Prayers

Many years ago I discovered the poetry of R.S. Thomas. I can’t remember how it happened. Perhaps I was drawn to the name I knew to be Welsh and so I began to read. The poem that I read and have continued to read every now and then is simply called ‘The Other’. It paints with Word a picture of someone, sleepless, lying awake listening for the sounds one hears in the night, sounds that often are magnified in the wee hours, sounds that can be frightening or calming depending on what it is that is keeping us awake. This sleepless one allows the sound of the waves to lull him into imagining another who is always awake, who is companion in both sleep and wakefulness, receiving our prayers over and over into eternity.

The first time I read this poem I probably wept. The words were so rich and the depth of feeling so raw with the hope of having prayers heard…by someone, anyone. And today this poem came into even sharper focus for me. Stumbling as I did into a small church on the northwest coast of Wales, I found a whole wall dedicated to this poet who was vicar of this church from 1967-1978, this church which hangs on an outcrop of land with the sea’s waves crashing just outside the door. I did not know that Thomas had been a minister here. Being in this place was pure chance and I was taken by surprise to find this connection.

 

Walking around the church I saw evidence that this tiny parish is vital and still engaged in the big, deep questions that Thomas loved. Every nook and cranny is filled with simplicity and beauty that reflects the land, air, sky and sea that no doubt has shaped the identity of this small village, that has created the theology that holds them. The words chosen to welcome and those that fill a booklet meant to lead the guest around the space are poetic and well chosen. They are clearly a people who have been led by someone whose love of language must have been ever present, someone who had won several awards for literature and, I learned today, was even nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. When I say this is a small church, I mean it could not seat more than maybe 150-200 people. Given the state of most churches in villages this size to see one that appears so vital warms my heart and to have found it seems like some amazing gift.

Most of my life I have been a good sleeper. But over the last months there have been times that I, like Thomas, have been awake listening to every strange and tiny sound that creaks through the house. Usually in these night time thrashings, I go over all the things I have done, usually the ones for which I am filled with regret or those that I wish I could undo. Or I lay there making a skin deep list of all I have left undone, the procrastinations or details that eluded me in the waking hours. This stew pot can get hot pretty fast and before I know it, it is boiling. Does this sound familiar to you?

Tonight, as I lay my head down in the deep darkness of a place with no streetlights or ambient light, I can hear the waves crashing over and over just outside the hotel window. Just next door the church is standing as it has stood for centuries receiving the sound of the waves. Inside the door is a simple piece of wood with the words for ‘The Other’ printed in crude letters. My prayer is that if tonight brings sleep or restlessness that I have the grace to imagine the One who is awake as well holding my prayers…and your prayers…the prayers of those with deep faith…and the prayers of those whose doubt is real. May The Other receive the prayers of the world this night..for a few hours…and for eternity.

A Sad Story

It’s a sad story. About a King and a faithful dog and a baby boy. And a wolf. We are staying in the village of Beddgelert in northern Wales. This tiny town has its identity built around this story this sad story that goes something like this:

Llewelyn the Great had a favorite dog, Gelert. He also had an infant son. One day the Prince went hunting leaving his faithful dog to watch over the child. Coming home he found his home in chaos and blood smeared everywhere, including on the dog, and his child was missing. Thinking the dog had killed his son, Llewelyn, in a rage slit the throat of his companion Gelert contributing to the chaos and bloody scene. But moments later the Prince finds the child safe, unharmed, beside a huge, dead wolf. Gelert had killed the wolf and protected the child. Llewelyn is said to have never smiled again.

It is a story that grips the heart. And it is a story that is not true…factually anyway. It was created in the 18th century by a crafty resident to draw people to this picturesque village nestled between two tall hills and a swiftly flowing river. The story has been believable enough that people still come to visit the grave of Gelert placing coins around the stone that marks the site of this dog who was wrongly judged and died for a crime he did not commit. It is a fascinating phenomenon. Since this is also my second time to visit the grave, it has caused me to reflect on it all.

The story of Gelert contains much of what all good stories hold…mystery, intrigue, tragedy and an element of a happy resolution. Clearly, this story pulls at the heartstrings of dog lovers everywhere, of which, the British certainly are. Dogs and their companions are everywhere! The story also holds the ancient nature of a legend that has endured time. And it also carries some lessons and a bit of wisdom that challenge humanity at our core.

Reading the story once again I was reminded of the times I have jumped to quick judgment with results that were troubling, while certainly not as tragic as Llewelyn’s. I think most people might say the same. I am reminded of the times I act without weighing the possible outcome, without thinking what my actions might set in motion. I think of the times I have seen, and perhaps been involved in myself, a misuse of power over those who might be seen as ‘smaller’ or with less status. All this can be thought about individually and communally. How often do we as nations and communities act too quickly to judge without listening or getting the fullness of information? How often do we think the worst of someone or a whole group of people? Our newspapers are full of such acts and we live daily in the chaos and the blood-letting of it.

Perhaps the story of Gelert and Llewelyn has continued in this sleepy village because it holds an element of truth we each carry, something that invites us to a certain kind of reflective confession. Though not factual this story holds much truth. My hope is that the story continues to be told for generations to come, that people continue to visit the ‘grave’ of Gelert and place coins around the stone. In acts like this, may we each find ways to make amends for the ways we have harmed those who might be labeled the least, the lost and the left out, many of whom are companion and protectors. As we make our offerings, may we find healing…and lost smiles.

 

 

What Is Right


Traveling, being away from home, when terrible things happen is always disconcerting. Not being able to reach out to your steady friends and family, to have the grounding of what is familiar, shakes a person in ways that at other times can be processed in a more metered way. Being far from home, hearing the news of the horrific events in Las Vegas from a stranger whose voice and inflection sounded so unlike your own, gives a jolt that messes with all your vulnerable edges. It always seems to me that it is easier to be with tragedy when you are in a place whose fabric you know like the back of your hand. Maybe others experience this differently but this is true for me and it always surprises me the degree to which I am unnerved.

Hearing this news as I did, in such a lovely and peaceful place as the island of Iona, also caused me to begin to reflect on something quite different. I began to notice, not what is wrong in the world but what is right. I didn’t do this to deny or minimize the horrible, the violent, the incredibly sad events. I did it because I was also being confronted moment after moment by kindness, beauty, wisdom and deep acts of faith. I began to notice what holds a greater truth that can sometimes get hidden in the chaos and ugliness we have been experiencing lately.

Looking all around me, I saw the brilliant green of a landscape that knows at least a little rain nearly every day. It seems, because people expect this gift from the sky, most are prepared and do not complain or dread its arrival. They see it as the necessary companion of green fields, rolling valleys and rainbows. Having been blessed with an abundance of rainbows over the last days, another thing that is right in the world is that it seems nearly impossible to tire of seeing them. Rainbows are “awe” inspiring…and awe is always right and good. Most of us could do with more awe.

Nearly every day I have eaten food that came from within a few miles of where I sat down at a table. Gardens grown by those who likely also cooked vegetables recently clinging dirt and fish pulled from the sea by fishermen in small boats whose livelihood has likely been passed down for generations makes for a just and sustainable community. The food was not only fresh but inventive and artful on the plate that carried not only nutrition but pride. If I was inclined, as some are, to take photos of their food, I would have a camera full of meals.

What has been ‘right’ with people I have met? To a person, nearly all have been kind and helpful. Many have offered an empathetic word for what has been happening in our country from hurricanes to violent tragedy. Some have offered prayers on our behalf. None have dispensed judgment or been disrespectful. Conversations have been thoughtful and questions open. Last night our young waiter told us of his university work as a student of geography and disaster control and relief. He spoke of volcanoes, hurricanes and floods and their impact…I felt confident in a future for our world in the guidance of hands like his. All right and good.

Outside our windows, from rooms, trains and buses, sheep grazed offering their Zen master calm and presence in the moment. Cows linger near by sheep and they coexist with peace and harmony sharing the grass that helps make the rich milk and cheese we have enjoyed. Overhead birds swoop and dive, occasionally landing on the head of a sheep to eat insects off the sheep’s head. What an arrangement!

Last night we walked streets that were lined with buildings built in 1400 and 1500 and the wall that rings the city of Chester claims its origins in 70 A.D. These stones have seen much of the pain and anguish that humans can ladle upon one another. And yet they stand tall and continue to also be at the ready to welcome visitors and strangers. Inside one of them we could see a group of women of varying ages gathered around a table piecing together what appeared to be a quilt. Learners and teachers around a common lesson…throughout time this has been true.

The headlines are harsh and we need pay attention to them. We need offer our hearts to those who have lost loved ones and work to corral the love of guns that provide tools for such violence. And from blended knees in prayer and behind computer screens, at work and play, and in places of worship, we would do well also to remember all that is right in the world. In that remembering, may our gratitude be great and our resolve to continue to create more of what is right for the healing of the world.

 

 

 

Breaking Sun

And suddenly the sun broke through the sky
And I was home, a broad Atlantic
Stumbled over the rocks and creamed in rage
A tug of storm hung low across the shores
Water color blue and broken green.

How did I lose my way or once believe
That there were riches bigger than this simplicity
Or that any other tide could speak, or heal
The wounds of searching deeper cut than pain
Where here I stood by heaven hearing God?”
~Kenneth C. Steven, Iona

And so…it did indeed ‘all work out’. Just as the woman at the Iona book shop had said. We were able to make our pilgrimage walk. ‘Suddenly the sun broke through the sky…’ Taking off across the island paths we were bathed in its light and the ever present swirling winds. Walking in footsteps that have been walked over and over again, in faith, in fear, in desperation, in great hope, we put one foot in front of the other and made our way. Along the way, we stopped and prayed and sang and with each step we formed a deeper connection. Hands reached out to help bodies that were tired or had stumbled in mud and over stone. Quiet conversation or deep silence walked as companion. Each of us had our own reason for walking. Each had our own expectations. And so we continued our walk, step by blessed step.

When we made it to our destination, St. Columba’s Bay, we stood looking out toward Ireland much as Columba and his companions had done more than 1500 years ago. We looked at the seas which roiled and turned blue, then aqua and finally, brilliant white as they crashed over the rocks. The stones beneath our feet were smooth from countless waves that had crashed before. As those who had made it here after over three hours of walking, we searched the stones for the smooth, green stones known as St. Columba’s tears. Tears shed for a land he had loved and lost. Tears also perhaps shed for those he had left behind. We now searched for these stones to carry with us. In days to come, these stones may be held as we pray for our world and for one another. These stones connect us with the ancient prayers of all the others spoken, offered on this beach.

To have made this pilgrimage walk was privilege and gift. And to have walked it with this group of fellow travelers is an experience I will carry with me forever.

In the evening we prayed this prayer from more ancient words gathered by Andrew Carmichael in Carmina Gaedelica:

The guarding if the God of life be on you….the guarding of the loving Christ be on you…the guarding of the Holy Spirit be on you…every night of your lives…to aid you and enfold each day and night of your lives. Aided and enfolded, we rested well.

 

“Bless the God of all
who everywhere works great wonders
and by whose will all things are made.
The shining stars are the beauty of the universe,
a glittering array in the heights of God.
Look at the rainbow and praise the One who made it.
It stretches across the sky which its glorious arc…..
The swelling sea is full of danger
and strange creatures crawl forth from its depths.
By heaven’s word all things are created.
We could say more but could never say enough.
Let the final word be, ‘God is in all things.’”
~Ecclesiasticus 43,50

The winds are rushing and wild. The ferry was halted all day yesterday and looks to be so again today. Though the rain is intermittent, the temperatures are warm. This tiny island of Iona where I am traveling with a group of pilgrims is now cut off from the land we can see just a 10 minute ride away on ordinary days. But this is not an ordinary day. This land is also held in the flow of the Gulf Stream which holds its temperature mild allowing even some tropical plants to flourish. It also is affected today by the winds that have been fueling the hurricanes that have blown through the eastern seasides of the United States. This is another reminder of how, though far away in miles perhaps, we are inextricably connected on this planet we call Earth, this planet we know as home. Looking out my window the white caps are dancing a wild and raucous dance.

Yesterday we read the words above in our morning devotion time. I was struck with how they echoed what we were experiencing outside our walls. I was also moved by the line ‘We could say more but could never say enough.’ Isn’t it always so when we are in the presence of winds that blow wildly and beauty that takes our breath away as we have been these last days? Being confronted with colors that have surprised us and landscapes that are varied within minutes…we could say more but never enough. As we gathered yesterday morning in the small Parish Church for worship, the music and words were so beautifully written and spoken. Our group swelled this community by many and we were enfolded into their ranks with grace and ease. I, for one, was overwhelmed with the way the service was so gently crafted. It made my heart full…I could say more but never enough.

Today is to be our Pilgrimage Walk across the island following in the footsteps of St. Columba who came to this 3 x 1 mile island more 1500 years ago. Our guide is willing to take us if the winds allow and many of us will try. We have learned in our days in Scotland that weather can change even more quickly than in Minnesota so we will each make our own decisions about what to try, how to enter into the walk, or not. I am taking to heart the words of one woman I met yesterday who is part of the Iona Community. Reflecting on the possibility of the weather today and our ability to make this pilgrimage Walk she simply said: “It will all work out.”

It will all work out. I walked away from her thinking these are some of the most comforting words a human can speak to another. It will all work out. Though many of us have had expectations of this Walk for some time, it may not happen…probably won’t happen…in quite the way we planned. Life often works that way, doesn’t it? Winds blow. Hurricanes move through. So many experiences are a crazy mixture of what we plan, what we hope for and the result of our connections to the greater world.

I could say more but it would never be enough. It will all work out. Perhaps the woman who spoke to me yesterday offering those words really was saying “Let the final word be ‘God is in all things.’” If we walk, God is in it. If we stay inside away from the effects of the hurricane, God is in it. If we remain dry and warm, God is in it. If we are tossed by the winds and drenched by the rain, God is in it. There are three more hours before the pilgrimage walk is set to begin. The weather could change. Whatever happens…God is in it.

 

 

Grandeur

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

We titled this pilgrimage we are on ‘In Search of Sacred Places.’ In fact, the guiding line is taken from a book by Daniel Taylor who traveled several of the islands surrounding Celtic lands on his own pilgrimage of skepticism and searching. The inscription that begins the book says simply:’For all spiritual questers who suspect there might be more to things than what we see.’ Yesterday as our 34 pilgrims made their way through landscape varied and diverse, what our eyes could take in couldn’t do justice to the depth and meaning that was being offered. The landscape is so big, so beautiful, so harsh and strong. Frankly, being present to a world ‘charged with the grandeur of God’ becomes a full bodied experience. Today we are spending time processing, allowing the experience to find words and understanding and to sink in and find a home. In short we are taking the time to make sense of the ways in which the Holy is present at all times, if we are awake and aware.

We titled this pilgrimage we are on ‘In Search of Sacred Places.’ In fact, the guiding line is taken from a book by Daniel Taylor who traveled several of the islands surrounding Celtic lands on his own pilgrimage of skepticism and searching. The inscription that begins the book says simply:’For all spiritual questers who suspect there might be more to things than what we see.’ Yesterday as our 34 pilgrims made their way through landscape varied and diverse, what our eyes could take in couldn’t do justice to the depth and meaning that was being offered. The landscape is so big, so beautiful, so harsh and strong. Frankly, being present to a world ‘charged with the grandeur of God’ becomes a full bodied experience. Today we are spending time processing, allowing the experience to find words and understanding and to sink in and find a home. In short we are taking the time to make sense of the ways in which the Holy is present at all times, if we are awake and aware.

Yesterday in the river town of Inverness we experienced a glorious day of sunshine and warmth, not something one associates with Scotland. The river was glistening with sunlight, flowers shot forth brilliant color from window boxes and hanging baskets. The castle that anchors the town stood sentinel as it has always done. And church steeples shot into the sky signaling places of worship, many of which have stood in that place for centuries. Still other church buildings, like one we visited had been de-consecrated and had been turned into a used book store packed to the gills with old books and the musty smell that accompanies them. I have visited other de-consecrated church buildings before and I always wonder about the people who had known these places that held the important moments of their lives…baptisms, weddings, funerals. What is it like to come into the space now filled with books or a cafe? What emotions must run through them? I have to admit a sense of sadness.

Later in the day we made our way along some of the most exquisite scenery I have ever experienced. Rolling, green farmland dotted with balls of white sheep and red, sturdy Highland cattle gave way to the golds and browns and russet reds of the Cuillin Hills. Sheep still graced the ground but in more precarious footing. Photos were snapped and eyes were filled with more and more grandeur, too much really to take in at one time.

Over dinner we took the time to name aloud those places where the grandeur of God had awakened us: the azure sky at not-quite-dark of the night before…the triple rainbow brought on by the morning sun and the misty sky…the sheep standing in their calm and contented way…the conversations with caretakers of churches visited…the birdsongs that seemed to have a different ‘accent’. On and on people shared the ways in which they were awake to the movement of God in their day.

Of course, we don’t need to travel thousands of miles to do this noticing. But most of the time we do need a band of fellow travelers who will help us to remember to stop, look, listen and pay attention. It is what faith communities have always done. As we closed our evening together with the words of the prophet Jeremiah, we stood with the long line of those who continue to follow the path of seeing more deeply and staying awake in times that pull us in countless directions. “Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

May it be so.

 

Island…Village

“I arise facing East,
I am asking toward the light;
I am asking that my day
Shall be beautiful with light.
I am asking that the place
Where my feet are shall be light,
That as far as I can see
I shall follow it aright.
I am asking for the courage
to go forward through the shadow,
I am asking toward the light.”
~Mary Austin

After two planes, a couple of delays, and a long bus ride, our group of pilgrims to sacred places in Scotland awoke this morning refreshed and ready to begin a journey we had anticipated for some time. Mist shrouded the streets and voices carried an unfamiliar, yet pleasant, lilt. As we gathered for morning worship, we shared the words of poet Mary Austin. “I am asking toward the light.”

We took our worship-filled selves toward the village of Lindisfarne, situated in the Midlands of England, just shy of the Scottish countryside, and known as Holy Island. Pilgrims have traveled there for centuries, waiting for the tide to recede so they can make their way to the Lindisfarne Priory to offer their deepest prayers. This village that becomes an island daily was home to two named saints…Aidan and Cuthbert… and undoubtedly more unnamed ones. These holy men held space for rich and poor and welcomed those who searched with their very lives to be closer to God. Depending on the weather, this landscape can be breathtakingly beautiful or horribly harsh. I imagine that has always been so and yet people still stream there every day filled with curiosity or hope and a deep longing. I would venture to say our group of pilgrims fit this description. I have yet to hear their stories of their experience today so I don’t yet know.

All I do know is my own experience. I marveled at the devotion and commitment of those early men and women of faith who made this place their home. The work of welcoming those with a hunger for faith can be difficult and frustrating and confusing. It is easy to believe the work is about something you must do. But all that can really be done is to hold the space, to create a container in which those seekers can do their own work, breathe their own prayers, open their own hearts to the Spirit which is always present but often elusive or seemingly invisible. I like to imagine this is what Cuthbert and Aidan did amongst the lush green grasses and intricately carved stone walls of the priory. They put out the welcome mat and let God do the rest. There is probably an important lesson there.

Those they gathered around them, artists and lovers of the scriptures, did their part. They took the words of the gospels and used syllable and image to tell the stories of Jesus so all could ‘hear’. Using paints gleaned from the minerals of earth, they formed pictures and designs…swirls and circles and spirals…to illuminate the words they held dear. Known as the Lindisfarne Gospels these manuscripts are beautiful and inspiring works of art. They represent a welcome mat for those who could not read but were doing their own ‘asking toward the light.’

Each of our pilgrims today took their own brand of asking to this place, a place that has known the feet of seekers for over 1500 years. The very stones under our shoes had stories to tell and today we added our own. We walked through whatever shadows may be holding us and left a footprint that mingles now with the on-going story of faith begun so many years ago. The tide goes out and comes in again. The village is accessible and then it isn’t. But the asking toward the light…and the Light…continues endlessly.
And so it goes.

 

 

Welcome Awaiting

“We saw a stranger yesterday.
We put food in the eating place,
Drink the drinking place,
Music in the listening place
And, with the Sacred name of the Triune God,
He blessed us and our house,
Our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:
Often, often, often goes Christ in the stranger’s guise.”

These words found in the Iona Abbey Worship Book are an ancient reminder of welcome. I have been thinking of them in these last days as I prepare to go to the small island of Iona off the coast of Scotland where Christianity found its foothold among raging winds and green and rocky fields. That foothold continues more than 1500 years later housed in an ecumenical community whose primary work is to welcome strangers. In a few short days, I will join a group of pilgrims who will travel to this remote island to be welcomed by those who will look for Christ in us. We will arrive after a journey on planes, buses and three different ferries. We may be tired and weary and worse for wear. And yet still, these people whose job it is to welcome, will open their doors, prepare meals, offer us drink and will invite us to make music and share in their worship with them. Outside our bedroom windows where we have stashed our bags and washed our faces after the long journey, the sound of sheep and cows will add to the music.

This is a journey two years in the making. Because there are only two hotels on this three mile wide island we had to put a deposit on space for our 35 pilgrims two years ago. Then the planning began. And the excitement and commitment began to simmer under the surface. Plans were made and remade. Books were read. Prayers were said. Commitments were sealed. Muscles were strengthened through hiking trails all around our cities. And now the time is nearly here.

There are many reasons people make such a pilgrimage, as many reasons as people. For some it is the desire to walk where others have sought answers and connection to the Holy for years. For some it is the beginning of a life transition or the searching for new ways of encountering their faith. For others it is curiosity and the chance to be with like-minded faithful, those who hold one another’s questions with gentleness and compassion. For some, I would venture to say they are still discerning their own brand of ‘why?’ Theologian Richard Niebuhr put it this way: “ Pilgrims are persons in motion – passing through territories not their own – seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.”

The journey will begin soon. My bags are nearly packed with things that will protect me from sun and wind and rain. I also know that what I leave unpacked is as important as what I have tucked into my backpack. Most of those items are less visible…worry, tasks left undone, my usual lists of “musts” and “shoulds”, any ideas I hold of ‘perfect’ travel. In the shedding, these must be left behind beside the bed where I have been organizing clothes and snacks and sturdy shoes. These invisible companions will not serve me well on this journey of soul.

No matter what I have packed or shed, no matter what I am gripping in terror or loosening in surrender, I am comforted to know that, miles away people are preparing for our arrival. What they will look for in us is not bedraggled or starry-eyed travelers but the Face of Christ. And that brings hope and comfort beyond all words.

Hidden Treasure

“ He who wakes up early finds gold.”
Hungarian proverb

Summer is a time for slowing down and noticing things. There is a certain rhythm that enters our lives that causes us, if we are lucky, to stop going at full speed which is our tendency during the majority of the year. I have been blessed to observe this rhythm through a display in a case in my neighborhood coffee shop. It was created by a lovely woman who is a teacher at heart…and lover of Creation to her core. What she created may have been for children, I don’t know, but it has captivated all ages and I am grateful for her inspiration and time.

Taking milkweed in clear, glass bud vases, she has placed caterpillars on the leaves. Each day we have been able to watch them grow…and who wouldn’t eating so much of a leaf?! It is astounding to watch their jaws chew away at the green food and to see that leaf disappear in neat, circular shapes.  It is equally astounding to watch then go from a size not much longer than a fingernail to the size of a small finger in a short period of time. And then talk about astounding…the spinning of the cocoon! Now there’s an affirmation of Something bigger than us if I ever saw it! All this held in a glass case for our viewing pleasure and amazement.

But what has been the most astounding to me is that once the cocoon is spun and the caterpillar is doing its internal work of becoming, there is this amazing gold ring that appears on the green cone shape that dangles precariously from a stick. All the earthy colors of wood and earth…browns and greens of varying hues…gets a circling of brilliant, shiny gold. How have I never known this? Is it always true? Standing around the case, peering in, I have marveled at this with several people. Our oohs and aahs are really affirmations of faith.

This experience has had me thinking of all the way others in our lives carry a hidden, often surprising beauty. Beauty we don’t always notice. Beauty we didn’t even know was possible. Beauty we could not imagine. I think of the children in classrooms everywhere who blend in, don’t cause trouble, are quiet and unassuming. What ‘gold’ are they carrying that deserves to be seen? Or on the other side of that same coin, the children whose behavior and presence is so tarnished that the ability to see the treasure they carry is obscured by frustration and annoyance. Of course, this is not only true for children but for all the other humans who grace our lives. It is so easy to dismiss the beauty that might be possible, the same beauty we pray people can glimpse in us. Instead of being blind to it, how might we see the hidden treasure they carry? How can we stand in such amazement that they are able to transform that gift into something as amazing as colored wings that can take flight?

I am thankful to this woman who brought this life lesson and plopped it in my path. It would be wonderful if the rhythm of summer that allows us to slow down enough to see could be our daily bread all year round. Perhaps it can. But if not, the invitation today is to keep awake to the hidden treasures in those we meet…opening our eyes and our hearts to what we never knew was possible. Gold in a cocoon? Gold in the eyes of each person we meet? Gold in the heart of the person standing at the street corner? Gold in the person with whom we are in conflict? Gold in the mirror staring back at us?

In truth we are all treasure to the One who breathed us into being. When we notice and honor this truth, the world is rimmed in gold. And that, as has been written, is good…very, very good.

The Art of the Question

 

This past week I was listening to a group of people talk about how a particular political situation might unfold. One person made the statement that has had my mind reeling all week.” It really will be about the art of the question.”, he said. Sensing they were in the presence of wisdom and poetic wisdom at that, the panel of people actually stopped talking and took a breath together, something rarely witnessed in the often dry, didactic ways in which these conversations go.

The art of the question. The shaping of a good question, one that will illicit deep truth, exceptional creativity, a longed-for hope, is indeed an art. Crafting a question takes time to listen to the inward, intuitive voice. After the listening comes the sorting of the words that want to elbow their way into the spotlight, gently pushing them aside in favor of those that linger at the back of the stage. Carefully, this word and then that one is chosen until the question begins to come to life. Sometimes words are shifted around, like a puzzle, until they fit just perfectly. Then, and only then, does the punctuation mark get its proper place at the end of the outflowing letters. Spoken with that lilt upward at the end of the sentence, this artfully created question can lead to a new path, an answered longing, a definitive affirmative or a confident negative.

Hearing the phrase ‘the art of the question’, reminded me of those early days as a parent when children came home from school and I would begin the interrogation of the day in which I had had no part. Asking what were probably quite artless questions, I received the artless answers the questions deserved. “How did it go today?” “Fine.” “What did you like best today?” ”Recess.” (Or the second favorite answer, ‘lunch’.) “Did you learn anything new?” “ No.” Sound familiar to anyone? Over the years I think I learned to ask more well crafted questions and began to get a clearer sense of how our sons’ days were unfolding at school. It was all about how I asked the question.

Asking questions implies a relationship that can run deep. Asking questions says to another person that we care about their opinion, their feelings, their experience. And when we ask our questions well we also forge a connection between our own life experience and a new understanding grows. I tend to believe this to be Spirit-work…work that holds relationships in a tension with the unseen More… and work our world sorely needs.

Reflecting on questions this week, I was reminded of some that have stuck with me. “To be or not to be? That is the question.”, Hamlet ponders. “Who do you say I am?”, asks Jesus. “Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”, writes poet Mary Oliver. Letting those three very different questions wrap themselves around me gives me pause and takes me in a million directions searching for the answers. This is only one of the gifts of a really good question. The asking allows the one who answers to reveal something deep and lasting and wonderful.

What questions are you walking with these days? Are the questions well formed or do they need the touch of your artist hand? Somehow I feel that these days in which we find ourselves will be best served by being present to the creative acts of listening, of crafting and asking good questions and listening, really listening, to the other. It is holy work. And just imagining it brings such hope for a way forward.