Tag Archives: God

Lullaby for the Little Ones

Dear ones,
I first wrote this when my daughter was around a year old. She is now 34. I posted it here in 2012. It is a lullaby worth hearing again in these times of continuing uncertainty and suffering. May you find comfort here and deep assurance in the steadfast love of the One Who Is Greater than All.

marymotherofgod

My heart is not proud nor my eyes haughty. I do not busy myself with great matters or things too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul. As a weaned child clinging to its mother – like a child that is weaned is my soul. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131)

The little one stood waiting. Its whole life had led up to this moment. While the One Who Is Greater than All, most gracious, almighty, mother and father, reached down and down and through and through, lifted and kissed the little one and held it tight. The little one nestled into the arms of the One Who Is Greater Than All and lay back, gazing into the dark face with starry eyes. And the two began to rock.

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Like babes, we cling to the earth’s smooth furrows with tiny fingers, as it makes its daily rounds. We feel the beat of creation’s pulse against our cheeks.

What child is this? Whose lullabies are these? Whose nursery is this – this universe of spattered fire and splashing water? Souls, spilled across the Milky Way, find their way in a manger, and sway swaddled in the earth’s sweet clothes of winter snows and summer hay.

Who rocks us here, while our eyes, transfixed by Love’s pure light, discover our image reflected in the holy face? 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.

How did we come to this place, this rocking on God’s lap and listening to these stories? Go back to the beginning of the beginning, before we were intricately wrought in the depths, before the forming of our inmost parts, before we were knitted together in our mothers’ wombs to when our unformed substance was first beheld. For we were held before we were even something to behold.

We began babes in Christ, smacking, sucking infants grasping and gasping at the source of life, gulping in the Spirit’s breath like ones nearly drowning in the rushing waters of the world:

O Lord, get me through this, help me, heal me, save me, free me, show me what to do! We lift to you our many hungers and concerns – our budget, our new addition, the middle East, global warming, the economy, the droughts, the poor,  those in prison, those who mourn, the sick and lonely, the persecuted and enslaved – Lord, hear our prayer – and don’t forget the little children!

And God continued to hold us, while Mary held God’s squirming son. The nursing infant is too weak to hold onto its mother. She must lift the child and support its back. She must turn its head and draw its fingers from its mouth and place it on her breast. It knows not how to feed itself.

So we rocked with God under a cloud of violence, whose mists seeped into our lives as ghostly fears. Life, never a certain thing, seemed like a runaway kite in a storm, while we grasped frantically to its frayed and thinning string. We denied and argued and pleaded and bargained with the menacing cloud, until spent and weary with making peace with death, we learned there is no peace with death and we did not go gentle, but wore out our rage in colic screams. All this while our patient God walked us in our dark nights and bore against our stiff-legged kicking.

Then came the weaning.

The Hebrew word for wean means also to ripen and repay. Wean is not a sudden loss of sustenance, but a ripening toward greater fulfillment and profound nourishment.

O Lord my heart is not haughty, my eyes are not raised too high. I do not occupy myself with ambitious desire or things which are too marvelous for me.

Done with getting and spending and proving and earning.
Done with seeking and striving and the thin piercing whine of urgent need.
Done with bawling hungers and waking in the night with stomach cramping and the terror screams that know no hope nor appetite appeased.

Blossoms on Branch

Then came the weaning, the ripening.

An early evening rain splashed gently on the apple blossoms, sending white petals sifting to the glistening grass. We heard the wet whistle of the cardinal and watched a robin listen, head tilted, for the rumble of earth worms. We saw the drops slide down the glass. “The window crying,” you said. It was dusk, the color of plums. Teddy slipped from your lap. You gazed into my eyes and smiled. And before I offered you to suck, you fell asleep. And thus you ripened. And so we rocked all night, past striving, past approval seeking, past demon whispers of ambition. And in the morning you bit into the Spirit’s fruit.

The weaned child has attained strength and muscular control. It climbs onto its mother’s lap without help. It pats her face and nuzzles its head against her shoulder. It delights simply in the mother’s presence.

Like a weaned child on its mother’s breast is my soul.

No longer consumed with consuming,
no longer gulping and choking on life,
but content
content to rest in God.

