Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Devotional Writing

Our current discontent

This morning I woke up wondering how we’ll survive as a nation, no matter who wins the next presidential election. It’s Advent. However, my mind went back to Lent, and a March 2017 post about what I was giving up for Lent.

As I see it, our nation is being tested yet again. We’ve been tested many times. It seems that whatever happened or didn’t happen back then, despite our best intentions, contributes now to our growing state of dis-union.

So how will we survive not just the next election, but the year leading up to it? Political strategies and post-election plans are important. Still, they aren’t magic wands that can solve our national problems.

The most important things are what we carry in our hearts, and what we have chosen to give up.

So I’m drawn back to what I gave up for Lent. The challenge isn’t any easier now than it was then. I’m to give up desires that have haunted me all my life. Not because this will solve personal or national problems, but because this frees me to behave differently this time around. Even though I’m terrified about the consequences.

So here they are, in the form of a prayer litany. Still staring me in the face daily. How willing am I to bring these strange gifts and lay them down before a newborn baby? Not just once, but as many times as necessary.

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)

Do I like doing this? No. It does, however, make space for me to take risks. The kind that make my heart pound because I’m not in control of what happens next.

With hope, and thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 December 2019
Sunrise at Acadia National Park, Maine, USA; found at pinterest.com

Making the House Ready for the Lord | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver makes it simple, true and easy. My comments follow.

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice—it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances—but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

© Mary Oliver 2006
Published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 13

Yesterday I was bemoaning wisps of cat hair floating in every corner; cardboard boxes piled high, waiting for old give-away books; kitchen gadgets and pots looking for a new home or sitting in the sink waiting to be cleaned.

Not that I expect the Lord to visit–though that isn’t an impossibility. This is about regular people who come to our door unannounced. Why shouldn’t things be neat and tidy? After all, I’m retired, and have all the time in the world to keep up appearances!

Mary Oliver’s poem makes me laugh at myself. I’m not a collector of vagabond mice, squirrels or lost dogs. However, for years I’ve collected books, kitchen gadgets and small bits and pieces of arty stuff. Which collects its own stuff called dust.

Unannounced visitors put me to the test. Am I ready to receive the Lord? Maybe this is stretching it, but if I’m not ready to receive the Lord just as I am, I’m probably not consciously ready to receive anyone just as I am.

Even so, truth be told, I’m always ready, whether I think I am or not. In fact, when the Lord or any one of you arrives and comes into my house, it will be ready. Living proof of my priorities, my weaknesses, my loves, my memories and my hopes. All of me. What more could you, or the Lord, ask for?

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 November 2019
Photo by JSLeesPhotography found at Flickr.com
Red Fox, Alonquin, Canada

A whisper of thought

A whisper of thought
Floats into my heart
Like a rare butterfly
Once plentiful
Now expendable

Noisy hyped techno-life
Crowds public spaces
And church pews
Threatens to drown out
Your still small voice
Waiting for a hearing
In the halls of today’s
Fiery whirlwinds
And icy avalanches of
Self-righteousness

What will You say
When we approach the bench
Seeking justice and mercy
In this land starving for
Ears to hear whispers
And cries in the night
So fearful have we become
Of our neighbors sitting
Standing sleeping living
Dying in virtual prisons
In full view

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 November 2019
Photo found at abstract.desktopnexus.com

Sorting through closets

Sorting through closets
I’m overcome by sadness
about what?

Beloved outfits, yes
And also reminders of a time
when I was what?

Somebody?
A worker bee all dressed up for slaughter?
A shining star in someone else’s grand career?

I need another outlook
On these outgrown outfits
Consciously assembled to cover
A harmless woman
Not seeking glory or fame
Easy to work with
A good team player
Not given to outlandish clothes
Or calling attention to herself

I’m not mean
I’m neat and tidy
Unpretentious
Don’t mess with me
And by the way
I’m not sure who I am

Today’s work isn’t the end
It’s a beginning
An expansion
Not of what’s in my closet
But in my spirit —
The spirit of our Creator
Whose expansiveness goes
Beyond the boundaries of my small world
Into the vast unexplored territory
Of the woman I am already becoming

Most of my time right now is spent getting things ready for the contractors. They’ll begin work this coming Monday. In the meantime, we’ve been sorting things out, making another dent in our worldly goods.

As relieved as I am to be doing all this, I’m also grieving. The poem above is about going beyond my small world. Still, I carry happy memories of past collaborations with colleagues, and lively courses with students. My clothes are a reminder of good times, not just the other times.

Today I’m expanding. I also feel the drag of my upbringing and life as a woman in college, seminary-land, church, and society in general. I remind myself that our Creator is constantly expanding, moving into new territory, and calling out to us to follow, ready or not.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 September 2019
Image found at pixabay.com

Coping with homegrown terrorism

I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned a bit about me. Not everything, but enough to know how I cope with homegrown terrorism.

My first thought is relief that this isn’t happening to me. Definitely a way of protecting myself from the truth. Whatever steals life from someone else, steals life from me. It doesn’t matter how safe I think I am.

My second thoughts are a form of spiritual distancing: I could or would never stoop to do what that person just did.

And yet…seeds of terror are in me. Not just as a survivor, but as a perpetrator. If not in outward deeds, then in attitudes and thoughts that lead to outward behaviors. For example: Perhaps I have superior judgment and wisdom. Or a special angel that protects me from things like this.

Worse yet, I believe I could never do anything like that to another human being. Indeed, maybe I wouldn’t do it that way. Yet I know that my heart is human, given to fears, insecurity, self-sufficiency and taking advantage of others’ weaknesses. Are these not part of the picture as well?

This morning I read Nan C. Merrill’s personal re-imagining of Psalm 10. Here’s what stood out to me. Please note that I am not absolving terrorists. Rather, I’m challenged to be honest about my own struggles as I relate to other human beings and to our Creator.

Why do You seem so far from me, O Silent One?
Where do You hide when fears beset me?
I boast and strike out against those weaker than myself,
even knowing I shall be caught in a snare of my own making.

When I feel insecure, I look for pleasure,
greed grips my heart and I banish You from my life.
In my pride, I seek You not,
I come to believe, “I am the Creator of the world.”

I even prosper at times:
Your Love seems too great for me, out of my reach;
as for my fears, I pretend they do not exist.
I think in my heart, “I do not need You;
adversity will come only to others.”

My eyes watch carefully for another’s weakness,
I wait in secret like a spider in its web;
I wait that I might seize those who are weaker than myself,
draw others into my web, that I might use them to feel powerful.

….Break then the webs I have woven,
Seek out all my fears until You find not one.
You are my Beloved for ever and ever;
All that is broken within me will be made whole….
That I might live with integrity
And become a loving presence in the world!

Excerpts from Psalms for Praying, ©1996 by Nan C. Merrill
Published 2003 by The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.

Praying your Monday is thoughtful and productive, if not always safe.
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 August 2019 

A July 4 quandry

All day I’ve been wondering how to celebrate our nation. We have a system intent, it seems, on other-destruction and self-destruction. Though it’s most visible in the breakdown of our democratic ideals, it’s also visible in the way we treat strangers coming into our country. Is this the beginning of the end? Is there reason to hope? A few comments follow my poem.

Ignorance and Fear
clothed in swaggering Pride
peer down with Contempt
born of Lonely Bitterness
intent on Self-Destruction

And yet….“Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25)

Today is our annual National Pride day—the 4th of July. A grand celebration of the nation I love yet scarcely recognize not simply today, but in the history of our occupation of this land.

It’s easy to point to the behavior of certain officials in public office. In fact, they might be at or near the top of my list. Nonetheless, their behavior amplifies and builds on behaviors and attitudes already festering in our daily lives.

From the perspective of an ant on the ground (that would be me), it seems we’re doomed to more downhill behavior from all quarters. The sky is falling, isn’t it?

Yet the verse above comforts me. Chiefly because of my own ignorance and fear clothed in swaggering pride. I no longer fear the Judge of my worst imagination. Yes, my fear was fed by faces and behaviors of persons who judged me harshly—and taught me to judge myself harshly.

However, unlike them, the Judge of all the earth sees everything about me. That includes what was and was not done to or for me, along with what I’ve done or not done, and why.

Even more amazing, this Judge of all the earth invites me to come just as I am, without fear and without excuses. Why? Because this Judge is the Only One who understands me better than anyone, including myself.

The challenge is clear. I can’t count on this for myself without counting on it for others. The Judge of all the earth will do right for each of us. Not necessarily in my lifetime or yours, but at the right time and perhaps in unexpectedly gracious ways.

Here’s to a thoughtful and happy 4th of July!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2019

Transformation

Shepherds and sheep
Transformed at the sight
Of one small baby in a
Rude bed – the table set
Unexpectedly for all who
Dare follow this child into
Our upside-down world of
Rags to riches-and-glory–Now made small and lost
In an upside-down kingdom
Of lowly shepherds and dumb
Sheep besotted at the sight
Of a tiny homeless babe
Birthed in a stable beneath
Stars in the night sky

I know. It isn’t Christmas. Nonetheless, during the past week I enjoyed revisiting Dinah Roe Kendall’s collection of her paintings, Allegories of Heaven. In it she explores the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” The collection includes Kendall’s brief comments about her paintings, and short excerpts from Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message.

These days I’m learning to spend half an hour each day with myself. Not with a list of things to do, but with something I love or with nothing at all except the view from my attic windows. Which is why I began looking at this collection — a Christmas gift I received years ago.

The simplicity and awe of both shepherds and sheep grabbed my attention and prompted my thoughts in the poem. It’s never too early or late to consider this invitation to join the upside-down kingdom and become part of the revolution.

How to do this at my age? I’m not sure, but I know it will put me in good company no matter where it’s found.

Looking forward to a new week!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 June 2019
Artwork by Dinah Roe Kendall found at art.com

Fear has no wings – For our granddaughters 2019

I wrote this over two years ago., and am posting it again for our two beautiful granddaughters.

I was born into a Christian sub-culture driven by fear. Fear of the world, and fear of God whose all-seeing eye follows us day and night.

This was both comforting and terrifying. The world ‘out there’ was harsh and unforgiving. A dangerous place for little girls and big girls. I needed a Guardian.

Yet God’s all-seeing eye was taking notes. Was I being naughty or nice? Was I pleasing God or making God sad, angry or disgusted?

It was super-important to be productive as well as untouched and untainted by ‘the world.’ Evil lurked around every corner. Fear was the best preventive medicine I could take.

Fear helped me keep rules. Fear helped me develop keen eyes for what would please people in authority over me. Fear surreptitiously kept my hand to the grindstone. I wanted to be ready for the day when God would judge me for what I had done and not done.

I grew up without wings. Instead, I developed a remarkable talent for trying harder and jumping higher. Failure or even the whiff of failure was devastating.

Now, many failures later, I’ve begun developing tiny wings. Baby wings. The kind I trimmed back most of my life, trying to stay in the nest and out of trouble.

Being born plopped me into an aching world fraught with pain and anguish, troubles upon troubles. It’s impossible to stay out of trouble if I’m alive and breathing. Whether it’s my fault or not isn’t the issue.

Today I accept trouble in my life. Not because it’s good, but because it helps me develop baby wings. It helps me look up and around, gaining a glimpse of where I might fly next. I don’t want to waste more time trying to jump higher.

Here’s a favorite quote from Simone Weil’s Waiting for God. The highlighting is mine.

There are those people who try to elevate their souls
like someone who continually jumps from a standing position
in the hope that forcing oneself to jump all day—and higher every day—
they would no longer fall back down, but rise to heaven.
Thus occupied, they no longer look to heaven.

We cannot even take one step toward heaven.
The vertical direction is forbidden to us.
But if we look to heaven long-term,
God descends and lifts us up.
God lifts us up easily.

As Aeschylus says,
‘That which is divine is without effort.’
There is an ease in salvation more difficult for us than all efforts.

In one of Grimm’s accounts, there is a competition of strength
between a giant and a little tailor.
The giant throws a stone so high that it takes a very long time
before falling back down.
The little tailor throws a bird that never comes back down.
That which does not have wings always comes back down in the end.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 April 2017, reposted 6 June 2019
Photo of baby golden-eye ducks found at urbanpeek.com

Anguished Hope

Our granddaughters at the Tyler Arboretum, 2008

Yesterday D and I attended our twin granddaughters’ senior presentations. Half an hour each, talking about themselves and their journeys. Their self-understanding and transparency were painfully beautiful to hear. And their immediate plans for their lives offered hope that each of them would make contributions to the people of this world and to our planet. And yet….

Anguish —
An uncommonly daily experience
Giving birth to life
A thousand small losses
At a time

My feelings exactly
Sitting there in an attentive
Audience listening
For hope against
All odds —

A future for this
War-torn worn-out dis-eased
World of shrinking resources
And mounting debt
Now bankrupt

Which court
Will adjudicate the rape
Of this land and its people
Without bowing to
Human idols?

Who will believe
The verdict handed down
Without taking a moment
To make a buck or two
On lies?

Tomorrow’s
Pyramid schemes sophisticated
And irresistible stand ready
In the wings eager to swoop down
Filling their gaping craws with
Anguish

When I look at our human resources and our history over the last centuries, I despair — almost. When I see how dedicated our young graduates are to making a difference, I cringe and hope — against all odds.

The weight of past and present doesn’t offer grounds for a declaration of hope. Nor is there a strange new world waiting that meets the standards of our precarious dreams.

Yet I dream, hope and pray —

  • For each graduate’s stamina, and my commitment to being present in their lives
  • For openness to others, and other ways of living in this world
  • For faith to triumph over despair, disbelief, scorn and disappointment

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 2008 at the Tyler Arboretum near Philadelphia; our granddaughters were 8 years old.

To the Gardener after reading Psalm 1

Your words, so beautiful to read,
Crush me beneath the weight of
Life already lived – a great muddle
Of garden-rich vegetables plus toxic
Stew of tongue and cheek hurled
My way, often from my own mouth.

At this age I’ve little left but memories,
Plus ever-present directives from
Well-meaning people and ill intentions
From the other kind. To say nothing of
My own sometimes distressed mind
And body seeking solace and reassurance
That I matter to somebody if not
To myself.

Here, then, is my request:
I long to start over as a small tree
Planted by rivers of clear, pure water,
Guarded and pruned by Your hands
Alone. If this is not possible, I would
Also settle for a long and lovely
Winter’s nap.

From one of Your elderly fans,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 June 2019
Image found at JackMaxwellArt.com

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