Monday, March 31, 2008

Prayer as Response to Poetry - by Sondra Samuels

The following arrived this morning in my email inbox, and I received it as a delightful gift to begin my day. It's a response from Sondra Samuels to yesterday's blog on the William Carlos Williams' poem. Sondra writes poetically. I'm happy to share this from a woman who is my spiritual-friend, sister -friend, anchored- in-love-and- prayer- friend in North Minneapolis. Sondra heads up the Peace Foundation, and is gloriously partnered with City Councilman Don Samuels. I have the privilege of attending Visitation Companion Retreats with her.

I share this email and prayer with her permission, and great joy.



Hey Melissa. Thanks for the poem. Thanks for getting me out of the anxiety of what today will demand of me.

I love the poem! It reminds me of the same type of awakening that is possible with our consciousness. I'm reading Eckhart Tolle's new book, "A New Earth," and my understanding of, "springtime," is expanding. My prayer today:
O God, Our God! How Majestic is your name, is all the earth! Today may our minds, our thoughts, no longer have dominion over us, our relationships, or our understanding of the world. Father help us to stand apart from our thoughts- almost always dominated by ego- and know that there is more to ourselves, the other person and thing, or the situation at hand, than we could ever fathom. Help us to know that when we are judging today- that is ego. When we are defending ourselves to others- that is ego. When we become insecure by another's brilliance, beauty or power- that is ego. When we judge ourselves insufficient or too important- that is ego. As day on to day speaks to us and night on to night reveals wisdom, may we simply, "be" today. "Be still," and know what springtime teaches us about ourselves.

In your Son's name I pray.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Spring and All" A Reflection on William Carlos Williams' Poem

It's a glorious poem* for today, this piece from William Carlos Williams. (Thank you Writer's Almanac!) Stark imagery, cold imagery, shifting-from -a-dank- and-dark -death imagery: Spring!

My favorite lines, phrases, words:

They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter.

wildcarrot leaf

stark dignity of

profound change

I think of my friend Sr. Rafael. I think of picking carrots in her garden, the Franciscan's garden at Assisi Heights. I think of the Sugar Maple outside my front door, with it's varigated leaves. I think of the courage it takes to break through frozen soil, and then wonder whether it's really anything like courage, or rather simple necessity, life force to enter this realm? I think of what each one of us experienced in our own births. Through the canal or lifted from a cut open belly.

"We are here!"

Are we rooted? Are we awake?

I wonder what William Carlos Williams' birth was like? Who was his mother? How many springs did he observe? How many births did he know?
Does he have a favorite tree?
I wonder if he ever spent time in that contagious hospital? What might a person catch there?
Is hope contagious?
What kind of dignified entrances are made in love? In creation?
How do we dig down? When do we let go or release?
What all is certain this Spring?

Enjoy the poem! Happy contemplating and questioning. I invite you all to respond in your own spirit, sphere of being.


Poem: "Spring and All" by William Carlos Williams, from Collected Poems Vol. 1. © New Directions. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of a leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

Friday, March 28, 2008

More on Eucharist: Corresponding words from Fr. Rohr

March 28, 2008. Anniversary day for me. I celebrate with these words from Franciscan Richard Rohr. They correspond beautifully with yesterday's blog entry, Delaney Melissa's birthday, my friend Greg's death, and all upcoming "First Communion" celebrations.

Sweet intersections, "promises" indeed.


"The Promise of Jesus"

Jesus promised that when we celebrate the Eucharist, he will be present to us. That has been the unwavering faith of the catholic Church since the New Testament. The Eucharist has been at the center of our Church from the beginning, and rightly so. It has given us the power of community, the power to understand ourselves as one universal people, beyond nations and races. It's given us the power of healing and reconciliation. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, the Church is redefined as people, as a big family, around our family table, the altar. Jesus gives us himself at Eucharist to remind us: We are becoming what we eat. We are his body, we are his flesh for the life of the world. When we eat this meal we are united to Christians all over the world, who this very hour are celebrating this same Eucharist in many different languages and countries. Someone said, If we really understood Eucharist, how could there ever be war? How could we go out in that world and kill people who have eaten this same bread and have drank from this same cup? The Eucharist defines humanity as one flesh, one people, and if you hate this flesh, you hate the flesh of Christ himself. Eucharist is the gift that makes us a sacred and universal people.

Fr. Richard Rohr in The Symbolism and Meaning of Mass,

Thursday, March 27, 2008

This Eucharist Business: How do We Understand this Meal?

My God-daughter Delaney Melissa is making her first communion next weekend. Tomorrow is her birthday. She is on my mind.

Reading today's scriptures* - I am thinking about where Delaney is at in her own understanding of the Eucharist. I think about where any of us are at for that matter. Whether we are Catholic, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, I wonder:
How do we make sense of our meals? How do we understand our shared breaking of bread, drinking of wine?
(If you drink wine. If you break bread. You get my drift!)

I approach so much of my faith and church's rituals and traditions from an outsiders point of view, and often ask,
"Why do we do this? What's the point? How does this make sense? How does this help me or anyone in the community live their life? Does it make a difference?"
My friend Michael Benham, from the Church of St. Phillip's, shares the mentorship of three beloved boys with me from time to time. Treyvon, Jimmie and Shador are their names. I love them. I taught their older brother, Pierre, at North High about five years ago. Michael often accuses me of talking about concepts with the boys that are above their heads. ("How do guys understand the 'The Trinity? What do you make of the relationship between Father, Son, Holy Spirit?" were one set of questions Benham challenged me on posing to the boys. He makes me laugh.)

I think children are much smarter than we give them credit for. I think all of us are smarter than we give ourselves credit for!

(Photo courtesy of Michael Benham)


I was sitting with a group of the boys' friends at the back of mass one sunday, and saw them marveling at Treyvon (then 12) up on the alter, serving. I asked if they knew what was going on, why they ring the bells at certain points. Jimmie (10) said,
"It makes me think of doorbells, and like "someone's here!"" and another friend responded, "It's like "pay attention to this part!"

I laughed.

Then I asked them if they knew what was happening with the bread and wine and the priest. I told them, "This is what Jesus did with his friends the last night he was alive."

Another boy said, "It's like we all need to feed ourselves and be ready for whatever is coming next! Like, 'we could die tomorrow, we better be ready!' "

I don't know if adults think this much about the Eucharist, but I know this conversation really rocked me. And it makes me crave such an exchange with my goddaughter.

It makes me crave such exchanges with all people who participate in the Eucharist. It makes me hungry for dialogue about what we are doing at dinner parties. What we are doing at lunch time. Shoot! What are we even doing in our happy hours!?

This is what I think about. This is what I laugh about. This is how I pray, I guess, and I work to live up to this privilege of being anyone's "Godmother." I invite all of us, no matter what our faith tradition, to consider what happens when we dine together or alone. What is at work in our bodies, in our spirits?

How do simple meals feed us? What does any of this have to do with Jesus and his friends? What happens if we consciously consider this? What happens if we don't?

How connected are Delaney Melissa, Treyvon, Jimmie and Shador to each other? To you and me?
(Shador Praying. Photo courtesy of Michael Benham)

Happy Contemplating!

Lk 24:35-48

The disciples of Jesus recounted what had taken place along the way,
and how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of bread.

While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
he took it and ate it in front of them.

He said to them,
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,
that everything written about me in the law of Moses
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he said to them,
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

In the Questions: Mary Magdalene Encountering Christ

I'm thinking about Mary Magdalene today, outside Christ's tomb. He's not there. She is sad. She is crying. There are angels. A gardener appears. It is Christ resurrected, who she doesn't recognize right away, with some words for this weeping woman.

Here are my questions, based on this text from the Gospel of John:

What exactly does Jesus want?
Why does He appear here, to her?

Who is Mary Magdalene to Him?

What does it mean to "go to the father"? To anyone's father?

Why does Jesus command her to "let go" of Him?

Is she clinging and preventing something from happening?

Could He gently, lovingly, be inviting her to release her understanding of the loss of Him, and receive something better?
A resurrected Christ is still Christ, yes? but one of even more power, love, possibility?
What happens when we cling to our own fixed notions of love?
What happens when we let go? How does God never let us go? What transpires in our tears and choosing to do nothing, but receive?
What do you and I see before us?

What is our present day tomb?

Who is our present day Rabbouni?
Is Christ appearing in a new form?

What gardeners and angels do we have in our midst?


In the questions,

Jn 20:11-18

Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me,
for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mr. Rogers and Jesus

Around New Years, I juxtaposed Bob Marley and Jesus; today, it's Mr. Rogers and Christ. Indulge me.

Today is the birthday of Fred Rogers, of PBS' Mr. Roger's fame. (Information courtesy of The Writer's Almanac* peeps. Thank you!) In the Christian tradition, it's also the day we celebrate Christ's last meal with his friends, the disciples, and and the profound parting words He offered them, as well as the profound actions of loving service He modeled for them.

I think about Mr. Rogers, that cardigan sweater and sneakers, his songs, and I have to sort of laugh.

I think about Jesus, and the bread and wine, the washing of the feet, and I have to sort of stop and wonder.

What would a meal between these two look and sound like? What songs of Fred's might Jesus sing?
How would "Won't you be my neighbor?" flow from Jesus' vocal chords?
(Do you suppose He might whistle this tune?)
Would Mr. Rogers make a train that took us to the Holy Land?
How would we observe them today?
Does the Middle East know of Fred Rogers? Do they have their own version?

What kind of Judas might Roger's have encountered?

How do the lessons of Fred Rogers and the lessons of Jesus compare?

Is it blasphemy to compare the two?

What PBS show will my own kids watch and learn from?

Happy Contemplating and Creating Juxtapositions of your own!


*It is the birthday of beloved children's television host Fred Rogers, born in 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

In 1962, Rogers earned a divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and he was ordained by the Presbyterian Church. Rogers continued his work in television, appearing on camera for the first time in 1963 on his new show, Misterogers, which was aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This show would evolve into Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which was seen nationally for the first time in 1968.

The show, which began with Rogers singing "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" and changing into sneakers and a cardigan, would go on to become the longest-running show on PBS. The program featured themes like feeling good about yourself, getting along with others, and handling fears. Rogers wrote more than 200 songs for the show. The last episode was taped in December 2000.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Standing in the Presence of Pain: A Reflection on Henri Nouwen and Pema Chodron

An Honest Being-With

Being with a friend in great pain is not easy. It makes us uncomfortable. We do not know what to do or what to say, and we worry about how to respond to what we hear. Our temptation is to say things that come more out of our own fear than out of our care for the person in pain. Sometimes we say things like "Well, you're doing a lot better than yesterday," or "You will soon be your old self again," or "I'm sure you will get over this." But often we know that what we're saying is not true, and our friends know it too. We do not have to play games with each other. We can simply say: "I am your friend, I am happy to be with you." We can say that in words or with touch or with loving silence. Sometimes it is good to say: "You don't have to talk. Just close your eyes. I am here with you, thinking of you, praying for you, loving you."
- Fr. Henri Nouwen

How often do we want to "fix" someone else's broken heart, their agony, their fear, their journey? We can't stand to see someone else's woe. It breaks our own hearts, it takes us into the core of our own fears, own hurts, own woes. Or not. I'm not sure. I guess I can only speak for myself.

When I have encountered people, (my students, their mentors, friends) in pain, in abusive situations, in dire straights, seeming destitution, I have wanted to "fix it."

But Fr. Nouwen's words here make me wonder,
"What is enough? What am I called to do or be? What happens if all I am to do is stand alongside? Is pray? Is witness the ache, the deep wonder, the questions, and hold fast to the present moment? Is be love?"


I think the Buddhist Nun, Pema Chodron has taught me this, in her writing about being a "warrior of non-aggression" - one who is able to walk into "fire" without having to put it out.

More to meditate on. I invite you to hold Nouwen's words, along with this concept of Chodron's, and weigh the pain and heartache of your own life, your own circumstance, and be okay. Be present to to it.

Happy Contemplating!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Observations inspired by Paulo Coehlo's "The Alchemist"


My friend Tiffany wrote to me today, recommending Paulo Coehlo's book, "The Alchemist."

I first picked up this text at the insistence of Dr. Ernest Darkoh. We were having coffee, that turned into dinner, and a five hour conversation, in Sandton, South Africa, on Sunday, July 18, 2004: Nelson Mandela's Birthday. It was our first and only meeting. We covered topics of calling, passion, purpose, and the writing of Coehlo seemed to connect our mutual faith in the Universe, in God, in Love. Yes.

I have held that Sunday, that conversation, that dear man, and that book in high regard ever since.

What follows is some writing, note-taking, inspired by Coehlo, done in the Fall of 2006. I invite you to consider how the Universe and Love speaks to you, your heart, your spirit, your mind.

"There is only one way to learn," the alchemist answered. "It's through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey. (p132)

The wise men understood that this natural world is only an image and a copy of paradise. The existence of this world is simply a guarantee that there exists a world that is perfect. God created the world so that, through its visible objects, men could understand his spiritual teachings and the marvels of this wisdom. That's what I mean by action." (p133)

Out walking today, this is what I noticed:

1. They post signs when they clean the streets. No one can park during this period along the particular road.
Wouldn't it be great if we all had such intentionality - rather, if I could be so intentional when cleaning up my life's pathways? I would put up a sign and get help to do this messy 'getting-to-the-bottom-of-things work. It would say:
"Cleaning to take place. Don't park in my way: I'm going about this necessary business. Check out my team of helpers. Watch out for the big machinery."

I love the street cleaners!

2. Between Bayard and Hartford, there are tons of squirrels. Last week, I counted nine brown and one black one on the span of two neighboring lawns. The squirrels make me giggle the way they hover over acorns and jump across the lawns. I wish I could move as quickly, and navigate vertical inclines like the sides of trees.....

Today: I watched as one squirrel spent time examining a plastic bag of dog poop. It was tied neatly, and resting in the grass with a plastic handle that looked like a bow. On my return, a black squirrel went right by it, leaping to the tree, and hustling up and above the icky contents. I want his capacity to leap over sh-t!

3. The sun was shining today, something fierce, and yet: ice cold air was stinging my cheeks, bringing tears to my eyes.
How can both exist in the same space? On the same walk? Is this like being in love and being angry with a person at the same time? How might sunlight and freezing wind on my face teach me about the complexity and capacity of our hearts - of piercing ideas, emotion, experiences?

4. I counted four marked trees. They have these florescent orange dots on them. I imagine Arch Benham would tell me that they have dutch elm disease, they need to be cut down.

What would happen if people had orange dots on them? Wouldn't it make navigation and relationships so much simpler?

"Do not get involved here. This person is sick. Will contaminate you, and destroy your forest; your root system will start to break down."

(I have no idea what Dutch Elm does....maybe I should look into this...?)

5. I picked up two pieces of garbage: A small plastic bottle, half filled with saliva spit out from chewing tobacco. And then an upturned lawn sign by ProTurf: "THIS AREA CHEMICALLY TREATED CHILDREN AND PETS STAY OFF UNTIL: (and then in a white space with black marker, the word " DRY" written in.)

Chemically treated lawns make me nervous.

I think there were a lot of signs today. Literal ones. And the treasured figurative ones. That bag of dog poop. The marked trees. Bottle of tobacco spit. That cold wind in the space of bright sun.

I think all of this could be so harsh and potentially threatening, messy if we got in it's way or stepped into it....But there's that dang Sunshine...And those lovely jumping squirrels, who seem to know how to get from one place to the next with a certain amount of grace and charm....

That's where I want to live and place my energy: in the love of warm light and jumping furry figures. Woohoo!

Love you all,

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"Creating a Home Together"- Words from Henri Nouwen


Creating a Home Together

Many human relationships are like the interlocking fingers of two hands. Our loneliness makes us cling to each other, and this mutual clinging makes us suffer immensely because it does not take our loneliness away. But the harder we try, the more desperate we become. Many of these "interlocking" relationships fall apart because they become suffocating and oppressive. Human relationships are meant to be like two hands folded together. They can move away from each other while still touching with the fingertips. They can create space between themselves, a little tent, a home, a safe place to be.

True relationships among people point to God. They are like prayers in the world. Sometimes the hands that pray are fully touching, sometimes there is distance between them. They always move to and from each other, but they never lose touch. They keep praying to the One who brought them together.

- Fr. Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"Our Daily Bread" - Another Reflection of Fr. Richard Rohr's

It's Lent. There's time in the desert. There's temptation. There's deep rumination. It's a grand season to take us all through to a sweet party of miracles. (I don't really care if you are Catholic or believe in God and a Resurrection or NOT.) Love is good and here and coming through in this guy's words.

Enjoy Fr. Rohr's wisdom. And try to trust that the Universe will provide for you. Daily! It is! It Does! Yes! Amen!


"Our Daily Bread"

When Moses prays to God, "Yahweh, feed these people," Yahweh replies, "I will feed them. I will let manna drop from heaven but they are to pick up only enough to feed themselves for one day" (Exodus 16:4). The whole message of the desert is a message of continual dependence on God, minute-by-minute learning to trust in Providence. Some of them want to store up the manna in order to have some for tomorrow. They want to plan for the future, and allay their fears. Moses says, "No! Only enough for today. Yahweh will give you your daily bread. But some kept an excess for the following day, and it bred maggots and smelt foul" (Exodus 16:20). Instead we say, "Give us this day our daily bread." How strange these words sound to a people with savings accounts, insurance policies and three-year warranties, even on their toasters!

from The Great Themes of Scripture
-Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM

Monday, March 03, 2008

"I Will Be With You" - Comforting Words from God, Via Moses and Fr. Richard Rohr


I found amazing comfort and joy in these words.... Please share with anyone who may be struggling in their own steps, in their own journeys - as Love calls them forward.


"I Will Be With You"

Moses said to God, "Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the people of Israel out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11). The Lord answers, "I shall be with you." That's all. Simply, I'll be with you! He wouldn't tell Moses how to do it. He doesn't give him a timetable, any directions, simply - "I'll be with you" (3:12). Moses's power is the presence of the Lord. That's all! In every religious experience in the Bible, a person comes to an experience of God and god says, simply, I shall be with you. I will do it. Trust me. The directions come as you walk the journey. The word is not fully given until the first steps are taken. This is perfectly borne out as the Hebrews journey through the desert. Moses said to Yahweh's face, in his fourth attempt to get out of the job, "I am slow of speech. Why should Pharaoh listen to me?" (Exodus 4:10). Yahweh again comes back to him and says, I've given you the command. Go ahead. I will be with you. Do it! (4:12).

from The Great Themes of Scripture
Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM

Saturday, March 01, 2008

"Love Your Enemy - Within?!" A little Radical Love Contemplation, Courtesy of Fr. Richard Rohr

The following speaks directly to my heart. Fr. Rohr echoes and underscores what I was trying to articulate in my reflection from February 9th, ("After November 2, 2004") reflecting on our last election. His words also illuminate - in greater depth and clarity for me - an aspect of what Sun Tzu was conveying in "The Art of War" - with the cautionary words "Choose your enemy wisely, for you eventually become him."

Good God! We are the enemy when we haven't taken the time to love here, first, within!

Read this with your own heart in mind. I dare you to ask,
"What is unforgiven in my own spirit? In my own life? In my own body? What do I go to war with everyday? What lies within? What enrages me out there?"


"Love Your Enemies"

Fear is the major barrier to the emergence of great faith and great-souled people. To enter into the mystery of forgiveness, we must first recognize our fears. Most of what we hold in unforgiveness we fear. I was given the impression, when I grew up in the Church, that the problem was doubt. And so all our teaching was head education. Teach people up here how to get the right answers about God and then they will have great faith. Show me where head information alone has created great-souled people, prophets of great desire, freedom and courage for the Church! God speaks to us, heals us and frees us at another level, at the level of our fears. Until you allow God to address your fears, you'll never recognize them yourself and you'll undoubtedly be trapped in them. As we grow in faith, we move beyond the need to exclude (he, she, they are the enemy). We gradually move into that place where we can risk letting the would-be enemy in. And then begins the way of wisdom. We find ourselves capable, at last, of obeying what is the greatest of Jesus' commandments, the most radical of all of his teaching: Love your enemies. How many of us love other people who kick us around, who make it hard for us? We haven't internalized the commandments of Jesus. Scriptural language, though, is both introverted and extroverted. If we haven't been able to love our enemies out there, if we still think the Russians or Iraqis are the problem, it's probably because we haven't first loved the enemy within. And if we haven't forgiven the enemy within, we will never know how to love and forgive the "enemies" without.

from The Passion of God and the Passion Within - By Richard Rohr