“Truly I tell you, wherever, this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” Matthew 26: 13
how you ran through the streets of Bethany
clutching the precious flask under your shawl
dodging merchants, beggars
searching for the house of Simon
peering in dim doorways
hurrying to be back in time for supperhow with bold extravagance you broke the flask
and poured the fragrant oil on the One at table
and then were gone
while the oil ran like hot tears
from his brow
down his cheeks
dripping onto shoulders
soon to be soaked in the whip’s bloody lather.
And truly, where the gospel is preached,
women remember you
in acts of reckless outpouring love –
the egg money, hoarded over months for a new sofa,
handed to a daughter on a spring afternoon
for a prom dress
cakes and pies and holiday meals prepared for long into the night
visits to the sick and shut-ins on days off
patient listening to the tales of children
hours of rocking, holding, folding,
smoothing, soothing, embracing, forgiving,
breaking open the alabaster walls of self
and pouring love onto love
in the name of Love.
blessed by your daring waste
of a Love which knows no scarcities.
“In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.”
― San Juan de la Cruz
Not enough time, not enough energy, not enough hope, not enough money, not enough jobs, not enough room, not enough love, not enough peace …
not enuf nuthin !
So goes the lie.
As the holiday season of plenty, hope, and generosity opens its arms to us, some individuals are pained by and suspicious of the season’s glittering wares. The family, who have lost their home to foreclosure, the unemployed factory worker, and other despairing and heartsick souls may feel plenty is beyond their reach and scarcity their new normal.
The media depictions of holiday cheer play on our insecurity and sense of lack. They insinuate that no matter how much we have, we do not have the latest and greatest. Advertisers lure us with promises of more. We may find ourselves stumbling after ghostly phantoms in the desperate hope that this year we might find that illusive wholeness we are seeking.
How does one feel whole and fulfilled, when one is more aware of scarcity in one’s life? Perhaps abundance in the midst of scarcity occurs for us as it did for Jesus, when he fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two small fish.
We welcome what we have, however meager. We give thanks, and watch it multiply.
Here is a simple, yet demanding, exercise to practice such a miracle in your own life. It is called The Welcoming Prayer. It was developed by Mary Mrozowski, one of Thomas Keating‘s closest associates and a prime mover in the development of centering prayer. She based the Welcoming Prayer on the 17th-century French spiritual classic Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade as well as Fr. Keating’s teachings and her own lived experience of transformation with its underlying attitude of surrender. There are a number of variations on this prayer. Here is one.
Focus and Sink In:
Become aware of what is troubling you or occupying your mind. For example, your sadness, anger, or fear regarding scarcity of some kind in your life. Focus on your feelings, both cognitively and physically, noting how and where the feeling affects your body.
Instead of resisting, or feeling ashamed or denying, welcome the truth of what is troubling you. Welcome the feelings with curiosity and compassion.
(Here is the hard part)
Let go of your desire for power and control over the situation. Release your desire to be “right.”
Let go of your desire for affection and esteem from others.
Let go of your desire for survival and security.
Let go of your desire to change the way things are.
Allow yourself to sink into the abundant flowing love of this moment. French priest, Jeanne Pierre de Caussade, describes this love:
The present is ever filled with infinite treasure; it contains more than you have capacity to hold. … The will of God is at each moment before us like an immense, inexhaustible ocean that no human heart can fathom; but none can receive from it more than he has capacity to contain, it is necessary to enlarge this capacity by faith, confidence, and love…
You may find the letting go section of the prayer difficult to do. One or two of the desires may be harder to release than others. Think of this as useful information about what things, other than God, are of primary importance in your life. Notice which desires might be getting in the way of your freedom in Christ. If you find you cannot release one of these, you might simply pray that God give you the desire to desire to let go.
The Welcoming Prayer invites us to trust in God’s presence and providence and to discover the infinite wealth of God available to us in each moment. “The divine will is a deep abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. If you plunge into this abyss you will find it infinitely more vast than your desires,” writes de Caussade.
I believe this is absolutely true. Over and over in the midst of distress, I have wrung my hands about there not being enough of one thing or another in my life. Yet as I have focused and welcomed the feelings and my present reality, let go of my ego’s desires, and rested in God, my need has been supplied with an abundant depth and power that swept away all my grasping and anxiety.
I heard the geese honking at dawn last week. My dog halted at the door and cocked his head and we listened together in wonder. I love the sound of them moving over head, giving themselves to the skies. Trusting in their ancient faith they make their way.
In spite of all appearances to the contrary, I believe there is enough.
The Wild Geese
Abandon, as in love or sleep,
Holds them to their way
clear in the ancient faith:
what we need is here.
And we pray not for new earth or heaven,
but to be quiet in heart
and in eye clear.
What we need is here. Wendell Berry
I trust in you, O Lord. You are my God.
My times are in your hands. Psalm 30:1
What we need is here.
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The leaves of the pear tree are glossy and thick on the branches. The pears, a bit larger than walnuts, blush rose near their stems. On my window frame hangs the icon of a skinny naked Jesus. It is the crucifix of San Damiano from which St. Francis heard Jesus tell him to repair His church. This Jesus will not meet my gaze, but looks down some hellish tunnel of sorrow that hallows the space between us. His face is grey, mouth turned down. He is wearing a sheer loin cloth that looks like it came from Frederick’s of Hollywood. I am embarrassed for him in his poverty, his utter abasement. Cheer up Jesus! You look terrible. The pear tree is laden with fruit this year!
He doesn’t seem to notice the fruit, though he must see it – his eyes are wide open. Pinned like a specimen to the cross where under his arms are gathered stately mourners, he bleeds in tiny spurts from hands and feet. Angels hover over his head in neat rows. One appears to be performing a liturgical dance. No – that’s no angel. It must be Christ on his way to heaven, ascending in a crimson mandala.
The crucified Jesus just hangs there. Has he no shame? It is I who squirm, not he. For his eyes pin me at the intersection of poverty and abundance where I hang ripening in the Kansas sun in mid September. O Jesus, how long must you hang there suspended in misery, wearing us out with that sorrowful stare?
With an introit of barking dogs, the squirrels soon will come to pluck the half-ripe pears with their agile paws, taking one bite from each, and then carelessly tossing them to the ground to rot. Pray God to preserve us from squirrels that raid at dawn, chattering and chasing up and down the branches, tempting us into thinking that we have been made to be consumed by squirrels. Pray God that we may be left hanging, suspended by the heart’s stem, hidden in the leaves until we’ve ripened properly. And then, at the sharp insistent teeth of need open our flesh sweet and tender to one another.
Then maybe that sad Jesus will get off that rugged cross and come eat the fruit of summer with us.
We went to Koger’s Variety Store for back to school specials the other day and painstakingly put names on new back packs, glue bottles, scissors, and Big Chief Tablets. We watched Dad’s jaw drop as he wrote the check for new clothes at the mall. Then last evening we noted it was getting dark so early.
The air is uneasy, a mix of the eager hope of a brand new lunch box and the painful regret that summer is over and we never got around to making those doll clothes or camping out in the back yard to watch the stars all night.
Jeremiah laments with us, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended and we are not saved.”(8:20) And we find ourselves at the intersection of poverty and abundance where the kingdom of God is conceived. Christians seem to perpetually stand on the threshold of a new school year clutching our shiny lunch boxes in one hand and the forsaken dreams of summer in the other. Holy ground is the paradoxical place where we simultaneously live in the Pentecost fullness of the gifts of the Spirit and the power of the Risen One; and in the crucifixion emptiness and cry for redemption of the Suffering One.
Jesus tells us that of God’s own will we have been brought forth to be a kind of first fruits of God’s creatures. Like the firstborn child or the firstborn of livestock, the first fruits to come ripe in a season were sacred to God. “When the grain is ripe, ready to be given up, at once the farmer puts in the sickle because the harvest has come,”(Mark 4:29) says Jesus. When one is ready to die, then harvest is come. How odd to be ripening for death, to be growing in Christ only to be handed over.
Just as the cross is the joining of two opposite directions, we live in the creative tension of the union of poverty and abundance. The tension is great, and it is hard for us to stay in the center of the cross for very long. We want resolution. We are tempted to heave ourselves down one polarity or the other. But if we can hold both the pear tree laden with fruit and our ongoing need to be nourished, if we can accommodate both the Risen Christ and the Crucified Savior, then we may discover, out of the union of these opposites, new fruit conceived in us which will heal and sustain the earth.
The barrage of demands and the voracious appetite of a culture that seeks to devour, rather than savor its sustenance undermine a quiet patient trust in God’s seasons of growth and harvest. What is it that finally brings us to fruition? Is it not the sharp insistent teeth of need, our own poverty and the poverty of one another, that finally allows us to fall sweet and tender into each other’s embrace?
At Toys R Us — Oh my, toys are us! In Proverbs Wisdom tells us, “At the beginning I was playing beside him like a little child and I was daily his delight.”(8:29), I listened to a tinkling recording of “It’s a Small World, Isn’t It?” while watching a lion and a lamb, a giraffe, a hopping kangaroo, and a waving bear shimmer across a plastic screen. Nearby Cicelia plinked a xylophone in plunking delight.
Then in the department store she asked, “Are shoes alive?”
Her elder sister exclaimed, “No!”
But she persisted, “I saw one talking on TV.”
“Let’s see,” I said, and leaning over a cordovan Bass loafer inquired, “Are you alive?”
“Oh mom,” Diana sighed.
We tried on grown-up perfume. When the saleslady offered to help, we told her we were searching for a fragrance that was really “us.” A spray, and Cicelia, pressing her hands to her cheeks, giggled, “Oh mom, I know this one is me!”
Before boarding the escalator we tried on hats. Cicelia, in a large brimmed red felt with ribbons, and Diana, in a small black veiled cloche, gazed at their images in the narrow mirror on the best day of my life.
We took six dresses from a rack for Diana to choose. Cicelia was her handmaiden, letting it be according to sister’s word, carrying, doing buttons and zippers, and holding up the blue satin fabric like a swatch of heaven against each dress.
Jesus, I thought you were suffering, but I saw streams of light pouring from your head like a fountain, spraying colors – blue, azure, hues of red, green, yellow – shimmering rainbows irradiating in spurts and gushes and rivers from a still small body sagging on a tree. All day I played plinking magic while you spun streams of green leaves, jungles, hay fields in spring, purple hyacinths, beets, cerulean seas, dolphins, berries, mountain mist, and a single red rose flame out of the chaste and tender aureole of your pain.
There in the dance of creation and dissolution, there where our need is met with the abundance of another and our abundance fills another’s lack,
there where it is a small world after all,
there is our joy made complete.