Pilgrim Path

"All of us are pilgrims on this earth; I have even heard people say that the earth itself is a pilgrim in the heavens." Maxim Gorky

I am steeped in the words of pilgrims these days. I may have mentioned that we have chosen the theme "Passport for Pilgrims" for Lent this year. So I find myself reading, thinking, and planning around the idea of what it means to be a pilgrim of life’s journey. It is a rich and fascinating concept and I am energized by it.

When we truly think about it, aren’t we all pilgrims of one kind or another? Traveling along,sometimes with a plan or a map but mostly taking the journey as it comes. Hopefully, from a faith perspective, we are pilgrims, setting out each day with the intention of ‘running into God’ along the way or having  God ‘run into us.’.

One aspect of being a pilgrim is a desire to grow and deepen who we are and what we know about ourselves, the world, the sacred. This comes through both intention and gift, sometimes called serendipity. Sometimes called grace. But first there is setting the intention: "Today as I walk in the world I pray I will see the Holy in a new way." Not like I did yesterday or even last year after a mountain top experience, but a ‘new’ way. That is growth, that is depth.

Too often we want to keep our faith right where it is. We want to keep our experience of worship, of prayer, of service, exactly as it has always been. Safe. Sure. Comfortable. When that is our intention, most of God gets shoved into a box of our own creation. When we read the scriptures in the same way we always have, we negate the living nature of those powerful words. We put ourselves in a box of our own making with no room to grow or deepen.

Several weeks ago I placed three paper white bulbs in a small bowl with stones and water. Over the last several weeks one bulb has grown about 8 inches, green stalks reaching toward the sun. One of the other bulbs has now grown about 3 inches of green. The third bulb has just finally begun to show about a half inch of growth. Same bowl, same stones, same water, same light. Different roots.The one with the longest roots has of course grown the most.

How are you nurturing your ‘pilgrim’ roots? As Lent approaches next week, I invite you to think about how you might set an intention to grow and deepen your spiritual life. Let’s think outside the box, shall we?

"Unlike mere travel, a pilgrimage is a journey into the
landscape of the soul." Vivienne Hull

Enough Light

"Often we want to be able to see the future. We say ‘How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?’ There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we just have enough light to see the next step:what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day." Henri Nouwen

Last night my husband and I made a passing comment about parenting…"you just never know". This was in the course of a conversation about our oldest son’s plans for a possible study abroad program he is excited about right now. "You just never know"…..where their path will take them, what will fill them with passion, what will be an obstacle, what will be an opportunity. As parents we can plan,prod,encourage,discipline, and as a life plays out….you just never know.

If you are a part of any organization, you are familiar with a five-year plan or even a ten-year plan for the future. These are all good things to do, to have. I know people who They can become a place of great dreaming, creativity, and can sometimes actually come to the hope-for fruition. When this happens, it is  cause for great rejoicing.

Mostly, we live our lives in the place of just enough light. We have this moment, this day, perhaps this week. The rest, what is to come, rests in the shadows. ‘Enough light’ is a good place. Here we see the gifts that are within our reach, the blessings of the moment, our precious breath. Here we see the faces of those who walk with us and can offer our gratitude. Here is enough illumination to move us to the next place….the  place of ‘you just never know’.

The great spiritual teacher Henri Nouwen continues his words: "The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away."

Yes, let’s.


Yesterday morning was one of those rare mild January mornings in Minnesota. Today the temperature has already dipped back down with a big "gotcha" on its breath, saying don’t think it is spring just yet, my friends. But it was nice to have a day where our shoulders weren’t scrunched up around our ears.

It was so nice I walked out onto our deck, coffee cup in hand, to take a look into our little pond where the gold fish now live year round. These particular gold fish, unlike the expensive koi we originally purchased to live in this pond, are now on their third year of life. Last year they spent the winter indoors but, truth be told, they had grown too big for their small temporary home….an abandoned aquarium found in the basement. At forty-nine cents-a-piece, these fish are miracles. And so this fall we bought a small heater that keeps their water warm enough to keep them alive and swimming. It is perhaps a strange thing to do, perhaps not energy efficient, but these fish have now been with us for so long that the often ordinary goldfish exit out of this world never was an option.

There is something comforting to me to know they are out there swimming even when the temperatures dip well below zero. The snow has piled up all around the pond, ice has formed on the eaves of the house, but I know that if I need to catch a glimpse of orange aliveness, I need only walk a few steps out my door. Life is happening out there even if the odds seem against it.

I am reminded of one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry: So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it. Denounce the government and embrace the flag. Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands. Give your approval to all you cannot understand. Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed. Ask the questions that have no answer. Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. Say that your main crop is the forest, that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest. Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold. Call that profit.Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years. Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. Practice resurrection."

Less than a five dollar investment three years ago swims in my backyard with what I might imagine as joy.When I see them, I laugh. I laugh at the irrationality of it all. I’m practicing.


Last Friday afternoon I was sitting in my living room, basking in some quiet time with a book. The sun was streaming through the window reflecting off some crystal snowflakes we have in our windows, creating rainbows on the walls and ceiling. A fire glowed in the fireplace. I had the fleeting thought that things were very calm, orderly, nice. It is after all January,the time to hibernate and hunker down, to be reflective and eat comforting foods….mostly those that also add fat to protect us from the freezing temperatures.

So carrying that good feeling forward, it may seem odd that we decided to tear apart our downstairs bathroom and do some remodeling, mostly cosmetic, nothing too big. But what was a nice, orderly environment now has a basket here, a bin there, filled with all the ‘stuff’ from the bathroom, the floor in torn down to the ‘ugly’, the unhinged door is in the hallway and the new vanity and sink sits in the dining room. An appropriate questions might be: What were we thinking?

It was in that frame of mind that I sat down to do some reading about Lent. Lent, if you haven’t thought about it, begins next week, very, very early, as we who work in the church know too well. "Lent’s simplifications re-awaken me to awareness of how I feel when life’s circumstances and patterns get rearranged. What has been is no longer what is. Space opens toward something new.", writes Jeannette Bakke in this edition of Thin Places.

Choosing to tear up our bathroom is a minor, somewhat trivial rearrangement of our normal pattern of life. Yet, it calls us to respond in new ways to the how we do our daily living. There are many I know that are experiencing a much deeper sense of rearrangement in their lives. Illness has come to live at their house. Death and grief has made a home in their midst. Fear and uncertainty is a constant companion. What has been is no longer what is. What is new is not yet known.

Sometimes we choose rearrangement, sometimes it chooses us. It is the unfolding nature of living. How we walk with it, how we live into it, can be a matter of faith, of hope, of letting go, letting be. There is no one right answer. For me, there is an awareness of the Sacred that lives in the crevices and shadows of the spaces of our daily walk. That can make a world of difference. I pray it does.

"All shall be well…all shall be well…and all manner of things shall be well." Julian of Norwich


As I was inching along in the line of cars to get on 94 West this week, my eyes fell on a curious bumper sticker. It read: Chaos-Panic-Fear: My work here is done. I was startled. What could this mean? What was the intention of the creator? What was the intention of the person who cavalierly pasted this message on their bumper? On the one hand I wanted to laugh but then the words began to disturb me.

Chaos-Panic-Fear. Who would declare that as their work? Probably each of us could name a few people whose work we believe does just that…creates chaos. Sometimes this is intentional and sometimes it is simply because their life situation carries with it energy that moves into our midst and before we know it we are sucked into their chaotic vertex. Chaos often has panic as its by-product and where panic lives fear finds a home and takes root. My prayer is that I may never create this negative spiral though no doubt at times I have.

I would like to speak for another way of living in and with chaos. Webster defines chaos as:’the disorder of formless matter and infinite space, supposed to have existed before the ordered universe ;the state of order existing within apparent disorder, as in the irregularities of a coastline or snowflake.’ If approached with openness and a hopeful heart, chaos can be the biggest catalyst for creativity. When faced with the chaos of a situation, relationship, project, if we open our eyes to the possibilities within the chaos, creativity moves in and great things can come out of it……things as amazing as snowflakes.

Perhaps parts of your life, your work, may seem like they are chaos right now. Disorder reigns. How different would our work be if we saw this disorder not as a reason to panic and be fearful but instead as an opportunity for great dreaming, re-imagining and creativity? This choice is not always the easy one. We live in a culture that promotes panic and fear at every turn. But this choice is, in my experience, always the rewarding one.

As I read the scriptures and other wisdom writings, it seems to me that all great forward motion has been founded on a creativity that rose out of and above chaos to ask the question,"What is the greatest good that can be done here?" And out of that asking, change, order, and hope are born.

So let me propose another bumper sticker….Chaos-Creativity-Hope: My Work Here Has Just Begun. Anyone out there willing to slap that message on their bumper? Anyone willing to put these words…with glue that promises to be very difficult to remove….on their car and drive out into the world? I hope so.

The reports tell us a warming trend for these frigid days is on its way. Seems like a good opportunity to reach for our creativity and see what come of it. Stay warm and dream.

"Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded above the watery abyss. God spoke: Light! and light appeared. God saw that light was good."Genesis 1 from The Message

Exciting Happenings

On Monday I went to the Como Conservatory and Zoo. It was time. My skin had taken enough torture and was dry and flaky, my eyes could only see shades of white and gray. So the extended period of time in the humidity of the conservatory was just what the doctor ordered. Being in the presence of all the green and growing things was just what my soul longed for.

Perhaps the sign stating the mission statement of the Como Zoo had been there a long time and I had  never noticed it before: To inspire our public to value the presence of living things in our lives. I had no paper with me so I pulled out the only thing I had to write on…my checkbook…and wrote the statement down.To inspire our public to value the presence of living things in our lives. Shouldn’t this be a mission statement so many organizations embrace? Schools? Government? Churches? What might our lives be like if this was the statement that guided our living each day? I particularly like "our public" for aren’t we all in this together? No ‘us and them’ statement but "our’. To inspire…all people…to value the presence of….all living things…in our lives.

But it got even better. The next sign, the good-bye sign just before reaching the parking lot read: We are open 365 days a year with exciting happenings every day. Now there’s a message! Three hundred and sixty-five days a years we can be blessed with ‘exciting happenings every day’, if we are awake to them.
I realize, of course, that it is a matter of perspective, of attitude, sometimes of circumstance. But I do know that I have people in my life who are going through terrible things and yet manage to see the world as beautiful and hopeful. If given the choice, I will choose to see it all as they do…not mundane or ho-hum but as full of exciting happenings.

If the gray winter days have gotten to you and you need a reminder of the beauty and wonder of this world we are blessed to inhabit, I offer this advice: Get up, get dressed, put on layers and head over to Como.Your skin will feel better, you will breath deeper and longer as you inhale the rich,thick humidity. Trees of starfruit, mangoes and orchids await. Seals are swimming, polar bears are playing, and a baby orangutan waits for a name. They’ll be watching for you…today, and everyday…..watching for the next ‘exciting happening’.

"And God said to Moses: Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." Exodus 3:5

Eagles in Flight

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

    Joy Harjo

Eagles circling over patches of open water. Cold, cobalt blue sky, brilliant piercing sun bouncing its rays off the snow, the ice. This is the sight we glimpsed this Sunday afternoon as we drove along the river toward Wabasha. Our leisurely trip had no other goals than to have a change of scenery in these January ‘sameness’ of days and the chance to see the eagles. And see them we did…young ones still brown with newness, no white yet emerged on their majestic heads, large ones soaring over the water, dipping with ease and precision to catch their lunch, those at a distance and those so close you could see their eyes. What a blessing!

There was a time in my life, a time of great fear and uncertainty, when I was visited by eagles. Driving in my car one dark Sunday morning in February, an eagle flew over so close I swear we were eye to eye. At another time, the eagles circled over the river near our home as I lay in a hospital room uncertain of what the future held for me. In a doctor’s office I looked up to see the single piece of artwork….eagle feathers painted by a Native artist. Eagles became angels for me, hovering near, praying with me,over me. I did not understand what was happening, this strange human-bird relationship, but I knew it was a gift, something not to be taken for granted.

And so this Sunday we pulled over here and there to get out of the car into the frigid air and watch these mighty birds soar, to lift the binoculars to our eyes for a closer look at their beauty, their power, their flight. And we were not alone. At each stop, we were joined by others who lifted their heads toward the heavens and followed the winging of brown and white as it touched the Earth. Silently, humans who had never known one another, were united in what? Admiration? Awe? Prayer? Certainly beauty and blessing.

"But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee, and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee." Job 12:7-8 KJV


"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I grew up during great turmoil and great hope. When I was in elementary school I saw the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. I had been witness to their hopeful, longing, challenging speeches dreaming of a world where people could live peacefully regardless of race, color, gender, religion or creed. I was inspired by their words and then they were gone. I have no idea what the effect of their deaths had on my generation. I am quite sure about the impression their lives left on how I see the world and my responsibilities within it.

You see, while I know that not all people had this experience, I know that their words echoed the words I had heard on Sunday mornings in my little church. Their words, for me, were the same as those spoken in the scriptures by Jesus. They called for justice for all people…a time when "every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together." Jesus’ words, like theirs, ended up being dangerous words.His life, like theirs, ended tragically. That left a deep imprint on my young life.

And yet today, as we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., I still am captured by the hope of his message. In remembering, I find myself opening once again to that youthful, hopeful optimism that was the groundwork of my faith, my world view. Perhaps that is the role of the prophet….to continue to call us to our highest self, our greatest good, against all odds…..in life and in death. 

"I have a dream…" yes, a dream that is yet to be realized, but a dream nonetheless which continues to grab hold of our hearts, our faith, our political action, our work for justice. Dr. King also said "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."

And to that, let the people say,"Amen."

Wild Things

"When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."
                             Wendell Berry

Yesterday I made my way to the place of wild things….away from the city, into the brilliant white of the country side. The still waters that surrounded me were frozen. Colorful ice houses dotted the surface of the clear, blue stationary waves. Leafless trees created a lacy background for the gray winter sky.It was a welcome, and needed, retreat from the concrete of the urban streets, from scheduled days,from the belief that I had much, too much, to do.

Being in this setting provided perspective. That is one of the amazing gifts of the natural world. If we allow ourselves to be present to its wisdom, the internal, silent rhythm of the Earth, teaches us. For all our scurrying about, for all our pressing deadlines, a day in the woods can tell us the truth. When we allow ourselves to look and listen to the movement of the work present in soil, water, air, sunlight, we are so small in the scheme of things.

This may not be a comforting thought to some but it is to me. The reminder that all my worries and despair are trumped by the work of a Creation and a Creator that so surpasses any little thing I can do somehow helps me to slow down, to come "into the peace of wild things." My heart rate slows, my blood pressure lessens, my breath becomes deeper, my eyes open wider, my heart is filled with a deep knowing: It is good, very, very good…..and it is not of MY doing.

And so today I come back to a day that has many tasks that need to be done. Calls to be returned, visits to be made, words to be written, laundry to be done, groceries to be purchased. But I approach those tasks today with a renewed sense of energy and freedom because there is much greater work being done by unseen forces. I will walk out of my door, get into my cold car, turn the key and begin again to live the life that is mine. But I will do so with a lighter step and a gentler heart because yesterday I rested in the grace of the world.

It promises to be a very cold weekend. And yet I still make this suggestion: Put on some layers and walk out your door. Feel the cold wind on your cheeks and breathe in its goodness. Open your eyes to the miracles that are all around just waiting to offer the perspective through their silent, effortless, grace-filled work.

Have a glorious weekend………………….

"O God, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God…….O God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"  Psalm 8

The Creative Life

"Some say the creative life is in ideas, some say it is in doing. It seems in most instances to be in simply being. It is not virtuosity,although that is very fine in itself. It is the love of something, having so much love for something-whether a person, a word, an image, an idea, the land, or humanity-that all that can be done with the over flow is to create. It is not a matter of wanting to, not a singular act of will;one solely must."
                Clarissa Pinkola Estes, from Women Who Run With the Wolves

In my opinion ‘creativity’ has gotten a bad rap in our culture. To be creative, it is believed, is the privilege of painters, musicians, dancers. It is the landscape of only the artist. Or so we tell ourselves.Creativity is for the chosen few, those gifted and talented in ways that point toward extraordinary rather than the sacred ordinary.

But, I believe, creativity is the very art of living. Creativity is the DNA of who we are as those created in the image of God. So how do we live the Creative Life? What do each of us need to do to take the simple parts of our every day work life, home life, social life, spiritual life and create a masterpiece?

Over the holidays I had the privilege of speaking with several university students. When I asked what they were majoring in, I was very interested that they had chosen fields of study that were not defined by a particular profession. Romance languages, for instance. These students had chosen what they loved and were continuing on a journey of forming a creative life. I pray it will always be so.

I balanced that experience with the conversation with my six year old neighbor who told me about the five things she was going to be when she grew up. Veterinarian, artist, hair stylist, and two others. All possibilities-at the same time- when you are six. If only it were always so.

What do you do with the overflow of what you love? Do you love flowers and the beauty of summer so much that you dream of the garden you will create when the snow melts? Do you love cooking and entertaining people so much that you just can’t stop yourself from throwing dinners, parties, all to overflowing?

Whatever it is that you love, may it fill your life to overflowing until the creative life embraces you and holds you fast. May creativity be yours in doing and being…….because you simply must.

"Creativity is seeing something that doesn’t exist already . You need to find out how you can bring it into being and become a playmate of God."  Michele Shea