Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Devotional Writing

Yesterday’s sorrows

A chain of prayer
Rises in midnight hours
As restless sleepers
Wake to the sound
Of yesterday’s sorrows
Rising to the surface

Perhaps one’s own trials
Or a loved one’s emergency
Or dense silence inviting
A song or a prayer to
Fill the empty void of night
Broken only by the wind

Since the beginning of Covid-19 social distancing, I sometimes find night silence distressing.

It happened again last night. Not just because of what’s going on out there, but also what’s rising to the surface in me. Sadness, sorrow, and trepidation. Names of family members who tested positive for Covid-19, now in quarantine because of contact with someone else. An urgent request for prayer from a former colleague. Or even a welcome email from a former student now living in another country, without many options.

One of the gifts of this painfully long social distancing has been a measure of quiet in the house. At night, however, silence weighs heavily when I want to get back to sleep. Hopefully unheard by D, I sometimes begin singing (very softly) favorite hymns as they pop into my mind. Not just one verse, but as many as I can recall. Think of an extended lullaby.

Other times I go down my mental list of friends and family members having more challenges than usual just now. Then I whisper (often with tears) my gratitude for D, for Smudge, for our neighbors, and for opportunities to support local and worldwide relief efforts.

Somewhere in the middle of all that it usually happens. I drift off to sleep. If I don’t, I go to my office, close the door, open my journal, and write my heart out. Thankfully, this last resort is rare. Still, it works like a charm. The tears flow freely, and then I’m back to bed and sleep.

I pray each of you finds ways to sleep well, and exercise your faith and gratitude during these strange months of Covid-19 et al, already extending into another year. Happy Wednesday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 January 2021
Image found at pinterest.com

No Room at the Inn | Thomas Merton

I know. Christmas is “over.” Isn’t it?

Yesterday evening I received an email from a friend of many years. Among other things, he passed along the ‘poem’ below, even though it wasn’t written as a poem. 

The excerpt (below) is from an essay, No Room at the Inn, by Thomas Merton. The essay is included in Raids on the Unspeakable, a selection of essays Merton wrote from 1960 to 1966, during the Viet Nam War. The small collection is published in Canada by Penguin Books Canada, and in New York by New Directions Publishing Corp.

Here’s the excerpt, in poetic form.  

No Room at the Inn

Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.

But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it,
and yet he must be in it,
His place is with the others for whom
there is no room.

His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power, because
they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied status of persons,
who are tortured, bombed and exterminated.

With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world.

Here’s the rub. I say I’m following Jesus. Am I ready for this? Do I really want to be known as ‘one of them’? 

Praying we’ll find strength and grace in the coming year to join those shut out from the inns of this world.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 December 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

What will become of us?

What will become of us?
Even the Supreme Court
Can’t fix this sickness unto death
Leaking through our doors
Streaming through our apps
Insinuating itself into every
Pore of our nation’s unchecked
Pandemic failure to thrive

Tomorrow the Electoral College
Does its business not once for all
But as an unintended trigger of
Anger, elation, false dreams and fake news
Now available 24/7 on demand
Minus warnings that lies and innuendo
Are more than dangerous to our
Collective health and welfare

This past year has been an exercise in bleakness. Which reminds me that Advent is about despair, fear, unjust rulers and religious leaders, sickness, and sorrow. In the bleak mid-winter.

When I hear people talk about “getting back to normal,” I cringe. Our track record when dealing with the aftermath of national crises, including unjust realities, isn’t great. Even the birth of Jesus of Nazareth didn’t solve everything.

We keep hearing that Covid-19 vaccines will make things better. Perhaps. Nonetheless, I’ll do what I can to support changes that matter for the good. I’ll also celebrate when we manage to get something right and just. It does happen every now and then, along with painful failures.

Between now and the end of this year, I’ll post as I’m able. Praying each of you is taking daily time to rest, meditate, and consider the impact of 2020 on your life and the lives of others.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 December 2020
Image found at christianity.com

Advent haiku and more

a day
unlike all others
wakes unannounced

I first posted this piece three years ago. The last three years brought major changes for all of us. With a few edits, here’s what I said then, and need to hear again today.

Writing haiku is an exercise in listening. Slowly. Without preconceptions. Without urgency. Without wondering when the alarm will go off to jolt me into action.

I readily admit that being retired is an advantage. Yet my internal life doesn’t always remember what it means to be retired. Much less where to focus long, patient listening that does more than take me in circles.

Three years ago, an on-line retreat invited me to write one haiku a day not just during Advent, but for the next six months. As a daily exercise it put the brakes on my urge to do something. It turned my attention toward nature and our Creator, and invited me to make new connections.

The haiku above suggests life is a daily gift to each of us from our Creator. A page-turner. An open, still-being-written adventure lived one day at a time. A puzzler without answers or clues at the back of the book. One of a kind.

Today, thanks to Covid-19, I’m enjoying Sabbath rest and the first day of Advent at home. I pray each of you takes time to listen with your heart and rest in the one-of-a-kind person you are.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 December 2017, reposted 29 November 2020
Photo found at pinterest.com, Sunrise in North Dakota

stripped of color

stripped of color
bare branches shiver
falling leaves take flight

D and I are just back from a blustery walk. Dead leaves whipped through the air and across the road. A few trees still looked spectacular. Yet on the whole, the achy beauty of autumn colors has become torn, tattered browns of brittle leaves.

What does it take to survive late Fall and early Winter? Or the unsettling reality of climate change? Or the huge surge of Covid-19 cases in the USA, coupled with the refusal of millions to take simple precautionary measures?

As a citizen of the USA, I shiver as I watch the barometer of Covid-19. It isn’t chiefly about our health. It’s about our relationships with each other. Especially with those most affected by the pandemic. We seem to have forgotten we’re all human beings.

Many of us run away from truth about our country. We harbor persistent, deep-rooted racial ignorance, and neglect citizens and visitors who fall near or beneath the poverty level. It isn’t difficult to see this, no matter which political party we favor.

Even so, I have hope. Not because Spring always follows Winter, but because hope is for any season of any year. Someone Else with far more gracious eyes than mine is in charge. My part is to follow Someone Else (Jesus of Nazareth), and do what I’m able to do.

I’m relieved that POTUS, our Governors and politicians, the Supreme Court, Wall Street investors, and deep-pocketed billionaires are not in charge of how and whether Spring will follow Winter.

With the exception of most conifers, leaves fall freely every Autumn. Why? Maybe they know Spring follows Winter. Today their job is to step aside, and let Someone Else figure out how we’ll get from here to there. My job is to do my part, and leave the rest to my true Leader, Jesus of Nazareth.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2020
Image found at merriam-webster.com

Haughty eyes and lying tongues

This morning a Bible college classmate from the 1960s, a Trump supporter, forwarded an urgent message from a former Republican Congresswoman. In it, the Congresswoman calls Christians to pray for five things, all related to the (wrongful) outcome of the election.

Her bottom line: Democrats in seven key states stole or tried to steal the election from Mr. Trump and his followers. Her language pits conservative ‘evangelical’ Christians who voted for Trump against voters of any religion who didn’t vote for Mr. Trump.

Her language is incendiary and blatantly partisan. It’s also skillfully filled with conservative church language designed to ramp up self-righteous anger, especially at other Christians, in order to achieve a political outcome.

I don’t buy it. At the same time, it’s a troubling sign of our times.

In her strongly-worded message, the Congresswoman quotes from Proverbs 6:16-19, applying this to those who, in her scenario, fixed the election outcomes so Mr. Trump would lose. Here’s the passage:

Proverbs 6:16-19

There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

This strongly worded caution about the way we treat one another isn’t just for Democrats. It’s for anyone and everyone, including Republicans, Independents, non-voters, the Congresswoman herself and Mr. Trump.

Praying this day will bring us closer to each other as United States citizens dealing with huge problems that increase by the hour. We need each other now more than ever.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 November 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

My peace I give unto you | G. A. Studdert Kennedy

Blessed are the eyes that see
The things that you have seen,
Blessed are the feet that walk
The ways where you have been.

Blessed are the eyes that see
The Agony of God.
Blessed are the feet that tread
The paths his feet have trod.

Blessed are the souls that solve
The paradox of Pain,
And find the path that, piercing it,
Leads through to Peace again

From The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy, p. 45
First published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited (London, 1927)
Published in 2017 by Pendlebury Press (Manchester, U.K., August 2017)

Studdert Kennedy, also known as “Woodbine Willie,” wrote this poem for men serving in World War I. He didn’t write from a safe distance, but from the trenches. In 1914, 31 years old, he volunteered to serve on the front line. A British chaplain to men living and dying daily in a war they didn’t begin or have the power to end.

The poem is a tribute to soldiers who, like Jesus of Nazareth, walked the path that led through Pain to Peace. Not a ‘beautiful’ death, but an agonizing death that included feeling forsaken by God. It also included the Agony of God who witnessed everything.

Despite beautiful, celebrated artistic depictions of the cross, Jesus of Nazareth’s death was a public lynching. Which immediately brings to mind uncounted black Americans lynched publicly by white people. Without just cause.

I’m half-way through James Cones’ book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. In it, Cone makes the case for linking Jesus’ cross with the lynching tree. I think Chaplain Studdert Kennedy would approve reading this poem as a tribute to black Americans lynched, like Jesus of Nazareth was lynched. Making their way with Jesus through the paradox of Pain, to Peace.

