Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Devotional Writing

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

A Prayer of Lament 2

I wrote the poem below just after the 2016 Presidential Election. It still resonates as a lament about the outcome of the election. It’s also about today.

It’s easy to point to Mr. Trump as the cause of our current troubles. Yet Mr. Trump didn’t get here alone. His supporters, wealthy or not, religious or not, played their roll by covering for him, lying for him, and making loyalty to him the sign of being a good citizen.

Mr. Trump also had help from white Christians, including those who didn’t vote for him. Their preferences have included looking the other way, acting like nothing’s wrong in the White House, raging, apathy and indifference, cozying up in order to get what they want, or holding their noses until the next election.

White Christian slave holders and non-slave holders enabled white supremacy from the beginning of our nation. Worse, they often did this by misappropriating or ignoring Scripture.

It’s easy to look the other way, blame others, and live our privileged lives in a giant fairy tale that still passes for “American History.” Mr. Trump is a product of this history. He didn’t, however, make it happen.

So here’s the lament again, this time for all of us. Especially for white citizens in the USA who claim to follow Jesus.

We’ve lost our way —
or never found it

Bitter bargains struck
Trust betrayed
Loyalties unexamined
Bodies scorned
Contempt exalted
Rage rewarded
Fear ignited
Self promoted

Spoils of a winning war

Good Shepherd, have mercy on us all.
Amen

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 July 2020
Image found at parkhillsrca.org

Faith — is the Pierless Bridge 2

Pierless Bridge - pinterest

Two months after breaking my jaw in 2016, I posted Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem. Given today’s troubles, I’m as uncertain now as I was then. How am I to live my life? My comments follow, lightly edited.

Faith – is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not –
Too slender for the eye

It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side –
It joins – behind the Veil

To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To Our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.

c. 1864

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

Emily describes an impossible Pierless Bridge stretching out, with no horizon in sight but the sky and water. It doesn’t seem to have visible supports or buttresses. Instead, it seems to stretch out not in front of me, but with me, step by step, as I make my pierless way across the water.

My feet vacillate, uncertain where to go. I’m far from the shore, maybe not far to go. But I don’t know how much farther, or what I’ll find when I reach the goal.

Boldness and courage seem paramount. Closing my eyes, I feel my way along. Not with my hands, but through the bare soles of my feet connecting with what must surely be a mammoth construction of steel, boulders and cement. How could there not be a pier?

I open my eyes, hoping for a glimpse of the goal, but see nothing ahead and nothing behind. Even more distressing, what’s supporting me is no larger and no more visible than one slender, fragile thread of a spider web.

Closing my eyes, I grope along, too far out to turn back. I don’t feel bold or courageous. The way is precarious. I’m full of questions  and more than a bit of doubt.

I don’t have a map or a friendly GPS system to tell me when to leave one foot behind and shift my weight onto the other foot. I just know I’m being drawn and supported by something or someone greater than myself.

Is this journey about strengthening my faith? Perhaps the point isn’t my faith, weak or bold. In fact, I can’t believe that by the time I’ve arrived at the goal, my faith will be strong.

Before my faith and before my birth there was someone or something else. I imagine the Source of my life greeting me from within the Veil to which Faith leads me. Here is the One who birthed me. The One who boldly and courageously watches for me from the other side of my human life, spinning out as needed a fragile yet steel-buttressed thread of Faith—my Creator’s Faith in me. Faith that leads me home, just as I am and yet will be.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 June 2016, reposted 29 July 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

The heaviness of being

Dear Friends,

Early yesterday morning D and I drove into downtown Philadelphia. Not the governmental center of the city, but a huge medical center of towering buildings. We parked in a huge garage and walked to the building where I had an appointment with a skin doctor. He removed some of my precious skin. Hopefully it will be the last visit for now.

What used to be a somewhat routine visit was now a Corona-Virus Visit writ large. For two weeks prior to my visit, I received multiple phone calls with instructions about what to do and not do before the visit, and what to expect when I arrived.

The streets and sidewalks were full of masked citizens coming and going, carefully avoiding close contact, perhaps smiling from time to time behind their masks. On the whole, however, most seemed grim and determined to get where they were going as quickly and safely as possible.

The heaviness of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter underscores the heaviness of being I’m feeling these days. I had an interesting conversation with a masked woman sitting near me in the waiting room. The procedure was fairly straight-forward. Masked D was relieved to see masked me coming down the escalator. Still, it all felt disembodied. Regimented though considerate, with an edge of danger in the air.

No matter what Mr. Trump or anyone else says, there is no going back to Normal. Instead, I’m treating each day as a challenge to be met, with small daily goals to keep me on-track in a trackless world without a clear finishing line.

I grieve what we’ve lost, and what we thought we had but did not. I don’t, however, grieve the call to self-reflection. How did we come to this unholy disaster? Will we be wiser if and when this pandemic is over? How will we then live?

Praying your Sabbath is filled with rest and a nagging restlessness to “hear the sound of the genuine in you.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 July 2020
Quote from Howard Thurman found at pinterest.com

What the world needs | Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman made things straightforward, simple and down to earth. My father did not. I was raised in a Christian culture (presided over by my father) that saw life outside our ‘safe’ space under attack by twin demons: complexity and danger. Especially if life outside made me come alive.

  • Dancing? No way! Definitely the first step toward raucous, immoral behavior.
  • Lipstick? No way! A sure sign of debauchery. (Until it suited my father to make it imperative.)
  • Dating unchurched and thus unreliable (might grope or rape me) males? No way! (Not that dating was high on my list.)

So here I am today. A supposedly grown-up white woman still figuring out how, at this age and under our current circumstances, to go and do what makes me come ALIVE!

All things  considered, I don’t plan on going anywhere for a while. However, reading and writing make me come alive. Along with music and poetry. Talking with my children and grandchildren. Stopping for a street-side chat with neighbors. Hearing from friends all over the world. Playing with Smudge.

Then there are lovely morning walks. I’m just back from one with D, seeing and hearing birds sing at will. No officious patrol cars tracking them down and locking them up for looking suspicious or disturbing the peace.

The end of the matter is this: I’m most alive when I’m an uncaged songbird! I want to spend my short life singing songs of truth, especially when I’m surrounded and it looks like the sky is falling.

These are trying times. It’s the 4th of July. I wish I could say Hurray for the USA! We’ve come a long way baby! Break out the champagne! Let the fire crackers fly through the air!

But I cannot. Why not? Because right now this contentious, at-risk world needs people who have come alive. Women, men and children willing to tell the truth about their lives regardless of the cost. Willing to listen long and hard to songs they’ve never heard before. Willing to look into the eyes of strangers, smile, and say “Good morning! Would you be willing to tell me about your life?”

Hoping you have a thoughtful 4th of July filled with songs and stories you’ve not heard before.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2020
Image found at quoteswave.com

Just for today

Finally
After months of fighting
acceptance

Comes knowledge
That this is the way things are
and didn’t have to be

Plus willingness
to accept limitations
and whatever today offers

Ready
To give and receive small gifts
No matter the outcome

Refusing
To look the other way
While lifting my voice in prayer

Content
With what I can do this day
Unlike any other

Several times in the last few weeks I’ve heard friends and strangers talking about prayer. In particular, how we pray right now, given the current situation in the White House, in governing and non-governing bodies, and in our neighborhoods.

It’s time for lament. The kind that looks into the reality around us without trying to go back to the way things were. Lament that acknowledges our personal grief, anger, rage, and our betrayal by POTUS and others more concerned with glory than with grace. Lament that implores our Creator to have mercy on us, no matter the cost.

I’m in lament mode. I’m also beginning to understand how to get up in the morning and let the day be what it is. An opportunity to be invested in something larger than myself, without getting sidetracked by the mucky morass that wants to capture and kill my energy.

Praying you’re finding your way in this day unlike any other.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 June 2020
Photo found at m.economictimes.com

Alternative tv | Dorothee Soelle

Four miners in mine shaft wearing hard hats and headlamps

Dorothee Soelle wrote this poem in the 1970s, an era roiled by the Vietnamese War. I was in my 30s. How old were you? My comments follow.

