New Creation

The Creation of Adam Sistine Chapel Michelangelo.jpg

God, my prayers are an unholy mess.
I plan and structure them, write lists
and check things off, and when I’ve
finished, I feel the same sensation of
accomplishment as if I’ve scrubbed out
the commode. But I don’t believe that
prayers are meant to be an inconvenience.
I think you want us to hand you the mess.
I don’t think you get tired of hearing us say,
Here I am again, God, not one bit saintlier
than yesterday.

God, my life is slovenly. I start each day with
pure intentions: to be kind, industrious…
to know my own magnificence, shine with
your radiance… and, yes, to make a
difference. By ten a.m. my noble aims are
ashes in the grate, and I am heavy with the
weight of my undone objectives. I organize,
I strategize, and then I beat myself about
the head and chest because I’ve cashed out
my vitality. Salvage what is left of me, I pray,
and place me on the path that leads to
blessedness despite my awkward gait.

God, I live and move in tarnished splendor.
What you created pure as ice and bright as
gold has faded, lost its shape, grown cynical
and weary of the race. Yet all the elements
remain, and you, God, and only you can
reassemble them. Only you can recreate me,
as you did that first day when the world lay
at my feet. Reawaken me, O God, to your
awesome power and your tender grace.

Amen.

 

 

From This Odd Dream

In the Flower Garden Robert Lewis Reid

In the Flower Garden, Robert Lewis Reid

Dear God, I do not fear awakening from this
odd dream of temporality, nor shall I dread
departing from the steep and rock-strewn
roads we travel. Even as we watch, the veil will lift,
the fog will clear, the sun will saturate our days,
and night will fall no more. Then we shall meet
again the cherished souls whose carcasses have
long since shown themselves too fragile to
contain them. Happiness that we have known
and tried to hold will dawn and fill the vales with
colors richer than the flora of the tropics and the
fauna of the seas. Bliss that punctuates our years
and separates the intervals of anger, sadness, and
regret will bloom and never fade. Sickness that was
once a haggard rumor will meander out of memory.
Love will be the form and substance of all things seen,
imagined, hoped for. Peace will not be ripped away by
swords or savagery. Arms like boughs of oak and fans
of palm will reach out to receive those of us just arrived
out of the dream. Lingering wounds will heal apace,
bathed in water from eternal streams whose source
will not evaporate as basins in the desert do.
Ephemeral, surprising joy that comes upon us unawares
and dissipates too soon, this time will stay and keep us
airborne like the seeds of cottonwoods on fresh spring
breezes, and when we alight it will be only to reside
a space within the garden of thy planting, to perform
the easy labor of thy grace. Earthly life is but a preview
of eternity—we are promised nothing less. If we only
knew it, we have just begun to love, and the dimension
we have named “above” will swallow all things gross
and terrible, the rivers of the darkness, all that withers
and decays. Alleluia! Amen.

In the Garden of My Grace (Hymn)

HieronymusBosch-theGardenOfEarthlyDelights-1503-1504

In the Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch, 1503-1504

God Almighty, here beside me,
come and sit with me awhile.
Father-Mother, comfort me,
your cherished and beloved child.
Bring me ease and consolation;
make me glad of who I am.
As you loved me at Creation,
wrap me in that love again.

All I need you have provided.
Fear has faded with the night.
All I ask lies at my feet—
my help, my hope, and my delight.
Not behind the mass of mountain,
hidden high or buried deep,
all I sought is spread around me
like the bright and boundless sea.

All my striving to be better,
all my worry and my fear,
at your word I now surrender
as you whisper in my ear:
Peace, my child; for all is well.
Now dry your tears and lift your face
to the sun, for you are dwelling
in the garden of my grace.

Everything you need for hunger
grows in my eternal fields.
Eat; be filled with joy and wonder,
such as these is Heaven’s yield.
All you need for thirst is given,
with the rain that from above
pours to fill the streams and rivers.
Drink of it, and drink of love.

All your sins are long forgiven,
and your innocence restored,
as you were, made in my image,
on the day that you were born.
Seek and you will surely find your
dreams; the stars will light your way;
gentle lessons will remind you
what is needed for today.

Celebrate and weep no more.
As I have given, freely give.
Life and death I set before you
now. Choose life. Choose love, and live.
Peace, my child; for all is well.
Now dry your tears and lift your face
to the sun, for you are dwelling
in the garden of my grace.

Amen.

____________

from Annagrammatica’s Little Book of Prayer

Sigh from a Lady Robin

robin-female-wikipedia

Poem for the Thirty-Third Day of Lent

It seemed a small, inconsequential ripple on the
surface of an ordinary day; a causeless wind
had risen from a placid bit of sky, dislodging a
mimosa stem distinctive for its pinkish silkiness
and scarcity—the only blossom of its kind for
acres upon miles and recognizable by rows of
arches bearing tiny, oval leaves in pairs,
unanimated partners in an English country
dance; the petals too are unremarkable at first,
too pale to draw the eye, and circular, like
almost-white confetti.

Then I wondered why I noticed it at all, this
inconspicuous, lopsided, faintly aromatic bit of
tree, though, inattentive as I tend to be, it likely
thwacked me on the head. Perhaps I was
reminded of a sigh as from a lady robin settling
in—a plumpish mound of feathers, rust-red belly,
glossy wings, and watchful eye, a shelter for the
objects of her sole responsibility… her task
exquisitely uncomplicated, satisfying
nonetheless, affording her the sweetest possible
contentment, since—without the least idea
why—she does the job she absolutely must, the
very thing the universe insists upon and in the
only way that she, in body, soul, and spirit, can
give comfort and receive it.

There are those more learned and articulate
than I who understand the management of
such impeccable performances—some who, in
the name of knowledge, out of curiosity, assign
particular behavior to material stimuli and dare
to ask if creatures love or merely seek to share a
warm, dry place in order to survive. But I am
certain that, when something seeming
unextraordinary tugs at my attention, God has
sent an invitation to be witness to a miracle,
reminding me to scrape the cobwebs from my
eyes and clear my vision, so that when a
common dawn throws warm, fresh sunlight in
great bands across the sleeping plain, which
fairly leaps with sudden jubilation at the hint of
summer, greening as days lengthen, quickening
apace, I see in the changing, always and
inevitably, grace.

robin-baby-eggs-wikipedia

Saved by Grace

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_Apostles-Duccio-di-Buoninsegna-1308-1311

Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles, Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1308-1311

Meditation for the Sixteenth Day of Lent

I got off to a bad start in Christianity. In Sunday School
I learned that I was supposed to want to be like Jesus,
but I secretly wanted to be like Carolyn Chandler, who
was adorable and blond and athletically talented and
whose grandmother sewed beautiful dresses for her
out of starched gingham with grosgrain ribbon trim.
Jesus didn’t own a single pretty dress, not to mention
sturdy shoes or a change of underwear, and the
speeches he made and the miracles he performed
didn’t seem to be working for him in terms of career
success. He died a miserable death, and he still had to
go to Hell—those three days were no cakewalk. We’re
told that he finally got to Heaven, where, as far as
anybody knew, he had to sit around with God a
hundred percent of forever. I pictured them side by
side in deck chairs in an otherwise empty room,
making polite conversation, receiving the occasional
visitor—maybe Paul and his ilk, whose idea of a good
time was to suffer gladly in the name of the Lord. Can
you teach grateful suffering to an eight-year-old? One
must, I think, experience despair at least once (more, if
one is not an exceptionally quick study) and be
redeemed—not by an infusion of cash or a rise to
stardom but by grace, freely given and entirely
undeserved—to perceive that Jesus Christ is alive and
well and working miracles in one’s body, mind, and
spirit, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.

_____________

Adapted from Annagrammatica’s Little Book of Affirmationsby Mary Campbell

Progress

Workshop_of_Filippo_Lippi_-_Madonna_and_Child_-_1446-1447

Madonna and Child, Filippo Lippi and Workshop, 1447-1448

Meditation for the Fourteenth Day of Lent

This day I will be smarter than I was the day before.
I will learn about Colombia or Filippo Lippi or
Frederick Douglass or the Great Barrier Reef, and I
will study how to open up my heart.

This day I will be kinder than I was the day before. I
will not say Perhaps I should…. No, I shall do.
Somebody needs what I can give: a smile, but not
just that; a call, but more than that; a mitzvah, and
another. I will go to see my sister and will wrap her
in my arms and say I love you fifty times.

This day I will be stronger than I was the day
before. I shall lunch on crisp romaine and grated
cheddar cheese and pomegranate juice, with
butterscotch pudding for dessert, and I will walk a
mile no matter if it snows.

This day I will listen to more music—Aaron
Copland’s Saturday Night Waltz plays on the radio
as I write—and I will contemplate chords and
arpeggios and the key of B flat major.

This day I will be prayerful, more than I was
yesterday, and meditate and drink in God’s own
gentleness, petitioning for naught but love and
peace, for what else does a person need once one
has been hauled out of the pit?

And I will be more grateful than I’ve ever been
before, because another vast and malleable day is
added to my years, a day of scattered sunlight and
of friendship and of spring’s slow, adamant
approach, a day in which I count breaths and say
Thank you for each one, a day in which I hear my
neighbor crooning to her baby girl and I recall with
transient glee and startling precision my half-
century-ago young motherhood.

This day I will be more astonished than I was the
day before, because how can I fail to be surprised
when, all my plans and projects notwithstanding, I
don’t have the ghost of an idea what the next hour
holds?

This day I will love my life more than I loved it the
day before, because there is no future in loving the
past—a beautiful garden, to be sure, but one that is
frozen in memory. Only this day do new grasses
emerge from moist earth. Only now do sweet,
warm winds lift dry leaves and ruffle my hair, stroke
my face, and tell me their secrets. Only this day
grows according to my purpose, and God’s grace.

 

Only Yesterday

Christ_Handing_the_Keys_to_St._Peter_by_Pietro_Perugino-1481-2

Christ Handing the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter, Pietro Perugino, 1481-1482

A Prayer for the Third Day of Lent

There are too many children in Heaven today,
and on the earth too many friends with broken
hearts and empty arms. Shadows lie too broad
and fade too soon as night falls early on a
wailing world.

Dear God, when will the grieving end? When can
we once again hear bright, clear laughter, songs
of innocence and curiosity, voices yet to deepen,
and not wonder if those voices will be hushed
before they mellow and grow wise?

The faces in the crowd are stiff and cynical,
uninclined to open to a stranger’s smile. We have
too much to carry now—suspicion, wariness, the
armored layers of our souls, which yesterday
were covered only with a scarf against the odd
chill wind. Spare us, God, the weight of
vengeance, far too heavy to be borne by mortals
such as we.

Where are whimsy, merriment, and joy today?
Do they patter with the feet of children on the
crowded streets of Heaven? Can’t you see we
need them here, before our sorrow palls the
feeble sunlight that remains?

Dear God, what would you have us do with all
the love we bear for those who have been torn
away? Might it find its way to someone whose
uneasy spirit even now turns poisonous? Can we
make, amid the flood of pain and anger, islands of
humanity where troubled hearts can lay their
beds?

Amen.

A Prayer for the Second Day of Lent

book-of-hours-du-barry-feast

Très Riches Heures du duc de BerryLimbourg brothers, 1411-1416

Lead Me to the Feast

Dear God, make me ready for salvation—
for the time when I can trust the guideposts
and not need to see the destination.
There are enemies around me, shadows
moving in the undergrowth, and I don’t
know their names, I only sense their sneering
hatred, feel a loathsome force that steals from
nature’s generosity and drowns out
her sweet song.

It is offered—freedom from all pain,
anxiety, regret—but I’m not ready
for it yet, and it is too genteel to
press. It waits, out in the clearing, like a
tree in richest fruitage, past midsummer,
brazenly displaying plump, pure
nourishment… but, unlike the orchard
down the road a way, this tree and its
companions will not drop their bounty
when the days grow short, the evenings chill.

Still I hesitate. Do I deserve such
freedom? What have I achieved to merit
love? Forgiveness I am hesitant to
claim while I continue to transgress, and
there is forage for the taking, too,
enough to keep a body from starvation…
food sufficient for the day.

But you have higher aspirations for your
children. You would more than satisfy our
hunger. You would have us eat of life
abundant, drink of grace, and drown our
senses in the sweet, clear nectar of
eternal love.

Dear God, make me ready for salvation.
Fit me for the garments you have fashioned—
joy, compassion, peace. Lead me, trusting,
willing, to the feast. Amen.

___________

Image from the Duc de Barry’s Book of Hours.

The book of hours is a Christian devotional book popular in the Middle Ages. It is the most common type of surviving medieval illuminated manuscript…. Each manuscript book of hours is unique in one way or another, but most contain a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms, often with appropriate decorations, for Christian devotion. Illumination or decoration is minimal in many examples, often restricted to decorated capital letters at the start of psalms and other prayers, but books made for wealthy patrons may be extremely lavish, with full-page miniatures. —Wikipedia

And Showed the Face of God

Pietro_Perugino_Polyptych_Albani_Torlonia_c1491

Pietro Perugino, Polyptych Albani Torlonia, c. 1491

Why was the holy child born?
Why did Divinity adopt
a human form and walk the hills
of Galilee? Why did he lift
the weak and heal the blind, why did
he cleanse the lepers, cast out demons?
Why did Jesus Christ speak truth
to power, hastening his own
demise? The world would never be
the same, because this wise and gentle
prophet told the multitudes
to set aside the ancient laws,
obeying just this one: Be love.
And in the groves and orchards, on
the mountainsides; along the shore
and in the desert; in the temple
and among the poor, despised,
despairing—those whom he called brother,
sister, child—this carpenter
who owned no property except
the garment that he wore, the sandals
on his feet, gave all: love, hope, mercy…
life and breath… the promise of
Emmanuel—God with us; God
within us. Those whom he restores
to innocence are rich indeed,
beyond the grasp of death and free
from grief and dark despair.
Why did he come? To heal our hearts.
He heals us still. Because he came
one holy night in Bethlehem
and grew in grace and walked the hills
of Galilee—the Word made flesh—
because he came and showed the face
of God—the world would never be
the same, and never shall again.

 

Where God Sojourns

sunrise-cameronhighlands-malaysia

Sunrise, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia 

I Can Always Find That Place

It might have been a dream I prayed. It was a
good prayer and a good dream anyway. I gave
everything to God that day, with all my heart but
otherwise no sacrifice on my part—I had nothing
anyway. It was early—in the moment when the
muted indigo of morning first begins to break and
streaks of color emanate from where the sun waits,
as if to tease and tantalize the watchers eager for
the blazing red and gold and lavender. Sunrise is
never commonplace, each one unique and never
ceasing to surprise, like rainbows after summer
storms, though you’ve seen rainbows many times
before.

We stood for warmth around a fire, and each of us
threw dry sticks into the flames, giving them the
names of our afflictions. And the flames burned
higher as if they delighted in the fuel, as if their
favorite food were of the devil’s manufacture.
Angels came, reminding me of streams of starlings I
had seen at dusk, returning by the thousand from
the fields to where they nested in the isolated
stands of elm and chestnut east of town. We sang
then, lively hymns of praise and solemn chants, with
awe and reverence, and then the sky began to
change and for a moment so transparent it became
that we could see a hundred miles or more,
to forests fluttering with poplars, tips alight with yellow
morning… to the shore and to the islands in the
sea; and everything we looked upon was glorious,
more beautiful than anything a mortal had beheld—
until the fiery curve breached the horizon.

The sun moved quickly then, efficiently, a goodwife
washing trees and hillsides clean before it reached
our valley to immerse us in redemption as it had the
grass and leaves. A whirlwind, light and easy, stirred
the ashes, lifting up our cares and bearing them
away.

The next day, angels came to carry me to the
gathering at the dawn. They wrapped me in a
blanket like a robe, a fleece of creamy white. An
angel said his name—Abdullah, “servant of God” —
and lifted me above the snow and kept me warm
against the lingering night, but I could see below—
apple orchards, not yet heavy with their crop but
light and lacy with the promise of it; farms and
chapels, people rising early to their chores; rivers,
lakes, clear water lapping at the verges—such
unearthly loveliness, a hazy color wheel that slowly,
lazily came into focus, nothing hurrying, released
from time.

We came at last to highlands overlooking tidy fields
and greening vales where sheep were going out
to graze; and there, beside a waterfall, the others
waited to be healed and purified. And all was as it
had been yesterday except, upon that hill, what had
been new the day before was newer still today.

I never did confide a word of my experience
among the penitents and angels… the ashes of
our suffering and pain ascending to oblivion…
for I confess I feared they’d say that it was “just
a dream.” But who can know what streams of
love and peace might course throughout the
universe, and where, and when they might flow
by? Yet I have seen the world created, new and
luminous, and I can always find that place,
where it is always morning, early in the spring. I
only close my eyes and fly on angels’ wings to
Eden, where God sojourns peacefully at dawn.