What Is Mine to Do?

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Photography courtesy of Pert Roddy Garraway, who grows these beautiful plants.

In my observance of Lent this year, I worked with others in an online retreat reflecting on the question “What is mine to do?”  The question comes from Jesus when he said” “What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do.” When his own  death was approaching,  St. Francis told us, “I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours.”

 

For me, the answer to the posed question is simply that what is mine to do is to practice serving. I am not sure why, but my friend’s photo of her beautiful Cereus reminds me of serving.  It may be because this exquisite blooming only happens at night, when it is unseen by many. It does not require the brilliance of sunlight to bloom on, offering its beauty and fragrance. for a brief time.

 

I have become aware of the difference in helping, in fixing, as opposed to serving. When I worked as a registered nurse, my connection to patients was best applied in service to them and to their families as opposed to a goal of repair.  I am aware that in my community relationships, my parenting, and my grandparenting, my calling to serve may be played out in many different roles – in offering hospitality, in gardening and cooking and sharing the beauty of art and music. My joy in any of these is heightened as I realize that this, too, is serving.

 

“Serving is different from helping. Helping is not a relationship between equals. A helper may see others as weaker than they are, needier than they are, and people often feel this inequality. The danger in helping is that we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity or even wholeness.

 

When we help, we become aware of our own strength. But when we serve, we don’t serve with our strength; we serve with ourselves, and we draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve; our wounds serve; even our darkness can serve. My pain is the source of my compassion; my woundedness is the key to my empathy.

Fixing and helping create a distance between people, but we cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected.”

–Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen

Thoughts and Prayers for April

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 In her memoir Iona Dreaming, Claire Marcus Cooper writes: “when something pulls at my attention, it is likely to hold an important message. Stand firm as we do, the trees seem to say. We are resting now – no leaves, no growth It’s a time to hibernate and recoup; without the times of non-doing, we would not be able to form buds in the spring and draw our sap to feed summer growth. Let yourself rest and be. You are gathering strength for a new role that awaits you.”    since these past 2 months have been just such a time of non-doing for me, it is easy to see why those words are  so meaningful. As I watch the greening of my garden from my window and porch, it is as if I feel the blush of an inward greening, urging me to welcome what is to come.
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Just before the green begins there is the hint of green
a blush of color, and the red buds thicken
the ends of the maple’s branches and everything
is poised before the start of a new world,
which is really the same world
just moving forward from bud
to flower to blossom to fruit
to harvest to sweet sleep, and the roots
await the next signal, every signal
every call a miracle and the switchboard
is lighting up and the operators are
standing by in the pledge drive we’ve
all been listening to: Go make the call.

“April Prayer” by Stuart Kestenbaum, from Prayers & Run-On Sentences

Remember

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“Judas, Peter”

because we are all
betrayers, taking
silver and eating
body and blood and asking
(guilty) is it I and hearing
him say yes
it would be simple for us all
to rush out
and hang ourselves
but if we find grace
to cry and wait
after the voice of morning
has crowed in our ears
clearly enough
to break our hearts
he will be there
to ask us each again
do you love me?
—Luci Shaw,

 

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Little Ones

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The Littlest Shepherd…

There is so much about Christmas days that involves children. In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens  wrote “it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”  

In the singing and ringing, the laughing, standing-on-tiptoe, eyes sparkling joy of children, we experience fresh joy ourselves. Each year when our boys were young, our family began and continued traditions that were then and still are important to all of us.  I love seeing many of those being carried into their own homes today. This is little Nora’s first Christmas. She delights in  the sights and smells and sounds, and trusts her parents, her grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins as we hold her and share this beauty. She does not expect it all, but she experiences it, learning and laughing. Trusting because she feels our love and care.

When I read the gospel message that we are to become like little children, I think of that quality of childlike trust.  I want to experience all of Christmas like Nora – laughing, learning, trusting.

