Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

The Sixth Recognition of the Lord | Mary Oliver

Every summer the lilies rise
and open their white hands until they almost
cover the black waters of the pond. And I give
thanks but it does not seem like adequate thanks,
it doesn’t seem
festive enough or constant enough, nor does the
name of the Lord or the words of thanksgiving come
into it often enough. Everywhere I go I am
treated like royalty, which I am not. I thirst and
am given water. My eyes thirst and I am give
the white lilies on the black water. My heart
sings but the apparatus of singing doesn’t convey
half what it feels and means. In spring there’s hope,
in fall the exquisite, necessary diminishing, in
winter I am as sleepy as any beast in its
leafy cave, but in summer there is
everywhere the luminous sprawl of gifts,
the hospitality of the Lord and my
inadequate answers as I row my beautiful, temporary body
through this water-lily world.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 28

Dear Mary,

Your poem made me weep. I don’t know if you intended this, but your “Recognition of the Lord” is also a recognition of your “beautiful, temporary body.”

I long for a permanent body as beautiful as your water-lily world. Not the kind of beauty that gets attention, but the beauty that’s carried in our hearts and souls. No matter what’s happening to our aging bodies.

I never thought of myself as beautiful when I was growing up. Even now, the most I can usually admit is that I’m acceptable. My husband of many years has trouble convincing me that to him, I’m more than acceptable.

What challenges me when I think about the water lilies, roses, peonies, lilacs, and azaleas is that they never complain about the astonishing brevity of their beauty. Here today and gone tomorrow.

Do I want to be like they are? Sadly, no amount of makeup or other ways we try to fool nature will ever satisfy me. So this lovely Recognition of the Lord, the One who created us, is incredibly demanding. Yes, we have our time to flourish, and yes, we fade. Like flowers of the field and water lilies.

If this is meant to comfort me in my aging body, I still have work to do. Letting go isn’t my favorite pastime. Which, I’m guessing, wasn’t yours, either.

Thank you for prodding my heart and mind today, and sharing your lovely and beautiful voice with all of us.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 July 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, June 2019

Sunflowers and Cicadas

Lost in a crowd
Wondering who I am
today and what will
become of us

A sunflower dropped
into the earth by
accident or design
pays no attention

Cicadas raise their
shrill chorus and fall
back into waves of
welcome silence

Hot sunrays pierce
the haze of dawn
with a vigor I cannot
mimic or resurrect

Climbing a small hill
and moving from shade
to shade I wake up
to this burning day

What is progress? I hope I’m making some today. A recent appointment with my integrative doctor produced more follow-up than I like. It feels like being in half-here mode. Living between what I’ve been and whatever comes next. It’s pushing me back to hard questions about what I will and will not agree to at this time of my life. And, more important, what I want to do with my time right now.

In the meantime, I’m mesmerized by our impromptu sunflower family springing from the earth beneath last winter’s large bird feeder. You’d think I’d never seen a sunflower. Nevertheless, it’s magical to find unplanned beauty right in our back yard.

Hoping you’ll find beauty in small things today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2021
Backyard photo taken by DAFraser, 25 July 2021

Photo Therapy for My Heart

P1060580

I first published this on 3 February 2016, a few weeks after Mr. Trump became President. The post features several photos I find calm and reassuring no matter what’s happening around or in me. Today Mr. Biden is our President, and there is still much to lament, and not much certainty about our tomorrows. I hope you enjoy the photos and find some peace slipping into your heart.

That’s a mature Dawn Redwood at the top. We’re in Longwood Gardens in their large-tree arboretum. It’s a scorching hot day. The tree’s inviting limbs offer rest in the shade. No entrance fee. No time limit. No requirements except that I step into the shade. Into the relaxing and reassuring freedom of our Creator’s care for me, no matter my age or my health.

P1030662

Here’s a tiny flower of the field in the Longwood Meadow Garden. Fragile, delicate, one-of-a-kind, like a snowflake. Here today, gone tomorrow. Yet known to God who delights in the beauty of this world. I can’t help thinking about human life, and the One who creates and fully understands our fragile mortal beauty.

As a parent has compassion for his or her children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear God.
For God knows how we were made,
and remembers that we are dust.
As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of God
is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear God….

Psalm 103:13-17a

012

Here I’m  standing in a square pavilion that circles this magnificent eye of water. We’re in the oriental area of the Arboretum at Longwood Gardens. The sound is stunning. A steady flow of water wells up in the ‘pupil’ of the eye and gently cascades down into the pool.

The small dots around the edge are pennies–wishes tossed in by visitors. For me, this is one of the most calming sites in the gardens. Usually there aren’t many visitors here. The benches around the border invite meditation and relaxation, accompanied by the steady sound of water falling. That’s my back to the camera. I’m looking out at the stream that flows downhill from the eye of water before the water is recycled back to the top to overflow yet again.

Finally, one of my favorites. It isn’t spectacularly beautiful like many other Longwood Gardens photos. This is right next to a path, not hidden away in the woods. We’re near the meadow and the water ponds. This mama is doing what our Creator wants to do for each of us. She’s taking her chicks under wings. Keeping them safe, warm, dry and calm. Just where my heart wants to be right now!

Nesting at Longwood

Thanks for coming along!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 February 2016, lightly edited and reposted 24 July 2021
Photo credit: DAFraser, Longwood Gardens

The Apple Tree

I want to be a poem tree. Reaching out and up to the heavens, blown by the wind of God’s Spirit, sheltering birds, bearing fruit, sinking roots deep into the ground, soaking up water, thriving in sometimes hostile circumstances. The kind of tree Psalm 1 describes.

A tree planted by living water
That brings forth its fruit in its season.
Its leaves don’t wither;
Whatever it does, it prospers.

Poem trees (surely you’ve seen one) don’t have only one way of communicating. Yet their impact is simple. They point to the inexplicable. The way a life sometimes can.

Which reminds me of Jesus of Nazareth. Not just as a human being and God’s beloved son-child, but as a tree. What kind of tree was he?

I think he was a poem tree. Pointing with ordinary words to the inexpressible, to what we discern through and beyond spoken or written words. The truth about God and about us. Grand, yet simple.

As simple and grand as a common, ordinary apple tree. Known and loved worldwide. Dependable, not full of exotic promises about heavenly hybrids that may offer curb appeal, but end up being a disappointment or just another pretty ad.

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. I first heard this song in the 1980s when I was studying theology. The lyrics captivated me. I can’t be Jesus Christ the apple tree. Nonetheless, I want to be a poem tree with a small resemblance to the simple, poetic significance of this one life. I also want to rest a while, a very long while, beneath its shade.

To hear a performance of Elizabeth Poston’s haunting tune, click here. It takes only 2 minutes, 42 seconds. Well worth a listen!

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree

His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne’er can tell
His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I missed of all but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
I’m weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

* * *

Lyrics published in Divine Hymns and Spiritual Songs 1797,
written by Joshua Smith/William Northup

Tune by Elizabeth Poston, 1905-1987, sung here by
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, about 1993.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 June 2015, edited and reposted 20 July 2021
Photo from chiefrivernursery.com

Our current bankruptcy

When all is not said or done
for want of Wisdom,
What more is there
to do but close my eyes
and sleep the sleep
of wearied souls

I used to think old age
would bring increased
Wisdom if not Wealth
And yet I observe how
much more rewarding
it is to stockpile Wealth

and send Wisdom packing
to the dogs as they say
when dismissing what
seems not worth saving
much less passing along
to the next generation

Then again we never were
a nation of invaders
schooled in the art of
Wisdom as Wealth
How else to explain our
Growing bankruptcy?

Watching news outlets is sometimes like playing Which side are you on? Or Gasp-Worthy News. Or now we’ll interview past holders of political office to see what they think about today’s gasp-worthy news though sadly, they no longer have power to change our growing polarizations.

Is this what we want to leave to our children and their children? Of course not. And yet…..

What’s a citizen to do? The most difficult challenge I face daily isn’t the news, but how I interact with friends and strangers. What would it be like to suspend all news, and actually get to know more neighbors and neighborly strangers?

Time? Yes. Also effort, patience and persistence. And, above all, an open heart ready for Wisdom to grow a tiny bit stronger than it was yesterday.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 July 2021
Image found at snopes.com

Masks

 

Horst Lemke sketch for Psalm 139:1-6, Die Gute Nachricht, published by Deutsche Bibelstiftung Stuttgart, 1978

Every morning, along with enjoying the birds and squirrels, I read a bit of German. It’s a way to stay in touch with a language in which I was once fluent. I begin with a Bach Chorale each day (music plus 1st stanza in German). Most of the time that’s more than enough!

However…A few days ago, right after the Bach Chorale, I picked up my copy of The Good News in German, purchased in July 1980. It fell open to the sketch above by Horst Lemke. It struck a chord in me, partly because of our current situation in the USA and elsewhere. But mainly because Psalm 139 rightly assumes each of us owns at least one mask–though we may not own or be wearing a Covid-style mask.

I teared up as I read the passage below, given our current national and international challenges and catastrophes.

Psalm 139:1-12 from the Good News Bible in English (pp. 744-45)

Lord, you have examined me and you know me.
You know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts.
You see me, whether I am working or resting; you know all my actions.
Even before I speak, you already know what I will say,
You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power.
Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding.

Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there; if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.
If I flew away beyond the east or lived in the farthest place in the west,
you would be there to lead me; you would be there to help me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me or the light around me to turn into night,
but even darkness is not dark for you, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are the same to you.

The rest of Psalm 139 is equally beautiful and powerful. Just what I need during these days of chaos, unplanned disasters, deep divisions, and masks behind masks.

Praying you’ll find your way today, knowing that the One who created each of us hasn’t forgotten our names, our faces, or our circumstances.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 July 2021
Sketch by Horst Lemke found in Die Gute Nachricht, p. 419
©1978 Deutsche Bibelstiftung Stuttgart

Glory Falls | Maya Angelou

Here we are, near the eve of July 4. Though it’s a day to be proud of our nation, so much has gone so wrong. My comments follow Maya Angelou’s poem.

Glory falls around us
as we sob
a dirge of
desolation on the Cross
and hatred is the ballast of
the rock
      which lies upon our necks
      and underfoot.
We have woven
      robes of silk
      and clothed our nakedness
      with tapestry.
From crawling on this
      murky planet’s floor
      we soar beyond the
      birds and
      through the clouds
      and edge our way from hate
      and blind despair and
      bring honor
      to our brothers, and to our sisters cheer.
We grow despite the
      horror that we feed
      upon our own
      tomorrow.
We grow.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 47.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

I’m reminded of John Stainer’s heart-rending chorus from The Crucifixion, with its invitation to pay attention to ‘the king of grief’ instead of simply passing by.

From the throne of his cross
the king of grief cries out to a world of unbelief,
‘Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by?’

It’s one thing to celebrate the insight, agony and beauty of Maya Angelou’s poem. It another to understand that most white people in the USA would prefer to walk on by and try to get on with their lives.

A few weeks ago a friend from seminary days recommended a new book. It’s helping me understand our current impasse here in the USA. It’s written by Drick Boyd, and is titled Disrupting Whiteness: Talking with White People about Racism.

The main point? It’s time for white people to start talking with each other about our individual and collective racism. What are our earliest memories about racism? What forms does racism take? When did we start assuming most white people are superior beings? How do we give up what feels ‘normal’ but is not? How can we support each other for the long haul?

As James Baldwin pointed out in The Fire Next Time (pp. 21-22):

White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

Thanks for stopping by.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 July 2021
Photo of Maya Angelou found at usatoday.com
Book covers found at amazon.com

Storage | Mary Oliver

What about all the stuff we collect over the years? Mary Oliver knows. My comments follow.

When I moved from one house to another
there were many things I had no room
for. What does one do? I rented a storage
space. And filled it. Years passed.
Occasionally I went there and looked in,
but nothing happened, not a single
twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared
about grew fewer, but were more
important. So one day I undid the lock
and called the trash man. He took
everything.
I felt like the little donkey when
his burden is finally lifted. Things!
Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful
fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own
nothing—the reason they can fly.

Published 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (p. 7)
Copyright 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
First published in Felicity, 2015

I grew up in the 1940s and 50s. Back then (post-World War II) we were trained to make do with whatever was at hand. Throwing things away was not encouraged.

Almost anything could be repurposed, altered, or made to fit the need at hand. Glass bottles, aluminum tumblers that used to be filled with store-bought cottage cheese, lids for just about anything, hand-me-down clothes, kitchen utensils, and bits of old candle wax. Furthermore, if we didn’t need it, someone else probably did.

Here, however, Mary Oliver invites us to let go of stuff that takes up unnecessary space. Why? Because it makes room in our hearts for love, for the trees, and for the birds who own nothing.

Could it be that the stuff taking up space includes old attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and other human beings? These might also be lurking in boxes we’ve not examined or relinquished. Which leaves little if any room for the birds, for other human beings, or even for our own growth.

What would it take for us to soar and dance together in the sky?
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 June 2021
Video of Starling Murmuration found on YouTube

We live on the verge

This poem isn’t for the faint of heart. Nor is it about life writ large. It’s about daily choices now dwindling down to a precious few.   

We live on the verge
the daily edge
the cutting edge
the bleeding edge
between breakdown
and breakthrough

Born with limited opportunities
we leap
stumble
fly
or die of indecision

I opt to sail beyond the verge
against all odds
into uncharted territory
where no woman in her ‘right’ mind
has ever gone before

With gratitude to Star Trek
and all other mortal friends and strangers
who helped make this moment possible,

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 April 2017, reposted 21 June 2021
Photo found at pixabay.com

I’m ceded — I’ve stopped being Theirs | Emily Dickinson

harvest-moon-sept-2016

I’m drawn to this poem from Emily Dickinson for two reasons. First, I sometimes call myself Queen Elouise. Second, it captures the difference between belonging to Them and belonging to Grace. In my view, it describes what we need today in this world of stunning beauty, visible misery, and stunning injustice. My comments follow.

I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Theirs –
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I’ve finished threading – too –

Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace –
Unto supremest name –
Called to my Full – The Crescent dropped –
Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.

My second Rank – too small the first –
Crowned – Crowing – on my Father’s breast –
A half unconscious Queen –
But this time – Adequate – Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown –

c. 1862

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

Emily’s poem reminds me of the biblical exhortation to put away childish things. Here, Emily is ready to put away her childhood name—the name They chose and dropped on her face at her infant baptism.

In fact, They can put that name (Princess?) in the attic trunk along with childhood toys and activities she no longer needs. Perhaps they served her well, but they have no place in her new, freely chosen baptism into the fullness of her personhood.

And so Emily announces her conscious Declaration of Independence. Her rebaptism is possible because of Grace, not because of someone else’s past decision for her, or their approval of her decision now. This choice is hers alone, made possible by Grace! Not forced, not from shame or blame, and not as a power move.

This independence won’t come without clarity of speech and action. Even more difficult, since it’s driven by Grace this means clarity driven by the Grace of truth, not by anger or a desire for revenge or retribution.

I respect you, and I am not your possession. I’m not interested in childish approaches to life. The name you gave me no longer fits. I don’t want or need your affirmation. I have a new, fuller Calling. I’m not the silver sliver of a Crescent moon. I’m a full-orbed Harvest Moon, signified by this ‘one small Diadem’ I now wear.

I’ve outgrown my childish identity. Back then I was at best a half conscious Queen. Today I’ve come of age. No more baby crown, and no more cute crowing or baby talk. I am Adequate and Erect. I don’t want or need the kingdom, fancy parades, or pandering obeisance. I’m content with a simple Crown and telling the truth in my own voice, as I see it.

Need I say Queen Elouise again? Now, more than ever, I long to be

…Adequate – Erect –
With Will to choose or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown –

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 November 2016, lightly edited and reposted 18 June 2021
Photo of Harvest Moon by Robin Osbon found at almanac.com

%d bloggers like this: