"What I want is to leap out of this personality…..And then sit apart from that leaping-I’ve lived too long where I can be reached."                Rumi, Sufi mystic, 1207-1273

I was laboring under the assumption that the ability to "be reached" is really an experience of 21st century humans. Then I read these words of Rumi who lived in a time before cellphones, computers, blackberries, email…..all the ways we can now be instantly and constantly reached. Of course all of these allow us to do important work with an efficiency we never imagined. They allow us to connect with family and friends in places and at times that before would have been impossible. All this is good.

But there are also those times when we need to disconnect….to pull away…to find silence, solitude and rest. We have fewer and fewer models for such practice in our daily life. Yet one of the gifts of observing the seasons of the church year-Advent,Epiphany,Lent,Pentecost,Ordinary Time-is that the season of Lent asks us to do just that…..pull away and go to a place of introspection. These 40 days before Easter invite us to echo Jesus’ walk in the wilderness..to go where we can’t be reached.

Realistically there is much of the time when this is impossible. But it is important, I believe, to have a least a few minutes if not longer of every day where we can "leap out of our personality" and not be reached. It is so easy for me to say I’ll do this when I get all the work done. But I have learned that that time never arrives. There will always be work to do. There are always more things on my list to be accomplished than time.

In Jesus’ time in the wilderness, in his healing, in his caring for the sick and the poor, he obeyed a deeper rhythm. We will hear these  scripture stories over the next few weeks. In the midst of important work, he would take time to pull away, to pray, and to not be reached. One translation of the word for "pray" is "to come to rest". Jesus rhythm of work and living can be a model for us in these days of the season of Lent.

In Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath, another book I return to often, he writes: "God does not want us to be exhausted. God wants us to be happy." So if it is permission you are seeking, here goes. Take 15 minutes today. Turn off your computer, your cellphone, close the door and "come to rest." If it was good enough for Jesus, it certainly should be good enough for us. Who knows? It could become your daily practice.

Life Ablaze

For the last several Lenten seasons I have used a small book by Joan Chittister as a devotional. It is called Life Ablaze:A Woman’s Novena. A novena is nine consecutive days of prayer. This practice has been a tradition in the Roman Catholic Church for years. The nine days represent the nine days of prayer that Mary and the disciples spent together after Jesus’ Ascension. They were lost and trying to figure out "what next?" They were waiting and praying for the Holy Spirit.

The novena is a wonderful practice.I pray the prayers for nine days and then at the end of those nine days, I begin the prayers again. It is always interesting to me how the prayer takes on a different feeling,tone, intention at each repetition. Indeed, the "what next?"of my life has changed in only nine days. It is a profound lesson that what can seem today like "the end of the world" or URGENT, in only nine days can seem immaterial or even impossible to remember. In the pace most of us live, everything can seem urgent, immediate, ultimate. But usually, in truth, most are not. So much of the work we do is important….but not urgent. It is an important fact for me to remember.

One of the wise women whose words are in Life Ablaze is Julian of Norwich. Julian, an English medieval mystic living in times that were as difficult as ours knew well the Hope that lives at the center of our Universe. When life was spinning about her, she said these words: All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.

These words are filled with the faith, mercy, grace, assurance and calm of someone who knows deeply that she is held in the arms of God. I offer them to you today. Be well……

Going to the Source

During this weekend’s snowstorm, I was rooting through the freezer checking out the food available in case we were stranded for a very long time. I had already stocked up on staples and movies in case the meteorologists were off and we would get a very extended  Snow Day.  I love the challenge of seeing what we could survive on if we’d need to.

Among the frozen pizzas and Weight Watcher’s meals, my eyes fell upon the fruit -literally- of my summer labor. I had spent the early part of the summer picking strawberries, raspberries and blueberries and freezing them for winter pies and jams…….but mostly memories.This summer  as I squatted in the farm fields filling box after box with the sweet, vibrant fruit, I knew a day like Saturday would come…a day when the tartness of blueberries would catapult me back to the rich knowledge I gained while staining my fingers red and blue.

You see, this summer I was on a renewal leave, taking a break to recharge my spiritual life. At first when I began my obsessive "picking", I thought it was about the fruit. But I soon realized that my gathering was about so much more. It was about returning to the Source of my food and my life.  As I sat in the rows, nestled in the warm soil of summer, I began to get in touch again with the Source of not only my food but my creativity,my connection with the Earth and my soul. As I filled bucket and box, I was also filled with the abundance-and simplicity- of God. Instead of relying on all the outward sources of supposed meaning and fulfillment, I was returning to the movement of the Divine that exists in the simple act of gathering food,preparing it and saving some for the time when it will be most welcomed.

Yesterday, we read of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness when he was challenged to rely on all the outward sources of power, prestige and religion-all the world could offer to fill his hunger.  But Jesus was not tricked by what was easy but not lasting. Jesus was interested  in returning to his connection with his Source to comfort and ultimately save him.

It’s funny, I never ever thought that in these days of Lent, the blueberries picked on a hot, July day in the dusty field with bees flying about me, would remind me to return to my Source. But with the memory of blue stains on my fingers and the fresh, tart taste on my tongue, I am filled with gratitude.

Let Your Life Speak

Do you have books you return to over and over? Books that continue to inspire you, challenge or help you remain grounded? I have several but this morning I was particularly drawn to Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. If you haven’t read it, I commend it to you.

The book begins with a poem by May Sarton:"Now I become myself. It’s taken time,many years and places.I have been dissolved and shaken, Worn other people’s faces……" A perfect poem for a book about living an authentic life and listening for what Palmer describes as "the voice of vocation…(to find) the deep joy of knowing that we are here on earth to be the gifts that God created."

I think of all the times I have tried to wear other people’s faces, tried to live a life that is not really me. Of course, those times never turned out well. It was only as I was "dissolved and shaken" that I came to a deeper understanding of my unique gifts, my true self, and how I might offer them to the world. It was only with time that an understanding of letting my life speak began to emerge.

Claiming our voice and our authentic self is difficult in a culture that continues to tell us all the things we should be, should do and all the things we are not…..not smart enough, not thin enough, not rich enough, etc, etc. But, I believe, each of us comes into the world with a particular set of gifts to offer. Palmer puts it this way:"Vocation does not come from a voice "out there" calling me to be something I am not. It  comes from a voice "in here" calling me to the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God."

In the season of Lent, we are invited to a reflective life, one of prayer, meditation, silence, introspection. We are also invited each Sunday to hear again the stories of the life of Jesus. These stories allow us to glimpse the way a life can be "dissolved and shaken" and to see the power, danger and promise of claiming vocation.

Jesus lived his own life authentically follow his understanding of God’s call for his life and the world. During these 40 days we are not invited to wear the face of Jesus or anyone else- only our own. In these days we can follow the invitation to let our life speak.

Have a blessed weekend.


I spent the long weekend at my husband’s family cabin in northern Wisconsin. On Sunday afternoon a friend and I were cross country skiing on some beautifully well groomed paths through the tall pines. The sun was shining…it was warm…and all was right with the world.

As we were skiing along, we both began to notice all the different kinds of tracks in the snow. There were, of course, countless deer tracks which were easily recognizable. Tiny, fluttery tracks skittered in and out of small, fallen branches…probably a small rodent trying to outrun a predatory bird. Above us an eagle soared and we noticed a disturbance in the snow where no real tracks were visible….possibly a spot where the eagle had grabbed lunch. Near one tree there were marks in the snow of some kind of struggle. Then there were the padded paws of, what? A large dog? Coyote? Wolf? Since I am not a fast skier, a wee bit unnerving.

My friend mentioned seeing a poster of a snow angel that had no tracks that led to it. It was smaller than a human. In the sky above the mark in the snow was an owl, its wings outstretched. The track had been made by the swooping of the owl and the pattern its body and wings had made in the snow.

Later I wondered….what tracks do I make in the world? Are they soft and fluttery, like the small rodent or do they disturb the world all around like the tracks of struggle? I’d love to think that my mark is more like the owl-angel, but I know it is not always so. Do my tacks cause anxiety or fear like the padded feet on the unknown animal?

I don’t have any answers, only the hope of my intention to, as the Natives say "walk gently on this Earth."

Proverbs of Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It is meant to be a solemn time, a time of confession, penitence, introspection as we journey toward the rebirth of Easter, taking stock of our lives and how we have or have not been faithful to God’s call. As we go to services today, we will be marked by the grit and grime of ashes placed on our foreheads: "Remember, from dust you were born and to dust you will return." These are the words someone will say as skin meets skin in this marking. An ominous message, in some ways, reminding us of our mortality.

The season of Lent is also, and originally, a celebration of Spring, that time when we see the return of life, color and promise to the earth. As people who live in the northern hemisphere, experiencing the long winters, lack of light, severe cold, Spring is the most hopeful of seasons. It is not a coincidence that Lent, Spring and Easter merge together. It is also in the rhythm of the turning of the earth that we come to know what birth, life, death and rebirth really mean.

Ashes, this symbol of earth, placed on our foreheads, can be a proverb for us…a "wise saying" that reminds us of the Wisdom of God that exists in all Creation, including humanity.  As the ashes make their mark on our skin we can be reminded that we were drawn from,live on and co-exist with all creatures of earth.  We hold within us the miracle of birth and life, the mystery of death and rebirth. During this season we walk the paths of Jesus’ life, seeing  miracles and mysteries played out. As we look out our windows and walk in our yards, we see these miracles and mysteries mirrored in the greening of the world.

The ashes with which we will be marked today come from last year’s palm branches, something once green and vibrant, very much alive. As we begin Lent, may we be held in the eternal promise of this season…..birth,life,death and rebirth…on and on …and on.  As we hear once again the stories of the life of Jesus, may we be held in their power to transform….for the Hope of the World, in the Hope of Spring.

Laughing Jesus

Many years ago I was having breakfast at the Seward Cafe. I haven’t been there in years but at the time they often displayed artist’s work around the cafe. The artist whose work was on the walls this morning featured brilliant colors and vivid images, almost psychedelic in nature. On an easel was a poster sized portrait of Jesus….laughing. The bright orange, red, and brown colors brought to life a Jesus we never see. Jesus, obviously having fun, throwing his head back in a moment of uncontrolled laughter.

Since then I have seen artist’s renditions of Jesus in softer poses, speaking to children with a faint smile on his face or in the midst of a crowd with what could at least be described as a pleasant expression. But the Laughing Jesus as I have come to call him continues to stand alone. I am thinking of this picture because tonight it will make its appearance at our annual Shrove Tuesday celebration. We have mounted this poster and suspended it on a banner pole so it leads our procession. Each year after consuming stacks of pancakes, we begin the parade of Mardi Gras-like music and the Laughing Jesus leads the way.

It is unfortunate that we only bring this image out once a year. Why are we so reluctant to think of Jesus having fun, laughing with his friends, playing a joke or telling one? Perhaps if we focused more on this human side of Jesus we would understand him more, feel more in step with the life he led. In the Gnostic Gospels, those texts found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are stories of Jesus in lighter moods, playing with friends as a younger child, even doing things "regular" people do and can give us a fuller picture of this Child of God.

Tonight the Laughing Jesus will lead the way into Lent, a journey we take each year to remember and to reconnect with the life and death of Jesus as we make our way to Easter. It is a serious story as much of life is. But even in the midst of the seriousness, I am going to remember the Laughing Jesus who gathered friends for feasts, who welcomed women and other outcasts, held children, comforted and calmed those who were ill and stood strong in the face of danger. This Jesus calls us to wholeness and I want to be a part of the story……….all of it.

Primum non Nocere

Primum non nocere…..First, do no harm. Yesterday, as I was riding in my car, making my way around the congested Twin Cities freeway system, I was listening to the congressional deliberations about sending more troops to Iraq. I listened as people from both sides of the aisle presented their passionate arguments, hopefully from places of deep personal conviction and also an even deeper desire to serve the people who worked hard to allow them to be in the plush seats in which they rest. I tried to listen without judgment, not easy. But ringing like a bell out of the rhetoric came the words from one of the speakers-I don’t remember who-"do no harm".

I knew I had heard this phrase before so I went in search of its source. Primum non nocere…first, do no harm. It is actually a fundamental medical concept of Hippocrates. First, do no harm. I began to think of  how transforming that phrase could be in  my daily life. As I go into a difficult meeting…..first, do no harm. As I negotiate a conflict with my teenager…first, do no harm. As I prepare a sermon or visit someone in the hospital…first, do no harm. You can tailor the situations to fit your own life.

To think first of doing no harm causes me to hold gently whatever is before me, recognizing the vulnerability of life itself. To think first of doing no harm, compels me to choose my words wisely, think not only of myself but of my affect on the great web of life. It reminds me of the words of the prophet Micah in the Hebrew scriptures: What does God require of you but to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?

As it relates to the situation in Iraq, I am unsure how "first, do no harm" can or will be played out. In the finger-pointing, the mire of political push and shove, the different lenses with which those in power see the world, it seems nearly impossible. My prayer is that each of us, with our eyes on the Greater Good, can through prayer and action, be change agents that choose to follow the wisdom of Micah. And that is also my prayer for our government and those who literally hold the lives of millions in their hands.

Have a blessed weekend……primum non nocere.


I have a book on my shelf entitled "Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening." Having been primarily a listener these past few days as I was privileged to hear people coming for ordination in the United Methodist Church, I am again strongly reminded of the gift of listening. "Listening is not a passive activity. It’s not about being quiet or even hearing the words. It is an action, and it takes energy to listen." writes Kay Lindahl.

I know this is true because after three days of listening, I am exhausted. It is not a negative exhaustion. It is simply the result of being truly present to the words,faith, dreams, struggles, joys, grief, and very life of another person. There is a great gift in listening…to both the speaker and the listener. There is the gift of being able to speak your truth, to have your voice heard in an authentic way. There is also the gift of being present to someone’s life story, their understanding and experience of the movement of God in their lives.

In the Celtic Christian tradition there is the concept of a soul friend or annam cara. An annam cara is the person who listens to another’s deepest prayer, their struggles and triumphs in their spiritual journey. An annam cara is the person who is witness to how God moves in the life of another, giving meaning and encouragement not so much with words but with listening.

Do you have a soul friend, an annam cara? Everyone needs an annam cara. We all need someone who really listens to our deepest hopes and dreams. We all need someone who hears our life without judgment and instead listens with unconditional love and acceptance.

May today find each of us practicing the sacred art of listening. And may we also find an annam cara who will witness to the movement of God in our lives. In this action, we will all stand on Holy Ground.

Conversation Hearts

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today we set aside time to celebrate love,usually romantice love, but it can be all kinds of love. One of the candies that always appears at this time of year are the little pink hearts with messages-very short messages-written on them. Things like"love you" or "kiss" or "be mine". As candy goes, in my opinion, it is a fairly useless candy-read, not chocolate. But for the purposes of sending messages it works. A few years ago a local playwright wrote a play around this candy called "Conversation Hearts". Since then that is how I’ve always thought of these sugary confections.

Last week I saw that there are now conversation hearts that have not-so-lovely messages. Sentiments like"u stink" or "get lost". Not very helpful messages, not very loving messages, certainly not messages I would like to receive, no matter how humorous they might seem.

We send "conversation hearts" every day, 365 days a year. They are just not always printed on tiny pink hearts. In the ways we greet our co-workers, the way we say good morning to our family members, in the way we speak to the telemarketer that calls at 6:00 p.m. sharp, just as we sit down for dinner, we send conversation hearts. With each of these interactions we can convey messages of love and kindness or messages of dismissal and indifference.

We celebrate love this day. As people of faith, we worship the One who is Love. So, on this February 14th, may we claim this God of love in all we do, in all we say, in all we communicate, to those we meet, friend or stranger. May the conversation hearts we pass on be ones we would also like to receive from God….."luv u", "be mine", "always","forever".