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Just over a week ago, we bought a new toy for our seven-month-old kitten, Pugsley — a plastic butterfly attached by a wire to a wand. It fluttered, at least at first, rather convincingly, spurring Pugsley to terrific leaps and epic pounces. He gloried in snatching it away from me and parading his prey proudly through the house, wand dragging forlornly behind him. The toy today looks nothing like it did when it was new. It is chewed and bent and bedraggled beyond recognition. The wings have been mended with duct tape. It resembles a crumpled leaf more than an insect. But Pugsley still loves it.

Perhaps the butterfly makes a good comparison for our souls. They are tattered, sure, but God still loves them ardently. And all that wear and tear? Maybe it’s a good thing. To end our lives with a soul beaten and crushed by years and years of extreme love; by good, hard use in working for a better world — what could be better? Sounds like a goal to me.

Take me as I am, Lord, in ill repair.
Mend what you can, moving your hands lightly
over me like the sun that dapples the floor
where the cat shifts and rolls and purrs.
The worst bits can remain; I will wear them
as badges, each rip a reminder of how hard
I loved, how frantically I held to hope.
Though I am ragged, you regard me
as rare and precious as a ruby.
I am yours, despite my ravages,
whole and healed in your eyes.

How’s your Lent? Mine has been…arid, thank you. Perhaps it’s because the entire last year has had a Lenten quality to it, but I’m finding this season especially rough. I don’t feel like I’m connecting with my goals. I’m impatient. I am tired of wandering through the desert of my soul. And I’m sure I’m not alone. In more ways than one.

I made myself a desert place
and waited for Lent to come,
to roll like a storm,
rinse grit from my sand-caked soul,
beat into me a scrubbed resolve.
Instead, came dervishes of whirling dust,
heat to crack the skin, no shepherd
to steer me as pellets pocked my eyes.
I made myself a desert place
and longed for Lent to find me,
devour me like manna, drink me to the lees,
like the swollen tongue of a parched wanderer.
Instead, I have ceased seeking saints
to reckon with my resemblance
to things that slither in the shadows,
tongues primed to flick my skin, name me kin.
I made myself a desert place
and begged for Lent to change me
only to find I will not reach the other side
until the Lent of life finds me fallen
on the final dune outside the city
I sought so far, so long.

Feathered, almost, I suppose.
an egg cupped in a nest,
the worrisome business of being born
blunted by something sure
bringing light and heat
to the blind uncoiling of limbs.
There will be no abrupt nudgings
to take flight with wings too weak
to shatter air; you are welcome to stay
a week, a year, a lifetime.
All you need do
is never look down.
Instead keep your vision fixed
on the sky: something is coming,
flapping furiously, with arms like an angel,
to enfold you. Believe in this.

bird flying over the sea during sunset
Picture of a gradient-pink sunset over a shimmering ocean as seagulls fly in formation around the sun

Kind people, I’d like to share with you Auntie Ruth’s Rules of Life. In a nutshell, you and I will get along just fine if you’ve got the following attributes:

  • Sense of decency
  • Sense of humor
  • Sense of purpose

I don’t need to know your pedigree. What letters you’ve got after your name. Your group affiliations. Your alma mater. Your net worth. 

As long as you’re a decent human being who treats me like a decent human being, we’re golden.

So I found out recently that someone I’d thought of as a friend was actually a bigot, which violates the “sense of decency” rule.  I was surprised when I realized this; as a person with a disability who’s been on the receiving end of discrimination herself, you’d think she’d have more empathy.

You might say, call her out on it. But it won’t change her mind. She won’t suddenly see the light after our conversation.

Here in New Jersey, there’s a gesture that I’ve termed, “the up-down.” Someone looks you in the eye, scans your body all the way down to your feet, then looks back up at your eyes again. It’s an insecure person’s way of diminishing others in the mistaken belief that it will elevate them.

Maybe bigots are trying to be “big,” so they need someone else to be “small.” Maybe they’ve been hurt so many times in life that they’ve become one of the hurt-ers.

It could be that the only answer is no answer. Just disengage. As with any problem too large for me to get my arms around, I’ll pray it out, get back to center, and leave it in God’s hands. 

Wisdom gained in the past year: In a pandemic, days seem to blend together. To that end, I’ve made a conscious effort to find the goodness in each one. For example, by Monday evening, the house is as clean as it will ever be. On Tuesday, I write a blog post — or don’t — and either option is pleasurable. Wednesdays bring a phone chat with my friend Alice. Thursdays provide time for catching up, while Fridays — well, Fridays have their own magic, don’t they? Mine are enhanced by a weekly phone chat with my friend Marilyn. Weekends require little help to shine. They are the days I get to spend with my spouse, neither of us laboring (for the most part).

How are you marking your days? And how can we all add a little spiritual oomph to our routine? Maybe by focusing on each blessing, no matter how small.

Today may bring a miracle
or at least a small surprise —
catch either by the tail
and hold it up to light.
Bless its energy, no matter
how humble and nondescript.
Then let it go to anoint another.
What we cannot touch with our hands,
let us embrace with words.
What is left loose in our lives
is one thing less to do, a grace,
to fill with silence or bread baking.
Slow your expectations to meet
the small, still passage of hours.
Revel in them. You may never know
solitude like this again.

The general consensus seems to be that we’ve kicked 2020 to the curb. Our long, international nightmare is over! But is it? The funny thing about time is that one year tends to spill over into the next year. We still have challenges to face. Old ones. New ones we can’t even foresee. Do we have the stuff to face it? Maybe with a little faith, a little hope and a little grace, we really can begin all over again.

We have swept the mess to the sill.
Still, it sits, casting an accusing eye:
What will you do with me?
It will not be as easy
as clearing the threshold
and shutting the door.
The scent of it lingers,
its obdurate conundrums
persist, twisted as steel
by the side of the road.
Fresh eyes, fresh hearts
are required, new courage
flowing from hope
we didn’t know we had.
Listen to the urgings of your heart.
It is time for a new song,
sung louder, though throats are sore.
Bear up. Lean in.
Call for change
and change will come.

A star atop a tree
can only be
a drowsy placebo
for something missing.
A sky-held star
is an echo, light hitting
earth like a memory.
Fix your ambition instead
on finding the true star.
You will know it by the way
it surges, hot stone,
crying for the love of something
it cannot name.
Follow the star
to the heart of you,
blind and ragged.
Find,
pure and bright,
a child
that is you.
That is He.
Know, at last,
Christmas,
breaking you,
laying you in straw,
lulling you to sleep with
the breath of sheep.

person writing on white paper

Hand writing with pink marker on white paper to create a list of projects to be managed.

This week, the idea of “maps” was on my mind. Some days, it seems clear what I need to do and where I want to go, but lately, it’s been murky. I decided to strip it down to basics, as if I was re-upholstering a chair. The cushion isn’t comfortable? Let’s get rid of it. 

My early morning “routine” (scanning news headlines, scanning my body for what hurts most today) leaves me anxious, so I had to ditch it. Instead, I’ll start the day with “beditation”  — meditation in bed, comprised of deep breathing, stretching and prayer.

The fabric on that armchair is rough? Let’s find soft, new material. 

In the same way, sometimes it helps to re-define and re-design your goals.

What actually is working right now? Stationary biking for half an hour, praying as I go through the day and counting my blessings by name. That stays in the “best practices” category. 

What really isn’t working right now? Not having the stamina to keep the house as clean as I’d like it to be. Always having pain somewhere in my body. Keeping track of appointments and zoom calls. That goes into the “project management” category.

What’s uplifting? Writing with Lori and SueBE. Not just our blog posts, but the emails we write to each other. We really do a deep dive into life. My low vision community. Bluebirds. Bach.

What’s troubling? Re-label that a project, not a problem. What resources are available to address it? Connect with others who face the same issues, and you’ll heal along with them. 

Find comforts you can count on. Have some herbal tea or chocolate milk. And every morning, bask in your blessings. Breathe in grace. Breathe out gratitude. Calibrate your compass to align with Providence, and you’ll be heading in the right direction.

December 8 celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which (as anyone who reads me regularly knows) has nothing to do with baby Jesus and everything to do with baby Mary. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary being conceived without Original Sin. She comes into the world, unlike the rest of us, sin-free. And she stays that way.

What would you do with a brand new, spotlessly clean soul? If the past is any indication, I’d probably just soil it again. Even after being absolved of my sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation — despite my sincere vows to not fall into the same traps again — I inevitably sin.

Is it the human condition to fail and fall, over and over again? Can we ever rise beyond our nature? Surely some of us do. But how?

What must it take,
once washed white,
to stave off soil and stain?
Love, mercy, justice,
wielded wisely.
Love launders.
Mercy bleaches clean.
Justice proofs the fabric
against what muck may come.
Lather liberally. Saturate spots.
Rinse and repeat as needed.

Just last night,
the trees shrugged off their leaves
as if to say, We are done. Done,
as we all are, with this
annus horribilis.
Still. Under the piles of russet,
of red and gold and brown, there is a sliver
of silver new hope. Can you see it?
We need a God who can take a spark
so small and fan it, with gentle breath,
into a conflagration of love.
Add your own exhalation,
even if it is only a sigh,
and perhaps we will work up
something to warm ourselves by.
And, with time, others will come,
drawn in from the cold.
Here is our directive:
Fall into winter
with a clash of cymbals:
something new is coming soon.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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