Tag Archives: In Others’ Words

To Marge, In Grateful Thanks

She was a retired high school chemistry teacher, a reader of Bonhoeffer, and someone whose later years were filled with enough wisdom and love to pray for the people who would harm and kill others rather than foster and bless them. She spoke and wrote with love and intelligence. For the past eight years, she blessed my life as a companion in study and prayer. Even when she moved hundreds of miles away a few years back, she remained in my heart.

Marge O’Brien was kind enough to share her thoughts with me in many conversations. She was also kind enough to do the same for anyone who read my yearly Advent Devotional. With grateful thanks, I share her words with you:

Psalm 126; Habakkuk 3:13-19; Matthew 21:28-32

Though the fig tree does not blossom and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the field yields no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Habakkuk was a prophet in the late seventh and early sixth centuries BCE. It was a time of great turmoil in Jerusalem and of many great injustices in the world. In many ways like in our own world, the question arises, “Where is God’s justice?” Why do the poor suffer while the powerful go unpunished for their misdeeds? Why do bad things happen to good people? Perhaps we ask the wrong questions. Is it up to us to criticize God? Or is it possible that there is something else going on?

Perhaps we have a role in bringing God’s kingdom into our world. Over and over again, in both the Old and New Testaments, we are reminded that our God wills a world of righteousness and justice, a world with compassion for the poor and the sick, a world of peace and love. Sometimes we are depressed by what we see in the events of our time. We feel helpless to make things better. Habakkuk foresaw great troubles coming to Jerusalem in the form of warring nations. He knew that times were going to be rough. “YET I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!”

There are times in our own lives when we feel helpless. We do not have control over what is happening. Jobs are lost. Relationships fail. Illness consumes us or someone we love. YET, in all of the sadness and violence, God is beside us, loving us, guiding us, helping us. As we look back on some of the dark times in our life, so often we see God at work picking up the pieces for us and helping us get through to a brighter side of the darkness.

And there is the answer: God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, with us always. In the darkness or the light, as Julian of Nowich reminds us “All shall be well.”

Lord Jesus, let our minds rest in your Word, so that when doubt and grief would overwhelm us, faith will open our eyes to see your hand at work in our life and enable us to turn toward the future with hope and toward each other in perfect charity.” A Prayer from St. Augustine.

Offered on December 13, 2014, by Marge O’Brien, retired teacher now worshipping at St. David’s Episcopal ChurchIn North Chesterfield Virginia, steadfast pray-er, child of God.

Fairy Tale Life

Confused and sad, he gazed with sick eyes into the many angry, disturbed, and spiteful faces, and in each one of them, he saw a hidden charm and a spark of affection that glimmered from beneath the hate and distortion. All these people had loved him at one time, and he had not loved any of them. Now he begged their forgiveness and sought to remember something good about each one of them.
Herman Hesse, “Augustus,” The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse, Jack Zipes, trans; New York: Bantam Books, 1995, p. 95

It’s “hell hath no fury” from the perspective of the scorner, not the scorned. But now Augustus is aware of the damage he’s done – the turning point in a fairy tale about a mother’s anxious wish, a godfather’s patience, and the cost of becoming pure of heart in a life of excess wealth, power, and ease. If you have the time for this twenty-six page tale, I hope you read it.

This is Hesse’s answer, or at least one of his answers, to what happens when every wish is granted, nothing must be earned, and there are no consequences to cruel, hurtful actions. It begins when Augustus’ mother says, “I wish that everyone will have to love you.”
Augustus grows up to be a selfish, cruel, and desperately lonely man because of this wish. Surrounded by everything he could possible want, he enjoys and appreciates none of it. Beloved by everyone, he feels no love. He lives the opposite of Saint Francis’ prayer: is it any wonder Augustus’ life is a living hell?

Love isn’t a fairy tale wish. It’s the face of God and the birthright of every living thing. It cannot be killed and it’s available in endless supply. But it’s only found in sharing with another – a person, animal, plant, whatever. Even in solitude, it’s shared with God. If Augustus’ mother had wished for her son to seek such love and offer such love to others, could his life be anything but splendid and holy?

If I seek such love and offer such love to others, could my life be anything but splendid and holy? Could yours?

Daily Bread

Give us this day our daily bread. The Lord’s Prayer

It’s been a hectic five days. A drive to Pennsylvania, a Microtel overnight near the airport, and toting my older son’s bedding and clothes into his new freshman dorm room on day one and two. A 320 mile drive home, a short night and a day of laundry and gardening on day two and three. Day four was a three hour trek to New Hampshire for a visit with my Arizona residing brother and a night in my sister’s home. Then came the family dinner out and the drive back to Wareham with my younger son on day five – all this done just in time to get ready for the beginning of his high school years tomorrow. After that, with a little planning and luck, my family life will return to its usual routine.

Driving home last night, I asked my son what he’d like for his first school lunch: a tuna sandwich on regular bread, cheddar goldfish, homemade chocolate chip cookies, fruit and a full water bottle. After so many days on the road and so many good meals in a variety of restaurants, with his brother living away from home for the first time and a new school year beginning, he just wanted familiar food.

I love trying new restaurants and spending time with siblings who live too far away to see every day. I am happy for my older son beginning his adult life in a new, exciting place. It’s time for my younger son to move from childhood to adulthood. These are blessings I thank God for every day. But it’s all happening at once, and it’s tiring. For that reason, I am grateful for a return to putting healthy, familiar food on my dining table: it’s a nourishing and creative act that feeds the body and restores the soul. Sometimes, the literal take on a prayer is the one that sustains.

Fire and Ice, part 2

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

[Robert Frost, Fire and Ice, part 2]

I can’t say that I’ve ever destroyed anything or anyone in passionate fury. I’ve never been hijacked by such intense emotions. Crimes of passion, destruction and death delivered in the heat of the moment – I have been spared such fire.

I can’t say the same for ice. Every so often I’ve felt calculating, frozen fingers squeeze my heart, wringing out whatever compassion lay within it. No seeing red, just a clarity of thought without love or sympathy. Plans for destruction, the steps and the cost, so simple to take from idea to action. It’s the closest to hate I’ve ever been, and closer than I’d like to be again. It is the closest thing I have to a fatal flaw, this dispassionate and calculating persona. I’ve never unleashed it, but I’ve been tempted. What stopped me? I can’t say, exactly. A small voice that refused to be frozen into silence or the Spirit blowing warmth into my frosted soul. Whatever it was, I still get on my knees every so often and thank God for its love and sanity.

Save us from the time of trial. The Lord’s Prayer

Photo on 2015-02-12 at 08.27

Fire (and Ice)

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire,

I hold with those who favor fire.

Fire and Ice, Robert Frost [Untermeyer, Louis, Intro. and Commentary, Robert Frost’s Poems, New Enlarged Anthology of, “Fire and Ice,” New York: Washington Square Press, 1971, p. 142]

In four lines, Frost names what can destroy the world. All-consuming passion burns everything within its reach – good, bad, or indifferent. It’s a cautionary tale in verse. Be careful what you do with your passion, warns Frost; it can destroy your world just as easily as enliven and illuminate it. My passion can make life an extraordinary show of fire and light. If I don’t temper it with patience and love, it will just as easily consume me and disfigure the lives of others.

Save us from the time of trial… Lord’s Prayer


Hesse’s Garden Words

He wrote Siddhartha and Steppenwolf. Today I found Hesse’s Hours in the Garden and Other Poems a few books down from Neruda’s Odes to Common Things. Since I came to the library to tidy up the learning garden materials, and since I’ve spend so many hours in the garden here, I brought it home. His first poem, written in 1939:

Page from a Journal

On the slope behind the house today

I cut through roots and rocks and

Dug a hole, deep and wide,

Carted away from it each stone

And all the friable, thin earth.

Then I knelt there a moment, walked

In the old woods, bet down again, using

A trowel and both my hands to scoop

Black, decaying woods-soil with the warm

Smell of fungi from the trunk of a rotting

Chestnut tree – two heavy buckets full I carried

Back to the hole and planted the tree inside;

Carefully I covered the roots with peaty soil,

Slowly poured sun-warmed water over them,

Mudding them gently until the soil settled.

It stands there, young and small,

Will go on standing when we are gone

And the huge uproar, endless urgency and

Fearful delirium of our days forgotten.

The fohn will bend it, rainstorms tear at it,

The sun will laugh, wet snow weigh it down,

The siskin and nuthatch make it their home,

And the silent hedgehog burrow at its foot.

All it has ever experienced, tasted, suffered:

The course of years, generations of animals,

Oppression, recovery, friendship of sun and wind

Will pour forth each day in the song

Of its rustling foliage, in the friendly

Gesture of its gently swaying crown,

In the delicate sweet scent of resinous

Sap moistening the sleep-glued buds,

 And in the eternal game of lights and

Shadows it plays with itself, content.

[Hesse, Hermann, Rika Leser, trans., Hours in the Garden, “Page from a Journal,” New York: Farrar, Straus, Girroux, 1979, pp. 2-5]

Note: fohn is a warm dry wind blowing from the northern slopes of the Alps.

Life goes on all around us. Plants live and die, and so do we. Who will remember our names decades from now? Who will remember or care that we once walked this earth? In the grand scheme of things, we count for little if we only count what is credited to our names and remembered beyond our days.

I will not be remembered beyond the few people I love, who love me. That’s as it should be. But the plants I tend, the children I’ve spent time with, the prayers I’ve offered? The world would be very different if I hadn’t done such things.

I’ve done my best to keep faith with the world and the lives it holds. It’s a small price to pay for the beauty, love, and holiness that I’ve found here. It’s more than enough to play a small part in this holy endeavor called creation. It’s blessed and sacred. I, too, am content with the eternal game of lights and shadows that is my life.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze… (Gen. 3:8)

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) was a German born Swiss poet, novelist, and artist. His works explore what it means to live an authentic human life. Siddhartha is still required reading in many high school and college programs.