Shame

I’m ashamed. I have been so negligent in posting to this blog and the reality is, my life is a Christian is so much more important to me than poetry or photography–the subject of my other two blogs.

But then, I think about a book I read over 25 years ago by John Bradshaw, a popular self-help guru at the time, Healing the Shame That Binds You, in which the author describes the toxicity of shame because it focuses on self image, the perception of our failure. As Christians, we have the ability to take our guilt to Jesus and accept his forgiveness, his loving compassion.

I suffer from the spiritually deadly disease of perfectionism and I can’t tell you how often I turn in my prayer to the image of the parable of the Prodigal Son and soak in the unconditional love of God for us. I say disease because, like shame, perfectionism focuses on self not love of God and others.

So I offer, once again, a copy of Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, and image I like to visualize when I’m turning inward instead of upward.

 

Image: Rembrandt The artist represented the abundance of parental love by painting one male hand and one female hand.

Image: Rembrandt–Detail
The artist represented the abundance of parental love by painting one male hand and one female hand.

Image: Rembrandt's Prodigal Son Wikipedia Commons

Image: Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son
Wikipedia Commons

As for my shame in not posting for a while, I will do what Bradshaw suggests: let go, do what you have to do to change (or to accept the lack of time and inspiration it takes to blog) and move on! Have a blessed week.

 

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The Gospel According to John

Zagreb Gospel Book: John Wikipedia Commons Labeled for Reuse

Zagreb Gospel Book: John
Wikipedia Commons
Labeled for Reuse

The Gospel According to John

Time passed slowly that afternoon.
Blood flowed like lava into my cupped hand.

The man who hung upon a rough-hewn tree
should have reigned over lush gardens of creation.

The night before I’d struggled to remain awake,
but now I stood by the mother until he passed

into the boiler room of hell. We remained there
to receive his body, returned it to the earth,

sealed the tomb with the clunk of a massive boulder.
After the Sabbath, the Phoenix resurfaced from the ash-pit.

Now I write his story, dipping the nib of my pen
in the sanguine ink of eternal mysteries.

Copyright 2012 Victoria Slotto

Enduring Love

Photo: pexels.com labeled for non-commercial reuse

Photo: pexels.com
labeled for non-commercial reuse

love that endures
a sestina

you sit beside the hearth and dream
of years long past, of youth
those days so filled with dance, with life
that you do not forget
you walked in worlds of swirling greens
gave birth beneath the sky

you revel ‘neath cerulean skies
and catch a glimpse of dreams
and thus the burgeoning of green
as you reclaim your youth
those signs of spring you won’t forget
for you still pulse with life

in aging, still you sing of life
your eyes reflect the sky
you smile at love you can’t forget
those memories of dreams
fulfilled when you were full of youth
midst flowers, in fields green

you stood by him in days of green
he held you throughout life
you gave each other joys of youth
‘neath bound’ry of the sky
he was the answer to your dreams
you never will forget

a love that’s easy to forget
cherishes flowers, the green
of grass and sun, the blissful dream—
can these endure through life
when clouds obscure the blue, blue sky
and aging foils youth

how easy to enjoy one’s youth
and facile to forget
the promise made ‘neath azur skies
delight-filled days of green
yet to endure the stuff of life
we need more than to dream

beyond your youth, those days of green
(lest you forget) the greatest life
soars to the skies, surpasses dreams

Throughout the month in which we celebrate Valentine’s Day, much is written about love–most of which is about younger people, with an erotic twist quite often. Today, I want to write about love that has lasted throughout the ups and downs of a relationship, of the years. Love that the Greeks refer to as agape, love that is about the choices we make for the well-being of another. I have been privileged to witness that sort of love in my life as a nurse, when a caregiver puts aside oneself for the sake of his ill or cognitively impaired loved one.

I wrote this in response to a challenge from a fellow poet, Bjorn, to write a sestina in which the end words of each line follow a specific pattern throughout six stanzas, each of six lines, ending with a tercet that uses the six words in internal rhyme, also following a pattern. If you want to learn more about this complex form, go here

I will post this for OLN on Thursday and on my Christian Blog: Be Still and Know That I Am God. I am also linking this to Sanaa Rizvi’s Prompt Nights.

 

Advent is My Favorite Time of Year

Photo: Labeled for non-commercial reuse

Photo: Labeled for non-commercial reuse

Christmas Advent is My Favorite Time of Year

(Flash Fiction)

Amy waited, none-too-patiently, in the interminable line at Walmart, drumming slender fingers on the handle of her cart, wondering what the hold-up was and questioning the wisdom of attempting to shop the day after Thanksgiving. Especially since she abhorred the commercialism of the season, not to mention, she wasn’t at all fond of crowds.

She ignored the queue forming behind her, and a glance to the left and right informed her that it was the same throughout the store. Impatient customers sighed, complained and even argued about who got to the checkout counter first.

The teenager manning the cash registered wore a Santa Cap and, incongruously, a scowl. Frustration oozed throughout the crowd. The cart behind her was loaded, Amy could tell without turning around, and she thanked her lucky stars that she had gotten there before whoever wielded that wobbly thing on non-compliant wheels.

A small voice, almost a whisper, spoke to her. Turning she saw a wizened little lady who had to be in her 80’s, if not her 90’s.

“I’m sorry,” Amy said. “Were you speaking to me?”

“Yes,” the elderly patron said. “I just said that December isn’t like it used to be. In my day, Advent came before Christmas, we gave up candy like we did for Lent. We prayed together, waited for the Wonder that was to come. Gifts just weren’t that important.”

Amy nodded, waited for the woman to go on.

A younger voice, a man, from an adjacent line joined in. “That’s how my mother made us prepare for Christmas, too. It was about what was to come. I don’t know, but for me, that made the anticipation all the more exciting, and Christmas day, we couldn’t think of even looking under the tree before Church.”

The conversation continued and Amy mostly listened, adding only a few “I see’s.” The overhead speakers blasted songs totally devoid of anything suggestive of the spiritual meaning of the holiday, more often chanting masked messages of “gimme, gimme, gimme.”

Amy became strangely aware of the emptiness of her own life. These two people had an entirely different perspective from her own. She told herself she would try to learn more about what made Advent, waiting so special to some people. After all, she was alone in this city. Her boyfriend had dumped her a month ago and it wasn’t that easy for her to make new friends.

She surprised herself when she reached the check stand. Those last few minutes in line had slipped by so quickly. When she was next-in-line she did something a little crazy—she stepped behind the lady with the cart loaded with children’s toys. She could see her wise teacher was exhausted and a little wobbly after standing for so long.

When her new friend thanked her, she said, “I can see you wondering why I have all these toys. Oh, they’re not for my grandchildren—I have none. They’re for the collection the Marines are taking up for homeless children. You see, that’s how I celebrate the birth of Jesus now that I’m alone. His coming was all about love and…well, I’m sure you understand.”

Amy realized that she wanted to do just that.

Photo: V. Slotto, 2014

Photo: V. Slotto, 2014

Playful God

I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.Whoever makes himself lowly, becoming like this child, is of greatest importance in that heavenly reign. Mt. 18, 3-4 (NAB)

Photo: Crayola Crayons

Photo: Crayola Crayons

I remember a couple of lines from a poem I read a long time ago from a book published in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. It was written and published by a teacher from St. Mary’s of the Lake, a sister college back then of Notre Dame University–the college my grandmother attended. I tried to recall the exact phrasing, but the book is not available to me right now, so I will just give you the gist, in my own words:

I have a very little song to sing,
I have a very little game to play,
I play alone, except for One who is with me always.
And they are beautiful.

Whenever I read or think of this poem, I think of the ever-loving presence of our God and the fact that God cares about the littlest things in our life.

Yesterday, I had a delightful morning with a dear friend, someone with whom I share faith-talk. We went Bible shopping, as my sight is not so good anymore (one of the non-perks of getting older). I would like one that is large print. Most of the ones we saw were enormous study Bibles. None was in the translation I am used to. But we saw a shelf of coloring books for kids and started talking about the meditative fad that’s popular now of adult coloring books. Kerry told me they have them at Costco, just across the street from where we were. So we went, and both found one…but no crayons.

Now, in my early years, my mom and I lived with my grandparents on a very meager widow’s pension. Mom was not able to give me most of what I asked for, so I still carry the pure delight of the times she would take me to get a new coloring book (or any kind of book, for that matter) and a box of crayons…eight of them, if I recall correctly. Even now, when I pass crayons in the grocery store, I can taste that joy, the scent and colors of a new box of crayons…and so in the afternoon, I took off to Wal-Mart and bought one with 120 colors! I colored two pictures last night.

Jesus asks us to become like little children and I believe that is an invitation to trust and unquestioned belief in His Word. But I also suspect that God delights in us when we find joy in the simple things of life (and in the beauty of His creation.) Perhaps you would enjoy it too–or maybe you will rediscover one of those little things that gave you happiness as a child.

Image: Pinterest

Image: Pinterest

The “Perfect” Son

Image: Rembrandt's Prodigal Son Wikipedia Commons

Image: Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son
Wikipedia Commons

Let’s continue reflecting on the wonderful story Jesus told of the Father’s immense love for us. Trying to share the conferences I heard on the parable of the Prodigal Son became a daunting task that stalled me, so I’ll just take a few moments to share my own thoughts about the elder son–the son who stayed faithful, who stayed home with his father and did all he could to do what he believed  the father expected of him. I suspect that, if you are visiting this blog, you may be among those who still remain (or, like me, who have returned) home.

What Jesus is asking us to do is to stand back and take a look at ourselves…an objective look. The elder son remained with the father and worked hard–but look what happened when the younger brother returned home–that kid who had demanded his inheritance up front only to go and waste it on dissolute living. Big Bro was really ticked off. No, more than that, he allowed resentment to consume him.

Doesn’t this make you wonder why he bothered to hang around. I suspect it was because he wanted to get something from it. He expected a return on his investment and just couldn’t come to understand that the love of the Father is not based on what we do to earn it, but rather is a gratuitous gift, overflowing with love. Dipping into the Old Testament, I’ve encountered how the loving kindness of God shows up, again and again, in spite of the total infidelity of the Hebrew people, the people he chose for himself. So it is with us.

There are other sins, too, that those who are “good” sons, or “good” Christians may be guilty of–gossip, judgmentalism, pettiness, ignoring the needs of others, perfectionism…it’s darn hard to measure up to those demands of the Beatitudes. Yet, they too need the Father’s forgiveness.

Jesus doesn’t really tell us the rest of the story. Did the elder son catch on and come inside and join in the celebration? I wonder. He would surely be missing out on the Father’s abundant love if he stayed outside and moped.

Note: In Rembrandt’s portrayal of the parable, check out the elder son. He’s the one standing way in the back, in the shadows. The artist really had a deep understanding of Jesus’ story, didn’t he.

 

The Wayward Son–the Decision to Return Home

Photo: arthurandteresabeam.blogspot.com

Photo: arthurandteresabeam.blogspot.com

Many of us go through stages in our spiritual journey when we take leave of our spiritual home and go in search of something new and different, or perhaps easier.

Grounded as I had been in my religious practice, I also “left home” for a while. It’s hard for me to understand what I was looking for, because I never abandoned my spiritual seeking–I just wanted to look elsewhere. Perhaps for something easier, and I found myself unable to live up to the expectations I had set for myself–forgetting that salvation is not about what I do, but what God has already done for me.

The son’s leave-taking, as discussed in my last post, was about himself, but also about a search for his own pleasure and a defiance of his father’s love for him. What was it that brought him home–the total destitution that he encountered–his hunger for food.

He had no expectation of being received as a son, but figured that perhaps his father would accept him back as a servant. He thought that since he was feeding pigs for a stranger, perhaps his lot would be better with the Father, that at least he wouldn’t have to eat the slop he fed the swine.

When I decided to return home, I can’t explain why, exactly. I just knew it was time. I had to come face to face with my own delusions, my well-thought-out rationale for whatever it was I was seeking. It just happened that one day, I decided I missed my spiritual home. The loving Spirit of the Father drew me back. Perhaps you have read Francis Thompson’s poem, The Hound of Heaven, a poem about God’s relentless pursuit of us.

Have you had your own experience of leave-taking? Of home-coming? What drove you away? What/Who brought you home? Your sharing may help someone else.

Next week, I’d like to take a look at the older brother, the one who never left. We may find out that he needed to fall flat on his face, too–like some of us have.

Note: On September 12, 13, and 14th I will be offering a free Kindle Give-Away of my novel, “The Sin of His Father.” Click on the title to take advantage of this offer. If you are willing to do a review on Amazon.com or Goodreads.com, I would be so grateful. Print copies are also available for purchase. Ask me about signed copies–victoria@victoriacslotto.com 

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Words uttered by his mother on her deathbed, a mystery about his father that she had not confided to him, drove Matt Maxwell to fear that he could become like this man he never knew.

Abandoning the woman he loved, his closest friend, and a lifestyle that suited him well, Matt made choices that opened him to an unlikely friendship and a new relationship with the God of his youth. However, the terrible secret he harbored eventually took him down a path of self-destruction and alcoholism.

What would it take to embrace his truth, accept himself and his past, and discover peace in the power of forgiveness and love?