Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

the mouth of a labyrinth | Simone Weil

Labyrinth mosaic, pintrestcom, bf2fc531911eaeff68e36f2a566bd032

Today a visitor read this post from June 2015. The quote below is from philosopher Simone Weil.  I reformatted her words for easier reading and used feminine pronouns. I think this could be about me. Right now. Maybe about you? My comments follow, lightly edited.

The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth.
The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps
is soon unable to find the opening.
Worn out, with nothing to eat or drink, in the dark,
separated from her dear ones,
and from everything she loves and is accustomed to,
she walks on without knowing anything or hoping anything,
incapable even of discovering whether she is really going forward
or merely turning round on the same spot. 

But this affliction is as nothing
compared with the danger threatening her.
For if she does not lose courage,
if she goes on walking,
it is absolutely certain that
she will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth.
And there God is waiting to eat her.
Later she will go out again,
but she will be changed,
she will have become different,
after being eaten and digested by God.
Afterward she will stay near the entrance so that
she can gently push all those who come near into the opening.

 –Simone Weil, Waiting for God

*  *  *

During a visit to Longwood Gardens, we started down the formal flower walk. The colors were spectacular. However, the odor was so strong that one family member said it was giving him a headache.

The odor persisted along the flower walk. Was it from a strange flower? No. It came from mulch in the flower beds!

Somehow this reminded me of Simone Weil’s words.

The beauty of the world is the mouth of the labyrinth….
at the center of the labyrinth….
God is waiting to eat her.

The world’s beauty includes nature’s beauty, here described as the mouth of a labyrinth that draws me in, unaware of what lies ahead.  Once drawn in, I find myself following the labyrinth to its center, and experiencing at least the following dis-ease:

  • temporary separation from familiar life outside the labyrinth
  • ignorance about where I am and where I’m going
  • fear of going in circles that lead nowhere

The center of the labyrinth is even more disquieting, if not dangerous. The mouth of God waits at the center. It waits to eat me alive, along with any other unsuspecting traveler.

So God eats and digests me. Turns me into mulch or compost, full of life-generating potential. Like compost baking in the sun. A form of death. Everything broken down, turned into solid and liquid gold that feeds the next generation.

Though nature isn’t God, it reflects something about the way God works. It helps me understand why life sometimes feels like a journey to another planet. A messy, smelly, sometimes terrifying journey of dying in order to be reborn as something truly valuable. Something that doesn’t look at all like the image I hope to see in my mirror.

My spiritual formation isn’t about getting all cleaned up. Nor is it about being destroyed by God or anyone else. It’s about being changed, transformed. It won’t happen unless I’m willing to be risk getting lost—helpless and unable to get myself out of my situation, much less understand where I’m going and why.

The journey itself can be terrifying; so can God’s role. It seems alien to all I might expect God to be. Thankfully, I have a choice to enter the labyrinth or not.

Or do I? There’s Simone Weil, standing at the mouth of the labyrinth, gently pushing unsuspecting travelers into the open mouth. In which case, I will emerge transformed by God if I keep moving along, one disorienting turn after another.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 June 2015; reposted 15 January 2022
Mosaic Labyrinth Image from pintrest.com

My prayer for the New Year

Finding my place
In this pandemic madness
Proves elusive

Perhaps my eyes have
Learned not to see clearly
What others predict

Or I’m just weary
With hanging out and waiting
For the same old news

Don’t get me wrong. I admire every news commentator and guest who speaks from diligent research and personal experience. Especially about the current pandemic.

At the end of the day, however, we haven’t a clue what will happen next here in the USA. Not just regarding Covid and its growing family of unpredictable offspring, but also about our growing habit of living in alternate realities.

Right versus Wrong, Left versus Right, Independent, Nothing at All. Identities proudly held and widely approved as political signatures. They announce one’s loyalty or disloyalty not to a country or to the world, but to unproven and often unprovable opinions about many things.

In fact, most of us have been swimming and/or drowning in alternate realities since the day we were born. When I look back at my childhood, I’m horrified. Just within my own family the push was already on. The goal was crystal clear: obey your parents (especially your father) or pay the price. This goal permeated and shaped every area of my life.

Early experiences of ‘my father’s way or the highway’ didn’t help me become a thoughtful citizen, a trustworthy neighbor, or a careful listener to strangers. I know, anything can happen. I might get into big trouble. However, that’s not news. News would be my growing ability to welcome even more ‘strangers’ into my life.

My prayer for the New Year is that I’ll find simple ways to reconnect with and welcome friends and strangers, especially those who don’t see the world as I see it.

Thanks for stopping by today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 January 2022
Image found at brandsandplaces.com

Desmond Tutu, Mary and the oppressed

Pin on madonna

Mary’s song came to mind this morning when I read about Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s life and death. Not the version we hear in church during the Christmas season, but Rev. Zephania Kameeta’s version below.

Mary is often depicted in sumptuous gowns. Yes, we honor her faithfulness to her son, right up to his unjust death. At the same time, I can’t forget her social status. She wasn’t born into a privileged life, and her neighbors may have raised an eyebrow or two when she became pregnant.

The sting in Mary’s song is large, especially when we remember her status in society. From my perspective, Rev. Kameeta captures the sting and the reality of Mary’s song and Jesus’ birth. Not in general terms, but as it relates to his own rejected brothers and sisters in Namibia.

Zephania Kameeta sings the song of Mary – Luke 1:46-55

Today I look into my own heart and all around me,
and I sing the song of Mary.

My life praises the Lord my God
who is setting me free.
He has remembered me, in my humiliation and distress!
From now on those who rejected and ignored me
will see me and call me happy,
because of the great things he is doing
in my humble life.

His name is completely different from the other names in this world;
from one generation to another,
he was on the side of the oppressed

As on the day of the Exodus, he is stretching out
his might arm to scatter the oppressors
with all their evil plans.
He has brought down mighty kings
from their thrones
and he has lifted up the despised;
and so will he do today.
He has filled the exploited with good things,
and sent the exploiters away with empty hands;
and so he will do today.

His promise to our mothers and fathers remains new and fresh to this day.
Therefore the hope for liberation which is burning in me
will not be extinguished.
He will remember me, here now and beyond the grave.

Rev. Zephania Kameeta’s song was published in Why, O Lord? Psalms and sermons from Namibia, p. 15.
© 1986 World Council of Churches, published as part of the Risk book series

Thanks for stopping by today. These are troubled and troubling times. I pray we’ll find our way home, one day at a time.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 December 2021
Image found at pinterest.com

Why writing feels dangerous

How do I write when life is still a numbed-out muddle?

Last night I read about a woman who couldn’t get in touch with sensations in her body because she felt disconnected. Numb.

I relate to her. All my life I’ve experienced numbing out—sometimes on purpose; other times as the general go-to mode of my body. That means I feel out-of-place, lost, or just not interested in the vulnerability of connecting.

Years of neglect also hang out in my body. No wonder I get weary and can’t always stay awake emotionally. Perhaps some part of me has lost its memory or its ability to function with and for me.

And so I move on to something else instead of sitting with it. Or wondering about it, loving or even soothing it. Or welcoming it as a major part of the woman I’ve been and have become.

I’m a writer. I want to connect with what’s going on inside me, not just with thoughts running through my mind. I want to listen to myself, speak from within myself. Yet I’ve guarded so much for so long.

Can numbness lead to death? I don’t know. Perhaps I’m hiding from my voice. Sometimes I’m apprehensive about what I might discover or write and then let go. Even before I understand it fully.

From the moment I became a living human being, You’ve been there. Even when I was too terrified to be there. Too terrified to sit quietly with whatever was going on inside this woman I keep calling ‘me.’

Am I afraid right now? I want to believe You hold me close and won’t let me stray far from home. Yet I still think it’s my job to keep myself from straying. Maybe that’s why writing feels dangerous. My words are out there. I can’t control how they’re read or used or abused. Or heard and dissected.

A voice seems more fragile than a body. More connected to soul. More vulnerable to attack. Yet when I’ve done my best to be truthful, and have given it away so that the river moves on within and through me, I’m not sure what else I can do except build a dam.

I know about dams. I’ve constructed many in my lifetime. Little dams. Big dams. Complex, contorted, impenetrable dams. Trying desperately to escape the truth about me.

And what if the truth about me is beautiful? Lovely? What then? Have I killed it?

A small Christmas cactus blossom rests in front of me on my desk. A lovely, fading pinkish magenta. Its fragile petals look like limp gauze wings folded around its core. It isn’t ugly; it’s dying. Doing what lovely flowers do after giving themselves away.

It’s the only way to live. Not forever, but in this present moment. My calendar lies to me daily. It promises more than it or I can deliver. I want to live this one day as if there were no tomorrow. No more, and no less.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 January 2018, reposted 10 December 2021
Photo found at pxhere.com

tear-splashed windows

sunbeams stream
through tear-splashed windows
the old woman blinks

~~~

This is not the turn I thought life would take
when I reached my late seventies.

Yesterday’s newborn chicks have finally come home to roost
not in my back yard but in my body.

Today I bear marks of what being female, white and alive cost
from the day I was born until now.

So far in my life, I’ve been able to function without getting entangled in multiple prescription drugs.

For the last several weeks, however, I’ve been looking at three prescription drugs (each from a different doctor), wondering which options would be relatively safe. Especially given my kidney disease. Some prescriptions drugs can’t be discontinued precipitously, which means no trial period.

I‘m also forced to consider my determination not to be caught up in staying “alive” at all costs. When do I cross the point of no return and stop attempts to fix what is unfixable?

I’ve never missed posting so much as I’m missing it now. I’m grateful for your visits and pray each of us will find a way through troubling times that sometimes overshadow the true gift of Christmas.

Thank you for stopping by today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 December 2021
Photo found at maxpixel.net

Smiling through rain and sun

My one-eyed bright white light
Peers at me wondering where
I’ve been and why it took
So long to remember her

Smiling through rain and sun
Alike she cheers me on without
Great fanfare or even the
Hint of a bill for services

Rendered day or night
Without complaint and with
No thought of tomorrow
Or what lurks around the corner

Today the sun is out, the temperature is a bit warmer than yesterday, and I just finished cleaning out several kitchen cupboards. They were groaning under the weight of out-of-date or unused ingredients and yummy snacks I used to eat. That was before Lucy (my pacemaker), a broken jaw, kidney disease, plus whatever else has piled on since 2016.

My MRI (to help clarify the kind of peripheral neuropathy I have) did not happen as scheduled, thanks to a mistake made by the hospital. I’m now scheduled for December 29. In the meantime, I’m learning to pace myself and take time to put my achy feet up, meditate, read a bit, listen to music, or play the piano (not with my feet up!).

I still struggle with bedtime coming too quickly—before I’ve gotten ‘anything’ accomplished. At the same time, I’m keenly aware that my feet, legs, mind, heart and hands have worked with minimal rest for most of my life. I seem to have inherited from my parents and most churches I’ve attended the need to accomplish something (for others) in order to prove my female worth in this tired old world. It’s way past time to turn the tables.

Thank you for stopping by! When I review what you’ve been reading, I’m often drawn to an old post that makes me weep—not with despair, but with a kind of joy I didn’t think I would experience in this life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 December 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, December 2017

choices I don’t want to make

If you had gently hinted
just one short year ago
that today would find me
lost and bereft
I might have laughed

On the other hand….

To say my situation is
better than so-and-so’s
misses the point altogether
while denying reality
screaming in my feet

How to live with this
malfunction on the outside
and agony on the inside
challenges my educational
upbringing and experience

Daily and nightly reminders
pile on unavoidable witness
to the slow decay of this body
still struggling each day with
choices I don’t want to make

I haven’t posted regularly for what feels like an eternity. Actually, it feels like hanging in midair, waiting to find out how this will play out. Peripheral Neuropathy. My new ‘friend’, though I still don’t know the full picture. The day after Thanksgiving I’ll have an MRI with the hope that my neurologist will learn something new or at least helpful.

My focus today is on what I enjoy doing. Unfortunately, my feet like to remind me of what I don’t enjoy. Nonetheless, my new curriculum is interesting. Bottom line: What would I like to do right now? What brings me joy, so that I don’t even notice what my feet feel? (For example: looking at David’s Longwood Garden Photos; playing the piano, riding my indoor bike.)

In addition to two books I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m also reading a book by Mims Cushing (who lives with this disease) and Norman Latov, MD, her neurologist. Title: You Can Cope with Peripheral Neuropathy: 365 Tips for living a full life. It’s a bit dated, but the self-help pointers are ageless.

Bottom line: I feel myself becoming a ‘different’ person–not so driven, more laid back, grateful for small gifts of each day and for you.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 November 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, December 2015

The Meeting with My Parents

Diane and Elouise standing by the Savannah River
20 Nov 1993, the day after meeting with my parents

On 19 November 1993 I met with my parents in Savannah, Georgia. A gift to myself on the eve of my 50th birthday.

It took 1 ½ years to prepare for the meeting. It wasn’t a declaration of war. It was an attempt to see whether my parents and I could begin talking about my childhood. Put another way, could I hold my own viewpoint without trying to change my parents’ viewpoints?

The biggest unknown was how my father would respond. His habit was to talk over and down at me.

Now I’m in Savannah. My father is sitting directly across the table from me, with my mother next to him. I’ve asked a pastor we all know to be present. He convenes the meeting and turns it over to me. David is on my left hand; my sister Diane is on my right—both instructed not to talk or try to argue on my behalf.

I read from a single-spaced, 1 ¼ page statement. Here’s the heart of what I said about the way my father punished me as a child and teenager.

The spankings were abusive. I was very small; you were very big. I had no power; you seemed to have all the power. The spankings happened regularly for most of my growing-up years. They were terrifyingly predictable. I dreaded nothing as much as I dreaded being spanked. Worst of all, the spankings were administered in a way that shamed, humiliated, and silenced me. . . .I have been lost for most of my adult years. Lost in a sea of shame, humiliation, and fear–fear of opening my mouth and saying directly to you what I need to say: I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, and silenced.

Though my parents were in this together, my mother wasn’t in the room when I was being punished. My question for her was simple: What was it like for you when I was being punished? Where were you? What was it like to hear us crying and pleading? She didn’t remember hearing anything.

From my father, I wanted one thing: an apology for the way he shamed, humiliated, and silenced me. I asked for an apology, which was immediately denied. Thankfully, getting an apology wasn’t my goal.

There was one unexpected disruption during the meeting. My father abruptly walked out of the meeting, left the building, and sat in his car. We could see him through the window. No one said anything. It was my meeting. I waited several minutes. Then I signaled to David to come with me for moral support. We stood on the sidewalk beside the car while I talked with him for a long time. Eventually he agreed to come back and finish the conversation. I was astonished and relieved.

After this meeting, D and I visited my parents (in Savannah) on several occasions. I always had a list of questions to ask. I learned a lot from these informal conversations, though my father was clearly set in his ways and unwilling to change. Still, these conversations were a gift I hadn’t anticipated. Not surprisingly, many of my father’s rough ways reflected my grandfather’s unpredictable, harsh beatings of my father. A sad legacy.

Thanks for stopping by today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 November 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser on 20 November 1993; Diane (on the left) and I are at the Savannah River waterfront.

Setting My Boundaries

Okay…sometimes it’s a bit more complicated than this.

Ready or not
Time creeps up
On closed doors
Never to be opened
Without weeping
And gnashing of
Teeth set on edge
Since my childhood

I review notes
From two years of
My life as the
Prodigal daughter
Or so it seemed to
My parents who
Never walked
In my shoes

Plus notes from
Conversations with
Sisters suddenly
Part of the picture
Even though they
Didn’t ask to be part
Of this drama unfolding
According to my script
Not theirs

Bit by bit I clarified what I needed and wanted to do. My psychotherapist didn’t tell me what to do. She listened, asked questions, and sent me home to keep working on one of the most life-changing events of my life.

In an earlier post I included the letter I sent my parents, telling them not to call or write to me. I would call or write when I was ready. My letter was not well received. My father wrote back to me. Nothing in his long, single-spaced, typed “Dear Daughter” letter was encouraging. I decided to return, unopened, any further letters from him.

The planning phase for this meeting took one and a half years. During that time, Mother became the good parent who remembered us on holidays and birthdays. Seeing her determination to be the good parent, I gave up thinking this was about my father and me. It was about all three of us.

Also, through conversations with my three sisters, I learned who might sit beside me as a witness at a meeting with my parents. My husband David would be there. So would Sister #3, Diane, who lived in Texas.

Finally, I asked a trusted pastor friend who lived in Savannah to host the meeting. We would meet in a conference room at the church he served. He also agreed to stay in touch with my parents after the meeting.

All of this took time and multiple conversations.

As for the meeting itself, that’s another post. It took time to work through what I wanted to say, how I would say it, and what I wanted from each of my parents. Slowly, from May 1992 to November 1993, I clarified how to structure the meeting. I also clarified the roles David and Diane were to fill. In a nutshell: keep your mouths closed and listen!

Yes, the meeting itself was a bit of a drama. Stay tuned.

Thank you for your visits and encouragement! Sometimes it seems this meeting was the most important thing I ever did for myself–even more important than marrying D, though not nearly as much fun!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 November 2021
Boundary image found at pinterest.com

Setting Boundaries with My Parents

Boundaries. Not my favorite topic. When I was young, my clergy father set the boundaries. My job was to keep them. Daddy’s Rules for Good Girls invaded every area of my life as a female child and teenager.

Nonetheless, if I wanted to find my adult voice with my parents, I needed to set and maintain boundaries with them. The way any adult would. I was in my late 40s.

My goal called for ways to cope with my own unscheduled panic attacks. The kind that screamed at me NOT to go through with this madness.

Three items in my files document my determination.

  • First, an index card with names and phone numbers of six people I could call at the drop of a hat. They included my psychotherapist, my husband, two AlAnon friends, and two pastors (not my personal pastors).
  • Second, on the opposite side of the index card is a list of nine things to do when I have panic attacks or feel overwhelmed.
  • Third, an encouraging card and letter from a woman I’d walked with through her own boundary-setting agony.

The point of these items was to take care of myself no matter what.

In early May 1992, I wrote the following letter to my parents. This was more than 1 ½ years before I met with them in Savannah.

Dear Mother and Daddy,

D and I will be on vacation when you’re up this way in June. We’ve decided not to change our plans. Also, I’ve decided I don’t want you to stay in our house while we’re gone.

I need privacy right now, and for the indefinite future, in order to work on some personal issues. For now, that means I don’t want calls, cards, or letters from either of you. I also don’t want to plan any visits with you. I’ll let you know when I’m ready for a change.

Emergency messages can be left on our answering machine, or given to D at his office or here.

Love,
Elouise

My letter was not well received. In a later post I’ll write about how I handled my father’s at-distance anger, and how I set up a meeting with my parents on the eve of my 50th birthday.

Please note: This is not a template for anyone. It’s what was right for me at that time in my life. I got through this thanks to my own hard work, and strong support from D, my psychotherapist, and friends listed above on my ‘panic’ card.

Cheers to each of you! Life, when lived with integrity, is never easy. I pray you’ll find wisdom and courage for yourself this day.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 10 September 2021, Longwood Gardens Meadow

%d bloggers like this: