Familiar Words

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..….Yesterday the scripture for morning worship was the 23rd Psalm. They are familiar words….words that have history for so many. These words filled with images which are in some ways unfamiliar to our modern, urban experience…sheep, rod, staff, shepherd…..have the ability to create a nest in which we can rest. At least that is what I observed yesterday.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.

Sunday mornings often begin with an almost frenetic energy. People rush in late thinking they had more time in the morning than they did. They greet friends they haven’t seen all week or even longer. There is a jockeying for seats. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries. We can be well into the hour long service before the energy in the room fades to calm. Yesterday was no different.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff-they comfort me.

But as we began to read these words many had memorized in Sunday School the energy in the room began to shift. Heads began to nod. Ah, yes. I know this. These are my words. This is my story, my history. These are my people.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.

We have so few words these days that unite us. There are so many texts written to polarize, to divide, to agitate. But yesterday these ancient words written by someone unknown, using images unfamiliar, did just that. The individual lives that rushed into the room, calmed, rested, were held in the lap of the Divine, a whole people of God.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Blessed be!

Almost Summer Day

"Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean- the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down– who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

This poem by Mary Oliver called The Summer Day was on my mind this morning. As the meteorologists predict a "Chamber of Commerce Weekend", I began to think of what needed to be accomplished over the next three days. More windows need washed, the laundry is always waiting, I need to clean out some drawers, what is that growing in the refrigerator anyway? Books to be read…piles to be picked up…errands to run…..dinners to cook…..the list goes on.

Here is my prayer: Dear God, help me to kneel down and take time to look at the brown pile of  hundreds,perhaps thousands of ants moving feverishly about in the driveway.What are they doing, anyway? Dear God, cause me to stop and see the inner beauty of the tulips, the intricate details so often overlooked,overshadowed by the brilliance of the outer petals. Dear God, open my eyes to the hostas pushing up with patience and loyalty in their appointed places. Oh, you loyal friends. Dear God, help me to feel the freedom the children in my neighborhood know as they run wildly, laughing, playing, skin happy to be free of so many layers of clothing. Remember, remember. Dear God, make me pay attention! Please…

Dear God, help me to abandon my to-do list and fall down and pray, my heart bursting with awe and gratitude. After all, doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Have a prayerful weekend………


"God said to Elijah,"Go out and stand on the mountain, for the Holy One is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks  in pieces before God, but God was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but God was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence." 1 Kings 19:11-12

Sheer silence. When was the last time you experienced sheer silence. It is rare in our culture. We surround ourselves all the time with voices, real or technical….music, chatter, news, even when we are not truly listening. The sounds, I believe, help us to believe we are not alone. Some people keep the television or radio on 24/7 as background noise, a virtual soundtrack for the ordinary tasks of their day. Even in church, we fill the worship hour with as much as we can pack in…words, music, more words…..if we pray too long in silence, people get fidgety.

Last year at about this time I began a three month renewal leave. During that time I spent quite a bit of time in silence, sometimes intentional, other times it was just the nature of what I was doing and the fact that no other human being was around. As an extrovert, it could have been challenging. But what I found was that in the silence, after a period of time my "monkey chatter" turned off.  My mind stopped jumping ahead to "what next?" and stayed in the now. The silence became a Presence.Like Elijah I learned that the Holy One was in the silence.

Mother Teresa said "God is the friend of silence." We see and experience things differently in silence. Instead of being poised on the end of my chair to respond to something someone has said, already preparing my exposition before I have finished listening to the words of the other, to sit in silence and listen, really listen, is a powerful practice. To walk around the lake without words…to drive home without the background of radio…brings a different perception to the ways we move in the world.. The silence invites us to live in a deeper way.

Today, I invite you to find a time, no matter how small, to be in silence. We are not alone…..the Presence of the One who lives and breathes in all things waits with us in the quiet places. Shhhh…..


"Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep;but lift up your voice with strength." John Wesley

Have you sung a song yet today? In the shower this morning, did you feel the urge to belt out a tune? I love looking at the cars passing me and see someone singing for all they are worth. The tin can they are maneuvering becomes a spotlighted stage where they are the star complete with backups by their favorite singer. As someone who has logged considerable time holding a hairbrush microphone, I know the power of singing at the top of your lungs. Singing  releases vibrations that have the power to heal and bring positive energy.  It is good for the soul.

Most adults sing too little. If you observe children, you will see that they sing alot…little snippets of a tune here…a full phrase there….their music punctuates their play. They are performing their own musical without even thinking. We could learn from their example.

In worship we are focusing on the Psalms right now. The psalms were believed to have been songs sung by the writer in praise and thanksgiving, lament and prayer, almost always with a hopeful ending. Taking their life experience, their devotion to God, their sense of relationship to the Divine, they sang. These words  are so powerful because, though written thousands of years ago, they also reflect our own trials, fears, hopes, longings. Their music becomes our music.

Wouldn’t today be a great day to let loose a song? Don’t worry….even if someone is watching they might join you…..and if not they might wish they had. Pick a song, any song and let ‘er  rip! You’ll feel better….I promise.

"All music is gospel. All music is sacred. We carve music up into categories for commercial reasons, but really, that’s just business. All music is sacred because life is sacred. We just need to live it." Willie Nelson


We started the process of uncovering our garden yesterday. Under the rotting leaves, dead plants and general debris, newness abounds. Flowers I had forgotten planting have been hidden under the dark, wet, mulch, feasting on the underbelly of autumn’s free-fall. Now, tiny unformed leaves and stems are reaching out and toward the sun.

It started me thinking about the times in my life when I felt buried under lots of dead stuff…old ideas, my own need to control, complacency, stubbornness, apathy.  The list could go on. But then something happens-grace?- and the mess gets moved aside and there lies growth. It is easy to think that it was just a matter of moving the "dead stuff". But the reality is that the compost that covered what needed to grow also provided the nourishment and protection for growing what was to come. In that place where the newness was being born, the old stuff held on with patience, feeding and taking up the space until courage and passion could burst forth.

Are you covered up with old, dead stuff right now? Is there something that is waiting to spring up and grow in your life?  Like a garden, we most often need to practice the gifts of patience, waiting, reflection, prayer,observation, and finally courage. Courage to believe that the time for darkness is behind and the time to reach out toward the sun and grow is now.

Wherever you are on this path of "uncovering", blessings to you……

"Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;yet, I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory is not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will the Holy One clothe you."   Luke 12:27


I was gone for four days and came back to spring in Minnesota! Everything is greener, the tulips, irises, ground cover, daylilies, everything has pushed its way through the soil, the mulch and is preparing to show forth its brilliant color. The buds of our maple tree have scattered onto the ground and in a not too distant future there will be little maples in some unwanted places. The birds are creating dance and music from tree to tree,demanding that the human ones stop and take notice of their performance.

But there is also a silent, delicate tribute happening in our front yard. I can see it from the chair where I am writing now. This gift….a cherry bush….reaches toward the blue, spring sky…..tiny, pale pink blossoms swaying gently in the wind. This cherry bush always blooms on this day. Five years ago we planted this bush, a memorial gift from my Book Club, to mark the life of my father, who died five years ago today. The cherry bush was a way to remember him and to honor his love of pie…..all kinds of pie. My Book Club-which also likes a good piece of pie –  we often spoke of his love of pie and the sheer goodness of a good piece of pie. There is nothing like it in the world…..flaky crust, tart fruit, sweetness….a simple and hearty dessert.

The first spring after his death I was surprised to see the bush blooming on this day. And each year I forget that it will bloom until I see the dainty pink blossoms, the yellow-green leaves, one of the first splashes of color in our yard. This bush is a hardworker to bloom at this time of year….like my Dad…..it is loyal…like my Dad…it is understated…like my Dad….it is quiet and faithful, steady and simple…just like my Dad.  I am thankful for this gift which reminds me each year to stop and remember……loyalty, simplicity, faithfulness, love of family, steadfastness, hard-working…….and the love of a good piece of pie.

Here’s to you, Dad….. thanks.

Doing Good

Most of us have been held in the spell of the news over these last days. I received a voice mail yesterday from a friend who said "I just have to hear your voice. The world has gone crazy. I feel so sad." In the wake of this week’s news, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing only the terrible things happening in the world. It is easy to forget that every day millions of people are getting up, putting one foot in front of the other, and walking out into the world to do something good.

I am in Florida right now at a gathering of United Methodist Deacons. This morning as I listened to our bishop, Sally Dyck, urge us to practice Sabbath, I began to look around at the people gathered in the room. I found myself looking at those faces who,every day, seek after goodness in the world. They are some of the many who help feed the hungry, who lovingly teach children, who hold the hands of those who are dying. They are just a few in the world who work for justice through the church and government, who accompany people to chemotherapy, who teach confirmation students the stories of our faith and stand with them in their questioning.  They are only a fraction of those on our planet who visit the lonely in the nursing homes, who pray without ceasing for peace,who bring a smile to people in their communities with the stories they tell.

For all this goodness they bring into the world, we rarely, if ever, see their names in the newspapers. We never hear of their acts of kindness in the leading news story on the nightly news. We never have television cameras following them around. No one ever waits outside their houses and interviews their neighbors about "what they are really like."

Here’s a late-breaking story….there are people in the world dedicating their lives to goodness, to faith, to hope, to making the world a better place, to being the presence of the Holy for another. And I know them!

And I bet you do, too.

Today I give thanks for all those who never make the headlines….may God bless them.

Have a wonderful weekend………….

Your Story

This week one of my colleagues made this statement:"One definition of community can be ‘the people who know my story and the people whose stories I know’." This definition implies so much….courage,trust,listening,giving and taking time,commitment,investment, being truly present….and more. Who knows your story? Whose story do you know?

Growing up in a small town, I knew many people’s story and they knew mine.Leaving that town, moving far away, my story has changed and so have I. But those people know my early story…where I came from, how my life was shaped. I believe that kind of  "knowing" kept me honest and out of trouble many times and shaped how I see the world. Wherever I have gone, I have always tried to create that kind of community…where my story was known and where I knew the story of others. For me, it is a deep human desire to be known and to have the privilege of being witness to the lives of those I have come to love.

Over the last twenty-four hours we have been witness to mothers, fathers, siblings and friends telling the stories of those killed at Virginia Tech. We are not their immediate community.We have not really been invested in their lives.  But through technology we are now witnesses to their stories, their triumphs, their tragedy and have been, in a strange way, allowed into their community. It is a fact of the times in which we live….we are connected and privy to the lives of others in ways foreign to us just a few short years ago.  How we hold that privilege is up to us.

I am choosing to listen with intention and, I hope, compassion.  I look at their pictures and become a witness to those who are telling their story, knowing that it is only tragedy that allowed me a glimpse into who they were, it is only this terrible thing that has happened that has allowed me into their community.

Jesus told stories so the early followers would learn about how the Holy One moves and has being in the world. Our faith has depended on our telling our stories….and our hearing the stories of others. This storytelling has been what has held us together, what has helped us to continue to be God’s people in the world, what has healed us and what has brought hope to our hearts and conviction to our living.

It is my prayer that in being witness to the stories of those who were killed, the world will learn and heal and be restored. May God bless those who tell the stories…………



Life is fragile. We know this. But every now and then a day comes around when we are reminded in a big way. As the day’s news began to unfold of the young lives that had ended in tragedy, there was once again the reminder…..life is fragile. Days can begin with the normal routine….coffee in a favorite mug……breakfast cereal just like all the other days…..the morning paper and then….. wham…….life as we have known it can change forever. There is a diagnosis, an accident, an argument, a harsh word, a horrific tragedy………no turning back.

At our deepest level we know the fragility of our lives. Bad things do indeed happen to good people. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see the sense in any of it. But it is almost always possible to see our connection to those who have been thrown into a tailspin. We watch the stories of the lives of these young people being told by friends and family…..don’t we know someone like each of them? We listen to the stories of fear and confusion, chaos and courage that gripped them as their ordinary day turned into a life-changing day. Don’t we also know young people just like these survivors? They are like our children, our sisters, our brothers, our grandchildren, our neighbors, our students…..they are perhaps like we once were.

Yesterday was another reminder that life is fragile….each day is a gift….handle with care.

New Things

I took a road trip to northern Illinois this weekend. Driving on East 94 through Wisconsin the words of the prophet Isaiah kept running through my mind…I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"  Really, those words actually ran through my mind several times as I looked out the car window at the landscape along the freeway. Those words written long ago reflect the writer’s experience of exile and the hope for the restoration of the people of Israel. But for me, gazing out the window the words also spoke to the visible rebirth of Creation around us.

The land stood, gray, brown, sometimes tinged gold, the outlines of corn and soybean fields looked like a well worn patchwork quilt. They seemed poised, just on the edge of bringing forth something new. The birch trees,now even more brilliantly white against greening grass, reached toward the heavens with red-tipped branches ripe with the leaves longing to be green. Wild turkeys roamed the fields pecking at whatever food they could find. And young deer could be seen moving slowly then becoming statues at the change in a traffic pattern, hoping to ensure their safety by their stillness.

Overhead, flocks of geese and other birds flew north possibly peering down on the few patches of snow left in places where the sun had not penetrated. Looking out my window at 70 miles per hour, I saw a mother cow licking the body of a newly born calf. Newness…..springing forth everywhere.

Of course, newness springs forth around us all the time but it is never quite so brilliant as in these early days of a much anticipated spring. During these days I am always so aware of the Sacred…..how small I am in the larger scheme of things….how beautiful and wonderful it is to be alive….the gifts all around us.

I have a favorite greeting card taped to my office door. The artist does odd little drawings of colorful geometric people accompanied by the words: "Everyday she cried at least once because the world is so beautiful and life is so short."

Newness, beauty, promise, hope……do you not perceive it?