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



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.


Postcards from Peru – Villages

We set out from Cusco in a small van in high altitude. Outside the windows, we could see the blue-brown slopes of the Andes, the road snaking through the rising hills and passing small communities of brick and cinder houses. There are dogs everywhere. It is apparent that the dogs and the people form a living bond, that they belong to one another in a kind of friendliness between species. I wonder if such a bond might be a promise upon which to build like relationships of care between human and other species: as creatures on the earth we find we are common travelers together on the planet, that we might watch out for each other, that we might live together in peace.

Our first stop is to a community of weavers. Invited to have tea, we are shown the way color is drawn from the plants at hand. We watch a woman throw the shuttle, moving the weft across the warp; it is ancient, something that knits this woman to the long line of women before her and the line coming after her. The scarves, mittens, hats and cloth are arranged on tables for us to purchase. We are the end of the process – we buy articles for ourselves and loved ones, carrying off into our lives the energies of these women.

I wonder how the memory of these artisans will impact my understanding of the connection between the earth – its animals, plants and people – and the things I buy. When I later touch the soft cloth of the scarf I purchased, will I remember the skilled hands that wove it? Will I make the link between the labor and the warmth? Am I gathering into my knowledge the sense of relationship between the bounty of the earth, the work of these villagers, and the scarf I wear? Does my purchase create gratitude and care in my heart?


Our second stop began with flowers. Exiting our vehicle, we are greeted with women and girls carrying baskets of blossoms to toss in our hair and men and boys who play pipes and drums. We are gifted with a celebration. There is a way that hospitality opens the soul. The welcoming softens the edges of apprehension at meeting new people in a new place; it dispels the myth of human beings as foreign. Perhaps there are foreign, or unknown places, upon the earth and within our hearts, but there is also a place of familiarity that is contained in the welcome of one human being to another. It is clear. It is known. It is understood.


This welcome was given to us because our Peruvian guide, Dr. Guillermo Yoshikawa has made a path for us. He who is known as safe and true has power to open the way for others. Let me remember this. Let me be this.


We feast on root vegetables and roasted chicken, taken from an earthen pit. We again drink tea made from cocoa plants and another deep purple corn mélange that is slightly warm. I feel I might be drinking a bit of the sky at dusk when the sun sinks beneath the horizon and the night turns the vista a dark mauve. The children are beautiful – dressed in bright ponchos matching their parents, they stare at us with curious eyes. Intelligent, clear, open: these children have not been shattered by the deluge of electronic stimulation. They can see themselves. They can see others. They can see the ground upon which they stand. Let me remember this. Let me carry this with me into my relations. Let me be guided by the eyesight of these children.

The community here is a band of seekers. They worship God in the community of Methodists. And yet they bear in themselves the history of their ancestors, the ways and customs of a mountain people. I believe the world needs this rhythm of old and new, this clear sighted honesty. Perhaps if we are to save the earth, we need the way of people who have lived upon it without disrupting the water and air so mercilessly. I am aware I come from places and people who have lost such mercy. May I remember the truth of simplicity and be convicted. May I be turned around: repentant. Let me remember this.

Postcards from Peru: Machu Picchu

The sky is within reach – I can open my hand and slip it through the envelope into sacred time. We climbed above today, with the Andes supporting our bodies, allowing us to step upon their shoulders to peer between the high sun scorched rocks into the Sun Gate. Below us, a ways, and quite some ways beyond, down from the trail we have ascended, is Machu Picchu. The season of its purposes is hidden now, and upon its trellises and lawns, its bricks of temples and tombs, walk the remnants of pilgrims who over centuries sought meanings here. The guides tell us what they know. The mystery clings more deeply. Who was loved and who or what was sacrificed? What worker, centuries ago, paused to wipe the sweat from his eyes, his hands covered in red brick loam, fashioning walls from the rich earth– what did he dream as he stood in the thin air and saw, perhaps, as we did, a great brown hawk dive from a white cloud? The dreams seemed to have lingered here, the dreams of centuries, swept together in the morning mist to be burnt up in the heat from the equator. Did those men, before the day’s work, climb to the Sun Gate and whisper prayers for their wives, their children, their ancestors? Did women climb the steep cobbled steps, bringing incense from plants, food ground from pulpy stalks, water from the stone cisterns? Were their dreams lifted above the blue skyline upon the approach, heard by the great Pachamama, mother of all living things, and answered in the risen moon when the sun fell below the dark peaks?

To climb in Machu Picchu is to be in the presence of ancient dreams and memories of an empire wrought from the rugged mountains of the Andes. It is to know, in some way beyond the reason of the mind, that human beings found and created a mystery here. They found a sacred place above the rivers and valleys that unfold toward the sea, that kept them safe from surprise and attack. They created a city of temples and crematoriums, of food bins and political courts that held together two million (and some say twelve million) people in the fifteenth century. Their descendants and the neighbors of their descendants still carve lives of beauty and mystery in the crevices of the great shadows of mountain peaks.   Many of the New Age seekers in our present time wish to draw a line of mysticism through the craggy hillsides of Machu Picchu, but there is no definitive knowledge that these ruins housed more than the chieftain and priest who governed the Inca people – that Machu Picchu was something of an estate, perhaps a hub of social, scientific and political governance, and perhaps a place where the concubines of the leaders were brought for their services. And yet. And yet, to be in this place of exquisite beauty, with the high altitude making each breath meaningful, it is easy to draw the connection between the study of the stars that took place by the ancient astronomers, and the stars of our imaginations, the dreams of our destinies, the hopes of human life and felt sense of spiritual blessing.

Present day Manchu Picchu reminds us of the urgency of preservation. Our band of explorers were there to take in a World Heritage Site and consider the effects of climate change on the earth. We stopped in Manchu Picchu to see something tremendous, and in the mindsight of that awesome view, to understand a holy task in preserving not only ancient ruins of human endeavor, but also the deep reality of natural beauty. It does not really matter if the remains of Machu Picchu tell a story of human political and cultural activity alone or of mystical and spiritual practices. What matters is the apprehension of the profound beauty of the earth and the way human beings are woven into that story. As we enter into that grasp of reality, we become pilgrims, not only of anthropology or adventure travel, but as witnesses to a spiritual imperative to save the earth from degradation. We can stand at the Sun Gate today and make our prayers not to gods or goddesses who will bless us if they choose, but to the divine forces that knit together creation, perhaps as we might understand, organized by the Creator God of the universe, and ask that we might be so moved, so thrilled, so taken by the strength of this majestic place, that we would do what we can to preserve the earth, to remember those who have walked here before, and to leave a footprint for future generations to track, a footprint of care and concern for the wonders of this precious earth.

A little story about Drowning

From the shore, the ocean looked cool, clean and dancing with a mystery of light as the waves turned in the sun. I went in, ten years old, joyful, unaware I could not swim. To play in the waves is to play in the origin of creativity, the every recreating pattern of surf as it rolls over the shore, the foam gathering around your ankles as you walk forward, into the brace of salt water. I felt held and joy and I remember then and today, as every day that I have ventured into the ocean, the feel of salty brine covering my skin, my arms and legs, my head as I dove into wave after wave. When I was ten, I did not think about not being able to swim – I didn’t remember it, or it did not matter to me. I thought about catching a wave and riding it toward the beach. I felt bold and certain.

The wave I caught tumbled me over and over; I was under the sea; I was turning with the shells and pebbles going with the tide toward the shore. In a minute I realized I could not find the top of the wall of water; I could not breathe. I remember I began to kick my legs and stretch out my arms, pushing the panic down as I sought to rise. And then I remember someone’s arms coming around my waist and lifting me, lifting me above the surf, standing me on my feet. I was in about four feet of water, and the arms belonged to a young life guard who asked me if I were okay. I was. I really hadn’t known I was already drowning. I hadn’t known I was tumbling down toward the bottom of the wave, kicking my way there instead of upward, upward to the crest above the water.

Over the years, this has happened to me a number of times. I have plunged into a wave of life and while I wasn’t aware I was drowning, the life guards of my life saw me. They saw me and came and wrapped their arms around me pulling me to my feel. Oftentimes it was only when I stood on my feet in the swirling water of life and creativity, did I realize I had been drowning. I thank them: Elizabeth, Jeanne, Ginny, Terri, Jan, Diane, Shelly, Brenda, Cindy, Maryanna, Jeremy, Mary G, and others who came along side me. My children Laurel and Liam helped me breathe. Steve helped me breathe. My brothers helped me breathe.  Thank you for helping me breathe. Thank you for helping me to my feet. And I did take it upon myself to learn to swim.

The Catholic Spirit or Catholicism

We in the United Methodist Church have spent a month showing each other how divided we are in theological understandings of the Bible as well as in cultural understandings of what the work of the Christian life means.

I have been thinking about the Protestant Reformation and the major themes that undergirded the break off of priests and laity from the Roman Catholic Church of that time. We find in the pages of that story the themes of sexuality and doctrine, rules and freedoms also. We might do well to remember that Luther championed marriage equality for the clergy, and a reading of scripture that focused on Romans: that we are saved by grace through faith. Later, Wesley would pick up this mantra and go on to develop a systematic organization of spiritual discipline.

During Luther’s day, the sale of indulgences to insure people’s journey to heaven was in widespread use as well as the restriction of celibacy for the clergy. It is interesting to notice that the major motif in Roman Catholic theology during those days was salvation from eternal hell. The Christian tradition has understood hell in different ways, both actual and metaphoric, but in all interpretations the theme of separation from the community of love is prevalent. To be in hell is to be separated, cut off from the body of the beloved. Then, as now, people will do a lot to avoid that aloneness.

In today’s world, perhaps we are also seeing a wrestling with hell. We debate whether we should be cut off from one another, or if some should be cut off from the body, or if we find unity here on earth it might mean being cut off later in the afterlife. For champions of Wesley’s “catholic spirit” the latter cannot happen as we love each other even in our differences: because the commandment to love one another is the single surest way to create harmony and connection that extends into eternal life. But for others, the idea of a reckoning, a time when the wheat shall be separated from the chaff governs their understanding of heaven and hell. Therefore, to be in unity with anyone or anything that might be labeled as impure or against the will of God, is to face that reckoning later with the prospect of separation, being cut off. It is usually stated by those who hold this form of theology that the ones they are cutting off are surely going into eternal hell. Their form of evangelism is to save people from this destiny. These are two different theologies, two different views of what heaven and hell mean.

One of the problems we are also suffering is who gets to label whom impure or acting against the will of God. Even the most ardent Biblical scholars can see that the Bible is not of one mind on these matters. In some passages certain people or acts are called out. In other passages they are not or they are countered by admonitions that love covers us all. So, in the Wesleyan spirit, United Methodists have employed the quadrilateral to examine the moral life: Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. We have engaged the many senses of our minds and bodies to interpret the present moment.

Yet, in this moment, there seems to be shift back by many into the doctrinal way of the Roman Catholic Church pre-Reformation. There is a return to an emphasis on sexuality as a major issue. There is a longing expressed to have a book of rule that makes the blurry lines of love into black and white. Instead of a wooing as a way of courting people into the great love affair with God, there is a measure of threat that should the rules be broken, eternal separation awaits.

I have found as a pastoral counselor for thirty years, that the rules of separation are often what people are healing from. People who as children or adults have felt cut off, unheard, unnoticed, unrecognized, or labeled unworthy. And as a clergy who has studied the Bible for thirty years, it has always seemed to me that the most fundamental witness of Jesus – in his life, death and resurrection – is that “I will not leave you alone,” or, in other words, I will not cut you off, I will not separate myself from you.

How strange it is, that we in the United Methodist Church wish to do just the opposite, from each other and to part of our body.


Mary L. Fraser