And So It Goes

Several years ago Linda Ellerbee had a television show called "And So It Goes". As I recall during the show she explored some news item, some situation that needed further explanation. During the half hour she would state the premise, reflection upon it, unravel its mysteries, try to answer questions and finally end with this statement. Each week the show played out in the same way.

This week the phrase has come to mind several times.Last Sunday was what we have named in the church calendar, ‘Reign of Christ" Sunday which is the last Sunday of the church year. This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the new year. On Reign of Christ Sunday we celebrate the ways in which we have seen and known the presence of God moving, having flesh and blood,walking with us in our daily lives.

The flow of these days took on special meaning for me this year. Last year during Advent I began writing  daily reflections on the theme of Holy Mystery. After Advent as we moved into Christmas and then on into January, I continued with ‘Pause’, my five times a week(mostly) reflections.This week I realized that as we approached Reign of Christ Sunday that this entire year had provided me with the opportunity and practice of looking for and being present to God’s movement in the ordinary of my life and what was happening in the world. I realized that over this past year I have tried, with what I hope is some humility, to look at the world with eyes that search out the Sacred. Most often what has happened is that the Sacred has searched me out.

I have known for some time that there is a great gift in observing the seasons of the church year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost….and my personal favorite, Ordinary Time. This year as I have taken the daily time to reflect and write I have received a gift beyond my imagination. I have received the deep knowing that this Christ presence, this Great Movement of God, whose in-breaking we are preparing to celebrate is my daily companion.

As we enter this season of Advent, I invite you to a time of dreaming and visions. As the darkness offers its quiet, reflective ways to us, may we be reminded of the prayer of our Celtic friends: Christ above us, Christ below, Christ to our left and to our right, Christ in our waking and in our laying down, Christ in our dreaming and in our sleeping, Christ in our life and at our death. Christ to companion us today, tomorrow and always.

And so it goes……………………


The hibiscus knew. It was brought in for the winter from our backyard and stands watch over its real resting place through the window that brings it light. Today as I stood reading the article about how Minnesota is one of the ten ‘happiest’ states in the country, the hibiscus bloomed its big salmon face toward me. Winter? Hah! Cold? Hah! Gray skies? Hah! "Look at me.", it said. "Watch me bloom." So, there I was, eyes not quite open, coffee just poured, flannel pajamas still wrinkled from sleep, the hibiscus flashing its showing smile. What else was I to do but smile back? After all, I live in a happy state.

I am sure the experts were surprised. Minnesotans often are portrayed as somber, quiet, loners. We have that whole Lake-Woe-Be-Gone thing going on and then there is the snow……and the cold….and cold ….and the snow. I think what this study done by Mental Health America teaches us is something most of our mothers told us. Attitude matters. Sometimes happiness has nothing to do with our situation and everything to do with our attitude. The study may tell us that even in what can seem like dark, dull days….happiness can be a choice…or at least being pleasant can be a choice which often times leads to happiness……..which can often be contagious.

So it was this morning for me. I had read the thermometer. I knew it was really, really cold. As I stood there, it was also still really, really dark. And then the hibiscus started being pleasant to me. And then it looked downright happy. And soon I was caught up in it all. Instead of choosing the layers and layers of browns and other dark clothes, I put on a skirt and one of my favorite sweaters that has shiny buttons. I put on pearl earrings and a colorful scarf.

As I opened the door and breathed in the frigid air, the hibiscus gave me a big, swift kick out into the world. "Get out there! Be happy!" And out I went to fulfill my duty as a Minnesotan.

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but so often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."  Helen Keller


"Keep us, O God, from all pettiness. Let us be large in thought, in word, in deed. Let us be done with fault-finding and leave off all self-seeking. May we put away all pretense and meet each other face to face, without self-pity or without prejudice. May we never be hasty in judgment, and always generous. Let us always take time for all things, and make us grow calm, serene, and gentle. Teach us to put into action our better impulses, to be straightforward and unafraid. Grant that we may realize that it is the little things in life that create differences, that in the big things of life we are as one. And, O God, let us not forget to be kind."
                                Queen Mary Stuart

I sat in a circle yesterday as people shared with one another the practice of their prayer life, their devotional practices, their frustrations over time and its lack, what readings inspired them. It is a circle of people I know well, and love, so the sharing was real and honest and deep. It is a privilege beyond words to have this circle in my life. It is a place of safety, a place where being heard is a gift.

To talk about how one prays is a very vulnerable and personal thing to do…even in ‘professional, religious’ circles. I imagine it was not always so. But in the culture we all move in, with so many ways of doing everything the ‘right’ way or the way that leads to success, you can feel as if your skin is turned wrong-side-out, the senses exposed when these conversations arise. There is a negative piety that can crop up when conversation turns to questions like ‘how do you pray?’ ‘how often do you pray?’ ‘where and when do you pray?’

So it might not be coincidental that my eyes fell upon this prayer of Queen Mary Stuart this morning. It is in a small book that I pull out every now and then, Life Ablaze:A Woman’s Novena by Sr. Joan Chittister. Maybe this is the prayer that we all wish to pray. Maybe this is a prayer we all wish will be answered in us.If I could walk out the door each morning carrying the protection of this prayer…mostly protection from myself….how might my life be filled with and reflect the Holy One in the world? If these words lingered in my ears and my heart, how might I interact with those I love and those I find difficult? If these were the words I offered to God in prayer, how might my life be transformed?

I don’t have answers to these questions. But I do have faith in them.


Last week I heard Paul Douglas, local meteorologist make the statement that November is the ‘gloomiest’ month of the year. I am not sure I had noticed this before. I would have put my money on March somehow. But, given that it is his job to know such things, I am taking his word for it. I am not sure if it was the power of suggestion but I am now noticing how gray it has been the last weeks.During the day the sky seems to be holding back something, like there is a big sheet that needs a good washing covering up what can’t be seen. Rather like the coverings thrown over furniture in rooms that are seldom used. With eyes squinting,people walk out into day after day of sameness…gray,gray and just a little more gray. Yesterday, today…tomorrow?

Is there any wonder we are so anxious to put up Christmas lights, to festoon our houses and yards with any color we can conjure up? Ruby red Santas, air-filled snowmen wearing bright blue scarves, shiny brown reindeer with glowing red noses, golden stars, bows of any color will do. They stand, somewhat sadly, on green lawns, an antidote to what hangs above. All this, to break up the gray of the daytime sky.

But nighttime is a different story all together. Steel gray-blue begins to move in at vesper time, slowly moving toward the deep, dark velvet blue of the nighttime. The dirty gray sheet is ripped away by unseen hands and ‘Ta-da!’ the kind of night sky dreams are made of. Stars glimmer, Venus and Mars are both visible against the rich, dark background. And the Moon….how can we describe the Moon?

Saturday night the full Moon shown so brightly it woke me up. Looking out I saw the hazy ring around its shining orb. Shooting out north, south, east and west, the rays formed the Celtic cross right there in the night sky. I imagined my ancestors seeing such a sight and heading to their cave to preserve its beauty on cold stone walls. Sunday night as we traveled across the Mississippi River the Moon, now golden yellow in its harvest fullness rose majestically above the horizon. There were no words to match its magnificence.

November days may draw us into a narrow eyed place……but that only leaves more room for the "AHHH!" of November nights.

"And God said, "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs of seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth. And it was so. God made the two great lights-the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night- and the stars. And God saw that it was good." Genesis 1:14-17


"There is within all things, a hidden wholeness"  Thomas Merton

In my daily reading I read an account by Reuben Job, one of United Methodist’s great leaders, recounting an ordination service that took place in the 1960s. For those who don’t know, one of the historic questions asked those coming for ordination in the United Methodist Church is "Are you going on to perfection?" It is the second question of seventeen that are asked those who have heeded a call to ministry in this denomination. The story goes that one ordinand, when asked the question by the the presiding bishop, answered with a loud and resounding "NO!" The bishop then asked the person, "Then, where are you going?"

I don’t know if this story is legend or true. But the story does nudge me. "Where are you going?" Where am I going? I am certain that "perfection" had a different connotation in John Wesley’s day than it does now. And even if I am able to wade through the ideas of the many ways our culture tries to achieve perfection….nip this, tuck that, eat this, don’t eat that, climb this ladder, buy this,borrow that…it is a difficult word, perfection. I am sure we have all been privy to the playground(high school hallways, boardroom) chide of "Well, if it isn’t Ms.(Mr.) Perfect!" In this instance none of us want to be going on to receive that kind of remark aimed at us.

A more apt question might be:"Are you going on to wholeness?" Am I moving toward a relationship with the Holy, others, Creation and myself that is one of wholeness,one that is undivided? It is a question we might ask ourselves with each new day. Make no mistake, it is not an easy question…to ask, to answer, to live. But we all might agree that in the end, it is an eternally important one. How might you answer?

Perhaps it is the gray days of November that have me wondering about where my life is moving. Perhaps it is my age or the state of the world or this time in my career or the future of the church. I don’t know its source but the question is nagging me. Oh, wait…maybe I do know its Source.

"The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each  will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread.Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life."  Derek Wolcott

At Thanksgiving

I did not make it to the computer yesterday. It is an unusual day when that happens. But yesterday was filled with simple acts of setting the table, washing dishes, mashing potatoes, talking and laughing, playing games…..all things enjoyed without the benefit of technology. Last night as I melted into a chair to think back over the day, I was struck with the fact that, though the traditions varied from house to house, church to church, apartment to apartment, shelter to shelter, we were all engaged in very similar acts. They were the simple acts of gathering as people,eating together and in some way claiming a sense of gratitude. No matter how complicated our lives have become, there are still these simple acts that unite us.

At our home as we gathered around our table for grace, it was not lost on a single person there that we were, indeed, privileged people. Many of the prayers offered reflected our blessings but also the clear understanding that there were others who did not share in the privileged life we presented. We were the people of ‘more-than-enough’, those who did not struggle to bring the food to the table. We were the people who belonged, to one another, to families, to friendships honed over years, grounded in a deep love and shared history. We were not the ones who live on the margins, who do not know whom they can trust, who their true friends are, those who have lost contact with family.

And so as the following prayer was offered, we stood fully in our place of privilege, knowing that, as my mother often said to me…….. ‘to whom much has been given, much will be required.’ In our thanksgiving was also the commitment to hold gently what we have and to reach out.

At Thanksgiving: A Franciscan Benediction

May you be blessed with discomfort at easy answers, half truths,and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. May you be blessed with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. May you be blessed with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them. May you be blessed with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done: to bring justice and kindness to all.

Rolling Pin

I never knew my maternal grandmother Elizabeth. She died in childbirth, giving birth to my Uncle Charles, when my mother was five years old. So it is logical that I have no real memories of her, only those stories passed on by my mother, memories that are filled with the sweetness of a young child. Grandma Elizabeth will always be sepia-toned to me, trapped forever in the aging photos I have gleaned from boxes that my mother has saved. Her small frame clothed in the drab colors of the ’20’s, she wears an apron over her clothes, her long hair(so I am told) pulled back in a bun at the nape of her neck. She stands in the yard of their home in a hollow near Hitchens, Kentucky, a row house built by the coal mines to house the worker’s families.

I think of Grandma Elizabeth at this time of year because the one thing I have that belonged to her was her rolling pin. Last night as I was getting ready to bake the Thanksgiving pies, I pulled it from a drawer. It is glass and was meant to have a stopper at one end where you could fill the cylinder with cold water so it wouldn’t stick to the dough as you rolled it out. Pies aren’t baked as often in our house as they were when I was growing up so the rolling pin only comes out once or twice a year. This probably adds to the visceral experience I have when I begin rolling….my hands, my Mother’s hands, my Grandmother’s hands…..who can tell the difference?

As I roll the dough using my Mother’s recipe, I think of my Grandmother’s life. She was poor, very poor, but she loved her children passionately and worked to create the best life possible for them. She loved music and taught her children to sing when they were very little. This rolling pin was used to create food to nourish her family, to hopefully provide them with a much needed treat now and then.

Today as I bake pies to be enjoyed by my family, I give thanks for a rolling pin. I give thanks that it is a tangible thing that connects me through time with this woman I never knew but whose blood courses through my veins. It is a simple,ordinary item, used to make simple, ordinary food. But to me, it is so very much more.

"Finding myself in the end is finding you & if you are lost in the folds of your silence then I find only to lose with you those years…..There’s no love so pure it can thrive without its incarnations. I would like to know you once again over your chipped cups brimming with tea. (from Poem to My Grandmother in Her Death by Michele Murray)


"Whatever is foreseen in joy must be lived out from day to day. Vision held open in the dark by our ten thousand days of work. Harvest will fill the barn;for that the hand must ache, the face must sweat. And yet no leaf or grain is filled by work of ours; the field is tilled and left to grace. That we may reap, great work is done while we’re asleep. When we work well, a Sabbath mood rests on our day, and finds it good." Wendell Berry

We have begun the slow march toward Thanksgiving. Preparations intricate and simple are happening in homes across the land. Restaurants are gearing up to provide a traditional Thanksgiving feast for those who want to spare the fuss, or stress, of all the fixings. The travel report on television this morning predicted a staggering number of people taking to air to get home for this Thursday. I’ve heard more than one person exclaim that they are "so excited", that they "can’t wait" for Thanksgiving. Many college students are home or will travel for the long weekend to sit around the table with family and friends, eating food that hasn’t been mass-produced.

In some ways it is an odd holiday. If people think at all about the ‘original’ Thanksgiving, Pilgrims, Native Americans, turkey, etc., it is only a brief, passing thought. Instead the focus is the food…so many favorites..and the gathering. In this instance, the holiday has very little to do with the American experience and everything to do with how we live a life of gratitude. It is that set-aside time for remembering all the gifts that come our way through nothing we actually do to receive them.For people of faith it is the set-aside time, a Sabbath time, to remember that we are the created of the Creator, and to offer our thanks.

"And yet no leaf or grain is filled by work of ours; the field is tilled and left to grace."
writes poet and farmer Wendell Berry. How much of our Thanksgiving meal will find its way to our table through our own work? For most of us, very little. The food which we look forward to will have been planted, nurtured, harvested, packed, shipped, unloaded, sold, and bagged by countless laborers who work at fair or possibly unjust wages. Their jobs depend on sun and rain, climate and weather, blue sky, storms….all things over which they have no control.

So, you see, this Thursday we will be welcomed to the table by all those hands who labored on our behalf. As we offer our prayers, they will stand invisibly with us. They have given the hours and days of their lives to make our celebration possible. As we offer our prayers, the elements…Earth, Air, Fire, Water….live within the food which will nourish our bodies, another sacrifice.As we offer our prayers, the Creator binds us all together in a sacred act of grace……and communion……and finds it good.   

Being Known

People become a part of a faith community, I believe, for a variety of reasons. For some it is to express their specific beliefs and to join in with others who do the same. Others join a church because it has been a long standing family tradition. Still others join because they want to engage in ways that make a difference in the world, to tell the gospel story through their actions. There are some who join because they think they ‘should’ and still others who do so because they think others think they should….their mother, their wife, their boss, the college they might apply to someday. I make no criticism or judgment about any of these reasons because I also truly believe that, if a person becomes actively engaged in a faith community, they will be transformed in significant ways. That is the work of the Spirit.

One of the things a church can offer people is ‘being known’. We exist in a culture where it is quite easy to be invisible if you want to, to live through whole days where no one calls you by name. I have often said that what the majority of people want when they come into a church community is the same thing Norm received when he walked into the bar at Cheers. People want someone to call out their name:"Norm!", to be known, to be visible in an important way.

I thought of this yesterday as our third graders received the gift of their Bible from the church. Being a third-grader is to be in the middle of the pack, so to speak. You do not have the cute factor of being a kindergartner or the cool factor of being a sixth grader, i.e. an ‘almost teenager’. So to be called out from this valley of ages to be recognized, to be known, is a great gift from a community of mostly adults. Many dressed up for the occasion, families joined them, even grandmas and grandpas if they lived near. Pictures were snapped and cake was served in their honor. As each student was handed this small black book(with print fit for their young eyes), I saw them look at the gold letters of their name printed on the cover. To have your name imprinted on the cover of a book is impressive at any age.

My sense is that they will forget the cake they ate. They may even forget what they wore. Over the next few years they may even misplace that Bible, though I hope not. I hope they can read those stories and connect it with their own experience of God, or find an answer to a question they have been pondering, or comfort for a very trying time. I hope they study its contents and are able to know the story of their faith ancestors.Whatever the case, perhaps in a few years, as they clean out their room preparing to head off to college, they may come across that little black book. They may hold it in their now much larger hands and run their finger across the gold letters of their name. Hopefully they will think:"That was a day I was known".

It is one of the things a faith community can offer. And isn’t it what we all want?

"O God, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways."  Psalm 139

Lessons from Job

"But ask the animals, and they will teach you, the birds of
the air, and they will tell you; Ask the plants of the earth, and they will
teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these
does not know that the hand of God has done this? In God’s hand is the life of
every living thing and the breath of every human being." Job 12:7-10

It was only 7:20 a.m. and I had already done several things on my to-do list. After running my son to school, I had completed one drive-through order at the pharmacy and was waiting in line at the next drive-through looking forward to the reward of my skim latte and cinnamon chip scone. It has truly been "one of those weeks." Each day has held more than it should. Each hour has been packed with meetings, phone calls, things to be accomplished.

As I pulled out of the long line of those waiting to be caffeinated, I turned toward an empty parking lot. That’s when I saw them. Probably twenty or more common gulls sat in rows on the asphalt.(My friend Bob Janssen, master-birder has reminded me many times there is no such thing as a "sea gull".) Not eating, not pecking away at stray particles that could be ingested, just sitting……all facing the same direction, as if waiting for a concert to begin. I slowed down(was this their intent?) and looked at them. In my slowing down I realized how my heart had been racing, how I was already on to the next thing, so disconnected from the present moment. Had I even tasted that first bit of scone I had so anticipated as my reward for all I had already done?

As I watched these common yet lovely white and gray birds, I thought of these words from Job. "Ask the animals and they will teach you. Ask the birds of the air and they will tell you." These parking lot birds had just preached a sermon without saying a word! Like Job, who tended to be self-centered and certainly tortured, I was flying around like I was the center of the universe. The message of Job is that the Holy One is the source of our life, breath, meaning and continues to renew us moment by moment, day by day. "Who among all these
does not know that the hand of God has done this?"
reminds the writer of this prophetic book.

So, here I sit, writing this, wearing my humility coat. The gulls have stared me down. They pulled the rug right from under my really important feet. And to them I say…."thanks, I needed that!"

I pray you will take time this weekend to learn from the animals or the birds or the fish…………..have a wonderful weekend.