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.

Love - Small Doses for Sin Sick Soul #7

March 23, 2013

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


Passion Sunday

They fought on the way to church
this time ugly.

Was it the tone he took,
or her throbbing resentment
that kicked in the door
like a demon repo man
turning up to repossess their souls?

Mud rushed in
a roaring sludge
of sorrows, lashes
rebukes, scorn
bitterness, betrayal
heaping up
burying the light.

The back seat was silent.

In the sanctuary they stood mute
in the crowd of flourished palms
hosannas fluttering like petals
watching their kids in the happy throng
pass by with pain in their eyes.

Across town the detective
poured herself another cup of coffee
scanned reports from last night
homicide, hit and run
three break-ins, some domestics.

Robert rolled over,
knees up to his chin, gripping the covers.
He hurt so bad. He couldn’t get those feelings
for Andy to go away, nor the horror
in the cafeteria when they snickered and laughed.

Lester sat at his kitchen table, thumbing through his Bible.
He got the diagnosis the day before.
The words didn’t make sense.
He looked around.
Everything seemed tilted sideways.
Does cancer cause this? he wondered.

Alice in a back pew waved her palm.
During the week she goes into a house full of roaches
and mice to treat the baby of a twelve year old girl.
People so desperate, so much pain. Plse pray,
she texts her friend and waves harder,
counting on this Jesus to make a difference.

Nations thrash and groan. Politicians rage.
The bomb ticks in the parked car.
Seas haul homes and lives
out to watery oblivion.

Some peasant playing a fool on a donkey
rides into town saying he is the King.
He is going to turn things around,
unseat the emperors,
release the grasp of greed,
cure the lust for money,
and heal the virus.
Sure enough the fool gets himself killed.

Everyone is looking for a goat to carry off
that mudslide of shame, regret, and responsibility.

For a while we can pimp up the peasant,
wave some foliage, call him a king
while the bullies and the haters,
the fear mongers and the betrayers,
the self- righteous and the proud hitch
a ride on his back like fleas.
Then we can go home, relax,
watch the ball game and root for our team.

But the peasant on the donkey
with a look of pain in his eyes
has his own agenda.

I am not your Palm Sunday ornament,
a wonder super hero,
your ticket to respectability
a card to play in your political games.

Look again. I am you.
I am you riding high into town.
I am you awash in disgrace and humiliation.
I am you having done the unthinkable
and there is no way you can repair the damage you caused.

I am you, holiness, hawking yourselves day and night
in the holy places you have turned into markets.
I am you, holiness, stuck
right down in the middle of a profane life in a profane world.
I am you, holiness, betrayed by a sneer, or the grab for influence.
I am you, holiness, trampled on and defiled.

Will you duck out now
skip those other services,
and only show up year after year
in your new clothes
to see the lilies and hear the music?

Or will you come back
to listen to my commandment,
to let me wash your feet,
and drink to a new covenant?
Will you stay awake with me
and with yourself one hour in our suffering?
Will you say, not my will, but thine?

Will you face your betrayer, see what you need to see,
become truth in the face of authority?
Will you strip off all your disguises, costumes,
facelifts, masks, and self-deceit?
Will you hand over your assets for others to gamble for?

Will you watch at our dying?
Will you thirst?
Will you feel your own pain?
Will you cry out why has God forsaken us?

Will you rest in the tomb
that silent womb of mystery
dead with me?

Will you come early on the third day?

____________________________________



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 #6

March 15, 2013

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


Thin Ice

The interviewer probes,
so do you think the economy will get better?
Fear leaps up from the gut
climbs to her throat
voice shakes, melts into tears.

Fifty two,
back in her bedroom
at mom and dad’s.
at night turning over
she sees the puzzles, rock collection,
Girl Scout Handbook
stacked on the shelf under the window,
teeters between now and then
on the brink
of circumstances beyond her control.

Better to practice walking on thin ice
before we find ourselves there.
How does one learn
to trust your life will bear your weight?

The grey sheet shrinks from the shore.
Dark water laps
milkweed stubble,
slopping over hoof-pocked mud.

Could she step over the translucent border
to opaque surface a few feet further out?
Oh to put her future in a box,
tie it with a pretty bow,
and place it next to high school
yearbooks on the shelf.

The fortune tellers circle,
bracelets jangling, bright skirts swinging,
leaning over their tea leaves crying out:
Alzheimer's, incontinence, poverty, shame, ruin!

After millions heard her cry on public radio,
after immersion into choking humiliation
possibility awoke.

She saw what they had seen
and loved it now.

Come, she said,
as she took her nakedness
into her arms like a lost child,
a beautiful melody.

I will teach you how to walk on thin ice.
Let us go to the spring woods
and learn to pull uncertainty and loss up
to our chins like a blanket of oak leaves,
sweet pine needles, mushrooms,
and the milky blooms of May apples.

All the best and most beautiful things
are willing to go under at any moment
and take us with them into the dark
to be carried back again,
laughing sheaves of light.

Child of my heart, listen.
Don’t turn away from my face.
Nothing ends when born by the arms of grace.


____________________________________

Don’t ponder ancient history
Look! I am doing a new thing. Isaiah 43: 14-21
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb. 
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy. 
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves. Psalm 126: 4-6 NRSV

____________________________________



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 #5

March 7, 2013

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


The Lost Son Wakes from His Dream

Up to your knees in hog dung

eyeing hungrily

corn stubble

slop bucket

egg shells, coffee grounds

black banana peels

rancid grease, moldy bread.

Rouse yourself

from this putrid

dream of your demise.

Wake up.

Tune in to your reality show.

Walk off the set of this drama

and come to yourself.

Reach down

pull that dying man out of the muck

wash his stinking feet.

Take a chance on mercy.

Go ahead. Say it.

You had it all wrong.

Spit out the words stuck in your craw

like a piece of broken glass:

I am sorry.

And come on home.

Besides,

there will be a party

and presents.


________________________________________________



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 #4

March 1, 2013

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


Fast

Bound,

breathless, and blind,

open your eyes.

Unclasp the clutch

of the hand

around your throat.

Fast

to break the fast

of the barbed hooks

and thorns

of dissolute gods

boring into the bleeding brow

of your howling

soul.


____________________________

• Where are addictions or unhealthy attachments tying up your freedom to be available to God on God’s terms – however God would have you?

• What dissolute, lying gods have their merciless hands around your throat?

• Will you open your eyes?


____________________________



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 #3

February 22, 2013

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


The Flood

It crept up slowly.

You did not notice at first,

though your feet were always cold,

socks soggy.

Accustomed to the damp

you pulled on galoshes

then hip waders.

You didn’t know why

you were always so tired

like walking against a strong current, you’d say.

By the time the force of the tide

sucked your heart

out by the roots

it was too late.

You plunged

into that dark torrent

gasping for air

clawing

for something to hang onto.

The ark you

unbelieving

had refused

rocked above the waters.

The old man leaned

over the side

extended a wooden

beam.

I see you are ready now, he said.

Grab on,

there is room for one more.


____________________________

Is something threatening to drown you, which you keep ignoring?

What keeps you from reaching out for help?

If you are safe in your ark, is there someone out there who needs a hand up into the boat?

What are you waiting for?

______________________________________________________



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 - In Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul

February 19, 2013

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


Leaving Paradise

Trip

fall

splat

face down into

the ground.

Sink into softness

that gives

and for

gives.

Come home

to your loamy beginning

and your end.

For your reflection: Recall a time when you fell, took a hard blow, or were brought down by some loss or disappointment. What did you learn in your humiliation? How did you change?

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<.em>

Redemption Titration

February 13, 2013

Redemption Titration - a gentle dose of Lenten morsels for the sin sick soul

Crosswalk


Wait

for the sign

to change

step off the edge


Titration: a method of calculating the concentration of a dissolved substance in a known volume of test solution by adding measured quantities of a reagent of known concentration until a reaction occurs.

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

Meeting God in the Spaces

February 5, 2013

A Prolonged Hesitation – Meeting God in the Spaces
Silence is God's first language. - John of the Cross

Spaces captivate me. The spaces between things – pauses, silences, rests between notes, empty rooms, expanses of prairie, wheat fields, tundra, highlands. A friend of mine from a large urban center once came to Kansas for a visit. I drove her out west on I70. The empty space terrified her. She much prefers the human made canyons of New York City, than places where the land itself dominates the environment and asserts its untamed, mysterious vitality.

In my work as a listener to the stories of others, I find the spaces between the words, the sudden silences, or the time a person takes for thinking to be where the treasures lie, where holiness abides.

I recently found a friend in the poet, Rilke. I drove south through the stunning space of the Flint Hills to Wichita to The Magnificat Center. This haven of hospitality and spiritual nurture hosted a retreat led by Mark Burrows, scholar of medieval Christianity. Mark had recently translated some of German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke’s early poems. Prayers of a Young Poet, Paraclete Press.

For an evening and a day Professor Burrows opened up Rilke’s poems like small packets of compressed holiness. Once set free by Burrows’ translation and our imagination, the poems awakened us to the immense and voluminous God this young poet had discovered. In the spring of 1899 God had wooed Rilke during the Russian Orthodox holy week services at Moscow’s Cathedral of the Dormition. By the end of our brief time together I felt the room we gathered in enveloped by presence and I, too, felt holiness pulsing in me.

The resonance of Rilke’s images and Mark Burrow’s masterful interpretation slowed me down, and ushered me into in the mystery of Rilke’s God. I was taken out beyond myself and the horrible cold I had brought with me to a more spacious place. The image Rilke used to express his desire to touch into God’s immensity was heath, the open, treeless landscape of moor and bog.

Whatever you yearn for, my soul, say it
Be heath, be heath, be wide.

. . . .

Be heath, be heath, be heath
Prayers of a Young Poet, translated by Mark Burrows, p 30.

What is it in us that allows God to meet us with fullness, depth, and beauty? The potential is always present. Love or loss of love may do this, preaching may do this, sacraments, art, music, nature, beauty, may do this. Yet we must offer the space, the openness, the inner heath or expanse of Kansas Flint Hills to become the altar for this dancing God.

As the psalmists, prophets and Jesus knew, poetry may offer such an altar for the sacrament of presence. Paul Valéry defined a poem as “a prolonged hesitation between sound and sense.” That is also not a bad definition for a parable. A poem dis-orients, surprises, stops us in our tracks, and expands our awareness beyond our previously known world.

Poetry invites, even demands that we hesitate, off balance, scratching our heads, to teeter between sound and sense. Most things which reveal Transcendence (that which is beyond our selves) require us to enter the unfamiliar and wait on the edge of not knowing, without having to rush in and fill the moment with a refutation, argument, praise, or anything to end the awkward, uncomfortable “dead” space. It seems to me that good art makes us hesitate. Surely good preaching, celebrating sacraments, and prayer ought to do the same.

Yet hesitation is seen as a flaw, a lack of confidence, or making someone have to wait. Thomas Merton wrote that we live in a time of no room, in which we are “obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within [us] by the technological furies of size, volume, quantity, speed, number, price, acceleration.” Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, ed. Kathleen Deignan, p 32

We live in a time of “no room” with no space for a soul’s edges to roll out unconfined by agenda. Hemmed in by a culture which has convinced itself that time is a commodity, of which there is great scarcity, our souls become cramped, stunted, and deformed by the pressing weight of having to produce and fill every moment with sound and human activity.

Time is the sacred vessel of encounter with divine presence. Where else do we think it is going to happen, if not here, now in this moment? We put little, if any, space between and within the words we speak to one another. We have little available “random access memory” in our minds. Words pile upon words. Life is reduced to thirty second sound and image bites. Minds are crammed and obese with knowing, calendars booked solid, days filled with activity, and hearts full of oneself.

Who among us will be bold to hesitate, to linger in the land of uncertainty on the shore of wisdom? Who will offer shelter for silence to collect itself, curl up and hum to itself in the sun? Who will be heath?


Please note Praying Life Readers: I will be leading a retreat at the Magnificat Centerin Wichita, Kansas on March 22-23, 2013. For more information and to register: Retreat led by Loretta F Ross

Appliance Violence

January 18, 2013

Appliance Violence: Seeking a More Excellent Way

My first exposure to appliance violence was an article I read years ago in The Holton Recorder, the newspaper of Holton, Kansas. The headline read: Hunter bags fridge. The story was about a rural Whiting woman whose refrigerator stopped running. According to the article “a repairman found the cause. A bullet had passed through a refrigerator wall at a critical point. The slug, from a high powered rifle was found in a drawer at the bottom of the refrigerator. Not only had the bullet struck the refrigerator, it had passed through two walls (including an outside wall) of the house and two pieces of stuffed furniture."

The local sheriff said “the shot that killed the woman’s refrigerator was not a criminal act,” but warned, “People need to realize that some of those high powers (bullets) go three miles.” I saw the article as a cautionary tale for people who live in rural areas and hunters, and laughed over the clever headline. That was before Sam told me about the darker side of appliance violence.

First I want to tell you about the award Sam gave me. Then I will tell you why he is quitting his job of four years as an appliance repair worker.

When I met him at the door, I liked Sam right away. Tall and lanky in his neat uniform, toolbox at his side, he impressed me as a young man who was on his way up.

I welcomed him in, led him down the steps, and introduced him to my dryer. He was here on a routine maintenance call. In a weak moment I had purchased a protection plan from a persuasive salesman. This was against my principles. I believe manufacturers should make things that won’t break. But I was weak. The salesman had kids to feed. And after he told me about the horrible fires dryers cause, I caved. Since I had paid for the darn thing, I figured I ought to take advantage of the annual maintenance check.

Sam laid out his tools, pried up the top of the dryer and set to work. When I returned half an hour later he said, “I have never in four years of servicing appliances ever seen a dryer as clean as yours. There was not any lint. I even lifted off the bottom plate to check under there – spotless.”

I demurred, “Well there is just me and I don’t do big washes.”

“Oh no!” he assured me. “I have been in homes with single people whose dryers are dirty within six months. This one has not been checked for two years.”

“No dog hairs?” I asked. “Spiders, crickets? I had a lizard down here last summer and mice this fall.”

“Nope,” shaking his head. “I have never seen anything like this.”

I need tell you this made my day. One has to grab for any accolades that are offered in this life, and a clean dryer award from a repair man is all that I need to smile for the rest of the week.

“You must see I lot of things in your job, coming into people’s houses, their basements, moving out their refrigerators…? “ I ask.

“Oh yes,” Sam said. “It’s awful. People threaten me. They are so mad their appliance is broken. They are mean. I have had people pull guns on me. One woman shot at me. Hit my truck. Put a hole in the side, as I was walking around to come up to her house. Sometimes I have to leave and go drive around the block out of sight and call the police. I even put in to work in customer satisfaction, but it was just as bad there. And they don’t pay as much.”

I wanted to be sure I had heard him right. “People draw guns on you over their appliances?”

“Yes. All the time. They get so mad. I am not going to do this work anymore. It’s not safe. My fiancé wants me to quit.” He went on to tell me of the two job offers he had.

I live in Topeka, Kansas, where some people still have a Wild West swagger and hold fiercely to their right to bear arms and to protect their property.

However, I cannot understand how someone could feel so threatened, or so powerless, that he or she would feel a right to draw a gun on the appliance repair man.

I have been thinking about the people who shoot at repairmen, those who take aim at the random person in the mall, or shoot to kill the guy stealing their TV. Sometimes they are mentally ill. Sometimes they feel threatened. Sometimes they are just really pissed off.

Some of the questions the current gun debate in our country poses for me are these:

What do I do, if I do not get what I want or need?
What do I do, if I do not get my own way?
What do I do, if I get so mad I can’t stand it and want to kill someone?
What do I do, if I feel so afraid and powerless that I want an arsenal of weapons to protect myself?
What do I do, if I suffer grief, frustration, oppression, or injustice

I am not saying weapons never have a place. I am not against weapons, but I am for people having a wide range of options for handling conflict, frustration, fear, and pain. When my only option is threatening someone else’s life with a gun, I have reached a radical impoverishment of intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual resources. My freedom and dignity as a human being, as well as that of the one I perceive as my enemy, are deeply compromised. There appears to me to be in some citizens a gaping lack of the personal resources to handle strong emotions, manage anger, frustration, disappointment, fear, and threat without resorting to violence.

I am thinking about the guy out on Croco Road sitting in his cold house waiting for the furnace repair truck to drive up. I am thinking about the woman who walks into the Quick Stop and shoots the clerk to get fifty dollars. What sort of despair, sense of powerlessness, and desperation breed these acts?

A sign of the maturity and social development of a culture is not the size of its arsenals and fire power or access to weapons, but the depth of its restraint and the richness of its citizens’ internal and external resources for coping with the inevitable frustrations and sorrows of being human.

Through our faith traditions, science, medicine, our community resources, art, and our open hearts, we as a culture have a treasure trove of resources to help us deal with the agonies of being human. There is more help available than ever before, for when we do not get our own way or what we need.

Christian writer, Dallas Willard, has suggested that –

perhaps too much time has been spent by Christians trying to smooth over hurt feelings and even deep wounds, given and received, and to get people to stop being angry, retaliatory, and unforgiving. But suppose, instead, we devoted our time to inspiring and enabling Christians and others to be people who are not offendable, and not angry, and not fearful, and forgiving as a matter of course. p. 303, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard

Willard reminds of a story I heard years ago.

A warlord stormed with his troops into a Buddhist monastery and came before the abbot waving his sword. The abbot stood firm and calm. “Don’t you know I can run you through with this sword without batting an eye?” the warlord thundered at the abbot.

The abbot replied, “Don’t you know I can be run through without batting an eye?”

At those words, the warlord put down his sword, bowed before the Abbot and left with his troops.

There is a more excellent way. We have great arsenals for peacemaking stockpiled in the teachings of our spiritual leaders, saints, and the faiths of world. We know how to teach our brains to be more compassionate and lower our blood pressure. We know how to help those among us who are mentally ill. We know how to be there for one another in tough times. We understand what breeds desperation and despair.

My friend Sam is headed for bigger and better things. But no one has a right to bear arms over his broken dishwasher. And no one in this nation ought ever to have to feel so unable to get his needs met that he must have a gun in order to do that. No one should have to carry so much pain inside she can’t stand it.

We can do better than this.

We are better than this.

Lullaby For The Little Ones

December 27, 2012

My heart is not proud nor my eyes haughty.

My I do not busy myself with great matters

My or things too marvelous for me.

My But I have calmed and quieted my soul.

My As a weaned child clinging to its mother –

My like a child that is weaned is my soul.

My O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

My (Psalm 131)

The little one stood waiting. Its whole life had led up to this moment. While the One Who Is Greater than All, most gracious, almighty, mother and father, reached down and down and through and through, lifted and kissed the little one and held it tight. The little one nestled into the arms of the One Who Is Greater Than All and lay back, gazing into the dark face with starry eyes. And the two began to rock.

_____________

Like babes, we cling to the earth’s smooth furrows with tiny fingers, as it makes its daily rounds. We feel the beat of creation’s pulse against our cheeks.

What child is this? Whose lullabies are these? Whose nursery is this – this universe of spattered fire and splashing water? These souls, spilt across the Milky Way, find their way in a manger, and sway swaddled in the earth’s sweet clothes of winter snows and summer hay.

Who rocks us here, while our eyes, transfixed by Love’s pure light, discover our image reflected in the holy face? The little one stood waiting while the One Who Is Greater Than All spoke:

Come sit with me and rock a while and I will sing you lullabies that Sarah sang to Isaac. I will tell you stories, wondrous tales of adventure, danger, miracles and love. For these songs must be sung, these stories told. Not kept on shelves like jars of pickles in a darkened cellar. No spice can preserve us, but these stories can save. In the telling is new life. In the singing is good news.

How did we come to this place, this rocking on God’s lap and listening to these stories? Go back to the beginning of the beginning, before we were intricately wrought in the depths, before the forming of our inmost parts, before we were knitted together in our mothers’ wombs to when our unformed substance was first beheld. For we were held before we were even something to behold.

We began babes in Christ, smacking, sucking infants grasping and gasping at the source of life, gulping in the Spirit’s breath like ones nearly drowning in the rushing waters of the world:

O Lord, get me through this, help me, heal me, save me, free me, show me what to do! We lift to you our many hungers and concerns – our budget, our new addition, the Middle East, global warming, the economy, the droughts, the poor, those in prison, those who mourn, the sick and lonely, the persecuted and enslaved – Lord, hear our prayer – and don’t forget the little children!

And God continued to hold us, while Mary held God’s squirming son. The nursing infant is too weak to hold onto its mother. She must lift the child and support its back. She must turn its head and draw its fingers from its mouth and place it on her breast. It knows not how to feed itself.

So we rocked with God under a cloud of violence, whose mists seeped into our lives as ghostly fears. Life, never a certain thing, seemed like a runaway kite in a storm, while we grasped frantically to its frayed and thinning string. We denied and argued and pleaded and bargained with the menacing cloud, until spent and weary with making peace with death, we learned there is no peace with death and we did not go gentle, but wore out our rage in colic screams. All this while our patient God walked us in our dark nights and bore against our stiff legged kicking.

Then came the weaning.

The Hebrew word for wean means also to ripen and repay. Wean is not a sudden loss of sustenance, but a ripening toward greater fulfillment and profound nourishment.

O Lord my heart is not haughty,

my eyes are not raised too high.

I do not occupy myself with ambitious desire

or things which are too marvelous for me.

Done with getting and spending and proving and earning.
Done with seeking and striving and the thin piercing whine of urgent need.
Done with bawling hungers and waking in the night with stomach cramping and the terror screams that know no hope nor appetite appeased.

Then came the weaning, the ripening.

An early evening rain splashed gently on the apple blossoms, sending white petals sifting to the glistening grass. We heard the wet whistle of the cardinal and watched a robin listen, head tilted, for the rumble of earth worms. We saw the drops slide down the glass. “The window crying,” you said. It was dusk, the color of plums. Teddy slipped from your lap. You gazed into my eyes and smiled. And before I offered you to suck, you fell asleep. And thus you ripened. And so we rocked all night, past striving, past needing to achieve, past demon whispers of ambition. And in the morning you bit into the Spirit’s fruit.

The weaned child has attained strength and muscular control. It climbs onto its mother’s lap without help. It pats her face and nuzzles its head against her shoulder. It delights simply in the mother’s presence.

Like a weaned child on its mother’s breast is my soul.
No longer consumed with consuming,
no longer gulping and choking on life,
but content
content to rest in God.

An awareness - childlike, simple, accepting -
came to the psalmist who sings to us today,
an awareness that came to Job,
when God spoke to him out of the whirlwind:
there are some things too wonderful, too marvelous for us

that mere knowing will not save us, that understanding will not end suffering, that strategies and master plans and mission statements cannot ease our pain, that psychological acumen, administrative expertise, and a panorama of pretty programs with flashy learning centers and lesson books printed in three colors will not root out the evil in our hearts

that dedicated scholarship, facile exegesis, brilliant preaching, flashing memes, a new economy, and all that we may do and strive to produce will not ease our pain.

The way is in the manger.
Come, lift the child and hold it close to your heart as Mary did.
Hush. Speak softly. Walk on tiptoe.

What is needed is persons with quiet souls who cling to Holiness as the trees cling to the earth.

What is needed is persons with humble hearts who will mother the Christ within them, who will speak gently to all they meet for they know that each of us carries Mary’s sleeping boy.

Our work is of such utter simplicity and ordinariness that we shrink from it. Surely there must be more – than to be a friend, to share another’s burden, and to be in love with Grace.

We rush about anxious, agitated, and oh so busy. Our plans and prayers are ill-conceived and sloppy. Our eyes are raised too high. We are occupied with ambitious desires. We presume to be absorbed in things too marvelous for us.

Climb on God’s lap and rest. And a multitude of persons will find God’s rest near you.

Fall deeply in love with the Christ child, care for it ever so tenderly, and your simple presence will nurture the Christ child in others.

At that time they came to him and said: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus took up a little child and placed it on his lap and said: “Unless you turn and become like this little child, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The little ones snuggle closer:
the humble singer of the psalm, you and I, and Eve and Moses and Sarah and Peter and Martha and that littlest one of all with the holes in his hands and feet.

The curve of time turns in on itself, bends back and threatens to disintegrate. Apocalyptic whispers and end time sonnets play in bars and senate chambers. Death watches on the TV news announce more violence, more battles, more destruction.

“We like the old songs best,” the people tell the pastor. “I sang ‘Whispering Hope’ at my mother’s funeral,” the gentle man tells her on his way out. “Thank you for letting us sing it again.”

Hope
a whisper so soft, we must be stilled and quieted to hear it

Hope
a whisper so soft, we must be clinging close to hear it

Hope
soft as the voice of an angel breathing a lesson unheard.

Like a child that is weaned is my soul.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

______________________________

Dear ones,
I find I love you so, even though I do not know many of you. May your year ahead be blessed with holy rest and whispers of hope, gentle delights and profound joy. How deeply good it is be alive together in these days.

Loretta F. Ross


Whispering Hope, hymn by Alice Hawthorne, copyright 1924 by the Standard Publishing Company