"Alice laughed:  "There’s no use trying," she said; "one can’t believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven’t had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was
younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve
believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Alice in Wonderland

Impossible. This is a fabulous quote from this wild and crazy story of Alice and her adventures in Wonderland. Do you entertain impossible ideas? Do you allow your mind to travel to the place of ‘impossible possibility’?Alice’s story has the gift of being both for children and for adults. While following Alice’s antics and discoveries, we see the nuggets of wisdom tucked into this often very convoluted story.Children hear the story from one perspective and are affirmed. Adults read the story and can be challenged to remember what it was like to be open to the adventure of the impossible.

While most of us don’t encounter rabbits that talk or get to dance with the Queen of Hearts, we often face some pretty challenging situations that call us to harbor impossible ideas. As we sit down to hammer out a new plan in our work or try to make sense of a difficult relationship, the gift of impossible thinking can be quite helpful. When funds are short and there need to be cuts to a budget, impossible thinking can open the door to Wonderland. When we set a goal to accomplish something that seems important and big in our lives, it is important to hold on to the idea of being able to achieve the impossible.

I think of all the things that have been impossible ideas in my lifetime…..people walking on the Moon….phones without cords…..the Internet…..cures and vaccines for countless diseases……collecting the wind to create power……cooking food without fire…….the list goes on and on. I can’t even imagine all the ‘impossible’ things those who have lived into their nineties or have reached one hundred have seen.

How many impossible things can you imagine in this moment? What might our lives be like if we, like the Queen, spent a half hour each day imagining impossible things? Impossible thinking is faith thinking. Impossible thinking is creative thinking. Impossible thinking is spirit-filled thinking.

There are many needs within our world that may only be solved by impossible thinking. Poverty. Homelessness. Peace. To name only three. Perhaps today is the day to begin. Only God knows where it will lead. I think it is worth a try. How about you?

Have a wonderful weekend……………

Between Expeditions

I heard Ann Bancroft, Arctic explorer and educator, being interviewed on the radio today. After the introduction that included her many accomplishments,the host asked her what she was doing these days. Her reply? "I’m between expeditions right now. Not, "I am not doing anything." or "I don’t know what’s next for me." but "I’m between expeditions right now." What a wonderful answer!

Hearing her words I wondered what might happen if we treated all those times when we don’t know what the next step will be for us as simply a time ‘between expeditions.’ When we are between expeditions, it is easier to be creative in our thought process. We use our imaginations and live by our dreams. We make our questions big and bold in the asking. We spend time mulling over the possibilities rather than limiting the next step with practicalities. We rely on the Spirit’s movement to nudge us, to breathe life into the small spaces of our plans. We consult maps and look at all the outlying areas in addition to the well defined, clear and familiar roadways.

Are you between expeditions right now? Sometimes this in-between time is a situation not of our own choosing. It does not feel like a gift or luxury but a sentence to be lived out. Through illness, life changes, job loss, grief, depression, we can find ourselves in the land of in-between. Other times we have intentionally chosen to leave one place and have no idea where the road will take us. Whatever has led to where we are, I believe there is gift in thinking of the present moment as ripe with possibility.

In the Book of Exodus, the people are always on one expedition or another. From slavery to freedom, despair to hope, from faithfulness to disobedience, on the one hand believing God is with them and the next moment that they have been abandoned completely.Their wilderness is both actual landscape and spiritual desolation. But as Moses led them from one expedition to the next, "God went in from of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people."

I believe it is the same with us….the Holy travels with us even when we are between expeditions.

Open to Spirit

A report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life issued this week gave my colleagues and I fodder for good conversation yesterday. The report states that one fourth of adult Americans have a different religious affiliation than the one in which they grew up. That figure actually lumps together all Protestant denominations and when you allow for those people who move fluidly between United Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and all others, the number jumps to 44 percent. This is not particularly startling news to those of us who live and work in the church. We see it every Sunday, every time we receive new members, at nearly every class that is held, at every dinner that is served. The circle of who we are is made up of people who have been open to the Spirit’s movement in their lives and that has often led them to places they never dreamed of.

Of course, these statistics can make those trying to maintain the institution quake in their Sunday shoes. And there is reason to worry if what we are trying to do is simply maintain the institution, to continue an unchanging tradition that is the church, to maintain a pledge base that will sustain buildings built in another time when loyalty to one church was the norm. Seen through that lens, there is much to lose.

But I often wonder if we really see the great gifts in this fluidity of movement between faith communities. Yesterday around our circle we shared the gifts we had been given by being in the presence of people from other faith traditions. People spoke of seeing the world, the church,even God in new ways  through worshiping with and hearing the messages of other religions….ways that enriched their own spiritual life and helped them grow in their understanding of what it meant to be Christian. Others learned through that same kind of encounter what they don’t believe. Always a good thing as the negatives make our own  understanding clearer and fuller, more truthful somehow.

From my own spiritual journey I recognize the gifts I received from being in seminary with Unitarian Universalists. That experience helped me to articulate my own faith experience in new ways. I think of my friends who practice Buddhism. I have learned the gifts of meditation, of presence, of letting go from them. My many Roman Catholic friends have challenged me to see social justice as a mandate of the Gospel. My Jewish friends have helped me remember my faith roots and the power of family ritual, of life passages. My more evangelical family and friends have helped me know the power of heart and speaking your faith in the world. Those I have known who are Quaker have instilled in me the gift of silence and listening before acting and speaking. So many traditions, so many ways of walking faithfully in the world.

Could I have learned all these things by simply hanging around with those just like me? I don’t think so. Each encounter with those other faith traditions and also many of no faith tradition has helped me see the Holy in new ways, ways that have informed and continue to form who I am in my walk with God. I will always believe this is a good thing. The faithful will continue to find ways to maintain the institutions that give structure to who we are. But the people…the faithful, seeking, amazing people will continue to be open to the Spirit…and only God knows where that will take us.

"And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability." Acts 2:2-4


I was taken by an article in this morning’s Star Tribune. The headline read: ‘A Noah’s Ark for Seeds.’ The article reported on the vault that was being inaugurated today that will hold seeds for the Earth’s plant life, protecting them from earthquake or nuclear attack. Situated of the northern coast of Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a ‘backup to the world’s 1,400 other seed banks.’ This inauguration was to be attended by about 150 guests from 33 countries. The vault is owned by Norway, cost $9.1 million to build and was built in less that a year. It is reported that ‘even if the air conditioning failed, the permafrost would keep the seeds cold for 200 years. The good news: other countries can deposit seeds for free.

It was a fascinating story built on a concept I simply never had imagined. Someplace, somewhere, someone is gathering seeds and keeping them safe. Just writing that makes me feel more hopeful about….well, everything. I may sounds silly but it is true. The idea that there are people who care for the world’s plant life enough to do this is reassuring. Granted this plant life is probably made up of mostly seeds that grow into plants that feed us and sustain us  and so we have a vested interest. Their survival is our survival. But don’t you think the people who care enough to do this, also threw in a few wildflower seeds…daisies or Indian paintbrush, a sunflower seed or two, some prairie grass? How could it not be so?

After I read this article I sat for awhile and simply thought about seeds Earlier I had been looking through the Farmer’s Almanac at all the planting schedules, checking over which of the upcoming weeks it will be safe to plant seeds outside in various parts of the country. Seeds….those tiny little promises of so much….good food, heart-stopping beauty,brilliant color, rich abundance, of simple heritage and strong tradition.

I wondered… there a place in that vault for other seeds we want to ensure will never be lost, that need our protection? Seeds of creativity….seeds of faith…seeds of love….seeds of compassion….seeds of loyalty…seeds of trust…seeds of justice….seeds of hope. 

Somehow I think the people who built the vault, who watch over the seeds, carried the dust of all those unseen seeds with them as they did their work. I am grateful for their vision.

"He also said,"With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."  Mark 4:30-32


"We act in faith, knowing that we see only dimly. But living in faith, we act anyway, choosing and doing the best we can. We act and live in confidence that someday we will see face to face, that we will live into the answers. For God’s grace embraces our questions as well as our answers and our blindness as well as our vision, just as the sun shines steadily through the night, waiting to illumine the sky at dawn." Jean M. Blomquist, Wrestling till Dawn

Looking out our windows this morning, before sunrise, the fog created a magical vision as the streetlights shone into the haze. The houses up and down our street, those I know so well that I don’t really see them any more, were masked by the ground clouds that enveloped them. I struggled to remember what I knew….their colors, their shapes. Squinting into the darkness and invisibility, I struggled to really see.

Fog can be a great metaphor for how we walk through our lives. There is so much that blurs our vision. I was reminded of this last week as I read newspapers from a different part of the country. The coverage, the questions, the issues that were related to the political process at hand seemed foreign to me. Through their lens, the view was different than what is reported here in Minnesota. What mattered to the people there was different given their life experience, their world view, how they live their daily lives. I felt as if I was looking into a fog.

The same is, of course, true in the church. People of faith have a lens that is colored by their world view, their life experience. A seminary professor I once had said that real estate and our theology have much in common: Location, location, location. My view as an middle-class, educated woman defines how I see the Holy at work in the world. My lens allows questions that would not be important or relevant to others. Yet all our questions, all our searching, all our life experiences hold equal weight in the eyes of God. And I believe that our coming together as people of faith, with all our lenses and our lives, helps us to see the bigger picture….the wider image of God if we are open to being illuminated by the views of another.

Jean Blomquist also writes: " Our questions can serve us well in a time such as this, a time of great uncertainty, of soaring potential, of fragile yet resilient hope. Our questions and questing are crucial, because they can help us live into the answer of the future. I am certain of one thing: the love that is God is at the heart of the answer, just as it is at the heart of each moment-past,present and future."

The fog will lift. We can count on it.

Taking a Break

Over the past four days I have been taking a break. I have had difficulty finding the Internet. My cell phone only worked in certain places. February in Minnesota seems made for taking breaks. I remember when our children were little how the teachers always concocted a week in mid-February when they would have theme days. Monday would be ‘wear your pajamas day’, Tuesday was ‘beach day’, Wednesday was ‘fiesta day’… get the picture. This mid-winter break is needed in a landscape that tends to be varying shades of white and gray for far too many days. Everyone needs a break from the sameness.

My break took me to visit my mother for her birthday. It was a surprise and she had the good fortune to have her birthday fall on the same day as the Lunar Eclipse. After celebrating during an unusual snowy, cold southern Ohio day, we headed out to dinner with my siblings and their families. After dinner s we came out of the restaurant, the sky had cleared and the full moon shone bright and bold in the sky. I pulled my young nephew close and told him to watch the sky….the moon would soon disappear in our shadow. His bright eyes mirrored the moon with their awe.

Driving home through the countryside of barns and snowy empty fields waiting the gifts of spring, we periodically looked heavenward to see the progress of the eclipse. Clouds leftover from the snowstorm moved across the view of the silver white sphere. By the time we reached home the shadow had begun to fall across the moon. Here we stood, whirling without full awareness of our movement, watching our earth home’s cosmic effect.Every twenty minutes or so we would throw our coats on again and go out to check the progress…dark haze, black, gray….and then orange. As the eclipse came into its fullness….orange. We stood there knowing that this was a special day, a special moment, observing our turning on the earth and the turning of another year in my mother’s life. It was a gift to be together.

Later when I called home to Minnesota, my family told me they had been out looking at the moon also. I remember as a child thinking about the fact that the moon I saw was the same moon seen by children in Russia, India, Australia, Viet Nam. I had never been to those places but it was something I had in common with these children….we shared the same moon. Their languages were different, their religions were perhaps different, too, but we shared this amazing night light that watched over us as we slept. It gave me a calm comfort somehow to know that I shared this gift with those far away, those I did not know.

On Thursday I was comforted by the fact that I shared this amazing light with my mother, on her birthday.

"Sister Moon, I greet you, companion of my darkness. You are icon of the fluid God. Waxing to your fullness, you do not explode; waning in your emptiness, you do not die. Through all your changes you give your radiance. You embrace your shadows and are born again. From the burning day I hide in you. In the darkening night I seek you face. Guard me in my restless dreams, bless me with your ebb and flow that I may weather every change, thou vigil light, thou Sister Moon." Jan L. Richardson


I have always held a certain amount of pride in being a flexible person. In any given situation there really is only a certain amount of control one can have so, I believe, being flexible is a creative and honorable response. Yesterday I had the opportunity to live out this value.

After church I headed to the airport for a quick President’s Weekend trip to visit our older son who is in college in Ohio and to celebrate my mother’s birthday who lives in a nearby town. I love airports. The hustle and bustle…the people headed to and from so many different places…..the calls for flights headed to places I’ve never been….the hellos and goodbyes that always draw me into their emotion…..I love it all. So I always go to the airport ready for a surprising time. Now I recognize that air travel in the last few years has become more tedious and less glamorous(if is ever was), but for me it still holds a thrill.

Yesterday it was clear that weather was causing problems across the system so I thought it was quite a miracle that I made it to the gate of my connecting flight in Chicago with time to spare. After that flight to Columbus became delayed, I settled in with a magazine and a cup of coffee to do the only thing I could…wait. The gift of waiting is that you get to observe. My heart opened to the mother whose toddler had had it with waiting and was exhausted yet continued to walk and walk until he had a meltdown. I remember a few times like that with our own boys. I was intrigued by the James Brown look-alike and his elegant traveling companion….who were they, musicians, celebrity-look-alikes?  I watched with wonder the grandfather traveling with his two grandsons who never took their coats and hats off through the two hour wait. Where the coats new? I marveled at his patient voice as he spoke with them and their obvious respect and love for him. There was the couple that was so much in love that I am not sure they knew there was a delay. And then there was the rabbi, eating bread from a plastic bag. My eyes bugged out when he reached into his pocket and pulled out a hot pink cellphone.

If my plane had been on time, I would never have had the opportunity to observe these lives that only brushed by mine yesterday. Delays can sometimes be quite good when we look for the gifts in them.And now, I am praying for the flexibility to be patient with the fact that my luggage was lost. I’m glad I was wearing something comfortable and that I had the gift of seeing those incredible sights yesterday.

I am unsure whether or not I will have Internet access over the next couple of days but will write when I can.

Today may just be the day to practice flexibility……..


"I am not asking you
to take this wilderness from me,
to remove this place of starkness
where I come to know
the wildness within me,
where I learn to call the names
of the ravenous beasts
that pace inside me,
to finger the brambles
that snake through my veins,
to taste the thirst
that tugs at my tongue.

But send me
tough angels,
sweet wine,
strong bread:
just enough."
        Jan L. Richardson, In Wisdom’s Path

I have not wanted to let go of this past Sunday’s scripture reading, the story of Jesus in the wilderness. As we speak about our spiritual journeys during this Lent, our own wilderness experiences figure highly in how we tell our larger story.  I am thankful for this yearly retelling of Jesus, walking his own temptation path, being lured toward promises we all have encountered.

We are a culture that hungers for much….riches, recognition, objects that shine and dazzle. We are offered  ways to feed that hunger that are not nourishing and we often pull right up to the table. Jesus’ temptation is similar and can be a beacon of light for us as we reach toward whatever it is that offers a quick fix to a deep longing. Often the food that is placed before us will not feed what our soul desires.We need ‘strong bread’ to fill that empty space.

In a culture that offers fear in daily doses, we’d love to believe that safety is something that can be bought and sold. We try many ways to make it so but we know that living is full of risks and surprises that will constantly be in our path. We don’t want to dash our foot against a stone or have to watch as our children trip and fall. Yet we walk by faith and pray for the goodness of those who walk with us knowing that life will certainly bring dangers but also the out-stretched hand of a fellow traveler walking in the guise of God.

We are obsessed with power, what we might own, how we might rule over what we own, how we might eventually be King or Queen of the Hill. It is difficult not to buy into this pursuit in a society that makes gods out of  young  singers or athletes only to watch the rug being pulled out from under their fragile spirits as we shake our heads and refuse to see our part in their downfall.

Jesus was tempted to pay dearly for his deep hunger, offered false safety and unrealistic power and his answer was "Beat it!"  It is clear that his wilderness walk, like ours, prepares us for traveling with the spirit in ways only God can imagine….with tough angels, sweet bread, and strong bread. Just enough.

