Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Devotional Writing

Gaping Holes

With apologies to
Chinua Achebe—
So quickly
Thing fall apart

Not once
Or twice but
Like broken records
No one wants to hear

Past promises
And dreams teeter
On the brink of
Desolation

Hearts bleed daily
Racing from one scenario
To the next Big Thing
Basking in false glory

Only to fall apart
Helpless to recreate
What can never be
repaired

Nothing but truth
Can fill gaping holes
Born yesterday
Buried today

I highly recommend Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It’s a slow-paced examination of what happened to a community in Nigeria, Africa. It’s still happening today–the takeover of people and systems in order to assuage the insatiable hunger of those at the top.

Easter is also on my mind. Mary Oliver’s poem about The Donkey reminds me that choosing to follow the way of Jesus of Nazareth was and still is no picnic. Apart from the donkey, there weren’t many heroes in the crowds—whether they shouted Hosanna, took delight in seeing this man tortured and lynched, or ran away in fear.

If I were asked about today’s scenario in the USA and the nations of this world, I would admit to very little hope for the world as it is today. Except for this: Every day, somewhere, I know there are people doing what needs to be done. Not for themselves, but for others. It’s a sign that we haven’t been abandoned—if only we can keep our eyes on what’s close at hand. Without running away or giving up hope.

Thank you for your visits! My life has been a bit unsettled recently. I’ve missed posting as often as I would have liked. I have not, however, given up, thanks to the joy I have when I’m able to post something from my heart.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 April 2022
Photo of book cover found at en.wikipedia.org

remember then thy fear | George MacDonald

The sonnet below blows me away. Not because it’s beautiful, but because it’s timely, true, and thought-provoking. Especially now, when we’re surrounded on all sides by friends and strangers haunted by dismay and death. The possibilities are endless: suicide, warfare of all kinds, bombing, Covid, lynching old style or new style, aging….

George MacDonald (1824-1905) dealt with his own incurable tuberculosis, witnessed the early death of six of his children, and was not well received by many church leaders. He also wrote amazing novels such as Lilith, and books for children such as At the Back of the North Wind. Dismay and death were regular visitors in his life.

Here’s MacDonald’s March 24 sonnet from The Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul, also known as The Diary of an Old Soul.

O Christ, have pity on all folk when they come
Unto the border haunted of dismay;
When that they know not draweth very near–
The other thing, the opposite of day.
Formless and ghastly, sick, and gaping-dumb,
Before which even love doth lose its cheer;
O radiant Christ, remember then thy fear.

George MacDonald (1824-1905), author
First published in The Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul
© 1994 Augsburg Press, Diary of an Old Soul
Sonnet for March 24 found on p. 36

The last line of the sonnet says it all. MacDonald is praying on behalf of human beings “haunted of dismay.” They know death has moved too close for comfort. Too close for cheer.

This is what moves me. Instead of asking the “radiant Christ” to restore their cheer, he asks Christ to “remember then thy fear.” In other words, he’s asking Christ to accept and thus honor their fear, anguish, and anger. Including, I would add, MacDonald’s and that of our friends and family, plus our own.

Thanks for visiting, and for remembering friends and neighbors dealing with their own deaths.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 March 2022
Photo found at amazon.com, Kindle

Sometimes…I cannot pray | George MacDonald

The news from Ukraine and neighboring countries is more than grim. No matter who ‘wins’ this obscene standoff, too many have already lost. How, then, am I to pray?

Today I read this sonnet from George MacDonald. His life was full of unwanted tragedy, death, pain, and strife.

Sometimes, hard-trying, it seems I cannot pray–
For doubt, and pain, and anger, and all strife.
Yet some poor half-fledged prayer-bird from the nest
May fall, flit, fly, perch–crouch in the bowery breast
Of the large, nation-healing tree of life;–
Moveless there sit through all the burning day,
And on my heart at night a fresh leaf cooling lay.

From George MacDonald’s Diary of an Old Soul, p. 13
© Augsburg Publishing House (1975) and Augsburg Fortress (1994)

It seems not knowing how to pray isn’t the end of the world. Perhaps it means we’re in touch with reality. And what then?

I hear George MacDonald, whose life was filled with strife, pain, anger and doubt, suggesting it’s OK. I don’t have to know what to say. In fact, not knowing what to say might be the most honest way to approach strife such as he endured, and many are enduring right now in Ukraine and beyond.

In the middle of seeming chaos, do I have the courage of the half-fledged prayer-bird to “sit through the burning day”? Waiting, watching, staying close to the “large, nation-healing tree of life” until this little bird brings a “fresh leaf” to cool my troubled heart?

May our Creator have mercy on us all.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 March 2022
Photo of young fledgling found at birdguides.com

Life on the edge

The world is on edge. Refugees, weather patterns, political maneuverings, pandemic puzzles and outright war.

I hear an invitation to look into the mirror and take stock of where I am in the middle of all this. The church calendar invites me to look inward. It also invites me to ‘give up’ something between the beginning of Lent and the celebration of Easter.

For most of my early life I gave things up routinely. I was taught to live frugally. My family didn’t have much money. In fact, they considered not having much money a virtue, though we were clearly better off than our neighbors living in colored town.

That was then. What about today? We’re in a mess of gigantic proportions. So what am I to give up for Lent that both challenges me, and brings me closer to others living in this world that’s seems to be spinning out of control?

Several years ago I posted a challenging prayer that fit the spirit of Lent. It challenged me as an individual. Not once, but many times. Today, it’s challenging me as a world citizen and follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Am I willing to live as an undocumented refugee? As part of a family broken up by war, lies, and powermongers?

Everything in me wants to rage, fight back, make sure I’m on the ‘right’ side, shout back at the TV news, and run for cover. Instead, this simple prayer invites me to take another approach.

I let go my desire for security and survival.
I let go my desire for esteem and affection.
I let go my desire for power and control.
I let go my desire to change the situation.

Quoted by Cynthia Bourgeault in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, p. 147 (Cowley Publications 2004)

Will this solve everything? Of course not. It will, however, keep me centered. Not on myself, but on Jesus of Nazareth who showed and still shows me how to do this. One day at a time.

It also occurs to me that my life is the only thing I can ‘give away.’ But only if I’m not struggling to keep it and my privileges alive at any cost.

May our Creator have mercy on each and all of us.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 March 2022
Image found at pixabay.com

The world as God’s poem

Several years ago I posted “Emily Dickinson meets Mary Oliver.” A phrase from one of Mary Oliver’s poems had captured my imagination. As she puts it, we owe our dignity to being part of “the poem that God made, and called the world.”

With so much ‘undignified’ death flooding our news media, it’s difficult to hold onto Mary Oliver’s image. I don’t easily hear or see “the poem that God made, and called the world.” It’s easier to picture what’s happening today as a rising tide of undignified and wrongful deaths that should never have happened. Which may also be true.

Here’s my response, first posted in August 2017, and reposted below in light of today’s current events.

No mortal words of poetry will ever do justice to this world, God’s poem.

Nor do we understand ourselves
unless we give up all efforts to capture in our words
the reality of what God created and invited us to inhabit as caretakers.

We can look and point;
We cannot replicate.

Furthermore, no poetic words of ours
will ever improve upon God’s great poem.
Still, as humans we’re at our best when we reflect in our lives
the grandeur of creation.

Surely the summer sky, the deer,
and all parts of God’s creation are dignified
not because of what each does, understands,
or even writes in flowing poetry.

Rather, they and we owe our dignity to being part of
“the poem that God made, and called the world.”*

*Quotation from Mary Oliver’s poem,
“More Beautiful than the Honey Locust Tree
Are the Words of the Lord.” Published in Thirst, p. 31

~~~

Praying we’ll become open to seeing each human life and each creature great or small as part of God’s poem. Which, of course, includes each of us with all our flaws and our gifts.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 February 2022
Photo found at smartpress.com

A poem I can’t get out of my mind

It doesn’t take much effort to see what’s happening daily in many if not most of our neighborhoods, towns or cities.

Nonetheless, when it comes to actively joining efforts on the field, many of us would rather stay put in the grandstands. Glued to our seats. Gasping from time to time, but not joining the fray, or putting ourselves in harm’s way.

I’m no extroverted star. I’d rather stay on the sidelines. Study what’s happening on the field. Pray. Give money. Or read more about poverty in cities and surrounding towns, and what others are doing to come alongside with help. Certainly all those good things are important and necessary.

Here’s a poem that challenges me every time I read it. G. A. Studdert Kennedy served on the ground as a World War I army chaplain to British soldiers. Many of his poems reflect realities of life in the warzone. This one, however, reflects the reality of life in the city of Birmingham.

Indifference, by G. A. Studdert Kennedy (aka Woodbine Willie)

When Jesus came to Golgotha they hanged Him on a tree.
The drave great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed Him by.
They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And still it rained the wintry rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.

“drave” – drove

Indifference found on page 21 in The Unutterable Beauty – The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy
First published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited, London (March 1927), reprinted June 1928
Second publication by Pendlebury Press Limited, Manchester, U.K., August 2017

There’s no end of women, children, young people and men who would welcome even a small sign of genuine interest from another human being. Maybe they’re next door, just down the street, sitting beside us in church or on a bus, or even sitting lonely in that big mansion up on the hill. In the end, Woodbine Willie was known for his commitment to being there. Not with answers, but with a listening ear and a praying heart.

Thanks for stopping by today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 February 2022
Photo found at backwatersman.wordpress

 

 

 

Desmond Tutu, Mary and the oppressed

Pin on madonna

Mary’s song came to mind this morning when I read about Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s life and death. Not the version we hear in church during the Christmas season, but Rev. Zephania Kameeta’s version below.

Mary is often depicted in sumptuous gowns. Yes, we honor her faithfulness to her son, right up to his unjust death. At the same time, I can’t forget her social status. She wasn’t born into a privileged life, and her neighbors may have raised an eyebrow or two when she became pregnant.

The sting in Mary’s song is large, especially when we remember her status in society. From my perspective, Rev. Kameeta captures the sting and the reality of Mary’s song and Jesus’ birth. Not in general terms, but as it relates to his own rejected brothers and sisters in Namibia.

Zephania Kameeta sings the song of Mary – Luke 1:46-55

Today I look into my own heart and all around me,
and I sing the song of Mary.

My life praises the Lord my God
who is setting me free.
He has remembered me, in my humiliation and distress!
From now on those who rejected and ignored me
will see me and call me happy,
because of the great things he is doing
in my humble life.

His name is completely different from the other names in this world;
from one generation to another,
he was on the side of the oppressed

As on the day of the Exodus, he is stretching out
his might arm to scatter the oppressors
with all their evil plans.
He has brought down mighty kings
from their thrones
and he has lifted up the despised;
and so will he do today.
He has filled the exploited with good things,
and sent the exploiters away with empty hands;
and so he will do today.

His promise to our mothers and fathers remains new and fresh to this day.
Therefore the hope for liberation which is burning in me
will not be extinguished.
He will remember me, here now and beyond the grave.

Rev. Zephania Kameeta’s song was published in Why, O Lord? Psalms and sermons from Namibia, p. 15.
© 1986 World Council of Churches, published as part of the Risk book series

Thanks for stopping by today. These are troubled and troubling times. I pray we’ll find our way home, one day at a time.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 December 2021
Image found at pinterest.com

A lament for 9/11/2001 and today

I wrote the lament below for an open seminary forum held one month after the 9/11/2001 attack. Today, 20 years later, the lament rings painfully true.

We haven’t had more unexpected attacks on skyscrapers or the Pentagon. Instead, we’ve had a home-grown physical attack on Congress; home-grown political attacks masquerading as MAGA; routine home-grown attacks on people of color, immigrants, and women; unprecedented fires, floods, drought and tornadoes; and daily fallout from protracted global warfare and upheaval.

Back to 2001. I was one of several faculty members asked to open the forum. I’m speaking in our seminary chapel. A large wooden crucifix is on the wall behind me. Hence my reference below to Christ’s death being in the room.

It’s difficult to focus.
Voices and images
clamor for my attention,
my response,
my analysis of what is beyond all reason.

I force myself to stay close to the bone,
close to home, close to my Christian roots.

Death is in the room.
Not a new presence,
not even unexpected.

It, too, clamors for my attention,
masquerading in terrible new configurations.

I don’t want to die,
especially if I must suffer in my death.

From the throne of his cross,
the king of grief cries out….
‘Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?’

There is no redemption
apart from suffering and death.
None.

I want to be redeemed.
I do not want to die, or to suffer.
I’m not a very likely candidate for redemption.

Death is relentlessly in this room.
My death.
Your death.
Christ’s death.

Unfinished family business is in this room.
Violent behaviors and attitudes
passed down from father to daughter;
Habits of not telling the truth,
passed down from mother to daughter;
Withholding of love and affection,
Relentless inspection and fault-finding,
Love wanting expression but finding no voice,
Truth wanting expression but finding no listening ear.

Unfinished family business is in the room with death–
A gnawing ache more than my body can bear.

I like to think I’m ready to die.
But I am not.
Nor will I ever be.
Not today, not tomorrow,
Not in a thousand tomorrows.

If I say I am ready to die,
I deceive myself,
and the truth is not in me.

There’s always more work to be done–
Unfinished family business
Unfinished seminary business
Unfinished church and community business
Unfinished personal business

Christ died to relieve me
of the awful, paralyzing expectation
that one of these days
I will finally be ready to die.

Christ finished his work so that
I could leave mine unfinished
without even a moment’s notice.

The Heidelberg Catechism says it all–

“What is your only comfort in life and death?

“My only comfort, in life and in death, is that I belong–body and soul, in life and in death–not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ….”

Praying for ways to maintain lifegiving connections with those we love and those we too often love to hate.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 September 2021
Quote from the Heidelberg Catechism found at etsy.com

For Today and Tomorrow | Psalm 121

The last several weeks have been a roller coaster ride. Up one day, down the next. Hot/cold. Content/discontent. Causes known and unknown such as unresolved health issues, political moves of the unhelpful kind, war and destruction, plus the sinking feeling we’re stuck in old patterns that leave the future of this planet in the hands of the next generation.

This morning D and I went for a walk. The air was warm, humid, and heavy with the sound of cicadas. Just drawing a breath felt like the beginning of the end. As we were walking home, the words of Psalm 121 popped into my head. It’s one of several Psalms I memorized as a child. That would be in the King James Version, of course!

Here it is, slightly updated by me. The Psalm invites me to do something besides ruminating on how I feel or what I think about what’s happening in and all around me.

I lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help.
My help comes from You, the Holy One who made heaven and earth.
You will not suffer my foot to be moved; You keep me without drifting off to sleep.
Indeed, You who keep all creation shall neither slumber nor sleep.
You are my keeper; You are the shade upon my right hand.
The sun shall not smite me by day, nor the moon by night.
You will preserve me from all evil; You alone shall preserve my soul.
You will preserve my going out and my coming in from this time forth,
and even for evermore.

No promise of rose gardens, or an easy coast from this life to whatever comes next. Instead, I’m reminded that I owe my full allegiance to our Creator, and that whatever comes next, I won’t be abandoned.

Good words for a mixed-up world full of anxious people everywhere. Including me.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 August 2021
Photo of hills in Judea taken by David Shankbone; found at wikipedia.com

The Apple Tree

I want to be a poem tree. Reaching out and up to the heavens, blown by the wind of God’s Spirit, sheltering birds, bearing fruit, sinking roots deep into the ground, soaking up water, thriving in sometimes hostile circumstances. The kind of tree Psalm 1 describes.

A tree planted by living water
That brings forth its fruit in its season.
Its leaves don’t wither;
Whatever it does, it prospers.

Poem trees (surely you’ve seen one) don’t have only one way of communicating. Yet their impact is simple. They point to the inexplicable. The way a life sometimes can.

Which reminds me of Jesus of Nazareth. Not just as a human being and God’s beloved son-child, but as a tree. What kind of tree was he?

I think he was a poem tree. Pointing with ordinary words to the inexpressible, to what we discern through and beyond spoken or written words. The truth about God and about us. Grand, yet simple.

As simple and grand as a common, ordinary apple tree. Known and loved worldwide. Dependable, not full of exotic promises about heavenly hybrids that may offer curb appeal, but end up being a disappointment or just another pretty ad.

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. I first heard this song in the 1980s when I was studying theology. The lyrics captivated me. I can’t be Jesus Christ the apple tree. Nonetheless, I want to be a poem tree with a small resemblance to the simple, poetic significance of this one life. I also want to rest a while, a very long while, beneath its shade.

To hear a performance of Elizabeth Poston’s haunting tune, click here. It takes only 2 minutes, 42 seconds. Well worth a listen!

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree

His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne’er can tell
His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I missed of all but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
I’m weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

* * *

Lyrics published in Divine Hymns and Spiritual Songs 1797,
written by Joshua Smith/William Northup

Tune by Elizabeth Poston, 1905-1987, sung here by
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, about 1993.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 June 2015, edited and reposted 20 July 2021
Photo from chiefrivernursery.com

%d bloggers like this: