Last week while I was in Chicago, I visited the Art Institute where I saw Monet’s various paintings of "Haystacks" or sometimes called "Stacks of Wheat". I have always been fascinated by these paintings…the subtle,yet rich colors…gold, yellow, purple, pink, blue, periwinkle, deep red….all seen as if through a veil of light. Until Wednesday I had only seen prints, never the originals. To see the various paintings, all of a haystack, yet painted at different times of day, in different seasons filled me with emotion. I can’t explain why. Certainly their sheer beauty was part of it but more than that I think it is the simplicity of the subject, given center stage in such a masterpiece. Hay….the food of animals…a covering for barn floors….elevated to the single subject, a thing of beauty, by such a wonderful artist.

Each painting captures the myriad of color created by the play of light on the haystack as Monet observed it throughout the day . The intensity of the light changed with the seasons….summer much different than autumn, even different as the snow of winter covers the scene. I imagined Monet trying to capture the colors of sky and land. His practice was to move from canvas to canvas at half hour intervals as the light changed. The colors he observed, then painted,  were those that the haystack absorbed through the shifting light of time and season.

Sitting on a bench where I could observe, from a distance,  six of the twenty-eight paintings Monet created of this scene, I was able to allow my eyes to drift slowly over each. I was able to enter into that scene in a meditative way. I wondered what might happen if I spent the same kind of intentional time observing a single object over the play of daylight, over the slow stretch of seasons. What might I learn about the play of light? What might I learn about the object? What might I learn about myself?

Light…it is a metaphor used by most faith traditions to describe the experience of the Divine. As the Light shines into our lives we are changed, transformed,revealed to be more than we originally believed. As we absorb the Light, we become not just mere human beings…..we, too, become works of art, masterpieces of the Creator.

"What has come into being was life, and the life was the light of all people." John 1:9

Hope Journal

"Thousands of years of history have passed….and during all that time human beings have fought, killed, plundered and wronged each other in every possible way. Of such stuff history is made. But also during that time, other human beings have quietly and patiently persevered in the development of the arts, crafts, inventions, ideas and programs. From these millions of creative persons, most of them unnoticed and unknown in the upheavals of history, have come the good and lasting things in the sum of human culture." Barbara G. Walker

At a party this past weekend, I was surrounded by spirited and intelligent conversation. One woman and I were talking about all kinds of issues and subjects and in the course of the discussion she told me how, after the death of Senator Paul Wellstone, she fell into a state of despair. It seemed to her that so much was lost when his plane went down….his life, his enthusiasm, his message, her feelings of hope. She then told me about a wonderful task she assigned herself in those days to help her healing begin…….she began keeping a "hope journal", writing down those moments of hope she witnessed during the day.  Because I remember sharing her deep grief and sense of loss, I found this a compelling idea. A Hope Journal.

It is easy, I believe, to become fixated on the tragedy of our world. Our nightly news and morning papers remind us of all that is wrong with the world. It is rare indeed to see a story of all that is right with the world. Yet it really is only a small percentage of people who plunder, create havoc and perpetrate violence.  It is a vastly larger percentage of people who "quietly and patiently persevere" in their simple and humble acts of making the world a better, more beautiful, kinder place in which to live.We are surrounded by them every day….sometimes we, ourselves, are those bearers of hope.

I think of the people I know who give countless hours cooking and serving meals to the homeless. They set a beautiful table, invite their friends to provide music for dinner, some give hand massages to those people who have perhaps only known harsh and uncaring touch. I think of the artists who, each day, get out of bed to take up their work of creating beauty and awe-inspiring paintings or sculptures, music to be sung, poems to be shared. I think of the parents and teachers everywhere who patiently teach children to read, to play nicely with others, to develop as kind, compassionate people. I think of the coaches who inspire young athletes to excellence and to develop an understanding of the gifts and limitations of their own bodies. So many, so many people who inspire hope……quietly persevering all around us.

Perhaps each of us would benefit from keeping a Hope Journal. It would help remind us of the goodness that is lived out each day. It would help turn our eyes and our hearts from those situations and people that can bring out the cynic in each of us.

"The future will not belong to the cynics. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."  Paul Wellstone


I found a discarded fortune from a fortune cookie yesterday. The clear wrapper was nearby, the sweetness of the cookie consumed by someone else…..the fortune left behind. For me? Perhaps. "A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work. " It seemed a perfect message for my day….one left behind by someone it didn’t fit for someone it did.

Worry. It is an exhausting state in which to live. Yet, I’ve found myself there a lot lately. There seems to be much to worry about…..the state of the world….the unending war…..upcoming elections….the state of the church….friends who are ill or injured…..change and transitions….our children, their future,their present….other people’s children, their future,their present….the list goes on and on. Even writing this, I can feel the muscles in my arms growing heavy with ‘worry exhaustion’.

Worry…"to feel distressed in the mind, be anxious,troubled or uneasy" is the most common definition. But also, worry means "to pluck at, push on, repeatedly, in a nervous or determined way"….or…." to harass or treat roughly with or as with continual biting or tearing with the teeth". Most often, at least in my case, worry begins with the second definition as I pluck or push on a detail or feeling in a determined way leading to the second….a nagging feeling of distress and anxiety. And before I know it there is gnashing and tearing, perhaps not of  teeth, but of spirit and soul. It is a vicious cycle, one that is almost always self perpetuated, one that is always self-destructive.

The root of worry is, I believe, a lack of feeling in control….of a situation, a feeling, another person. And while I have learned over time that it is an exhausting,harmful, distracting and in the end, useless, state of being, I still find myself there sometimes.  Do you?

In what was perhaps him most famous sermon, Jesus talked to ordinary people:"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God feeds them. And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your space of life? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these." Matthew 6

Thanks to the person who left their fortune behind. It was a gift. Today I want to learn from the birds at our feeder and the lilies blooming brilliantly in our garden. Today I will trade worry for faith. Join me?

Have a wonderful, worry-free weekend………………………

Change of Scenery

It is always good to get a change of scenery. I’ve just returned from three days away from the regular rhythm of my life. It is strange how just being in a place that is unfamiliar can help boost your energy, open your eyes and help you refocus what is important,how you go about your living. It is very easy for me to rarely take the time to break up the normal pattern of my day. I can move through the work, family,home and ‘real’ life with very little variance only to find myself sometimes bruised and battered and often a little bored by the sameness of it all.

So, it is good to go to a place you’ve never been, into a neighborhood you don’t know well, even down a street that is unfamiliar.Observing others in their ‘real life’ somehow helps me see my own with added appreciation, wisdom.  When we do this we look with ‘new eyes’ at the world. We see things from our place of original wonder, innate curiosity. We become adventurers, explorers, ready to discover new things….about the place…about ourselves.  I have the notion, perhaps a romantic one, that many children still live this way.Certainly many of the artists I know live this way…each day is an adventure, a door that opens to…who knows what? Only walking into the sunlight will begin to uncover the answer to this daily miraculous question.

Most often, in the change of scenery,  we like what we see,……sometimes not so much. In both experiences there is learning. Perhaps we will return to this place again because here we found….peace…joy…beauty….freedom…..you can fill in the blank. A change of scenery is good for the soul and I am thankful to have walked in different paths if only for a short time. Now I can look at my days with the addition of those experiences to add spice and color and texture. Pure gift!

"Waking up this morning, I smile, Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion."  Thich Nhat Hanh

Outdoor Chapel

"Spirit of earth, take root in me; strength of fire, enliven me; power of wind, blow through me; blessing of rain, fall on me. Wisdom of blood, flow through me; promise of seed, unfold in me; endurance of story, speak through me; spiral of time, remember me."  Jan L. Richardson

This past Sunday I was privileged to be a part of a worship service at a church in one of the northern suburbs of St. Paul. This church has a beautiful building and also a rare, outdoor chapel. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, they worship in a grove of oak trees that joins the back of the parking lot. A fire pit sits at the center of the grove and around the fire, small rustic, brown benches of varying heights form a circle around the fire. Birds sang in the trees providing music that rivaled anything our human voices could produce. It was a beautiful, holy place.The space itself required simplicity in liturgy,music and dress…..

Certainly the ancients worshiped in just such a place. They gathered around the fire and told their stories, offered gratitude for the day’s gifts, perhaps shared with one another and with the Holy their joys and sorrows. Standing in that outdoor chapel I was overcome with a keen sense of being connected through time with all those who have gathered, placing the fire of God at the center of their lives.Like Moses, I wanted to "take off my shoes" for I was, indeed, "on holy ground." The enduring story of our faith moved through this group of 21st century people in much the same way it has moved before…..providing a common thread for us to hold as we move in our own day, in our own life experiences….praying with deep hope that we are remembered and held close by the One who created us.

I love our churches with beautiful and artistic stained glass windows, often recounting the stories of our faith.. But there is something deep and powerful about standing on the Earth, no colored glass to hide the dancing leaves and the waving branches and, without walls, to offer our worship.To raise voices with those that fly is sweet music.And let all Creation say: "Amen."


Friday afternoon, I was riding down one of those long, busy, over-developed streets with all the big box stores, fast food chains, pawn shops, several banks and a church or two thrown in for good measure. I was day dreaming, trying to reconstruct my ‘to-buy’ list in my head, since I’d left it laying on the kitchen table when I rushed out of the house.

While my mind was otherwise engaged, my eyes focused on a bus stop as I drove along . Sitting on the bench, waiting for the bus, was…….. a clown. Long bell-bottom red pants with wide white stripes, big, bright yellow shoes, an over sized yellow bow tie, and a hot pink curly wig. White face and bright red lips completed the picture. A clown….waiting for a bus. I laughed out loud. It was just what I needed to jar me out of the mundane, errand running day.A clown riding the bus!

I began to wonder…..did the clown’s car break down and they had a show to do, a parade to be in so they ran to the nearest bus stop? Or is this a clown that always takes the bus? Then I wondered….what did the people on the bus do when a clown boarded the bus? Did they laugh….turn the other way…try not to stare? Were the children on the bus looking around to see if there was about to be a party in their honor? I wanted to follow the bus to watch their reactions.

I felt blessed seeing that clown. It reminded me that every day extraordinary things happen. Every day we can see and experience amazing things we never expected……..on an ordinary, errand running day, on a busy street like so many others. The trick is to stay awake and wait for the surprise.

Keep your eyes open today…..clowns could be waiting just around the corner…waiting for the bus.


"All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me."    The Rule of St. Benedict

I’ve been involved in many conversations lately that center around the concept of hospitality, of being a host. As a church staff we are exploring the notion of what it means to offer ‘radical hospitality’….a hospitality with arms stretched even wider than ‘welcome’, with a heart that offers itself to all…no holds barred. It is a fascinating idea to consider….what does hospitality really mean? What does it mean to say we welcome to our home….everyone…without exception? It is a conversation that has only just begun so I’ll keep you posted.

The conversation however did jog my imagination to times when I have been hosted well. I recall a time after a very cold and rainy camping and canoe trip on the Mississippi River. As we dragged our canoes out of the water near a farm that overlooked the Mississippi, the couple that lived nearby invited our soggy foursome into their home, offering us raspberries, freshly picked, swimming in a bowl of rich, white cream. They didn’t know us, we didn’t know them. They simply opened their home and offered what seemed like nectar from the gods. Radical hospitality.

I remember visiting my Aunt Enie at her farm. She was not wealthy in material things but she had a kitchen table that was always laden with the freshest things from the garden, plenty of coffee and sugary ‘sweet tea’ and always an empty chair….for whoever stopped by. If she didn’t already have a pie or cake resting under white cotton dishtowels,waiting to be sliced, she would go to her freezer and pull out ‘ice box cookies’ , cut into the roll and soon the kitchen, no, the whole house, would be filled with the aroma of freshly baking cookies. Radical hospitality.

And then there was my father’s funeral. As we gathered, filled with grief and loss, food began to show up at our door. Platters of coldcuts, loaves of bread, paper plates and cups…so we wouldn’t have to think about doing dishes…..even toilet paper. After the funeral, as we gathered in the church basement, this small church of less than a  hundred members, served everyone lunch…two long tables of hearty food and another of desserts…..each person had offered their ‘specialty’, their best dish out of their own kitchen, prepared by loving hands. Radical hospitality.

Hospitality remembered often centers around food. Whether literal food is involved or not, hospitality is an offering of nourishment….a being fed….of quenching thirst….of our ‘best’…out of our deep knowing that we have enough, more than enough through the grace of the Holy in our midst.

"The he took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told the disciples,"Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets."  John 6

This weekend….may you be hosted well….and may you also host well……..out of your abundance. Blessings to you……………..


Yesterday I followed a green minivan with a license plate that simply read "ANSWERS". It seemed to me a very bold statement to display on your car. Since I was following it for quite some time, I began to imagine what kind of answers the owner of this car might have. Was the driver a palm reader, fortune teller, a reader of tea leaves? Was the car being driven by a mathematician or scientist or maybe a Sudoku enthusiast? Or perhaps the person behind the wheel was religious professional of some sort-like myself- one who was certainly clearer about what they know than I am. Whatever the "answers" this person claims to have must be important….important enough to pay the extra cash for specialized license plates.

Are you a person more comfortable with answers or with questions? I’ve always been more a "question" person myself. I love questions. I love entering into the ebb and flow of questions, the process of thinking through all the possibilities that a questions poses. For me, questions and mystery go hand in hand and most often I find the sacred within the mystery.

One of my favorite quotes, which I come back to again and again comes from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. "Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart….Try to love the questions themselves….Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them-and the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers."

These words always remind me of the times I have tried to force the answers to the questions I am carrying….trying to make answers fit, rather than relaxing into the search, allowing a deeper truth to flow out of the Mystery. All the energy,the struggling, the pushing and pulling, trying to beat the answer out of the question, so I can "get on with my life"  Rather than just holding the question gently, trusting Spirit to walk with me into some greater experience of understanding,some deeper knowledge, I end up frustrated and exhausted with my own impatience.

Answers? Questions? Questions? Answers? The point, after all, is to live everything.

"For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part;then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. I Corinthians 13:12

Earth Home

"Seek the beginnings, learn from whence you came, and know the various earth of which you are made."
                                        Edwin Muir, Scottish poet from ‘The Journey’

Is there a place you long for, a literal place where you seem more at home than any other? Have you ever arrived in a new town or a place in the country and had that feeling of having come ‘home’? Is there a lake or a mountain that floats into your consciousness during the day, at the oddest of times, and brings you deep connection, deep peace?

There is an older movie, "A Trip to Bountiful", in which a woman longs so for her childhood farm that rests near the town of Bountiful that she makes a pilgrimage there. She takes off, without the knowledge of her doting children, and makes her way back to Bountiful and the land that was permanently imprinted in her memory, in her body, in her cells. She moves about the house and the land with a deep reverence, touching with gratitude all that is around her.In her waning years, she knew she must make a reconnection with the ground where she was shaped, the ground that held her life.

If we allow ourselves, we can become aware of those places that call to us….those that connect in deeper ways than others…to the very heart of our being. Sometimes these places are literally the home where we were born, our birthplace, and sometimes it is the land of our ancestors. If we have the privilege to travel we can often see how our ancestors that came to this country settled in areas that looked a great deal like those they left behind. The first time I traveled to Wales I was struck with how much the countryside in southern Ohio, my birthplace, looked like the Welsh hills. When I traveled to Norway, I was aware of the similarities between northern Minnesota and the lush, yet rugged, land of that Scandinavian country.

Where is your Bountiful? Where is the place that calls to your heart over and over? Where is your true Earth Home? Perhaps these places call to us in the way they do because we most fully experience the Holy there. Perhaps these places are our memory of Eden…..that place where we knew the true blessings of our home with God.

May this day bring you the experience of your true Earth Home…if not literally….then in  rich memory.

"Yet still from Eden springs the root, as clean as on the starting day."  Edwin Muir


Green is my favorite color. I’ve never particularly liked the color purple….the actual color…..I loved the book by the same name. But purple is all around me these days. The coneflowers are popping in our garden and the morning glories, with dedication each morning, welcome the day with their showy,brilliant,royal color….purple. This hue, derived from the combination of blood red and the blue of the sky has always been the symbol of royalty. It is the color used during the season of Lent which has always seemed a little odd to me, given that Jesus never wanted to be thought of as a king, as royalty. But those who make such decisions assigned this important season,meant to connect us with his life, death and resurrection, the color purple, the color of kings.

In ancient days, weavers of cloth, could make quite a living for themselves creating purple cloth. We read in Acts……"A certain woman, named Lydia, a worshiper of God, a dealer in purple cloth."….became one of the few female disciples to actually be named in the scriptures. Weaving purple cloth gained her ‘named status’ in accounts that often simply said ‘the women.’

There was book making its round in certain circles several years ago called When I Am An Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple. Its message was not lost on me. As women age, they can become invisible to the world, so wearing purple says "Look at me! Here I am! Notice!"

But I would not wear purple to be noticed, not by humans anyway. I would wear purple so the butterflies would fly around me,as they are around the purple coneflowers in our garden. I would wear purple so they would gently land on my arms and my head and slowly open and close their wings, displaying for all the world to see, the grandeur of the intricate patterns that give them flight. I would wear purple and provide the safe, stopping off point for their graceful,illusive dance that brings even more beauty to an already exquisite summer day. I would wear purple so I could stand very still and allow these magificent symbols of resurrection a resting place…… they who have lived in the darkness of coccoons and have been born into the beautiful reality of the world deserve a royal landing.