little bit of lagniappe

reflecting on everyday grace

Archive for the category “Thoughts on Faith”

Just keep going

This piece by Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke found me a few weeks ago, and since then, I have held it in my heart’s pocket and read it as a daily reminder. No matter the obstacles we face and will continue to face, we must keep going, one step at a time, trusting in the larger shadows and light at work and remembering the hand that holds us.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

-Rainer Maria Rilke,

trans. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy,

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (The Berkley Publishing Group: 1996), 119.

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Extraordinary Ordinary

Some of my favorite moments in life come dressed in the most ordinary clothes.

These days, while there are plenty of ordinary moments out there, we so often miss them because we are distracted by our phones, our schedules, and our own mess of busyness (“busy-mess”?!), caught up in the blurry speed of modern life.

Last week, I read a blog post entitled “Cough drops and kindness” that features a simple story of an ordinary interaction between people in a line at the post office. One of those people happens to be my magnificent mama Martha, and the other, the writer of this blog, a stranger, who takes the time to look up and who chooses to engage in an ordinary moment. The result? Simple and surprising joy.

Read this story once, twice, thrice, infinite times; may it serve as a reminder that we do indeed have choices — to slow down, to take a breath, to look up, and to smell not just the roses, but the beauty of humanity around us.

Our world feels so heavy with loss and tragedy right now; may we challenge ourselves to pay attention and look for the extraordinary in the ordinary and lift each other up a little bit more. There is beauty and grace to behold — everywhere and every day; it just may not look like what we had in mind. And it may be right in front of us.

Thanks be to God.

“We are all meant to shine”

Here is a deep, liberating truth that wakes, holds, and roots me today; may it be and do the same for you:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

-Marianne Williamson

Miracle

AdventMoon

Photo captured while on a mid-December “moon walk”…

 

Night falls.

Moon rises.

And beneath this miracle

whose ingredients are

star

and dust,

light

and darkness,

life

and death,

joy

and pain,

we go on

singing —

the low notes,

the high notes —

into the rest

of our days.

 

p.s. Thank You

for the miracle

it is

to see,

to feel,

to wonder,

to write,

to love,

to remember.

Amen.

golden bees of Advent

“Last night, as I was sleeping,

I dreamt – marvelous error! –

that I had a beehive

here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures.”

-Antonio Machado

————————————————————-

Isn’t this the message of Advent –

the autumn version of Lent –

the very tilling ground

for grace in our lives?

I so desperately need this.

We so desperately need this.

Sweet honey from failure.

Light in darkness.

Green shoots of hope bursting forth from the stump.

All things new.

Meanwhile we must wait,

as the bees tend to their magic:

quiet transformation

in the heart’s comb.

Breathless Choir

While I confess that I am not an avid or active news-watcher, it’s been impossible to not hear about and be affected by the events that have erupted in our world recently.  Mass shootings. Terrorism. Senseless violence. Innocent lives lost. Millions of souls looking for a place to call home. Seemingly, each day, the news seems to smolder with horror and tragedy – both far and near, and in its wake, it’s hard not to feel fearful or angry; it’s hard to find hope.

Yet, here we are – planted right in the middle of the season of Advent – the seedbed for hope, for new life – the reminder that even in darkness, light does and will shine.

In the midst of these bleak headlines that appear in our news and in the beautiful mess of our own personal lives, I believe there is always reason for hope…for love…for peace. Those are the very forces we must use to fight against the fear, anger, and despair that can so easily paralyze and corrupt us. Those are the strongest forces there are.

Just this week, I happened to stumble mindlessly into an ad (of all things!) that reminded me of the beauty that can come from tragedy and the hope that survives when the sun sets.

The ad featured “The Breathless Choir,” a New York-based group of 18 men and women from the ages of 12 to 92 with severe breathing problems. They were brought together this past September and taught to sing again by an acclaimed British choirmaster named Gareth Malone. Yes, these people, many of whom are on ventilators and breathing machines, have been taught to sing again.

Any further words I could attempt to offer about this inspiring group would pale to what and who they actually are, so all I will venture to say is that their music not only consoles and heals but also it literally breathes hope into this fragile gift of life.

Enjoy this miracle of breath, song, and hope:

and Happy Advent.

Storage

Just recently my dear mama surprised me with the latest book of poetry penned by Mary Oliver, my forever favorite poet. At a ripened 80 years of age and blessed experience, Mary O. writes openly in this latest collection called Felicity about “The Journey, “Love,” and “Felicity,” and as always, she awakens my spirit and leaves me breathless.

During this season of my life, when I feel so much but often don’t know what to say or how to say it, Mary’s words open and fill, watering my dry places and nourishing its knotty soil.

In particular, her poem called “Storage” has settled in deeply as I have spent the past number of months getting rid of things. Yes, there are more things to clean out, and yes, there is more love – of God, of trees, of birds, of everything – to let in.

Thank you, Mary, for your inspiration, and dear God, on this first day of Advent, help us to empty our storage spaces and make room for what really matters.

Storage

By Mary Oliver

When I moved from one house to another

there were many things I had no room

for. What does one do? I rented a storage

space. And filled it. Years passed.

Occasionally I went there and looked in,

but nothing happened, not a single

twinge of the heart.

As I grew older the things I cared

about grew fewer, but were more

important. So one day I undid the lock

and called the trash man. He took

everything.

I felt like the little donkey when

his burden is finally lifted. Things!

Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful

fire! More room in your heart for love,

for the trees! For the birds who own

nothing — the reason they can fly.

“Counterintuitive Wisdom”

A simple (yet loaded) quote I’ve been pondering today:

“We suffer to get well.

We surrender to win.

We die to live.

We give it away to keep it.”

-Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater

This is the Good News, friends.

The Slow Work of God

About a year and a half ago, before preparing for a 3-week sabbatical to Blue Mountain Beach along the Gulf Coast, my precious “othah mothah,” more affectionately known as “Mama O,” sent a poem/prayer to carry with me on my journey called “The Slow Work of God.” In reality, I think it carried me on my journey. Immediately, it took a prominent position right smack dab in the center of the fridge in my little coastal haven, and with no other competing distractions, technological or otherwise, it was part of my daily reading ritual while listening to the brewing coffee and the brewing tides at the dawn of each new morning.  How often I need to remember to be patient with the world, with others, with myself, and with God – a reminder that seems as essential as food and water, and dare I say breath. Often, life’s frantic pace (the pace we can choose to follow or not), ruts of worry, and our human want to be in control (do we trust instead the fast, “efficient” work of self?) withhold that very breath we so desperately need.

How hard is it to “let go” and surrender, much less to God’s “slow work”? It’s so hard that I think I need reminding every conscious minute, and I pray for reminders even in the unconscious minutes of my sleep. For me, letting go, when you say it out loud, can sound so easy. However, what true intention it takes to release our white-knuckled grip of our immediate desire to know, to take off that tightly-fitting mask of who we think we are (versus who we really are), and to shed our deep and self-justified need for safety and security. Through this letting go, I think we can also relinquish the fear that is at root behind all of it.

When I came home from sabbatical, fully recharged, renewed, and surely changed, I pinned this prayer/poem to my fridge at home, hoping to maintain the daily ritual of reading it, praying it, trusting it as truth. My, how the spirit can be so willing, and yet the flesh, so very weak. Just recently, in the beautiful, slowed, intentional space and pace of summer, I noticed this neglected piece and revived it after it had seemingly drowned in the midst of the crowded collage of photographed faces, my shamefully large magnet collection, inspiring quotes, and yes, a few lingering Christmas cards and new baby welcomes.

Do you ever have the feeling that you’ve read something – really read it – for the first time, even though it’s quite possibly the millionth? Finally unearthed from the surrounding rubble, I gave it a second, lingering glance, well, more like an extended gaze, and read each word slowly with my fingertips and a new pair of eyes.

It’s a piece that is worth reading each day, a piece that is worth re-reading each day. It’s a piece that, even beneath a layer of dust, when it finds you, will not leave you, however long it may linger on the front of your fridge, the bulletin board of your classroom or office, or at the bottom of a file folder. It will find you when it is supposed to, however long that may take. Remember, it’s slow work.

While I have passed it on to a number of dear friends and family members over the past year and a half, perhaps it can serve as a hopeful reminder – for today – right wherever we all are – to trust the slow work of God…the countercultural, intentionally slow work of God, which harvests patience and trust, in our lives and in ourselves. May we allow the words to shape us and loosen our hold so that we can let go long enough to feel ourselves “in suspense, incomplete”…as works of art that are most assuredly in progress.

Even though we might feel like we’re falling, maybe that’s the only way we’ll be caught…and then taught how to fly…

The Slow Work of God

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

French Philosopher, Jesuit Priest, Paleontologist, Biologist, and Visionary

Autumn

It’s a bright and chilly new morn here in Georgia’s capital city, and a clear indication that fall — autumn is here. Leaves have begun to turn and cast down their golden, scarlet, and amber bodies on the ground, and with their turning and falling, they remind us of our own lives, which house both life and death. This season is one filled with both astonishing beauty and quiet suffering, both elation and desolation.

Thank you, autumn, for telling the story of life’s fragility and life’s vitality — and of our Creator who enables the tender places of both and still holds us up.

Autumn
by Rainer Maria Rilke

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all the other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one… It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands,
infinitely calm, hold up all this falling.

IMG_0360

Amen.

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