No, we don’t have Peace in the USA, no matter who wins this election. Nor will we ever have Peace without Pain. I’m praying for grace to make my way through Pain, to Peace. What about you?
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 October 2020
Book cover image found at amazon.com

This season of lament

I’m frozen
Cut off from reality
Not sure where I am
Or where I’m going
Deep sadness wells up
Ancient dikes breach
Cracks in dishonest walls
That tried to contain a world
Held together by lies and
Decay deliberate and brutal
Now breaking through
Elephant-size breaches
Lying before me in shambles
Buried by an unrelenting
Avalanche of disinformation
Grinding us down to
Our lowest common
Denominator

The odds aren’t on our side. Especially if we rely on our limited understanding. Which is all we have on any day of the week.

There is no Top Genius of this world. No Strong Man or Strong Woman of this world who knows or understands the past, present and future with utmost clarity. All we have is what’s left of what we received the moment we were born, and what we’ve been given or taken. For good and for ill.

So here I am with you, in a season of Lament. Without a clue whether we’ll be spared the consequences of actions never taken, taken too quickly, or taken in spite.

Am I without hope? Not unless I try to carry on with life or business as usual. So yes, I’m muddling through with everyone else. Praying, and watching for moments of grace and unexpected connections. Small signs that our Creator is still at work.

Praying your day contains some of those small signs.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Sursum Corda | G. A. Studdert Kennedy

What kind of day did you have so far? Mine was productive, though not the way I thought it would be. Here’s one of my favorite Studdert Kennedy poems. It seemed appropriate, given the state of things today.

*Sursum Corda

There are cowslips in the clearing,
With God’s green and gold ablaze,
And the distant hills are nearing,
Through a sun-kissed sea of haze.

There’s a lilt of silver laughter
In the brook upon its way,
With the sunbeams stumbling after
Like the children at their play.

There’s a distant cuckoo calling
To the lark up in the sky
As his song comes falling, falling
To his nest—a happy sigh.

Sursum Corda! How the song swells
From the woods that smile and nod.
Sursum Corda! Ring the bluebells
Lift ye up your hearts to God.

From The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy, pp. 95-96
First published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited (London, 1927)
Published in 2017 by Pendlebury Press (Manchester, U.K., August 2017)

*Sursum Corda -“Lift up your hearts.” The opening phrase of a traditional Christian liturgy dating back to the 3rd century. Normally used before celebrating the Eucharist.

Can there be beauty in a warzone? Especially with people dying all around, often in prolonged agony.

Studdert Kennedy, also known as Woodbine Willie, wrote this poem during World War I. He served as a chaplain, witnessing and participating in the laments, loneliness, pain and deaths of British soldiers. He dealt with the horror of war by writing poetry.

Many of his poems are heartbreaking. They deal with harsh realities of early 20th century warfare on the ground, and the daily struggles of human beings separated from their families. They also include some reality talk with God. This poem, like a number of others, found something to celebrate. A reason to hope, despite the daily suffering and dying that surrounded everyone.

Even though nature can’t solve all our problems, it’s there for the taking. A gift. Just look around. Lift up the eyes of your heart! In your memory, listen to the birds and admire the bluebells. They’re sending us an invitation to look and listen to the larger picture of nature, not just to our own small worlds.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2020
Image of cowslips found at first-nature.com

Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters

Justice doesn’t trickle down, any more than wealth at the top trickles down. Yet church-related efforts at justice sometimes seem to try trickling down. Through the cracks and around the edges.

Why? Because this is a politically-charged issue. The stakes are high, and it seems injustice is winning. Black Lives Matter and Covid-19 have together exposed our glaring weaknesses as a nation. Especially when it comes to race.

This past week I began a 40-day “journey through America’s history of slavery, segregation, and racism.” It’s titled “An American Lament.”  You can take a look or down download it here. It was originally an exercise for Lent.

No one ever taught me to lament. Especially about my personal history with slavery, segregation, and racism.

I’ve always thought of myself as a seriously ‘with-it’ woman. In seminary, in the 1970s, I studied both sexism and racism. At university, in the 1980s, I focused my dissertation research on women’s issues. I mistakenly thought that by understanding feminism, I had an advantage when it came to understanding racism.

However, the very first day of this 40-day exercise, I listened online to a riveting, challenging address about racism and Christian churches in the USA. It was recorded in 2018, the year of mid-term elections. The full title is “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters: Racism and our Need for Repentance.”

I highly recommend Rev. David Platt’s address for pastors, church leaders, church members, and anyone who cares about racism in the USA.

As for the rest of life these days, I’m walking every chance I get (way too hot on many days), listening to birds, helping stomp out lantern flies, talking with neighbors (outside and with a mask, of course), and learning more than I wanted to know about my history with racism.

Cheers to each of you for making it through another week!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 August 2020
Quote and image found at blockislandtimes.com

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