Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Christian Faith

No Coward Soul Is Mine | Emily Brontë

This poem from Emily Brontë resonates more each time I read it. Here we have a woman of great intellect who daily faced the male-dominance of her generation. Not that things have changed that much. In fact, because dominance can be rather polite these days, it can also be more difficult to maintain a clear female voice.

Dominance doesn’t mean domination. Rather, it’s an invitation to step up to and into full humanity, in full voice, with full right to my own open and informed outlook on things theological.

Saying this is easier than living it. In addition, I don’t know all the ins and outs of Emily’s life. I do, however, know this poem grows more powerful for me every time I read it.

One note on Emily’s use, in the third stanza, of a male pronoun. I suggest this was intentional, given the overall theme of the poem, and her life as the daughter of a clergyman.

No Coward Soul Is Mine

No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven’s glories shine
And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear

God within my breast
Almighty ever-present Deity
Life, that in me has rest
As I Undying Life, have power in thee

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thy infinity
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality

With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

Though Earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And thou were left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee

There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou are Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed

From selected poems of Emily Brontë, pp. 40-41
Published in Everyman’s Library by Alfred A. Knopf, 1996
© 1996 by David Campbell Publishers Ltd., sixth printing

Praying for each of you a spirit-animated Sabbath rest, and vision as immense as Emily’s “Almighty, ever present Deity.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 January 2020
Image found at wikipedia.org; from a portrait of all three sisters, painted by their brother Bramwell

Monday morning questions

This past week I had a serendipitous moment while shopping for groceries. No kidding!

In the produce department a gentleman stopped me and asked if I was a past president of the seminary where I taught and was dean. I laughed and said no way! I’d been professor and dean, but never president. Nor did I ever aspire to that office.

He laughed with me, and said he’d heard me speak at the seminary. He even remembered what I talked about. I was astonished. He wasn’t one of our students. Today he’s a pastor in this area, and is African American.

In the early 1990s the seminary was challenged by the Rodney King event. Because I was being promoted with tenure, I’d been asked to give the opening academic year address. My title and  text were from Psalm 23, “In the Presence of My Enemies.”  What did we need to do to begin coming to terms with our overt, covert and unrecognized racism?

The bottom line was simple. According to Psalm 23, we’re invited to a table prepared by God. There’s only one hitch. This table is prepared “in the presence of my enemies.” Not God’s enemies, but mine–whether real or perceived. Furthermore, there’s no clear reason to think my real and perceived enemies aren’t included at this table.

So now that we’re sitting at this table prepared for us (the seminary), who’s going to speak first? Who’s willing to break the silence so we can begin getting to know and perhaps better understand and support each other?

This morning I’m thinking about what’s happening all over this world, especially right here in my small territory. I believe God has prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies–whether real or perceived.

So who’s willing to go first? Am I? How important is it to me? Otherwise, why am I taking up space at the table?

Events of today and last week make this a not so happy Monday. Yet the presence of our Creator in the territory means there’s more going on than meets the eye. Am I, are we, up to the challenge of daring to speak first? Not to talk about others, but to listen to each other and to ourselves. After all, it’s our Creator’s territory, not ‘mine’ or ‘yours.’

Happy Monday, despite the news and noise of the hour!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 January 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

The Work of Christmas | Howard Thurman

This post from 23 December 2017 has had over 1000 visits, most of them this month. It’s as true today as it was back then–perhaps even more so, given the state of our current disunion. I hope you find Howard Thurman’s poem encouraging and challenging. 

This week I received a lovely Christmas note with a poem by Howard Thurman on the front. Howard Thurman (1899 – 1981), was a key figure in the life of the USA during the 20th century. Thurman was an author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. He was also an early leader and mentor in the nonviolence movement that shaped and included Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here is Thurman’s poem, followed by a few comments.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all,
To make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman, from The Mood of Christmas, p. 23
Published and copyrighted by Friends United Press, 1985

The work of Christmas isn’t about enjoying or returning gifts we received, feeling good about giving money to charities, getting on with the thankless work of putting away the decorations until next year, or writing thank you notes. In fact, it isn’t even about telling everyone the story of Christmas.

Rather, it’s about embodying it. Being and becoming the good news announced with the birth of Jesus Christ.

  • We, the lost now found, are to find other lost women, men and children. We the broken, the hungry, the prisoners, the residents of war-torn nations, the restless, the aggrieved, the disappeared—we are to pass along what we have received. A reason to hope, and a measure of peace in the midst of strife.

This isn’t about hoarding things for ourselves. It’s about making haste to share peace and hope that passes all understanding. Not with stingy hearts, but extravagantly. Making music in our hearts that spills over into our relationships and communities. Not always happy music, but music that tells the truth, especially when the truth isn’t pretty.

I’m praying I’ll find renewed peace and hope for myself, along with you, and new ways to do the work of Christmas in this coming year.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 December 2017, reposted 24 December 2019
Image found at examiner.com.au

When all is said and done

When all is said and done
The remainder reaches
Into infinity with salutary
Airs of expectation
Soon to be proven false
Or true if that’s the way
You see it from your side

Yesterday I labored
Stretching time and cutting
Corners that wouldn’t
Matter in the end not really
No matter how exhausted
Or exuberant I was about
All I’d accomplished for now

Eager to welcome me home
The queen and king arrive
At my front door in the middle
Of the night to my consternation
They want to take me home
Despite my hard work left lying
In the dust heap of my efforts

When St. Thomas said all he
Ever wrote seemed like ashes
I thought he was out of his mind
Either that or he was finally
At peace with himself minus
All the ornamental pages
Hanging in his closet out of date
And out of time

The best things we’ve done in this life are often those we don’t remember. Being at peace with ourselves and those we love is, however, one of the best things we can do for ourselves in this life.

I pray this season of the year will find you at peace with yourself and with those you most love. No matter how much or how little you believe you’ve accomplished.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 December 2019
Book jacket photo found at amazon.com

Our current discontent

This morning I woke up wondering how we’ll survive as a nation, no matter who wins the next presidential election. It’s Advent. However, my mind went back to Lent, and a March 2017 post about what I was giving up for Lent.

As I see it, our nation is being tested yet again. We’ve been tested many times. It seems that whatever happened or didn’t happen back then, despite our best intentions, contributes now to our growing state of dis-union.

So how will we survive not just the next election, but the year leading up to it? Political strategies and post-election plans are important. Still, they aren’t magic wands that can solve our national problems.

The most important things are what we carry in our hearts, and what we have chosen to give up.

So I’m drawn back to what I gave up for Lent. The challenge isn’t any easier now than it was then. I’m to give up desires that have haunted me all my life. Not because this will solve personal or national problems, but because this frees me to behave differently this time around. Even though I’m terrified about the consequences.

So here they are, in the form of a prayer litany. Still staring me in the face daily. How willing am I to bring these strange gifts and lay them down before a newborn baby? Not just once, but as many times as necessary.

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)

Do I like doing this? No. It does, however, make space for me to take risks. The kind that make my heart pound because I’m not in control of what happens next.

With hope, and thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 December 2019
Sunrise at Acadia National Park, Maine, USA; found at pinterest.com

Three-ring circus

The three-ring circus
Drones on without apology
Mesmerizing the faithful
And the not-so-faithful
With thrilling chilling
Unheard-of stunts
And dare-devil moves
Designed to grab attention
And votes of confidence

The world beyond
The Great White Tent
Descends into despair
Tripping over truth
And inconvenient facts
Of now and then
Looking the other way
Refusing to breathe deeply
Hoping for something better
Though it hasn’t been
In style for ages

Meanwhile
The Hope of All the Earth
Looks on wondering
For this I came, lived
And died?

We live in an age that loves to watch deceit and cunning. Not just in The Great White Tent, but in our neighborhoods, churches, schools and businesses. This seems to hold true whether we like or dislike deceit and cunning.

It takes inner strength to live in truth these days. Especially in relationships with people we see or meet every day. Nonetheless, even on our best days we aren’t The Hope of All the Earth. Instead, we’re a company of earthlings loved by The Hope of All the Earth. Right now.

Wishing each of you Advent blessings,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 December 2019
Artwork by Linda Mears, found at pixels.com

The last day of November 2019

The last day of November 2019
Greets morning
With peach-colored clouds
Virtually bare deciduous trees
Stalwart conifers flexing their muscles
Almost freezing temperatures
And the weary sigh of voters
Treated nonstop to the latest scoop
Or not depending on their tastes

A waking thought jolts me
Back to this present moment
Ruled by a heart once broken
Now tenderly stitched together
A stunning patchwork of colors
Plus moody longings and
Memory-driven reveries that
Nourish my soul bringing honor
To a heart long overlooked
Now my valiant heroine who
Made it through undeclared wars
And interminable neglects
To say nothing of despisements
Not of my own making

December beckons with promise
Of peace on earth and good will toward all

I want to believe.
Do you?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 November 2019
Artwork by Tarryl Gabel found at artworkarchive.com

Making the House Ready for the Lord | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver makes it simple, true and easy. My comments follow.

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice—it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances—but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

© Mary Oliver 2006
Published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 13

Yesterday I was bemoaning wisps of cat hair floating in every corner; cardboard boxes piled high, waiting for old give-away books; kitchen gadgets and pots looking for a new home or sitting in the sink waiting to be cleaned.

Not that I expect the Lord to visit–though that isn’t an impossibility. This is about regular people who come to our door unannounced. Why shouldn’t things be neat and tidy? After all, I’m retired, and have all the time in the world to keep up appearances!

Mary Oliver’s poem makes me laugh at myself. I’m not a collector of vagabond mice, squirrels or lost dogs. However, for years I’ve collected books, kitchen gadgets and small bits and pieces of arty stuff. Which collects its own stuff called dust.

Unannounced visitors put me to the test. Am I ready to receive the Lord? Maybe this is stretching it, but if I’m not ready to receive the Lord just as I am, I’m probably not consciously ready to receive anyone just as I am.

Even so, truth be told, I’m always ready, whether I think I am or not. In fact, when the Lord or any one of you arrives and comes into my house, it will be ready. Living proof of my priorities, my weaknesses, my loves, my memories and my hopes. All of me. What more could you, or the Lord, ask for?

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 November 2019
Photo by JSLeesPhotography found at Flickr.com
Red Fox, Alonquin, Canada

We never know how high we are – revisited

These few words from Emily Dickinson still bring tears to my eyes. Given current events, we could use some kingly and queenly risk-taking right now. No matter how small or fear-filled our steps may be. Happy Monday!   

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
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 our selves, 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 11 November 2019
Image found at pinterest

Breath of God Unseen – revisited

wind-sculpted-drifts-martin-nd-13-jan-2017

I  posted this in January 2017. It’s as true today as was then, especially given world and national events of the past few years. It’s difficult to keep my eyes on what matters most these days, rather than what parades as ‘reality.’ 

Breath of God
Unseen
Artist of my heart
And life
Breathe on me 

The wind is cold
Unyielding
To my vain cries
For mercy
Breathe on me 

Evening shadows
Lengthen
In fading light
Brilliant
and foreboding 

Deep blue sky
Darkens
Trees bend and sway
Breath of God
Breathe on me 

It’s late afternoon. This morning I woke to this photo on my weather page. I thought immediately about my life and the way God’s Spirit has blown through and around it, unseen and unbidden.  

Looking back, I’d say the outcomes today are beyond my wildest dreams. Not that I’m perfect or successful or even ‘special.’ Rather, this is about contentment. 

I’m at peace with myself, though not always with situations in which I find myself.  Or even with my behavior. Nonetheless, things have changed in my spirit over the last several years. 

Today I have compassion for myself as a child, as a young teenager, as a wife, mother and grandmother, and as a retired professional. I rarely struggle with feeling like a fraud, or with harsh self-talk that belittles me or accuses me of being The Problem with Everything. 

I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m saying I’m at rest with who I am and who I am not. Especially from the inside out. The part that really matters. 

I like what I see when I think of myself as a huge pile of snow, sculpted by God’s Spirit through winds of change. I know, things aren’t exactly spectacular in the world right now. It’s just that today I’m at peace with myself.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 January 2017, reposted 1 November 2019
Photo taken by Brian Bender at Martin, North Dakota, USA, 13 Jan 2017
Found at Weather Underground App

%d bloggers like this: