Loretta F. Ross

loretta f. ross | THE PRAYING LIFE

A modern hermit, Loretta spends one day a week in solitary prayer. She is interested in how contact with Holiness changes us. Ross is retired as assistant pastor at Crestview UMC and executive director of The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer.

What the Trees Said –Coyote

July 31, 2013

Last night coyote,
whose mother
raven said
was hit
on the highway,
turned himself
three times
scratched
sank
midst the gnarled
knees
of grandfather oak
tucked his face
beneath his tail
and slept til dawn

May we all find among the trees resting places for our sorrow.
Go out among trees today.

It’s No Dream World

July 25, 2013

Dear Ones,

I have recently returned from ten days of silent meditation on a Minnesota lake with a group of people willing to do something like that. One has to figure that we are all a bit odd.  Now I am taking some time to continue working on a new book. I thought I ought to check in with you though, and reading this morning what I had worked on yesterday, I was so struck with this quotation from my old buddy Eugene Peterson. It really says what I am about in this book. May it speak to your hearts as well.

With deep joy at being in the mystery with you,

Loretta

This world, this reality, revealed by God speaking to us, is not the kind of world to which we are accustomed.  It is not a neat and tidy world in which we are in control- there is mystery everywhere that takes considerable getting used to, and until we do, it scares us.

It is not a predictable, cause-effect world in which we can plan our careers and secure our futures – there is miracle everywhere that upsets us no end, except for the occasions when the miracle is in our favor. 

It is not a dream world in which everything works out according to our adolescent expectations – there is suffering and poverty and abuse at which we cry out in pain and indignation. “You can’t let this happen!” 

For most of us it takes years and years and years to exchange our dream world for the real world of grace and mercy, sacrifice and love, freedom and joy. 
 Eugene Peterson, Eat this Book – A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, p 105 

This is the opening quotation from Introduction to Section Six, “A God So Holy and a People So Frail,” from Accounting for the Hope, a work in progress by Loretta F Ross. All rights reserved.   The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer — http://fromholyground.org/join.htm

What the Trees Said – The Invitation

July 6, 2013

Give up.
Stop fixing,
yearning,
grasping.

As I am in you be
in me.
This effort
to separate
distinguish
yourself
is so
hard
on you.

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. Galations 5: 1, NEB

I am off to spend some time listening to trees. Perhaps I will bring back messages. In the meantime, you might consider what are trying to fix, hanging onto, or hungering after that, in truth, you have already been set free from, or possess in great fullness? At least that is what I aim to do.

So Full of God Is Every Creature

May 28, 2013

Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and a book about God. Every creature is a word of God. If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature - even a caterpillar- I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature. Meister Eckhart

My black lab whinnies with a high pitched cry outside my door when I start to meditate. I get up and let him in. He turns in circles on the rug several times then lays down with a thud, head between his legs, and sighs deeply. Before she died my cat always turned up to settle herself in my lap. Animals are often present with us as we pray. Dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, herons, fish, coyotes, possums, deer, cows, a wild boar, turkeys, quail, even a mountain lion showed up a time or two to speak of God to me.

A few weeks ago the neighborhood fox paid a call at 4:00 am. My dog was out guarding and began to bark excitedly. When I went to window I saw the fox, close to the fence, and Elijah on the inside quietly looking at each other. No more barking, just eyes meeting. After while the fox turned and walked out to the middle of the street and lay down under the streetlight. The two continued their silent communion. I stood at the window wondering what was going on. Then the fox got up and walked to the neighbor’s front yard, curled himself up, and appeared to go asleep. What was communicated, what information exchanged, what dog and fox questions had been answered? It was a mysterious encounter that likely would not have happened if I had been outside with Elijah.

If I were alone in a desert
and feeling afraid.
I would want a child to be with me.
For then my fear would disappear
and I would be made strong.
This is what life in itself can do
because it is so noble, so full of pleasure
and so powerful.

But if I could not have a child with me
I would like to have at least a living animal
at my side to comfort me.

Therefore,
let those who bring about wonderful things
in their big, dark books
take an animal - perhaps a dog-
to help them.

The life within the animal
will give them strength in turn.
For equality
gives strength in all things
and at all times.

Meister Eckhart

Animals participate with us in our shared life, exchanging their sensory awareness with our own. As we interpenetrate each other’s awareness, our communication results in shifts affecting each other. Meister Eckhart writes of receiving strength and life from a child or an animal. Children and animals possess a kind of innocence and presence to their awareness, which adults may lack.

A Rabbit Noticed My Condition

I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.

A rabbit noticed my condition and came near.

It often does not take more than that to help at times -
to just be close to creatures who
are so full of knowing,
so full of love
that they don’t -chat,
they just gaze with their marvelous understanding.

St. John of the Cross in Love Poems from God

How do animals enter your prayer and contemplation? What do they teach you? What shifts happen in you as you commune with them?

In my book, Letters from the Holy Ground, I took a look at the presence of animals in our lives and prayer:

From the beginning, animals had figured in my journey, but now they began to show up more in my writing. And they were not content to simply add color and amusement, the dear things wanted to speak. The animals developed a following among some of my readers. The dog, cats, and rabbits even received occasional cards and inquiries. I seemed to have struck a chord.

What did whimsical animal fantasy have to do with spiritual formation? Did the creatures serve a purpose beyond a literary device and medium of revelation? I became curious about why animals held so much joy and interest for me and my readers. I think it is because animals naturally possess the poverty of spirit I was seeking for myself. Gerald Vann observed that the condition for happiness is a deep sense of our creatureliness. I think part of becoming ordinary is the discovery and deep acceptance of the joy and freedom in our creatureliness. The animals help ground me and remind me that I, like them, am subject to One larger and greater than myself.

Contemplation, consolation, ecstasy, may have a tendency to inflate a person. Being entrusted with the spiritual care and nurture of others, likewise, may puff up our egos. The animals seemed to call me back to the earth, to simplicity, to surrender and trust.

But ask the animals and they will teach you:
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth,
and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you. (Job 12:7–8 )

Animals do not lie or pretend. They do not sin. They seem to know that God’s omnipotence undergirds everything. Animals disarm our logical defenses and help us overcome our human resistance to grace. I even came to identify a state of being in myself I called “rabbit power.” Rabbit power meant humility and the wisdom, balance, and earthy connectedness of an animal that lives as a prey species, close to the ground and mindful of its vulnerability. I connected rabbit power with taking off my shoes and walking barefoot. In my experience, no rabbit has ever appeared to pine after being something other than it is; rabbit power was a place where I could gratefully be who I am and therein find deep delight and peace.

Finally, communion with animals reflected my desire for union with God. To cross the chasm from one species to another and find communion and a sense of mutual respect and regard seemed to mirror my longing to connect with God. To establish a connection, an understanding, however slight with something wholly other than oneself, is to participate in the eager groaning of a creation seeking wholeness and unity with its Creator.

Spend some time praying with an animal this week. Let me know what you what you learn.

Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do

May 7, 2013

I kept Holy Week and Pascha with  Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church this year here in Topeka. The Orthodox Christian Church celebrated  Pascha (Easter) on May 5. I did not make it to all of the holy week services. There were seventeen, beginning with the Saturday before Palm Sunday, the Saturday of St. Lazarus, the Righteous.  The people and their priest, Father Joseph Longofono, offer their gifts and talents with generosity and devotion. They are warm and welcoming to this awkward Presbyterian who comes among them to pray and learn more about a faith tradition she has long admired from afar.

On Palm Sunday, (April 28 this year) at the end of the service we processed outside with our palms, songs, incense, and other regalia and holy items for which I do not know the words.  I can tell by The Services of the Great and Holy Week and Pascha, the book of Holy Week liturgies I purchased, that most of these words are Greek. I learned enough Greek in seminary to pass the class and my ordination exams. Since then translation is an afternoon’s ordeal involving a concordance, Greek grammar book, Kittle’s ponderous Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, and trying to remember the Greek alphabet.

A few startled sparrows rose out of the shrubbery as we poured out onto the lawn.  Cars buzzed by heading East on one-way Huntoon Street. Along our path I smiled to see at my feet a little shrine of twigs overlaid with narrow strips of green moss.  Easy to miss, barely a foot or two in height, the shrine was a small construction of sticks stuck at various angles in a patch of moist bare ground.  Tucked in the crotch of a branch was a white spirea blossom.

The happy procession wound back inside the small sanctuary, its walls alive with glowing icons of the saints. You can feel them all looking tenderly on from heaven, adding their voices to our prayers and songs and benediction. I read that Orthodox draw no distinction between the Body of Christ in heaven and those on earth. They view both parts of the Church as inseparable and in continuous worship together of God. Orthodox worship therefore expresses this unity of earth and heaven in every possible way so that the earthly worshippers are continually reminded through all their senses of the heavenly state of the Church. Wikipedia

It is as though for the Orthodox, worship is a continuous act since the beginning of the church. Everyone in heaven is there and we show up to join in the perpetual praise and leave and return as our lives allow. When we return we merely pick up where we last left off. And unlike many churches I am familiar with, nobody here is in any hurry. After all we have eternity.

The church was packed with more children than adults this day. Older children stood quietly with their parents, toddlers sat on the floor, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and aunts held babies crooked in their arms and nestling against their shoulders. Some kids sat on the few pews.  (Orthodox Christians stand for worship. The pews are reserved for the elderly, children, and fainthearted visitors.)  Toddlers wandered about. There was an ease about their presence, parents taking them in and out of the service as needed. The occasional cries, thumps, or exclamations formed a descant of baby babble to the chants and songs sung in four part harmony throughout the service.

After church I chatted with a little girl, admiring her cute flip-flops, and on the way to my car came upon the twig shrine with a red haired boy kneeling before it. The twigs and blossom had been kicked over.

I said to the boy,” Oh did you make this? It is very beautiful.” Nodding yes, he told me that his sister knocked it down.

“I am sorry. It is a holy thing,” I said.

His sister joined us and said, “Luke doesn’t like to sing the holy songs.”

“Hmm,” l said, as Luke worked on rebuilding his shrine, “sometimes people prefer to make holy things than to sing holy songs.”

“He doesn’t like to come to church,” she said in the irksome manner of sisters who broadcast a brother’s private life to strangers.

“Yes, there are people who feel that way,” I said to the little girl as her brother struggled to get the blossom to stay in the crook of the twig. I thanked Luke for making a holy thing and repairing it, and walked to my car.

His sister, shouted after me, “He is hypert,” as she, appearing a little hypert herself ran racing around the church yard.

Luke, kneeling in the dirt with his offering, as brothers everywhere have learned to do, ignored her.

Hundreds of Ways to Kneel and Kiss the Ground
The impulse to worship and to express the beauty and awe of our souls to the author of our being seems nearly universal in human experience. I believe this desire is placed in us by God in the core of our being, like a magnet, which draws us through our life experience to reach out and connect with the one who put it there. We may spend a lot of our lives seeking ways to express this sublime impulse. Yet if we trust our hearts, we will be led to places and forms of worship, as though guided by a God-given implanted GPS device.

There are many ways to worship God.  Sufi poet, Rumi tells us, Let the beauty we love, be what we do.  There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. I believe that our efforts at praise and worship are like building little shrines in the mud, each dear to God, each delighting the heavens, each precious.

When the beauty we love, becomes what we do, even the mundane may hold the potential of sublime worship: Lucille’s macaroni hot dish; the green and pink chintz curtains Elsie made for the ladies room; the deacon holding the door for you; your desperate prayer; a pile of rocks in the desert; your garden. In all kinds of ways we gather sticks, find a blossom, and put it out where someone will see it. Praise will be offered.

To be human, made in the image of the Creator, is to pour out our hearts on something we love which is greater and beyond ourselves.  Our responsibility is to discover ways to kneel in reverence, which will express our deep yearning and connect us to what is good, true, beautiful, and free. For me that is worship of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ.

Luke’s Palm Sunday act of worship reminded me of another child’s offering. When she was around six or seven, my daughter, Diana, brought me a stick with dandelions, grass, and pink phlox wound around it. I wrote about it in my book Letters from the Holy Ground,
"This is a prayer stick, mom. I made it for you." It was a large stick with flowers woven round the top. Could I let the stick pray for me? For I do not know how to pray aright. I lean the stick against my altar. "Pray stick," I say. "Pray now." I go off to other things, while the stick holds the offering pointing toward heaven. Dare I trust creation to pray for me, to bear my prayer? Here stone, pray. Here river, pray. Here moon, pray. Just by being what you are, a maple branch salvaged from last fall's ice storm, wrapped round with pink petals, transformed by the touch of a child's hand into something sacred.

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? That is the question. For our hearts are heavy, and we, captive by this mortal flesh sit down and weep. – Loretta Ross-Gotta, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed & Ward, 2000, p 67

How shall you sing the Lord’s song? Find that GPS device in your heart and let it point you in the direction of the worship of your soul. I would love to hear about the things which lift your heart to God.

Severed

April 23, 2013

Drawing her arms
through the salt sea
legs straining
giving her body
to the task

she swam among
the floating limbs
reaching after them
before they turned
to sink slowly down
to shocked shipwrecks
astonished clams
coming to rest in a cloud
of silt, the softly yielding
residue of other remains.

She heard no sound
but her breath
and the slip slosh of sea
as she ploughed the
surface of their sorrow.
She thought
she could retrieve them
gather the fragments
siphon up the spilt blood
return to all donors
bring mothers
their sons and daughters
reborn,
wrapped in seaweed

take this leg, uprooted,
to the young man
Here it is yours, she’d say.
I found it in the sea.
So deep, so wide the wound
of flesh and bone
so piercing, urgent the ache
to be re- membered.

__________________________________

for those whose lives have been blown apart
for those who must pick up the pieces

Loretta F. Ross, 2013

Wake Up

April 17, 2013

Contemplation is about waking up. Simply defined, to be contemplative is to experience an event fully, in all its aspects. Biblically this is expressed as knowing “face to face.” What is implied in that phrase … is that we are in contemplation when we stand before reality and experience it without the limits and distortions that are created by narcissism, pragmatism, and excessive restlessness.   - Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern
                                              
Prayer wakes us up to what is so, not to our dreams, illusions, wishes, and desires for what is so, but to the sacred reality of each moment.

How grim you may think. How boring – this dirty kitchen, this cluttered desk, this sagging body, this pock-marked, disappointing, and flailing world?  From here it is a short, sad trip to the dark pit of the if onlys, the why nots, and maybe whens. Or perhaps I look around for someone or some event to blame for my shabby reality. Maybe I plot a way to get even, or tune out and play a game on my cell phone, fool around on Facebook, go shopping, or eat something.

We live in a culture which makes an art and a virtue out of avoiding the truth of our deep need, our sadness, grief, and anger –  at what? Let’s put it like this: at being human. For buried beneath  much of our striving, stress, and anxiety I often discover a kind of contempt for ourselves and our vulnerability. We the  persistently look outwardly for relief for our painful human condition, which plays neatly into the agenda of  our culture of consumption, as we seek to find our worth through other persons, power, prestige, and possessions.

Prayer eventually shatters such agendas and leaves us sitting in the midst of reality, still mundane, yet strangely shot through with beauty, wonder, and joy.

“You are a ruby embedded in granite. How long will you pretend it’s not true?" asks the poet Rumi. Contemplative prayer wakes us up to see through the granite of illusion to the splendor of the ruby.

FREE!
In gratitude to Praying Life readers, please help yourself to a free pdf version of the most recent issue of Holy Ground Winter 2013. theprayinglife.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/holy-ground-winter-2013.pdf It is about awaking up and finding that ruby. If you find this to be something you would like to receive on a regular basis, you can learn more here.

Love - Small Doses for Sin Sick Soul #10

April 1, 2013

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
- William Blake


Resurrection Passion

Oh Spendthrift Love,
Oh Lay Me Down Love,
even from the tree
you coax: follow me.
Oh Love That Never Dies,
could I love
like the pear tree loves
in heedless
scarlet surrender
to the grey autumn sky?
Could I run breathless
bearing bright bouquets
across the fields to you?
Could I with mad extravagance
pour out all my oil
upon your brow?
Could I throw caution
to the wind
and fling myself
over the lake
in a flurry
of milkweed seeds
and cattail fur?

Could we rendezvous
in every crack and cranny
of creation
where you issue
in sweet tenderness?
Could I be held
enthralled by wonder
unable to move
across a room
for need to kneel
at every step in praise?

Could I place my palm
upon the surface
of any cheek
and trace
the contours
of grace
with a finger?

Oh Love That Never Dies,
teach my heart
to love again.
Teach me desire
that draws life
from dry bones
like orange flames
leaping from kindling sticks.
Oh Way is Narrow Love,
Oh Take Up Your Cross Love,
teach me
resurrection passion.

I've had enough of death.

____________________________________



Note to readers: This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words.

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.


Dose titration: adjustment of the dose until the medication has achieved the desired effect

Love - Small Doses for Sin Sick Soul #9

March 30, 2013

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
- William Blake


Holy Saturday
Stop!
surrender
to
resurrection

____________________________________



Note to readers: This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words.

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.


Dose titration: adjustment of the dose until the medication has achieved the desired effect

Love - Small Doses for Sin Sick Soul #8

March 27, 2013

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
- William Blake


Pasach – Passage, No. 1

After we were passed over
we passed over.

When the waters split
drew back
a shimmering wall
seething strength, waves
smacking, spitting above us

some of us hesitated
to weigh the odds
consider and debate.
Was it more magic?
Who was this son of Abraham
with his stave of almond wood?

Crippled from scrabbling straw in the fields
mixing mortar for the man
meeting his quotas
we dawdled on the shore.

Others, children especially, ran out
skipping over the coral
through the sea grass
past the shipwrecks
and green turtles
raising their mottled beaks, amazed.

We heard hooves pounding,
shouts, thunder of chariot wheels.
Death before, death behind.
Better to drown
than die by the hands of those bastards.

The kids, though,
did not flinch,
tossing up fistfuls of sand,
diamonds in the sun,
playing on the seabed
like shrimp.

We hobbled over,
leaning on each other,
fearful, fretting.
Seems when a soul is crushed,
it takes a long time to rinse out the slave.

Though at Pasach, when we gathered,
it would all come back.
We would shake off another chain
see more clearly
sip liberty
like wine.

Pasach – Passage, No. 2
The night we celebrated Pesach –
what did he say, what did he mean
leaving and that we knew
the way to where he was going?

I was trying to work it
out when another sea split open
not waters humping up like steel cliffs
but a great scythe slashing
through the middle of everything
and him falling, tumbling down into the rift.

A passage
where there had been none before
death leering from either side.

I heard the soldiers coming
swords clanking at their sides.
In the acrid air lungs burned, eyes stung
flames draped from clouds.

And while they dragged him off
blood blossomed
on the vast lintel and door posts
of the writhing world
and dribbled down
like tears.

*Hebrew (Pasach) also spelled Pascha for Passover or passage. The verbal form means to protect and to have compassion as well as pass over. Exodus 12 -14; John 14-19

____________________________________



Note to readers: This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words.

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.


Dose titration: adjustment of the dose until the medication has achieved the desired effect