Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

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

We never know how high we are – revisited

These few words from Emily Dickinson still bring tears to my eyes. Given current events, we could use some kingly and queenly risk-taking right now. No matter how small or fear-filled our steps may be. Happy Monday!   

Dear Emily,
I have one small suggestion to make about your poem below. Please add ‘or queen’ to your last line. Just in case that’s not possible, I’m going to do it for you every time I read it. You’ll find my comments below your lovely poem.
Respectfully,
Elouise

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies –

The heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing
Did not ourselves the cubits warp
For fear to be a king –

Poem #1176, written about 1870
Found on Poets.org

Dear Friend of this World,
I’m sending you this little poem today from Emily Dickinson. Maybe you never heard of her. I think she was a bit shy and bashful. You know, like many of us who don’t want to become a public ‘thing,’ even though we do enjoy being noticed and appreciated.

I think that deep down, Emily wanted us to know about her little poem. Or at least to notice it. So please read it over, and over again. Once is good, five times is better.

Do you know how important your words and deeds are? Perhaps you’re tempted to water them down by over-thinking. Or you get stuck in fear. Especially fear of failure, or fear of going against expectations–your own or those of others. I do.

Sometimes I wonder whether Emily understood her own queenly power.

If you have any doubt about yourself, look and listen to what you already do every day. Just getting up in the morning is a big deal. Or smiling and offering to help a friend or stranger. Or doing what you know will honor your body and spirit or someone else’s.

The way I see it, God gave us our selves, each other, and this world with its unnumbered inhabitants as our earthly home. We’re the only caretakers God has on this earth. We’re a big deal, individually and together.

In fact, God loves nothing more than watching us step up to our full kingly and queenly stature. Especially despite our worst fears, and without expectation of payment, reward or even a ‘thank you.’ Sometimes it takes an emergency to jumpstart our royal blood. But we don’t want to wait for that, do we?

Thank you most kindly for visiting and reading.
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2017, reposted 11 November 2019
Image found at pinterest

When I Am Among the Trees | Mary Oliver

Here’s a Happy Monday poem for everybody. My comments follow.

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

© 2006 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 4

Today it’s sunny, bright, very cool, and breezy. I’m just back from a morning walk beneath and near trees, many towering toward the sky.

If I were an older tree right now, I’d be cowering close to the ground. Hoping no one would notice how many leaves I’ve lost, or how bent and even broken my branches are. And did you see those ugly thick roots protruding farther from the ground when the green grass turns brown?

On the other hand, maybe passersby will see how beautiful my remaining leaves are. Or listen to the music of the wind dancing around my chilly bones. Or notice that more light flows through and from my gnarly branches when those pesky, preening leaves are long gone.

I love this poem. Though it seems to have spring, summer and autumn in mind, it works for winter as well. Especially when the wind whips through iced branches, bouncing off fragile twigs and sturdy green needles. To say nothing of new snow covering everything in a down comforter.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Happy Monday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 November 2019
Image of Beech Trees in Autumn found at thurmanovich.com

What I remember

A young girl searching for perfect autumn leaves
A young boy not old enough for soccer, running laps
Leaves rustling on trees and beneath my feet

Shouts and shrieks from grade-school soccer players
The sight of proud, anxious parents looking on
A few parents sitting it all out in their warm cars

Friendly dogs of all sizes out for pause-and-pee walks
Parked cars lining the Episcopal church parking lot
Churchyard grave stones shining white in bright sun

Smiles on faces of passersby known and unknown
A left-over plastic Halloween spider pretending to be road kill
Squirrels racing around, frantically stashing nuts for winter

The feel of cold wind on my face, bright sun in my eyes
Halloween remnants lurking on front yards and porches
Smashed acorns and acorn meal at every turn

I took a long, glorious walk after church this morning. No huge surprises. Just the sound of my feet hitting the pavement, and a chorus of happy shrieks and parental encouragement filling the air.

Sometimes I want to bottle what I feel, see and smell—for rainy days. I’m slowly learning to enjoy each day, and let it go. Clearing the deck for whatever comes tomorrow.

So far today I’m grateful for everything I remember from my walk. I’m also grateful I was able to attend church this morning with D, hear a thoughtful sermon from one of my former students, listen to stunning music during the offering and during communion, collect smiles from several friends, and go for that brisk autumn walk before lunch.

Looking forward to the coming week!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 November 2019
Photo from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, almanac.com

Breath of God Unseen – revisited

wind-sculpted-drifts-martin-nd-13-jan-2017

I  posted this in January 2017. It’s as true today as was then, especially given world and national events of the past few years. It’s difficult to keep my eyes on what matters most these days, rather than what parades as ‘reality.’ 

Breath of God
Unseen
Artist of my heart
And life
Breathe on me 

The wind is cold
Unyielding
To my vain cries
For mercy
Breathe on me 

Evening shadows
Lengthen
In fading light
Brilliant
and foreboding 

Deep blue sky
Darkens
Trees bend and sway
Breath of God
Breathe on me 

It’s late afternoon. This morning I woke to this photo on my weather page. I thought immediately about my life and the way God’s Spirit has blown through and around it, unseen and unbidden.  

Looking back, I’d say the outcomes today are beyond my wildest dreams. Not that I’m perfect or successful or even ‘special.’ Rather, this is about contentment. 

I’m at peace with myself, though not always with situations in which I find myself.  Or even with my behavior. Nonetheless, things have changed in my spirit over the last several years. 

Today I have compassion for myself as a child, as a young teenager, as a wife, mother and grandmother, and as a retired professional. I rarely struggle with feeling like a fraud, or with harsh self-talk that belittles me or accuses me of being The Problem with Everything. 

I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m saying I’m at rest with who I am and who I am not. Especially from the inside out. The part that really matters. 

I like what I see when I think of myself as a huge pile of snow, sculpted by God’s Spirit through winds of change. I know, things aren’t exactly spectacular in the world right now. It’s just that today I’m at peace with myself.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 January 2017, reposted 1 November 2019
Photo taken by Brian Bender at Martin, North Dakota, USA, 13 Jan 2017
Found at Weather Underground App

Dear Friends | Monday morning update

Life as a blogger is pressing on me these days. Not to stop writing, but to make the most of the time I still have.

I can’t begin to describe how much I love this unexpected gift—blogging. Nonetheless, it’s frustrating to experience my energy dwindling a bit with each passing day.

When I got up this morning I saw two comments left last night that got me all teary. Writing is rewarding. It’s also a bit lonely, even though it’s a way of reaching out. I never know how my words will touch people I know well and not so well. I took my tears and the two comments as a sign that I’m not finished yet.

Nonetheless, I have a few challenges coming up. My heart and my kidneys need to have a conversation. This really means I’ll have conversations with my kidney and heart doctors in the next month. And then make some decisions about what I might do next.

In the meantime, I’m living in the one day at a time mode. Yesterday, Mary Oliver’s poem got me through. I’m still learning to live what she describes. That would be how to expect, recognize, welcome and delight in the gift of each created day. Sunny or not.

Thanks for all your visits, and for reading this. Right now I’m off to the kitchen to make another super-healthy smoothie.

Happy Monday to each of you,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 October 2019
Photo of Lakeshore Grasses at Dawn, Canada, found at army.file

Morning Poem | Mary Oliver

No “orange sticks of the sun” this morning. Just rain, gusty wind, and the nonstop sound of water draining from the gutters. Nonetheless, Mary Oliver’s poem invites me into a world waiting with open arms. My comments follow.

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches –
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries in it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead –
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging –

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted –

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

© Mary Oliver, 1992, in New and Selected Poems, Vol. One, pp 106-07
Published by Beacon Press

I don’t have to feel happy and upbeat every morning. This poem isn’t about how I feel. It’s about what I’m already being offered, and what I already need no matter how I feel.

I don’t even have to pray. The gift is already there. Ready and waiting for me to discover it. The answer to what I’ve always wanted. The world re-created overnight. Wild and beautiful. Carrying on with or without me. An answer to a prayer I never even prayed.

I’m encouraged when I think about Mary Oliver’s life. She left everything in order to make a life for herself. One day at a time. Heading upstream. One small observation at a time, plus a few words ‘thrown together.’ Mary Oliver lived what she wrote, and wrote what she lived.

No magic wand or mantra can make it all come out right. Still, each morning we’re offered the gift of another day. Plus imagination to look beyond the heaviness of today, and see that dark pond of water lilies blazing with color.

Praying you’ll have a glimpse of blazing lilies today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 October 2019
Photo found at etsy.com

For Elijah Cummings, with Gratitude

How sad I never knew you –

Your full-throated voice thundered
Truth without apology or rancor
Within halls of justice and injustice
On streets and off streets
It really didn’t matter

You were a man with a mission
To heal what has been broken
Since the beginning of our time

Others with and without eloquence
Have spoken honorably of you —
The citizen I never knew
Yet counted on to be there
Someone we the people needed
In this hour of deafening bereavement
Now marked by your personal demise

What are we to do without you
Without your one-of-a-kind voice
Calling the shots loudly and boldly

WE the people must ultimately
Make the difference one day at a time
Give up our posturing
And begin again to make our way
Through this world in which
We too are no longer at home

Click here for more about Elijah Cummings.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 October 2019
Photo found at yahoo.com

Old survival habits die hard

Dear Friends,

Over two years ago I began working on issues I still had with my father who died in 2010. These weren’t just childhood issues, but things that affected me as an adult.

During the last few months I’ve been distressed about something I thought I shouldn’t or couldn’t do. Why not? That was the issue.

My reluctance began, but didn’t end with my father’s voice reigning me in. Even though he’s not around, I still hear a voice trying to hold me back. Many voices have tried to reign me in all my life. Sometimes they succeeded.

Yet the sad truth is this: They could not have succeeded had I not already internalized by father’s voice as my voice.

So why is this so difficult for me today as the woman I am right now?

Simply put, I have cared too much about what other people think of me, beginning but not ending with D. This is almost unbelievable to me, even though I know it’s true. I’ve lived my life (as a preacher’s daughter, seminarian, professor and dean) under a microscope of male and female scrutiny, not all of it pleasant. Plenty of people have wished me gone. Not necessarily dead; just gone. Far away.

So here I am today with a wish for myself. I can’t shake it off, and I can’t accomplish it in secret.

I miss seeing and worshipping with friends from my former church. The church is less than a mile from our house. I want to worship with them from time to time.

I also have wonderful friends at the church I attend with D. So what to do?

I’ll attend both churches, though not on the same Sunday. From time to time you’ll see me here or you’ll see me there. Or, if you live far away, especially across the great pond or down under, you probably won’t see me anywhere–for which I’m very sad indeed.

With thanks to all the strong women, men and children who’ve encouraged me to be the grownup I am.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 October 2019
Photo of Sisters #1 and 2 in Easter dresses, with Parents, taken in Seattle, WA, 1946/7

Please save a seat for me

Please save a seat for me
Out there
Within the Great Beyond
Where water flows
And falls
And drips
Its mist upon my hair
And canopies
Of bamboo leaves
Sway gently to and fro

Simple chairs
Would be enough
No thrones
Or special seats
Just friends and strangers
Gathered there
As part of
Your parade
Within this low-hung vault
Of heavenly earth’s delights

A Carolina wren broke into song just outside my window as I was writing this. So beautiful! My favorite year-round songbird, no matter how cold it gets.

The last couple of months have been full of pseudo-icy weather. Slippery. Unsettled. Not sure how things would turn out. All set in motion by our great waterbed leak at the end of July.

Things are now back together. Sort of. And the clock still ticks down. All day, every day.

I think we’re invited–even urged–to see heaven on this earth. Today! Looking back through our Longwood photos from last week, I had a little reminder that it’s as simple as showing up and paying attention.

Hoping you have a few heavenly moments today!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 October 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 7 October 2019, Longwood Gardens Conservatory

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