"Grandmother Wisdom, open the door, Grandfather Counsel, come you in. Let there be welcome to the ancient lore, Let there be welcome to the Winter of the Year. In cold and darkness you are traveling, Under crystal skies you will arrive. May the blessed time of Samhain clarify the soul of all beings, Bringing joy and wisdom to revelation. From the depths to the heights, from the heights to the depths, of every soul."
                               from Celtic Devotional:Daily Prayers and Blessings by Caitlin Matthews

Tonight ghosts and goblins, angels and superheroes, will arrive at our doors. Our door bells will ring and voices will shout "Trick or Treat!" Our pumpkins have been carved and light the way for their arrival. We will hand out the candy we hope, for the sake of our waistlines, will be gone at the end of the evening.

Halloween has become the second largest consumer holiday in our country. But it is, in reality,our participation in an ancient ritual. October 31st marks the day that, for the Celts,begins the season of Samhain (pronounced Sow-en). It is the last day of their calendar year and begins the season of winter. Today is considered in both Celtic and Christian tradition as a ‘thin place’, a day in which the veil between the present and the eternal is permeable.Halloween, or ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ is our more modern response to dealing with the fear of this notion. On the west side of St. Paul, those who made their way here from Mexico will place the favorite foods of their departed loved ones outside their doors in anticipation. It is believed that this is the day when the souls move willingly and easily between this world and the next. Placing those favorite foods where all can see is a way of saying ‘we remember….you are welcome.’

The prayer above was one that might have been said at the door of homes to welcome in this thin place and to mark the movement from one year to the next. Particularly for those of us who live in the Northern hemisphere, we know what is ahead…..cold, darkness, winter. Our ancestors welcomed it. Perhaps we might learn from their wisdom. To see the season that is approaching as a time of going within, both our homes and ourselves, provides for a time of reflection and incubation. The consolation might be that for the Celts the season of winter lasted from November 1 to January 31!

So tonight as you open your door, you are invited welcome, not only the masked and costumed ones, but also this season which is approaching. It will bring darkness and icy winds, snow and layers of clothing to ward off the cold. But it will also bring time to remember, time to reflect, time to be caught in this amazing cycle of the seasons of which we are all a part. By our welcome we may be filled with the wisdom of the ancestors and the beauty of thin places.


"The terrible whorl of the Milky Way shines out
To new-eyes under; glory bears down ton-like;
Ordeal girdles us in. I marvel we live.
Yet live we do in the maelstrom, mites as we are;
On our acorn shook from the Oak, we ride out the dark."
                                            Abbie Huston Evans

Since the moment I first read Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, I have been a fan of hers. I thought I had read all she had written, even continuing on to read her daughter Reese’s books as well. But yesterday while rummaging through our church library, I came across Earth Shine, a book she wrote of her experiences and meditations focusing on humanity’s reach for the Moon. It was published in 1966 and provided a certain window for me to look back at my childhood years and how those of us growing up in the early days of the space program were shaped by the science, the magic, the dream of it all. I remember vividly gathering around the scratchy black and white picture, watching with rapt attention as people…real human beings…were catapulted into the darkness of the Universe. The message was….anything is possible.

The book even contains an account of the conversation between ‘Control Houston’ and the astronauts of Apollo 8. "We see the earth now, almost as a disk….We have a beautiful view of Florida….we can see the Cape…..at the same time we can see Africa." Over and over again, the words were repeated "It is beautiful, very, very beautiful."

And what about their eventual destination…the Moon? "The moon is essentially gray, no color. Looks like plaster of Paris-or a grayish deep sand….The moon is a different thing to each one of us…A vast, lonely, forbidding-type existence, great expanse of nothing…..The vast loneliness up here of the moon is awe-inspiring…it makes you realize just what you have back there on earth. The earth from here is a grand oasis in the big vastness of space…."

Last Saturday night, I traveled through the farmlands of Iowa. In the fields on each side of the road the bright lights of combines worked long hours, determined to disk the corn under before another rain fall. They seemed like satellites downed to Earth, moving in formation across the darkness On the horizon, the harvest Moon beamed….an burnt orange disk traveling companion. No plaster of Paris on that night…..just the brilliant glow of that far away place we looked toward at one time as the place of far away dreams.

Though science has taken us there….our footprint still might be etched in that ‘grayish deep sand’…..no words seem more appropriate than those of the astronauts…."It’s beautiful, very, very beautiful."


"For those who walked with us, this is a prayer. For those who have gone ahead, this is a blessing. For those who touched and tended us, who lingered with us while they lived, this is a thanksgiving. For those who journey still with us in the shadows of awareness, in the crevices of memory, in the landscape of our dreams, this is a benediction."  Jan L. Richardson

Yesterday we celebrated the Festival of All Saints during our morning worship. The official celebration day on the church calendar is November 1st but we usually observe it on the Sunday before. It is a particularly meaningful day for many people. As we take time from the busyness of our lives to say aloud the names of those we loved who have died, we not only speak but we listen to how they have shaped who we are. I am always moved by the ways in which people place pictures or symbols of their loved ones on our worship table. As these photos are placed in our midst, I sense their presence with us and feel I can almost see the great cloud of witnesses of all those who have gone on standing around us, behind us, among us, ever so near.

It is a powerful experience to think of  the saints in our lives. Saints are not, as we so often believe, those who are perfect. They are instead those who have, through their living, helped us to see the face of God more fully. I read a novel once of a woman who wore this amazing, flowing skirt on which she had sewn charms that represented the saints of her life.On this garment were charms of books, sewing needles,several hearts, an arm, a leg, some animals,crosses, a hammer, on and on, all no bigger than a thumbnail made of gold and silver. As she moved about, the saints jingled and jangled around her, reminding her in her very movement of all those who had shaped her life.

Who are your saints? Who has moved in and perhaps out of your life that has shown you the face of the Holy and helped you become the person you are today? Who has brought you hope, lifted you up, shared their heart…and maybe even a hammer…in a way that gives flesh and blood to the image of God on Earth?

I invite you, wherever you are, to say their name(s) aloud,sending the sound of the syllables of your saint into the space around you. As you take your next breath, remember the gifts they have given to you. Allow your words to be a prayer, a blessing, a thanksgiving and a benediction.


"When God restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, ‘God has done great things for them’. God has done great things for us, and we rejoiced." Psalm 126

How often do you laugh during any given day? How often do you hear the laughter of others? A recent experience of laughter has been my food over the last few days. While nestled in the forest of the Pacific Northwest in what could be considered a truly idyllic setting, I experienced the intoxicating and healing power of laughter. One of my traveling companions has, what I believe to be, one of the most joyous laughs I have ever heard.

One afternoon I found myself enjoying a cup of coffee, reading a book in the sun, as I got in touch with my feline nature. Each of our group was off doing ‘their own thing’. Suddenly from what I knew was the front porch of where we were staying, I heard her laugh……at first just a loud chuckle and then uncontrollable, body-jarring, roaring laughter. It echoed off the tall pines and the hills around us. I am almost certain it also reached Pugent Sound as it continued, drawing me in. I had no idea what the joke was but I became filled with the joy of the sound. I stopped reading, set down my cup and allowed myself to be bathed in the sheer beauty of that uncontrolled music until I, too, was laughing.

As I sat there, now removed from my tasks, I imagined the cook in the kitchen halting his knife and slowly turning his head, a smile forming on his face, looking toward the sound of her glorious voice. Tucked in the woods, I thought of the author who was working on a book, stopping at his computer and throwing his head back in a moment of insight and transformation. A mile or so away, children playing on the playground at the Waldorf school, may have stopped and turned their heads toward the chuckles floating over the trails toward them. They, too, probably broke out into the kind of uncontrolled body shaking laughter available, it seems, to children.

That’s what happens with laughter…..it becomes contagious. I vote we all commit to doing more of it. In a world that is deadly serious, couldn’t we all use a daily dose of jaw-dropping, stomach-aching, exhaustion-producing laughter? Who knows what healing and hope it might invoke in the Universe?

Here’s to a weekend filled with just that!  Have a great one……………………….

"So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure? God said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful for God? But Sarah denied saying, " I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. God said, "Oh, yes, you did laugh!" Genesis 18


Today is a day of re-entry for me. Yesterday, my traveling companions and I rose early to take the ferry away from Whidbey Island, immersing ourselves almost immediately in the gridlock of Seattle rush hour and what is a closer reality of our daily lives. Cars speeding up, then halting, sirens blaring, lights flashing, we were headed back into a life that had become invisible to us for a few days. This is the true nature of retreat…..pulling away from your normal life so you can see it more fully, with greater understanding and hopefully, compassion. Unfortunately over the last several years we have thrown that word…retreat...around to mean many things but rarely what it truly is. In the corporate, educational and church world we often call day, or even week long meetings ‘retreats’. Don’t be fooled. It is not true.

Retreats are experiences that cause you to blink at speed when you come back into the world. Retreats are experiences that make you realize that,while eating a re-entry lunch, that you are taking twice as long as others, that your food seems to taste better that theirs. Retreats are experiences that cause you to question, to find answers, to lower your heart rate and increase your compassion, to breathe deeply and to simply stare into the middle distance with great intention. Retreats allow you to see the world with sacred eyes and to find your own inner rhythm once again. Retreats allow you to savor the world you re-enter as the extraordinary place it is….taking nothing for granted for awhile.

And so today, I will head out into the world knowing that I have been blessed to have been given a gift of time, of prayer, of companionship, of communion…..a retreat. In our culture it is easy to think of the retreat experience as nonproductive time, as ‘fluff’. That also is not true.

As people of faith, we have many models for taking time away from the regular patterns of our daily lives. "Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness….As he walked by the Sea of Galilee….That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea…..Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself….."Sit here while I go over there and pray"….Retreat.

Wherever you are today, I pray that you will have at least a few moments of retreat. In fact, I offer the next few moments to you. Close your eyes, place your feet firmly on the ground,breathe deeply,listen, really listen to your own heartbeat. Offer yourself these moments to rest in Spirit…through your breath, your presence, your intention, your communion. The world will wait….I promise.


"Round and round the Earth is turning, turning ever into morning, Round and round the Earth is turning, and from morning into night."   Chant

On Sunday evening, I was in the presence of whirling
dervishes. Really. At the retreat center where I am staying we were invited to
an evening worship experience with a community whose spiritual practice is this
form of dance, prayer, poetry and meditation. Finding its roots in the mystical strains of Islam, it is probably best known to us today as the practice of the poet Rumi.This slowly evolving process
leads individuals to an invitation to a whirling dance of prayer and sacred
communion with the Holy.

I admit to having gone out of curiosity. I mean when have I
ever received such an invitation and when might it happen again? So several of
us entered the hall where many were seated on sheepskins and others on chairs
in an outer ring around them.Unsure and a bit self-conscious, we chose the outer ring of seats. The music was
hypnotic and repetitious with a Middle Eastern beauty and simplicity. Those
gathered sang a simple two word phrase over and over accompanied by gentle hand movements. With
each consecutive chant the community moved more and more into dance. First they stood, then
added slow swaying motions, then circled in a walking fashion and finally moved into a
fairly traditional circle dance. It was fascinating.

Of course what became the most fascinating was the moment at
which certain people would move to the center of the circle and ever so slowly
begin to twirl, at first quite deliberate and then with grace and speed…..spinning,
twirling, whirling. One hand gently opened toward the earth while the other
reached up toward heaven, they whirled. Eyes closed, they whirled. Around and
around, in the same space, never stumbling or bumping one another, they
whirled. White robes, blue skirts, flowing outward, they whirled. As they whirled they seemed almost to not touch the ground, to float instead above it in the smoothest motions I have ever seen.

 I have never really watched as anyone entered deep into
prayer. Generally, in our common prayer life, we close our eyes, avoid looking at another, lest we invade their ‘private’ time, or we follow along with the words written on the page before us. It is simply a different prayer life. One might assume we are seeking a different kind of communion with God than those I witnessed on Sunday but I am not so sure. I can’t presume to know what they were experiencing. But I was drawn into the beauty, the warmth, the suspension of time, and held in something powerful by being in their presence.And I was sure of one thing….we were indeed in the presence of the Holy.

The poet Mary Oliver writes: "I do not know how to pray….I do know how to kneel down and kiss the ground." Somehow I believe that is what these whirling dervishes were doing……and I was blessed to share that moment in my own feeble fashion.



High Winds,Rough Waters


Through and through, great power is ours, such that all
creation, in all things, stands by us.         Hildegard of Bingen

Flying into Seattle on Thursday was an amazing experience. My colleagues and I were on a 757 Northwest aircraft….a big plane…..and yet as we landed the wind buffeted the enormous mound of steel like it was made of notebook paper.Several around me had eyes closed, the woman across the aisle gripped the armrests till I saw the true meaning of "white knuckled". As tires planted themselves, and us, on the runway applause broke out. It felt great to be on the ground!

Several hours later, we drove our cars onto the ferry at Mukilteo headed toward Whidbey Island. As we drove onto the boat we got a good glimpse of the water we were about to cross….white caps, huge waves, big winds. Curiosity getting the best of us we climbed the stairs to the deck to feel the full force of what we were about to be a part of….the power of the seas and wind making for a very rough ride. Those who worked on the ferry came around shouting "You must sit down. This is not a request, this is an order." As they were the experts, we certainly weren’t about to argue.

Later we would learn that the winds had reached 50 miles an hour over those hours of our travel. When we arrived at our destination on the island, the electricity came on for the first time all day. It was certainly a day of high winds and rough waters. And in the midst of it all, we Midwesterners had placed our lives in the hands of strangers who knew more than we, who had undoubtedly more skill and training, who knew the power and danger of these important earth elements and in whom we had placed our trust….and to some degree our lives. It is a humbling thought.

When we arrived at the cozy farmhouse that has been our home for the past days, we were welcomed with warm smiles, sumptuous food, steaming cups of coffee, a roaring fire. We had traveled far and long but had found a place to rest and call home for a few days, safe from high winds, rough waters.

Thinking about this over the past few days, I have thought about how many times we are the actors in this recurring play. From the danger of life’s high winds that blow us about, that sends our nerves and belongings flying, we find…or are found by, a place to rest and recover. When the waters that hold our lifeboat threatens to throw us overboard, to drench us with its cold, icy spray, someone throws out the ring that will pull us safely home. The scriptures are filled with these stories. The sacred stories of our lives are also made up of these rescue tales.

Today might be a great day to remember a story of high winds and rough waters from your own life. It could be a good time to give thanks for those who waited on the other side to welcome you home with warmth. Or maybe you are in such a windswept story right now. If so, may you travel with those who have the skills and training in which you can place your trust. May the Spirit of the Wind and Water be calmed by the One who guides each of us to the place of welcome and safety.


Today I am headed out of town for an island adventure. I will be traveling with several clergy who have, over the years, become friends, colleagues, wisdom, and God-with-skin-on to me. We are headed to the Pacific Northwest to the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island. It will be a time for leadership training, renewal, fun and retreat. We all feel greatly blessed to be making this trip especially in the presence of one another.

Whidbey Institute is described as:’"a place of deep inqiry and inspiration dedicated to the transformation of heart, mind, and culture for a more sustainable, just and fruitful future for all. We are committed to the emergence of a new and right relationship between the natural and social world through the development of vital communities and the formation of courageous,creative and competent leadership on behalf of the whole earth community. We ground our work in the ongoing development of a deep and spacious spiritual core and cultivate practices that inform and sustain learning and hope."

In the planning of this trip, the image of island has become important to me.I think many of us often feel like an island within the church, within the world. Have you? It is an often lonely place. Yet, what always brings me back from that loneliness is community and my experience of the Holy in the faces, the life stories, the challenges and the mountaintop experiences I have the privilege of being witness to in the life of others. And when that doesn’t work, it is the experience of God-with-leaves, God-with-blossom, God-with-wings, that pulls me back and into the Circle of Life.

And so it is right that as we travel to an island, we go in the presence of one another, carrying with us the prayers and blessing of those on larger land. It is indeed a gift to make this journey and I ask for your prayers for traveling mercies.

If there is internet service available, I will write from the island. If not, I will share the stories of our insights when I return.

mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one
chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better
language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the
bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon
the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all:….No man is an
island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am
involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell
tolls; it tolls for thee."  John Donne


"We look with uncertainty
Beyond the old choices for
Clear-cut answers
To a softer, more permeable aliveness
Which is every moment
At the brink of death;
For something new is being born in us
If we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
Awaiting that which comes……
Daring to be human creatures.
Vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love."
                            Anne Hillman

As our community has been exploring what it means to offer radical hospitality, many of us have bumped our heads on our hardened hearts. We have come face-to-face with those places within us that have closed up shop, given up on certain people, refused to listen, turned our backs. It is a humbling experience. I have had more than one conversation about how difficult it is to be hospitable to those who badger us with their ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’, those who wear their certainty like armor, those who claim to have the answers with which God is most pleased. Most often, as the conversation plays out, we all realize that we, too, have done the same thing……I believe some might call it self-righteousness……and , if we are self-aware, we  see more similarity than differences in how we have waved our flags in certain situations.

‘Daring to be human creatures’ is risky, messy, work. It requires listening, openness, awareness, and the willingness to soften our hearts to the pain, the alienation, the loneliness, the vulnerabilities of others…and ourselves.

Calling upon the words of three Hebrew prophets,Jeremiah,Ezekiel and Joel,  David Haas has written a song that is a favorite of my worshiping community: "Deep within I will plant my law, not on stone, but in your heart. Follow me, I will bring you back, you will be my own, and I will be your God. I will give you a new heart, a new spirit within you, for I will be your strength."

Each day we are confronted with those with whom we disagree, politically, theologically, socially,morally. Perhaps their very presence in our lives is a gift, one that invites us not to hearts of stone, but hearts that are learning to love. For some, learning to love takes a lifetime. But with each new day, the Holy offers us another doorway…….and the strength to step through.


"The road of life can only reveal itself as it is traveled; each turn in the road reveals a surprise." Anonymous

This was my weekend message on my desk calendar. It was quite appropriate to the train of thought I’ve been having over the last days. I have several high school and college aged people in my life.Perhaps it is because of them, their conversations, their struggles, that I have been thinking about what path we expect our lives to take when we are younger. Most often as I gather with friends, conversation shifts instead to the surprises our lives have taken, how what we thought we might be doing at ‘our age’, is quite different than what we are actually doing. Through twists and turns, unexpected opportunities, successes that didn’t seem possible and what seems like sheer luck, we find ourselves living a vocation that we would never have imagined at twenty. Doors opened….and often doors closed…..and here we are.

It is the door closing part that most fascinates me. I think of the doors that have closed for me in my life, how devastated I was, the tears that were shed, the angry words I flung into the air, the ‘why me?’ and the ‘how could they?’ shouted at deaf ears. And yet now, as I look back, it is the closed doors that have made the biggest difference, that have led me to right place, at the right time, walking the road it seems I was called to travel.

Over my life I have witnessed people I think of as great, have doors closed on what they believe to be their ‘road.’ Jimmy Carter, Maya Angelou, Al Gore, to name only three. And yet as the door closed, they have been led to perhaps the ‘surprise’ of something different they were called to do in their lives. Habitat for Humanity, Author, Poet, An Inconvenient Truth………

What doors have closed in your life? What doors have opened as a result? What surprises have been revealed to you on the road you have traveled so far?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost