Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Prayer

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

To the Gardener after reading Psalm 1

Your words, so beautiful to read,
Crush me beneath the weight of
Life already lived – a great muddle
Of garden-rich vegetables plus toxic
Stew of tongue and cheek hurled
My way, often from my own mouth.

At this age I’ve little left but memories,
Plus ever-present directives from
Well-meaning people and ill intentions
From the other kind. To say nothing of
My own sometimes distressed mind
And body seeking solace and reassurance
That I matter to somebody if not
To myself.

Here, then, is my request:
I long to start over as a small tree
Planted by rivers of clear, pure water,
Guarded and pruned by Your hands
Alone. If this is not possible, I would
Also settle for a long and lovely
Winter’s nap.

From one of Your elderly fans,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 June 2019
Image found at JackMaxwellArt.com

gray clouds

gray clouds
hang overhead
ready to burst
at will

my umbrella
small and fragile
the only solace
I might carry
hangs on a doorknob
in my bedroom

unknowns pile on
one after another
an alphabet soup
of indecipherable
medicalese pointing
to things I cannot see
in this dim light

How long oh Lord?

brinkswomanship
does not become me
with so much planning
and packing to do
before that last trip
home

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 July 2018
Photo found at AccuWeather.com

In the presence of my enemies

It’s January 2006. I got to my office early, and was preparing to drive to the airport and catch a flight to Houston, Texas, to be with my sister Diane who was dying of ALS. She had opted for comfort care at home. No food and no medication. Just fluids and whatever would comfort her. This might be my last visit with her.

As I was about to leave my office, the phone rang. It was D. His premonitions were correct. The president of the university had just requested D’s resignation. So here it was, after several years of difficult personnel and budget issues.

No, D didn’t want me to cancel my flight. Instead, I flew to Houston in a stupor of spousal pain and rage, and gave D a call that evening. I continued as dean at the seminary. D was now free to follow his heart and eventually accepted a position with an international organization he’d helped birth.

Now it’s August 2008. I’m on a platform in the university gym along with other dignitaries. We’re in full regalia, ready for the fall convocation, installation of new faculty, and installation of the new chancellor of the university. The man chosen as the next provost, one of D’s friends and faculty colleagues, would be installed as the new chancellor. My job was to offer the installation prayer.

Inside, I was a mess. When the time came, I stood at the lectern facing the university faculty along with our seminary faculty. A number of university faculty had been unhappy with D’s administration. Some bitterly so.

On the outside I was a professional. On the inside I was in melt-down, shaking in my spirit and fully aware I was facing some university faculty who felt like enemies, along with many others who still grieved D’s resignation.

The newly minted chancellor stood next to me, and I invited everyone to stand with me for the prayer. It was simple and direct. And yes, it was a prayer for me and for D, not just for the new chancellor.

The prayer made use of Psalm 23. I couldn’t find the original script. It went something like this:

Because the Lord is your shepherd and knows everything about you, you will never lack for anything you need.
When you’re weary, may you find rest in green pastures, and follow your shepherd to pools of quiet waters.
When your soul is troubled, may you find restoration, and be guided in paths of right relationships that bring honor to your shepherd.

When you go through times of deepest darkness and despair, may you fear no evil;
Your shepherd will be with you, to find and comfort you no matter what happens.
When your shepherd prepares a banquet for you, and your enemies are looking on or sitting at the table, know that you are an honored guest in the Lord’s house, worthy of the best wine in the world.

Finally, remember that this goodness and mercy will be with you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord, your good shepherd, forever.

Amen

I don’t understand all the dynamics of this event. Nonetheless, when I sat down I was calm inside, ready for whatever came next.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 June 2018

Yesterday evening – a prayer of lament

Most evenings I take time to jot down how I’m feeling. Sometimes I’m so weary I can scarcely keep my eyes open.

But yesterday evening was different. I’d spent time that evening going through old files from years of teaching and being a graduate student. Part of me was laughing and enjoying seeing some of the cheeky things I’d written in my younger years. The other part of me kicked in near the end—a little voice that wouldn’t let me go.

So when I sat down in the late evening with my journal, this is what I wrote to God—a prayer of lament, I think.

Oh God, I feel so empty tonight—so out of touch with the woman I am today. It seems my best work and my most memorable efforts are all in the past. Filed away in boxes of paper crammed with words—so many that I scarcely recognize myself back then.

Where did they all go? — Those words, ideas, images, insights, sparkling clear roadmaps to my past life and thinking and feeling.

They seem much more alive and important than anything I might manage to eke out today or tomorrow. Such high hopes and noble ambitions. And now this?

Please look kindly on my confusion through the eyes of Your merciful providence, and give me gratitude.

Then I went to bed and promptly fell asleep. A bit sobered, yet grateful for memories of so many good women and good men. And for the privilege of having touched their lives, and been touched by theirs.

I’m not the woman I thought I was when I arrived at the seminary to study or to teach. Or even when I began this blog.

Today I’m working on a piece for later this week. It’s about one of the most difficult subjects I’ve had to deal with personally and institutionally, as a member of various churches and as professor and dean at the seminary. Sexuality.

Thanks for reading and listening. And for helping grow me into the woman I am today.
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 March 2018
Photo found at pixabay.com

A prayer from Catherine of Siena

What is it
You want to change?
Your hair, your face, your body?
Why?
For God is
in love with all those things
and He might weep
when they are
gone.
—Catherine of Siena

Found at Spirituality and Practice

Though not framed as a prayer, this small, poetic plea is, in fact, a prayer from Catherine of Siena to me. I imagine her sitting here with me, asking tough questions about what seems almost innocuous—my desire to change things about my hair, my face, my body. Especially, but not only, at this age.

I don’t want to be unhealthy. It isn’t wrong to do what I can to improve the way my body functions.

This prayer, however, isn’t about that. It’s about accepting my body as it looks today. On the outside. Loving it as the body my Creator loves. The graying hair, wrinkles on my face, avalanches on my body. Not looking as young or youthful as I once did.

When I was very young, I longed for more hair on my head, a smaller forehead, and skin that would tan and stay tanned for more than 24 hours. When I looked at other girls and young women, I didn’t feel ugly. I felt plain.

I longed to be less plain and less pale. Not a striking beauty who might call unwanted attention to herself, but a pleasant-looking female. Less plain and less pale.

The thought that my Creator might be in love with my hair, face and body on any given day never crossed my mind. I thought God cared about the spiritual me. And yes, of course my Creator also loved the physical me. But really? That much?

When I think about all the body issues women carry in secret, it pains me. I’m as guilty as anyone.

I’m also astonished and chagrined at the suggestion that God might weep if I tried to change all those seemingly external things about me.

This  very day, am I willing and able to accept, bless and love what God loves about me? That would include my face, hair, and body, on any given day. I am, after all, one of a kind. A precious pebble on the beach, distinct, and still in process. Part of our Creator’s grand collection.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 November 2017
Image found at thriftynorthwestmom.com
Rialto Beach Pebbles, Olympic National Park, Washington State

a great restlessness

Sometimes
a great restlessness
comes over me

I long for home –
for release from pain and sorrow
weighing heavy
even in the midst of grand beauty
and people I love

I can’t go back –
The distance grows greater every day
and I can’t start over –
Not while I’m held in this time
You have given me

I’m just not sure why it matters
to have me hanging around –
Please enlighten.

I wrote these words at the end of the day, over a week ago. It’s difficult to describe how it feels to have life almost completely turned on its head within the short space of a moment or two.

The last two years have forced me to become brutally honest about what I can and cannot do each day. I swing haphazardly between elation (I finally figured out how to pull this off!), to weary despair (Is this the agenda for the rest of my life?).

At first, two years ago now, it was all a frightfully strange yet challenging adventure. Today I want less strangeness and more adventure. The kind that fits me today, not the woman I was yesterday.

As for ‘normal,’ it’s out the window! I don’t even know what it is anymore. The prayer above is the truth about me today. Open, expectant, actively looking and listening for a way to fit all pieces of this restless puzzle together: poetry, a small group of other poets, close to home and life-giving. Something that fits hand-in-glove with the writing I’m already doing and the woman I am today.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 November 2017
Photo of Sunset in the Black Forest, found at pixabay

Daily Prompt: Mystery

It doesn’t have to be the blue iris

It’s the end of a busy week, and we’re hoping to visit Longwood Gardens tomorrow (yay!). One thing that helped me stay focused this week was Mary Oliver’s poem below. My comments follow.

Praying

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Mary Oliver, Thirst, Beacon Press 2006

Mary Oliver invites me to attend to small things right before my eyes, often at my feet. Pay attention. So much attention that I can’t stop thinking about it/them.

One small thing caught my attention this past week. At first I didn’t see any connections. Or hear any voices speaking into my silence. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

‘It’ is a small, striped-tail chipmunk (ground squirrel) that regularly sits on a cement block wall just along the edge of our backyard driveway. He or she? I don’t know. I do know it’s often sitting or lying on that wall in just the same spot. And has been since the wall was completed several years ago.

Sometimes it runs down the wall and jumps into our pile of yard trimmings, looking for food. When the weather is chilly, it stretches out on top of its favorite cement block and soaks in the sun. Other times it sits there alert, watching for possible intruders.

I think it has a nest inside one of the cement blocks—on the unfinished back side of the wall. Sometimes when I walk by on the way to the garage it quickly races into one of the cement blocks.

Several kinds of hawks frequent our area. I’ve watched them swoop down into our back yard to surprise a large gray squirrel, a slow sparrow or a dove. I’ve also heard our small chipmunk squawking out the alarm, joined by other small backyard creatures. Sometimes the hawks have their way.

We live in unsettled times. It takes determination to focus on simple things that inhabit our lives. Especially when there are hawks out there with their beady eyes scanning the ground for juicy tidbits.

Mary Oliver’s poem invites me to pay attention to the chipmunk. To hear our Creator’s voice speaking through the simple things of life. Not giving up, but staying alert, living each day simply and fully. Which can be a way of saying thank you. Without fancy gestures or heavy words laden with heavy thoughts. This isn’t a contest.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 October 2017
Photo found at Pinterest

shallow wastelands

Flat earth theory
bodes ill for spiritual vision
reducing God’s glory
the grandeur of creation
and deep shadows of history
to shallow wastelands
of pseudo-patriotic myth

Give us eyes and hearts to see into
this bare outline of a country
populated and interwoven with texts
and subtexts lying open to us the people –
old-timers and newcomers charged with moving
beyond treacherous monochromatic vision
into the aching depths of our discontent

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 October 2017
Photo found at shutterstock.com

Daily Prompt: Risky

Evening Prayer

I’m weary this evening, Lord —
All I want is Your smile.

Daylight faded hours ago —
The choir sings to a congregation of one.

I jotted down these words last night while listening to an old hymn, “Abide with me; fast falls the eventide.” The end of a slow day, quiet and unimpressive with the exception of two encounters.

One was with a neighbor when I was out walking. She was standing on her front porch, waiting for a taxi. We talked about her recent illness, her cat, and the woman who died across the street and down the lane just last week.

Later during my walk I saw a couple I’ve known for years. They were out walking, too. About my age, both retired and in good shape with the exception of her fractured ankle and torn ligaments still on the mend months later.

I’ve been focused on prayer lately. Especially since my friend Margie died and left a huge void when it comes to prayer for others. My list grows daily. Not in leaps and bounds, but in small increments. Everyday people with difficult challenges and heartaches.

I haven’t figured out how to pray in a pointed way for the big stuff that hits the news every day. Not that I don’t know what to say. It’s more about not having a personal connection, or being so incensed that I don’t want to pray ‘for’ this or that. I just want to rage against it.

Perhaps things aren’t really worse than they used to be. In some ways, I’ve seen this country in worse shape than we’re in now. Yet in other ways we’re simply reverting to what I’d hoped we left behind. This, too, is a great weariness.

Maybe that’s where I need to begin. With things like the opioid crisis, the result of fraud on multiple levels over many years–perpetrated on people in chronic pain. People just like you and just like me. I wonder where in my neighborhood it’s making its mark today?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 October 2017
Photo found at HopeLutheranChurch.wordpress.com

Daily Prompt: Fraud

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