A letter to my love

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Dallis & I on the Big Island November 2014
(Photo: Wendy Granger)

My dear Dallis,

Sweetheart, I know I told you as you were dying that everything would be okay … that I would be okay … but it was a lie. I don’t like lying to you and I didn’t intend to do so; I was just trying to convince myself, and I was telling you what I thought you needed to hear so that you could let go and be released from a body that was failing you. But now I am utterly heartbroken. I feel completely lost without you. I want so badly to hear your voice again. I want to kiss your lips. I want to hold you and be held by you.

What touched my life so thoroughly during our love affair and marriage is how you would look at me with such affection in your eyes it melted my heart. You brought me to tears so many times just by being honest with me about how you felt. We told each other our deepest truths. We relied on one another to always care most about the other. 

I can’t believe how lucky I was to have you in my life for nineteen years. If I had known sooner that our time together was nearing the end, I would have stopped working earlier and devoted all my time to you … to us! I would have reveled all the more in your smile and laugh. I would have asked you to tell me more about the greatest joys of your life, all the way back. I would have wanted to watch your New Zealand slides with you, and have you regale me about that favorite adventure of yours, years before we met.

I would also have wanted to hear more about the places of pain and disappointment in your life, many of which I know about and others I imagine were left unsaid.

This grief hurts beyond imagining. I feel like I’m dying inside. I struggle just to do the simplest things and get through each day.

I wish there was a way to communicate with you, my beloved. I write these thoughts I’ve been thinking and wish I could get this message to you. You were the very one I needed in my life. You cheered my successes, savored our relationship, and gave me every bit of yourself to love and enjoy. You were my anchor, my safe haven, my source of lightheartedness and joy. 

I’m trying to figure out how to live without you near to me, your physical presence that is. I have never been through more painful days than these. A heavy sadness follows me everywhere, even to sleep. Nothing in my life experience compares to this aching I feel in body, mind and spirit.

Dallis, my beautiful one, it is my deepest hope that you are where there is no more pain and no more crying, and where you know deep and abiding peace. I also hope to see you often in my dreams.

You will always have my love,

Mark

When memories won’t do

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This is the hardest day yet.
I am worth nothing today.
The grief has gotten hold of me
and won’t let go.
There is an empty void
nothing and no one is able to fill.
It follows me around.
I want to go back to sleep
and wake up in the past.

My grief is complicated
by the fact that in my line of work
our lives are set forth as examples
of faith being lived out
in good times and in bad.
What if my faith isn’t holding up that well today?
What if I’m more than a little pissed with God?
What then?

As I hear from good people
trying to offer me solace
they don’t realize there is none to be found.
All the greeting card talk
of being comforted by memories
leaves me feeling comfortless
in these moments when it’s not memories I want.

I want her to peek around the corner and smile.
I want her hug that lingers and won’t let me go.
I want to hear her voice again calling me.
I want her laugh, unique and contagious.
I want her …
not memories of her …
but her.

This is where I am in this moment …
for better or for worse …
with tear-flooded eyes!
Dallis, my heart aches for you.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson

The Sweetness of Life

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The world is a brighter place
with you in it.
The ocean is a deeper blue
for the color
you splash into my life.
The trees are a softer green
for the compassion
you offer me.

The road is a wider way
for the happiness
you spread before me.
Life is sweet
and sweeter still
with you
and only you.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
For Dallis Ann Day
June 2002

My Delight

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You are a fragrant rose in full bloom,
petals shimmering in the morning dew,
heart open wide to the awakening sun.

I lay my eyes on you and am made glad
for the sheer grace that is you.

Your scent floats on the air
with a sweetness I can almost taste.

You are beautiful.
You are my delight.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
For Dallis Ann Day
April 2002

Is this grief?

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A week ago, today, my beloved wife Dallis died.
Eight years after being diagnosed with Stage-4 breast cancer
suddenly she is gone.
She’s not sitting across the table from me at breakfast.
She’s not dancing in the living room to her favorite songs.
She’s not laughing on the phone with a friend.
She’s not holding me tenderly in her embrace.
She’s not filling my heart with her smile.

I don’t know what to do with this day that stretches before me.
There’s a list of things to do … but I hardly care.
I’m sure I’ll walk our dog Bailey … both he and I need it.
Otherwise, all bets are off.

Is this grief?
Not knowing how to be me without her?
Not believing she could really be gone?
Being unsettled by the ache in my heart?
Feeling broken into pieces?

Our future together
that once seemed so ripe with possibility
is now only a memory.
I am overcome with sadness.

Mark Lloyd Richardson

The Feast You Spread Before Us

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You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
~ Psalm 23:5 

This is the feast you spread before us, O God,
a sumptuous celebration of freedom in Christ,
sitting down at table not only with those we love,
and with all those who love us in return,
but with the very ones who trouble us.

This is the feast of Eucharist –
profound gratefulness for earth, bread, and breath,
as we dance with joy before the mystery of God,
the One who speaks hope into our troubled hearts,
the One who alone is able to soothe our weary souls.

This is the feast of holy love –
first tasted in a Gethsemane garden
then poured out on Calvary’s hill,
an inexhaustible love that knows no fear
and is undeterred by hate or malice.

This is the feast of surrender –
releasing the anxieties that plague us,
the resentments we nurse over time,
giving us hearts of gladness instead,
hallowing our lives in the sweetness of grace.

This is the gospel feast –
overflowing the small containers of our lives,
bathing us in the font of baptismal blessing,
anointing us with Holy Spirit wind and fire,
bidding us to live forgiven, loved and free.

This is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet –
where lion and lamb lie down together in peace,
where foes watch their bitterness melt away,
where there is neither weeping nor pain nor fear,
rather the sounds of love’s creation praising their God.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson

Will you welcome the little one?

Revisiting this post because the children of this world need all of us to be active in healing the planet, restoring the sense of community, and protecting their vulnerable hope for the future.

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"Bethlehem at night," Flickr photo by Nancie Sill taken on January 17, 2011. Used by permission. “Bethlehem at night,” Photo by Nancie Sill taken January 17, 2011. Used by permission.

Life is a sacred gift, and all the world’s children deserve to grow up in safety and security surrounded by love. Sadly, far too many children fall victim to the violence of poverty, food insecurity, war, civil unrest, human trafficking, sexual predation, gun violence, and more. Yet these are all our children. The human family is one family in spite of all the forces at work to tear it apart. As Christians reflect upon a child who came into this world to bring peace, we must ask ourselves if we are ready to welcome all the vulnerable ones of this world into our consciousness. For it is only in opening our hearts to the suffering of the little ones that we prepare our hearts to receive the gift of this holy child we await at Christmas.

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Drawn into the Deep

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Ocean-Bound.07.30.2006

A morning prayer for the Spirit to move us:

Tender powerful Spirit,
who goes wherever you will,
like a flowing fountain soothe us,
like a mighty river transport us,
like a mountain lake enchant us,
like a gentle rain wash over us,
like a boundless ocean draw us into the deep. Amen.

Words (c) 2019 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Contemplation: A Long Loving Look at the Real

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img-9914The obstacles to contemplation are graphically summed up in a comic strip – mother inside the house, looking out a window, her little boy sitting in the yard with his back to a tree:

Mother:“Ditto, what are you doing out there?”

Ditto:“Nothing.”

Mother:“You must be doing something! Now tell me!”

Ditto:“I’m not doing anything.”

Mother:“Ditto! You tell me what you’re doing!”

Ditto (to himself): “Good gosh!” (He tosses a stone.)(out loud):“I’m throwing rocks!”

Mother:“I thought it was something like that. Now stop it at once!”

Ditto:“Okay.” (to himself):“Nobody will let you just do nothing any more.”[i]

Thankfully, my Midwestern childhood gave me plenty of space to do nothing much and not feel guilty about it. Sometimes it was a long lazy afternoon of baseball in the side lot. Other times it was canoeing and fishing on the slow-moving Fox River. And when I was feeling especially adept at “nothing doing,” I would lie in the tall summer grass and gaze at the clouds in the sky and dream of what my life might be.

Then as I grew into adolescence and young adulthood I shed my doing of nothing in favor of the rule most Americans live by: “Only useful activity is valuable, meaningful, moral.” I was so eager to become an adult that at the age of 22 I simultaneously got married, started full-time church employment, purchased a brand new Oldsmobile, trained for a marathon, and began my seminary education as a commuter student. Always the over-achiever! It took about three years for my entire world to come crashing in on me (a story for another day)!

The prayer of Jesus in the 17thchapter of the Gospel of John feels remarkably intimate to me – like eavesdropping on a conversation between Jesus and the One he calls “Abba.” Jesus prays, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us”(17:21). “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, as we are one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”(17:23).

This prayer recognizes a unity within community that is possible when we set aside our egos long enough to seek the Presence of Love that is the Word made flesh among us! Thomas Merton once observed, “Hard as it is to convey in human language, there is a very real and very recognizable (but almost entirely undefinable) Presence of God, in which we confront Him in prayer knowing Him by Whom we are known, aware of Him Who is aware of us, loving Him by Whom we know ourselves to be loved.”[ii]

How do we enter this contemplative way of being, this journey inward? How do we create enough space in the soul’s inner landscape to welcome the One who made us, the One who redeems us, the One who will sustain us until we are home?

When one is young one thinks one knows things! This was true for me when I jumped into adulthood with both feet. I knew I was called into pastoral ministry. I knew I was committed to my young wife until death do us part. I knew I was going to set the world afire. Then I became acquainted with Reality, and it was not overly impressed with my newly minted college degree, or my naive sense of call, or my obligatory marital promises. Indeed it called all of these into question!

I walked through valleys of disillusionment and despair in my twenties and early thirties as I experienced what felt like loss after loss. Ministry became drudgery, marriage a source of deep pain, and life a matter of survival. It turns out that all the books in the theological library were inadequate to meet my existential needs, and Reality set about to educate me on my utter dependence on God!

During this period in my life I wondered: How can I be more present to the Divine Presence in ways that will heal and bring wholeness? Am I able to step fully into the embrace of the One by Whom we are known, loved, forgiven, and brought to awareness of the richness of life?

Marjorie Thompson once wrote, “In contemplation we move from communicating with God through speech to communing with God through the gaze of love. Words fall away, and the most palpable reality is being present to the lover of our souls. When we let go of all effort to speak or even to listen, simply becoming quiet before God, the Spirit is free to work its healing mysteries in us: releasing us from bondage, energizing new patterns of life, restoring our soul’s beauty. Here we allow ourselves to be loved by God into wholeness.”[iii]

For years now a description by contemplative Carmelite William McNamara has spoken to me. He describes contemplation as a long loving look at the real.He calls it “a pure intuition of being, born of love. It is experiential awareness of reality and a way of entering into immediate communion with reality.” He explains that while it is possible to study things, “unless you enter into this intuitive communion with them, you can only know about them, you don’t knowthem. To take a long loving lookat something – a child, a glass of wine, a beautiful meal – this is a natural act of contemplation, of loving admiration.”[iv]

Walter Burghardt adds, “reality is living, pulsing people; … reality is the sun setting over the Swiss Alps, a gentle doe streaking through the forest; reality is a ruddy glass of Burgundy, Beethoven’s Mass in D, a child lapping a chocolate ice-cream cone; reality is a striding woman with wind-blown hair; reality is the risen Christ.”[v]“And so I am most myself, most human, most contemplative when my whole person responds to the real.”[vi]

When I was serving a small rural church in the desert, the parsonage was located just around the corner from the church. So I always walked to work, coming home for lunch, and again at the end of the day. My son Ethan was just a few years old at the time, but he knew my daily routine.

At the end of each morning or afternoon, as I crossed the intersection on my way home and set foot on Cedar Avenue, I would catch a glimpse of our rather plain looking white house. And almost without fail, the drapes in the front picture window would be slightly pulled back and a little head would be sticking up, just watching, waiting, knowing that his daddy would soon be home.

Then, when he saw me he ran out the door as fast as he could, across the front yard and into my grateful arms. I knelt down to receive my son, whose exuberant love astonished me. This is prayer– running to the One in whom we are known and loved and held in welcoming arms.

There were days when Ethan ran out that door with tears in his eyes because something had happened to make him sad or angry. But, you see, he still came running. No matter what kind of day he was having, he wanted nothing more than to be held in strong loving arms and to tell his daddy all about it. Are we this hungry for prayer?

What would it mean for us to cultivate silence within the rhythms of each day – sacred pauses, if you will – so that we might take a long loving look at the real? What would it mean to commune with God, receiving and returning the gaze of love, letting words fall silently away and simply being present? Others might equate it with doing nothing, but we would know this contemplation as time spent with the lover of our souls. We would let it all hang out – our hurts, our fears and struggles as well as our joys, our dreams and hopes, and allow ourselves to be loved into wholeness by the One who is Holy Mystery.

[i]Walter J. Burghardt, “Contemplation: A long loving look at the real,” Church, Winter ’89, p. 15.

[ii]Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, p. 44.

[iii]Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast, p. 48.

[iv]Burkhardt, p. 15.

[v]Burkhardt, p. 15.

[vi]Burkhardt, p. 16.

Words (c) 2019 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Spring is Still Coming

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California super bloom 2019 (Photo credit: Amy Aitken)

“They can cut all the flowers, but they cannot stop spring from coming.”
~ Pablo Neruda

Poets tend to tell the truth more than others. It is the poet’s intent to dig up the soil of our collective unconscious and expose what we all know to be true. Prophets do this work too. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Growing up in the Midwest I think I learned neutrality and silence quite well. It was important not to butt into other peoples’ business, and not to confront anyone. Then I went to seminary to learn to be a pastor and trained in counseling and conflict resolution skills in order to become an active listener and a non-anxious presence in the churches I would serve. These are good and useful skills, but not in every situation. Sometimes, as Jesus himself demonstrated, it’s necessary to turn some tables over and get peoples’ attention!

The Special Called General Conference held in February dealt a serious blow to progressive and centrist United Methodists who believe that God works through many expressions of faithfulness. Traditionalists won the day with their plan to reinforce the bans on ordaining openly gay persons to pastoral ministry and marrying same-sex couples. It seems that traditionalists are unable to get beyond their certainty that human sexuality is a gift from God only for straight people.

So here we are at this moment of truth! For many, the United Methodist Church – as wonderful of a witness as it has been in the world for global missions, humanitarian relief, and a merging of personal and social holiness – is no longer able to hold together the vast differences embodied in a worldwide church. Systemic change will be required, and this will likely mean an entirely new expression of inclusive Methodism able to welcome and accept the richness of humanity in its life and ministry.

The Judicial Council rulings last week were not unexpected. They found parts of the Traditional Plan to be constitutional (per the Book of Discipline) and parts to be unconstitutional. There were few surprises, but what remained when all was said and done, was the pain of betrayal and exclusion. Betrayal, because if you baptize a child and claim her as a child of God and then later tell her that she is living outside God’s will because of her sexual orientation, you are betraying her. Exclusion, because by trying to have it both ways – saying you welcome someone but only if he gives up his God-given gender identity – you are excluding him. This is where we are. This is the truth!

Eight young people were recently to be confirmed at First United Methodist Church of Omaha, Nebraska. These youth love their local church and its expressions of inclusion. But they collectively chose not to join the United Methodist Church until they see how their church responds to the denomination’s unjust and immoral policies on LGBTQ+ clergy and same sex marriage. They powerfully state: “We are not standing just for ourselves, we are standing for every single member of the LGBTQ+ community who is hurting right now. Because we were raised in this church, we believe that if we all stand together as a whole, we can make a difference.” They are choosing to take sides, to not remain neutral or silent! Spring is coming, and no one can stop it!

In Springtime Hope,
Mark

Words by Mark Lloyd Richardson (C) 2019