Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Devotional Writing

Born to Die


Teach us to number our days;
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12, New International Version

I can’t help thinking these days about a theme in the gospels. Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. Not for political fame or religious adulation, but to die. He seemed to know what it meant to number his days.

Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem
Stubborn and determined
Abrasive and unconventional
Observant and angry
Weary and compassionate
Single-minded and welcoming
With his face set toward Jerusalem
From the beginning
Born to die sooner not later

I’m used to celebrating Jesus’ life and all the good and challenging things he said. I’m not so accustomed to celebrating his dogged, stubborn, insistent daily orientation toward death.

Jesus of Nazareth didn’t just happen to fall into the hands of his political and religious enemies. He knew who would betray him, yet didn’t try to stop him. Instead, he sent his betrayer out to do the deed. He met death straight on. Just as he was. Without machines of warfare, without fame or fortune, and without an army of loyal supporters.

“Teach us to number our days.” It’s a tough standard. I’d rather add to my days. Pretend it won’t happen to me today. Or that I’ll die in the best of circumstances.

We live in a time of global and local upheaval. Everywhere. What does it mean to set our faces toward death? I think it would mean setting our faces differently toward each other and toward nature.

I could sit back and say what will be, will be. The future isn’t mine to see. Still, what does it mean to number my days? And how does this change the way I live in the present, no matter how long it is before I die?

Writing about death (instead of ignoring it) is comforting. It’s also challenging. My hope is that the challenging part will bring more joy, gratitude, empathy and compassion into my life. Not just for myself, but for family members, friends, neighbors and strangers. We’re all in this together, though strangely alone in our deaths.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 April 2019
Photo found at nateholdridge.com

An Easter Lament and Question

Nothing comes easy these days
Small deaths and large
Gaping holes
Clutter the landscape

Rain falls sideways
Streaking over my back yard
Daring me to will it
To the ground

Out of control and out of time
Bombs tick silently
Within this fragile planet of creatures
And plant life whipped
By gales of political
And personal expediency

So many deaths
Not enough tombs
Or people with vision
And voices to help us
Find our way home

‘Come to me
All who labor
And I will give you rest’
Yet even You were hung
On a tree whiplashed
And left to die

How will Easter
Arrive on this good earth
Not just for the flowers
But for all of us?

Is dying our only option?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 April 2019
Photo found at pixabay.com

the sound of nothing

Blush-pink morning clouds
Paint the sky peachy sherbet
Fresh from last night’s raucous rain
Now gathered in mud puddles

Outside my bedroom window
Venus shines in the east
Birds soar through chilled air
Graceful trees sway to and fro
Freed by the sound of nothing

This morning’s quiet was welcome, especially given the bluster and chest-thumping offered up daily by our news feeds. Huge plates overflow with hand-wringing, fact-checking, posturing and dissecting served up fresh, minute by minute. Starvation diet. That’s what it feels like. Even the best scenarios aren’t enough to sustain us.

Nature isn’t God. Nor is Nature a meek little lamb. Nonetheless, when seen through eyes of faith, Nature becomes a vast, open, accessible tutor about life.

My daily challenge is to stop, look and listen. Though the music isn’t always beautiful, it always points to truth. A welcome respite from today’s clamorous voices, and a reminder that we are all finite. This current state of affairs will not last forever.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 January 2019
Photo of Venus at dawn found at flickr.com, taken by Joseph Brimacombe

Shame on you – a poem and confession

Shame on you
Is not shame on me

I renounce your efforts
To fill my heart with
Your lust and shame
Bequeathed to you
By your father-preacher
When you were a sobbing
Child terrified lest you wake
Up one day in that fiery hell
You too once preached to
Children who believed the lie
That they entered this world
Sinners from the beginning
Now terrified of missing
That mercy for which you
Wept loudly and often
In the confines of your own
Terrified heart and soul

Wave your arms in the air
Send out your calls for sinners
To sob their way forward
Down the aisle filled
With shame and self-hatred
Believing a story that never
Belonged to them no matter
How many times they
Rushed down the aisle
Of your own deep shame

Somewhere along the way I lost the shame I carried from childhood. Shame that bound me as an adult, not just as a child.

Here’s how I see it now. Yes, there is right and there is wrong. No, God doesn’t create junk. Nor did God make sure I came with a bit of built-in sin for which I’m supposed to feel deep shame.

The shame came later. From others who introduced me to their shame long before I knew what was happening.

As a child, preachers and evangelists routinely reminded me that my heart was filled with sin from the day I was born. I watched other children repeatedly rushing down the aisle terrified lest they be thrown into a lake of fire when they died. I managed to raise my hand once, which felt like more than enough. After all, I got it at home, too.

At some point I had to take ownership of the woman I’d become. Still, scaring me and punishing me into repeated agonies of confession never helped me take ownership of myself. It simply kept me in a constant state of fear, shame and hyper-vigilance.

Ironically, these are the very things my Creator invites me to let go. Not because I’m a goody two-shoes, but because I’m loved just the way I am.

For that, I’m deeply grateful on this day of Sabbath rest.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 October 2018

After scanning today’s headlines —

A rude and rootless nation
Sits in the seat of scoffers
Indignant and outraged
Lock her up!
Lock him up!
Lock them up!
And throw away the key!

Chaff tossed on winds
Of overwrought words
Ruthless and homeless
We drift toward destruction
Lost in the wilderness
Of our own undoing

I’ve almost always read Psalm 1 with my life in mind. It’s a Psalm about choosing the way of wisdom, rather than the way of folly. I still think that’s a fair way of reading it.

Nonetheless, it’s also a Psalm directed to a nation of human beings with human leaders who make choices both wise and foolish. Not that everyone agrees to go one way or the other. There’s more than enough folly and wisdom to share on all sides.

It seems our nation is drifting down the path of folly. Often following in the footsteps of leaders who say and do foolish things. Or who respond to one kind of foolishness with another kind. Equally unrestrained and destructive.

Hence this reading of Psalm 1 as a cautionary tale. If we aren’t part of the wise resistance, we’re in danger of finding ourselves headed downhill along the destructive path of fools. Also known as the wicked who are like chaff driven by the wind. Drifting toward our demise. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 October 2018
Photo of winnowing wheat taken in Iran by David Murphy, fineartamerica.com

No other gods

Thou shalt have no other gods…

twilight of our small gods
descends over shallow water
teeming with refuse

ill-begotten secrets lurk
beneath ripples of shriveled minds
as once-buoyant hopes sink

ill-conceived saviors morph
into scapegoats scorned with contempt
mirrors of our self-loathing despair

Come unto me all who labor and are heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn of me;
For I am meek and lowly of heart
And you shall find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:28-29

There’s nothing magical about it. No overnight resolutions of pain and anguish. Just a re-orientation to the one who leads and accompanies us to God, who already loves and grieves for each of us.

Thanks to my blogging friend Yassy, for a poem and comment yesterday that got my mind going on this post. Check out her lovely poem.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2018

Why I can’t stop staring | Psalm 23

I’ve never been here
though I know it exists
somewhere beyond
my power to make it happen
a table is ready and waiting
in the presence of my enemies
an oasis in the Sahara
awaits my arrival with
more than enough oil
to anoint my head and
water to quench my thirst

I’ve been thinking about Psalm 23 this week. Especially the part about the faithful shepherd preparing a table before me in the presence of my enemies. I usually focus on the part about my enemies (not necessarily the Shepherd’s enemies).

This time I’m thinking about the table. Maybe it’s like the oasis pictured above, Guelta d’Archei, in the Sahara Desert in Chad. If you’d like to see more photos, click on the link.

This remarkable permanent pool of water is in one of the driest places on earth, hidden and shaded beneath giant towers of sandstone. Its immediate eco-system includes a reliable source of water that serves as a convenient outhouse for camels. Green algae feasts on black dung deposited by camels, creating black water. Fish thrive in this environment by eating the algae which seems to enjoy a kind of eternal life, thanks to the camels. And then there are Nile crocodiles that love the algae-hungry fish!

What could be more inviting than this reliable table in what seems a God-forsaken desert? I can’t stop staring. Perhaps what looks strange and forbidding in my life is actually a table set by my shepherd. All I have to do is show up.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies….

©Elouise Renich Fraser,18 August 2018
Photos found at amusingplanet.com

Politics on my Mind

I woke up today with politics on my mind. Actually, with Psalm 23, Isaiah 53, Psalm 1, and Martin Luther’s theology of the cross on my mind.

It started when I went to sleep last night with a problem on my mind.

  • How am I to live as a citizen of the USA in a world that feels increasingly hostile, thanks to things happening right here in the USA, not simply ‘over there.’

Yet my problem isn’t the USA. This isn’t about my country right or wrong. It’s not even about this or that political party right or wrong. It’s about me as a follower of Jesus.

So here’s where I am this morning.

Psalm 23 reminds me that my Creator is my shepherd—one of the lowly, despised, mocked ‘lowlife’ who remains focused and loyal to the flock no matter what. Through thick and thin. Trusting. What a foolish thing to do, right? We all know the enemy is lurking.

Martin Luther’s theology of the cross reminds me that the cross is not a beautiful piece of art or jewelry. It’s real. It’s bloody. It’s lonely. It’s brutal. And it happened to the best of persons. Only by way of crucifixion do we see the cost, determination, love and steely focus of this man Jesus of Nazareth. The embodiment of a despised, loyal yet betrayed shepherd. Not simply betrayed by Judas, but by every one of his hand-picked disciples.

Isaiah 53 reminds me that all of us despised him, turned on him, esteemed him not. Especially when the going got rough. And he opened not his mouth. What a coward, some would say.

Psalm 1 reminds me that I’m not necessarily one of the trees planted by rivers of water. I’m also tempted to join up with the wicked. This isn’t a sad psalm. It’s cautionary. It lets me know my path isn’t automatically the path of the righteous. Especially if I call myself a follower of Jesus. It challenges me to stay rooted near a living stream of water. Especially but not only in times of drought.

We’re in a drought. The USA as I experience it is a strange land becoming stranger by the minute. Not because of immigrants or white supremacists, but because of deeply rooted polarization that tears people, families and communities apart.

So here’s where that leaves me, with some degree of certainty.

  • Following Trump, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Independents, the Green Party, the flag, the Constitution or any other national symbol or institution will not save us in the end. Nor will it move us forward.
  • Moving forward begins in our hearts. We need each other, battered and broken. Maybe all that means at first is learning to resolve problems in our increasingly isolated communities, families, and houses of worship.
  • And what are the problems? For me they have nothing to do with national or international politics, and everything to do with learning the hard way (by making mistakes and starting over) what it means to honor other human beings within our current circles of friends, strangers and acquaintances. Loving our neighbors doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s time for humility, not glory. Especially if we’re afraid for our reputations or even our lives. Like it or not, we’re already at risk of worse than social disapproval or being voted out of our favorite clubs.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 August 2018

An everyday lament

For dying orchids, catbirds
and other occupants —

Paper-thin creamy petals
of an orchid blossom fold
and bow in death

Scattered feathers and small entrails
of a gray catbird litter the road this morning

Prisoners in and out of cells hang on
by spider-thin threads of hope

Children lost and abandoned
have no get-out-of-jail cards

Women and men found wandering
find few if any life-sustaining options

And that little mouse is now gone
except for its small helpless head

Written after my morning walk, and after discovering the first orchid blossom expired in my kitchen during the night. Likewise the little mouse a few days ago, set upon by a determined predator. You’ll find the rest in the news and in our neighborhoods any day or night of the week.

Not very likable, I admit. Yet our tears for losses great and small are invaluable connections to ourselves, to others, and to our Creator. We are, after all, living on borrowed time within a growing breakdown of human kindness and decency. We don’t have to be persons of a certain faith or even age to see, understand and grieve these daily realities.

Sabbath rest gives time to think not simply about the glories of creation, but about how much we’ve lost and how sad it all is. Our Creator honors our tears and, I believe, weeps with us. Tears of lament aren’t signs of weakness, but signs and sometimes celebrations of small connections we must renew if we want to thrive together.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 July 2018
Image found at blogs.covchurch.org

riding the north wind

riding the north wind
a train whistle blows my way
chasing after clouds

I heard the train whistle Friday evening when D and I were out for a late evening walk. A welcome sound, since it meant we were in for priceless cool Canadian air (no tariffs involved) over the weekend. We’re just on the tail-end now, headed back toward hot and humid.

This morning I’m sorting things on my desk, littered with yesterday’s brilliant ideas and lists of things I mustn’t forget to do. I’m also anticipating this coming Friday’s open mic night at our church. I signed on to read several more of my poems. A happy prospect.

Most of all though, I’m watching myself and our world with an eye toward heaven and an eye on the ground. This morning I read Psalm 10, a cry from the heart for justice to prevail, with the wicked caught in the very traps they made and set.

I couldn’t help thinking about George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind. God sends the North Wind here and there to stir things up. Not with calm, cool or pleasant outcomes for everyone, yet always for the good of this world God still loves more than we’ll ever understand.

Below are the last two verses of Psalm 10, from Today’s English Version

You will listen, O Lord, to the
prayers of the lowly;

You will give them courage.
You will hear the cries of the
oppressed and the orphans;
You will judge in their favor,
so that mortal human beings
may cause terror
no more.

This isn’t about a magic wand. It’s about us doing with our heart, hands, ears, eyes and feet the kinds of things for which we were created. And in whatever ways we’re able. A faithful, refreshing north wind of interest and engagement is just as feasible as a self-centered north wind of greed and hatred.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 July 2018
Image of the North Wind carrying Diamond found at tor.com

%d bloggers like this: