Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey | Mary Oliver

Here’s a thought-provoking Palm Sunday poem from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

~~~~~

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadows,
    leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
    clatter away, splashed with sunlight!

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 44

~~~~~

I love Mary Oliver’s focus on the donkey. He isn’t just a convenient prop, needed for this so-called ‘triumphal’ march into Jerusalem. Nor is he a famous, beautiful or even clean donkey. He likely has no idea how to race around meadows with horses, leaping with sheer joy. Nor does he know how to fly into the sunlight alongside released doves.

All he knows is how to stand, wait, and do what needs to be done. Which, on this day, means carrying on his small back the hope of all Jerusalem. Well…almost all Jerusalem. Cheers and jeers sometimes sound all too similar.

Was he brave? Probably not. Nor could he have been all cleaned up, given the inevitable dust of the earth hanging in the air. To say nothing of noise and pushing and shoving to get a look at this strange parade.

No problem. His calling on that day was to walk forward without coaxing or threatening, carrying the hope of all the world on his small, dark obedient back. Bravely he moved forward through a noisy crowd, one dusty hoof after the other, without turning back, running away, or refusing to move at all.

Where does Mary Oliver’s poem find you on this Palm Sunday? And what does it mean to be brave in the face of tragedy and undeclared war rolling out in front of all our eyes?

Thanks for your visit today. I pray each of us will find courage to do what we’re made to do: love our Maker with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2021
Image found at threadreaderapp.com

What’s a senior citizen to do?

Wheels rush downhill
Splashing through
Early Spring water

My mind travels
Backward through time
Now gone forever

Last night our cat
Conquered and ate
Yet another mouse

All except his head
And tail and a few entrails
Yet to be identified

It’s downhill all the way
No chance to return
To the beginning

I thought I would fear
This end of life scenario
Hurtling toward me

And yet…

I’m caught between the joys and agonies of this life.
Right now the agonies seem to be outpacing the joys.
Even so, I want to live forever, joys and sorrows included.

So what’s a senior citizen to do?

Keep my head above water and my eyes wide open; support the next generations; and have my pen ready to capture truth in words I didn’t know were in me.

On balance, after removing D from the equation, blogging saved my life. It gave me a life I never dreamed I would have, and friends I never thought I would meet.

Thanks for stopping by. Your visits and comments give me hope for this tired old world. The same world for which Jesus of Nazareth lived and died.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 March 2021
Image found at steemit.com

Peace | Dorothee Soelle

Last night we lost yet more citizens to a so-called ‘lone gunman.’ This time in Boulder, Colorado. Today I woke up thinking about one of Dorothee Soelle’s poems from the Vietnam War era. The war lasted officially from 1 November 1955 to 30 April 1975. My comments follow.

Peace

1

Asked to write a poem about peace
I feel shame for those who ask
do they live on a different planet
what are their hopes
and for whom

Gases meant for rice farmers
have been tested
they can be harmless
if the humidity and the wind
are right

So I’d suggest
we talk about the wind

2

Speaking of the wind
it can be lenient
rice plants can be merciful
sometimes
how friendly the jungle rain is
it delays attacks
and the twenty-fourth of december
lowers the casualty count
all these things provide cover
for st sebastian
for peace

3

He’s leaning against a tree
the wood has been sold
the land leased
the water poisoned
the rain kills birds
somebody takes aim at him
he raises his arms against the black wood
it is not finished

Dorothee Soelle, Revolutionary Patience, pp. 33-34
English translation © 1977 by Orbis Books

Sometime during the night yet another citizen of the USA walked into yet another public business and committed mayhem. This time in Boulder, Colorado. We miss the point if we think this was a lone male. No matter what prompted his actions, he is one of millions of men and women in the USA outfitted for killing with firearms, without warning.

And here we are in Lent. How ironic. Dorothee Soelle is correct: The death of one man (in this case, St. Sebastian) did not end the killing. Nor did the death of Jesus of Nazareth end the enmity burning like fire in the veins of many who see no way out except to take aim and fire.

“Surely he has born our griefs, and carried our sorrows….” (Isaiah 53:4, King James Version)

May God have mercy on us all.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2021
Image of painting by Roger Wagner found at mutualart.com

The Fist | Mary Oliver

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for yet another challenging poem. I imagine you watching us, willing us to do better. My comments follow your poem.

The Fist

There are days
when the sun goes down
like a fist,
though of course

if you see anything
in the heavens
in this way
you had better get

your eyes checked
or, better still,
your diminished spirit.
The heavens

have no fist,
or wouldn’t they have been
shaking it
for a thousand years now,

and even
longer than that,
at the dull, brutish
ways of mankind—

heaven’s own
creation?
Instead: such patience!
Such willingness

to let us continue!
To hear,
little by little,
the voices—

only, so far, in
pockets of the world—
suggesting
the possibilities

of peace?
Keep looking.
Behold, how the fist opens
with invitation.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, poem found on pp. 46-47 of Thirst,
Published by Beacon Press

Dear Mary Oliver,

I don’t know where to begin. Things are such a mess down here since you left. And still the sun goes down, often in blazes of glory that fade and then, right on time, return the next day.

Never resting, really. Just moving on to circle this war-weary earth every 24 hours so everyone knows we haven’t been left to our own devices, or shut down due to human failure.

As if it weren’t amazing enough to see the sun setting, songbirds join in the morning sunrise chorus. Especially in spring when their hormones seem to go wild with passion. Or at least the urge to procreate.

This morning I watched with disbelief as a fat red robin jumped into a pan of freezing cold water and splashed away before running off to pursue a female robin. Just two minutes later, a small gray junco did the same thing even though, as you know, they don’t procreate here in Pennsylvania. Are they crazy? Do they know something I don’t know, sitting behind my kitchen window, shivering?

There’s so much we don’t know right now. Why did this person got Covid and die while that person didn’t? Or why did my friend die who didn’t have Covid at all?

When I was growing up, they said most brutish behaviors were about lack of self-control. Today I’d say most of our crazy choices seem to be about fear. Not fear of Covid, but fear of having our “rights” taken away. I’m sorry to say we don’t seem to be softening as a nation, cleaning up our brutish ways, or finding our places in this strange world.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all accept the sun’s invitation? I imagine us jumping into the cold water together to clean our tired bodies and revive our aching souls.

I hope you’re doing well today. And please, pray for us as you’re able.

Your admirer,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 March 2021
Sun setting over a city found at wallpaperaccess.com

 

 

Haunted by fear

Forcing my eyes away
From today’s headlines
I catch myself also avoiding
What’s already captured
In our history and multi-media

It begs me not to forget
And not to believe the lie
That by solving this one
Crime we will solve all
Crimes against humanity
Or prove ourselves more
Committed to human rights
Than other countries that
Never seem to get it right
In our self-righteous eyes

Daily distractions
Continue unabated
Headlines and reports
boldly steal attention
from what’s happening
in our back yards and streets
now haunted by fear
of unannounced annihilation

Is this our pro-USA reflex action kicking in? The one that doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth about our nation? Many news reports seem determined to focus on the perpetrator at the expense of victims. Especially when the so-called ‘lone’ perpetrator is a white male.

The most recent killing targeted mainly Asian women. Much news coverage went into various profiles of the perpetrator, though not the significance of his victims’ race and gender. I applaud news organizations that chose to investigate connections between our nation’s history, and our past and current treatment of Asian citizens and immigrants.

Another lone white male gunman? I don’t believe it. I see it in large part as the result of coddling white boys and men of all ages and ranks in life when they ‘misbehave.’ And then, adding insult to injury, refusing to pursue justice for their victims.

On top of that, there’s this. Many life-denying behaviors have deep roots in family histories and wartime experiences. We haven’t dealt adequately with this reality. It seems we prefer looking the other way because it’s easier than facing reality, and our own unintended collusion.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 March 2021
Photo found at democracynow.org

Who am I now?

My computer screen
Is as blank as my mind
Weary and disoriented

Even the weather
Can’t decide whether
It’s mid-winter or early spring

Days pass in a chaotic
Parade of not knowing the
End from the beginning

Inviting me to look beyond
Myself and my small world
To the dead and the dying

Since early March 2020, I’ve taken Covid-19 restrictions seriously. I’ve also had both shots, so I’m now in a relatively safe category. Plus I’m white, have a retirement income, and live in a relatively safe neighborhood.

So how do I assess what’s good and right for me to do with regard to Covid-19? Are we at a turning point for the better? Or are we on the verge of yet another spike in deaths and confirmed cases? What about the majority of citizens who haven’t received a vaccination?

Or from another angle, have we begun an undeclared war in this country? A war in which Covid-19 attitudes and behaviors stand in for Us against Them? A war in which winning is defined by overt defiance, fake bravado, and making the headlines?

Nation-wide, I wonder what our churches and religious organizations are doing today to push back against the kind of thinking that helped get us into this mess in the first place.

Yes, we had a POTUS who failed the test of leadership when we most needed it. Now we have President Biden and a new team. However, it takes an entire country to meet a pandemic crisis head on. This includes churches and church leaders with guts and vision to do what still needs to be done.

To our chagrin, we are not a country that offers liberty and justice for all. Strangely, we have Covid-19 to thank for making this unwelcome truth painfully visible. So what can we do about this as individuals?

Just some of what’s going through my mind these days. More questions than answers. How about you?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2021
Illustration by Brian Stauffer for foreignpolicy.com

Thirst

This August 2017 post caught my heart today. Perhaps it will catch yours. We seem to be running out of our hoarded resources. 

Thirst
consumes me
parches my soul
throttles energy
makes me wary
cautious
lest I lose
one precious drop

Hoarding
sets in like drought
grows and multiplies
invades every
vein in my body
sucks me dry
prepares me
for death

Gasping
I refuse
to relinquish
what is mine
by right and law
wrung from
this earth by
my own hands

Heedless
I rush headlong
into a desert
of my making

No one
looks my way
or offers
one precious drop

***

Here’s another option from the prophet Isaiah:

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,
your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me,
and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare.

Isaiah 55:1-2 (New International Version)

I’ve been thinking about the way we seem to be turning inward. Supposedly protecting ourselves and our own, lest something terrible happens and we’re left high, dry and more vulnerable than ever. But I wonder.

Ironically, the best way to ensure disaster may well be to shut down our hearts and hang onto our assets, however meager they may be.

This isn’t about political parties, racial identity or religious beliefs. It’s about our common humanity. The capacity in each of us that’s capable of welcoming and providing hospitality to strangers. And the capacity to receive hospitality from others.

It isn’t easy. We’re never promised success, safety or survival for ourselves or others. We are, however, promised the satisfaction of receiving and passing on small bits of grace and gratitude. Some of those tiny drought-proof seeds that grow only when they’re given away.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 August 2017; reposted on 15 March 2021
Image found at feelgrafix.com

Third Sunday in Lent | Teresa of Avila

Yesterday an email from a friend sent me looking for prayers by Teresa of Avila. The prayer below is for anyone who’s growing older. Especially those of us closer to the senior citizen bracket.

Even if you’re not yet a senior, I urge you to read on. Without being morbid, the prayer below lays bare in a delightful way (is this possible?) the challenges and difficulties of being a senior citizen.

On Growing Older – a prayer from Teresa of Avila

Lord, You know better than I myself
that I am growing older and will someday be old.
Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking
I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to
straighten out everybody’s affairs.
Make me thoughtful but not moody;
helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom,
it seems a pity not to use it all;
but You know, Lord,
that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details;
give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains;
they are increasing, and love of rehearsing them
is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for improved memory,
but for a growing humility and a lessening cock-sureness
when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.
Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet, for a sour old person
is one of the crowning works of the devil.
Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places
and talents in unexpected people;
and give, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.

To read this online, click here.

Recently I posted a prayer for Lent. This prayer from Teresa of Avila fills out in painful detail what that prayer means.

May God grant each of us grace to age well. And for those already well along in years, grace to offer the next generations the kind of attention we longed for when we were very young.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 March 2021
Peter Paul Rubens’ painting of Teresa Avila found at wikimedia.org

when life goes south

when life goes south
as they love to say
the weary get up
and get going

anywhere
it doesn’t matter
just so there’s
a sunrise tomorrow

and stars above
when evening calls
to carry me away
beyond these hollows

seeking to prepare
I don my travel clothes
now old and worn
from years of waiting

in the distance
a lone owl sings
its screeching song
chilling my weary bones

Time is short no matter when it began.

Signs of old age are incontrovertible. Also not to be argued: I’m in the exit line. How close to the last moment of the last day or night? I don’t know. But I’m feeling it. Partly due to pandemic unknowns. But more because of a year of not being the ordinary human being I think I was in February 2020.

It’s never too early or late to prepare for the end. In fact, I’d argue that something like preparation begins the moment we’re born into this world, whether we realize it or not.

Today the sun is out, still melting mounds of stubborn snow in our back yard. Our resident pigeon pair is already hoping for an early-bird hatching. A male red-wing blackbird has been visiting our feeder along with all the other regulars. A good day for an afternoon walk. Time is short, and I love life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 March 2021
Image found at forbes.com

misaligned | Int’l Women’s Day

Claude Monet, Poppy Fields near Argenteuil

I posted this three years ago. Sadly, things haven’t changed for the better. If anything, Covid-19 and four years of growing neglect, abuse, and animosity toward women have made things worse. Not just in the USA, but worldwide. This is for women everywhere, and the men who support and care about them:

in the waiting room
perfectly aligned paintings
greet the misaligned

I’m back at the physical therapy center, sitting in the waiting room. Directly across from me, above a row of chairs, hang two huge paintings. Doubtless chosen for their ability to calm and reassure patients bearing all kinds of physical misalignments. Most patients are women.

The paintings are meticulously hung and feature lovely outdoor scenes. Expansive, bucolic and natural without being overly sentimental. Unobtrusive  gentle colors and bright sunshiny days.

Nothing to rattle our nerves or make us wonder about untold stories or what might happen next. No storms brewing in the background. No signs of aging structures or broken-down bridges. All is serene.

The haiku, written several weeks ago, came to mind this morning as I scrolled through photos celebrating International Women’s Day. If even a few of these photos were hung on walls in our public spaces, what would happen? Here are three that caught my eye.

Bhubaneswar, India – Sand Sculpture by Manas Sahoo

Thane, India – Fashion Show by Acid Attack Survivors

Dhaka, Bangladesh – March in support of Int’l Women’s Day 

Never underestimate the power of women. Especially when we’re in one accord on just one thing we need. Equal status as human beings.

This means equal status in a society that honors each woman and girl as a full human being, regardless of color, country of origin, economic or social class, religion, or marital status. Not a fraction of a human being, but 100 percent human. Welcomed into every room in the house without having to wear masks, special clothes, smiles or makeup on our faces, or anything that signals we are less valued than men or boys.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 March 2018, reposted 8 March 2021
Monet painting found at quadrosetelas.com.br
International Women’s Day photos found at Getty Images

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