Category Archives: contemplation

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.

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

The Elephant is Very Like a Rope

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

The Elephant Is Very Like a Rope

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.

Lenten blessings!

Loretta F Ross