Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

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

Monday morning photos | Longwood Fall 2019

What would we do without nature’s stunning beauty? Especially now, in the midst of disappointment, betrayals, upheavals, back-stabbings and fury. Here’s a quick Monday-morning peek at the way nature reaches out to us.

Granted, it isn’t always pretty. It is, however, a reminder that whatever I think I am on this speck of dust, I’m not alone or forgotten.

The roses above are in a small rose garden at Longwood. It’s being redesigned, and will make its debut next spring. In the meantime, the gardeners created a mixed company of compatible plants, including roses.

Everything doesn’t always need to be in bright colors. On the way into the Visitor’s Center, we saw several gorgeous examples of fall beauty in browns and grays.

Finally, one last look at the small garden arrangement just outside the Visitor’s Center. An autumn extravaganza of enthusiasm!

The last several weeks have been filled with unexpected challenges. Last week’s visit to Longwood reminded me that we’re not alone, and that autumn has its own gracious and graceful beauty, unlike any other season.

Happy Monday to each of you, whether you’re in the autumn flameout years of your life or not.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 October 2019
Photos taken by DAFraser, 7 October 2019, Longwood Gardens

With thanks to Emily

Pierless Bridge - pinterest

Something about aging. I don’t know what it is. I only know what it feels like. A journey into mists, slow and sometimes laborious. Wondering where all that energy went. And how I ever accumulated so many bits and pieces from my past.

Today it’s about clearing the bits and pieces out. Getting to something else, beyond the false fog of my fortressed life.

For decades, I relied on bits and pieces. Every carefully sorted, filed and piled item was a bit of insurance. Proof of my value, resources to be used next term, a hedge against false charges, reminders of why I was here and what I had agreed to do. Plus gems stashed away for later perusal.

Then, in April 2016, I fell and broke my jaw. Life changed. Immediately.

Out of that anguish, I wrote a post that has become one of the top ten posts visited on this site, with 589 views as of today. It’s my commentary on Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem, Faith — is the pierless bridge.

I read it several times in the last few weeks of chaos and confusion about many things.

There’s fog and then there’s smog. Fog is good. Smog is rotten–the stuff that hung in the air in the late 1940s when I lived in the Los Angeles area. I don’t mind a bit of fog, though it sometimes puts me on edge. I think of all the accumulated clutter of my life as smog. Things and attitudes about ‘things’ that throw me off balance. That keep me from living and dying to each day.

So here’s the last paragraph of my comments about Emily’s poem, reformatted a bit to catch the heart of the matter for me then, now, and tomorrow. The question is how do I get from here to there? And whose faith really matters?

Before my faith and before my birth
there was something else

The Source of my life greets me
from within the Veil
to which Faith leads

Here waits the One who birthed me
Who boldly and courageously watches for me
from the other side of my human life
spinning out a fragile steel-buttressed thread of Faith—
my Creator’s Faith in me
Faith that leads me home
just as I am and yet will be

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 October 2019
Image found at pinterest.com

For pastors, church leaders and followers

In light of today’s political and social challenges
What might I say today to pastors and church leaders?
Not just in churches that call themselves evangelical
but in churches and religious communities of any kind

How are you today?

Better yet, the question a friend recently suggested:
I wonder what it’s like for you right now?

Right now
Given lines set in concrete
The growing breakdown of everyday norms and expectations
Daily eruptions on social media and in families
and congregations gathering each week
Expecting a word of challenge and encouragement
in the midst of chaos and fear

I can only imagine what it’s like for you right now —

How do you maintain your sanity as a pastor or leader
and your integrity as a human being
affected by our current frenzy of tongues unleashed
or lips tightly sealed?

Are there political differences within your own family?
How do you deal with these along with
political and social differences within your congregation?

If we could be together in a classroom
what would you want to explore first?
What might help you reframe the daily deluge
of unchecked words flying through the air?

Of maybe you just want us to know
what it’s like for you right now
No matter what comes next in this unscripted journey

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 September 2019
Image found at wikimedia.org

The underbelly of the Church – because it matters NOW

I’m feeling small these days. Are you? The challenge at the end of this post is meant for all of us who feel unprepared or small.

Below is a quote from Simone Weil about the social and patriotic power of the Church. Not church as we know it on Sunday mornings, but the Church as a powerful institution within a political setting.

Weil wrote during the Nazi era. Her words are troubling, given the rise of the white Evangelical church’s political influence in the USA. Sometimes on Sunday mornings, but also in public arenas where religious language virtually baptizes political figures as agents of God, up to and including Mr. Trump.

In light of the Nazi era, this turn of events is more than troubling. Many, though not all German Protestant and Catholic churches, including pastors and revered theologians, colluded in the rise of Hitler. Their open support amounted to baptizing Hitler as God’s agent sent as their Great Leader at this time. Yes, there would be some bloodshed. But in the end, life will be better for those who survive, and Germany itself will gain esteem throughout the world.

Here’s what Simone Weil had to say about herself and the Church during the Nazi era. I read this as a comment on both Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany, though she refers to the Catholic Church. Highlights are mine.

All things carefully considered, I believe they come down to this: what scares me is the Church as a social thing. Not solely because of her stains, but by the very fact that it is, among other characteristics, a social thing.

Not that I am by temperament very individualistic. I fear for the opposite reason. I have in myself a strongly gregarious spirit. I am by natural disposition extremely easily influenced in excess, and especially by collective things. I know that if in this moment I had before me twenty German youth singing Nazi songs in chorus, part of my soul would immediately become Nazi. It is a very great weakness of mine. . . .

I am afraid of the patriotism of the Church that exists in the Catholic culture. I mean ‘patriotism’ in the sense of sentiment analogous to an earthly homeland. I am afraid because I fear contracting its contagion. Not that the Church appears unworthy of inspiring such sentiment, but because I don’t want any sentiment of this kind for myself.

Simone Weil, Waiting for God
Published by Harper Perennial in 1950 to celebrate 100 years since Weil’s birth

I couldn’t agree more. I’m also troubled by the silence of many white Evangelical churches that (rightly) choose not to get on the Trump bandwagon. Silence often enables the abuse of power. I don’t want to catch the silence virus. Hence this post and others to remind me that I have a voice, it counts, and I must exercise it regularly.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 March 2018, reposted 26 September 2019
Image found at books.google.com

An Emptiness

Hollowed out by loneliness
Overflowing with farm animal stories told and retold
Filled with edgy impatience when you were not holding forth
An aching emptiness devoid of compassion or empathy
For yourself or others who pleased you not
Constantly dreaming of unachievable plans and goals
A my way or the highway kind of man
Stalking happiness but rarely finding it in my presence
Convinced the world of regular people was as hollow
As your own unfulfilled plans and dreams
An empty cup unable to overflow
With blessings of praise or the joy
Of looking into your four daughters’ eyes
Without seeing the son you never had
Fighting to the bitter end to have things your way
Surrounded by people who cared for you
Even when you cared not for them
An off-tune cymbal full of noisy clanging
Signifying the agony of your debilitating shame and loneliness

How sad to love a father who never learned to love himself.
How horrifying to hear the bleakness of his life growing up.
How painful to know things might have been different.

I love my father.
I have forgiven him to the extent I’m able.
I am not the Judge of all the earth.
I pray for his soul and his redemption,
and that he is learning in death to love himself
as he has been loved.

This poem is my attempt to describe what I now see in my father. It’s based on my relationship with him from 1943 (the year I was born) until his death in 2010. He was 96 years old, months from turning 97. I was 66, months from turning 67.

Many thanks to Mary Oliver for her poem, A Bitterness. It got me wondering what I might write about my father from my perspective today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 September 2019
Image found at vocal.media

What’s the hurry?

Why the rush?
Why so many accidents?
Why the impatience
To get somewhere —
Anywhere but here

On any day of the week
Another set of lives
Is lost to this world
Thanks to our addiction
To what? Waiting until
The last minute? Rushing
To make it through
The intersection before
What?

And then there’s that
Annoyingly impatient
Horn honking from behind
As if that would force me to
Collude with the driver’s
Deep need to hurry to
What? At what cost?

I look in the mirror
And see myself
Not in the driver’s seat
But in mundane events
Of my mundane life
Racing in spirit if not
In body to the next thing
Waiting in the shadows
Of my deep need for
What?

I’m just back from a lovely walk around my neighborhood. Right now the weather is perfect for morning and afternoon walks. What more could I want?

Yet in the half hour before I left the house this morning I thought of at least three things I needed to get done right now. Even though I didn’t. Three excuses for putting the walk off until later in the day. Or tomorrow.

Thankfully, my inability to decide what to do next forced the issue. I went for a walk. It was lovely!

When I returned, D was talking with our painter about a horrible automobile accident in which several lives were lost, including one of his friends. All because of one driver who was in a hurry and couldn’t or wouldn’t slow down to stop for a red light.

I wonder what I’m avoiding when I begin honking the horn at myself. And at what cost?

Here’s to a Wednesday devoid of horn-honking. Especially at ourselves.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 September 2019
Photo found at medium.com

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