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Neruda’s Flowers

Ode to some yellow flowers

Rolling its blues against another blue,

the sea, and against the sky

some yellow flowers.

October is on its way.

And although 

the sea may well be important, with its unfolding

myths, its purpose and its risings,

when the gold of a single

yellow plant

explodes

in the sand

your eyes

are bound

to the soil.

They flee the wide sea and its heavings.

                    We are dust and to dust return.

                     In the end we’re

                   neither air, nor fire, nor water,

                   just

dirt.

neither more nor less, just dirt,

and maybe

some yellow flowers.

[Neruda, Odes to common things; New York: Bulfinch Press, 1994, p. 57]

Neither more nor less than dirt – an Ash Wednesday sentiment. It’s true, too, in its own way. We are no more nor are we any less than ashes and dirt. Except we are also God’s beloved. Neruda never states that, at least not explicitly. Still, there are the yellow flowers. Perhaps, just perhaps, they are a glimpse of divine love.

Pillar Four: Acceptance

Acceptance: The Only Place Where Change Can Begin

[New York: Avery, 2016, p. 223]

The pandemic continues, with new cases cropping up all over the country. Local and state officials are trying to find the best balance between keeping things closed and getting things reopened.

The protests and demonstrations continue, as does the mistreatment of protestors and the respectful treatment of protestors – it all depends on the place and people involved.

This is reality: pandemic ramifications and the loss of life due to skin tone. I’d rather not be in this place, but my preference is beside the point. If I want things to get better, I have to acknowledge what is before I help change what will be into something kinder and more just. Living in unreality won’t help anyone, but it will allow the wrongs of today to continue.

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu know a thing or two about harsh realities and working toward a better future for everyone.  First, there must be acceptance:

Acceptance allows us to engage with life on its own terms rather than rail against the fact that life is not as we would wish… [p.225]

Acceptance is the sword that cuts through all of this resistance, allowing us to relax, to see clearly, and to respond appropriately. [p.225]

Lord, keep my eyes, heart, and mind open to your direction. Make me an instrument of your peace.

Black lives matter to you; may they matter as much to me.

Some New Vision

Monotony. It’s waking up at the same time every day to do the same tasks in the same places in the company of the same people. Same old, same old; familiarity breeds contempt; blah, blah, blah. Even the Bible gives a nod to this truth – there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9b)

All of those things are true, but true in a very specific way. It isn’t the world that offers nothing new: it’s my perspective. If I look upon the world with jaundiced eye and paltry imagination, wonders and signs will be invisible. Phillips Brooks knew this. He didn’t ask God to produce new wonders: he asked God for corrective lenses for his myopia.

May I be as wise in my prayer requests.

O God: Give me strength to live another day; Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties; Let me not lose faith in other people; Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness; Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them; Help me keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity; Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things; Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth; Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness; and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls; in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

For Today, found on the back inside cover of Forward Day by Day (Forward Movement, Cincinnati, OH; www.forwardmovement.org)

 

Let me not lose faith

For Today

O God: Give me strength to live another day; Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties; Let me not lose faith in other people; keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meannesss; Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them; Help me to keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity; Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things; Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness; and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls; in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Phillips Brooks

A Meditation by Bill Albritton, leader, teacher, child of God:

Sometimes you have to look hard at a person and remember he’s doing the best he can. He’s just trying to find his way, just like you. (Katherine Hepburn, On Golden Pond)

When I have lost faith in other people, I’m sometimes forced to admit that it’s not the other people’s problem – it’s mine. They haven’t lived up to my expectations. And why should they? Maybe, just maybe, I need to lose faith in my expectations? What gives me the right to expect people to behave according to my rules, or ideals, or MY anything? Who died and left me captain of the world?

During these tremulous times of Coronavirus,  I have been encouraged by the selfless commitment of “other people,” who as Dale Carnegie put it when talking about a track coach training a jumper, throw their hearts over the bar and the rest of the body follows. I didn’t really expect this, but I’m not surprised, either. After all, just like me, these are God’s people.

[Found in Forward Day by Day. For more information, click For Today: Phillips Brooks Prayer above.]

For Today: A Prayer by Phillips Brooks


It’s the last thing you read before you leave one Forward Day by Day for the next one. I’d call it a way to redefine the day from a given number of hours to accomplish tasks to another chance to live humbly before God and in loving relationship with self and neighbor. It was written by Phillips Brooks, the man who penned the word to “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and served as rector of Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts. There’s an old fashioned air to this prayer, and a powerful use of words. It’s going to be the focus of these post-Easter writings, and my daily prayer. I hope you join me in praying:

O God: Give me strength to live another day; Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties; Let me not lose faith in other people; Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness; Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them; Help me to keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity: Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things; Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth; Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness; and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls; in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

[Forward Day by Day, Forward Movement, Cincinnati, OH, www.forwardmovement.org]

This is the first in a series on this prayer. For more on this prayer, click “For Today” above.

Fleas

In 2010, our cat’s flea medication stopped working. We returned from a two week vacation to discover a house full of fleas. When flea bombing didn’t work, we called an exterminator. He sprayed the house and left instructions:

  1. Throw out food exposed to insecticide.

2. Wipe all the surfaces in the house.

3. Vacuum every inch of the floors and furniture daily for four weeks. 

The first we had already done. The second was a one-and-done. The third, something else:  two hours devoted to vacuuming every sofa and chair cushion, every baseboard heater vent, and the floors of every room in the house. Then repeated twenty-seven times.

For the first week, it felt like undeserved punishment: it wasn’t our fault, but we were stuck with the consequences anyway. Even worse, we would still see a flea every so often.

Week two wasn’t much better. There was a lot of swearing when the children weren’t around, and silent swearing when they were. The fleas appeared to be gone, but who knew if the eggs were still around?

Week three: cursing wasn’t necessary – we just got on with the business of getting it done. We didn’t even look for fleas.

At the fourth week’s end, it was over.

Every so often, circumstance requires more effort and time than I’d like to give – “getting rid of fleas” work, in the symbolic sense. Sometimes this is of my own making and sometimes it isn’t. Either way, I still have to put in the work. These days, I do my best to skip the whining and cursing and just get on with it.

exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God. 

[This is one in a series. For the full prayer, click “A Morning Resolve” above.]

 

Great Soul

Cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.

Magnanimity: Loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness or pettiness, and to display a noble generosity. [merriam-webster.com. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary]

The other day, I tested a new product: window markers. Since my drawing abilities are somewhat limited, I drew a simple heart in red. It wasn’t very noticeable through the storm splashed, February filthy window.

Passing my office door a couple of days back, I noticed a new mark on the floor.

Had someone Sharpie’d a heart on my carpet? That’s what I thought, until I looked up.

The unremarkable heart on my window had cast its colorful shape.

Perhaps magnanimity is just the same: standing in God’s light in all our imperfections and in all circumstances, casting a reflection of love so much bigger than ourselves.

[For more on this prayer, click A Morning Resolve above. A Morning Resolve, Forward Day by Day, inside front cover; Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement. www.ForwardMovement.org.]

Welcome, Jesus!

Readings: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:8-20

Glad tidings of great joy! Jesus has been born to us! Merry Christmas!

Boney M, Mary’s Boy Child/ Oh My Lord, Sony Music Entertainment, 2010, available on itunes]

[Holy Family, by Margaret Hill]

[Nat King Cole, A Cradle in Bethlehem Christmas for Kids, Capitol Records, 2000]

Transformations as Modeled for Us by Cicadas

   Readings: Psalm 146:5-10; Ruth 4:13-17; 2 Peter 3:11-18

“The Lord sets the prisoners free.” — Psalm 146:7

“May he also be to you a restorer of life.” — Ruth 4:15

While some people have spirit animals that they claim inspire and protect them, I have recently welcomed a spirit insect to my life (see image above): the remarkable cicada. Like snakes, cicadas break out of their skins as they grow leaving behind their exoskeleton for a new, larger body. I find this transformation to be an inspirational model for how to move up, out, and beyond myself when I’ve outgrown the current structures of my life.

If you have ever watched a cicada breaking out of its skin (either in person or via YouTube), what you will notice is that it cracks open its back shell first and then wiggles through the opening emerging upright in green glory then it pauses before jettisoning itself off the brown husk. I find the time lapse videos on this process endlessly fascinating. In case you, too, might be a wannabe cicada fan, here’s a link for your appreciation:   https://youtu.be/Nnl4hXrq4LM

I identify five parallels between cicada transformations and my own:

  1. Change starts from the inside first and then, after a time of momentum building, forces itself into the exterior world. For example, when I and my business partner started two businesses in 2017, we had had a year before that of internal, private visioning, goal setting, and planning together before it ever became obvious to people in our community that anything different was happening.
  2. Once the change starts happening, it takes tremendous effort.  The cicada/evolving person must be intrinsically and powerfully motivated to stay the course through to the other side of the transformation. Having started, we have to finish, and no one can do it for us other than us.
  3. What gets us through the process is a commitment to being willing to let go of the old and risk moving into the new. Without that, we get dangerously stuck.
  4. Of paramount importance is an understanding that we can’t rush any step in the transformative journey. It happens the way it is meant to happen and any effort on our parts to slow it down or speed it up will be counter-productive.
  5. Finally, once the new has emerged, it is crucial that we follow the wisdom of the cicada and pause.  Taking the time to pause serves many important functions. It gives us time to luxuriate in our massive achievement. It provides us with perspective on where we have come from and maybe a hint of where we are going next.

As the Scriptures cited above point out, “prisoners are set free” and “restored to life” as, using the analogy of cicada transformations and comparison to how self-aware humans go through life passages, the cycle of life — death — life plays out. It is natural and beautiful…and often painful, but always a miracle.

Offered by Jill Fredrickson, businesswoman, encourager of growth, walking home to Bethlehem.

[Cicada Emerging, photo by Shane Gross, Marine Conservation Photojournalist, taken November 2017. Go to stocksy.com to view and purchase more of his works.]

[Two Rowhouses, Colin Fredrickson, artist]

 

For the Beauty and Bounty

For the beauty and the bounty of this place I call home, Lord, I thank you. May I live in gratitude for  your creation, and be a good caretaker of my own little part of it.

 Common Sage in my front yard.

 Rosemary

[Liz Story, Simple Gifts, The Carols of Christmas: A Windham Hill Collection; Windham Hill Records, 2003]