Prayer to a Great Blue Heron

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Prayer to a Great Blue Heron

You’ve met me twice recently by the lake,
with your elegant serene pose,
standing so still I almost didn’t see you.

The first time I was with a friend – 
someone who knew you,
whom I had asked to meet me.

I needed a friend – 
someone to interrupt the bleakness
of all this unwanted time alone.

I was afraid.

I was always taught not to show fear – 
a lesson in protecting oneself,
well-intentioned but poor advice.

For when facing down a soul
burdened with the harshness of grief,
there are times when fear is all there is.

Fear of crumbling into a million pieces,
fear of forgetting the touch, smell, taste
of your beloved in the passage of time,

fear of being hollowed out by sadness,
fear of being swallowed up by loneliness,
fear of losing purpose.

So many fears.

The next time I spotted you at the lake
I nearly missed you altogether.
You didn’t move or make a sound.

Yet there you stood as regal as before,
exquisite in your muted tones against the reeds,
blending in to this world of water and sky.

I stopped to breathe,
to wonder at your presence,
to say thank you.

Is this you accompanying me in my fear?
Is this you beckoning me to pay attention?

I pray that it is.

Mark Lloyd Richardson
September 27, 2021
8 months

A Prayer for Our Country

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New York City 20th Anniversary of 9/11 Weekend Memorial

A Prayer for Our Country
On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of 9/11

“For Jesus, 
there are no countries to be conquered,
no ideologies to be imposed,
no people to be dominated.
There are only children, 
women and men to be loved.”
~ Henri Nouwen

God of expansive and generous love,
whose concern is the whole wide wonderful world,
especially the vulnerable and anawim (poor ones),
who hears prayers in countless languages,
who cannot be imprisoned in any one religion,
who took human form in a person of color,
in whom unity is discovered in beautiful diversity,
whose heart breaks anew each day
at the disease, death, and destruction
wrought by the creatures of earth,
hear our prayer.

We cannot claim you as our own – 
you are not an American God.
To do so is blasphemy.

Rather, you claim us as your own –
ordinary folks from all walks of life,
each one different,
yet more similar than dissimilar –
and you call us to live lives of genuine love,
caring for the least of these among us,
becoming persistent warriors for peace,
laboring to achieve justice for all,
seeking to be compassionate as God is compassionate.

So, while we identified some enemies
and misidentified others
in the aftermath of 9/11,
and then marched dutifully off to war,
thinking we could avenge the harm done to us
when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were struck
and a plane was forced down in a Pennsylvania field,
and so many innocent lives 
of loved ones with futures and hopes
were lost to us,
we were mostly serving ourselves, not you.

We pray for our country
on this anniversary of tragedy and resolve.
We pray for comfort in our collective grief.

We pray too that the discipline of duty 
might be turned to addressing our own troubles
before turning our fury upon others.

We pray that we begin to take seriously
matters of liberty and justice that affect us all,
directly or indirectly –
climate change,
income inequality,
equal access to voting,
racial profiling,
police violence,
wrongful convictions,
prisons built upon profits,
women’s health and reproductive choices,
equal protections for our LGBTQ siblings.

We pray for healing amid our deep divisions,
not so that we all think alike,
but so that we might again be able 
to talk meaningfully and honestly with one another.

Finally, we pray for the wisdom
to reclaim and redefine our nation’s core principles
to ensure the liberty and justice that is due to all.

Amen. So may it be.

Mark Lloyd Richardson
September 10, 2021

Blessing for When You Don’t Know Where to Begin

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Award-winning photo of Morro Rock by Dallis Day Richardson

Blessing for When You Don’t Know Where to Begin

This blessing isn’t sure where to begin.
So many steps are just steps in the dark. 
So much of life is shaped by uncertainty.
So many questions litter our paths.
Where to begin.

Where to begin in mending one’s shattered heart.
Where to begin in creating a life on one’s own.
Where to begin in accepting joy when it comes.
Where to begin.

Even if there are discernible first steps, then what?
At the core of being human the heart beats
with a force originating in the earth’s beginnings
where fire and water and soil and air collide
and explode into wondrous breathtaking life!
Is this the place where healing begins –
as you immerse yourself in this cosmic life force?
If so, where do you learn how to do this?

This blessing sees how often you lose your way
as you unsteadily chart a strange new path alone
without another soul truly able to guide you.
What could anyone possibly say?
They would be trying to piece you back together
into their vision of wholeness.

This blessing admits defeat when necessary.
There is no winning the wrestling match with grief
when it approaches with muscles bulging
and gaze focused squarely on your weaknesses.
It will pin you every time.
Every damn time.

Maybe though, just maybe,
this is precisely what you need –
a sweeping wide-ranging battle to live
with the very things you fear most –
loneliness,
meaninglessness,
being forgotten 
left behind
as the world moves on,
accepting undeserved joy –
as you spar with your muscled opponent
who looks surprisingly familiar,
like someone you’ve encountered before
but haven’t seen in years.

Mark Lloyd Richardson
August 27, 2021
7 months

Blessing While Searching for Home

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Dallis on Hanalei Beach, Kauai (2017)

Blessing While Searching for Home

When we fell in love
it was a long and lovely fall
tumbling heart first
into a trust so deep and wide
neither of us recognized it at first.

Here where the soul is bare
and unashamed
and caught off guard 
by the beauty of another
we discovered home
for the first time in our lives.

It is not to be taken for granted –
this serendipity of finding
what we knew our souls needed
but had never been able to find –
a shelter from the storm,
a refuge amid life’s troubles,
a sanctuary of healing grace.

Your dying
shook the foundations
of this home we fashioned
out of love and sweat
and laughter and tears.

Now many questions travel with me
in this liminal territory I’ve entered –
where am I to turn for shelter,
how will I recover a sense of home,
how do I cultivate a circle of trust,
how does one pray with a heart bereft,
how do I travel this long, lonely road?

Travel with me, sweetheart.
Please, I pray, travel with me,
as I wait for answers 
and go in search of them.

Travel with me, sweetheart,
and in the traveling
hold these questions with me
until a new dawn arrives.

Travel with me
and be home for me,
and in the sweet mystery of love
be home with me.

Mark Lloyd Richardson
July 27, 2021

Looking for You

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Valentine’s Day 2011

I’m told you’re looking down on me from above,
but I don’t believe it.
I don’t want you looking down on me
from some lofty perch.
You never did that in life,
so why would you start now?
It’s odd to even think about you
hovering over me –
how high I’m not told –
viewing my life as a spectator,
watching me move from here to there,
seeing me make my mistakes
and not being able to prevent them, 
having little to do with me really,
other than to observe my days
and pray for the best.

In life,
this life,
you were always by my side
and I felt your deep presence.
You were my sanctuary – 
where love flourished,
where healing occurred,
where life was restored each day,
where hope never died.

On this side of the veil
I still look for you
in this sacred meeting place
where egos fall away
and love
without conditions
abides.

You don’t look down on me from above.
You look
as you always have,
into my eyes,
with a tenderness
too deep for words.
You draw me out
and love me,
unreservedly,
truthfully,
and that is a gift
that can only be given
from the inside.

Mark Lloyd Richardson
July 3, 2021

Blessing of the Unexpected

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This blessing
is not the one you expect.

You
who wonder 
if a time will ever come
when contentment
comes calling again.

You
who limp through most days
on legs weary 
from carrying
the heaviness of grief.

You
who look for signs
amid the trees
and birds of the air
that there is yet some life
able to flourish
and fly.

You
who struggle
with even the simplest things.

You 
who have given up on the why,
and need to know how – 
how to be,
how to move,
how to breathe,
how to live.

The heart knows its way home.
It does.
The heart – 
your heart – 
has always hungered for wholeness,
has always delighted in joy,
has always longed for love,
has always looked for the truest way.

This blessing may not be 
the one you expect.
Yet it is the one you receive – 
even as your heart aches,
and healing seems slow,
and days long.

This blessing
meets you where you are
and remains with you – 
in the silent spaces,
in the open wounds,
in the private pain,
for as long as you need.

This blessing knows
that even though it seems impossible – 
you will be well again,
you will be whole again,
in the fullness of time.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
June 2021

Blessing the Rooms You Inhabit

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The pillows
you bought last year for the futon 
are lovely shades 
of lavender and blue
and we both loved them
yet we knew right away
they weren’t nearly big enough.

So, I bought larger ones 
in a complementary color
to slip behind them.
I hope you don’t mind.

The dining room tablecloth
of earthy browns and deep reds
we have had for years
has never been my favorite
(sorry for not telling you)
and especially now
as I seek out cheerier colors.

So, I put a bright floral tablecloth
of many colors 
on the table
and may go in search of others like it.
I hope you don’t mind.

Reddish brown pottery pieces
you picked up at local pottery sales
have been displayed on a shelf
one taller than the other
and while the designs 
carved by the artists on them 
are intriguing
the colors have never appealed to me.

So, they are now in a box
in the garage
that will eventually go 
to the thrift store.
I hope you don’t mind.

The living room
where the final weeks of your life
were spent in a hospital bed
looking out at the trees and plants
rabbits, squirrels and birds
needed a feng shui makeover
which I’ve attempted
complete with a little garden 
of green and flowering plants
in the windowed corner of the room
on what was your puzzle table.

At this table
where you stood
often gently moving to music
while working a puzzle
I have placed the living urn
gleaming white
with a Hawaiian Umbrella tree 
planted and nurtured 
in the soil with you.
I hope you don’t mind.
(In fact, I hope it pleases you.)

I’m not trying to erase anything, sweetheart,
about our lovely life together.

But I realize I can’t leave everything the same
or I will soon be mired in the past.

And I can’t change everything either
(nor do I want to)
or I might become forgetful
of all that was so beautiful 
about you and me
together.

So, I make room
in the here and now moments
of each new day
to simply be present
to that which opens up before me
like a holy invitation
to live again.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson

The things you notice

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Pacific Grove, California, 2015

The Things You Notice

How sometimes you say we
and sometimes you say I
and you mean essentially the same thing

How there’s hardly a moment goes by
without a thought of her

How the sky is still a fainter blue

How the sound of Latin music
instantly has you imagining
her swaying body

How the birds sing a sweeter song
when she is in your thoughts

How the sun still chooses to rise

How you search for every scrap 
of memory to sustain you
through the lengths of night and day

How your heart is warmed
whenever someone says her name

How the road home still stretches north

How even everyday household tasks
remind you of the loving care
she took in making your home a refuge

How the softness of one of her sweaters
leaves you longing for her tender caress

How the waves still collide with the shore

How an image of her
often triggers
an avalanche of emotion

How your hand reaches in the night
for her side of the bed

How there is still no cure for the broken heart

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
April 2021

Let the birds sing

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Let the birds sing
in early morning light

Let breezes sweetly whisper
through the trees at midday

Let clouds drift lazily
across a buoyant spring sky

Let the sun’s brilliance
gild rugged hillsides nearby

And let it all remind me
that this day is holy

Let friends call
and listen tenderly to my pain

Let strangers offer
a kind word or gesture

Let hours pass
and leave no trace of regret

Let this day unfold
with a gentleness born of grace

And let it all remind me
that this day is holy

There is no denying
this world looks different to me now
my future blurred by uncertainty
love’s healing work barely begun
and the cruel finality of death
no longer merely an idea

But let the birds sing in the morning
let friends be present by my side
let moments of contentment quietly come
let memories wash over me like a balm
let joy one day follow these days of mourning
let healing imperceptibly take root and grow

And let it all remind me
if I have the courage to see it
that this day indeed is holy

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson

A world ended on this day

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A world ended on this day

January 27, 2021

I didn’t truly understand before
how deep loss can pull you under
how traumatic death can feel
how it ends a world

I knew that death was profoundly painful
for the ones left behind
I knew it was life-altering
I knew it was accompanied by many tears
and heart-stopping screams in the night
and even cursing of the darkness
but I didn’t really understand

I knew that life is fragile
that our days are not guaranteed
that while we bear the divine image
we live in mortal bodies
and that it can all end in an instant

I knew that I wanted to show others empathy
that I wanted to accompany them in their pain
and that because of my calling 
I was a visible reminder of the holy
whenever I visited the dying or grieving
but I didn’t really understand

A world ended for me this day

January 27, 2021

While the world around me carried on
as though nothing had happened
my world collapsed
it burned itself out
it shut itself down
it ended

My world was you and me
in all the sacred messiness of our relationship
in all the hopefulness for life yet to be lived
in all the simple joys of faithful companionship
in all the blessings of traveling this road together

Then in a moment it was gone

And I finally began to understand

Had I tried to imagine the searing pain
the throbbing heartache
the sickening permanency
that accompanies such a loss
I doubt I could have

Empathy only reaches so far

So here I am
wounded
disoriented
vulnerable
frightened
alone

A world ended for me this day
It was the world with you, my beloved, in it

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
March 18, 2021