Category Archives: The praying life

Thomas’ Lament

Guercino_-_Doubting_Thomas_hand

Well it’s finished
I w
ould have to go all out
purge myself of doubt
hold on till the final hour
push for verification
of the one veritable transitory power*
to seal what happened
what was and is and ever more shall be
with the indisputable fact,
the terminating stamp,
of my own story.

Why not take their word?
I trusted them enough.
We saw him risen in the light!
Our own eyes feasted on the sight!

Where was I then
delayed in darkness
caught in traffic
held up by bandits
lost down blind alleys?

And when I arrived,
he had come and gone
the meeting was adjourned.
Was it so wrong to have yearned
to know for myself,
not only to have heard,
of what glory they were so assured?

How could he come when I was gone
and leave me, coming,
to be slapped with that second hand joy?

I did not know how he had spared me
how my delay was grace.
So I choking, sputtered
strutted through their glee:
Not me.
Not me.
I shall not believe what I cannot see!

Then you came back.

What were we doing then
eating lunch
talking about the Cubs
debating the umpire’s call?

You came back
or forward
or was it we who moved?

You came and went
climbing out of centuries
striding through solid wall
and stood once more before us all.

“Here, here,” you said
and slipped my hand
into your side pocket
wrapping me with your anguish.

The room spun round.
My skin turned inside out
and my soul’s raw quick
swaddled in the mitten of your wound
chafed next to your rib.

I shrunk
till I was no bigger
than a speck
upon your shoe.

I had loved you
of that I had no doubt.
But your gaping spaces opened my ears
to the triumph shout
of life’s Word
and seared me,
sealed me with the sight
of what till then I had only heard:
that you loved me before I ever knew
that you came back all torn
and maimed for me to see
that I would see
you love me too.

So now I sit
unable to pretend I never wore
the ring of your palm round my finger,
unable to deny
we have been wedded by your pain,
unable to forget
the moist seam of your wound
and the intimacy
in asking me to touch you there.

Unable to swill in perplexity
to feign ignorance
to sulk amidst the heart’s strivings
or fume when things go all awry,
for that which I had heard
which I saw with my eye
which I looked upon
and touched with my own hand
that which has completed my joy
has completed me.

And I am finished,
through
for now, my dearest, dearest love,
there is only you.

Guercino_-_Doubting_Thomas_-_WGA10951

____________________

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  John 15: 9-12

*the one veritable transitory power, from T.S. Eliot’s, Ash Wednesday

Special Note
for Topeka, Kansas Area Readers

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Topeka area residents, watch for a fun way to support local charities, including The Sanctuary Foundation. Save this date: June 3, 7:00 am – 6:00 pm, at  Fairlawn Mall. 

On that day your gift to The Sanctuary Foundation fund will be increased by a pro-rated match gift from The Topeka Community Foundation. Watch for more details on how to stretch your dollars in supporting the wonderful work being done in Topeka.

  • We are looking for helpers to sit at our booth for an half hour or so to share with people why The Sanctuary is important to you.
  • We also  need comments from those we serve about what The Sanctuary means to you, how we may have made a difference in your life, stories, anecdotes, etc to help us let others learn more about us. You can comment here, or at our website , on our Facebook page,  by emailing us at lross@fromholyground.org.

Thanks to all your help over the past twenty five years
we are still going strong!

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Practice, Prayer, and Peanut Butter

 

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Food for Life

For breakfast I always have toast (crispy) with peanut butter (crunchy), a good shake of cinnamon, and honey, smeared liberally to make a nice gooey mess. I cut my toast into four squares on a small white plate. I eat it slowly with my coffee, licking my fingers and (if nobody else is around) wiping up the drips of honey and peanut butter on the plate with my tongue.  And I always use Food for Life’s Genesis bread. You know, the expensive funky frozen bread in the organic food section made of nuts, sprouts, roots, berries, sticks, and pebbles from around the world.

Like you, I am a creature of habit. Our habits shape and form our character, lifestyle, health, skills, talents, beliefs, and the kind of people we become.

Because of my breakfast habit, I look for good buys on chunky peanut butter and local honey. I will use gas to drive across town to get it. I read the articles about the decline of bees and the sweeping implications of the decline for agriculture, not to mention my daily portion of honey. I often carry my own breakfast supplies when I travel. And when Food for Life stopped making Genesis bread, I suffered. I saw how my little habit might be verging on an addiction.

Our lives are filled with dozens of similar habits, as well as habits of thought, emotional responses, eating, sleeping, exercise, etc. As these are repeated over and over some of these practices affect many other areas of our lives in negative and positive ways. Our personal habits affect our relationships with others, the environment, and the whole planet.

What habits have you formed in relation to your spiritual life? What do you practice over and over, like a musician, a dancer, a surgeon, or a woodworker? What do you return to daily, each time learning more, honing your craft? Some days there may be struggle and one seems to be losing ground. Other days you are met with an incredible ease and joy in your practice. Over time, years and years of practice, you find yourself maturing, deepening, and knowing more and more of the ways of God. You will begin to recognize the contours of grace, the lessons of humility, and the deep, endless sea of love.

Whatever you choose to call it –becoming like Christ, following Jesus, being a disciple, union with God, transformation, healing, or growth – relationship with God requires awareness and intentionality,  or in other words:  practice. Deep faith is given through a continual returning to the Source, the Living Water. Daily, year after year, we go back, we kneel down, sit down and place – not our skill as practitioners, or our religious credentials – but our naked need, vulnerability, and longing on the altar of our lives. Here we open our whole being to the infinite One. Through this surrender we are formed and reformed into the likeness of God.

You will find here below a link to the latest of issue of Holy Ground. It is about the practice of prayer and why it is so important to keep at it, to keep praying and learning. Our shallow culture of sound bites, video clips, and surface relationships does not nourish the deep places of our lives, nor does it help us develop the wisdom and depth of understanding our world is crying out for. The peace we are seeking for ourselves and our world, which is writhing in pain, is waiting for us within us. Seek that peace within. Cultivate it. Nurture it. Practice it. And you will become peace for those around you.

This

this simple, humble, solitary, daily
communion of your soul
with the Transcendent power of Holiness

is how the kingdom comes.

 

Read the issue of Holy Ground about Prayer and Practice: Holy Ground Winter 2014

Make a one time charitable donation to The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer

Subscribe to either the print or e-version of Holy Ground for $35.

 Special Notice for Topeka Area Readers!

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I will be reading poetry with Leah Sewell from 5:30 to 7:30 this Friday, April 4, at Warehouse 414 at 414 SE 2nd St in Topeka.  Come on downtown for a feast of poetry, good conversation, and April fun. Leah is an award winning poet. We would love to see you there.

To learn more: Downtown Poetry Crawl

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Manure and a Praying Life

Note to Praying Life Readers:

If you are a subscriber to Holy Ground Quarterly Reflection on  Contemplation  or support the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer you already have received in your mail the letter posted here. A mistake was made by the printer on the envelope enclosed for you to mail in your gifts. The wrong address is printed on that envelope. The printer is sending a postcard to you with the correct address. We have contacted the post office about this error. If you have already sent the incorrectly addressed envelope, please let us know by email or phone lross@fromholyground.org . We will let you know when it makes its way to the correct address: 1600 SW Campbell Ave, Topeka, KS 66604.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. As for the printer, he is deeply repentant and will be forgiven shortly. I figure another twenty-four hours and God’s grace will have overcome my anxious fretting. Besides a wise person told me when I began this ministry, “Your mistakes and failures are like manure for God’s garden in your soul.” I am anticipating a bumper crop in 2014! 

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The Sanctuary Is Celebrating 25 Years !

It all began with a resounding NO. Twenty seven years ago I applied for a church position as head of staff.  Few, if any women were heads of staff anywhere in those years. Still I held out hope, even though I was warned. The clerk of the Presbytery told his wife (who told me), “She doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting that job. And besides, it would kill her creativity.”

When the phone call came and the caller broke the bad news, I wept and stomped my foot. My daughters, who were outside playing, began pounding on the door. Dashing inside, breathless and red-cheeked, they shouted, “Mom. Mom! The wind is blowing. It’s blowing hard. Blowing all over the place. We need something to catch the wind with!”

Laughing in spite of my tears, I reached under the sink and pulled out a couple of big black trash bags. The girls ran back outside. I stood at the door, watching them race up and down the yard with the bags billowing behind them, catching the wind. Their wild exuberance and thrill in the blustery Kansas day, swept away my tears and anger. I felt rinsed clean and surprisingly reoriented.

It would be a while before I fully understood what God was up to in that heartbreaking no. Slowly I began to dare what seemed impossible: to pursue a ministry, which focused on the spiritual lives of people and prayer. As I began to say yes to this deep desire, door after door swung open. At some points I almost wished someone would say no, for I had little idea how to actually accomplish it.

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A ministry of prayer, which included a lifestyle of prayerful solitude, as well as organizational structure, as I envisioned it, was so removed from my denomination’s understanding of what pastors do. There were no models within my tradition. There was no provision for salary, pension, or manuals on how to do this “decently and in order.” I had only something I sensed was missing from many churches – something I and others hungered for – and the will to somehow supply some of these missing pieces.

The work has been challenging. I made mistakes. The Spirit has refined my motives and fine-tuned my sense of what I am to do, and is still challenging me to grow.

I have been immensely blessed. After twenty-five years of listening to people’s stories of their faith, it is still miraculous and thrilling to watch the wind of the Spirit of God at work in an individual soul. I see how personal transformation radiates out into the world, initiating family and community change.

Through the years God has been faithful. Needs are provided for and inspiration given.  You have been faithful too. Once when I was about to give up, one of you who had come for a visit to the hermitage said, “I have faith in you. I believe you can do this.” I have never forgotten those words of encouragement.

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You are why The Sanctuary exists. Your desire to deepen your faith, willingness to struggle with difficult issues, to pray and nurture yourself for service to your church, community, and the world has summoned this little “Roadside Fruit Stand,” as one of our board members called it.

You are also the how of The Sanctuary, for we are nothing without you – a far-flung community of varied faith expressions, people of compassion, wisdom, and love. You provide accountability for this ministry, a community, and a covering of prayer, as you teach us what you need and how to better serve you. You spread the news of this Fruit Stand out here in Kansas through your friends and contacts. Your subscriptions and generous gifts make this possible.  Thank you so very much!

As we celebrate 25 years in the coming year, we have some surprises and good things to share with you. Watch for a new website coming soon. Meet some new board members. Get the inside news on the progress of Loretta’s new book, Account for the Hope. Keep up with us on Facebook and our blog, The Praying Life, Pinterest, and Twitter.

We remind you to renew your subscription as it comes due. (The date of your subscription expiration is on your address label in the upper right hand corner. ) And please donate to The Sanctuary Fund. Your subscription fee allows us to break even on publishing costs. Additional gifts to The Sanctuary Fund enable us to maintain our web presence, offer spiritual direction at reduced rates for those of limited means, pay for business operations, and keep this roadside Fruit Stand open.

If you have questions  about your donation or subscription, let us know. And please keep sharing your feedback, ideas, and comments on how we can best serve you. You can phone us at 785-354-7122 or email at lross@fromholyground.org. We always love to chat with those we serve.

The wind is blowing here in Kansas today. Dried leaves rattle as they tumble down my street. The maple shakes out her falling locks, shedding what is no longer useful, and waves her dark branches to an approaching winter storm. To begin this celebration I am going to reach under the sink, pull out some trash bags, and go catch some wind. Will you join me?

Yours, chasing after the Holy Spirit with love and gratitude,

Loretta F. Ross

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5: 22-23

SUBSCRIBE to  Holy Ground Quarterly $35.00

DONATE to The Sanctuary Foundation

Black Friday Still Life

teaandtoastMy 96 year old mother
dozes in her chair
toast half eaten on the tray.

Frost last night,
morning sun streams
through icy windows.
Refrigerator hums.

Outside gnarly cedar
silvered bark
thick trunk
when did it get so big?
spreads shelter
like a heavy old quilt.

The dog stirs, turns on his side,
inhales deeply, exhales long and slow.

Memories –
laughter, faces,
snatches of conversation,
four dogs romping in the backyard,
mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie –
twinkle, ignite, and go out
on the mind’s firmament.

Only twenty eight days  ‘til Christmas.
No rush here. No need to shop.

In the house on Madison Street,
whatever it was we thought we needed, or must do
has given way to being,
to watching leaf shadows dance on the  brown grass
and peering long into the deep blue sky.

 This is a revised version of a blog previously posted in 2009.

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Keep your eye out for holiday Still Life works of art 

My mother, who died in 2012 was raised as a Quaker on a farm near Salem, Iowa. Here are a few words from Thomas Kelly,  American Quaker mystic, to put on your refrigerator door to help you not miss the tender, mild moments of grace unfolding right before your eyes. 

This amazing simplification comes when we center down, when life is lived with singleness of eye, from a holy center, where breath and stillness of Eternity are heavy upon us and we are wholly yielded to Him. 

Some of you know this holy, recreating center of eternal peace and joy and now live in it day and night. Some of you may see it over the margin and wistfully long to slip into that amazing center where the soul is a home with God. Be very faithful to that wistful longing.  It is the Eternal Goodness calling you to return home, to feed upon green pastures and walk beside still waters and live in the peace of the Shepherd’s presence.  It is the life beyond fevered strain.

We are called beyond strain to peace and power and joy and love through abandonment of self.  Thomas Kelly,  A Testament of Devotion

Please share your “Still Life”  in the comments  here, or with your  photos on The Sanctuary Facebook Page . Let’s gather a whole gallery of “the amazing simplification where the breath and stillness of Eternity are heavy upon us.”
Tender peace and love to you in the season of gratitude. 
                                                                                                Loretta

Elijah and the Stone Dog

dog statue

The brown and white English spaniel sits erect on the broad green lawn. Elijah, trotting along beside me, halts, stares, and sniffs the air.  My black lab and I look at the dog sitting still as stone. He wears a small box at his throat. Elijah has seen stone dogs before and stone rabbits too. Once he went up to sniff a stone deer standing in someone’s front yard and barked and barked at it. Giant inflatable Halloween yard ornaments, jiggling and bowing in the wind, scare the wits out of him.

Elijah scents the air again, nostrils dilating, inhaling the meaning of this mystery. Then he tilts his head, wags his tail, tugs at the leash. This dog is not stone! Yet the spaniel remains still, forlorn before this large house on its immense, immaculate sweep of real estate, free of unsightly fences.

Elijah bows and barks. The dog sits, unmoving. I walk closer and say, “Hello, little dog. How are you today?” He gazes into my eyes with a soulful intelligence and silent pleading, which take my breath away. When I speak again, he replies in a whimpering yelp.

As Elijah and I move on, the pup rises and silently follows us along the line of his invisible fence.


Lawn

Anymore, I have less and less stomach for keeping things in cages – dogs, rabbits, people, theories, truth, God. They won’t stay anyway. When you force them to remain, they wilt, turn gray, and whimper.

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Do you see something or someone wilting and whimpering around you, or in yourself?   What does it mean for you to release the captives?

“Burned Out on Religion?”

St.-Clare-of-Assisi

St. Clare of Assisi

We become what we love
and who we love shapes what we become.
If we love things, we become a thing.
If we love nothing, we become nothing.
Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ,
rather it means becoming the image of the beloved,
an image disclosed through transformation.
This means… we are to become vessels
of God´s compassionate love for others.
 ~ St. Clare of Assisi

Many years ago I deliberately chose a path of what I called “downward mobility.” I chose to become a minister and made a subsequent choice to become the sort of minister for which there were few or no models, namely, to consider prayer as the heart of what I offered. I took up work which I knew would not reward me financially and might well require other sacrifices. Instead of remaining on a career track of higher education administration and teaching, I followed a Love that would not let me go anywhere else, but into its heart.

I was naïve. I thought ministry would be different from the stressful, competitive world of higher education and academia. I thought I would be able to focus on prayer and help others who were struggling with their relationships with the Holy One. Of course, I brought along all of my own unfinished business and the issues that had plagued me in that other world were all waiting for me on the doorstep of the church. And, yes, this is where ministry and personal/communal growth always occurs: right in the midst of a stressful, competitive environment, with full of personal, unfinished business.

I soon discovered that downward mobility included more than lesser income, status, and pension benefits. Downward mobility included the inner life as well. Over and over, my attachment to lesser gods, my selfishness, my controlling ego, and my pride are exposed, as Jesus invites me to come down off my high horse and revel with him in the lowly, fertile ground of humility. I do mean revel. Getting myself close to the ground is often painful. I am a master at resistance. Yet it is so much fun, so full of delight and joy, it is well worth whatever it takes to get there.

In the midst of the muck Love seems always to meet me with a different agenda than my own. I call it Love’s way and it haunts me day and night, as I both run from and plead to be conformed to this path of humble trust in God.

Love’s way, which is described extensively in scripture, is accessible, freely available to everyone, and is being offered to us moment by moment.  And in Love’s way is where I long to dwell all the time.

I fail over and over. When that happens I am like a child lost in a dark woods. A kind of desperate panic comes over me, until I fumblingly discover where I got off the path and make my way back to joy and peace.   I need at least an hour a day of contemplative prayer to maintain this deep abiding in Christ. If I want to work with others and help them in their prayer and relationship with God, I need another hour. If I want to deepen and grow in knowledge and understanding of God, I need still more time.

I do not for the life of me understand how faith can deepen and flourish in the hearts of people without a serious commitment to spending time alone with God in prayer. And further, few activities I engage in take me further from this humble dwelling in the way of Love, than spending too much time on the internet. I see how easily the internet cheapens me, makes me shallow, feeds my surface hungers, plays upon and manipulates my opinions, my understanding of myself and the world.

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Let’s take a deeper look at the way of Love. Here is how Jesus described it:

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30, (CEB)

I especially like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase of Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

To put on Christ’s yoke and learn from him is to become gentle and humble and to find rest. To become an image of Christ is to put down our heavy loads and bend our necks beneath a yoke, which is easy and light.

Peterson enriches Matthew’s words with the beautiful phrase unforced rhythms of grace. That’s it! How would it be if what characterized our lives was not harried, stress-filled days, constant multi-tasking, distracted, pushing and shoving, controlling and anger, but rather the unforced rhythms of grace?

I suspect many of you know those graceful rhythms, when you find yourself in step with the Spirit and your day unfolds with beauty. I also suspect such days do not occur as much as you would like. How would your life look if you put on Jesus’ easy, light yoke more consciously and deliberately? What might change or what would you do differently?

What if your goal was not success and achievement, but gentleness and humility?

How do we do this? Is it even possible in the world we live in? Matthew tells us how. Jesus tells us how in these verses from Matthew. Go back and read them again.

Quite simply, becoming like God and wearing the easy yoke, has to do with the company we keep. “Come to me,” Jesus, says. “Keep company with me.”

The only return Love asks for the gift of living in its way is our love – not our money, time, talents – but first and foremost, Love desires our love. This always slays me. The Love that animates life, binds the whole universe, flows into our hearts with joy and delight wants our love! Love wants to be loved. Jesus affirmed this divine desire in the greatest commandment:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

I know how important it is to me to be loved by my children and family, my dog, and my friends. Here is what we may miss: God finds it very important to be loved by us. God desires our attention.

Perhaps, this is because, as St. Clare has written, we become what we love.

St.-Clare-of-Assisi

 

What the Trees Said – Stay Where You Are

Cedar Trunks © Sheila Creighton 2013 Images of LIght used with permission

Cedar Trunks © Sheila Creighton 2013 Imagery of LIght used with permission

 It is true. We are not going anywhere.
“Stabilitas loci” as the monks say.
How boring you think.

But have you seen willow dance?
Letting the wind have his way with her
whooshing up her dress tail
bending her backwards in his arms
shimmying her long trembling limbs
in that torrid way?

Spring Willow in the Wind © Sheila Creighton 2013 Imagery of Light Used with permission

Spring Willow in the Wind © Sheila Creighton 2013 Imagery of Light Used with permission

Stabilitas loci: to remain in one place; monastic vow of stability

What the Trees Said – Your Turn

Aspens

Photo by Joyce Shupe

Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
One day gushes the news to the next,
and one night informs another what needs to be known.
Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
their voices can’t be heard—
but their sound extends throughout the world;
their words reach the ends of the earth.
Psalm 19: 1-4

I have been posting brief reflections on what I hear trees say. Yet “say” is the wrong word, for, of course, trees do not speak the English language, which is the only one I know well.

Language is a rather recent invention in the story of life on earth. With or without words, communication occurs with and among all species. We affect each other deeply – interpenetrating, colonizing, living off, consuming, giving ourselves away, and taking in each other in an intricate network of dynamic, everchanging relationships. Our destinies are connected to each other and together we form the body of life on our shared planet.

Yet our species has been steadily backing away from many of our cousins. Cities, industry, and technology have increasingly allowed us to dissociate ourselves from our dance of interdependency with fish, fowl, insect, animal, vegetable, and mineral – a dance, which we can never really escape.

For many humans language has become, not a tool of communion, understanding, and edification, but, rather, a knife which separates our experience of reality into sharp, hard slivers of “meaning,” with which we stab and poke each other. Words, mere symbols, which only point toward reality or ideas or emotions, become swords of power to weld against the powerless and attempt to force our view on others. We build idols of abstract constructs and tottering paradigms of what we believe is The Truth, which we then feel constrained to defend and guard against all contradiction.

I do not know how to listen to trees, to frogs, to polar bears, or whales. I do not know how to listen to the woman who has lost her home and family in the flood, or the old pastor who told me I was not ready to be preaching and needed to read a lot more books, and then walked out of my presentation. I do not know how to listen to my friend who has a tumor growing in her brain and has chosen to forego further treatment.

I only know I have to try. And that language is only secondary- a pale, feeble gesture – bound to miss its mark much of the time. Primary is that inexpressible intimate connection, where I am touched by and touch into the miraculous life of the spider catching flies on my windowsill, the old preacher I offended, and the aspen leaves twisting in the wind.

It is there – as life meets life and bows before and honors this mysterious, energetic vitality of Being in all that is, that I know once again that I belong. Here is my community. I see how we have been created to need one another and are bound together by a strange and marvelous Love.

Even when my words and efforts fail, and I suffer the isolation and estrangement of broken communication or connection, I am grateful. That pain shows me how we are wedded and welded as one in the very formation of the universe. When that bond is broken, we will always mourn. The pain reminds us that there is more, that we could be more, and that love is refined through its failures.

Moreover, some bit of life is always sending out roots, tentacles, or tendrils, a claw, a paw, or a hand. We have only to open our fists in order to make a new connection.

I have been telling you what trees said to me. For this post it is your turn to tell me and those who follow this blog what you hear from the trees.

Here is how:

Watch and walk among the trees in the video below. Or go outside and listen to some trees where you live. Receive what they are “saying.” Take your time. Do not hasten to come up with words. Just be open and expectant. Allow the words to come as they will. Then share in the comments what you “heard,” so we all may learn from you and know the joy of our connection. I can’t wait to hear what the trees tell you!

You can find out more about the fellow who made this and other wonderful nature videos and photography here: Colorado Guy Oh, and he does spiritual direction too!

Joyce Shupe paints, takes photos,  and makes pottery in Holton, Kansas. See some of her work, along with the work of other artists here.

What the Trees Said – Origins

tree_roots

Know your roots.
Pull up a few.
See those sallow
rangy threads
sinewy cords
thick as your arm
splintering stone
slurping up existence quenching
your
thirst?

__________________________

I am tangled up in heritage and ancestor – those tough ties to blood, tribe, family, and gene – running through scripture and ancient traditions like twisting roots.

Long scattered to dust, hidden, yet flowing through our veins,
tenacious forebears animate our lives. I can hear them, stocks of gnarled and tangled cheerleaders, waving stringy fingers, scrabbling, murmuring

Stop slouching and grow for pity’s sake!

________________

Do you know where you came from and who is still feeding your soul?

After writing this post I came across this passage from Isaiah, translated poetically by David Rosenberg, author of the masterful, A Poet’s Bible, Rediscovering the Voices of the Original Text.

I brought up children
held them in my presence
and they turn from me

deaf and blind
when even the dumb ox knows
who holds his food

an ass
the trough
the master fills

but Israel knows nothing
of its root in me
sees nothing of where

they come from . . .

Isaiah Chapter 1, Translation by David Rosenberg

Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do

PalmSunday-06

The children also greet Christ with palm branches and lay their garments on the ground honoring Him as King.

I kept Holy Week and Pascha with Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox church this year. The Orthodox Christian Church celebrated  Pascha (Easter) on May 5. I did not make it to all of the holy week services. There were seventeen, beginning with the Saturday before Palm Sunday, the Saturday of St. Lazarus, the Righteous.  The people and their priest, Father Joseph Longofono, offer their gifts and talents with generosity and devotion. They are warm and welcoming to this awkward Presbyterian who comes among them to pray and learn more about a faith tradition she has long admired from afar.

On Palm Sunday, (April 28 this year) at the end of the service we processed outside with our palms, songs, incense, and other regalia and holy items for which I do not know the words.  I can tell by The Services of the Great and Holy Week and Pascha, the book of Holy Week liturgies I purchased, that most of these words are Greek. I learned enough Greek in seminary to pass the class and my ordination exams. Since then translation is an afternoon’s ordeal involving a concordance, Greek grammar book, Kittle’s ponderous Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, and trying to remember the Greek alphabet.

A few startled sparrows rose out of the shrubbery as we poured out onto the lawn.  Cars buzzed by heading East on one-way Huntoon Street. Along our path I smiled to see at my feet a little shrine of twigs overlaid with narrow strips of green moss.  Easy to miss, barely a foot or two in height, the shrine was a small construction of sticks stuck at various angles in a patch of moist bare ground.  Tucked in the crotch of a branch was a white spirea blossom.

The happy procession wound back inside the small sanctuary, its walls alive with glowing icons of the saints. You can feel them all looking tenderly on from heaven, adding their voices to our prayers and songs and benediction. I read that Orthodox draw no distinction between the Body of Christ in heaven and those on earth. They view both parts of the Church as inseparable and in continuous worship together of God. Orthodox worship therefore expresses this unity of earth and heaven in every possible way so that the earthly worshippers are continually reminded through all their senses of the heavenly state of the Church.  Wikipedia

It is as though for the Orthodox, worship is a continuous act since the beginning of the church. Everyone in heaven is there and we show up to join in the perpetual praise and leave and return as our lives allow. When we return we merely pick up where we last left off. And unlike many churches I am familiar with, nobody here is in any hurry. After all we have eternity.

The church was packed with more children than adults this day. Older children stood quietly with their parents, toddlers sat on the floor, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and aunts held babies crooked in their arms and nestling against their shoulders. Some kids sat on the few pews.  (Orthodox Christians stand for worship. The pews are reserved for the elderly, children, and fainthearted visitors.)  Toddlers wandered about. There was an ease about their presence, parents taking them in and out of the service as needed. The occasional cries, thumps, or exclamations formed a descant of baby babble to the chants and songs sung in four part harmony throughout the service.

After church I chatted with a little girl, admiring her cute flip-flops, and on the way to my car came upon the twig shrine with a red haired boy kneeling before it. The twigs and blossom had been kicked over.

I said to the boy,” Oh did you make this? It is very beautiful.” Nodding yes, he told me that his sister knocked it down.

“I am sorry. It is a holy thing,” I said.

His sister joined us and said, “Luke doesn’t like to sing the holy songs.”

“Hmm,” l said, as Luke worked on rebuilding his shrine, “sometimes people prefer to make holy things than to sing holy songs.”

“He doesn’t like to come to church,” she said in the irksome manner of sisters who broadcast a brother’s private life to strangers.

“Yes, there are people who feel that way,” I said to the little girl as her brother struggled to get the blossom to stay in the crook of the twig. I thanked Luke for making a holy thing and repairing it, and walked to my car.

His sister, shouted after me, “He is hypert,” as she, appearing a little hypert herself ran racing around the church yard in a holy dance of her own.

Luke, kneeling in the dirt with his offering, as brothers everywhere have learned to do, ignored her.

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Hundreds of Ways to Kneel and Kiss the Ground
The impulse to worship and to express the beauty and awe of our souls to the author of our being seems nearly universal in human experience. I believe this desire is placed in us by God in the core of our being, like a magnet, which draws us through our life experience to reach out and connect with the one who put it there. We may spend a lot of our lives seeking ways to express this sublime impulse. Yet if we trust our hearts, we will be led to places and forms of worship, as though guided by a God-given implanted GPS device.

There are many ways to worship God.  Sufi poet, Rumi tells us, Let the beauty we love, be what we do.  There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. I believe that our efforts at praise and worship are like building little shrines in the mud, each dear to God, each delighting the heavens, each precious.

When the beauty we love, becomes what we do, even the mundane may hold the potential of sublime worship: Lucille’s macaroni hot dish; the green and pink chintz curtains Elsie made for the ladies room; the deacon holding the door for you; your desperate prayer; a pile of rocks in the desert; your garden. In all kinds of ways we gather sticks, find a blossom, and put it out where someone will see it. Praise will be offered.

To be human, made in the image of the Creator, is to pour out our hearts on something we love which is greater and beyond ourselves.  Our responsibility is to discover ways to kneel in reverence, which will express our deep yearning and connect us to what is good, true, beautiful, and free. For me that is worship of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ.

Luke’s Palm Sunday act of worship reminded me of another child’s offering. When she was around six or seven, my daughter, Diana, brought me a stick with dandelions, grass, and pink phlox wound around it. I wrote about it in my book Letters from the Holy Ground,

“This is a prayer stick, mom. I made it for you.” It was a large stick with flowers woven round the top. Could I let the stick pray for me? For I do not know how to pray aright. I lean the stick against my altar. “Pray stick,” I say. “Pray now.” I go off to other things, while the stick holds the offering pointing toward heaven. Dare I trust creation to pray for me, to bear my prayer? Here stone, pray. Here river, pray. Here moon, pray. Just by being what you are, a maple branch salvaged from last fall’s ice storm, wrapped round with pink petals, transformed by the touch of a child’s hand into something sacred.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? That is the question. For our hearts are heavy, and we, captive by this mortal flesh sit down and weep.

Loretta Ross (-Gotta), Letters from the Holy Ground  – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed & Ward, 2000, p 67

How shall you sing the Lord’s song? Find that gps device in your heart and let it point you in the direction of the worship of your soul. I would love to hear about the things which lift your heart to God in the comment section below.