Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Self-reflection

I want to go back

They say memories are
what really matter
But I want to go back

to classrooms shaped by
women and men from afar
Places I’ve never visited

How narrow we’ve become today
in our virtually segregated schools and
neighborhoods overflowing

with unfamiliar cuisines or clothes
and customs that give us away as strangers
not friends or even neighbors

Years of serving seminarians in
multinational multiethnic classrooms
turned my small world upside down

You helped make me the woman
I now am sitting here at home
wishing for just one more class

So you can show up and teach me
What I need to know today
Before it’s too late to dream

I’m feeling a bit nostalgic these days. Also heavy-hearted about what we’re becoming as a nation. It seems curiosity about the world and about people who don’t look, act or vote the way we do isn’t as interesting as it used to be. In fact, it seems easier to ignore each other. Look the other way.

When I was still teaching at seminary, diversity made everything more exciting. Granted, it wasn’t always easy for any of us.

Nonetheless, it opened up opportunities to re-examine our assumptions and broaden our knowledge. Not just about the subject matter, but about the way we dealt with each other.

Are we losing touch with our humanity? Is that possible?

I don’t want to be a robot, or a puppet on strings controlled by other human beings. Or by the ups and downs of the stock market, or the latest headlines in scandal magazines.  Nor do I want to be locked into my own small world because of fear or unexamined assumptions.

This morning I received my second Covid-19 shot. The room was filled with people who didn’t look or act like me. I wonder. Would they be interested in an informal discussion group? There’s so much I wish I understood better…..

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 March 2021
Image found at ceu.edu

When Death Comes | Mary Oliver

Death is on my mind. Not just because we’re in the season of Lent, but because it’s impossible to escape death. Here’s Mary Oliver’s take on death. My brief comments follow.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

© 1992 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press
From New and Selected Poems, Volume One (pub. 1992), pp. 10-11

It’s impossible to get through Lent without pondering death. Not just the death of Jesus of Nazareth, but my own death. How do I prepare to die?

Writing about death helps. So does revisiting deaths of family members and friends. Also, acknowledging holes in my life that will never be filled. And my own fear of dying before I think I’m ready.

So what does it mean to live each day as potentially my last day on this earth? Mary suggests I pay attention to the now of this world. Become more than a visitor. Become amazed at this world and its inhabitants. Especially those flowers of the field that have put up with the likes of us from the very beginning.

As for going through what Mary calls the “the door” of death, yes, I’m curious. Though not as curious as Mary. Still, the focus is today, the only way to prepare for tomorrow.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 February 2021
Image found at wwwreligionlac.net

Life shrinks daily | Lent 2021

Is it not enough
That I have survived?
That You have never
Turned away from me?

Life shrinks daily
A wrenching letting go
Of many things

Masks and pandemic protocols
Shroud me in a deathlike dream
From which I cannot wake
Before the next stanza
Takes me down

The sun is out today, though the air is still below freezing. White mounds of snow look like small mountain tops invading the back yard. The birds are basking in chilly sun, taking their turns at the birdfeeder.

I sit in my kitchen, an onlooker to life, wondering how and when things went sour.

Then again, this is the first Sunday in Lent. My heart tells me it’s time review what I’m giving up yet again for Lent. No, it hasn’t gotten any easier to say this prayer. Especially the last line.

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 wonder what Jesus of Nazareth felt and thought as he approached his coming death?

Praying for an accepting heart and a grateful spirit.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 February 2021
Image found on Facebook via Google search

thick roots revisited

P1040831

thick roots tangled knots
barely hanging onto bank
drink deep waters

The last several days have been unpredictable and sometimes discouraging. I keep reminding myself that I’m not in charge of things. The news these days isn’t great. Even so, every day offers an opportunity to look up, look back, look ahead, and take another step. I wrote the following comments in April 2017.  

 ~~~

This haiku was my third post to this blog, published on 3 January 2014. It still haunts me, though not in the same way.

I first saw these roots when D and I were walking with our daughter and her husband through Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, Oregon. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. The tangled roots were beautiful and foreboding.

It was a bit like blogging, which I’ve experienced as a formidable venture into unknown territory. Like being born and surviving. Sometimes against all odds.

Writing lets my exposed roots show, often whether I realize they’re showing or not. Writing also stakes my claim to a tiny, precarious plot of land that sits open, vulnerable and visible to passersby.

I’ve traveled a long way since my early posts, yet my roots are still my roots. Bare, and barely hanging onto precious ground that’s stronger, deeper, and more nourishing than I could have imagined.

Deep waters aren’t visible, and they don’t untangle all the knots in my life. Sometimes I wonder whether they’re drying up.

Yet even in dire circumstances, I discover more than enough to get me through each day. Sometimes with tears of sorrow and disbelief. More often with joy and sheer gratitude for the privilege of being human. Able to thrive in the forest next to redwood giants, with miniscule ferns growing around and from my feet.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 April 2017, and 16 February 2021
Photo credit: DAFraser, October 2012, Hoyt Arboretum, Portland, Oregon

Sometimes I want to give up

I want to turn into a bird and
join the community at the birdfeeder
A sometimes raucous group and yet
they manage to fly in and out
without mayhem or madness
taking them down bird by bird

This little poem was in the middle of a long list of things bothering me yesterday.  They included personal health issues, life with our dear cat Smudge who vomits every now and then, the mess that passes as my desk, and our national mayhem and madness.

Early yesterday morning I was watching birds at the feeders outside our kitchen window. Even though it was freezing cold with ice and snow on the ground, I suddenly got all teary. I wanted to be a bird! Free to come and go without fear.

Thankfully, a telephone conversation with a longtime friend helped get me back on track.

There’s a reason I felt like packing it in. The real problem isn’t what’s out there, or even my health challenges. It’s my voice. My writing voice. Put simply: Writing on WordPress is about as safe as it can get. Visitors don’t have to agree with me, and I have the privilege of speaking my mind.

For several years I’ve wondered about publishing some of my writing, and have said No. I’ve already published as an academic; I don’t need to publish anything else.

And yet…I wrote my two published books while I was a professor and my father was still alive. I hedged my language, thinking he might read them. They included memories about my childhood, but not about the way things really were for me at home.

Blogging gave me an opportunity to describe my childhood and youth, come to terms with them, and move on as a writer. So here I am today wondering why, with a manuscript nearly ready to publish, I’m nervous and even fearful.

Yet the truth is simple: Though I don’t write to please or appease my father, I still have a whisper of fear in me. This may sound crazy. Still, I need to do this for myself, my mother and sisters, our children and grandchildren, and women and men who have encouraged me as the writer I now am.

More later about the book. Right now I’m back to proofreading.

Happy Friday, and a prayer that we’ll find our way through these troubled days.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 February 2021
Photo found at news.wisc.edu

Trapped in an iceberg

Male Cardinal hunkering down after last night’s snow storm

Trapped in an iceberg
Called social distancing
Just when we need
Each other more than ever

Rankles my soul while
Day and night I ponder
My options for becoming
A real human woman

I exist on the internet
I exist in my email
I exist at great distances
On a phone or through a window

Grateful, Angry, Grieving,
Lethargic, Energetic,
Engaged, Disengaged,
Where and Who am I?

The mantra goes through
My weary brain daily
‘We’re all in this together’
Though I know we are not

Like an unexpected tsunami
The pandemic exposes us
In vivid colors and attitudes
Mirrors of our own making

It’s been nearly a year since we embarked on an experiment for which we still have no map. I’m grateful to be alive. I’m grateful I can read, write, enjoy Smudge, watch birds in our back yard, and walk with D in the neighborhood.

Nonetheless, none of that takes the place of regular interaction with regular human beings who don’t live in my house. It doesn’t matter who they are, or whether I like them a lot or a little. There’s something life-giving in these encounters that’s irreplaceable. Even for introverts.

Imagine that we find a cure, or the perfect vaccination for Covid-19. We’ll still need each other. Not to go back to our old ways, but to get on with the tough work of becoming a nation in which black lives matter as much as white lives. And those without great financial riches matter as much as those with giant incomes.

If that’s too far a reach, how about learning again to be neighbors? Or how to welcome strangers into our lives?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 February 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 2 February 2021

Psalm 1 | Zephania Kameeta

Bishop Zephania Kameeta wrote this version of Psalm 1 during Namibia’s struggle for human rights. Born in 1945, Bishop Kameeta’s life work has revolved around the fight to end apartheid in Namibia.

It seems we here in the USA are still trapped in our own USA-style apartheid system, with no end in sight.

Psalm 1 introduces the entire collection of 150 Hebrew Psalms. It describes two ways we can live. The way of wisdom, or the way of folly. Which will we individually, and as a nation, choose to take? Here’s how Reverend Kameeta saw these two ways or paths of life playing out in Namibia.

Psalm 1

Happy are those who reject the evil advice of tyrants,
who do not follow the example of sell-outs
and are not resigned to live as slaves.

Instead they find joy to be in God’s commission
for the liberation of the oppressed,
and they work day and night without rest.

They are like trees that grow beside a stream,
that bear fruit at the right time,
and whose leaves do not dry up.
They succeed in everything they do.

But the traitors of the liberation cause are not
like this;
they are like straw that the wind blows away.
Puppets in the hands of the oppressors
will be condemned by God.
They will have no share in the blessings of the Lord.

Those in God’s service for the liberation of the downtrodden
are guided and protected by God.
But those who are instruments in the hands of the oppressors
are on the way to their doom.

Psalm 1 interpreted by Zephania Kameeta
Published in Why O Lord? Psalms and sermons from Namibia, p. 24
No. 28 in The Risk Book Series, pub. by World Council Publications
In collaboration with the Lutheran World Federation of Churches
© 1986 World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland

Psalm 1 offers us two choices. God’s way of wisdom and truth, or the oppressor’s way of folly. Each Psalm is about one or both of these ways. Over and over, they show us what it looks like to take one way or the other.

I’m caught by the third line: “Happy are those who…are not resigned to live as slaves.” Though I’ve never been called a slave, I know how easy it is to hunker down and make myself small or silent, when I should be speaking up or raising a ruckus. No matter what color my skin is.

Then again, if I’m living as a slave to the evil advice of tyrants, perhaps I need to listen more and make less ruckus.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 January 2021
Photo of Bishop Zephania Kameeta found on Facebook

Why this sudden lethargy?

Why this sudden lethargy
Unable to read today
A book that kept me awake
Yesterday riveted and alert

There is no cure it seems
For this childhood dis-ease
Struggling to be heard
Above distracting noise

That never ends beneath
The skins of white women
Caught looking back on life
Far from home and short on rest

Where did this come from? It feels like a bad dream or even a nightmare. Trapped in a situation not of my making, without survival skills, and unable to find or make my way home. Yes, it could be about Covid-19 or the state of our disunion. But it’s deeper than that.

Most of my early life was about mastering behaviors and attitudes that would insure my silence, cooperation, and ‘purity.’ The goal was put before me every day of my life. I was to be the opposite of cheeky females who dared speak and act for themselves or registered outrage at outrageous acts of neglect and violence toward themselves and others.

How many white women born in the USA look back and wonder, What was it all about? And have I yet found my way home to the voice and work I was meant to have from the beginning?

I’m not despondent. I’m angry. I don’t always know what to do with this anger of not being prepared for whatever ‘the real world’ was and still is. So I write.

And then I get on with the life I now have, for which I’m grateful.

Thanks for listening.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 January 2021
Image found at medium.com

The daily duel

The seesaw goes up
And comes down hard on
One side or the other
A dueling match of warlike disproportions
A daily photo-op of humanity battling
Between visions of more or less

We’ve become hoarders of perks
Not earned by our color or
Lack thereof and certainly not
By our intellectual capacities
Or ability to play the stock market

What would it take I wonder
For us to lay down our perks
And deal with harsh kickback that
Wants to wrestle us
To the bottom of the swamp
Consigned to ignominious outcomes
Reserved for those not like us

If there’s an uneven  slant in this poem, that’s because the US is not a balanced nation. Reapers of perks and privilege not earned are still basking in the sunshine of self-glory.  Yes, President Joe Biden won the 2020 Election. Yet powers that sought to undo the 2020 Election are already marshalling for battle.

Am I prepared to pay the cost of laying down my white female perks? Sadly, most of my other-than-white friends don’t have this option. And many churches that claim to be following Jesus don’t remember what this looks like in real life.

Still, the question isn’t about them. It’s about me. Am I ready? Our contentious post-2020 Election season was just the beginning. Aided and abetted by four years of swampy (non)leadership to and from the bottom, not the top.

It won’t help if I try to take down the Big Guys and Big Gals who threaten to undo us. This isn’t a game of seesaw. It’s about real life and real people in real time. Plus my willingness to join new ways to level the playing field. One small bit at a time.

Happy Friday to each of you.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 January 2020
Photo found at Pixabay.com

Clouds hang heavy

Clouds hang heavy
with moisture waiting
for release into
an atmosphere of
winter snow and ice

My heart beats heavy
with tears for those
who know not what they do
even though I’m also in
the same sinking boat

Is it this person or that
who will point us home
somewhere or anywhere
within the space of this
world trembling on the brink

What a strange season this is. We live in the aftermath of a contentious election. At the same time, we’re charged with the task of helping inhibit Covid-19’s still inflating whirlwind of death, destruction and denial. It seems attacking this sickness unto death is more than we’re able or prepared to accomplish on our own.

Will we make it as a nation? In the meantime, people are hungry, thirsty, living and dying on the streets, in mansions, or in temporary shelters. Do they have hope? Do you? Do I?

One thing I know for certain. Praying might not change things overnight. It can, however, force me to be truthful not so much about ‘them’ as about myself. I don’t have a clue how to point the way home in our present catastrophe.

All I can do is follow the example of my leader, Jesus of Nazareth, for whom nothing was impossible. The secret? One faithful step after another, no matter how I feel about it. Plus prayer for our new POTUS and his team, charged with addressing the death that is upon us if we fail to find common ground and a reason to work together.

Happy Tuesday to each of you, and a prayer that each of us will find our way one faithful step after another.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 January 2021
Image found at youtube.jpg

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