An awareness – childlike, simple, accepting –
came to the psalmist who sings to us today,
an awareness that came to Job,
when God spoke to him out of the whirlwind:
there are some things too wonderful, too marvelous for us

that mere knowing will not save us, that understanding will not end suffering, that strategies and master plans and mission statements cannot ease our pain, that psychological acumen, administrative expertise, and a panorama of pretty programs with flashy learning centers and lesson books printed in three colors will not root out the evil in our hearts

that dedicated scholarship, facile exegesis, brilliant preaching, flashing memes, a new economy, and all that we may do and strive to produce will not ease our pain.

The way is in the manger.
Come, lift the child and hold it close to your heart as Mary did.
Hush. Speak softly. Walk on tiptoe.

Tree in the Winter Mist

What is needed is persons with quiet souls who cling to Holiness as the trees cling to the earth.

What is needed is persons with humble hearts who will mother the Christ within them, who will speak gently to all they meet for they know that each of us carries Mary’s sleeping boy.

Our work is of such utter simplicity and ordinariness that we shrink from it. Surely there must be more – than to be a friend, to share another’s burden, and to be in love with Grace.

We rush about anxious, agitated, and oh so busy. Our plans and prayers are ill-conceived and sloppy. Our eyes are raised too high. We are occupied with ambitious desires. We presume to be absorbed in things too marvelous for us.

Climb on God’s lap and rest. And a multitude of persons will find God’s rest near you.

Fall deeply in love with the Christ child, care for it ever so tenderly, and your simple presence will nurture the Christ child in others.

At that time they came to him and said: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus took up a little child and placed it on his lap and said: “Unless you  turn and become like this little child, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The little ones snuggle closer:
the humble singer of the psalm, you and I, and Eve and Moses and Sarah and Peter and Martha and that littlest one of all with the holes in his hands and feet.

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.

“We like the old songs best,” the people tell the pastor. “I sang ‘Whispering Hope’ at my mother’s funeral,” the gentle man tells her on his way out. “Thank you for letting us sing it again.”

Hope
a whisper so soft,  we must be stilled and quieted to hear it

Hope
a whisper so soft, we must be clinging close to hear it

Hope
soft as the voice of an angel breathing a lesson unheard.

Like a child that is weaned is my soul. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

marymotherofgod

May your year ahead be blessed with holy rest and whispers of hope, gentle delights and profound joy.  May you gather the strength and courage for whatever you face, secure in the knowledge of a love that will not let you go.

                                                                                                    Loretta F. Ross

Whispering Hope, hymn by Alice Hawthorne, copyright 1924 by the Standard Publishing Company

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Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #8


And we are put on earth a little space, 

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

 A page from a 14th century German Haggadah

Pasach – Passage, No. 1

After we were passed over
we passed over.

When the waters split
drew back
a shimmering wall
seething strength, waves
smacking, spitting above us

some of us hesitated
to weigh the odds
consider and debate.
Was it more magic?
Who was this son of Abraham
with his stave of almond wood?

Crippled from scrabbling straw in the fields
mixing mortar for the man
meeting his quotas
we dawdled on the shore.

Others, children especially, ran out
skipping over the coral
through the sea grass
past the shipwrecks
and green turtles
raising their mottled beaks, amazed.

We heard hooves pounding,
shouts, thunder of chariot wheels.
Death before, death behind.
Better to drown
than die by the hands of those bastards.

The kids, though,
did not flinch,
tossing up fistfuls of sand,
diamonds in the sun,
playing on the seabed
like shrimp.

We hobbled over,
leaning on each other,
fearful, fretting.
Seems when a soul is crushed
it takes a long time to rinse out the slave.

Though at Pasach, when we gathered,
it would all come back.
We would shake off another chain
see more clearly
sip liberty
like wine.

Pasach – Passage,  No. 2

The night we celebrated Pesach –
what did he say, what did he mean
leaving and that we knew
the way to where he was going?

I was trying to work it
out when another sea split open
not waters humping up like steel cliffs
but a great scythe slashing
through the middle of everything
and him falling, tumbling down into the rift.

A passage
where there had been none before
death leering from either side.

I heard the soldiers coming
swords clanking at their sides.
In the acrid air lungs burned, eyes stung
flames draped from clouds.

And while they dragged him off
blood blossomed
on the vast lintel and door posts
of the writhing world
and dribbled down
like tears.

*Hebrew (Pasach) also spelled Pascha for Passover or passage. The verbal form means to protect and to have compassion as well as pass over. Exodus 12 -14; John 14-19


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Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #7


 And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
– William Blake

 Palm Fanfare

Passion Sunday

They fought on the way to church
this time ugly.  

Was it the tone he took,
or her throbbing resentment
that kicked in the door
like a demon repo man
turning up to repossess their souls?  

Mud rushed in
a roaring sludge
of sorrows, lashes
rebukes, scorn
bitterness, betrayal
heaping up
burying the light.  

The back seat was silent.  

In the sanctuary they stood mute
in the crowd of flourished palms
hosannas fluttering like petals
watching their kids in the happy throng
pass by with pain in their eyes.  

Across town the detective
poured herself another cup of coffee
scanned reports from last night
homicide, hit and run
three break-ins, some domestics.  

Robert rolled over,
knees up to his chin, gripping the covers.
He hurt so bad. He couldn’t get those feelings
for Andy to go away, nor the horror
in the cafeteria when they snickered and laughed.  

Lester sat at his kitchen table, thumbing through his Bible.
He got the diagnosis the day before.  
The words didn’t make sense.
He looked around.
Everything seemed tilted sideways.
Does cancer cause this? he wondered.  

Alice in a back pew waved her palm like a white flag.
During the week she goes into a house full of roaches
and mice to treat the baby of a twelve year old girl.
People so desperate, so much pain. Plse pray,
she texts her friend and waves harder,
counting on this Jesus to make a difference.  

Nations thrash and groan. Politicians rage.
The bomb ticks in the parked car.
Seas haul homes and lives
out to watery oblivion.  

Some peasant playing a fool on a donkey
rides into town saying he is the King.
He is going to turn things around,
unseat the emperors,
release the grasp of greed,
cure the lust for money,
and heal the virus.
Sure enough the fool gets himself killed.  

Everyone is looking for a goat to carry off
that mudslide of shame, regret, and responsibility.

For a while we can pimp up the peasant,
wave some foliage, call him king
as the bullies and the haters
the fear mongers and the betrayers 
the self- righteous and the proud hitch
a ride on his back like fleas.
Then we can go home, relax
watch the ball game and root for our team.  

But the peasant with pain in his eyes
on the donkey has his own agenda.  

I am not your Palm Sunday ornament,
a wonder super hero
your ticket to respectability
a card to play in your political games.  

Look again. I am you.
I am you riding high into town.
I am you awash in disgrace and humiliation.
I am you having done the unthinkable
and there is no way you can repair the damage you caused.  

I am you, holiness, hawking yourselves day and night
in the holy places you have turned into markets.
I am you, holiness, stuck
right down in the middle of a profane life in a profane world.
I am you, holiness, betrayed by a sneer, or the grab for influence.
I am you, holiness, trampled on and defiled.  

Will you duck out now
skip those other services
and only show up year after year
in your new clothes
to see the lilies and hear the music?  

Or will you come back
to listen to my commandment 
to let me wash your feet
and drink to a new covenant?  
Will you stay awake with me
and with yourself one hour in our suffering?
Will you say, not my will, but thine?  

Will you face your betrayer, see what you need to see 
become truth in the face of authority?
Will you strip off all your disguises, costumes
facelifts, masks, and self-deceit?
Will you hand over your assets for others to toss the dice?  

Will you watch at our dying?
Will you thirst?
Will you feel your own pain?
Will you cry out why has God forsaken us?  

Will you rest in the tomb
that silent womb of mystery
dead with me?  

Will you come early on the third day?


Lily

Lily (Photo credit: amitkotwal)

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Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #6


And we are put on earth a little space, 

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

Thin-Ice


Thin Ice

The interviewer probes,

so do you think the economy will get better?

Fear leaps up from the gut


climbs to her throat


voice shakes, melts into tears.


Fifty two,


back in her bedroom


at mom and dad’s

turning over at night

she sees the puzzles, rock collection,

Girl Scout Handbook

stacked on the shelf beneath the window,

teeters between now and then

on the brink

of circumstances beyond her  control.

Better to practice walking on thin ice 

before we find ourselves there.

How does one learn 
to trust

your life will bear your weight?

The grey sheet shrinks from the shore.

Dark water laps milkweed stubble,

slopping over hoof-pocked mud.

Could she step over the translucent border

to opaque surface a few feet further out?

Oh to put her future in a box,

tie it with a pretty bow

and place it next to high school

yearbooks on the shelf.

The fortune tellers circle,

bracelets jangling, bright skirts swinging,

leaning over their tea leaves crying out:

Alzheimer’s, incontinence, poverty, ruin!

After millions heard her cry on public radio,

after her immersion into choking humiliation

possibility awoke.

She saw what they had seen

and loved it now.

Come, she said,  as she took her nakedness

into her arms like a lost child,

a beautiful melody.

I will teach you how to walk on thin ice.

Let us go to the spring woods

and learn to pull uncertainty and loss 

to our chins like a blanket of oak leaves,

sweet pine needles, mushrooms,

and the milky blooms of May apples.

All the best and most beautiful things

are willing to go under at any moment

and take us with them into the dark

to be carried back again,

laughing sheaves of light.

Child of my heart, listen.

Don’t turn away from my face.

Nothing perishes

when born by the arms of grace.

May apple flower

Don’t ponder ancient history
Look! I am doing a new thing. Isaiah 43: 14-21

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves. Psalm 126: 4-6 NRSV

______________________________

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #5


And we are put on earth a little space, 

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

the-prodigal-son.jpg!Blog


The Lost Son Wakes from His Dream

Up to your knees in hog dung

eyeing hungrily

corn stubble

slop bucket

egg shells, coffee grounds

black banana peels

rancid grease, moldy bread.

Rouse yourself

from this putrid

dream of your demise.

Awake.

Tune in to your reality show.

Walk off the set of this drama

and come to yourself.

Reach down

pull that dying man out of the muck

wash his stinking feet.

Take a chance on mercy.

Go ahead. Say it.

You had it all wrong.

Spit out the words stuck in your craw

like a piece of broken glass:

            I am sorry.

And come on home.

Besides,

there will be a party

and presents.

ring

Luke  15: 11-32

___________

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #4


And we are put on earth a little space, 

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

thorns

Fast


Bound

breathless and blind

open your eyes.

Unclasp the clutch

of the  hand

around your throat.

Fast

to break the fast

of the barbed hooks

and thorns

of dissolute gods

boring into the bleeding brow

of your howling  soul.

thornbush

  • Where are addictions or unhealthy attachments tying up your freedom to be available to God on God’s terms – however  God would have you?
  • What dissolute, lying gods have their merciless hands around your throat?
  • Will you open your eyes?

______________________________

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #3


And we are put on earth a little space, 

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

NoahsArkPitch

The Flood

It crept up slowly.

You did not notice at first,

though your feet were always cold ,

socks soggy.

Accustomed to the damp

you pulled on galoshes

then hip waders.

You didn’t know why

you were always so tired

like walking against a strong current, you’d say.

By the time the force of the tide

sucked  your heart

out by the roots

it was too late.

You plunged

into that dark torrent

gasping for air

clawing

for something to hang onto.

The ark you

unbelieving

had refused

rocked  above the waters.

The old man leaned

over the side

extended  a wooden

beam.

I see you are ready now, he said.

Grab on,

there is room for one more.

__________________

Is something threatening to drown you, which you keep ignoring?
What keeps you from reaching out for help?
If you are safe in your arc, is there someone out there who needs a hand up into the boat?
What are you waiting for?

______________________________

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

Love – In Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #2

And we are put on earth a little space, 
That we may learn to bear the beams of love
 – William Blake

 

expulsion 2

Leaving Paradise

Trip

fall

splat

face down into

the ground.

Sink into softness

that gives

and for

gives.

Come home

to your loamy beginning

and your end.

For your reflection: Recall a time when you fell, took a hard blow, or were brought down by some loss or disappointment. What awareness did you have of your own brokenness and shame?  Could you forgive yourself? What did you learn in your humiliation? How did you change?

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and minds already stuffed with words.

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so, slowly, we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

A Prolonged Hesitation – Meeting God in the Spaces

Ireland Upland

Silence is God’s first language. – John of the Cross

Spaces captivate me. The spaces between things – pauses, silences, rests between notes, empty rooms, expanses of prairie, moors, and highlands.  A friend of mine from a large urban center once came to Kansas for a visit. I drove her out west on I70. The empty space terrified her. She much prefers the human made canyons of New York City, than places where the land itself dominates the environment and asserts its untamed, mysterious vitality.

In my work as a listener to the stories of others, I find the spaces between the words, the sudden silences, or the time a person takes for thinking to be where the treasures lie, where holiness abides.

flintyhills3

I recently found a friend in the poet, Rilke. I drove south through the stunning space of the Flint Hills to Wichita to The Magnificat Center. This haven of hospitality and spiritual nurture hosted a retreat led by Mark Burrows, scholar of medieval Christianity. Mark had recently translated some of German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke’s early poems.  Prayers of a Young Poet, Paraclete Press.

For an evening and a day Professor Burrows opened up Rilke’s poems like small packets of compressed holiness. Once set free by Burrows’ translation and our imagination, the poems awakened us to the immense and voluminous God this young poet had discovered.  In the spring of 1899 God had wooed Rilke during the Russian Orthodox holy week services at Moscow’s Cathedral of the Dormition.  By the end of our brief time together I felt the room we gathered in enveloped by presence and I, too, felt holiness pulsing in me.

The resonance of Rilke’s images and Mark Burrow’s masterful interpretation slowed me down, and ushered me into in the mystery of Rilke’s God. I was taken out beyond myself and the horrible cold I had brought with me to a more spacious place. The image Rilke used to express his desire to touch into God’s immensity was heath, the open, treeless landscape of moor and bog.

Whatever you yearn for, my soul, say it
Be heath, be heath, be wide.
. . . .
Be heath, be heath, be heath

Prayers of a Young Poet, translated by Mark Burrows, p 30.

Heath view

What is it in us that allows God to meet us with fullness, depth, and beauty? The potential is always present. Love or loss of love may do this, preaching may do this, sacraments, art, music, nature, beauty, may do this. Yet we must offer the space, the openness, the inner heath or expanse of Kansas Flint Hills to become the altar for this dancing God.

As the psalmists, prophets and Jesus knew, poetry may offer such an altar for the sacrament of presence.  Paul Valéry defined a poem as “a prolonged hesitation between sound and sense.” That is also not a bad definition for a parable. Parable and poem both dis-orient, surprise, stop us in our tracks, and expand our awareness beyond our previously known world.

Poetry invites, even demands that we hesitate, off balance, scratching our heads, to teeter between sound and sense. Most things which reveal Transcendence (that which is beyond our selves) require us to enter the unfamiliar and wait on the edge of not knowing, without having to rush in and fill the moment with a refutation, argument, praise, or anything to end the awkward, uncomfortable “dead” space. It seems to me that good art makes us hesitate and allows what we may perceive as dead to rise up before us. Surely good preaching, celebrating sacraments, and prayer ought to do the same.

Moor
Yet hesitation is seen as a flaw, a lack of confidence, or making someone have to wait. Thomas Merton wrote that we live in a time of no room, in which we are “obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within [us] by the technological furies of size, volume, quantity, speed, number, price, acceleration.” Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, ed. Kathleen Deignan, p 32 

We live in a time of no room with no space for a soul’s edges to roll out, unconfined by agenda. Hemmed in by a culture which has convinced itself that time is a commodity, of which there is great scarcity, our souls become cramped, stunted, and deformed by the crushing weight of  having to produce and fill every moment with sound and human activity.

communion cup

Time is the sacred vessel of encounter with divine presence.  Where else do we think it is going to happen, if not here, now in this moment? We put little, if any, space between and within the words we speak to one another. We have little available “random access memory” in our minds.  Words pile upon words. Life is reduced to thirty second sound and image bites. Minds are crammed and obese with knowing, calendars booked solid, days filled with activity, and hearts full of oneself.

Who among us will be bold to hesitate, to linger in the land of uncertainty on the shore of wisdom?   Who will offer shelter for silence to collect itself, curl up and hum to itself in the sun? Who will be heath?

________________________

Please note Praying Life Readers: I will be leading a retreat at the Magnificat Center in Wichita, Kansas on March 22-23, 2013.  For more information and to register: Retreat led by Loretta F Ross  It would be great to see you there!

Faith and Fear

A two part series on giving birthddddxxxxx CDC zf
to redemption in your time and place.

