Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Devotional Writing

Just as I am

My unquiet mind
Spins out of control
Restless and uneasy

Unvoiced conversations
Saturate space yearning
For calm silence

When did it begin?
When will it end?

An old habit from childhood,
I explain myself to myself
As though minus these many words
I would not exist or be believed
Or convince myself or others
Of my worthiness

Like comfortable old clothes
I pull them close
Trying to assure myself
That I am worthy
Just as I am

The older I get, the more likely it is that ‘just as I am’ can’t possibly be good enough. Too much water down the river and over the dam. Too many roads not taken. Too many opportunities turned down because I was too busy, or afraid. And too many mistakes and unhappy chapters already written into my life.

I want to believe that the older I become, the less I need to prove my worth as a human being. I want to say without hesitation, “It doesn’t matter what you (or I) think about my life.”

I also want to accept the daily invitation to be who I am today in the eyes of my Creator. Not who I wish I were. And not who I might have been in the eyes of my father, my worst boss, or any other human being who has tried to make me into their image of me.

Surely the Judge of all the earth will do right. Not just by me, but by each of us.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 April 2021
Photo found at medium.com

Life on whose terms?

Falling asleep,
my body cries
for attention
and the comfort
of doing nothing
while awaiting new life
and energy that endures
forever and ever

Listening to the news,
I hear the beginning
of the end in post-Easter air—
especially if Jesus of Nazareth
isn’t allowed to rise from his
unseemly death and confront
our lackluster attempts
to live life on our own terms

I’m struck by how busy things become each year as Easter Sunday approaches. Part of the busyness is about special church services for those able and willing to attend.

But that isn’t what catches my eye. Instead, we have the tug of Easter egg hunts, Easter dinner arrangements, fancy Easter clothes or even mini-vacations that can suck the life blood out of Easter.

I like to enjoy life on my terms. However, Easter challenges me to look beyond myself and my limited resources. I wonder what it would look like for me to keep up with Jesus instead of the current idols of this world?

Thanks for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 April 2021
Image found at anona.com

Gethsemane | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver places this poem just after The Poet Thinks about the Donkey. Clearly an invitation to compare them. My comments follow.

Gethsemane

The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.

The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,
maybe
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 45

This one stings. How many vigils have I slept through? Or how often do I look the other way when injustices are playing out before my eyes.

When I was growing up, I had nothing but scorn for those three sleepy, self-absorbed disciples who couldn’t stay awake and keep watch for their friend Jesus. Surely they believed him. They’d already shown themselves capable of going to extreme lengths on his behalf.

Mark 14:32-42 doesn’t say Peter, James and John were reluctant to stay with him and keep watch. It says they couldn’t keep watch as Jesus asked them to do not once, but three times. Meanwhile, Jesus is left alone to face his coming betrayal.

In contrast, all nature (except human nature) was wide (wild!) awake that night. The only witnesses to Jesus’ agony, betrayal, trial, and eventually death on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem. The same city that welcomed him on the little donkey not a week earlier.

Mary suggests the stars and moon, trees and insects all kept watch that night. I like to think they offered some peace, perhaps even solace as he prayed, weeping and agonizing for all of us and for himself.

In the final stanza Mary offers grace to them, to herself and to us. The three disciples were “dear bodies” and “utterly human.” They weren’t deadly co-conspirators. They were human, just as we are. Weary.

Praying we’ll be as understanding about Jesus’ three companions as we are about ourselves, even as we lament Jesus’ coming betrayal by Judas, also one of his chosen disciples.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 April 2021
Painting found at touchstonemag.com

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey | Mary Oliver

Here’s a thought-provoking Palm Sunday poem from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

~~~~~

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadows,
    leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
    clatter away, splashed with sunlight!

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 44

~~~~~

I love Mary Oliver’s focus on the donkey. He isn’t just a convenient prop, needed for this so-called ‘triumphal’ march into Jerusalem. Nor is he a famous, beautiful or even clean donkey. He likely has no idea how to race around meadows with horses, leaping with sheer joy. Nor does he know how to fly into the sunlight alongside released doves.

All he knows is how to stand, wait, and do what needs to be done. Which, on this day, means carrying on his small back the hope of all Jerusalem. Well…almost all Jerusalem. Cheers and jeers sometimes sound all too similar.

Was he brave? Probably not. Nor could he have been all cleaned up, given the inevitable dust of the earth hanging in the air. To say nothing of noise and pushing and shoving to get a look at this strange parade.

No problem. His calling on that day was to walk forward without coaxing or threatening, carrying the hope of all the world on his small, dark obedient back. Bravely he moved forward through a noisy crowd, one dusty hoof after the other, without turning back, running away, or refusing to move at all.

Where does Mary Oliver’s poem find you on this Palm Sunday? And what does it mean to be brave in the face of tragedy and undeclared war rolling out in front of all our eyes?

Thanks for your visit today. I pray each of us will find courage to do what we’re made to do: love our Maker with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2021
Image found at threadreaderapp.com

Thirst

This August 2017 post caught my heart today. Perhaps it will catch yours. We seem to be running out of our hoarded resources. 

Thirst
consumes me
parches my soul
throttles energy
makes me wary
cautious
lest I lose
one precious drop

Hoarding
sets in like drought
grows and multiplies
invades every
vein in my body
sucks me dry
prepares me
for death

Gasping
I refuse
to relinquish
what is mine
by right and law
wrung from
this earth by
my own hands

Heedless
I rush headlong
into a desert
of my making

No one
looks my way
or offers
one precious drop

***

Here’s another option from the prophet Isaiah:

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,
your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me,
and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare.

