Prayer of Confession

In the Book of Common Prayer, the morning prayer of confession begins,

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep…

I was interested to read Lancelot Andrewes note on this prayer —

We have wittingly and willingly run from Your ways like an untamed heifer

img_0672Last summer, on my walks, I often saw the cattle in a neighboring field.  Sometimes they would run up to the fence as I walked past. One liked to lower his head and shake his horns at me threateningly.img_9663 I tried to reassure him that I meant no harm. I was simply out for a walk.img_0675

My bovine friends — or not-friends — became a fixture on these walks. I would scan the field to see where they were grazing. When one escaped, I tried to encourage him to go back with his compadres, but it’s hard to encourage an 1800 pound animal and keep a safe distance. img_0504

One fall day, Bud was working in the barn across the street when he heard the screech of tires. He ran out to see a woman, wide-eyed, sitting in her stopped car in the middle of road, staring a herd of cattle thundering toward her up the road. They ran past the house, tipping the mailbox as they went and disappearing over the crest of the hill followed by men in pick-up trucks.

“I had seen them trying to load them into a trailer earlier,” Bud told me. “Must be they decided to get them to the other farm the old-fashioned cattle drive way.”

That evening, when we went for a walk, we saw the guys in the pick-ups sitting outside the pasture that had once held their steer.

“That was something else,” Bud said to them, “watching them run up the road.”

“They didn’t want to get on the trailer,” one guy said, “and broke the fence. If you see ’em, let us know.”

“You weren’t herding them?” we both asked.

“Hell, no,” the man replied.

About a dozen steer were now on the wild in Otsego County, including the one who occasionally menaced.

As best I know, they were never found — although I did hear of occasional steer-sightings.

I pictured them when I read Lancelot Andrewes words.

Breaking through the fence — wittingly and willingly.

Running from the livestock trailer — running from Your ways

Like wild cattle — like an untamed heifer

It’s quite an image.

Almost exquisite — if one can use that word for cattle.

If You Say So

The following is an edited version of a post first published on January 2, 2012. I wrote it when my mother was still living at home and I was trying to help my father with her.

My sister and I can carry on conversations using just things my mother says.

For instance, my mother often says, “If you say so.”

Making the sandwich #1This is usually in response to something she doesn’t believe to be true.  Like, she’ll be preparing a meal for, say, 150 people.  (150 is her favorite number.)  I’ll say to her, “Mom, there are only going to be five of us for lunch today — You, me, Dad, Mary and Laurel.”

She’ll look at me with a look that says, I don’t believe a word of that.  But out of her mouth will come the words, “If you say so.”

It’s a phony acquiescence.  She’ll continue right on making 150 sandwiches.

Or, she’ll be getting ready for church, and I’ll say, “Mom, today is Tuesday.  There’s nothing going on at the church today.”

She’ll answer, “If you say so,” and then continue getting ready for church.

She started saying it as a cover for her memory loss.  It was easier than arguing.

The reason I wanted to start off the new year with those words, though, is because they tie in so beautifully with something else I’ve been thinking about.  I’ve been thinking about how the earthly life of Christ was book-ended with two statements of yielding.

First, when the angel told Mary she was going to have a baby, she responded with,

Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.

Luke 1:38

I’m quite sure there must be a translation out there that translates her words as, “If you say so,” not in an I-really-don’t-believe-a-word-of-it way, but in the way I would like to be able to say them to God. A yielding.

When Jesus was praying in Gethsemane before his death, he said these words,

Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours, be done.

Luke 22:42

Can’t you just hear the “if you say so” in there?

“Father, take this cup away from me, but, if you say so, I’ll do it.”

When God asks me to go through something, I’d like to be able to say, “Okay, God, if You say so.”

I want 2012 (and now 2017) to be an “If You Say So” kind of year, a year of yielding to the Father’s will.  I want to be like Mary and Jesus,  who, facing trials and uncertainty, still trust God’s overarching plan.

However, I want to be sincere in my words — not like my mother  just saying words to smooth things over.

If you say so.

Simple words from a person with Alzheimer’s.

Words also to live by.

Yuck

A few weeks ago I babysat my grandson and got to change his diaper.

When I first became the mother to a little boy, my mother had warned me to not leave a boy uncovered too long. Beware the fountain of youth. You know.

Even with that sage advice, my oldest son squirted me right in the face shortly after I brought him home from the hospital. I learned to get everything ready before the big reveal so I could be quick and cover it up in a jiffy if I needed.

With my grandson, I was prepared. I had my method down. Get the wipes ready. Unfold the new diaper. Take a deep breath, then take off the wet diaper.

Of course, he nailed me. In spite of. And laughing all the while.

I think this ritual of male creatures marking their territory starts very young.

PICT0853Cleaning bodily fluids is the yuck of motherhood.

Changing diapers.

Wiping noses.

Cleaning vomit.

Dressing battle wounds of wars fought with siblings or sidewalks.

It’s in those most intimate, personal, yucky moments that love takes root and grows.

My friend’s house became a crime scene when her husband was murdered there. A group of women went to the house and scrubbed the blood off the floor. Men patched the bullet holes in the wall. Cleaning the yuck became an act of love.

Jesus washed His disciples’ dirty feet on the night He was betrayed.

And Joseph of Arimathea wrapped His body — head bloody from the crown of thorns, hands and feet pierced by nails, his side opened with a spear — Joseph wrapped that bloody body in a linen cloth and laid him in a tomb.

The yuck of love.

In more ways than one.

Caring for aging parents is such a privilege. Laundering soiled garments, gently bathing fragile folds of flesh, cleaning unmentionables, because, you know, we are cultured and couth.

Those are the sacramental moments of life.

The farmers have been spreading the manure on the nearby fields this week. The aroma fills the air. Yuck.

But when the alfalfa grows, lush and green, nutrient rich because of the timely application of poo — we forget the yuck.

So it is with children.

And aging parents.

 

 

Safe and Swim

Originally my plan was to write about “safe” for the letter S.

About a month ago, I overheard a conversation while waiting for my father. He was visiting friends and I was sitting in the front lobby of the nursing home after an unsuccessful attempt to visit Mary  Three octogenarianesses (octogenarianettes?) sat down opposite me.

Their conversation was at an octogenarian level, so I couldn’t help but overhear.

“I just need to feel SAFE,” one said. “That’s why I would come HERE.”

The last word of every sentence was the loudest, and I found it an interesting way to punctuate.

A different lady, the one they were visiting who was obviously a resident, said, “My children kept telling me that I couldn’t do this, that, or the other thing. After I fell…” Her voice trailed off and she spread her arms to highlight the wheelchair she was in.

The third woman said, “I just don’t have the pep to do everything at home any more.”

“When the house sells, I’m coming HERE,” said loud-final-word.

Resident lady said, “I should have come here when I was 70. Now I’m 87, going on 88.”

#3 said, “It’s at the point where I have to do something.”

Loud said, “SAFE. I just need to feel SAFE.”

But as my mind wandered over this “safe” conversation, I thought about Laurel’s water safety presentation that she’s working on, and I thought about how I missed swimming now that it’s over and the pool is closed, and I thought about how unsafe the water can be and water safety is so important and… you see the currents that my mind drifted along, like a lazy river ride that had no definite end.

So S is also for Swimming.

My parents made sure we all could swim — and I’m sure my love of the water began at a very early age.

Mom and Stewart

Mom and Stewart

Mom and Stewart, Donabeth, and Peter

Mom with Stewart, Donabeth, and Peter

The only picture I could find of me. What form!

The only picture I could find of me. What form!

I can remember being in the watch-me stage when I was about 5 at Mirror Lake at Fort Devens. My mom was sitting on the beach and I was in the shallow water, stretching my legs out behind and walking my hands along the bottom.

“Look, Mom! I’m swimming,” I called, but I’m sure I didn’t fool her for a moment.

I remember playing and playing in the water — and I think that may be why I’m a big proponent for kids playing in the water. Kids can learn so much through play.

The thing is, though, water is never really safe. Kids drown in small amounts of water. Elite-level swimmer Fran Crippen drowned in an open water race. Being around water requires vigilance.

Bodies of water are like Aslan — not safe.

But good.

Each time a swimmer slides into the water, he or she is baptized into a new way of moving and breathing.

I think that’s why I love it.

That’s why I go to the POOL.

Prayers

Every Saturday morning, I sit alone, pen poised over my journal, and attempt to write a prayer.

It is a discipline that I have not mastered. My words falter and fall flat on the page.

Then, as I pray my newly-written prayer in the days that follow, I edit, crossing out whole sections or single words, trying to form the sighs of my heart into something utterable. I know that when I can’t, the Spirit will intercede for me. (Romans 8:26)

P is for prayer.

I pulled out my journal to look at the prayers I had written during those last weeks with my mother.

On the day after she went in the hospital, this is all I had —

You, God, are amazing.
I am not.
Thank you for Your presence and Your help.
Hold me,
Help me,
Heal me and mine.

I never changed a word of it. Maybe it was all I could do to pray it. By the next Saturday, she was gone.

And I struggled.

The next time I wrote, I filled two pages with prayer words, but then crossed out and wrote over much of it. By the end of the week, I had two prayers where I had begun with one.

Prayer A —

Lord, I don’t know what to pray.

My mother is gone.

My father is so sad.

Like a small child riding the up-and-down of a carousel pony,
I need someone to hold my hand.

Will You?

Prayer B —

Almighty Father –
You set into motion the cycles through which we live
– the turning of our planet
– its orbit around the sun
– the rising and falling tides
– the four seasons
– the water cycle
– the respiration of plants
– the respiration of animals
– the breath of a human being
from first cry at birth
to last breath at death
– decomposition

Every breath — the inhale, the exhale —
is part of Your plan,
part of a cycle

So, Lord, with profound gratitude
and amazement
I will live this day
And breathe these breaths
ordained for me.

I will ride this turning planet
orbiting around the sun

And thank You.

Amen

*****

Prayer is a mystery.

Writing prayers even more so.

Egg

Laurel has been practicing cracking an egg with one hand — with these:IMG_8539

“Please can I try it with a real egg?” she begged the other night.

“No,” I replied. I was tired and the likelihood of having to clean up an egg mess was unappealing.

“But, look,” she said, holding a green egg in one hand, “I can do it,” and she neatly opened the empty egg.

“No,” I said again. “Do it in the morning when I have more energy.”

“But I’m not going to make a mess,” she insisted. “And I’ll clean it up if I do.”

“No,” I said one last time.

The truth is I had gotten sad the day before when I was making waffles for my father. I had used the recipe my mother used to use.

But it calls for separating the eggs.

Every time I do it, whether I’m using the separator, the shell, or my hand, I start thinking about my mom.

She taught me to cook — to level off the flour in the dry measuring cup, to get eye-level with the measuring cup when measuring liquids, and to crack the egg with a sharp rap using the back side of a knife. She taught me to pull the eggshell apart with my thumbs. She taught me to always put the egg into a separate dish before adding it to whatever I was cooking — we had our own chickens, and sometimes what came out of the egg was an unpleasant surprise. She taught me to get the last bit of white out of the shell with a quick swipe of my forefinger. She taught me to separate eggs, not allowing any yolk into the white because if I did the white couldn’t be beaten to stiff peaks no matter how hard I tried.

When her dementia robbed her of her cooking ability, she was so lost. No more cooking for a crowd. No more delicious soups where she put something akin to magic in the pot. No more casseroles.

Food was whittled down to marmalade. On everything.

But I can still eat marmalade.

IMG_6067There’s just something about eggs. They make me think of her.

An egg is both strong and fragile.

It is life.

And hope.

An egg is three-in-one, like God.

But the word “egg” only appears once in the Bible.

Somehow, for me, an egg inextricably connects mother to daughter.

It is a mystery — a pearly, porcelain, alabaster mystery.

Today, I’ll let Laurel try cracking that egg with one hand. Success or failure, we’ll laugh and then figure out what to do with the eggs she opens.

Maybe someday she’ll look at an egg and think of me.

Resurrection Branches

OsterpostkarteI was delighted to learn that the pussywillow is waved on Palm Sunday in many Eastern and Slavic churches.

“The Pussy Willow is also our Easter symbol,” said Father Czeslaw Krysa, rector of St. Casimir’s Church in Buffalo, in a 2013 article. He said that it is “one of the most prominent Easter symbols, because of the fact out of this dry, kind of twig all of a sudden bursts forth this beautiful flower of life, and it is the first bush that blooms.”

They call them “resurrection branches.”

Reading about them reminded me of a poem/prayer that I wrote back in January.

Oh Lord
I need a pick-me-up
For I am feeling down
Outside the snow is glittering, cold,
Inside my heart is brown
And dry and brittle, mostly dead,
Like last month’s Christmas tree
Weeping prickly needles
Which need be swept by me

IMG_8480I know You can’t restore the tree
To vibrant verdant green
— Well, yes, You could
And yes, You did
When Aaron’s rod was seen
Budding,
Blossoming,
Bearing fruit
— Can You do that with me?
Of course, You can —
but would You, Lord?
Miraculously use me?

For, Lord, You know I have this fear
I’m one of the eleven
Sticks that stayed quite dead and brown
Not bearing fruit for heaven

I fear I too am dead inside —
Like Lazarus, I stink —
Roll back the stone –
Call out my name –
Pull me from this brink

Of hopelessness
Of deadfulness —
I need to be made new
Please water me
Sunshine me
And let me grow in You.

Today the rocks and stones and pussywillows are crying out “Hosanna!”