Prayer

I have listened into nothing

beyond the place of laughter or wound,

the stillness in the pause between gusts of wind,

 

the small moment – there is quiet,

and in that slight sleeve, everything:

a place between this and that breath,

 

the way a strand of hair falls across your forehead

when the wind dies down

and before it heaves again.

 

I have been held, separately and together,

in some close heart that is beating alive the universe:

there, I can say it unashamed, it has silenced

 

all the noise of this world shouting,

shouting as if by shouting Someone would hear

like the unthinking in the presence of the deaf

 

who are talking instead with movement

and the gesture of understanding

and who know the beat of the universe is theirs,

 

the sign language of love hidden in the depth of still silence.

Finally, after so many years, I am growing deaf, welcomed,

into the grand orchestra of God’s singing hands.

 

Mary Lautzenhiser Bellon

October 30, 2017

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Summer Hawk

Yesterday a red shouldered hawk sat on my fence

his yellow talons gripping the black rail,

and I wondered why he stopped beside me

beside the window an arm’s breadth away

where we could peer at each other, see ourselves

in each other’s eyes, imagine the wingspan of our flight.

 

Was it I who visited his morning or he who visited mine

or in this season of rolling warm summer we were accidently met?

I will say this: in his sharp sight I saw the day as possibility

and the night as a ribbon between his beak. I saw flight

and rest as ways of living on the earth, and the space

between us only a matter of where the sun stood

lighting our eyes, recognizing our gaze while the grass

lay wet from the early hour and the trees breathed awake.

 

Mary Lautzenhiser Bellon

 

Holy Saturday

His last thought before darkness

a sweep of the mind, empty,

and the pure pleasure of nothing –

before that – a commitment,

fully into holiness,

into the hands of an abundant grace

and forgiveness, a thing complete,

so abiding calm while his mouth

drank in the sweet wine of eternity,

after the terrible thirst, after that.

 

I think it must have been so quiet

in heaven, when God came home

dragging with him the souls

who had been lost, carrying them

on his shoulder and over his back

one by one, up from all pure lost-ness

into heaven and such still silence,

nobody wailing or weeping but held now

in the abiding, in the coming home.

 

For three days, he carried the lost

and shut the door on hell, such grace,

given now to a communion, that paradise

of tasting wine with love

and all the bread leavening like a perfume,

everyone gaining strength again,

the ordeal over, suffering maturing, rising,

holding all the worlds in place

with a silence to dissolve fear or separateness.

 

That was the same silence into which he slipped

after his body became the wooden beams

upon which he was nailed –

the life of the tree ministering to his need

to grow something more than endings,

and leaning out of darkness,

after the human hewed tomb,

after the work of redeeming hell,

he dropped the cloths that cased his limbs

and walked forth to call the world home,

meeting Mary and Peter and Thomas,

and appearing to many, to the thousands,

whose voices became unintelligible to ordinary life

speaking a language of mysterious grace

in which everything comes home

in which everyone comes home

in which the time is fully come.

Mary Fraser

 

Spring and Good Friday and Potatoes

Spring has a bit of loss too

saying good bye to the hidden things of winter

and the way I remembered to bring a coat.

There’s the rending of Good Friday

and the memory of great betrayals.

 

My friend told me this is the day to plant potatoes

as though beneath the crosses scattered on any hillside

we could bury into dark earth

a secret that we shall be fed.

 

I went to Ireland once and a man told me

during the great potato famine

the people gathered still to build churches

as though they were planting a desperate hope

or perhaps a belief to hold them as death approached.

Or perhaps a great faith.

 

Yes there is a bit of loss in Spring

to understand the bitter, and the sweet

fragile strands of light warming the trees

whose roots notice the shoots

near their wandering fingers

where potatoes are fattening.

 

Mary L. Fraser

 

Vanquishing the Ghosts

Not to be haunted

by the nagging complaints

against your way of walking

 

but surrounded instead

by the ancestors of beauty –

this, a blessing to you,

 

breathed with the first light

winking through the slightly open window

where the cool air reminds you

 

winter is on the edge of spring.

Your shoes are chosen for your gait

and your friends are chosen for their kindness.

 

Entering the day, you stroll or saunter or stride

just like you, and your breath is yours to match

the quiet drum of your own heartbeat.

 

No one else, in the creative universe, can change

what is the gift of you, although they may try

unhappy with the sound of their own feet,

 

unhappy that they have not been barefoot

in a thick moss of meadow or on the black sand

where the thunder tide braces itself on the earth.

 

Do not be haunted by those who do not attend

to their own breath, but you must open and drink

the atmosphere free around you.

 

Those old haunts will not give you good shoes

or a way of covering the distance you need.

They will offer you a stumbling march

 

while those who love you

move with their own grace alongside.

 

Mary Lautzenhiser Fraser 3-10-17

Grief

Underneath the sand is more water,

deeper pools gathering the quick shuffle of sea crabs

and broken glass, and handfuls of time.

 

I remember grief, and I feel it remembering me,

far away in this prairie – sometimes

the wind sounds like the same ocean air

I breathed, and the resistance of the waves,

as I stood knee deep in a long tide,

is like the resistance standing in a wet field

before the winter sun burns the stubs.

 

The world is always living in you

everywhere you’ve been, all at once,

and losses are like stars that mark a certain sky.

But I see again I am standing, in tide or field,

my heart beating in the same rhythm

laughing or crying or both.

 

I travelled to a different hemisphere once

and the ocean smelled just the same,

and the fields were opened with wet earth, just the same.

There is the traveler and there is the journey

and there is the earth and there is the sea.

 

I fill my lungs with breath of something new

and it is also the breath of ancient things.

My grief, still, is the swirl of life in the hurried

disappearance of sea crabs into darker sand,

in the deer eating the remains

in a field on a winter day.

 

Mary Lautzenhiser Fraser January 11, 2017

Postcards from Peru – Rivers

We cross the steep terrain down into Manu National Park to where the Madre de Dios will take us to the Manu River. The ride into the park cuts through narrow unpaved road. In moments we are dangled at the edge of the mountainside ready to careen into green space. But we do not. We stop once on our way toward the river, met by blue and orange butterflies who are being chased by a retired American in faded cotton pants that tie at the waist and a safari shirt. He is cataloguing them. I believe he will have work until beyond the grave. As we descend, the air turns sweet, filled with oxygen made ever more plentiful by the lush grasses and ferns growing in abundance. We enter the jungled gate to the rainforest.

I did not know a river is a sleeve into eternity. We have two guides: Jose and Taz. They are fluent in the language of birds, plants and animals. Our boats are long skiffs with wooden planks set across for seats. Two young boys run back and forth along the six inch rails, sticking long poles in the river to test for depth. A man sits at the motor of each boat. We were not aware, when we climbed in at 5 a.m. the first morning, that we would be on the river for sixteen hours. Had we known, would we have agreed? Sometimes it is best not to know one’s destiny, less you decide against it, less you miss the way the linear mind loosens its hold and your thoughts dissolve into liminal time and space. Less you miss the opportunity to be given new eyes to see and new trust to enter your heart.

Sixteen hours. Snowy egrets. Great white herons. Stinky birds. Macaw. Red capped cardinals. Eagle. Cayman. Capybara. Tamarin monkeys. Spider monkeys. Toucan. And always the grey green river, warm water flowing forward deeper and deeper into the rainforest.

The day passes with stories that include those of the Maschco Piro people who live in the forest. Apparently, they are indigenous people who are now protected from development along with the entire park. And yet, they live lives on the brink of extinction. They have shot people with arrows who seek to interact with them. Yet they need machetes. They sometimes seek to know the edges of the world they inhabit. They are as curious as other humans about the world. Perhaps it is possible that their precarious situation shows us more about our own fragile existence than the difference between their way of life and the rest of the world. We might pause for a moment and consider: are we not all endangered by the burning of the rainforest, the unquenchable appetite for beef that causes us to clear land for cattle, the dumping of mercury into the river in pursuit of gold. We see the Maschco Pico as primitive and backward: yet for a thousand years and another thousand they have lived in the rainforest. They have been survivors until, like all of us, there may not be the possibility of survival. Can we mitigate the effects of our own soiling of the earth? That is the question.

The day turns to dusk, the sky lit with orange and red streaks that gradually give to night. Very few stars can be seen as the earlier rain did not empty all the thick clouds overhead. Into the night we motor on with Taz crouched at the helm with his flashlight, scanning the river for fallen trees and sandbanks. Sometimes we run aground in the wedge way of sand until the young boys with us hop into the shallow black water and push our boats back into the stream. We arrive at our camp late, late into the night, and by now, we are all familiar with the inky feeling of the forest. We trudge to our bunks. At first light we will walk to Salvadore Lake, an oxbow lake formed by the looping of the river where giant otters and howler monkeys live in serenity.

Jose tells us at Salvadore Lake that the Amazon River Otter is a keystone species – one who scientists track to measure the health of the ecosystem. There are 67 or 68 otter alive, and they are monitored to gauge the acid in the water, the fecundity of vegetation and the overall health of the rainforest. In past years, the acid rain has changed the chemistry of the lake. There are growing concerns about the ecosystem. But while we float across the lake on our catamaran, peace is everywhere: in the baritone yodel of the large brown howler monkey half way up the kapok tree, in the white heron swinging across the water just above the morning mist; in the head of an otter gliding from bank to bank in the inlet at the far edge.

I am wondering if the world would care if the wild life here and this lake of tranquility ceased to exist. A grief opens up in me. I am gazing upon some private mystery of God whose essence breathes here and whose heart-breaking loveliness I am privileged to see. This moment creates an urgency in my grief at its possible demise. Thank you, I want to say to the silence of the morning, thank you for allowing me to see your beauty. I will remember you in my efforts toward climate justice: for you, for the rainforest, for God who created you. Later that day, when we visit a small community of people who live in the rainforest and who tend a shelter site further up the river, I am enlarged in my understanding: it is not just the creatures and forest trees and ferns that must be saved. It is also the people who live in this harmony, a hard harmony of survival and really brevity of lifespan, but one of dignity and closeness to each other and the earth. Climate justice includes these brothers and sisters of humanity too. I see a society of the rainforest, a community of people, animals, insects and plant life. And I know in deep and abiding ways that God is close here, not separated from this life by the pounding effort to pave over and build buildings, to mass produce everything from food to people, and to consume more than is necessary until the balance of life is disrupted beyond repair.