little bit of lagniappe

reflecting on everyday grace

Archive for the tag “love”

“…can only come from Love…”

Even though I saw Carrie Newcomer in concert well over a month ago, I woke up with an unforgettable tune of hers in my head and heart: I Heard an Owl.

Give a listen when/if you have a chance and follow along with her moving lyrics. Methinks it’s an anthem for today and everyday.

I Heard an Owl

I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do.

Up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though shaken I still believe
the best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.

I am a voice that’s calling out
Across the great divide
I am only just one person
That feels they have to try
And questions fall like trees or dust
Rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer “Love.”

So don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though shaken I still believe
the best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.

Light every candle that you can
For we need some light to see
In these times of deepest loss,
Treat each other tenderly
The arms of God will gather in
Each sparrow that falls
And makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.

So don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though we’re shaken I still believe
the best of what we all can be
And the only peace this world will know
Can only come from Love.

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.

Consider the…Camas Lilies

I am so needy for reminders. This week.  Today.  Everyday.

A few weeks ago, Parker J. Palmer wrote a simple yet captivating piece on Krista Tippett’s On Being blog, and it still resonates with me.  So often, I get caught up in performance.  Achievement.  Questions of worthiness.  Am I useful?  Am I doing my job well?  Am I living well?  Am I enough?

These questions seem especially important (or unimportant) as we enter Holy Week in the Christian tradition, which centers not on our worth but on the beautiful work of God’s love  – that which stretches out wide enough to house both death and resurrection.

Hampered by these exhausting questions, I feel starved for Easter, which calls us to lay those burdens down, to consider the lilies of the field, and to let go and be held by the only sure thing in this life: LOVE.

This poem “Camas Lilies” by Lynn Ungar, which Palmer highlights, gives that glimpse of grace – that reminder of love.  It’s coming.  It’s here.  It’s now.

Thanks be to God.

 

Camas Lilies

by Lynn Ungar

Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the native ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?

And you—what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through blooming.”

Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.

Love Extravagantly

I’ve been thinking a lot about LOVE recently, and in this past week alone, I’ve been reflecting on how many times God has saved me from my self-centered thoughts and actions and reminded me to LOVE.  The best way to get out of yourself is to give of yourself, and to this day, my dear mama is the one who continues to teach and affirm this example of God’s loving grace in my life.  In honor of her and in great thanks to God, I want to resurrect a piece I wrote for a school chapel/assembly a number of years ago called “Love Extravagantly.”

“Love Extravagantly”

When I was little, I used to hide beneath the tent that was my mother’s skirt – especially when we’d be standing in line at the A&P, and she would make friends with not just our cashier, but the cashier from aisles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 through 10, and the clerk serving her thankless duty behind the customer service desk.  You see, ever since I can remember, my mama has been to me the personification of love.  No matter the private or public arena – the mall, grocery store, or arbitrary street corner, my mom had, and still has, the ability to make someone – any one feel KNOWN and loved.

Always greeting our cashier or salesperson or waiter with a smile and identifying him or her by name, mama instantaneously transformed them from being a dismissed and shelved member of society to someone who had a beautiful face, a name, and a common humanity that made us so very equal and so much alike in all of our assorted differences.  As a young sheepish papoose clothed in shyness, I would often say nothing and bury my forehead in the haven of mama’s familiar fabric, but I listened and I watched, and now, as I’m older, I remember and cannot forget.  “How you feelin’ this evenin’, Miss Denise?” she’d say, and I’d shrink in embarrassment and agitation – mama had gotten off late from work again, and by now at this rate, we were sure to get home after 8:00.  Often with a furrowed brow, Denise, or whomever my mom took the time to greet and acknowledge, would look up with blatant surprise, shocked that someone would bother to observe a nametag.  As mama continued to engage them in conversation that dug deeper, that skeptical raised eyebrow would subside, melting beneath brightened eyes and newly revived smile muscles.  This very aspect of her personality – the myriad of incessant yet important conversations with any Tom, Dick, or Harriet – that which used to make me cower, hide, and roll my eyes with impatience — is one her many traits I so value and honor today.  To this day, mama has befriended everyone in her local Publix Supermarket; the moment she glides through the automatic glass doors and calls out one of their names, the collective refrain of “Heeeeey, Martha!” resounds like the Hallelujah chorus.  Over the years they have exchanged little gifts, Christmas cards, sad and happy news, children’s photos, songs, and hugs.

It isn’t just charm that mama has, it isn’t mere friendliness; she didn’t win the Miss Louisiana hospitality pageant or Georgia’s “most sociable of the year” contest, nor did she just happen to have the perfect flavor of frosting to specially coat each sugary morsel she’d offer folks.  Her acts of concern, care, and respect for other people are not only genuine and sincere, but are as humble as the very sediment that makes us all human.  Her questions, her smiles, her handshakes and hugs – they are all real and they all wait for an answer without expecting one.  No, not every one responded to mama in equal, like-minded fashion, but that was and is NOT the point.  Maybe later, they’d look back and smile and perhaps share a similar exchange with someone else.  Something so easy, so seemingly simple COULD and DOES and WILL make a difference.

No, this is not some premature “Happy Mother’s Day!” call to celebrate the one who gave birth to you (I mean, we should do this every day, right?), nor it is a speech on how amazing my own mother is (I mean, SHE IS, but…).  Rather, I stand before you today with an open-heart appeal – a plea to LOVE AND SERVE all those around you — to see God in them.  Not just your friends or your family, with whom you’ve shared the most intimate of moments and secrets and will always love, but those perhaps you would not label as “friends.”  Perhaps someone in the hall you’ve certainly seen before, but never talked to…perhaps the lonely face sipping coffee in the adjacent booth at your favorite local restaurant…perhaps the helping hands that serve us lunch everyday or make it possible for us to actually walk through the hallways…perhaps an opponent on the playing field…or perhaps that cashier at Kroger who has had just as long of a day as you have and would love nothing more than to be acknowledged and share a smile.  Step outside your safe comfort zone and risk noticing the other folks – the medley of beautiful souls who also make up this earth, who are just as important as you – and honor them above yourself.

Do not limit yourself in love; exceed those boundaries and pour out such a gift.  Serve without the expectation of being served in return. As Kahlil Gibran writes, “it is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”  I’m telling you there is nothing greater than seeing the face of someone who feels loved – identified – counted – valued.  Even a simple gesture or smile – a visible extension of that love – can change someone’s day – can alter someone’s life.  Count every person on this earth, our island home, as a valuable member – just like you.  We are far more alike in our humble humanity than we are different because of status, gender, race, sexual orientation, economic class, age, or belief.  Celebrate your brothers and sisters, honor their differences, but recognize that they are far more like you than you may realize.

Through my mama’s direct actions with others and her obvious commitment to being a servant to all those around her, she has taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life – we must be responsible for our every action and in our vital consciousness to LOVE OTHERS.  My friends, on this day and every day, make it your responsibility to LOVE and to LOVE EXTRAVAGANTLY.

Finally, I want to offer and share far superior words of wisdom from another hero of mine.  In her book, Words to Love by, Mother Teresa writes:

“We are supposed to preach without preaching

not by words, but by our example, by our actions.

All works of love are works of peace.”

and

“At the end of life we will not be judged by

how many diplomas we have received

how much money we have made

how many great things we have done.

We will be judged by

“I was hungry and you gave me to eat

I was naked and you clothed me

I was homeless and you took me in.”

Hungry not only for bread

-but hungry for love

Naked not only for clothing

-but naked of human dignity and respect

Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks

-but homeless because of rejection.”

As Kahil Gibran notes in his book The Prophet, I pray that we may “wake at dawn with a winged heart / And give thanks for another day of loving . . .”

Amen.