 

Christmas Eve: Relationship

The final figure has been hung in my Advent shadow box. In our Nativity scenes, the manger holds a baby. It is Christmas Eve, the time of laboring, receiving.  As waiting and expectancy end, the intense work so aptly named labor begins, the urgency of a baby’s entrance into our world gives way to embrace. With the birth of our granddaughter this year so fresh in my mind, I think of holding her minutes after birth.  So small and precious in my arms, so helpless, yet holdiing such power over my heart. In the hush of those moments, relationship locked and sealed forever. Relationship that began the moment I heard of her coming, that grew so sweetly when I saw ultrasound images, became one that will endure past physical life.

It is in that way Christ came to us. In that picture of receiving Him that we see God’s intention for relationship. We don’t just know he is coming . We welcome Him into our hearts.

 

IMG_1479This Nativity belongs to our youngest son. He first set it up when he was very small. As a boy, he built the little shed from scraps of wood shingles.  Now it sits in his own home, where his daughter holds the figures as she discovers her very first Christmas.

 

 

Reflection

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“We have no choice. God is with us.”  Karl Rahner

In the days following Christmas, I think of all the sweet spots of our Advent journey, of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I wrap myself in the love and laughter of my family, the delight as we experience the beauty of it all as lights and reflection are everywhere – in the little girls’ eyes, in twinkling tree lights, in flickering candle light.

These lights string out behind us as we remember Christmases past – all reminding us of the Light that has come, the Light we have received.  And I ask, “How will I reflect his LIght?”

 

 

 

 

Rooted

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“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”                        ~ Simone Weil

Recently when family gathered to help us celebrate our 50 years of being married, we were given a small white pot which contained a plastic bag filled with potting soil and a dried, brown ball with papery layers peeling back about the size  of a small onion. It was an Amaryllis bulb.  As long as I let the pot, the soil, and the bulb wait on my counter, nothing much happened.  There was one place where a spot of green wanted to push through its crackly wrapping, but seemed to have grown weary and quit trying.  But as soon as opened the soil packet and poured it into the pot, pushed the bulb down, set it in a window, and added water, I could almost hear the dry dirt begin to breathe a lullaby to hungry roots as they began to channel new life into stalk and leaf. Two sturdy stems soon grew heavy with swelling buds.  Above, the first scarlet flower opens wide, stamens heavy with pollen.

026Then there were three, so large it seemed they would topple. And just as the first bloom began to fade, the second stalk of buds began to open.  In all, 6 magnificent delights have graced the plain white pot in my kitchen window. Without roots, this blooming would have stayed inside the brown bulb.  The roots were a potential, but not a possibility until nourished with soil and light and water.

What nourishes my soul to satisfy this need for rooting?  Do I choose that which roots and grows?  These are questions I ask again in a soul’s wintering.

Blessing of Light

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They can be like a sun, words.

They can do for the heart

what light can for a field.

-St. John of the Cross, Love Poems from God (trans. Daniel Ladinsky)

This weather worn garden sign is propped on the fence behind my cucumber vines.  When I gathered my small harvest, I thought of these words.  The blessing of light, along with soil and moisture produced something good and nourishing.  The word Peace reminds me that my words have that potential when I use them to bless and encourage.

Sadly, the opposite can also be true.  Words spoken in haste or frustration may damage growth and wither relationship. I can choose to speak light and blessing.  I pray to speak Peace.

I Have This Day

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Celebrate Now 

I have long thought Hibiscus flowers exotic and lovely. They remind me of Bali, where we often visited when we lived in Indonesia.  Outside the little thatched roof lodging at Poppie’s Cottages where we sometimes stayed, large shrubs of the plant were always in bloom.  Once I sat outside on the tiny porch where they left our kopi and mango breakfast and painted one of the flowers.  I remember searching for a scarlet or vermillion paint that would allow me to capture the intensity of its color.  Now I mostly photograph the hibiscus that grow in our garden.  They help me remember to celebrate today – because today is all each flower has.  Whether I enjoy the bloom as it grows with large glossy leaves, or pluck it to bring inside to grace our kitchen table, it only lasts one day.  Putting its stem into water does not prolong the beauty.  By the next morning, this flower’s petals folded shut.