Part Two – Conceiving the Inconceivable

A-annuncia_Fra_Angelico

Mary takes hold of,
seizes
the inconceivable.

The purity and faith of the virgin
penetrate the illusion and falsity
that surround her,
and she offers her whole being –

intellect, imagination, heart, and body-

to deliver redemption into her world.

She claims her power
as the mother of redemption
and joins with God in a dance of saving love.

That same dance has the power to transform Cousin Carl in his fake angel costume and Aunt Edith with her hair in curlers into the heavenly hosts,

and you and me into bearers of Christ.

Do you see the mutuality in this exchange of love
between a mortal and the Holy One?

The prophet Zephaniah calls Israel to rejoice
because God is in her midst;
he further proclaims that this God in her midst is rejoicing over her with gladness (3: 14-18).

Israel rejoices over God.
God rejoices over Israel.
God chooses Mary.
Mary chooses God.
We long for peace and wholeness.
God longs to give us peace and wholeness.

What prevents more of this dancing in our lives and world?
A significant impediment must be our fear.

In the story of Christ’s birth several of the players are exhorted not to fear – Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds. The gospel writers over twenty times show Jesus admonishing others not to fear.

Fear may be seen as one of the indicators of the presence of God. Fear of God, which is the human response to God’s overpowering majesty, glory, and power, is an appropriate and desired reaction. In contrast, fear of the world, fear of self and others is seen as counterproductive to God’s action in our lives.

Beatrice Bruteau writes of faith as an attitude of the consciousness that is participating in divine activity, God’s creative work in the world. Faith is “the disposition which Jesus declared to be a condition for the realization of his works. The doer of the work had to have faith, and the receiver of the work had to have faith.”

Brutear considers faith as “not only the consent of the intellect to the reality of something that does not appear immediately to the sense, but it is the consent of the imagination and the affective faculties attached to the imagination.”
– Beatrice Bruteau, Prayer: Insight and Manifestation, in Contemplative Review, Fall 1983

Thus, the new thing God is doing enters this world –

as we agree something better is possible,

as we are able to vividly envision the new thing,

as we feel in our hearts the joy and delight of that yet unborn promise,

as we persevere in that vision in the face of fear and threats,

and as we live expectantly as if the vision is accomplished.

Fear keeps us stuck in the present reality, constricted and paralyzed by the very thing God is setting about to redeem. Fear distracts us from watching and waiting eagerly for the in breaking of God’s promises into the world. Fear turns our eyes away from the coming bridegroom to become mesmerized by the horror of a realm that does not know God.

Fear, then may be seen as faith in your enemy.

The danger, as Ian Matthews writes, “is of folding in on oneself. Pain does that, and the temptation is to look for a both/and:

both staying with the new setting, and feeding on nostalgia for the old one.

Unhappily this both/and tends to backfire. We cannot both indulge self-pity and make the most of a new situation.”
– Ian Matthews, The Impact of God – Soundings from St. John of the Cross

Simply put, our faith, as does Mary’s consent, allows Christ to enter the world.

Think for a moment.
How do you feel when someone expresses faith in you?
When another trusts you and has faith in your gifts, are you not enlarged, empowered, and more willing to offer your gifts?

Perhaps the reason why Jesus urges his followers to have faith, why he shakes his head in dismay at the disciples doubts and fear, is that their faith in Jesus empowered Jesus.

So, as Annie Dillard writes: “Faith, crucially, is not assenting intellectually to a series of doctrinal propositions; it is living in conscious and rededicated relationship with God.” Annie Dillard, For the Time Being.

Further, faith is not a vague and wispy sense that God is out there somewhere looking on us with a benevolent eye, nor is it an exercise of philosophical proofs.

Faith is the means by which God enters and changes our reality.

Faith is an interactive experience, a dance of mutual love between a mortal and God in which both parties are needed, affected, and changed for the benefit of the whole world.

Annunciation, Nvoman Darsane

Annunciation, Nvoman Darsane

Rejoice, Daughter Zion! Shout, Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem.

The Lord has removed your judgment;
he has turned away your enemy.
The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;
you will no longer fear evil.
On that day, it will be said to Jerusalem:
Don’t fear, Zion.
Don’t let your hands fall.
The Lord your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory.
He will create calm with his love;
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:14-18 (CEB)

Adapted from my book, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Chapter 38