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.

Kairos

August 8, 2012

I thought of you this morning
while the dove cooed under the feeder
and I knew how I had utterly failed.

How is it with you, really?

Words fill the distance between us
pushing in drifts
against your door.

Discarded costumes, masks, disguises
lie
on the fitting room floor.

I step out to tell you what I want
what I am trying to find here
is the one
true moment

which strips off
the tight suits of expression
to expose
the bare naked beat
of love.

_____________

I cannot tell you how deep is this need to communicate,
how vast the reach of longing.
We plead face down in the dirt.

You who know no separation,

make us one.

The Closing

July 30, 2012

A life time is like a flash of lightening in the sky
rushing by like a torrent down the steep mountain. Gautama Buddha

It is done.
The message glowed in my palm.
The screen went dark.
The home full of light and memory
had passed neatly out of our hands.

Half a day’s drive north
we rose with the birds
to wash our faces
walk to our cushions
sit in stillness
as the sun came up.

Occupied with the throb
and slosh
of humans being,
minds alert
to the swell and surge
of experience,

we did not gulp or grasp,
but lifted our forks slowly
to savor what was on our plate.

Carrying our cups attentively
like offerings of fragrant brew
we got insights
we got bored
our necks ached
our necks really ached
our legs cramped
our minds sank.

Fur grew in our brains.
A cat named torpor climbed up our bodies,
stretched herself across our shoulders, purring.

We stepped carefully along the drive,
the wooded path, the lawn.
When the bell startled
the still air and the finches flew,
we returned to sit
and then to walk
and sit again.

Up against our limits for the taste of God,
we picked up our hand held devices
just to check the time
and well, maybe, any messages
and then like hopeless junkies
shot up
with the news.

And, Lord, like Peter, (say it)
we slept.
We could not stay awake one hour
to watch our own suffering
let alone yours.

And the tall ones,
full of grace, like some exotic species,
came and moved among us.
We tried not
to grasp their beauty with our eyes
or covet their youth.

When they left too soon,
we, shoulders shaking, sobbed,
Oh no. Oh no.
Oh please don’t go.

But they with other roads
to travel and business
of their own stepped easy
over the threshold, saying

Let go. Let go.

And Mary said,
They have taken away my Lord,
and I do not know where they have laid him.

And the angel said, He is not here. He is risen.

And Jesus said, Don’t
cling to me.

And raccoon, rotund and tight with bloat,
lay on the side of the road
and said, See my insides are turned out.
And Coyote
trotting briskly across the clearing in bright midday
paused to look behind his shoulder
then disappeared into the woods.

A thick snake of ancient sorrow
rose up in us from miles below the surface
twisted, heaved us double with its force.
A wind whistling loneliness
whined and keened through all the spaces
in our bones.

Every
thing
is going
back
and forth
across
a threshold

coming into existence
and going out of existence

while the dying rising one stands ever
on the brink
offering us a torn fragment of what is so

lost opportunities
things we have done we cannot change
our loved ones whose graves we want to tend

we gaze at the ragged piece of our existence
resting in his tattered palm

Jesus, how will this ever be enough
to satisfy our hunger,
or slake this sorrow?

Take. Eat, he says.
Be healed of thy affliction.

Thou who gives and bears away
grant us mercy
to take each moment
to our lips
and drink the cup you give
bitter, sweet.

Give us,
O Sentry at the terminal,
where all things come and go,
the appetite and wit
to swallow and digest
entirely
what is so.

____________

You sweep people away like dreams that disappear. They are like grass that springs up in the morning. In the morning it blooms and flourishes, but by evening it is dry and withered. Psalm 90: 3-6 New Living Translation

This existence of ours is a transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A life time is like a flash of lightening in the sky rushing by like a torrent down the steep mountain. Gautama Buddha

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid. John 14:27

How To Eat A Piece Of Chocolate

July 10, 2012

Wake up. Pay Attention.
Jesus

It matters little to the soul in what manner
it is obliged to abandon itself,
and what the present moment contains;
all that is absolutely necessary
is that it should abandon itself unreservedly.
Jean Pierre de Caussade


Don’t gobble it.
Don’t do anything else while you are eating it.

Do not read email.
Do not watch TV.
Do not adjust your makeup.
Do not drive the car.
Do not talk to someone.
Do not try to write about eating chocolate.

Sit down. (This is going to take a while.)

See the wrapper.

Examine it, noting the color, graphics, ingredients, and company information.

See the lineage of your chocolate.

A small tree is tucked under the upper canopy of the rainforest, probably inWest Africa. Anchored in rich soil, bathed in high humidity and tropical heat, the cacao tree sways in the breeze. A tiny midge, bred in the tree’s decaying leaves on the forest floor, begins its journey upward to crawl within the five petals of the white, dime-sized flowers blooming directly from the trunk. After the flower fades, a pod develops with the seeds, which are picked, fermented, dried, and ground to make your chocolate.


See the farmer who planted and cared for the cacao tree.

See the workers harvesting the beans, hauling the harvest, inventing, and operating machines. See the long train of people who have brought this chocolate to your hands and at what price? How many were children? Who suffered? Who gained? What has it taken to bring this smoky rich flavor to your mouth? How many miles has it traveled on someone’s back, by cart, conveyor belt, crate, ship, plane, or truck? How many hands has it passed through – plantation owner, shipper, factory worker, buyer, grocery stocker, check out clerk - to bring it to your hand?


Say thanks.

Relax. There is no rush here. Not now.
You hold eternity in your palm.

To pay attention and be fully present in each moment is to meet eternity. For each moment offers in its endless treasures all you will ever need for that moment. Some call this the sacrament of the present moment, or being present. Others call it mindfulness. Jesus called this quality of trust-filled awareness the kingdom of God.


Remove the wrapper.

Feel the weight, see the color and shape of the chocolate. Lift it to your nose and sniff its fragrance. Do you catch the whiff of forest nights, heavy with insect song and stars?

Run your finger over the chocolate. Is it smooth like satin, rough, or molded in some way?

Break off a piece. See it separate and reveal its interior.

Now bring it to your mouth.
Wait. You are getting ahead of yourself.

Slow down.

Do not eat it before you eat it.
First, bring it to your mouth to bring it to your mouth.

Pay attention to the impulse to lift your hand and the complex brain chemistry and mechanics of respiration, circulation, nerve, muscle, tendon, and bone, which perform this feat at your merest whim.

Feel the chocolate touch your lips. Run your tongue over the surface.
Press your teeth into it until the chocolate gives itself to you and splits in two.

Hold the forest, the flower, the midge, the wind, the suffering,
the unappeasable appetite of commerce, a thousand sweaty hands,
and a thousand sultry nights
in your mouth.

Feel them soften and release their sweet, spreading river of bitter, buttery cacao.

Swallow and savor.

________________

Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves. It is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each moment of life. Thich Naht Hahn

The present is ever filled with infinite treasure, it contains more than you have capacity to hold. . . .The divine will is a deep abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. If you plunge into this abyss you will find it infinitely more vast than your desires. Jean Pierre de Caussade

Writing Exercise
Eat something mindfully, awake and aware in the present moment, and write about your experience. How did you feel when you began this exercise? How did you feel when you completed it? What did you notice, experience, or learn?

________________

Friends, I will be away from writing this blog for the next two weeks.
I will spend ten days in silence and meditation, practicing mindfulness,
as I walk, breathe, wash my face, and eat a little chocolate.

Perhaps we will meet in the spaces of eternity in each new moment.

Until then, pay attention!

Loretta

The Writing Exercise

July 2, 2012

Write a letter to a landscape or scene you pass through today. For example, “Dear Branner Trafficway.”

Dear Mom,

You rest now in my way.
The plastic cartons I put you in
clutter the path
from
kitchen
to office.

I step around the contents of your dismembered
life
trying not to trip,
coffee cup in one hand
sheaf of papers in the other.

Squeezing past a bin
I stumble upon
your journals
tales of trips
to the woods
wildlife sightings
what happened last Tuesday,
and how Gladys brought over a pan of sweet rolls,
still warm from the oven

poems about birds and babies
dragonflies
and things you cannot change and break your heart
word snapshots and watercolor sketches –

scattered orange road construction cones
confuse the once familiar scene.

The blue china sectioned dish you fed me from,
when I kicked my legs in the high chair,
peeks over the top of another box.

Photo albums, the ducks you carved,
and all the letters and cards I ever sent you
occupy the landscape of my life
and I am no longer sure

how to get from here to there.


Periods of disorientation are part of the spiritual life Biblical theologian Walter Brueggemann tells us. Such periods precede what he calls new orientation. Brueggemann charts how the history of Israel tells the story of orientation, confusion and loss of direction, and new clarity over and over. The story culminates in the crucifixion and resurrection and then continues with the church and our individual journeys as well.

What are the inner and outer landscapes you are passing through today? Take a moment to share what you are witnessing so we all may grow closer to seeing the big picture.

Thanks to Melissa Sewell, Leah Sewell, and the Topeka Writers’ Workshop for inviting me to pay attention to my landscape.

Boring Church and the Vulnerable God

June 25, 2012

There is a bit of the scientist in anyone who sets out to test in his or her own life if Jesus Christ is really all he is cracked up to be. "Prove it," the contemplative says to God. Here are all these promises: freedom, joy, abundance, peace, wholeness, justice, truth, and life eternal. "Show me," says the contemplative, setting out to experiment with divinity in the laboratory of experience.

In the beginning God is the object of the search. At some point God may peremptorily rise out of the test tube and take over the experiment. I find myself being dissected. My soul is flayed open by truth. I am blinded by glaring light and toasted over a Bunsen burner, where my impurities are burned away and I am distilled into my essence. I am no longer in control of this process. The knower and the known have shifted places. And truth is not something I can find, but something that has me in its grasp.

Theologian Lesslie Newbigin observes, "Reason, even the most acutely critical reason cannot establish truth." ... [This is because] You cannot criticize a statement of what claims to be the truth except on the basis of some other truth-claim - which at the moment - you accept without criticism. But that truth-claim on which your critique is based must in turn be criticized. Any claim to know truth is, therefore, simply a concealed assertion of power." (Truth to Tell, The Gospel as Public Truth, Eerdmans, 1991, pp 29-30.)

The work of scientist Michael Polanyi reminds us that "all knowing involves the personal participation of the knower, that knowing always involves the risk of being wrong, and that the struggle to know calls for the fullest exercise of personal responsibility." Truth to Tell, p.51)

Instead of seeking proofs of God from reason or experience, the contemplative finds fulfillment simply and humbly dwelling in love in God's presence. The contemplative gives God entry into the world, not through a claim of truth, but through a believing heart. Instead of an exercise of power through the assertion of my reality over yours via dazzling argument or feats of spiritual prowess, the contemplative takes the vulnerable route of allowing God to make God's own appeal through the context of his or her surrendered life.

I acknowledge my vulnerability when I say, "I cannot know it all. I may be wrong. This is what I see. This is what I am responsible for articulating as clearly as I can." We might characterize the spiritual journey as the process of discovering right relationship to this vulnerability, which we meet in ourselves, others and in God.

By vulnerability I mean capable of being wounded and wrong, open to attack or damage. Our vulnerability may include our sin and temptation to evil, our failure and weakness - wherever we are not whole, wherever we fall short of the glory which is our promised inheritance as God's children.

We can relate to our woundedness in many ways: with anger, resentment, impatience, contempt, deceit, shame, and blame. We can so identify ourselves with our vulnerability that we know ourselves only as victim. Then, committed to our suffering and stubbornly resistant to healing, we may defend our wounds with fierce loyalty.

God sends into our consciousness, into the heart of matter, Holy Vulnerability in the form of Jesus. It teaches, heals, suffers, dies, and rises saying, "Look, watch me. This is what it means to be human. It is all right. Everyone is wounded. Follow me and be healed."

Over and over Jesus' ministry reached out to the vulnerable ones. He brought home the lost and the misfits saying, "You belong too." He didn't bring them back to turn them into Jews or folks like him. He just brought them back saying, "You, just as you are, are important. You have a contribution to make. We need you. You belong."

Loving Jesus takes away our shame for being human like nothing else can. For he shows us how to be poor, how to value and appreciate our vulnerability. He tells us the vulnerable ones will see God and inherit the kingdom of heaven. He helps us get off our high horse and come down where we ought to be on our knees.

In the painful encounter with our vulnerability and diminishment, we meet the diminished suffering God and our own holiness. For in my poverty I discover my true worth. Stripped of what I can do, what I possess, how I am known by others - all the external ways I have attempted to create worth for myself, I find my true self in the center of my humility, which is also the dwelling place of the Trinity.

I used to read my children a story about a little girl who was born with a long tail like a dragon. Various characters seek to help the child with what is perceived by some as her disability. I liked Mike the cat's approach best. "Teach her to love her tail," he sagely advised. He shows her how to switch her tail back and forth, wind it around the fire escape railing and hang upside down. Teach her to love her tail.

Part of the task of the church is to teach us to love our tails and God's tail, Jesus. Spirituality without Jesus Christ is spirituality that may be resisting the fundamental truth of our vulnerability. It may be a spirituality that, well or ill disguised, is exercising power, trying to be God.

The world holds vulnerability with fear and contempt. The church ought to teach us to hold it in our arms and love it. But the church is, of course, vulnerable too.

I was trying on a new hat when eleven year old Cicelia observed that you should always wear a hat to church. "It protects you from boredom, mom. The boredom rays, like the ultra violet rays from the sun are in church and sometimes at school. If you have a hat, you will be protected from the boredom."

I hope the place where you worship is not boring. Maybe if churches had more to do with being with God and less to do with talking about God, things wouldn't be so boring for Cicelia and others. As Evelyn Underhill observed, "God is the interesting thing."

A good deal of church seems to have little to do with God and is conducted as though God were, if not absent, at least very far away. Little time is given for God to get a word in edgewise. Our frantic activity and anxious busyness comprise our faithless creed that not much of anything can happen without our doing it ourselves.

Perhaps it is just too risky, too frightening. What if nothing happens? Nothing is changed or accomplished? Once Cicelia put a sign on her door painted in large red letters: KNOK or ELSE! Red paint ominously dripped from the letters like blood.

Jesus, we know you stand at the door and knock, but beware! We are resistant to transformation, devoted to our losses and the sins of others against us, and do not really trust your power in our lives.

The church will always be imperfect. It will be unimaginative and boring and rigid sometimes, because we are unimaginative and boring and rigid sometimes. Thank goodness God's presence doesn't depend on our winning academy awards in best Pentecost service of the year.

I have been in so many churches where you wonder why anybody comes at all. What with the dozen dusty arrangements of silk flowers and the sappy pictures of Jesus and the bad roller rink organ music you wonder what the appeal could be.

The appeal is, of course, Jesus. Jesus is there and active, because the people believe in him. Their vulnerable belief holds the door open for the vulnerable God to enter.

Knok or Else. He is likely to walk right on in.

This post is an excerpt from my book written about learning to pray as I raised children in small town Holton, Kansas. Loretta Ross (Ross-Gotta), Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed and Ward, 2000, pp 119-122.

Don’t Mess with the Sisters

June 10, 2012

I attended a protest march and prayer vigil last week here in Topeka, Kansas. In response to recent criticism and censure from the Vatican, a group of protestants, Catholics, and some Zen Buddhists gathered in support of Roman Catholic sisters.

Thus the day came when, Elijah the Tishbite, my Labrador retriever named for the Biblical prophet, who spent much of his ministry in protests of various kinds, began to live up to his namesake. Elijah, the prophet-dog, rose near dawn the day of the march, and spoke in his canine way, “Don’t mess with the sisters! Thus saith the Lord.” We put his prophetic utterance on a placard. I donned my clergy collar, and off we went.

Ever since the woman of Bethany ran across the city to pour out the oil of her love on Jesus, women of God have endured criticism, ostracism, and hostility to the ways they express their faith and serve Christ. It only takes the breeding of a sheep dog to attempt to corral religious orders into neat doctrinal boundaries, and lines and rows pleasant to those who seek to control what they cannot understand. It is quite another thing to fathom the love and devotion of a soul, who is willing to give up possessions, power, prestige, and marriage for love of God.

I wrote a poem some years ago, about women and men, who take prayer seriously, who are ravished by love, and willing to give themselves to it with total devotion. Such people are often misunderstood by the prevailing culture. I titled the poem, Ekklesia, which is the Greek word we translate as church. It means a gathering or assembly. Just what ought to happen in such a gathering has been under dispute for centuries, though most agree ekklesia should have something to do with prayer, worship, and love for God and others.

The poem draws images and some of its style from The Song of Songs (also known as The Song of Solomon). This book of the Hebrew Bible extols the wonders of human love and it has often been interpreted as a metaphor of the love between Christ and the church, or between an individual soul and God.

I offer the poem today in praise of all those women and men who have given radically of themselves to God, even in the face of criticism, ridicule, and suffering.

EKKLESIA

Sustain me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am sick with love. - Song of Solomon 2: 5

Who is that coming up from the forest
leaning on her beloved
coming up
dripping apple blossoms
crazed and drooling?

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the hinds of the field,
that you stir not up nor awaken Love until it please.
Song of Solomon 2: 7

They are coming
coming up
from the forest
smelling of earth
and musk
naked
staggering
trailing shreds of God stuff
God dander
God sweat
God hairs
coral streaks upon their cheeks
stumbling into the light
falling to their knees
rolling in balls
splayed upon their faces
dizzy
begging for raisins and apples
sick with Love.

Called forth from nuptial beds
summoned, half-ravished
to tie a shoe
to feed
to lead
to plant
to mend
to make all new
with rapture round their eyes
and power in their step
and mouthwash on their breath,
swilled to hide the scent
the sweet taste of God,
thick and smooth on the tongue
as honeysuckle in the throat of night.

When they spoke
it was like being in the forest.
Birds chirped.
Rabbits hopped.
The air was alive
and twigs cracked under foot.

Hillsides
held them in the night
tucked under arms of trees
prostrate and panting
luminous
beneath pale light
of lunar ooze
smeared cross a starry sheet.

They lay trembling, hushed
listening for the rush
the fleet beat of wings
so soft, so hard
and ah!
so sweet.

At dawn
sun's blaze
and dusk
they came up
in the sleet
the cold
the mud
the snow
the heat
coming up
out of the forest
at dawn
sun's blaze
and dusk
to hover round the manger –
pale flickering fires,
pleasing incense,
consuming themselves in ever rising prayer.
There they sat
silent
crystal prisms
receiving light
in stillness
and shattering it
in myriad dancing rainbows of delight.

Meanwhile
Janet
with the yellow sweats
under her blue dress
cleaning up on a Saturday morn
in the rest room of the public library
paused
in her ablutions
to talk to the children
who were entranced by the pedal flush toilets
and to their mother
who smelled the over familiarity
and felt the ache and loneliness of Janet
who announced she was a realist and a humanist.
I don't take everything in the Bible.
Like spare the rod and spoil the child.
That's bad. A kind word turns away wrath.
My mother always used to say that. That's hard to do,
said Janet.

She followed them out to the car
asking if they were going to have lunch now
and could she ride along.

kyrie
eleison

Lotuses,
awash with Love
spinning slender crystal threads
from tangled, matted mind,
are they surprised
they, who hoist holiness from murky depths,

waiting
birthing
dying
rising
gifting
waiting
birthing
dying
rising
gifting

saying the seasons' cycles
strung like beads on the Spirit's breath,

are they surprised
that on a Saturday morning
a humanist and a realist
washing up at the library miles away
slams into their prayer,
Our Bag Lady full of grace,
preying on us sinners until we die?

kyrie
eleison

Are they surprised
the woeful world beyond the woods
wakes from its sorrow
and sniffs the nectar of their blooming silence?

Ah they think they are alone.
Their solitude is filled with throngs.
Their restless nights passed
in company with crowds.
They thought their anguish hidden
in the vines.
It is a rushing current
cutting channels for compassion's surge
down hillsides and across the plains.

The terms!
The terms
do not forget the terms
in small print at the bottom
on the private underside of bird wings
where soft down separates
air into feathery streams,
on the pale intimate flesh of the underside of leaves
under rocks and fingernails,
whatever clutters, clamors underfoot
and in the book they keep.
There are the terms
conditions
limitations,
extremities.

To read the terms stand under
but do not seek to understand.

The terms consist most of obedience.
Love
Serve
Die

Follow orders and do not ask too many questions.
Those who do, don't stay
or lose their hearts
and can no longer pray,
deranged and dribbling,
bewitched by reason.

They ate God
slowly there
chewing carefully
in spite of their hunger
and flooded their thirst
with tiny sips.

This food for you, they said to one another.
I am not worthy
that Thou shouldst come under
come under
my roof
under me.

I will stand under Thee
and looking up,
say but the word, I healed,
shall see,
the underparts of Three in One:

the soft belly
the wing
and the hum
that dwells beneath Silence.
You can go there if you dare.
They will invite you in
into infinite unappeasable longing
into insatiable hunger
into the belly of God.

There you can watch Desire smack its lips
Sisyphus roll his stone
while you, shivering, groan
to be swallowed up by life
and find your home at last
next to a hayfield
in some celestial timber.

They will invite you in.
Watch out,
hospitable spiders all!
It is a trap.
Their tactic:
evangelism by voyeurism.
For the main attraction
their ravishing belly dancer
will seduce you through diaphanous veils
of flesh and matter.
This epiphany burlesque
is rated X.
Admission free.
The only catch -
the show lasts till eternity
and death the only exit be.

And you
dear foolish you
only looking for a rest
now must spend your life in making love,
this ardent Lover's guest.

You want to go?
You cannot miss them.
They are a haggard bunch
ragged, wrecked souls in a crunch
having totaled their hearts in prayer.

Their name is Servant.
It isn't far. Around the block
beyond the lake -
you needn't search.
And the name of the place?

is church.

Many waters cannot quench love,
Neither can floods drown it. Song of Solomon 8: 7

The Dancing God

June 3, 2012

Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity?
I will tell you.
In the core of the Trinity
the Father laughs
and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father
and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs
and gives birth to us. Meister Eckhart

Western Christianity used the Latin word circuminsessio to describe the activity of the Trinity. In contrast Eastern Christianity used the Greek word, perichoresis. Circuminsessio means broadly to sit around in a circle. Perichoresis means to dance in a circle.

Needless to say, I prefer dancing.

BLEST COMMUNITY

O Most Holy Trinity
Undivided Unity,
teach us the gentle deference
of your dance of surrendered love

how with infinite tenderness
and utmost esteem
you so gently
adoringly
are present
to one another.

Teach us your perichoresis,
your grand circle dance,
where you eternally birth joy
from the womb of reverence.

Teach us your unending,
enfolding regard
for the pure holiness
you hold and behold.

You,
sweet breath and the lungs of creation,
eternally giving,
empty
and eternally receiving
are filled.

You release and bind,
but never push nor pull.
You hold accountable,
but never blame.
You incline yourselves to one another
as a grove of green willows
bending in the breeze
bowing to each other's grace
known and cherished
on the broad plain of mutuality.

Deepen our trust, O Blest Community,
that we may enter such intimacy.
Loretta F. Ross

Once a group of Western theologians traveled to the East to speak with a group of Buddhist monks, and asked, Will you tell us how you do theology?

The monks thought for a while and then responded, I do not think we do theology.

We dance.

Prairie Lamentation

May 26, 2012

Driving west on Interstate 70 from Topeka, Kansas around ten in the morning, I plunged into that green swath of oceanic beauty called the Flint Hills. Named by explorer Zebulon Pike in 1806, the majestic sweep of bluestem prairie extends north to Nebraska and south all the way to Oklahoma.

Formed 250 million years ago when Kansas and Oklahoma were covered with shallow seas, the land is compared to the undulating roll of a great body of water. The shallow soil rests on seabed layers of flint, shale, and the fossilized remains of sea animals.

Reveling in the beauty, I was sailing down the road, when I came abruptly upon a sight that brought my heart to my throat and sent a chill down my spine. A huge shimmering whiteness moved off to the north along the road. Bigger than the side of a barn, it lifted and fell back to the ground. It seemed alive somehow, but no animal could be that large.

I slowed, curious and wary. The highway was deserted. Was this a UFO? Maybe I should look for an exit and turn back. I drove a bit further, then coasted onto the shoulder, and stopped about 100 yards away, watching that white thing waving.
It looked like huge wings. One wing spread up the side of a hill, the other lay nearer to the road in the valley. A few iridescent feathers lifted in the wind and reflected the blue sky like mirrors. The wings were rising and falling slightly in a convulsive shudder.

It’s hurt. It needs help. But it’s huge. Would I scare it? Would it attack me? And what is it?

I looked up and down the road. Still no traffic. I opened the car door and slid out. A sudden rush of wind whipped past and slammed the door shut. The air was cool and smelled of grass. The only sound was the soft swish of shuddering feathers. Standing by the side of the road between earth and heaven, I pressed my hands over my mouth and stepped forward. I had taken a few more steps when, suddenly, the thing, the bird hiccupped. It convulsed and heaved in a ragged sob.

I nearly jumped out of my skin, but I saw that it was crying. The beautiful bird had spread herself over the sea of grass to weep. Don’t ask me how, I just seemed to know the bird was a she.

I moved a little closer, wondering if I could be of comfort. May I help you? But before I could finish the thought, a river of grief and anguish engulfed me and I tumbled over and over, gasping for air, drowning in sorrow. A deafening roar of cries and sorrow filled my senses. Then a battering wind and hellish screams pulverized me into tiny pieces, flinging me into darkness. After that, nothing.

When I came back together as myself, I was there in the quiet August morning with the hills, the sky, the empty highway, and the still bird. She seemed calmer now. The shuddering had stopped.

Are you all right? I asked. Are you able to fly? And again, instantly, I was drawn out of myself in a sickening swoop over mountains. We dove into the depths of the sea, peered into the eye of a whale, and crawled with a crab on a shore. I saw the molecules of a heart valve, and plummeted into the shrunken belly of a child in Sudan. We whooshed through glittering palaces of power and stood on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She laid those wings over a pile of bodies in Pakistan and sat on the shoulder of a man holding an AK47 rifle. We splashed in a child’s swimming pool with a little girl in a pink and green striped bathing suit. She whispered to an artist bent over a painting, and coursed up the stem of a tomato vine in Fremont, Nebraska.

This time, reeling and breathless, I didn’t want to ask any more questions, or bear the answers. I gazed upon her wings spread over the prairie grass and the reflection of the blue sky, the puffy white clouds, and the tall grass waving. In the play of light and color I caught of glimpse of a woman peering back at me and realized with a start that the woman was myself.

Then she lifted one wing. She drew her head out from under it and turned her eyes on me. A bolt of love and compassion seared through me with the crackle and snap of flames rising from dry wood.

I sank down beside the bird. What do you want of me?

Tell them.
To stop.
Hurting me.

I cringed, shaking my head. I can’t. I am complicit. I have blood on my hands, too.

She waited for me. The wind ruffled her feathers. The puffy clouds moved across the sky. Somewhere a meadowlark called.

Okay. How?

Be brave.
Be brave, she told me.
Be brave.

____________________________


Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4: 29-32 (NASV)

Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted. Ephesians 4: 29 (The Message)
Prairie Lamentation was first posted on August 31, 2010.

Ascension

May 17, 2012

While he was still with them, he said:

Don't leave Jerusalem yet. Wait here for the Father to give you the Holy Spirit, just as I told you he has promised to do. . . . But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power.

After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1: 6-8a, 9 (CEV)

Something new is coming,
something incredible,
beyond imagination
and manipulation.

Something
promised.

Well maybe.
That is to say, we hope it is.

He said it would.

We watched him rise up
out on the hill,
wind blustering all around,
and the jagged saw of goodbye
chewing us apart.

Don’t go. Don’t go. We love you so!

And the love
filling us up
and tipping us

over
with its force.

And us, breathless and blown,
rolling and tumbling down
the mountain
flung and spinning
out from the Center of that splendor.

His Words,
imprinted
on our souls like a bright tattoo.

And the angels saying, Get up. Get going!

He said to wait.
Wait.

There would be more, something else,
spirit he called it,
who will help us remember it all,
help us catch our breath,
and give us legs for such a world, as we have glimpsed.

Oh, why not Him? Why this spirit thing,
when we had a love
we could hold in our arms and look in the eye?

The Father, reaching down into humanity,
snatches back the offspring
of his selfless, effervescent generosity.

Dear God,
catching up very God of very God, begotten not made,
by the scruff
of his collar
and drawing him back into your joyful dance,

what are you thinking,
cutting in like this, sweeping off with our partner?

Life is eternal – that is good news.
But what to do with the life and the love,
left here as we are, knocking about in the flesh?

Please do not ask of us such vulnerability,
this being clueless, with nothing to hang onto,
suspended between cloud and fire,
dangling
from only a dim memory and a bright promise.

Few things leave us more vulnerable
than Love and the Holy Spirit.

I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. Ephesians 1: 17 (CEV)

(This post is adapted from post originally published in 2010.)

Ain’t Nothin to Worry About

May 13, 2012

She is sitting on a chair in her bedroom. I show her the new pants and blouse. “Try them on mom. I got them for you.”

“Oh, I don’t need any new clothes.” She gestures to a pile of folded shirts on her dresser.

“Mom, you are holding up your pants with safety pins. That blouse is worn thin.”

She slowly pulls on the new pants, then stands and hitches them over her narrow hips. I help her button the blouse. We both like the results. “You look great mom.”

She smiles, then announces, “After ninety the worst is over.” We observe a thoughtful silence, and then burst into laughter. Eyes twinkling, she says, “Then they dress you. They fix your breakfast.”

The good news from Irma: if you are over ninety, relax. The worst is over. If you are not, take heart, the best is yet to come.

__________

When I was a child the word used for senile dementia was “childish.” Uncle Lou was “getting childish.” Grandpa “was childish.” That meant that they were older and acted young somehow. Because of this, we were to understand and watch over them a little more. It was a gentle term, a matter of fact acceptance. When mother returned from visiting blind Aunt Ethel in the rest home, who, after she broke her hip, never got out of bed again, mom would say, “Aunt Ethel told me to go out back and get a chicken and dress it and make her some chicken and noodles. She doesn’t know where she is. She’s getting childish.” Mom would fix chicken and noodles with a store bought chicken and take them to her anyway.

__________

The house I grew up in is the kind of place where God shuffles around in his jammies and house slippers like part of the family – deeply loved and cherished, but not made a big fuss over. Mother grew up Quaker and married my Mennonite father, whose family descended from the Swiss Anabaptists of the Reformation period. In some kind of compromise they became Presbyterian. When I told a seminary professor about my parents’ religious pedigree, he remarked, “Well it confirms what I have always felt. Presbyterianism is many people’s second choice.”

__________

Mother’s pastor brings her communion. She is grateful for the fellowship, but I wonder if the sacrament seems redundant to this old Quaker, already immersed in the Light. When she prays for me and my daughter before our Christmas dinner, she draws the words up from some deep place and forms them with a conviction that leaves me shaken.

My mother’s house has many rooms of treasures. If you come to visit, some of her childishness may rub off on you – her simplicity, transparency, and sense of humor. When two hip twenty-something graphic designers from a big city came for Thanksgiving, they were entranced by the carvings, my deceased father’s fifty year old book on design, the advertising in old magazines, and the relics of native Americans my father found.

The young men rooted around with my daughter in closets and basement, amazed and delighted. Because they had been raised well, they recognized “childishness” and listened to Mom’s stories with kindness and gentleness. Mother showed the same politely curious interest in the tattoos, which covered most of one of the visitor’s arms, as he did in her apple dolls.

Then the visitors all went out to play across the street on the swings and toys in the school yard, snapping photos on their iphones to send to their friends. They arrived early and stayed late. It was nearly midnight before Mom and I turned in on that magical day.

A poem by Thomas Merton has been coming to me lately:

Come my love
pass through my will
as through a window
shine on my life
as on a meadow
I, like the grass,
to be consumed
by the rays of the sun
on a late summer’s morning.

The poem is based on St. John of the Cross’s poem, The Dark Night of the Soul. In the poem John compares the soul to a window. He sees the spiritual journey as the process of cleansing and removal of anything in us that might impede or distort the Light of Christ as it passes through our lives. In this process we become more and more transparent and childlike.

My mother drinks her tea this morning as she watches a squirrel and a cardinal at the feeder. “I am remembering,” she says. “I am remembering how when I was a kid and would get upset or complain about something, Pop would say, ‘Oh that ain’t nothing to worry about.’”

“Gosh mom, that doesn’t sound very empathic.”

“Well that is what he would say. ‘Oh, that ain’t nothing to worry about.’” And she smiles out the window.

I want God to pass through me like a window, to shine on my life as on a meadow. I want to be consumed as the grass on a midsummer day. I can ask for it, pray for it, but I think it ain’t nothing to worry about. In the end such childishness is given simply, quietly in the gracious surrender to growing old.

Mother puts down her tea cup and says, “After ninety three things get interesting. It is like reading a book backwards. I never understood before why people would look at the end of a book and read it first. It is smooth going. You can do what you want. People don’t expect much of you. They think you are childish. They try not to laugh, but you can see they are just dying. I don’t let on I know.”

This post is adapted from Holy Ground, Vol. 19, No. 4 Winter 2009. Holy Ground is a quarterly reflection on the contemplative life, written by Loretta F. Ross, and published by The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer. Go here to read this issue online. Download a FREE copy of Vol. 19, No. 4, Winter 2009.