Alternative tv

The old man on the screen sang
in a loud and shaky voice
and had probably never been very clean
in addition he had hardly any teeth left
a miner with black lung
of course he spoke dialect and his grammar was bad
why after all should he
show his best side to the camera

When god turns on his tv
he sees old people like that
they sing
in a loud and shaky voice
and the camera of the holy spirit
shows the dignity of these people
and makes god say
that is very beautiful

Later
when we have abolished tv as it exists
and are allowed to look at the skin of aging women
and are unafraid of eyes
that have lost their lashes in weeping
when we respect work
and the workers have become visible
and sing
in a loud and shaky voice

Then we shall see
real people
and be happy about it
like god

Dorothee Soelle, Of War and Love, p. 171
English translation of selected pieces from the German text © 1983 Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 10545
First published as Im Hause des Menshenfressers, © 1981 by Rowohlt Tashenbuch Verlag in Hamburg, West Germany

Now that I’m in my mid to late 70s, I find this poem more truthful than ever. I don’t often see aging women or men on TV, just as they are. Maybe in a news piece or documentary. But rarely, if ever, in flashy shows or advertisements. They’re busy reflecting our captivity to spending money on ourselves, our houses, our lawns, our cars, eating out and eating in, or getting ‘fixed’ so our embarrassing flaws don’t show.

As Dorothee Soelle points out, our Creator is watching Alternative tv. The kind that accepts us just as we are when we’re willing to show up just as we are. Happy to be in the presence of one who understands and loves us in all our real flesh.

As always, thank for visiting and reading. These are hard times for all of us. I pray we’ll find ways to help bring about hope, peace, and reconciliation, and courage to show up for our Creator and each other, just as we are.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 June 2020
Photo of miners found at WestVirginiaInjuryLawyers.wordpress.com

The human shadow revisited

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                            Mature Dawn Redwood at Longwood Gardens

Five years ago I posted comments on George MacDonald’s sonnet for June 9. Today I rediscovered it, right on time. It helps me think about my actions during this tumultuous uprising through which we must go together, or die. My lightly edited comments from five years ago follow.

June 9

Faith is the human shadow of thy might.
Thou art the one self-perfect life, and we
Who trust thy life, therein join on to thee,
Taking our part in self-creating light.
To trust is to step forward out of the night—
To be—to share in the outgoing Will
That lives and is, because outgoing still.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul,
© 1994 Augsburg Fortress Press

What does MacDonald’s opening line mean? “Faith is the human shadow of thy might.”

I can’t help thinking about the grand trees I saw yesterday. It was a hot, humid day begging for shade and breezes. We found it beneath huge trees reaching toward the sky. Could their welcome shade be like faith? An earthly shadow of God’s creative reach?

I imagine myself stepping out of burning sun (MacDonald’s ‘night’), into the shade. Into faith that exists only because of ‘thee’ and ‘thy might.’ I didn’t create the shade. I can’t touch it. I feel it in every part of me. It calms the boiling molecules in my body. It gives me energy to move forward and outward.

Imagine this. Perhaps the Creator’s towering tree-like presence reaches out large limbs that support a leafy umbrella offering respite and relief. I’m not the tree. Yet by standing within the tree’s shadow, I join myself to its life. To my true home. Unlike the tree, I can’t see this with my eyes, yet I know it by faith. Faith that dwells within the shadows of the Creator’s presence.

This means stepping forward “out of the night” is like stepping into the shade of a majestic tree. It’s a way of sharing in the life of the tree, of gaining strength and energy found only within its life, its ‘will,’ its outgoing nature.

The Creator’s will, like the tree, is outgoing. Reaching away from itself to create and recreate all nature including human nature. To become part of the Creator’s life is to ‘join on’ by stepping forward ‘out of the night’ (or out of the burning heat).

Only then do I exist truly and share fully as a human participant in the life of this world with all its upheavals and joys. Not because of my own great ideas, but as a participant in this strangely beautiful and demanding partnership with our Creator.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 June 2015, lightly edited and reposted on 9 June 2020
Photo credit: DAFraser, 9 June 2015, Longwood Gardens

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