“Love is not a feeling; it’s a practice”

No, I haven’t yet met the man of my dreams just yet, but I’m thankful to know and to share relationships centered on love.

Last Sunday, my pastor at church cited this bit from Wendell Berry, which I found incredibly real, simple, and powerful.  How do we love others?  How are our relationships?  Are we involved?  Are we actively participating?  Is it talk?  Is it action?

Here’s what the wise farmer, poet, life-liver Wendell Berry has to say in his “Conversations with Wendell Berry”:

“People who love each other need to have something they can do for each other, and it will need to be something necessary, not something frivolous. You can’t carry out a relationship on the basis of Christmas and anniversary and birthday presents. It won’t work.

You have to be doing something that you need help with, and your wife needs to be doing something that she needs help with. You do needful, useful things for each other, and that seems to me to be the way that a union is made…You’re being made a partner by your partner’s needs and the things that you’re required to do to help…Love is not just a feeling; it’s a practice, something you practice whether you feel like it or not. If you have a relationship with anybody – a friend, a family member, a spouse – you have to understand the terms of that relationship to do things for those people, and you do them whether you feel like it or not. If you don’t it’s useless…

This is what you learn as soon as you become a farmer, for instance. Once you get into a relationship with even so much as a vegetable garden, you realize that you have to do the work whether you want to or not. You may have got into it because of love, but there are going to be days when you are sick and you’re going to have to do your work anyway. With animals, the work is even more inescapable. There’s no way out if you have a milk cow, no reprieve…She makes the milk and you’ve got to go get it.”

Puppy Love

While cleaning out some clutter on my computer this afternoon, I stumbled across this delightful fable that I heard in a sermon many years ago while living in Norfolk, Virginia.

As I wrestle with worldly issues of performance, adequacy, worth, accomplishment, and identity, this little story speaks to me.  It speaks to me that in the midst of all my striving, all my driving — in the midst of my feeling that need to accomplish and either match or exceed others’ expectations of me, NONE of it matters.  NONE of it can hold a candle to grace.  NONE of it compares to the LOVE for which we were made.

The fable* goes a little something like this:

One day a little puppy took a walk around his master’s farm. When he came to the pen where the horse was fed, the large horse called out to him: “You must be new here. You’ll soon find out that the master loves me more than all the other animals because I carry huge loads for him. I suspect an animal your size is of no value to him at all.”

The little puppy hung his head and was about to walk away when he heard the cow in the next stall say: “I have the most honored position on the farm because butter and cheese are provided from my milk. You, little dog, can provide nothing of value to the family.”

“Cow,” called the sheep, “your position is no greater than mine. I lend the master wool to make clothes and blankets.”

Soon, the other animals joined in the argument, telling about their honored positions on the farm. The hen was famous for her eggs; the cat for the ability to rid the barn of mice. They all agreed that the little dog provided nothing of value for the master.

So, the puppy went off alone and found a place where he began to cry. He felt he was no good for anything. Presently, an old dog heard his sobs and came to learn his story.

“Well, it is true,” the old dog responded, “you are too small to pull the wagon. And you will never produce eggs or milk or wool. But it is foolish to cry about what you cannot do. You must use the ability the Creator gave you. What you have been given is love. You can love, to bring laughter and fun.”

That night, when the master came home exhausted from long hours in the hot sun, the little puppy ran to him and licked his hands, and then jumped into his arms. The master and puppy romped, falling to the ground on the grassy lawn.

At last, holding him close to his chest and patting his head, the master said, “No matter how tired I am when I get home, I feel better when you greet me! I wouldn’t trade you for all the animals on the farm.”

The farm animals in this fable thought of what they could produce or accomplish or how they could perform. They conformed to the values/things of this world.  Instead, our precious puppy had himself to give–just what he was–a puppy, nothing more and nothing less. And the gift of himself was the gift of Love.

Let us go forth in Love.

Amen.

* This fable by John Aikin comes from Stories for Telling, Augsburg, 1986.

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