Isaiah 55:1-2 (New International Version)

I’ve been thinking about the way we seem to be turning inward. Supposedly protecting ourselves and our own, lest something terrible happens and we’re left high, dry and more vulnerable than ever. But I wonder.

Ironically, the best way to ensure disaster may well be to shut down our hearts and hang onto our assets, however meager they may be.

This isn’t about political parties, racial identity or religious beliefs. It’s about our common humanity. The capacity in each of us that’s capable of welcoming and providing hospitality to strangers. And the capacity to receive hospitality from others.

It isn’t easy. We’re never promised success, safety or survival for ourselves or others. We are, however, promised the satisfaction of receiving and passing on small bits of grace and gratitude. Some of those tiny drought-proof seeds that grow only when they’re given away.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 August 2017; reposted on 15 March 2021
Image found at feelgrafix.com

Third Sunday in Lent | Teresa of Avila

Yesterday an email from a friend sent me looking for prayers by Teresa of Avila. The prayer below is for anyone who’s growing older. Especially those of us closer to the senior citizen bracket.

Even if you’re not yet a senior, I urge you to read on. Without being morbid, the prayer below lays bare in a delightful way (is this possible?) the challenges and difficulties of being a senior citizen.

On Growing Older – a prayer from Teresa of Avila

Lord, You know better than I myself
that I am growing older and will someday be old.
Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking
I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to
straighten out everybody’s affairs.
Make me thoughtful but not moody;
helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom,
it seems a pity not to use it all;
but You know, Lord,
that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details;
give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains;
they are increasing, and love of rehearsing them
is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for improved memory,
but for a growing humility and a lessening cock-sureness
when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.
Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet, for a sour old person
is one of the crowning works of the devil.
Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places
and talents in unexpected people;
and give, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.

To read this online, click here.

Recently I posted a prayer for Lent. This prayer from Teresa of Avila fills out in painful detail what that prayer means.

May God grant each of us grace to age well. And for those already well along in years, grace to offer the next generations the kind of attention we longed for when we were very young.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 March 2021
Peter Paul Rubens’ painting of Teresa Avila found at wikimedia.org

Psalm 1 | Zephania Kameeta

Bishop Zephania Kameeta wrote this version of Psalm 1 during Namibia’s struggle for human rights. Born in 1945, Bishop Kameeta’s life work has revolved around the fight to end apartheid in Namibia.

It seems we here in the USA are still trapped in our own USA-style apartheid system, with no end in sight.

Psalm 1 introduces the entire collection of 150 Hebrew Psalms. It describes two ways we can live. The way of wisdom, or the way of folly. Which will we individually, and as a nation, choose to take? Here’s how Reverend Kameeta saw these two ways or paths of life playing out in Namibia.

Psalm 1

Happy are those who reject the evil advice of tyrants,
who do not follow the example of sell-outs
and are not resigned to live as slaves.

Instead they find joy to be in God’s commission
for the liberation of the oppressed,
and they work day and night without rest.

They are like trees that grow beside a stream,
that bear fruit at the right time,
and whose leaves do not dry up.
They succeed in everything they do.

But the traitors of the liberation cause are not
like this;
they are like straw that the wind blows away.
Puppets in the hands of the oppressors
will be condemned by God.
They will have no share in the blessings of the Lord.

Those in God’s service for the liberation of the downtrodden
are guided and protected by God.
But those who are instruments in the hands of the oppressors
are on the way to their doom.

Psalm 1 interpreted by Zephania Kameeta
Published in Why O Lord? Psalms and sermons from Namibia, p. 24
No. 28 in The Risk Book Series, pub. by World Council Publications
In collaboration with the Lutheran World Federation of Churches
© 1986 World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland

Psalm 1 offers us two choices. God’s way of wisdom and truth, or the oppressor’s way of folly. Each Psalm is about one or both of these ways. Over and over, they show us what it looks like to take one way or the other.

I’m caught by the third line: “Happy are those who…are not resigned to live as slaves.” Though I’ve never been called a slave, I know how easy it is to hunker down and make myself small or silent, when I should be speaking up or raising a ruckus. No matter what color my skin is.

Then again, if I’m living as a slave to the evil advice of tyrants, perhaps I need to listen more and make less ruckus.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 January 2021
Photo of Bishop Zephania Kameeta found on Facebook

The daily duel

The seesaw goes up
And comes down hard on
One side or the other
A dueling match of warlike disproportions
A daily photo-op of humanity battling
Between visions of more or less

We’ve become hoarders of perks
Not earned by our color or
Lack thereof and certainly not
By our intellectual capacities
Or ability to play the stock market

What would it take I wonder
For us to lay down our perks
And deal with harsh kickback that
Wants to wrestle us
To the bottom of the swamp
Consigned to ignominious outcomes
Reserved for those not like us

If there’s an uneven  slant in this poem, that’s because the US is not a balanced nation. Reapers of perks and privilege not earned are still basking in the sunshine of self-glory.  Yes, President Joe Biden won the 2020 Election. Yet powers that sought to undo the 2020 Election are already marshalling for battle.

Am I prepared to pay the cost of laying down my white female perks? Sadly, most of my other-than-white friends don’t have this option. And many churches that claim to be following Jesus don’t remember what this looks like in real life.

Still, the question isn’t about them. It’s about me. Am I ready? Our contentious post-2020 Election season was just the beginning. Aided and abetted by four years of swampy (non)leadership to and from the bottom, not the top.

It won’t help if I try to take down the Big Guys and Big Gals who threaten to undo us. This isn’t a game of seesaw. It’s about real life and real people in real time. Plus my willingness to join new ways to level the playing field. One small bit at a time.

Happy Friday to each of you.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 January 2020
Photo found at Pixabay.com

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

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