Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

This weariness of mine | George MacDonald

For several months I’ve been up, down, and all over the place trying to figure out who I am now, and why I feel so weary. To things that fell apart years ago, new things arrive unannounced, no matter how long or short the distance may be from here to the end of life as I’ve known it.

On January 1 of this year I began reading one of George MacDonald’s sonnets each day. It’s my 3rd or 4th time going through them. This time, however, I’m finally beginning to hear MacDonald as he was when he wrote them. He was living through a slow, painful death following many years of chronic tuberculosis, the loss of five of his children (4 to tuberculosis), and ongoing debates with church officials who didn’t find his brand of Christianity fully acceptable.

My life has been a lark compared to his. Yet even as I write this I know it’s not the truth. My life has NOT been a lark. I have often not been fully accepted as the person I am, beginning with my upbringing and continuing through my adult years. I must also say I wouldn’t have made it without unnumbered friends and strangers along the way.

These days, weariness is a constant companion. Some of it because of new and old health issues; other pieces because of what it has cost, and still costs me to be the woman I am. I’m often tempted to feel sorry for myself, or angry because of what I inherited the day I was born.

This sonnet, however, isn’t about the past. It’s about the present and the future. It’s about the wonderful gift of accepting weariness as a sign that I’ve done what I could do. Like fruit past ripe, I too am waiting to drop wearily into the good earth. Finally at rest.

Here’s the sonnet I didn’t understand until today.

3 December, from George MacDonald’s The Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul

This weariness of mine, may it not come
From something that doth need no setting right?
Shall fruit be blamed if it hang wearily
A day before it perfected drop plumb
To the sad earth from off its nursing tree?
Ripeness must always come with loss of might.
The weary evening fall before the resting night.

© 1994 Augsburg Fortress, page 120

Thanks for reading and listening. I couldn’t ask for a better audience.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 December 2022
Tanbirul Islam, photographer; photo found at http://www.pexels.com

Defending My Space

For the last several weeks I’ve been dealing with more health issues, which I’ll report on later. I’ve also been re-reading my book, Confessions of a Beginning TheologianThe excerpt below gives a peek into life with my father, an ordained clergyman. It also describes my inner struggle to maintain my identity as a young white girl in a preacher’s family.

The memory may seem to be about parental authority. In reality, it’s about what it took daily for me to live (and die) due to my father’s overbearing commands, passed on to him by his rage-aholic clergy father.

We’re in a mess these days, dealing with layers of abuse, anger, and self-righteousness passed from one generation to another. Tomorrow is an official voting day. What will become of us? Do we have the courage to step up and out of order? Not just in our frightened hearts or minds, but in the way we live our adult lives regardless of the cost.

~~~

I’m about eight years old. I’m sitting at the dinner table, just around the corner from my father. The table is set, the food is spread before us, and we’re all in our seats waiting to begin. We haven’t yet asked the blessing. I’m playing with my dinner fork, just to the left of my plate. I’ve moved it a few inches away from my plate.

My father’s voice interrupts me. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

I move it to the right, in the direction of my plate. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

I move it slightly closer. My father’s voice remains firm and controlled. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

By now my sisters are watching to see what will become of me. My mother is silent. This has become an event. Slowly I raise my hand to my fork and move it ever so slightly closer to my plate.

My father persists. So do I. Many repetitions later he’s satisfied; the fork has been returned to its proper place.

He proceeds with the blessing. He doesn’t know what I know: the fork is ever so slightly to the left of its proper place.

My father’s mission as a parent was to train us to keep the rules. My mission as his child was to break and keep the rules simultaneously.

Back then, perseverance meant getting through another day, using whatever survival skills lay close at hand.

If my father was persistent, I would be more persistent. If outward rebellions were too costly, I would invent creatively invisible yet superbly effective inward rebellions. If I was ordered to sit down and stop talking, I could continue standing and talking on the inside for as long as it took to comfort myself.

Indeed, this was the better way. In the private spaces of my mind no one could put me down, refuse to listen to me or try to break my will. In a family system intent on turning out obedient daughters, I survived by being secretly disobedient.

This memory from the 1950s, published nearly 20 years ago, is as vivid today as it was then.

The territory I defended was interior. I applaud the little girl who figured out how to do this. Nonetheless, my efforts were costly. They required constant vigilance, no matter where I was.

Abuse of power destroys safe space. It expects and demands behaviors, words, looks on faces, subtle and open signs of unquestioning and subservient submission.

What does it take to create and maintain safe space? Not just in our marriages and families, but in neighborhoods, nations, churches and schools? And how does my personal history connect with the racial history of the USA?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 March 2017, reposted 7 November 2022
Photo of 1938 family dinner found at bbc.com
Story excerpted from my book, Confessions of a Beginning Theologian (InterVarsity Press 1998)

The view from my attic

Two days ago I retreated to my attic. It was a cloudy, windy, cold day, late in the afternoon. Not the kind of weather that invites a lovely outdoor walk. So there I was, making do by walking up and down the attic, wondering why I’m still here.

The last several months have been difficult. Living with peripheral neuropathy is a mystery. Some days I feel normal; other days I feel like a stranger in a body that doesn’t seem to be mine. And I wonder how much longer I have on this earth.

But back to walking in the attic. The curtains at the back of the attic were open. Without warning, the sun came out, and the maple leaves suddenly came to brilliant life. Yes, they were being blown around, falling to the ground. But they were also a gorgeous reminder that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

So what beauty is there in me? In you? Especially those of any age who don’t have the options they used to have. The leaves are going to fall, no matter what. So I’m working on enjoying each day as it comes, laughing and crying as often as needed, bidding goodbye to parts of my life that were wonderful. And being grateful for the bit of wisdom I’ve learned along the way.

All things considered, I’d rather be the woman I am now than the woman I was before I began blogging.

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 October 2022
Photo taken by me on 25 October 2022

Don’t Hesitate | Mary Oliver

I feel a tug of anguish these days. It’s in the air. It’s in my body. It’s in the newspapers. It’s in deluges of unsolicited email from candidates frantically running for office. On some days I just want to crawl back in bed and do absolutely nothing but hibernate.

On the other hand, I’ve been reading this short poem by Mary Oliver. Given our national and international anguish, plus my current health issues, I can’t say it’s easy to follow her wisdom. Still, I’m doomed if I curl up and shrink to nothingness.

Here’s the poem. I hope you find it as compelling as I do.

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Thank you from my heart for your visits. I’ve been overwhelmed by how many visitors I’ve been getting in the last several weeks. Especially given my inability to post or visit as often as I would like. Which, of course, has been part of my anguish.

Writing is one of the most challenging and joyful things I do. Sort of like playing the piano or watching birds flocking and fighting around the bird feeders each morning.

Praying we all find space for joy (or even more joy!) in our lives today.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 October 2022
Photo of Smudge birdwatching taken by me in September 2022

life takes the long road

I wrote the poem below just over four years ago. Today, we’re locked into national and international upheavals. They reverberate with hatred, fear, anxiety, and a level of human panic that grows by the hour. Sadly, the energy for too much of this comes from Christian churches who feel called to return us to a white, Christian nation.

I can’t help thinking about Hitler, the Nazis, and the torture and extermination of human beings deemed unacceptable as fully human or worthy of living. The USA’s role in meeting this worldwide crisis was less than stellar. For a stellar presentation of Hitler’s rise to power, and its impact on the world, check out this link. D and I watched the series recently. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Especially in light of today’s wars here, abroad, and in churches.

In addition to this, my health and age keep reminding me that I’m far along on my journey. Each day brings decisions I don’t want to make. If I do this, I can’t do that. Sometimes I’m tempted to give up. This poem helps bring me back to what really matters right now.

life takes the long road
through majestic terrain
gleaming and foreboding

daylight falls quickly
below horizons
of narrow vision
ablaze with dying day

The photo at the top, taken in Scotland, is breathtaking. As breathtaking as a single life that burns out boldly before fading into darkness.

It reminds me that what’s happening in and behind the “news” is often not good news, and easily becomes a distraction from the larger picture. The long view doesn’t promise me an eternity. It does, however, invite me to keep my perspective clear.

One of my readers left a wonderful comment in response to yesterday’s post. In it she shared a comment from a friend of hers in India. Here it is–a way of putting things into proper perspective:

WORLD: How could you stay in the Church after all the scandal?
ME: You don’t leave Jesus because of Judas.

Here’s to a thoughtful Wednesday.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 September 2018, edited with opening comments, reposted 12 October 2022
Photo found at pixabay.com

The Arrowhead | Mary Oliver

My home is full of relics. Bits and pieces I’ve gathered over the years. Memories, yes. But is it more? Mary Oliver invites me to think about this. My comments follow.

The Arrowhead

The arrowhead,
which I found beside the river,
was glittering and pointed.
I picked it up, and said,
“Now, it’s mine.”
I thought of showing it to friends.
I thought of putting it—such an imposing trinket—
in a little box, on my desk.
Halfway home, past the cut fields,
the old ghost
stood under the hickories.
“I would rather drink the wind,” he said,
“I would rather eat mud and die
than steal as you still steal,
than lie as you still lie.”

Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early, 2004, p. 185
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Published by Penguin Books, 2020

Was this a waking dream? The last four lines of the poem gave me a jolt. The unexpected jolt I always have when Mary Oliver’s lovely poetic words suddenly rip the cover from our complacency. The topic of this poem is stealing. It seems our nation might be addicted to stealing.

However, this is about more than our nation.

It’s tempting to think of Mary Oliver as a nature lover who sees beauty in everything. But truth be told, many of her lovely poems are salted with barbed wire. Her words dare us (and herself) to ignore what’s right in front of us.

These are hard times. Some might say we’re headed toward doomsday. However, this poem isn’t about doomsday. It’s about what many, if not all of us, do daily and without forethought.

Could it be that we’ve forgotten what our own special versions of stealing and lying look like? Especially when it involves highly prized possessions or status.

I recall occasions when my words or ideas were stolen and passed off as someone else’s. Of course, there were also times when my words or ideas were scoffed at. However, most painful was hearing someone else use my words or ideas and pass them off as their own inventions.

The older I get, the more I recognize my desire to ‘discover’ or pretend to own what doesn’t belong to me. Words, ideas, and even arrowheads that catch my eye.

Will we ever learn to live with integrity? As citizens, and as a nation? Or have we so muddied the waters that we don’t know where to begin telling the truth. Not just about ourselves, but about our nation.

Praying for honesty, integrity, patience, and determination to honor truth. Especially when it costs.

Thanks for stopping by today,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 September 2022
Photo found at rockseeker.com

I could not prove the Years had feet | Emily Dickinson

Clothes that don't fit

In 2016 I first discovered this delightful poem by Emily Dickinson. She was about 32 years old when she wrote it. It’s full of wisdom and a touch of self-directed humor. I still hear it asking me to examine myself. Especially now. Not in a morose way, but with eyes and ears that understand I’m not the person I was when I first began blogging.

I could not prove the Years had feet –
Yet confident they run
Am I, from symptoms that are past
And Series that are done –

I find my feet have further Goals –
I smile upon the Aims
That felt so ample – Yesterday –
Today’s – have vaster claims –

I do not doubt the self I was
Was competent to me –
But something awkward in the fit –
Proves that – outgrown – I see –

c. 1862

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

As usual, Emily speaks her truth indirectly with abrupt, even maddening pauses, and omitted words. Her poem, like her life, is cloaked in mystery and leaves me wanting more detail.

Yet without trying to do so, Emily invites me to reframe my life. To consider where I’ve been, where I am, and where I want to go.

When I was a child my great big goal was to learn to play the piano. If I could do that, I would be content and ecstatically happy. Or so it seemed back then.

In fact, my life has been shaped by a series of goals that promised a kind of heaven on earth. For example, playing the piano, going to college, having a real boyfriend who really loved me, getting married, having children, going to seminary, teaching in a seminary. Possibilities I never dreamed would come my way.

When I listen to my heart, it invites me to keep pushing the envelope of what feels comfortable to me. I know this feeling—a combination of excitement, dread and anticipation.

I even made a list of things that will keep pushing the envelope. Promise you won’t laugh!

  • Pick up the phone and call someone
  • Knock on a door and say hello
  • Send a card or note
  • Write poetry and share it

They may or may not mean much to other people. But for me, it’s about practicing small behaviors I’ve often found intimidating. In a way, my goal is to pretend I’m an extro/introvert! Oriented outward as well as inward. Though in my introverted way, of course.

Is this possible? Why not? It’s better than setting another lofty goal I don’t need anymore. I need clothes that fit me now. Outfits that allow me to follow my heart, be my own boss (sort of), and maybe even surprise myself every now and then.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 March 2016, edited and reposted 15 September 2022
Photo from the fashionfoot.com

Letting Go

How hard can it get? Pieces of my life surround me day and night. Always reminding me of something I don’t want to forget, or release just yet.

Tons. That’s how much it seems I’ve already let go—books, do-dads, clothes, cards and letters, kitchen utensils, Tupperware, cookbooks, dishes, and plates. Plus files and records from years of teaching and being a dean, boxes of still usable toys for children, and pictures that decorated the walls of our six homes from the East to the West Coast. Still, some days it seems I haven’t even scratched the surface.

In addition, I’m having to bid farewell to pieces of me. I never dreamed I would be so housebound as I am now. Yes, I get out to walk several times a week (when the weather cooperates). However, I don’t leave the house now without my very nice cane, and the added burden of having to step carefully. No more running up or climbing steep hills. No more wandering through the meadow at Longwood Gardens.

Then there are daily choices I didn’t anticipate. Instead of having a plan for each day, I do what I can and leave the rest. Sometimes it’s a relief; other times it feels like I’m losing part of myself in ways I never anticipated. Especially when I want to read or write or visit my blogging friends.

Letting go. I’ve almost always known that each day is about both life and death. Yet until now, I’ve thought of life as the major component of each day. Now, however, there isn’t a day that passes without reminders that death could come at any moment. Mine, or David’s.

For the last several months, I’ve been uncertain what to write about. Perhaps I was avoiding the obvious? Maybe. Still, I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I do, however, know that the community I’ve discovered on WordPress has given me great joy, a little grief, tons of affirmation, and a place to be myself.

Thank you for being there. I don’t know how things will work out, but I do know that I need to be writing about life as I experience it now. Not because it’s so great, but because it’s unspeakably precious.

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 September 2022
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, September 2021

I like a look of Agony | Emily Dickinson

Here’s a poem from Emily Dickinson that speaks to our current national and international rhetoric. My comments follow, in free-verse form. I first posted this in May 2018, in response to our escalating hunger for exaggeration rather than truth.

I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it’s true –
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe –

The Eyes glaze once – and that is Death –
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.

c. 1861

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

Emily doesn’t like false feelings or pretense. In this poem she sees in Death an example of true feelings. Not expressed in words, but literally, on the forehead of a dying person. No one can possibly play make-believe when it comes time to die. Convulsions and the intense agonies of death, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, can’t be faked.

Nor can those telltale ‘Beads upon the Forehead’ of the dying person. Even silent Anguish cries out with tears that leak through the skin. Beads of Anguish are strung upon the Brow. Thus, Death gives strange birth to The Truth of Agony and Anguish.

Below is my free-verse response to Emily’s poem. It seems ‘fake’ emotions parade before our eyes and ears each day. We live in an age that celebrates Faux or at least Exaggerated Feelings. Perhaps to such an extent that we no longer discern what is Manufactured from what is Real.

With apologies to Emily:

We live in an age of Faux Feelings
Or at least an age that rewards them
Not with congratulations, but with Attention
and Faux Gasps of Horror or Delight

Perhaps we’ve forgotten or never knew
How to have, much less allow airtime
For True Feelings not ratcheted up
To the nth degree — especially True Agony

The kind not found by looking in a mirror
Trying to get just the right look that will
land just the right response be it Attention,
Applause, Laughter or the Disgust of the Moment

Unsocial Commandments hamstring us
Pulling chains that avert our eyes instead of
Encouraging us toward each other in life and
In death as family and next of kin, not strangers

Life and Death itself seem to propel us toward
Ever-greater depths of make-believe and denial –
Hiding behind masks that mimic or minimize feelings
We most fear to acknowledge, sit with or name

Perhaps our Deaths are the only unscripted
Roles we play with unfiltered, uncosmeticized
Feelings of True Agony, Grief, Pain and Love,
Finally crossing all sides of divides that bind us

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 May 2018, lightly edited and reposted 30 August 2022
Photo found at blog.xuite.net

We never know how high we are

Here’s a message for me. Perhaps for you, too? I never dreamed my most daunting challenges would come near the late end of my life. Thanks for stopping by today. Especially given the mess we seem to have gotten ourselves in.

~~~

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

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 ourselves, 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 26 August 2022
Image found at pinterest.com

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