awareness.

And then, there is Paul and his experience of disillusionment. Read his testimony. Does it
sound like something you are going through?

See here, see
the proof is in my groping blindness
my stunned, numbed, nauseous soul
stumbling in a foreign land.

There are ones who can testify
that I saw well enough before,
that I did not wear this unveiled shocked look of the newly blind.
There are ones who can remember the zeal and pulse of desire in me.

READ SPRING ISSUE OF HOLY GROUND

Resurrection Passion

Oh, Spendthrift Love,
Oh, Lay Me Down Love, 
even from the tree 
you coax: follow me. 

Oh, Love That Never Dies,
could I love 
like the pear tree loves 
in heedless 
scarlet surrender 
to the grey autumn sky? 

Could I run breathless 
bearing bright bouquets 
across the fields to you? 

Could I with mad extravagance 
pour out all my oil 
upon your brow? 

Could I throw caution 
to the wind 
and fling myself 
over the lake 
in a flurry 
of milkweed seeds 
and cattail fur? 

Could we rendezvous 
in every crack and cranny 
of creation 
where you issue 
in sweet tenderness? 

Could I be held 
enthralled by wonder 
unable to move 
across a room 
for need to kneel 
at every step in praise? 

Could I place my palm 
upon the surface 
of any cheek 
and trace  
the contours
of grace
with a finger?

Oh Love That Never Dies, 
teach my heart 
to love again. 
Teach me desire 
that draws life 
from dry bones 
like orange flames 
leaping 
from kindling sticks.

Oh Way is Narrow Love, 
Oh Take Up Your Cross Love, 
teach me 
resurrection passion. 

I've had enough of death.

Perhaps you have had enough of death, as well.
Take a chance.
Go outside.
Fling yourself into the arms of your existence.
Let yourself be held in a long embrace.
Such amazing goodness and mercy is waiting for you.

A blessed Eastertide!

Loretta F Ross