Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —

This poem from Emily Dickinson makes me smile every time I read it. My comments follow.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

c. 1860

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

From about 1860 until her death in 1886, Emily lived as a recluse, writing and serving as a caretaker for her family and servants. She left her family’s house only rarely. Today’s poem comes near the beginning of this prolific period of her life.

Imagine Emily looking around, seeing and hearing life in a great outdoor Orchard Dome. Perhaps leafy branches overhead? Like a cathedral dome, this one echoes with music–birdsong, a bell tolling and a soloist. And then there’s that noted Clergyman God, whose sermons are never long. Emily doesn’t need special Sunday clothes. She just dons her Wings and joins the chorus! Is she an angel? I doubt it. I think she’s probably a little bird. Perhaps the Bobolink?

The contrast is clear. Unlike others who keep the Sabbath by going to Church, Emily keeps it by staying at Home. Is this by choice, or due to the circumstances of her life? Probably by choice, temperament and the circumstances of her life.

In any case, Emily isn’t explaining or defending herself. Instead, she imagines a great advantage in her situation. She also suggests there’s more to Sabbath than meets the eye when we confine it to one day out of seven days. In fact, her situation is far better than the one-day-a-week slow track to Heaven.

Emily isn’t arguing a point of theology. Nor is she explaining why she isn’t showing up in church every Sabbath.

Rather, she celebrates God’s presence in the created world, and the delightful participation of all creatures great and small. As she sees it, she’s going to church daily in God’s outdoor cathedral! A mysterious world of truth that invites her to draw nearer to Heaven. Unlike the slow trackers, she doesn’t have to wait until the end to get to Heaven “at last.” She’s going there every day!

For me, this poem is about more than sunny days and a beautiful orchard. It’s also about more than Emily’s religious practices. I hear an invitation to view every day as a day of rest. A Sabbath. Why? Because Heaven is reaching out, wanting to connect with me every day. Not simply one day a week.

As for my part, I don’t need special clothes. I just don my Wings, retreat to the orchard, listen expectantly for nature’s music, join in when I feel like it, and listen to a short sermon from God. I, too, could be going to Heaven all along — with Emily! Even though I may never leave the house.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 March 2017
Photo found at midewinrestoration.net

A Day! Help! Help!

I think Emily wrote this little gem just for today. Read on. My comments follow.

A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!
Your prayers, oh Passer by!
From such a common ball as this
Might date a Victory!
From marshallings as simple
The flags of nations swang.
Steady – my soul: What issues
Upon thine arrow hang!

c. 1858

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Emily Dickinson wrote this poem in the years leading up to the Civil War (April 12, 1861-May 9, 1865). I can’t help making a connection to what’s happening now in our country.

The short poem grabs my attention. There’s no such thing as an ordinary day. Like an arrow poised to fly through the air, each day arrives full of potential for Victory. Which I take to be a Victory for good. The good of all who dwell on ‘such a common ball as this.’

Common ball, you say? Doesn’t that mean a formal occasion focused on gorgeous apparel and elegant dancing? The kind of show that delineates the rich from the poor, the ins from the outs, the titled from the untitled?

Perhaps, but I can’t help noticing these are the years leading up to the Civil War, also known as the War Between the States. Or the North against the South, or vice versa.

And so I vote for the ball being this terrestrial ball. The planet on which we live. Or even better, this great dance of life to which all are both invited and entitled. A dance choreographed by our Creator, the true Host of the Party.

For me, the question is simple: Will I participate as a full partner? Or will I be relegated to the kitchen, the stables, the dungeon, or any other situation that keeps me in ‘my place.’

“Your prayers, oh Passer by!” Will each and all of us win together? Or will business return to business as usual?

I pray your day might be dated a Victory that bodes good for us all. No matter how insignificant your Victory seems to you.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 March 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Ordinary

Racial History and Denial

It began with conversation on a call-in National Public Radio show, “Indivisible Radio.” The topic was racism and protest. The conversation explored public protests. Why protest? Does it matter? Aren’t there so many protests now that it’s just a fad, if not a huge cacophony of meaningless sound?

One caller, a younger African American, described his personal commitment to ongoing protest. It was his way of life. His occupation. Though he didn’t give his age, he was part of the younger generation of black men whose lives are in danger every day.

The topic turned to the effectiveness of these protests. When you protest, what are you trying to accomplish? Do you think you can bring about change in the system or in the people on the other side of the protest?

He thought for a few seconds and then responded. “I don’t know if I can change them. I don’t want them to change me!”

He further explained that protest is his way of holding a moral position on behalf of change—for the longterm. If he became ‘one of them,’ they would win, and the long-term prospects for change would diminish. For the next generations, not for himself.

There’s much truth in this man’s wisdom. In my observation, most protests are attempts to change or control someone or something. Or they’re expressions of fear.

So what does this have to do with symptoms, much less racial history and denial?

Clearly, the proliferation of protest in the USA is a symptom of something. Or of many ‘somethings.’ For me, given the current state of our disunion in the USA, I believe it’s at least a symptom of denial.

We aren’t just in denial about what’s happening to our country, neighborhoods and presidency today. We’re in denial of our history as a nation.

History comes home to roost, especially when denied. Of many strands in our national history, I believe denial of our racial history is biting us, hobbling us in ways we don’t understand, putting it in our faces, doing whatever it can to get our attention. Individually and collectively.

We ignore it to our peril. This symptom isn’t going away. It cannot be dealt with quietly or in secret.

So I’ll be posting my thoughts on this from time to time, whether the WordPress Daily Prompt gives me a way in or not!

Thanks for listening and thinking about this with me. Especially if you care about our future as a nation among nations.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2017
Cartoon found at quotesgram.com
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Symptom

my heart skips a beat

my heart skips a beat
poised atop blossoming stems
ready to take flight
anticipation quickens
for this I was created

***

Turning words loose to go where they will
Clear about my identity and to Whom I owe my life
Introverted and grateful for it
Highly sensitive to winds of change
Sailing updrafts and downdrafts
Gliding and plunging
through the inexplicable logic of this universe
known only to my Creator
Taking an uncharted ride to places unknown
Giving wings to words

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 March 2017
Photo credit: DAFraser, April 2015
Longwood Meadow Garden, PA
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Acceptance

subtle changes

subtle changes in color and texture
create a minimalist feast for spring-starved eyes

***

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 March 2017
“WU Blossoms” taken by WurzelDave in Somerset, UK
Posted on the WeatherUnderground App in February 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Minimal

Crazy Happy Lady

For several weeks I’ve been thinking about end of life issues, wondering what my daily ‘plan’ is for getting from here to there. How will I order my life each day? I don’t own the time my Creator has entrusted to me. So how will I invest it?

Whatever chaos is, it’s the way I’ve experienced most of my life. A chaos of competing priorities, demands, expectations (yours and mine), rules and regulations, political realities….

I’ve spent years trying to get through and beyond chaos. Yet here’s what happened this past weekend.

From my journal:

It’s 3:30pm, Saturday afternoon. I’m not exercising in the house, not cleaning up the kitchen, not vacuuming, not playing music, not reading a book, not writing a poem, not going through files and piles, or anything else except this—showing up and writing this journal entry.

How I feel right now: weary, unmotivated, discouraged, somber….terrible. Wasting time. Trying to practice centering prayer yet falling asleep. Watching time slip away.

Do I enjoy this? I don’t think so, but sometimes I wonder. Perhaps this is more enjoyable to me than changing my habits.

…My most lethal enemy seems to be lethargy. A kind of glue that keeps me from having an active agenda of things I love to do.

My mind goes through tricks like these:

  • If I read a novel, I’m wasting time. If I play the piano, I’m wasting time. Can’t I see how much work needs to be done in the kitchen, the house, the attic, my office?
  • If I walk in the house or ride on my recumbent bike or bounce on the rebounder, it isn’t ‘real’ exercise—so why bother?

There’s a crazy logic here—if I do this, I won’t be able to do that. (Or it won’t count anyway.)

And then there are all those other good things I’m not doing that haunt me—

  • Sending notes and cards to friends who need encouragement
  • Vacuuming the house
  • Cleaning the curtains and windows
  • Weeding out unneeded kitchen utensils
  • Taking things to the Salvation Army or some other charity

Like I said in my last entry, I don’t have a plan for organizing my life. It seems all I do is make sure my food needs are met, wash laundry when absolutely necessary, rest and sleep enough, and do other maintenance work that demands my attention.

Later that same day (Saturday evening now), I was back to my journal. Here’s what finally broke through the chaos and lethargy and made me crazy happy.

From my evening journal:

The best part of today: posting this morning and getting tomorrow’s post ready to go. I can’t begin to express how important blogging has become for my growth and enjoyment. I’d even put it on the same level as walking out of doors. Even ahead of playing the piano…and reading.

Which led to my Crazy Happy Lady List of Priorities – things that top my list of things I love to do just for myself.

  1. Writing – if not for my blog, in my journal
  2. Walking – outside if possible, with no agenda but enjoying nature
  3. Music – playing the piano or listening to music I love
  4. Reading – poetry, novels, books that help me navigate my life
  5. Meditating — wherever I am, day and night

As for other activities,

  • As little as possible
  • As efficiently as possible
  • On an as-needed basis

Thanks for listening, and Happy Spring!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 March 2017
Elegant Photo of Woman Writer found at salon.com
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Label

Strange Visitors


Unplanned events
Crash into my life
Force change and create confusion

Chaos
Leers at me
Foils attempts to ‘sort things out’

Indecision
Haunts my behavior
Especially on days without sunshine

Lethargy
Creeps from head to toe
Lulls me into dreary gray oblivion

Dare I welcome
These strangers in
For tea and conversation?

I fight the urge
To show them the door
As though they didn’t exist

I want them to disappear
Like the unrealities
I want them to be

***

As a girl child I was instructed at home, in school and in church to avoid or get rid of all things negative. That included lying, cheating, pouting, complaining to my parents or fighting with my sisters.

Though this was supposed to make me good and happy, this negative approach seemed to border on magical thinking.

Avoid this or stop doing that, and you’ll win the Good Girl Lottery! It might not always be fun right now, but it will be spectacular later on—especially after you die and wake up in heaven.

And yet, with all that goodness drummed into me, I wasn’t protected then or now from difficult situations. Instead, my upbringing instilled voices and unhelpful habits that drive my behavior more than I like to admit. They kept me from exploring and celebrating my voice, and the woman I was becoming then and now.

I’m just beginning to recognize the way these drivers work in me, and let them go. They’re named in the litany I wrote about here:

  • My desire for security and survival
  • My desire for esteem and affection
  • My desire for power and control
  • My desire to change the situation

Saying I’m letting go is relatively easy. Living it out is difficult. It’s difficult to let go of what I’m not willing to understand. I want to welcome these desires as the realities they are, capable of supporting life or of putting it at risk. I don’t want to slam the door in their faces. They might be my best coaches—or at least helpful visitors I dare not silence or ignore.

So how do I welcome these strangers and listen to them? How and why did they become powerful and controlling in me? Who put their insistent, insinuating voices in me, and why? And how does this affect my responses to unplanned events, chaos, indecision and lethargy?

More fodder for self-reflection during and beyond this Lent season. Thanks for reading!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 March 2017
Photo found at islamforchristians.com

bleak building revisited

Who would have guessed this photo and my haiku would lead to bigtime self-reflection? For those who missed it, here’s the haiku–a comment on the photo above.

massive bleak building
harbors untold histories –
I quicken my pace

From the day I laid eyes on the photo, it freaked me out. I didn’t want to look at it; yet I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

It wasn’t just the building’s condition, it was its size. Looking at it, I felt small and helpless, as though I’d wandered into a nightmare that was closing in on me.

Yet the more I looked at the building, the less afraid I was. I noticed renovations on the adjoining building, clotheslines, and a carpet hanging over the balcony rail. Also how close neighbors were to each other.

When I wrote the last line of the haiku I wasn’t sure what I meant. Was I speeding up to get past the building, or was I quickening my pace to get closer? Perhaps to discover clues about the families who lived there, and what happened to bring about massive abandonment of these apartments.

I don’t have answers to any of that. Nor do I know in what city or country this bleak building stands. I do, however, know I’m drawn to it, especially at this time of my life.

These days I’m thinking about end of life issues. Not because I have a terminal disease, but because I’m terminal as the woman I now am. Figuratively as well as literally.

I don’t want to keep mopping up the now defunct quarters passed on to me by my parents and their parents. Especially quarters that served to reinforce ways I was shamed and blamed a thousand times over.

No way.

Yet some of this is still housed in my female body, soul and emotions. No, it doesn’t torment me now the way it did in the past. It does, however, come back to haunt me from time to time. Seeping up through the cracks. A looming presence that erupts when I freak out—as I fall over the cliff yet again into panic, anxiety, and the urge to fight back against anyone and everything.

I’ve spent years identifying and letting go of pieces of my past and my desire to change it. It’s been a life-changing reclamation project. A project that began in my childhood, despite what was beaten into me in a misguided effort to beat things out of me.

What would it be like to live as though that never happened? I’ll never know. Not in this life.

I do, however, know there were and are things no one can ever beat out of me. Things I love. Things that make me happy. Things that bring me joy and peace. Things that connect me to my Creator and to my family and neighbors. Things no one can beat out of me no matter how diligently or brutally they try.

I also know there are gems in that old building. They’re waiting for me to discover and own them. Treasures I don’t yet know belong to me. Parts of life envisioned for me by my Creator who knows and longs to give me my true name.

So yes, I’m quickening my pace as I move forward into unexplored territory and beyond.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 March 2017
Photo found at pixabay.com
WordPress Daily Prompt: Massive

bleak building

massive bleak building
harbors untold histories –
I quicken my pace

***

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 March 2017
Photo found at pixabay.com
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Massive

Upside down and inside out

The glories of being intuitive do not include being correct. As I’ve noted before, intuition is as flawed as any other remarkable gift. My intuition is prone to wander, prone to read things wrong, prone to finding a way to make it all work out so I’m still on the ‘right’ side of things.

I didn’t choose this. It’s how I survived childhood and youth as the first-born daughter of a clergyman who believed he was right and I was wrong.

My instincts back then were correct: I was NOT always wrong. Not that I could do much about it back then except pray for the day when I would be an Adult Woman. An Independent Agent living by her own instincts, not yours or anyone else’s. And, of course, with God’s blessing.

I had no idea what it would mean to live according to instincts and intuitions shaped by years of resistance to homegrown and social trauma. Even so, I was often on target, especially when I was dealing with other people and their situations.

Going through old notes from 1994, I recently discovered a small phrase I used in a forum. The phrase is simple: ‘upside down and inside out.’

The notes referred to Karl Barth, German theologian of the mid-20th century. He wrote and taught during Hitler’s reign, the Holocaust, and in the aftermath of World War II. Plenty of trauma going on there, don’t you think?

In the 1980s, when I was a graduate student, Barth invited me to turn my mind ‘upside down and inside out.’ Not to play tricks on reality, but to discover a different way of discovering and naming truth.

He argued that because of human confusion in and around us, we cannot trust our instincts. His theology is a grand effort to show how this works—turning our minds upside down and inside out. So that what we call good or even ‘normal’ is not necessarily that.

So today I’m back to thinking about my instincts. Instincts honed and shaped by what we now call childhood PTSD.

Back then it was all about survival. Getting through without falling apart (even though I fell apart regularly, especially on the inside). I dreamed of arriving at the magic moment when I could live without threat of imminent punishment or humiliation.

I left home at 16 years of age to go to college, never dreaming what my lifetime learning agenda would be. Especially about myself and my instincts. I thought thriving meant living on my own, having a job and maybe even a boyfriend.

Yet thriving isn’t about having a life or even letting go of things programmed into me as a child. It’s about welcoming, affirming and living as the woman I already am.

Put another way, it’s about living on the other side of letting go. I want to name and own what I love about myself and about life. I welcome this opportunity to turn my let-go thoughts and feelings upside down and inside out. I have much to put to rest, and much to bring back to life. Just like those beautifully upside down, inside out flowers and plants in the artwork above.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 March 2017
Lovely artwork found at akiane.com

Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Instinct

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