Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Lent

The Afflicted

~~~Simone Weil in Marseilles, early 1940s

This quote from Simone Weil got my attention this morning. Especially in these days when we’re exhorted to reach out to each other. It all depends….

The capacity to pay attention to an afflicted person is something very rare, very difficult; it is nearly a miracle. It is a miracle. Nearly all those who believe they have this capacity do not. Warmth, movements of the heart, and pity are not sufficient.

Simone Weil, Waiting for God

Are we ready for affliction? Ready to experience it? Prepared to live and die with it?

I’m talking primarily, but not only about we the white people of the USA, narrowly defined by political and religious affiliations. Are we ready?

Or are we still hanging onto our bootstraps mentality. Proud, tall and lily-white. Still finding it difficult if not impossible to attend to the afflictions of strangers or even acquaintances.

Perhaps we’re afraid we’ll look into the mirror of their afflictions and discover our own afflictions. Or worse–the source of their afflictions, carried in us like a deadly live virus all dressed up in fancy clothes.

During this period of Lent, the afflictions of Jesus show us the truth about ourselves. He was afflicted, and though we may have felt sorry for him, we wrote him off.

Isaiah 53:3 (New Revised Standard Version)

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted
with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide
their faces
he was despised, and we held him of
no account.

Perhaps the true leaders of tomorrow will be the afflicted. Those of no account. Even though they have experience, skills and knowledge we’ve discounted for generations. Strangers who have survived among us for decades with affliction as their constant companion. Even in so-called safe spaces.

As a follower of Jesus, I have one Savior. I am also, however, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses I haven’t heeded. Virtual strangers. Women, men and children whose everyday lives are layered with affliction.

What does it mean to give an afflicted person my full attention? Have I ever done this?

Questions like these are on my mind as we witness the painful removal of legal requirements, funding sources, and small islands of hope and trust that helped level the playing field for the last several decades.

This strange never-never land may not end well. Nonetheless, I want to end with a bang, not a whimper.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 March 2018
Photo found at http://www.nybooks.com

Am I ready?

Hesitating
My fingers languish
On the keys

Life
Flashes before me
Inviting my company

My heart
Skips a beat
Am I ready?

Dear Friends,

This past week was wonderful. Going through old files and notebooks told me more about my past than I’d remembered. And I didn’t get through everything yet.

Thankfully, my home office is about half transformed! I focused on files and piles, not books and drawers. Breaking my jaw nearly two years ago brought ‘normal’ life to a sudden halt. And the piles began getting larger and larger….

Hidden in all the files and piles, I found several gems. Things I hadn’t read for years. I even read one piece out loud to myself. It was the Sunday morning ‘sermon’ I gave at our last Renich family reunion in 2012. I wrote it so young children in the room would know exactly what I was talking about.

That was the first time I’d ever talked to my extended family about my troubled relationship with my parents. The room was full of family members from at least four generations. I was a trembling wreck after I finished and sat down. I hadn’t yet begun blogging. I just knew I it was time to do this.

Now I’m at another milestone—still blogging, and with the end of my life approaching more visibly than before. ‘The last chapter’ sounds ominous. However, I see an opportunity to write about things I’ve not written about before. Some new, some old. None of it easy.

During the past week I wrote a haiku on most days. I don’t plan to stop that discipline, or writing poetry. I want to let my heart speak to other hearts. I believe that’s what drove Jesus of Nazareth, though some of his words were difficult to hear.

What I practiced giving up for Lent last year is still relevant. This year I’m thinking about it in terms of my writing voice and my desire to let my heart speak to other hearts. I’m using the same litany as my guide:

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)

As always, thanks for listening.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 February 2018
Image found at twing.com – Living Words

Taking a break to dream

Dear Friends,

I need a break. Not from you, but to listen to my heart and body. I’m serious about being in the last chapter of my life, and want my writing to reflect this without being morose, and without chasing after things that don’t matter that much on any given day.

For several years I’ve wanted to reorganize my home office to make it user-friendly for me as a writer. Today it still reflects my past as an academic and volunteer against human trafficking. Too much stuff hanging around!

So this week, with D’s good help, I’ll get going on that. Most of all, I want to dream about where I’m headed with my writing in the next months and years.

Here’s the bottom line:
I’m not closing down my blog
However, I won’t post anything for at least this coming week

In the meantime I pray that Lent, which begins on Valentine’s Day, will draw us closer to ourselves, to each other and to our amazing Creator who still chooses to walk with and among us daily. Incognito.

Thanks for being here, and for your encouragement.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 February 2018
Image found at barbarabenedettelli.it

breathless

breathless
city of the dead
greets Eastern sun

*

It’s Holy Week
a period of self-reflection and waiting
not for death, but for life
rising out of improbable circumstances
from unexpected sources.
Small and large gifts of grace that never die,
all appearances to the contrary.

***

This haunting photo reminded me of Cairo’s City of the Dead. The warmth of the rising sun falls daily on its streets and small memorial houses to the dead, many without roofs. Open to the sky above. Breathless.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 April 2017
Photo from Pixabay.com

Strange Visitors


Unplanned events
Crash into my life
Force change and create confusion

Chaos
Leers at me
Foils attempts to ‘sort things out’

Indecision
Haunts my behavior
Especially on days without sunshine

Lethargy
Creeps from head to toe
Lulls me into dreary gray oblivion

Dare I welcome
These strangers in
For tea and conversation?

I fight the urge
To show them the door
As though they didn’t exist

I want them to disappear
Like the unrealities
I want them to be

***

As a girl child I was instructed at home, in school and in church to avoid or get rid of all things negative. That included lying, cheating, pouting, complaining to my parents or fighting with my sisters.

Though this was supposed to make me good and happy, this negative approach seemed to border on magical thinking.

Avoid this or stop doing that, and you’ll win the Good Girl Lottery! It might not always be fun right now, but it will be spectacular later on—especially after you die and wake up in heaven.

And yet, with all that goodness drummed into me, I wasn’t protected then or now from difficult situations. Instead, my upbringing instilled voices and unhelpful habits that drive my behavior more than I like to admit. They kept me from exploring and celebrating my voice, and the woman I was becoming then and now.

I’m just beginning to recognize the way these drivers work in me, and let them go. They’re named in the litany I wrote about here:

  • My desire for security and survival
  • My desire for esteem and affection
  • My desire for power and control
  • My desire to change the situation

Saying I’m letting go is relatively easy. Living it out is difficult. It’s difficult to let go of what I’m not willing to understand. I want to welcome these desires as the realities they are, capable of supporting life or of putting it at risk. I don’t want to slam the door in their faces. They might be my best coaches—or at least helpful visitors I dare not silence or ignore.

So how do I welcome these strangers and listen to them? How and why did they become powerful and controlling in me? Who put their insistent, insinuating voices in me, and why? And how does this affect my responses to unplanned events, chaos, indecision and lethargy?

More fodder for self-reflection during and beyond this Lent season. Thanks for reading!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 March 2017
Photo found at islamforchristians.com

What will they say about me?

I was late getting to bed last night. In the evening we’d attended a memorial service at our church for a long-time member. Kathleen made a difference in the lives of uncounted family, friends, neighbors and strangers. The sanctuary was filled with witnesses.

Kathleen’s life was long and lively. Always full of energy, joy, encouragement of others and raucous support for our local baseball team—the Philadelphia Phillies. Her husband died suddenly 17 years ago, a grief-fed love she carried with her every day of her remaining years on this earth.

The memorial service was outstanding. A collage of shared memories, a meditation on life and death, several of her favorite hymns, and multiple genres of music performed by visitors and members whose lives she touched.

I knew Kathleen, but not from way back. Until last night I had no idea how deeply she had immersed herself in the lives of others—via music, Phillies baseball games, family relationships, her neighborhood, and of course, the life of our church. Even though she had officially retired as music director years ago.

When I got home I felt sad and teary. I wondered what people might say about me when I’m gone. And how full the sanctuary would be for my memorial service.

Without intending to, I began comparing myself with my friend. The kind of comparison that leads to unhappiness. That gnawing sense of being ‘less-than.’ Feeling shame and even regret for my life and what I have and have not accomplished. Wandering around, trying to find myself, trying things on, wanting desperately to be somebody. And to be loved.

It’s Lent. Time to practice letting go my desire for affection and esteem…among other things.

Here’s what I wrote down before I went to sleep last night.

Remember the white stone! Your white stone! The one God will give you, with your new name. Not comparable to anyone else’s distinct new name. This isn’t a competition. Yet (comparison) has been a source of much discontent in my life.

Last night I was painfully aware of my desire for esteem and affection. I don’t want to fall off the cliff into a thicket of jealousy or envy. And I don’t want to be left hanging. I believe there’s another side of this practice.

Letting go isn’t about going away empty-handed. It’s about keeping my hands open, ready to receive my white stone and new name. My one-of-a-kind name. Inscribed by my Creator on the white stone. My one-of-a-kind ‘well done, beloved daughter.’

Plus any other gifts my Creator wants to give me before I receive the white stone. So long as my hands are open and receptive.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 March 2017
Photo found at yldist.com
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Immerse

What I’m giving up

I didn’t grow up in a church tradition that required me to give things up for Lent. Yet today I’m asking what I’m giving up for Lent.

Why now? I think it’s related to my health, my age, my ability to live as an independent woman, my need to have things go my way at this time in my life.

I feel quite well most of the time. Perhaps weary and a bit stressed out now and then, but not awful. Yet sometimes I fall over the edge–into anger or fear. It’s usually triggered when something doesn’t go the way I anticipated it would. It’s like throwing a lighted match into a dry haystack. Or going over a cliff. Too late to step back and do something different.

So what to do? I don’t have a magic formula. However, I’ve been reading a wonderful book about prayer. It’s Cynthia Bourgeault’s book called Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. It seems connected to what’s happening.

Her book is helping me reconsider these episodes. They flare up when I hit moments of extreme frustration. Sometimes they’re about my health and wellbeing. Other times they’re triggered by memories of things that happened to me as a professional woman.

The goal I’m after is this: to learn ways of interrupting what’s about to happen before I go over the cliff. I know I won’t learn this overnight. Still, I want to recognize, welcome and listen to those small signs before I go over the cliff or say things I’ll regret. Sometimes that’s not possible. Other times, it is.

As part of this discipline, Cynthia offers a litany written by a friend. It’s a prayer to be offered as often as needed, without having to make it up myself. It’s for the moment I realize my frustration and anger are escalating, ready to overflow. It won’t work if I’ve already exploded.

I grew up believing everything unwelcome in me needed to be  ‘fixed’ if not denounced and forsaken. Slam the door in its face! Send it packing! Or at least keep it hidden in a closet. It’s not the ‘real me.’

This, however, is about the real me. The person I am in God’s presence. Just as I am. Especially when I’m unhappy about the way things are going. What’s happening in me has something to tell me. Instead of slamming the door in its face or denying its presence, perhaps I could welcome it. Listen, and learn from it. After all, it’s part of me whether I like it or not.

So here’s the litany, an active giving up of something. Not just for Lent.

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)

I long to stay fully present to God and, so far as possible, to the truth about myself. No matter what rises to the surface or comes at me without warning. Whether it’s anger, fear, pain or death itself.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 March 2017
Image found at kairosjourney.org

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