All posts by Mary Herbert

About Mary Herbert

I am a gentle listener, a woman of few words. My journey through life has been a spiritual one, as well as a physical one. My daughter, Katie, and I thought it would be interesting to combine some of our giftings/talents in a blog and see what happens. Let us know what you think!

Lockdown

I was surprised
by the red-tailed hawk that landed in our yard,
the poison ivy on my legs,
the worry and stress,
the civil unrest.
So…painting the house
and mowing the yard,
gathering only with one friend
who was ill
and watched her worsen,
on the chairs in our yard
made by our son.
Feeding peanuts to squirrels
and seeds to birds,
watching the hummingbirds,
and knitting and knitting and knitting.
My husband went to hospital
the pressure in his veins too high,
watched my brother’s marriage dissolve,
then one brother-in-law sick with the virus died.
And we could not gather.
Raking loads of leaves and
and then we caught the virus but did not die.
Then one brother-in-law’s heart stopped.
And we could not gather.
Then cancer claimed my friend.
And we could not gather.
And I could not write.
Our mothers lived through this,
each loosing a son.
Our children marched on
and I’m amazed by them all.
And it began when a red-tailed hawk
landed in our yard and sat in solitude
on a chair that our son made.

Mary, My Older Sister

Mary, my older sister,
you risked the sacred silence,
And found an angel facing you.
Your brave “yes”, 
became a womb,
(a hidden basket among the reeds)
Holding child and promise,
For love and freedom’s sake.

Your “yes”, is water turned to wine.
Becomes a key for those held hostage,
A message of hope for those who grieve,
A hand to the poor and ill,
And still, a friend to strangers.

Those things pondered in your heart,
Of a child whose values included you,
Whose love embraced the earth,
The skies and every living thing.
Sweet Mary, your example for us all.
If there is no time in heaven,
Pray for me now, pray for us now,
for the need is great.

Pray for us now, 
And help us give our grandest, yes,
to set aside our fear
and give us vision for what may be.
As the messenger greets us now,
I sing your praise, and ask you,
Help us with our, yes.
Help me with my yes and amen.

***********

This poem comes from a number of places, mainly from my heart being disturbed by recent political events, an exercise in the book, Birthing the Holy, by Christine Valters Paintner, p.6, and a centering prayer time around M. Basil Pennington:

“In the silence, whether we listen to the creation around us,
The words of revelation, or the deepest stirrings of our own hearts,
We begin to perceive another voice,
One that is too often lost in the static of life.
It is no use saying: ‘Speak, Lord, your servant wants to hear,’
If we never risk the silence to listen.”

Many of my more traditional friends will enjoy this poem, while many of my evangelical friends will probably shake their heads and be concerned. But, I would ask all to examine what is going on inside themselves and if they have ever asked others to pray for them, or if they have reverenced Paul, or Peter? Why not Mary? Her ‘Yes’, was as grand as any.

Play and Practices

I’m reading a book called, The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God (by Christine Aroney-Sine).  I have no idea how I came across it, but I am delighting in it.  “Nothing lights up the brain like play…”.   “We don’t usually think about having fun with our spiritual practices…I find myself wondering if we need to rethink what spiritual practices are and how they connect us to God.”  “Restoring the joy of play restores the joy of spiritual practice.  It is part of our journey toward redemption and salvation.”  And the question, the beautiful question, “What creative and playful activities do you enjoy that could become fun spiritual practices for you?” 

What an amazing idea that play could be a spiritual practice.  A restorative practice as well as a transformative one.  It delights me that play could lead me into mystery, into love, into intimacy.  But, that is something that play does.  It bonds us to our play-mates.  It helps us to stretch and learn new things because it is fun or because we are doing it with someone.  

I no longer play with dolls, or nurses kits.  I don’t pretend to be a cowgirl while riding my bike or of  being a ballerina when I listen to classical music. I no longer build forts in woodlands, and I don’t ice-skate on frozen lakes.  Those were a few of the things that lit my brain when I was a child. 

So what does light up my brain now?  

First, I find it much easier to mention the things that do not light up my brain.  Doing dishes! Doing laundry! Watching sports!  Reading assembly instructions!  Filling out forms!….  But, the question is, “What creative and playful activities do I enjoy that could become fun spiritual practices for me?”  Creative and playful being the important words.  

My play seems to be mostly solo.  Walking around the local lakes, being outdoors seems to clear my mind, creates mind space to think without a screen.  Knitting seems to light up my brain….learning a new stitch or technique, or weaving a basket.  But, what would it look like if I were to “play into” those things that don’t seem to light up my brain?  What if I were to change the narrative or make a game out them?  What would a child be doing if they were doing the dishes?  What would they be appreciating or noticing?  What would they be trying to do?  How would they fill out the forms?  (Can I at least think about it?)  I can still do the solo things; Visiting with people one-on-one , reading, writing my thoughts down in a journal.  But, whether I enjoy doing something or not, how would a child do it?  

I may even come up with a list of playful practices to use when I feel depleted?  A quick go-to “playlist”! What might I notice?  God watching?  God playing with me?  And how might it make me feel while I’m doing it?  Can I let go of the “I have to get this done” feeling?  Can I just be with myself in a more joy-filled way?  Will I feel grounded and relaxed?

So if you’ve read this far, I wonder if you have any thoughts about play as a spiritual practice and what other questions I might ask myself when I play.

Centering Prayer

“Praying with a sacred word disposes the one who prays to
the open depths within by drawing to stillness the
wandering mind that flits and skitters all over the place.”
Martin Laird

Dispose, let go, part with
the distraction.
So that
…my intention,
will govern or influence, 
…will be a gift.

Make this matter, this letting go,
be a habit, a tendency, 
be a disposition of sorts,
And…
…finding a word
decide the matter.
Set this aside, …and this, …and this.

Breathe the word.
Be willing and posed…
For presence sake,
…I begin where I now am,
To make this order what it needs to be.
A tendency, an inclination…
This first, this stilled self, this Presence, 
This word that gently brings me back to what is first.
Things let loose, set free, disposed of, 
so I can lean a different way.
Let my disposition be one of leaning toward,
Like a child,
Receiving the Gift.

Mary Herbert. February 2022

This poem comes from meditating on a paragraph written by Martin Laird.  There were two things I thought of as I wrote it.  First the word, “disposed” which has several meanings that fit so well together with some of the ideas within Centering Prayer, which was the second thing I was thinking of.

Centering prayer is a prayer practice, introduced and written about by Father Keating, which at its core is the desire for the presence of the Divine. It is a wordless prayer, yet uses a word to bring oneself gently back to the Presence when our thoughts drift. Father Thomas Keating has written several books on this practice so I won’t try to explain it further.

Pass the Peace

Two women, 
whose stories we do not know,
One sits at one side
Her mouth askew
From birth or accident,
Or maybe tumors left too long.
So good at sheltering
She is seldom seen.

     So who will see her?
Who will pass the peace to her?
For peace is what she needs.

The other,
Whose story we do not know
Sits on other end
Of this long and blackened pew.
Straight and tall
She looks ahead 
or looks down
  from unseen wall.
What troubles must she carry, 
To hide behind them all?

     Who will see her?
And who will pass the peace to her?
For peace is what she needs.

So who will sit between them
And see them as they are
And who will scale the walls
And see beyond the scars
To pass the peace between them
For peace is what they need.

…So as I seat myself between them
I wonder if I am seen?
My story known to me
I see the walls I’ve built
And know some scars are deep.
Who will pass the peace to me?
For peace is what I need.

There are other verses that could be written.  People whose stories we don’t know.  Who sit alone or sit with others, yet lonely. Or, the people who are beyond the walls of our churches and homes, who are sick and homebound or don’t attend a church, who don’t need our judgement but need peace.

Mary Herbert  April 2022

This poem comes from a picture painted by a participant in a Narrative Circle that I gather with.  She painted a picture of a recent experience that she had in church (and gave me permission to use it in this poem), which brought to mind the sermon I heard the Sunday before.  The sermon acknowledged the sign of peace as something more than a coffee hour greeting but an incarnational gift that we give and receive.