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Some people dive into life head-first. Others hang back and just dip their toes in the water. I’m trying something new: forging ahead heart-first, the way Mary, Jesus’ mother, did. She could not have known or been ready for what life threw at her — teen pregnancy, raising the Son of God, watching that beloved son die on a cross — but she moved through it, keeping “all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) She could only feel her way forward by trusting in her faith and love.

If life is handing you unfathomable circumstances, mysteries you just can’t unravel, that’s okay. Trust your heart, rather than your head, and take the next step.

When all your soul is cloaked
in darkness as thick as the pelt of a bear
and as unyielding to the touch,
crack open the delicate shell of your heart,
allow it to illuminate what it can.
As for the rest, there is only faith
which of course moves mountains,
but rubble, too, the pebble in your shoe,
the slippery sand sliding underfoot.
The heart touches trouble in all the right places,
moves the wound, stanches the bleeding,
keeps the dike from cracking as we pass,
not with understanding perhaps, but with
the eye of the heart, which witnesses
but does not judge. Understanding will come,
in this or other lives, slowly or like a fist;
it doesn’t matter now. For now, let love lead.

Scrolling through news headlines this morning on my phone, I clicked on an advice column that I enjoy and was surprised by the picture I saw. Normally, you can see the columnist’s face and upper torso in the picture, but today, due to a technical glitch, all you can see is her shoulder. 

This made me laugh. Why, this could be a cottage industry for her — an advice column about burdens we all must shoulder. “Talk to the shoulder!” could become a catch phrase. Her new book could be titled: “How to Carry the Weight of the World on Your Shoulders (and Get a Great Upper Body Work-out in the Process)”!

Because we can’t always see the bigger picture in life, sometimes the things we pray for really wouldn’t be good for us. Most of us have prayed for money, sometimes even a lottery win, but being filthy rich wouldn’t make you happier; it would make life harder. More taxes to pay. More “new friends” coming around asking for a piece of the pie. 

And that relationship you prayed would be “the one,” but wasn’t? If you have to compromise, accommodate and put yourself on the back burner, that wasn’t a relationship anyway, but a prison term. Why pray for what doesn’t serve you? 

While we see only a portion of it, God sees the whole picture. If he can hold up the whole world, you can rest assured, he’s got a shoulder for you to lean on, too. In the meantime, do what you can to improve your life. Surround yourself with positive people. Do your best at the work you do. Stay healthy and active — and try a few shoulder rolls to stay limber.😊

Crossed wires. Chaotic interference. Misunderstandings. Bad intel. Instead of seeing things clearly in 2020 (yes, that’s an optometry joke), we seem to be struggling with miscommunication. Some of this derives from how we say things — using texts and social media tends to obliterate shades of meaning like inflection and sarcasm. But part of the problem is the simple rise of noise: Everybody’s talking, but no one is listening. And even the people listening aren’t really hearing. What can we do about it? Let’s start by uncrossing some wires.

Being human is getting us nowhere;
it is time for us to be animals again.
Let go of your body, settle into fur,
into feathers, into exoskeleton
and antennae, into scales, scruff
and haunches. Purr when you’re happy.
Growl when angry. Pester like a fly
until answers emerge. Most of all,
stop touching words as if each is a
thistle. Land on them as blandly
as a bee, touching lightly, springing
from petal to petal. Open your heart
to the simplicity of winter sleep,
tucked in together with no more
motive than merely getting through it.
Share your den with the whole wide world,
wordlessly, remembering our common blood.

Hey, everybody! Who’s fired up for the new year? Who’s ready to take 2020 by the throat and wrest it into something beautiful, profitable and astonishing?

Not me. Maybe not you, either. But guess what? That’s okay. Most of us don’t have a grand plan. We just keep on keeping on, as they say. This year, let’s be kind to ourselves. Think of all of your daily “yeses” as practice for the big “yes” coming for us all one day, down the line a smidge or a half-century. Whether 2020 is our best year yet matters less than whether we do our best with it, day by day.

No one’s ever ready
for the great not-yet.
You take it as it comes,
like eating an elephant,
bite by bite. The enormity
of the task must be blurred, blunted,
or else you will see nothing but
endless road ahead. Instead,
focus on the odd flower that
punctuates a field, the stray
dog at your heels, the friend
you espy from afar. Small steps.
The now of it. The real feel
of stones on feet, of air coursing
through you, the weight of your bones.
Let each step fall gently. Be prepared
to choose another route. Most of all,
be kind: to your feet, which bear you up,
to your companions on the road,
to the power that prompts you
as you walk each day into
marvelous, maddening newness.

It is the day after Christmas. How are you feeling? Overwhelmed? Underwhelmed? Maybe you have that nagging feeling that — once again — the holidays have left you…incomplete somehow. What is that hole in our hearts, anyway — a longing for holidays past? Regret that Christmas didn’t “measure up” to our expectations? A sense that somehow we didn’t really get what we wanted?

Maybe what we’re missing can’t be bought from a store. And maybe that feeling you’re feeling is something helpful — a hint that this world isn’t meant to meet all of our needs. That longing you feel? Maybe it’s just a reminder that somewhere up ahead, something better awaits.

When your pockets are as empty
as the sack of your heart,
when you ache for a place
you’ve never been
and cannot find,
you will remember
what you did not get.

It was a stable, warm with hay
and the breath of cows,
a haven heavy with a sense of rest:
a knowing that all is well,
finally, at last and forever.
Do not fret, for this will come.
Keep walking toward the light.
Never let go of the longing,
for it will guide you,
sure as any compass.

Good tidings could toll, sing out in song,
fire or luminescence, light of any kind
to pierce the dark, a pillar of cloud
exiting Egypt; angels summoning shepherds.
Why send a star? Light already ancient,
a false ringing from a long-dead phone?
(Or does it live? By what name do we call it?)
Could only a star call the wise, with time and
thought to spare for gifts: gold for a king,
resin for the altar, spice for the embalmer,
already waiting to bless the linens
He would shrug off like a memory?
Have we any hope but to go the old way:
step by step across the desert,
to the limits of our imaginations,
and seek and seek the single light that shines
in an otherwise brutish sky?
A message sent light-years ago:
something both living and dead.
A cross is coming, do you see the shadow
pass over the baby’s face?

“Author of all that is good”: That’s God. Or at least it’s one of God’s common descriptors. When I heard it at Mass the other day, I gave it a good think, this time from a blogger’s point of view. God really is the author of all that is good. But we have a role to play, too. Good is transmitted from God through us, into our acts and words, in whatever role we play: as parents, caretakers, teachers, and yes, even writers. If we are open to it, that is.

 

 

All good is of God,
but who can face it?
Who would not be struck blind
by the beauty of it?
Like coffee too scalding for the palate,
it must be tempered,
sugared, cooled for a receptive tongue.
Who will tend to it?
All of us: the child, when it smiles,
the nurse with deft hand
and bandages, the poet whose fingers
pause above the keys,
listening, receptive as antennae,
waiting for word. Can you see
the author of all that is good
reading love into being?
And will you make it your mantra,
translating and decoding,
through touch and word and deed?
We are needed.
Listen for instructions.
Pass the word.
Dwell in it
as if it were your own skin.

 

 

December 21 — that’s the day winter officially begins. Yet, somehow (and I can’t be the only one!), I’m already tired of it. If it’s not winter yet, then why is it so cold? Why are we beset with snow and wind and slush and gray skies? Calendars and almanacs may be useful, but they can’t tell us how we feel. Only we know that. And in this Advent, this time of waiting, I am feeling ready for something new. Something wonderful. (P.S. A thank-you to my good friend Marilyn Rausch for the term “hyacinth of the soul”!)

In this winter by another name,
this still-point of seasons,
in trees stripped clean,
in a sky black with grackles,
ground as hard as haters’ hearts:

I am waiting for a hyacinth of the soul:
something fragrant and unexpected.

Something’s coming
with a gift already purchased,
bought in blood, so long ago.
I have only to hold it in my hands
to know it. It feels like the sun,
wobbling weak as a new calf,
standing. Sniffing springtime.
May the light find us ready
to stand awhile and bask.

There is so much good here,
both on and around the table.
Look. Whatever we have today
is bounty because we may not have
it tomorrow. Let us bless one another.
The number of clasped hands matters not;
it is the electricity of love they carry
each to other, love that leaps chasms,
love that lights a path to a doorway
where everyone you know is gathered
and all are glad to see you, even if
this place never appears on this earth.
A blessing on you, on all of you.
Great grows the heart that
knows gratitude for what
is seen; greater, grander
when we envision what could be.

Do you know why St. Therese of Lisieux became known as “The Little Flower”? Because she never saw herself as worthy. No, in God’s garden, she argued, she wasn’t a sweet-scented rose or spotless lily… just an insignificant bloom, hardly noticeable. This was a woman who loved God so fervently, it puts the rest of us to shame. So I ask, what the heck kind of flower does that make me?

Or to put it in avian terms…what kind of bird? Does salvation rest in trying to be eagle when one is actually a wren? Or, just maybe, might it lie in being utterly true to who and what you are…whether you soar like a falcon or waddle like a doomed dodo? In the end, I suspect God loves us all, great and small, roses and sweet peas, hawks and canaries.

God sows seed; we bend our necks, peck.
Wren and peacock, sparrow and falcon,
we feed, fight for crumbs, carry morsels
home to nests heavy with fledglings.
Some nests are mud. Others shine
with tinsel and the feathers of other birds.
When comes the time to raise us, send us soaring
into skies, will even the ostrich take with grace
to unknown air? In that moment of miracle, all
can rise, if the seed you eat is deep belief.
Wide-winged, wondrous, the swan will ascend.
The wren, too, shall be lifted, heart thudding,
wing a-quiver, higher even than hope can go.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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