New Year

"At this turning point, as at others, we pause from our struggle to hold on and relax into the passing of what is no more. We pause from our sadness and rest on a carpet of green moss. We pause from our longing and drink in the sufficiency of this moment. We pause from our dread of emptiness and enter a deeper emptiness:still, luminous and sweet. At this turning point, as at others, we take a breath and step forward unprepared but awake. And you, dear sister-brother, from what do you pause at this turning-point, as at others?"  John Davis, teacher, Ridhwan School, Colorado

Speaking with a friend this morning,he asked how I was viewing this turning of the year. I admitted to him that, as years go, this had not been an easy one in some respects. I prefaced this by saying that my statement was certainly relative….in comparison to the challenges many people I know are struggling with, my life has been a piece of cake. This is always the case, isn’t it?  We view our lives in specifics but also in how they compare to others’.

During worship yesterday we spoke of peace…..both inner peace and the absence of war, the living out of justice at its deepest level. As people offered their prayers we expressed sadness, despair, anger, frustration, at the situations of the world…..our seeming lack of power to change, to be enlightened, to be a change agent. I believe we offered these prayers knowing that we are the people of privilege. We do not know what it is like to live with the fear of war at our doorstep every day, the fear for our children’s lives.  We know the specifics of our hopes and our prayers but hold them up to the reality of those for whom we pray.

And so on this eve of a new year, we are held in the balance of what might happen in 2008. This may be the year when, through prayer, creativity, a shedding of ego and tremendous diplomacy, we may end our occupation of other countries. This may be the year when, through hard work, brilliance and sheer luck, cures for diseases which hold us hostage will be found. This may be the year, when we pause and realize what we hold in common is more important than what we believes divides us. This may be the year………..

And so, let us ‘take a breath and step forward unprepared but awake’.

A blessed new year to you all……………….

Christmas Eve

On this Christmas Eve people will gather in churches to celebrate and re-enact the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child, the Holy One. It is a glorious day and one that many people say is one of their favorite days of the year. Though it is a busy day for me, it is also a favorite, for on this day we once again remember hope and let it shine in our eyes and in the ways we greet one another.

"Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world-stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death-and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas. And if you can keep it for a day, why not always" from The Spirit of Christmas by Henry Van Dyke

Indeed, why not? Perhaps this will be the year when Christmas is everyday. We can hope…..and pray.
May you be surrounded by those you love and who love you in return and may the Spirit of Christmas rest among you this day and everyday.

Merry Christmas………………………..

***I will be traveling over the next several days and will write when there is Internet access.

Solstice Dream

"It is just before sunrise on a cold December day some three thousand years before the coming of Christ. For those crouched at the heart of the mound it must seem as though light has been banished forever. Then, suddenly, a tiny sliver of sunlight strikes the stone slab at the back of the chamber. Slowly it widens, climbs upward, illuminating a number of mysterious carvings-circles, spirals, zigzag patterns. For the people crouched in the center of the great mound of Brug na Boine(also known as New Grange) every symbol has meaning. But by far the greatest significance is the return of the sun itself. The light that enters the dark womb of the earth brings with it the promise of warmth and life to come." from The Winter Solstice:Sacred Traditions of Christmas by John Matthews

Welcome to the Winter Solstice…the longest night of the year. I love this image painted by the words of John Matthews. This picture helps me remember the very ancient story of which we are all a part. Our ancestors, not blessed with the scientific knowledge we now have, gathered with prayers and intention, with hope beyond hope, that the sun would once again return after their long days in darkness. It may seem simple to us now, or even something we give no thought to, but their story is our story with or without our recognition.

The setting of the date for the celebration of Christmas, the birth of the Christ Child, is complicated but the important thing to remember is that the date, December 25, was set because of many people ‘coming to the light’ including the Emperor Constantine who helped layer his new found Christian faith onto the already established celebration of the Winter Solstice, the return of the sun.The light of the sun, the light of God, the Light of the World…….all connected.

People of each faith tradition like to believe they have the fullness of the story of the Holy moving through time.  This has, of course, caused us much trouble and the loss of many lives. Celebration of Winter Solstice, which we will do this longest night, has the potential of connecting us in deep ways to the Light that always moves into the darkness bringing promise, hope and new life, holding out the chance to begin once again. I believe we call that grace.

So, on this longest night, I pray you can gather with friends or family or strangers who may become friends. Perhaps you can light a candle or build a fire. This is after all, "the night which God has made…let us rejoice and be glad"…for the light will return, grace will prevail. And in this celebration may we be reminded on the invisible lines of connection that unite us throughout time, across traditions, beyond beliefs,in the Spirit of the One who brings light to our lives.

"Brightener of Darkness, hail! Keeper of Clearness, Opener of Depths. Gifts of plenty are arising, Winter wonders, white snows’ fall. Joyful be the heart within us, Open wide the guesting door, Wisdom waken in abundance, Warm our beings to the core."  Caitlin Matthews

Have a joyous weekend……………..

Sacred Places

"Will you, God, really live with people on earth? Why, the heavens and their own heavens cannot contain you. How much less this house that I have built…..Listen to the cry and the prayer I make to you today. Day and night let your eyes watch over this house, over this place of which you have said: "My name shall be there."
1 Kings 8:27-29

Yesterday I walked into what is ‘sacred space’ for me. Once a month I am privileged to visit the Carondolet Center at the College of St. Catherine. This beautiful old building represents for me a true center of hospitality, a sacred dwelling. There is always someone with a pleasant greeting as you walk in. There is attention to detail, cleanliness and order. Depending on the Christian season, there will be paintings or displays that invite you to remember that it is, indeed,  Advent or Lent…a candle here, an icon there. Those who work or live in the building….it is still home to a few Sisters of St. Joseph….move through the building with ease and a sense of purpose. Calmness seems to ooze from the walls, held I am sure, in the countless prayers that have been said over the years by these devoted women.

Most of us don’t live or work in such a space. Instead we sometimes successfully seek them out…. that place where we can sense, know, that indeed the Holy moves here. Even though we may claim ‘God is everywhere’, it is often difficult to really feel that is true in many of the spaces we exist. It takes great intention and attention to know the presence of the Holy in many of our spaces. Even our churches can miss the mark of creating ‘sacred space’.

Of course, many of us find the most sacred of spaces not in buildings at all but in a grove of trees, overlooking the sparkling water of a lake, standing on a mountain top gazing out at the land below and beyond. It is often easy to feel the vibration of the Holy under our feet in those places where our body and Earth connect. With stars dancing in the night sky, the Moon shining down on us, we are caught in the Mystery of what it means to be human reflecting upon the Divine.

What is ‘sacred space’ for you? Where is the place you can go to that allows all the pretenses of daily life to dissolve, the place that allows you to connect most fully with the Sacred? Wherever this place is for you, I pray that, during these days that can seemed full and rushed, you can go there and be renewed by the Spirit which cannot be contained in heaven, the place that speaks through its very existence…the eyes of God are watching over this place…..blessed be.

Night Roads

"Night is drawing high-‘How long the road is. But, for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed every second of it in order learn what the road passes-by" Dag Hammarskjold

I was searching through a book of Advent resources and came upon this quote. It was a short line among lots of longer paragraphs but its simple, yet profound message jumped out at me. Hammarskjold, a Secretary General of the United Nations and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize understood first hand that on any journey, the stops and detours along the way are equally as important as the beginning and the destination. It is how the work of peace continues.

As the New Year 2008 approaches, I am aware of the twists and turns of the past year, not only in my own life but in the lives of others. It seems we can have very clear goals, have a well defined plan of action, set out on a journey with good intention and then something happens to change our course or at least interrupt it. I think what Hammarskjold is saying is that how we choose to respond to those jags in the road can make all the difference. How we see the little detours to places not on our original itinerary shapes us.

What are the detours you’ve experienced this last year? Have you been completely sidelined by them or have you found a way to see the gifts that are hidden in what might be the ‘plan behind your plan’?  Have you found a way to learn the lessons of what the road passes by and make it a part of moving on with the journey?

In thinking of the story of Christmas, it, too, is a story of journey. Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem. Staying in a barn was probably not a part of their original plan. The shepherds keeping watch and then an angel interrupts what was a pretty calm and quiet life. The Magi, studying the night sky, drawn off course by an unexplainable star. Herod, set to be a ruler and a king, thrown off course by the birth of a baby. There is much we can learn, I believe, from the stories of these journeys.

How long the road is..………..and how rich the journey when we allow ourselves the open heart and gracious spirit to take our plans lightly. Who knows? The detour may just be the road we were meant to take all along.


"Here, in the center of my chest, their constant dwelling: the persistent yearning, the insistent craving, the unbidden imagining, the desire awakening, the daydreams, the nightdreams, the reverie unfolding: the language of longing, drawing me home." Jan L. Richardson

Advent is a season of longing. We don’t use the word much…longing. In some ways it is a painful word, conjuring up feelings that are too difficult to reconcile. Carol Lee Flinders wrote a book called At the Root of This Longing about her deep desire to make peace with her longing for an authentic spiritual life. Between the pages she manages to both tell her story and create a feeling of longing….longing for the connection, the relationship, the union with the Holy, a home. It is pure genius.

In walking the mall last week I witnessed people in pursuit of what might fill their longing. It is easy to get  mixed up at this time of year. We are searching for ‘just the right gift’, the  ‘the perfect present’. Of course, retailers are quite happy to help us try to fill that desire. If we admit it to ourselves, we often also are hoping for the perfect present. We are hoping that someone knows us so well, loves us so much, wants to please and surprise us so much that they will present us with that gift which will get at the root of our longing.

Now this is not meant to be a tirade against Christmas shopping or consumerism necessarily. I love it as much as the next person. What my point is, I guess, is that Advent fills us with a knowing, a deep knowing that we are a apart of a much bigger story than our small life might suggest. We are a part of a story that goes as deep as the ocean and as high as th heavens, that has its beginning at the dawning of Creation. We are a part of a story that is about love that is unimaginable, hope that defies the odds, sacrifice that is beyond reason and life that begins anew with each sunrise, with each blessed breath.

And so at the root of our longing this season is that in the presents we buy, in the lights we light, in the sweets we bake and offer out of our love, in the songs we sing till the tears run down our face, that we will…each of us…remind one another of the holy, sacred story of which we are a part. And that in that reminding, we will find home.

So, you see,in so many ways the gifts don’t matter. It is the intention with which they are offered. As we give a gift, large or small, inexpensive or not, the real gift is offering a reminder of belonging to another person that helps them to know home, to know they are welcome in your life, that they are a part of your story.

"Thou my source and my returning, my beginning and welcome home, bless the path on which I journey; be the way that leads me on."

Morning Food

"A candle light is a protest at midnight. It is a nonconformist. It says to the darkness: "I beg to differ."                                                                                                                                        Samuel Rayan

It was not a candle light. It was much bigger than that. It was a bright orange dinner plate sphere that rose  on the horizon this morning. After nearly nine hours of darkness, the sun finally rose at 7:46 a.m. I was privileged to be driving toward it this morning as it rose, gloriously, into the pale blue and misty sky. In its rising it shouted to the world: "I beg to differ!"

We are in the last of the darkest days of this year. As we approach the Winter Solstice on December 21st, 12:09 a.m.,  the Sun will once again start returning us to days with more light. I recognize that the majority of people walk through these days with very little awareness of this movement, of the variance of light and darkness but this year I have been particularly watchful. Seeing the growing darkness has informed my experience of Advent, of the waiting, the watching, the anticipation, the hope of new life to come.

I have tried very intentionally to not see the darkness as  a negative but as an integral part of the process of birth. Dreams, after all, take place in darkness. Babies are nurtured in the darkness of a womb. Bulbs and seeds are growing in the darkness of the cold soil….even when we cannot see. Many animals are sleeping in the darkness of caves and warm earthy holes, growing even as they rest. Creativity itself often seems to take root and grow out of the darkness of confusion and challenge. Most of us have found spiritual transformation out of what we might refer to as a dark night of the soul.

So these dark days, I believe, are not to be feared or dreaded. Instead they are meant to be opportunities for staying awake and aware to what the darkness has to teach us, to offer us. When we do we may find ourselves staring with awe at that morning platter of rich, fire red and orange…..the Sun that offers us a glimpse of what is yet to be…….another amazing day to walk the Earth with both darkness and light as our backdrop. This Sun which feeds the fields of food we eat and the trees that bring us oxygen also has its work to do…life giving work, nonconformist work. Though we need the darkness for gestation, we need the light for life.

For the next few days, darkness will continue to grow. But in just a few days, the Sun will have its say:"I beg to differ!"

"Darkness cover me like a blanket of night, oh, cover me lightly. Hidden seed, deep in the dark soil of the earth, fertile ground, womb of the night, bring us new birth."   Sara Thomsen


Mary nurtures a Son
in her womb:

His birth a blessing to those who
discover him.

He goes forth like the sun,
great is the number of his company.

                                -An Old Welsh poem

It is the practice in many churches to set out Nativity scenes before Christmas with an empty manger….no baby Jesus in sight. We have a large,beautiful set in our chapel. Earlier in the week we were having Advent devotions there and commented on the oddity of Joseph looking into an empty manger. It seemed kind of sad in a way.

I read recently that it is a custom in Wales that each Nativity scene has Mary, Joseph and Jesus accompanied by a washerwoman. The belief is that if Jesus is not born into our daily lives then it makes very little sense to celebrate his birth in Bethlehem. The further intention of placing a ‘real’ person within the scene is to say that each child born is sacred, that Jesus’ birth reminds us that each household is important to God.

I began to imagine the many Nativity scenes that grace the lawns of houses and churches with additional characters…the morning bus driver, a nurse, the school lunch lady, the person who delivers my paper before 5:00 a.m every morning, the teenage checkout clerk at my local grocery,the President, the man who stands at the freeway exit with the sign that reads "hungry, please help." All important to God.

When we think of the Christmas story in this way, it takes some of the sweetness and distance out of it. The lights flicker a little differently and the familiar carols that can run through our head change their tune.When we move from Bethlehem a long time ago, in a distant land, to the reality of our lives, gritty and messy, the Christmas story becomes our story. And isn’t that the point?

If you are in church this Sunday you will hear the story of Mary being visited by Gabriel.She is told she will give birth to the Christ Child. Each time it is read my mind goes to the ancient words of Meister Eckhart the 13th century Christian mystic: We are celebrating the feast of the Eternal Birth
which God has borne and never ceases to bear in all
eternity… But if it takes not place in me, what avails it? Everything
lies in this, that it should take place in me.

The empty manger awaits…the washerwoman watches… will the Holy be born in us?

Have a warm and restful weekend…….


Praying Outside

"It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. The congregation was gathered praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering. Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralyzed in fear. But the angel reassured him,"Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, you wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you-many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God."  Luke 1:8-15 from The Message by Eugene Peterson

The Advent scriptures are filled with the visitation of angels…..messengers of the Holy. This coming Sunday we often refer to as ‘Mary’ Sunday as we read the account of Mary’s visitation by the angel Gabriel to tell her of the call God has placed on her life. It is also important to remember the story that leads up to that story, this account of Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth. In their old age, settled into their lives,without hope of a child, they are told by an angel that they will bring new life into the world. Of course, Zachariah,like most others who have visitations of angels,reacts with fear. And then we read the words most common across the scriptures…"Do not be afraid." How many times must we hear them? How many times?

But those are not the only words I want to point out this morning. Zachariah has entered the temple to do his work as a priest, to burn the offering of incense. While he goes in to do his solemn duty, outside the temple the congregation was engaged in their work….prayer. As Zachariah entered the temple, he was held in the prayer of his people…..and he encountered an angel.

I have a friend, a mentor to me and to so many, who needs the congregation to do their work today. As someone who has coached us in prayer, in meditation, in deepening our relationship with God, he has been a messenger, an angel. Over the last years his health has been challenging and now a surgery must be repeated today to bring healing to some wounds. The one who has taught us to pray…..his priestly work….finds its difficult to pray and so it falls to the congregation….the people of faith…to do their work.

And so, if you are inclined to pray, I invite you to take up the work of the congregation surrounding the temple. During this Advent season when visitations are numerous, pray for Jim on this day. Even though you may not know him or ever meet him, the intention of your words may carry the message of the angels: Do not be afraid. You are held in our prayers.

Learning from Others

I have been blessed to be a part of a faith tradition, Christianity, my entire life. I have often done battle with its stances, its practices, its doctrines, but still I have been blessed by the core messages of this tradition. The messages of unconditional love, the model which Jesus provides for confronting injustice in the world, its work for peace, have been the solid ground on which I have built my work and my life.

And yet there are other traditions that have wisdom for me, the practice of Buddhism for one. I believe I have mentioned before The Barn at the End of the World:The Apprenticeship of a Quaker,Buddhist Shepherd by Mary Rose O’Reilley. It is a book I have been taking small bites out of for the last couple of months. Yesterday, after a particularly trying day, I picked it up to relax. Instead I was confronted by wisdom and a good,swift kick in the seat of the pants.

"Anger is a dangerous wave. Somebody does something terrible and a great wave rises. You need to practice on little irritations, so that you can resist the great waves when they come. Practice and look deeply." While my day had not been trying because of anger necessarily, I was in a stewing mode and I gave my all to it. Stew, stew, stew….until I had nearly reached a boiling point. I had missed the opportunity to ‘practice’ on the little irritations that come with the very act of living, and had chosen to ride the dangerous wave.

"In practice we learn what to let in and keep out. A conversation with a friend may be full of joy or it may make us not want to continue living.We (must) give the consciousness good food." I had spent the day mostly adding really bad ingredients to my stew. Not something I am proud to admit.

"But suppose you are tired. Meditation makes us less tired. The breath becomes deep and slow. If we’re tired, we must look after the body. When you’re exhausted, just nourish yourself. In this condition you cannot look deeply. Nourish with breath. Smile with your tiredness. In-feel better. Out-remove poison. In-deep, out-slow." Breathing……I am for it. In yesterday’s stew there was no room for breath. No room for nourishment. And so instead of connecting with that ruach….the breath of God within….I just kept adding more fuel for exhaustion.

I feel blessed to have the wisdom of this tradition to inform my living.I am thankful that yesterday I chose to sit down and pick up this book. I am also thankful for the swift kick…and the reminder….to practice, practice, practice, the art of living with compassion for others…..and myself.