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.
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.
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.”
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
tossed by the wind across the parking lot
holding the list written in your hand
bread, eggs, fruit, mustard
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
to lean down and put on your shoes,
pouring milk on your cereal
praying for your children
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
from kindling sticks.
Oh Way is Narrow Love,
Oh Take Up Your Cross Love,
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.
What is truth? What is reality? Wouldn’t it be nice to pick up the tail of reality, hand it to your neighbor, and declare, “Here, look, this is it: Truth!” “Hoaxes, lies and collective delusions aren’t new, but the extent to which millions of Americans have embraced them may be,” writes Kevin Roose, in The New York Times.
Which part of the elephant are you touching or bumping up against? Is there a way for us to step back and see a bigger picture than our own hand grasping a tail? Some say: Why go to all this work to root out truth? It’s a free country. Why can’t I believe whatever I want and what makes sense to me? I don’t have time to track down every piece of information.
The ideology (Nazism) which the Barmen Declaration sought to unmask, and reject is an ideology of freedom, a false and idolatrous conception of freedom, which equates it with the freedom of each individual to do as he or she wishes.” Lesslie Newbingen, Truth to Tell
If I refuse to acknowledge my brothers and sisters, who are also taking hold of part of the elephant from different vantage points, I turn everyone else into an enemy and threat to my truth and my freedom. Is there a way out of the stalemates and battles that keep us at odds with each other?
Here is the latest issue of Holy Ground – Quarterly Reflection on Contemplation
It is an illusion that we can escape personal responsibility for our assertions of truth, regardless of how we interpret the first amendment. We have an obligation to discover our internal truth, that place of honorable veracity, where we are aligned and balanced with the larger eternal truths about ourselves and the world around us.
In the words of Charles Williams, Unless devotion is given to the thing that must prove false in the end, that which is true in the end cannot enter. Being true individually is vitally important to all of us together. Why? In the words of the old Sunday school song – for there are those who trust me. (Howard Walter)
Truth is a communal experience that requires us all. As you are transformed by truth, so are the rest of us.
Today I came across this post from eleven years ago. In a time when Ash Wednesday will most likely be celebrated virtually, I offer this reminder of how it was to stand in line with the bodies of your friends, to walk up to the celebrant, to feel the warm thumb on your forehead and return to your pew to sit with the reality of your own sweet mortality.
One by one they come forward. I press my thumb into the black sooty ash. On the forehead I make the sign of an ancient form of execution. Looking them in the eyes I say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” For some I have to stand on tiptoe to make the mark. For the children I bend down to sign their lifted brows.
After eleven years among them, I know these people – their pain, their struggles, losses, hopes, and dreams. I love them. They come to place themselves before the altar and ask for this – this sincerity, this frank acknowledgement of death. They come to receive the smudge that says they know they have fallen short and they are sorry.
In a culture which denies death, sin, and personal and corporate responsibility for wrong-doing, I am moved by these who come to…
The World today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth. — Alfred Delp
A letter written in the fall of 1945 from the South Pacific.
Stirring words from a governor in the midst of catastrophic suffering and death.
A dog who wants to fly.
A story told by Forest Spryte, Esq. about the olden times, when Earth Dwellers forgot who they were.
Check out the latest Holy Ground issue. There is something here for everyone!
“The contemplative who can stand back from a situation and see it for what it is, is more threatening to an unjust social system than the frenzied activist who is so involved in the situation that he cannot see clearly at all. ” Karl Barth
The Sanctuary reaches out to help people stand back and see the immensity, depth, and richness of faith.
The Christian who knows his or her business is the Christian who has the freedom to return again and again into that silent unchanging presence – the hanged God, whose love, whose generosity, springs out of depths we can never imagine. It is the sounding of those depths that is the heart of the contemplative life . . . the contemplative who knows how to enter into the silence and stillness of things is, above all, the one who knows how to resist fashion and power to stand in God while the world turns. In that discovery of stillness lies all our hope of reconciliation. – Rowen Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, May 2010
“The people of God have a long history of reaching for technical change to remedy their difficulties, instead of the adaptive change God is calling out from their hearts and minds.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you refused and said, “No! We will flee on horses” – therefore you shall flee! And, “We will ride upon swift steeds” – and therefore your pursuers shall be swift! Isaiah 30: 15-16
Someone is always looking for a fast horse to save us from the hard work of learning, which requires us to face into our ignorance and vulnerability.”
Here on a late March day in 2020 with the mourning doves calling from their perches, the grass slowly greening, and robins hopping about the leaf mulch in the woods, some of us are given a most remarkable opportunity. The world is gripped with the ongoing crisis of the corona virus pandemic. We may wonder, Will I or my loved ones get it? Might we die from it?
Government and health department officials scramble to respond. Health care givers put on hazmat suits and masks. Others labor to provide the goods and services we have taken for granted. Some of us will reach out to neighbors and others in need and develop ways to tend the tissue of human connection, love and compassion. Nearly all ofus are charged to stay home and do our best to stay healthy.
In our communal enforced solitude we may have just the right hermitage for facing into the truth of ourselves and going deeper into our prayer and silence. In the Winter issue of Holy Ground, which I wrote before the virus erupted, “Deep personal and communal changes are not something we roll up our sleeves and do. Such life-giving change is something that is done unto us.” Something certainly is being done to us all. What kind of changes might God be asking of you and your communities?
Here is the Winter Holy Ground issue which looks at grief and truth, transformation and hope. It starts with another story about that little fellow,
Forest Spryte, Esq. He showed up on my couch one morning.
Turn off your screens. Step away from daily tasks. Sit down. Be still. Listen. Yes you will fidget and worry. That is okay. Stay there a little longer, where God is waiting for you.
Notice your breathing. Feel your body. Be present to each moment, as best you can. Give up trying, thinking, and planning. And give yourself over to this great Mystery of Love which lives beyond words in silence. This is a love, which longs to be with you and be known by you. Allow the flowing Love and Mercy of God move through you. Surrender to your Beloved, who is beyond your knowing and to the peace that passes your understanding.
Here. Right here
in this sacred moment
of your infinitely precious life is all you will ever need.
With you and “the hanged God” in these days
in love and prayer.
The curve of time turns in on itself, bends back and threatens to disintegrate. Apocalyptic whispers and end time sonnets play in bars and senate chambers. Death watches on the TV news announce more violence, more battles, more destruction.
The little one stood waiting
while the One Who Is Greater Than All spoke:
Come sit with me and rock a while and I will sing you lullabies that Sarah sang to Isaac. I will tell you stories, wondrous tales of adventure, danger, miracles and love. For these songs must be sung, these stories told. Not kept on shelves like jars of pickles in a darkened cellar.
No spice can preserve us, but these stories can save. In the telling is new life. In the singing is good news.
This issue of Holy Ground is a poetic reflection on Psalm 131. It is a lullaby and a song of love about the difficult struggle of spiritual growth. It is also a song of hope.
What is needed is persons with quiet souls who cling to Holiness as the trees cling to the earth.
I wrote this piece many years ago, when my first daughter was around a year and a half old. Some of you may recall it. Lines from this piece began coming back to me this fall. I think it is a lullaby worth hearing again. May you find comfort here and deep assurance in the steadfast love of the One Who Is Greater than All.
My heart holds your heart in the steadfast Love who hold us all.
Loretta F Ross