Tag Archives: Mary

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.

_____________

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

Read Latest Issue of Holy Ground Here

holy-ground-autumn-2016

insert-autumn-2016

 

Sighs Too Deep – On mute

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
                                                                               Romans 8:26

You have to get past the miraculous son of Zechariah to get inside. The tall, gaunt figure looks down on you from his hollow eyes as you enter  St. John’s Abbey Church. Lean, muscular, and Spirit-haunted, the Baptizer brandishes a cross and is scary as all get out. He gestures with a gnarled hand toward the Baptismal Font.

John Baptist 4

If you think you are coming in here, wash up first. Repent!
Go under the flood. Die before die.

The old priest, John’s father, did not believe the angel who showed up when Zechariah entered the Holy of Holies to burn the incense. The lot had fallen to him to step into the place so sacred that one might easily be consumed by the Furnace of Love. Gabriel’s wings fanned the smoke. His voice penetrated the old man’s mind, that rickety cupboard, where he kept jars of truth, possibility, impossibility,  reason, and a near empty cruse of hope.

“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

His barren, wizened, Elizabeth have a child? The priest quibbled, doubted, split hairs, as those trained  as religious professionals often do.

So Gabriel tied his tongue to the floor of his mouth and sewed his lips shut. This fellow could not be trusted with the truth of God. Hard to say how he might mess up the whole plan of salvation.

Messengers from God often do this to the people they visit. They press the mute button and enforce silence for a while.

Six months after Elizabeth conceives, Gabriel makes an announcement even more incredible to Mary. She asks one question, then tells Gabriel okay, whatever you say. I am God’s servant. Pondering the angel’s words, she holds her tongue, and departs to speak with her old cousin, Elizabeth. Joseph is left to get the news on his own through a dream.  Mary remains with her cousin for three months in the hill country of Judah.

Advent invites us to withdraw and close the door on distractions and doubts. Will you allow yourself to be bound by silence? This ability to tie up all the strife, hunger, gossip, and turbulence, and keep one’s mouth shut is required of servants of God. One needs to allow ideas, projects, and seeds of new growth incubate and ripen. Talk may dissipate the necessary accumulation of energy and unconscious incubation to bring actions to maturity and achieve God’s fullest purpose and intent for our lives and work.

One must be discerning about to whom and when to speak of the visions we see, the words we hear, and what grows within us in order to protect both ourselves and the promise within us from exposure to threats to its development.

Do you have a bright idea or a promise developing with you?
Don’t  prematurely tweet your transformation.

There will be plenty of time to raise a ruckus after the truth gets out, as old Zechariah soon found, when the Holy Spirit opened his mouth and he burst into song for his son:

… and you, child, will be called the prophet
of the Most High;
for you go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God,
when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet in the way of peace. Luke 1: 67-79

John Baptist 5

 

 

 

The most beautiful thing a person can say about God would be for that person to remain silent from the wisdom of an inner wealth. So, be silent and quit flapping your gums about God.

– Meister Eckhart (1260-1329) translation by Matthew Fox.

 

Mary Full of Grace

annunciationlily

Hail Mary full of grace,
blessed art thou among women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now
and at the hour of our death.
Amen

As I made my way through congested traffic to finish up my shopping, this prayer started up, unbidden, inside of me. The Hail Mary or Ave Maria is one of the prayers and scriptures on my inner playlist.  In odd moments I become conscious of it. For a moment I am lifted out of my self- preoccupation to discover myself occupied by the Spirit praying within.

I have always loved this prayer. The first two lines are the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary as found in Luke 1: 28-30. I recall memorizing it, as I walked along the sidewalk of the campus at the University of Northern Iowa in 1966.

This entreaty to Mary as Mother of God is for some Protestants a “Catholic accretion” and considered unbiblical and theologically unsound. Some will say that we do not need Mary’s intercession, when we can go directly to God on our own. Such views ignore the power and influence of mothers throughout the Bible, as well as their privileged status before God as persons of God’s particular compassion and love.

The scriptures contain numerous images of God as feminine. The Hebrew word for Holy Spirit in Genesis is a feminine noun. My Hebrew teacher liked to translate Genesis 1: 1 in this way:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void, and as for the Spirit of God, she was moving over the waters.

Of course, God is much more than what we may consider as feminine or masculine attributes. God is beyond gender. Yet Christians believe that two thousand years ago God came into our midst for a time dressed as one of us with gender. God condescended to enter into our cultural biases, racism, sexism, bigotry, and sin to bring truth and freedom and radically change the world. If the form God chose had been a woman’s, would the outcome have been the same? Given the culture then I doubt if a woman would have ever received the same attention or regard. Instead God chooses a woman to enable God to become one of us.

No matter how hard some scholars may have tried to stamp them out, the feminine dimensions of divinity in whose image both men and women have been created make their way into our consciousness in one form or another and seek expression in our faith and worship.

Personally, I like the notion of God having and/or being a mom, a generating source. I know it makes no sense for some, but  the image of God as a fecund nurturing womb, engaged in creative, life-bearing activity, a Spirit “brooding” over the waters like a hen expands and heals  my soul. Acknowledging the feminine in God is an important balance to patriarchal images and wholly masculine notions of Holiness, which leave many women feeling excluded, and have been used as a rationale for the disregard and abuse of women for centuries.

469px-Wga_Pompeo_Batoni_Madonna_and_Child

We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace?  ~Meister Eckhart

I learned the Hail Mary prayer in college, when I converted to Catholicism. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was looking for feminine imagery and feminine gifts in the expression of my faith, which were largely absent from the rational Presbyterian worship of my childhood. I was Catholic most of my young adult life and found there opportunities to worship with more than my mind and my voice. Incense, kneeling, bowing, colorful statues, many of which were women, saints, guardian angels, rosaries, a veil perched on my head, a small prayer book to carry –  all allowed the imagination and passion of my yearning heart to find expression. I am very grateful for the gifts of the Catholic church.

Yes, my Anabaptist and Quaker ancestors were probably turning over in their graves. Yes, it was patriarchic. The singing wasn’t the best and Biblical study nonexistent, but I arrived with plenty of that preparation. To find a woman, no matter how sentimental and passive she may have been depicted, prominently figuring in worship allowed me to feel that this was a place, where I belonged.

_________________________________

So out shopping, I pondered Mary being full of grace. What does it mean to contain nothing, but grace in one’s being? The people I encountered seemed full of many things instead of grace – anxiety, impatience, and weariness. There were some exceptions, like the insurance salesman who works on weekends at Orscheln’s, paying off medical bills and some credit card debt. He had a lot of grace inside himself. Some of it spilled out on the receipt he handed to me, and I have carried it in my purse all week.

Mary is full of grace, because her womb is full of Christ, who offers grace to all. Parking in front of Best Buy, I decided to take a look at what in me might be crowding out the grace of God.

Here is what I found:

  • That deep wound I get out sometimes and pick at
  • The steady current of mindless, slightly hysterical, anxiety which makes me critical, paranoid, and assume things about people which are not true
  • The nagging expectation of catastrophe that hides under perfectionism
  • A to-do list telling me I am way behind, lazy, and going to be counted tardy
  • Insecurity and self-doubt preaching that I am getting too old and that my writing sucks

What in you is not graceful, kind, forgiving, loving? How do you delete these freeloaders from your inner playlist?

Not by being mean and harsh.  I think we need to handle the negatives in ourselves gently with kindness, mercy and forgiveness. Love the little boogers. Say, “Hello, To-Do list! Come here. It looks like you need a hug.”

Here’s the secret. It takes grace to be full of grace. The way to make room for grace in our lives is by being graceful to ourselves first. Then grace naturally flows from us to others. To forgive others we must forgive ourselves.

What would it be like for you to be full of grace – stuffed to the gills with mercy and forgiveness?  Why not try it? Pretend! Imagine you are full of grace.  We  cannot achieve what we cannot concieve. So conceive grace, see yourself full of grace. Got it pictured? Feel it in your body? Let it it soak up and soothe all the ungraceful parts of yourself.

Next perform some task , errand, or if you are really brave, spend a whole day committed to being full of grace. See what happens. What do you notice and learn about yourself and grace?

So little grace is present in our national discussions and relationships with one another. We hold grudges, harbor resentments, and take a perverse delight in the missteps, failures, and sins of one another.

In an NPR interview Rabbi Shaul Praver, who spoke at the anniversary observance of the school shootings at Sandy HookElementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, offered these words:

We have found the cure for the social disease of violence, hatred, and bigotry, and that cure is good old-fashioned loving kindness. When everyone practices that, it does change the atmosphere of a room, of a town, or a community, of a state and a country. And so, it is not of only local value, but it is of universal value.   Newtown Rabbi Offers A Cure For Hatred : NPR

Grace – unmerited, undeserved, unearned. The hope, the first budding of such loving kindness is growing in Mary’s womb.

 Holy Mary, Mother of God, may it be so for all us sinners. Amen.

marymotherofgod

 Learn more about the Hail Mary prayer

Dear Praying Life readers,

Thank you so much for your support. Your donations and subscriptions to Holy Ground – Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life help make this blog possible. Please consider subscribing to Holy Ground and making a donation today here.

May your Christmas be full of grace, as my heart is full of gratitude for each of you!

Holding you in the womb of God’s love,

                                         Loretta F. Ross

Faith and Fear

A two part series on giving birth
to redemption in your time and place.

Part One – Mary and Cousin Carl

A-annuncia_Fra_Angelico

Most every epiphany or showing of God in scriptures is met with fear. When the angel Gabriel comes to Mary saying,  “Rejoice, O highly favored one. The Lord is with you,” Mary does not break out in ecstatic bliss. Instead she is greatly troubled at the saying. As Luke tells it, she considers in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And well she might. It was probably not the first time some itinerant ladies’ man claiming to be an angel had come on to her.

The angels in the Bible get some of the worst lines. They are hard to pull off with any authenticity. Enter one angel Gabriel with a flourish of wings and heavenly splendor who must make believable both his incredible presence and the words: “Rejoice, O favored one.”  Smile, God loves you. This is your lucky day! Any virgin with an ounce of sense might consider in her mind, “Right sweetie. Have I ever heard that one before.”

The immensity of the heavens is about to invade Mary in a mysterious and awesome conception that will defy rational explanation and accomplish an incarnation that ushers in the redemption of the world. Yet before Christ is born, Mary must face her fear and make a choice. And so it is with us. When God’s cheery messenger meets us with the news that we will conceive and bring forth the fruit of salvation, fear rather than joy is likely to be our first response.

A-Annunciation_da_MessinaMessengers sent by God to announce God’s saving love often wear camouflage. They have a hundred disguises. Can we trust that they are who they say they are? This seed of hope they want to place within us, dare we believe it, receive it? What if we are mistaken and this is all a dream or a product of our own egotistical imaginations? What arrogance makes you think you can bear sacred saving gifts into the world? This is no angel, but Cousin Carl dressed up in Aunt Edith’s chenille bathrobe with some tinfoil wings and a halo made out of a pie pan!

In real life angels rarely look like the ones in paintings. And yet, does it matter if the angel really is Cousin Carl? To me, what matters is that we believe that holiness and salvation are afoot, whatever ridiculous disguises they wear.

Prior to the advent of God’s redeeming love in our lives and world comes a courageous act of faith. The birth of Christ is contingent on the belief of a young girl with an imagination creative enough to envision the impossible and a sense of her worth strong enough to defy fear and anxiety. She places her whole being in jeopardy as she lays out her life and all that she holds dear on the gamble that there is a God in the heaven who might have some business to do with her.

We are to rely on faith rather than evidence, Ian Matthews writes in his interpretation of St. John of the Cross. Yet, here’s the kicker: the danger St. John warns of “is not so much that we shall trust in the wrong thing, but that we shall stop trusting at all; that, while we may never say it in so many words, we shall cease to believe that we are factor in God’s life.”

Matthews continues:
Survival demands a certain skepticism. We are trained to cope as social beings by keeping our desires within realistic limits. But where God is concerned, the problem lies in our desiring too little, and growing means expanding our expectations; or rather, making [God’s] generosity, not our poverty, the measure of our expectations.  – Ian Matthews, The Impact of God – Soundings from St. John of the Cross

Mary, sizing up her heavenly visitor, is moving from the rather safe place of conventional norms into a new realm where few of the old rules will make much sense. No one else can judge for her the validity of that grinning angel holding out joy like Aunt Edith’s peanut brittle. Should she take a bite? She hasn’t forgotten that incident in the garden with the serpent. What is truth? How can she be sure this is an invitation from God?

There are no books she can read, no wise men and women she can consult. She alone must determine and act on her own truth. How will Joseph or her village ever believe what is happening to her? Yet what others will think is not her ultimate concern. Her concern is obedience to the living God, to hope, to the possibility of wonder that lies beyond what the eye can see.

Joseph and the others must come to their own conclusions. They, along with the rest of us, are given that freedom. In W. H. Auden’s poem, “For the Time Being”, Joseph says to Gabriel:

All I ask is one important and elegant proof
That what my Love had done
Was really at your will
And that your will is Love.
Gabriel responds:
No, you must believe;
Be silent and sit still.

Weighing the odds, Mary asks one question, “How shall this be since I have no husband?”

“No problem,” guarantees the angel. And citing the case of barren Elizabeth, he assures her that with God nothing is impossible. Mary’s question raises a far from minor point. The participation of a male is a basic ingredient for conception. When God sends a divine messenger to us announcing that we have been chosen to bring forth some saving work, it may appear that some major components for success have been omitted. How shall this be since I have no money? Since I have no work? Since I have no education?

“No worry, it’ll be a cinch,” says Cousin Carl, snapping his fingers. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”

Finally it is up to Mary. The redemption of the cosmos is resting on the consent, the free choice of this mortal woman to have faith, to believe that what she is experiencing is true, and to claim and live out her experience of that truth by conceiving the fruit of salvation.

What will be your answer to Cousin Carl?

 

A_Annunciation_Collier

_______________________

 To be continued ~ watch for part two of this two part series. Will Mary say yes?  And what’s faith got to do with it?

This post is adapted from my book, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Chapter 38

The Closing

A life time is like a flash of lightening in the sky
rushing by like a torrent down the steep mountain.  Gautama Buddha

It is done.
The message glowed in my palm.
The screen went dark.
The home full of light and memory
had passed neatly out of our hands.

Half a day’s drive north
we rose with the birds
to wash our faces
walk to our cushions
sit in stillness
as the sun came up.

Occupied with the throb
and slosh
of humans being,
minds alert
to the swell and surge
of experience,

we did not gulp or grasp,
but lifted our forks slowly
to savor what was on our plate.

Carrying our cups attentively
like offerings of fragrant brew
we got insights
we got bored
our necks ached
our necks really ached
our legs cramped
our minds sank.

Fur grew in our brains.
A cat named Torpor climbed up our bodies,
stretched herself across our shoulders, purring.

We stepped carefully along the drive,
the wooded path, the lawn.
When the bell startled
the still air and the finches flew,
we returned to sit
and then to walk
and sit again.

Up against our limits for the taste of God,
we picked up our hand held devices
just to check the time
and well, maybe, any messages
and then like hopeless junkies
shot up
with the news.

And, Lord, like Peter, (say it)
we slept.
We could not stay awake one hour
to watch our own suffering
let alone yours.

And the tall ones,
full of grace, like some exotic species,
came and moved among us.
We tried not to grasp
their beauty with our eyes
or covet their youth.

When they left too soon,
we, shoulders shaking, sobbed,
Oh no. Oh no.
Oh please don’t go.

But they with other roads
to travel and business
of their own stepped easy
over the threshold, saying

Let go. Let go.

And Mary said,
They have taken away my Lord,
and I do not know where they have laid him.

And the angel said, He is not here. He is risen.

And Jesus said,  Don’t
cling to me.

And raccoon, rotund and tight with bloat,
lay on the side of the road
and said,  See my insides are turned out.

And Coyote
trotting briskly across the clearing in bright midday
paused to look behind his shoulder
then disappeared into the woods.

A thick snake of ancient sorrow
rose up in us from miles below the surface
twisted, heaved us double with its force.
A wind whistling loneliness
whined and keened through all the spaces
in our bones.

every
thing
is going
back
and forth
across
a threshold

coming into existence
and going out of existence

while the dying rising one stands ever
on the brink
offering
a torn fragment of what is so

lost opportunities
things we have done we cannot change
our loved ones whose graves we want to tend

 we gaze at the ragged piece of our existence
resting in his tattered palm

Jesus, how will this ever be enough
to satisfy our hunger,
or slake this sorrow?

 Take. Eat, he says.
Be healed of thy affliction.

Thou, who gives and bears away,
grant us mercy
to take each moment
to our lips
and drink the cup you give
bitter,  sweet.

Give us,
O Sentry at the terminal,
where all things come and go,
the appetite and wit
to swallow and digest
entirely
what is so.

________

You sweep people away like dreams that disappear. They are like grass that springs up in the morning. In the morning it blooms and flourishes, but by evening it is dry and withered. Psalm 90: 3-6 New Living Translation

This existence of ours is a transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A life time is like a flash of lightening in the sky rushing by like a torrent down the steep mountain.  Gautama Buddha

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid. John 14:27

When Hope Fails – Redux

Hope is what gets a lot of people through the Christmas season. And the failure of hope is what leaves some souls shipwrecked on the treacherous rocks of the sin and imperfection of this world.

What is it for you this year? Death of a loved one? Spouse in Afghanistan? Unemployed? House foreclosed? Cancer?

Hope is the presentiment that the imagination is more real, and reality less real, than we had thought. It is the sensation that the last word does not belong to the brutality of facts with their oppression and repression.  It is the suspicion that reality is far more complex than realism would have us believe, that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the present, and that miraculously and surprisingly, life is readying the creative event that will open the way to freedom and resurrection.           Rubem Alves
 

She was fourteen. She sat next to me as we drove home after the Christmas Eve service. Lights sparkled from distant homes across the snow-covered fields. Shattered with pain and trying not to show it, I tried to focus on driving. After a while she spoke out of the darkness, “Mom, things aren’t ever going to be the same, are they?”

That year, our family had been struck by a blow from which we would never fully recover. In spite of  brave efforts, prayer, and sacrifice we could not put back together what was broken and, perhaps, fatally flawed.

During that season of suffering, hope became nearly eclipsed by fear, anger, shame, and pain. Each evening I turned briefly from my grief in defiance of “the brutality of facts with their oppression and repression,” and lit a candle for hope. Even though I felt no hope, I let the candle hold my hope for hope.

In those days I clung to the verse of scripture the minister preached at our wedding. Remember thy word to thy servant in which thou hast made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that thy word gives me life. Psalm 119: 49-50

What an odd text for a wedding, you may think. Yet as the years unfolded it became more and more meaningful. I prayed it, holding God accountable to the goodness promised to me in scripture and whispered to my soul. God’s promise of joy, peace, and love comforted me and gave me the ability to keep breathing in my affliction.

Carmelite writer Constance Fitzgerald writes about the movement in our spiritual journey from “naïve hope to theological hope.”

Through experiences of loss and suffering, naïve hope in a Santa Claus god and other illusions nurtured by our egos and culture give way to a different, richer kind of hope.

We let go of placing our hope in our own efforts, our own goodness, our own “luck” or worthiness. We let go of our “right” to ourselves and our way. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say, we numbly watch our way wrenched from our grasp. We face our helplessness and the truth that we are not in control. Hope in oneself and one’s little plans and projects dies on the cross of our life experience.

It is there in that stillness of a drive back home on the worst Christmas Eve in one’s life, while a child’s heartbreaking question hangs in the air, that hope in God is born.

You may miss it at first, especially if the pain is choking you.
But refuse to let the last word be the brutality of facts.
Go ahead and light that tiny candle.
Defy the darkness.
And pay attention.
A baby is on its way.
Something fragile and new and unimaginably sweet
is making its way into your consciousness.

I tell my daughter, “Yes, honey, things will not be the same. But I believe somehow or other, things will be all right.”

And they were.


Special thanks to artist Anne Emmons for her permission to use “Hope” in this blog. You can reach Anne at anneemmons_8@msn.com or on Facebook.

Here is Anne’s story about this painting:  I was trying to think of one moment in the Biblical narrative which captures the theme of hope.  Each year I have made a new image for Christmas since 1997, and in 2000, I was struck by the idea of hope as the source of light. The images in this series reflect the thought that Christ came, the Light of the world, into darkness. So I was thinking about one single moment in the story and I realized the moment Mary heard the announcement from the Archangel Gabriel must be the moment hope found a form, in her face. At the time, my daughter was almost 14, the estimated age of the Virgin Mary, and I suddenly connected with the story in a particular way. I kept her home from school that morning to have her sit for the painting. What struck me, and this has since been confirmed from other sources, most recently Anthony Bloom’s book, Beginning to Pray, was that the Incarnation was possible only through God’s will in union with the “yes” of the young Mary, who became the bearer of the Uncontainable God. Just after I painted this I saw the Pontormo Annuciation in a small side chapel in Florence, and Mary had the same sort of look of wonder I tried to catch.  Now my daughter Claire has a two year old son, Theodore. She is a single mother who said yes to the birth of this child, whose name she chose, not knowing it means “gift of God.”

This is a previously published post (December 2009)  with some light editing.

The Virgin Daughter of Jerusalem

A virgin is someone who is free of all false images and is detached
toward God’s dearest wish and ready to fulfill it unceasingly, as was Jesus.  Meister Eckhart

 

 My small daughter, playing with the holy family in the wooden stable sings her lullaby: Round yon urgent mother and child, holy infant so tender and wild.

 This mother, more urgent than virgin, smiles: Yes, Holy Infant tender and wild, you are so wild, so undomesticated, so radically other than anything known and familiar. No matter how hard we coax, you will not eat out of our hands, but remain out in the timber hidden in the brush. We set out bait, offerings on the snow. Cowboy theologians toss ropes into the forest and lasso decoys.  And roughrider ecclesiastics try to corral you in sedate doctrines.          

_______________

The virgin daughter of Jerusalem sings at the gate. In the dark we lay a trail of bread crumbs to our door. We wait, stilled, hushed. Come,  Lord Jesus.

But who can stand when you appear? The earth shudders, mountains topple, creatures shiver with fear. Shots ring out in the forest. Innocence awakens and moves toward us and the rough hand grasps for its lost treasure.

The virgin daughter of Jerusalem stands on the path and suddenly she is falling, falling into the blue sea into the wide sky, falling through pain and fear and despair, falling faster and faster, picking up speed, plummeting like a stone, falling through a tunnel formed at the intersection of the cross hairs in the telescopic sight aimed at redemption where opposites meet and all things come together.

She is whizzing down the tunnel like a child’s slide, sleek and silent, silver in the sun, falling free. And the kingdom does not suffer violence, and she is not taken by force and the two, who have been made for each other, delight to have found ground holy enough to hold each other’s purity, ground strong enough to bear each other’s pain. And in her joy she funnels greatness from the wideness of her hope down the narrow passage of her being into us.

So now I pray for passionate virgins who have died for love and dwell beyond the clutch and fever of desire. I pray for eccentric virgins who live on the outskirts of propriety and raise geese and talk to trees. I pray for violated virgins and their reconsecration. I pray for virgins who find the courage to reject the lie that eats away their souls and leads them down a winding path of mirages and fun house mirrors that mock Truth.

I pray for virgins who know they are only as holy as they are willing to see how horribly they have been profaned, and how horribly they profane.. . .I pray for revolutionary virgins who despise the shame and take up the suffering for the joy that awaits. I pray for virgins whose land, enclosed by strength, is untouched and guarded by a flaming sword. I pray for virgins, who with unveiled eyes gaze unflinchingly at evil and at God and live to tell the tale. I pray for virgin martyrs who are witnesses with the conviction to believe their own eyes. I pray for chaste, intrepid, impeccable virgins incapable of doubt.

I pray for virgins who apply themselves to prayer until their souls become clear focused lenses, through which we spy enlarged for us the intricate dazzling structures of divinity. And God, hidden in the forest, is magnified by them; and glory sprints across the clearing kicking up a cloud of blessing.

And I pray for a virgin with a heart which dilates. A bold virgin, who when she has grown as big as she can be, when she has come to the outer reaches of her being and all that she thinks and knows and hums to herself, will give up encompassing Plentitude. I pray for a virgin who becomes Emptiness, who will let go of her edges, the taut boundaries that separate this from that, and flinging herself like crumbs in a fragrant trail from what was once her heart to the forest will say: Let it be to me according to your word.

And the shy, tender God takes the bait. And she and holiness are won. And their child tumbles wet and wild into the wounded world to heal us with his stripes.

  

 _______________

Virgin comes from Latin and means literally slender branch, twig or shoot. The original sense of the word is a person who is one in him or herself. Such a person is free from possession and possessiveness and capable of the total giving of self, body as well as soul. The virgin aspect is that which is unpenetrated, unowned by humanity. It does not need to be validated or approved by anyone to know its own innate worth. Virgin carries much of the same intent as the word for holy, which means set apart, the temple. The parthenon (literally the virgin’s place) was the temple to Athena on the acropolis in Athens. In the New Testament virgin is used to depict the host of the redeemed in Revelation and to refer to the community as the bride of Christ. But by far the most frequent use of the word virgin is in the Bible’s figurative description of cities, nations, and communities. We often find virgin daughter as an expression for Jerusalem.

Excerpted from  Letters from the Holy Ground, Chapter 10, “Urgent Mother and Child – Holy Indifference and the Repose of the Virgin,” 39-43.

More about prayer at
www.fromholyground.org

Contact Loretta at
lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary

 Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross