Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Christian Faith

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

Terror, Faith, 9/11/2001 and Today

It’s no accident, this constant ringing in my head each time another unplanned attack takes place on home turf.

We have a long-practiced habit here in the USA. Instead of focusing on our personal problems, we focus intently on those of others. That includes leaders and residents of the USA as well as those of other countries.

Whether we like it or not, our bluff is being called every day and night. Instead of learning to live together as human beings, we’ve majored on becoming a country divided against itself. Worse, we don’t seem ready to examine ourselves as part of the problem.

Back in 2001, I spoke at a seminary-wide gathering to consider the still-fresh bombing of the twin towers in NYC. The only thing I could do with honesty was speak about myself, acknowledging my own lack of readiness to die in an instant.

Here’s what I said then and am saying again today in light of home-grown terror that’s tearing us apart.

It’s difficult to focus.
Voices and images
clamor for my attention,
my response,
my analysis of what is beyond all reason.

I force myself to stay close to the bone,
close to home, close to my Christian roots.

Death is in the room.
Not a new presence,
not even unexpected.

It, too, clamors for my attention,
masquerading in terrible new configurations.

I don’t want to die,
especially if I must suffer in my death.

From the throne of his cross,
the king of grief cries out….
‘Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?’

There is no redemption
apart from suffering and death.
None.

I want to be redeemed.
I do not want to die, or to suffer.
I am not a very likely candidate for redemption.

Death is relentlessly in this room.
My death.
Your death.
Christ’s death.

Unfinished family business is in this room.
Violent behaviors and attitudes
passed down from father to daughter;
Habits of not telling the truth,
passed down from mother to daughter;
Withholding of love and affection,
Relentless inspection and fault-finding,
Love wanting expression but finding no voice,
Truth wanting expression but finding no listening ear.

Unfinished family business is in the room with death–
A gnawing ache more than my body can bear.

I like to think I’m ready to die.
But I am not.
Nor will I ever be.
Not today, not tomorrow,
Not in a thousand tomorrows.

If I say I am ready to die,
I deceive myself,
and the truth is not in me.

There’s always more work to be done–
Unfinished family business
Unfinished seminary business
Unfinished church and community business
Unfinished personal business

Christ died to relieve me
of the awful, paralyzing expectation
that one of these days
I will finally be ready to die.

Christ finished his work so that
I could leave mine unfinished
without even a moment’s notice.

The Heidelberg Catechism says it all–

“What is your only comfort in life and death?

“My only comfort, in life and in death, is that I belong–body and soul, in life and in death–not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ….”

These days I’m praying for small ways to make lifegiving connections with those I love and those I too often love to hate.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2022
News photo found at http://www.nbcnews.com

remember then thy fear | George MacDonald

The sonnet below blows me away. Not because it’s beautiful, but because it’s timely, true, and thought-provoking. Especially now, when we’re surrounded on all sides by friends and strangers haunted by dismay and death. The possibilities are endless: suicide, warfare of all kinds, bombing, Covid, lynching old style or new style, aging….

George MacDonald (1824-1905) dealt with his own incurable tuberculosis, witnessed the early death of six of his children, and was not well received by many church leaders. He also wrote amazing novels such as Lilith, and books for children such as At the Back of the North Wind. Dismay and death were regular visitors in his life.

Here’s MacDonald’s March 24 sonnet from The Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul, also known as The Diary of an Old Soul.

O Christ, have pity on all folk when they come
Unto the border haunted of dismay;
When that they know not draweth very near–
The other thing, the opposite of day.
Formless and ghastly, sick, and gaping-dumb,
Before which even love doth lose its cheer;
O radiant Christ, remember then thy fear.

George MacDonald (1824-1905), author
First published in The Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul
© 1994 Augsburg Press, Diary of an Old Soul
Sonnet for March 24 found on p. 36

The last line of the sonnet says it all. MacDonald is praying on behalf of human beings “haunted of dismay.” They know death has moved too close for comfort. Too close for cheer.

This is what moves me. Instead of asking the “radiant Christ” to restore their cheer, he asks Christ to “remember then thy fear.” In other words, he’s asking Christ to accept and thus honor their fear, anguish, and anger. Including, I would add, MacDonald’s and that of our friends and family, plus our own.

Thanks for visiting, and for remembering friends and neighbors dealing with their own deaths.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 March 2022
Photo found at amazon.com, Kindle

Sometimes…I cannot pray | George MacDonald

The news from Ukraine and neighboring countries is more than grim. No matter who ‘wins’ this obscene standoff, too many have already lost. How, then, am I to pray?

Today I read this sonnet from George MacDonald. His life was full of unwanted tragedy, death, pain, and strife.

Sometimes, hard-trying, it seems I cannot pray–
For doubt, and pain, and anger, and all strife.
Yet some poor half-fledged prayer-bird from the nest
May fall, flit, fly, perch–crouch in the bowery breast
Of the large, nation-healing tree of life;–
Moveless there sit through all the burning day,
And on my heart at night a fresh leaf cooling lay.

From George MacDonald’s Diary of an Old Soul, p. 13
© Augsburg Publishing House (1975) and Augsburg Fortress (1994)

It seems not knowing how to pray isn’t the end of the world. Perhaps it means we’re in touch with reality. And what then?

I hear George MacDonald, whose life was filled with strife, pain, anger and doubt, suggesting it’s OK. I don’t have to know what to say. In fact, not knowing what to say might be the most honest way to approach strife such as he endured, and many are enduring right now in Ukraine and beyond.

In the middle of seeming chaos, do I have the courage of the half-fledged prayer-bird to “sit through the burning day”? Waiting, watching, staying close to the “large, nation-healing tree of life” until this little bird brings a “fresh leaf” to cool my troubled heart?

May our Creator have mercy on us all.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 March 2022
Photo of young fledgling found at birdguides.com

Life on the edge

The world is on edge. Refugees, weather patterns, political maneuverings, pandemic puzzles and outright war.

I hear an invitation to look into the mirror and take stock of where I am in the middle of all this. The church calendar invites me to look inward. It also invites me to ‘give up’ something between the beginning of Lent and the celebration of Easter.

For most of my early life I gave things up routinely. I was taught to live frugally. My family didn’t have much money. In fact, they considered not having much money a virtue, though we were clearly better off than our neighbors living in colored town.

That was then. What about today? We’re in a mess of gigantic proportions. So what am I to give up for Lent that both challenges me, and brings me closer to others living in this world that’s seems to be spinning out of control?

Several years ago I posted a challenging prayer that fit the spirit of Lent. It challenged me as an individual. Not once, but many times. Today, it’s challenging me as a world citizen and follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Am I willing to live as an undocumented refugee? As part of a family broken up by war, lies, and powermongers?

Everything in me wants to rage, fight back, make sure I’m on the ‘right’ side, shout back at the TV news, and run for cover. Instead, this simple prayer invites me to take another approach.

I let go my desire for security and survival.
I let go my desire for esteem and affection.
I let go my desire for power and control.
I let go my desire to change the situation.

Quoted by Cynthia Bourgeault in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, p. 147 (Cowley Publications 2004)

Will this solve everything? Of course not. It will, however, keep me centered. Not on myself, but on Jesus of Nazareth who showed and still shows me how to do this. One day at a time.

It also occurs to me that my life is the only thing I can ‘give away.’ But only if I’m not struggling to keep it and my privileges alive at any cost.

May our Creator have mercy on each and all of us.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 March 2022
Image found at pixabay.com

Today’s nightmare

Recent news from Ukraine is beyond grim. The post below is from September 2017. It’s about a dream, and my sense of being trapped when Trump became POTUS. Now we have Putin against Ukraine and most of the world.

~~~

This morning I woke up feeling strangely empty and weeping. Partly because of a near-nightmare and partly because we’re living, it seems, in a near-nightmare.

In the dream, I’m alone in a small room, just getting ready to exit. I’ve decided this small room isn’t going to work for me. Suddenly a man I don’t know and have never seen before walks into the room. He isn’t impressive in stature or looks, yet I know in my gut that he’s potentially bad news. He immediately flops down on the single bed near the door.

As I walk toward the door to exit, he reaches out and grabs my hand. His face clouds over with contempt and a sneer. I know I’m done for if I don’t take charge. I feel small and defenseless. Caught in a nightmare not of my making. I feel his grip tightening on my hand.

I wake up not knowing what to say or do next.

The man’s eyes, the sneer on his face, and the totally invasive nature of his presence and behavior communicated his firm belief that I was totally irrelevant. In his eyes my life mattered not a whit.

It’s sometimes difficult these days, especially since I’m on the older end of the age spectrum, to maintain a sense of relevance. But this was bigger than that. It was about the invader’s power and willingness to exercise it no matter who I might have been. Though I’ll admit it didn’t help to be female.

This tired old world is in a season of growing visible and present chaos. The kind this world has seen before, though not with so many growing warehouses of nuclear arms and an over-supply of trigger-happy leaders ready to prove their supposed virility. Ordinary people seem to have become irrelevant. Except as props on a political stage.

I don’t fixate on this every day. Nonetheless, it’s always in the air begging for my addictive attention. If I remain fixated, I’m a goner, dead or alive.

Instead of playing along with the ‘dream’ man’s agenda for me, I relax, ignore his eyes and disgusting speech, and pray out loud and in a strong voice these challenging words from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Six Recognitions of the Lord.”

Oh feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with
The fragrance of the fields and the
Freshness of the oceans which you have
Made, and help me to hear and to hold
In all dearness those exacting and wonderful
Words of our Lord Christ Jesus, saying:
Follow me.

Mary Oliver, Thirst, stanza 5 from “Six Recognitions of the Lord”
Beacon Press 2006

Praying we’ll find courage to identify our True North and follow it, one day at a time.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 March 2022
Caught in a near nightmare was published on 27 September 2017
Photo found at givaudan.com

A poem I can’t get out of my mind

It doesn’t take much effort to see what’s happening daily in many if not most of our neighborhoods, towns or cities.

Nonetheless, when it comes to actively joining efforts on the field, many of us would rather stay put in the grandstands. Glued to our seats. Gasping from time to time, but not joining the fray, or putting ourselves in harm’s way.

I’m no extroverted star. I’d rather stay on the sidelines. Study what’s happening on the field. Pray. Give money. Or read more about poverty in cities and surrounding towns, and what others are doing to come alongside with help. Certainly all those good things are important and necessary.

Here’s a poem that challenges me every time I read it. G. A. Studdert Kennedy served on the ground as a World War I army chaplain to British soldiers. Many of his poems reflect realities of life in the warzone. This one, however, reflects the reality of life in the city of Birmingham.

Indifference, by G. A. Studdert Kennedy (aka Woodbine Willie)

When Jesus came to Golgotha they hanged Him on a tree.
The drave great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed Him by.
They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And still it rained the wintry rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.

“drave” – drove

Indifference found on page 21 in The Unutterable Beauty – The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy
First published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited, London (March 1927), reprinted June 1928
Second publication by Pendlebury Press Limited, Manchester, U.K., August 2017

There’s no end of women, children, young people and men who would welcome even a small sign of genuine interest from another human being. Maybe they’re next door, just down the street, sitting beside us in church or on a bus, or even sitting lonely in that big mansion up on the hill. In the end, Woodbine Willie was known for his commitment to being there. Not with answers, but with a listening ear and a praying heart.

Thanks for stopping by today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 February 2022
Photo found at backwatersman.wordpress

 

 

 

One day at a time

This morning I opened my email to find Elizabeth Elliot’s quote above, sent by a friend of many years. It wasn’t all prettied up with a photo. It was, however, precisely on time.

For about a year now I’ve been living with part of my eye and mind on the present, and the rest, especially my emotions, on the future. Not a bright future, but dread of what my body was trying to tell me about my health.

Last summer my integrative doctor recognized my symptoms, and immediately referred me to a neurologist. I imagined getting an appointment quickly. That wasn’t the way it worked out, so I had a good month and a half to continue living in the future.

Fast forward to yesterday and the post about my health. No more than two hours after I hit ‘publish’ I got a call saying the upcoming appointment with my hematologist had to be changed. I was blown away. Waiting just one more week felt like the last straw.

I’ve been a ‘one day at a time’ woman since my 40s. Yet in the midst of difficult life-changing realities, I quickly capitulate to what might happen tomorrow or next month. I don’t blame myself for this. I do, however, realize yet again how difficult it is to live ‘one day at a time.’ Especially when there’s so much going on in our aging bodies and souls that needs attention.

The temperature last night was frigid. I slept fairly well, all things considered. Today the sun is out, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this day for which I am responsible. As Elizabeth Elliot puts it, “God still owns tomorrow.” It will come soon enough.

Thanks again for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 January 2022
Elizabeth Elliot quote found at quotefancy.com

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

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

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