Have a blessed weekend……..


Today is Valentine’s Day, a day loved by many, feared by some, loathed by still others.The romantics and those in love adore this day. Depending on your life circumstances, there can be expectations that surround today, many of which seem impossible to meet. Of course capitalism has swept in and created a frenzy around what is the ‘perfect gift’ for a loved one,usually accompanied by a sizable price tag. Flowers, candy, cards….all a little more expensive than they are at other times of the year.

As a child I remember Valentine’s Day not so much for the valentines but for the opportunity to create the mailbox that would receive the cards from my classmates. My mother and I would scour the house for a shoe box and gather all the materials to decorate it. Red, white and pink construction paper, pieces of ribbon, old magazines, glue, scissors and the little paper doilies that were only used, it seemed to me, as the backdrop for fancy desserts or the yearly Valentine mailbox.To set the stage, we would cover the box first with paper, wrapping the bottom part of the box, gently, neatly folding the paper inside and taping it. This part of the box would be unseen after the top, also wrapped,but with a slot cut by my mother so valentines could be slipped inside was placed on top. Then the true work began….a paper doily here, topped with a red heart cut from the construction paper…..a rose or other flower cut from the magazine glued to the red heart. On and on it went as we stood back from the kitchen table, looking at our creative process unfolding before our eyes, agreeing that this was ‘just right’ and that was ‘too much’. The final touch was added and the top was placed on the box ready to receive the valentines from friends at school the next day.

On February 14th I would head out the door with my Valentine mailbox. I would place it on the corner of my desk and the teacher would call the name of each student and they would deliver their valentines. Some I was eager to receive….would there be a message that I thought was ‘special’ from a particular boy? Or would they simply say Happy Valentine’s Day….pretty safe, no need to worry about hidden meanings.

I don’t remember opening the valentine box until I got home. Maybe we did but my memory centers around sitting down with my mother to open the box we had made together. We would take out each valentine and read them. Some were funny, some simple, every now and then a homemade one. There was also always one from our teacher usually accompanied by a piece of candy. There we would be, sitting together, opening these sentiments for a day meant to remind us to tell those we love how we feel.

In that moment the most important reminder of love for me was not created by Hallmark but was held together by glue and tape,crumpled paper and artificial lace. Snuggled up together I knew through the warmth of feeling and a deep knowing that my mother and I had created a container for love.

"Let love be genuine." Romans 12:9


"You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying."
                                T. S. Eliot

I did not grow up in a faith tradition that regularly would kneel to pray. I have vague memories of kneeling at my bedside as a child…now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Frankly that prayer frightened me a bit. My soul seemed something too precious, too much a part of me to give away. But my skinny little knees bored into the floorboards of my bedroom as I repeated this prayer I had been taught, looking I imagine, like a Norman Rockwell painting with my pigtails and flowered pajamas.

Because I didn’t grow up as a ‘kneeler’, I am always fascinated by traditions where this practice is natural, expected, sometimes even cavalier. I have attended many a mass where I, firmly planted in my pew, watched as those kneeling scratched their heads, looked up at the ceiling, turned to look at who was coming down the aisle.The somewhat flippant kneeling seemed wrong to me.I am reminded of those pilgrims who visit holy places or walk labyrinths in sacred sites, who fall to their knees and walk the last few steps to their destination in this position. Their arrival on bended knee is a mark of their humility, their penance, their praise.

Much of life, I believe, calls for kneeling. The poet Mary Oliver, writes: I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass. As I survey this last week, there are many moments where kneeling was called for…..the amazing brilliant red-orange of the hibiscus blooming in our house thumbing its petals at the frigid temperatures…..the sunrise I am watching right this minute coming up over the lake….the baby whose face I touched on Sunday, peach-fuzz and bright, welcoming eyes….the sound of my son’s music making, a gift he does not fully realize is his……the stories of those who have traveled far and near to walk daily with God. So many opportunities to kneel, it is a wonder that I can stay upright.

Today, this very day, where might you kneel to offer honor, praise, gratitude, awe?