Welcome Back

On Saturday morning we were rushing about doing Saturday things…taking out the garbage, folding laundry, cleaning out drawers. One trip to the garage found my husband and I both outside at the same time. That’s when we heard it….the voices of snow geese returning from being real snowbirds, returning from their winter, most likely, in the Gulf Coast. We could hear them before we could see them. Our eyes scoured the blue morning sky until our ears finally led us to the undulating ribbon of white that was moving right over our house headed along the river’s path that will lead them home to northern Minnesota or Canada. We stood and watched silently naming the moment for what was:blessing.

Five months ago on Thanksgiving Day guests were arriving for a late afternoon feast. As we unloaded the bounty of autumn from cars and walked toward the house someone had said, "Listen!" We stopped, looked toward the sky and there were the snow geese saying goodbye, perhaps congratulating themselves that they had the power, the good sense, to go to warmer climes. The guests who had already made their way into the house came outside and so there we all stood, marking this moment of true Thanksgiving and connection with the miraculous rhythm of Creation, knowing we were saying goodbye to the snow geese and the fullness of the year.

And so now I can say I have had the amazing privilege of saying goodbye and hello to these graceful, soaring creatures who use the sky over our house as their interstate, taking with them the bliss of autumn and returning carrying the anticipation of spring. I am so thankful to have been in the right place at the right time to see their migration. It seems a gift beyond anything I deserve.

As I look out my window right now, there is no sign of spring. Snow falls wildly, re-covering what green grass had become visible. I have to admit its beauty, though I do so begrudgingly. By Thursday it will be gone, such is the fate of these early spring snows. While spring may not be visible to the human eye, the snow geese carry the truth within their sleek, feathered bodies. They fly because they can, and because they know.

The poet Mary Oliver puts it this way: "Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last! What a task to ask of anything, or anyone, yet it is ours, and not by the century or the year, but by the hours. One fall day I heard above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was a flock of snow geese, winging it faster than the ones we usually see, and being the color of snow, catching the sun so they were, in part at least, golden. I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us as with a match which is lit, and bright, but does not hurt in the common way, but delightfully, as if delight were the most serious thing you ever felt.The geese flew on. I have never seen them again. Maybe I will, someday, somewhere. Maybe I won’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that, when I saw them, I saw them as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly."


Some people argue that our country is founded on the principles of individualism. We often speak about a person who is a self-made man or woman, meaning I guess, someone who climbed to success completely on his or her own power. Perhaps these people exist but I have yet to meet one. Those I know who are  ‘successful’, whatever that means, usually have a long list of folks who have mentored them, challenged them, encouraged them, and often prayed over them. In fact, I think that describes each of us, successful or not. We may walk the earth on our own two legs but there is a visible and invisible community that walks with us.

There are times when community pulls together more than others, times when you look around and realize that, like it or not, you are a part of something larger. One of those times is when tragedy strikes. I still have a vivid image of worshiping at the Cathedral of St. Paul in the days after September 11th. Thousands poured into the pews…professionals, day laborers, religious, those who hadn’t walked into a church in years. Within moments we had created a community of people held by tragedy and the longing for comfort and hope.

My heart is aching today for my hometown in southern Ohio. The entire county is reeling from a horrific murder of a beautiful, wonderful woman. What they knew as their sweet,simple life has been attacked with fear, confusion and immense grief. What they have found was not the power of being individuals, but the deep connection of community that will get them through these dark days. Through the strength of faith and one another they will survive.

While holding these beloved people in my prayers, I have also been swept up in another experience of community, the community that expresses itself in pride and joy. The high school in our district which celebrates its 150th anniversary this month, is for the first time in its history in the boy’s state basketball tournament. As I attended the game yesterday…how could I stay away?….my eyes scanned the crowd. Of course hundreds of students were there to provide school spirit and deafening cheers. But also sprinkled among them were teachers who have taken on the task of helping prepare these young men for lives far past this moment of glory. There were parents holding their collective breath while inwardly filled to overflowing with pride, plus grandparents, aunts, uncles, younger siblings. Throughout the crowd there were those folks like me who skipped out of a work day in their suits and ties because this is ‘our school’ and ‘our team’. By our presence we were staking a claim for community that individualism could never touch.

And so today with one arm I reach out toward the community that raised me and provided the connections I needed in my growing, saying a prayer of comfort. And with the other arm I reach out toward this community in which I have found home and the connections that have nurtured my children, offering gratitude for those experiences that hold us together and lift us above the mundane.

"We are all on a journey together…to the center of the universe…Look deep into yourself, into another. It is to a center which is everywhere that is the holy journey….First you need only look: Notice and honor the radiance of everything about you….Play in this universe. Then all these shining things around you: The smallest plant, the creatures and objects are in your care. Be gentle and nurture. Listen…as we experience and accept all that we really are…we grow in care. We begin to embrace others as ourselves, and learn to live as one among many….." Ann Hillman

Have a great weekend…………….

Reading List

"Lately I’ve been thinking hard about what works to suggest to my children from the vast literary realm we call spiritual writing. This question has serious ramifications, for ideas are food and one becomes, to a greater extent than many realize, what one reads." Philip Zaleski, The Best American Spiritual Writing

I sat with my spiritual director yesterday and talked about a desire to be stimulated intellectually and spiritually. Perhaps it is the gray days of March or our emphasis on being pilgrims that has caused me to be nudged to learn something new. I want to read something that challenges me, something that causes me to see the world with new eyes.  Often this desire grips me in September when school begins again, having been so a part of that learning rhythm my whole life. But whatever the reason, this desire has taken up residence in me during these dreary days before spring’s awakening.

I have been blessed my whole life to be surrounded by life long learners. By mother is an avid reader. She mostly reads novels and through our conversations  I have learned that novels hold not only good stories but great lessons to be learned. I think of the many voracious readers in my circles of friends, those who often begin conversations with: "Have you read….?" or "The other day I was reading.….." I am blessed to be in two book clubs and those circles always bring great suggestions for the next best read. The words we have read together have built a rich soil for the growth of our friendships.

While I am not completely sure what I am searching for, I do know I want something that stimulates my intellect while deepening my spiritual journey. Yesterday while thinking about this quest I had the same sensation you have when you are hungry for a certain taste but just can’t quite come up with what it is.You open cabinets, then the refrigerator door, only to close each without finding what you wanted, needed. I have made similar trips to my bookshelves.

So, I am asking you for your suggestions. What are you reading these days that stimulates and inspires you? Is there a certain author that is challenging you to think new thoughts, ask new questions? Has a certain book grabbed you and caused you to find extra minutes of every day so you can steal away and read? What book is deepening your faith these days?

You may not have noticed but these musing now allow for your comments. And so I invite you to send along your book suggestions by clicking on "Comment on this" at the end of the daily writings. If the book isn’t the one I’m searching for perhaps it will be just the perfect one be for someone else. This process could yield a reading list that feeds us all.

Leap of Faith

Some people call them ‘ear worms’, those little bits of a song that get stuck in your head and plays itself over and over like a vinyl album that continues to go round and round on the turntable and never turns off. Many people enjoyed their Easter brunch with "Christ the Lord is Risen today" playing background music, heard only by an audience of one. Others had the Hallelujah Chorus providing the soundtrack for their Monday commute.

It is the Wednesday after Easter and I still have an Ann Reed song from our sunrise service accompanying  me  every where I go.  As I drive on busy freeeways, when my mind wanders in a meeting, while I’m eating my breakfast, cleaning this morning’s frost off the windshield, these are the words playing in my head: "Oh, it is time,  I will live out loud and open my eyes to the great divide. I’m walking my path. Finding my way and every step’s a Leap of Faith". Given some of the ‘ear worms’ that have traveled with me before, this one is a blessing.

Leslie Ball led us on this song and as her smoky, rich voice provided the lead, I watched as people sat up straighter in their seats. Snow was falling outside the windows, not a particularly welcome sight on Easter Sunday. Those who were there had risen in the wee hours of the morning, maneuvered icy streets, braced against a cold wind to welcome the day. The song was a moment of transcendence, a time when usually static Minnesotans allowed their tired, bundled-up bodies to sway in their seats as they claimed these words for their own. Every step’s a Leap of Faith and along the way I will live out loud.

It might not have been a traditional message of resurrection but it worked for those who were there. In that gathered body of people there were those I knew who were struggling with great loss, unimaginable loss. There were those who were surrounded by their children and grandchildren together in one place, a great joy. There were those who have new found relationships in their lives and those who had just seen the end of something they thought would last. There were elders and children, young and middle aged. So many life stories singing together proclaiming their path as sacred…..step by precious step.

As I go out into the world today to do my daily tasks, I pray this musical mantra continues to accompany and remind me of its message…..and that moment when ordinary people were lifted to something higher and more beautiful than they could have imagined.

Life Drama

Well, here we are on Easter Monday. Lent is over, Holy Week is in the past and the alleluias of Easter still rings in my ears. I have admitted in this space that Lent and I weren’t in sync this year, blaming it on how early Easter was, how close it came to Christmas. That early part I ended up being very happy about in the end. I was happy because even people on the street-literally a news guy was out on the street asking people-had the opportunity to learn how the date of Easter is derived, a date that is based on so much more than any particular theology or doctrine. In case you didn’t get the word…..first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

My inability to connect with Lent this year could have been partially about the early date. But mostly I think it was because I was being a kind of spiritual brat. You see, I struggle with many of the atonement messages of Lent and Easter. The message doesn’t fit my experience, my own personal theology, my world view. And for what ever reason I always dig my heals in during Lent until by the time we get to Holy Week I have pretty much worked myself into a tizzy about it all. I was happy to read Garrison Keillor’s editorial in yesterday’s Star Tribune:"Oh, ye of faltering faith:It’s Easter" in which he expressed some similar sentiments.

But several things happened to me on the way to Easter this year that opened my eyes…actually my heart. On Maundy Thursday we followed the reading from the gospel of John in which Jesus washes the feet of the disciples as a way to explain to the disciples how it is they are to live their lives. At our service we offered people the option of having their hands or feet washed. As I washed hands gnarled by arthritis, beautifully manicured, smooth and soft, rough and hard, I came face to face with the scriptures."God bless you. And may you love yourself and others as God has loved you." Looking into the eyes of those I have known well and those who were strangers, the doctrines I want to argue with fell away and melted into the puddle of ‘not important’. In that moment, the presence of the Holy overwhelmed my stubbornness.

Then on Good Friday evening we were led in worship by our youth telling the story of Jesus on his final day. As these young people and some of their parents read the scriptures and slowly extinguished candle after candle, the darkness grew around us until all that was left was one candle representing the presence of Christ in our midst. That candle was carried out as we sat in the  lightless place listening to the thirty-three chimes representing the year’s of Jesus life. Slowly, in total silence the Christ candle was carried back into the sanctuary lighting the sweet, beautiful face of a young girl, her face glowing with the amber candlelight and the promise of her life.

That’s when it struck me. It takes all of us to tell this life drama, this story of hope, of promise, of mystery, of unimaginable love. It takes those who are skeptical, those who are certain. It takes those who hang their faith on the literal interpretations and those who live their questions with great passion and pain. It takes the simple faith and the intellectual curiosity, those well read and those uneducated. It takes each of us to keep this story alive and living. That’s what it means to be the church.

On Easter morning it was my role to carry the Christ candle in the Easter procession. While my face is not as young or beautiful as Audrey’s was on Friday night, I was blessed to do my part, to carry the light, to keep the story alive.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen in-deed!


There are many traditions and rituals that surround Good Friday. Beginning with Holy Thursday services last night, Good Friday, including the Holy Saturday vigil observed by some, through to the arrival of the celebration of Easter with the sunrise of Sunday morning,is known as the Triduum of Easter, the ‘three days’.Today people will worship at services that use the service of Tennebrae, a ritual of light that moves into the darkness, reading the scriptures that tell of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. I will participate in all of this but what has become a part of my Good Friday observance will begin at noon today with…..enchiladas.

On the west side of Saint Paul at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, the community serves meatless enchilada dinners on Fridays throughout Lent. For the last few years I have attended this meal with friends and family. I can honestly say that this is not something I would ever have associated with the observance of Good Friday. But today, even as the snow falls valiantly outside my window, I plan to bundle up and head over to the social hall of this beautiful church whose congregation is made up mostly of Mexican and Hispanic immigrants and their American born families. The food is good, the pride and service impeccable and the experience joyful and welcoming.

After lunch I will walk through the sanctuary of the church. Groups of people will be covering the statues of saints with black cloth preparing for the darkness of today’s readings. Outside the sanctuary,Our Lady of Guadalupe, the namesake of the church, will be decorated with beautiful flowers for what I assume is a part of an Easter procession. The dark,beautiful face of Our Lady inspires and strengthens this community to remember who they are in this land of Anglos and to proclaim the faith of their experience.

It is a powerful visual image that allows me to see the embodiment of both the darkness of Good Friday and the beauty and light of Easter. And isn’t that what we are present to each day if we really allow ourselves to see? This world in which we are privileged to live holds both the darkness of death and the light of resurrection each and every day. "Finally, the word of the cross is not uttered in the past tense. Every time we abuse the poor, every time we pollute our God-given planet, indeed every time we act selfishly, God dies naked on the cross of our ego." writes Huston Smith in The Soul of Christianity. As those who profess the Christian faith, it seems as if our work is to bring more light to the world and contribute less to what brings death. That is the call of each Easter morning, isn’t it?

So as we move into  these ‘three days’, may we all be held in the Spirit that invites us to the land of living. May we recognize fully those places that are shrouded in black cloth and work to uncover them. May we also contribute to planting the seeds that bring beauty, color, wholeness and hope. Blessed Easter!

"In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree, in cocoons a hidden promise:butterflies will soon be free. In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. In our end is our beginning, in our time, infinity, in our doubt there is believing, in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see." Hymn of Promise, Natalie Sleeth

Last Supper

"To your table you bid us come. You have set the places, you have poured the wine, and there is always room, you say, for one more. And so we come. From the streets and from the alleys we come. From the deserts and from the hills we come. From the ravages of poverty and from the palaces of privilege we come. Running, limping, carried, we come. We are bloodied with our wars, we are wearied with our wounds, we carry our dead within us, and we reckon with their ghosts. We hold the seeds of healing, we dream of a new creation, we know the things that make for peace and we struggle to give them wings. And yet, to your table we come. Hungering for your bread, we come; thirsting for your wine, we come;singing your song in every language, speaking your name in every tongue, in conflict and communion, in discord and in desire, we come, O God of Wisdom, we come." Jan L. Richardson, In Wisdom’s Path

On this Holy Thursday many Christians will go to church to offer prayer and penance and will hear the story of Jesus sharing bread and wine with his disciples in what we have named The Last Supper.As the scripture writers have written the story there is in the implication that Jesus knew this would be his last meal with his friends, with those whom he had shown the Way. The fact of this is not as important as the idea that Jesus knew that the path he had walked was dangerous yet one he walked with integrity, being true to God’s call on his life. He was probably sure that the results of that would lead to the unfolding of his arrest and  even the possibility of his execution.

Last suppers. Today I am thinking about all those who have sat down to a supper without the knowledge that it would be their ‘last’. Yesterday we marked five years of being at war, a war that is complex,infused with missteps and disagreements, with mistakes and perhaps even some out right lies. But this drama we are all engaged in contains real people who have sat down at table with their families and their friends. And as those same people gather for an Easter, Passover or other special meal, nearly 4000 Americans will find that there is an empty place at the table. For those Iraqis who gather for family meals, we do not even know the number of chairs that contain only the memory of the loved one who once sat there.

I wonder, would those who sat at the table have done anything differently, said anything more had they known it was their last supper? Would those who surrounded them have tried to mark the moment with important words? Perhaps these are pointless questions but I do wonder. Five years is a long time. In that course of time children have been born and have started school. Others have moved from being gangling adolescents to college freshmen. Still others have moved from the protective world of school and home to the real world of work and ‘making a living’.

But in towns and cities, in farmhouses and apartments, in shanties and tents, five years has caused the world to stand still. Parents sit remembering. Wives and husbands try to reconstruct. Children cry themselves to sleep.  Because in those homes there is an empty place at the table.

Holy Week

"If wakeful Christians harbor a wish for heaven to fulfill, they wish not for an escape from reality, but for a deeper acquaintance with reality. When wakeful Christians lament this life, they grieve this world’s trivialization of itself that obscures the more profound reality of the kingdom of God in our midst. Yet, more often wakeful Christians celebrate life, finding the mark of God’s hand in this world and beginning their praise with the discovery of the holy here. "Holy,holy,holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory"(Isa.6:3).the seraphim sang. Wakeful visions of other worldly praise reveal angels singing of God’s reign on earth as in heaven." A Wakeful Faith by J. Marshall Jenkins

Today Christians find themselves in the midst of Holy Week. Last Sunday, Palm Sunday told of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of drama we live out each year that tells of his coming face to face with a ‘deep acquaintance of reality’ which led to his arrest, torture and death. Tomorrow will find churches everywhere re-enacting the celebration of his last meal with his friends. Friday will hold the somber telling of the story of his death.Roman Catholics among us will spend Saturday in a vigil that tells of the whole story of God’s involvement since the beginning of Creation in the cycles of birth,life,death and rebirth which includes the fullness of the gospel.  All this leads to Easter Sunday morning with churches filled to capacity as worshipers once again proclaim that there is a power greater than death.

I have a blunt confession to make. I haven’t quite gotten into the observance of Lent this year. I have talked to others who have had difficulty as well. Perhaps it is because Lent came so quickly after Christmas and Advent this year. The date of Easter is determined by the lunar calendar as the 1st Sunday after the 1st full moon after the Spring Equinox. Unless you are 95 years or older, Easter has never been this early in your lifetime. It will not be this early again until 2228. Something about all this allows me to let myself off the hook with my lack of enthusiasm for Lent this year.

I have fond memories of Holy Week as a child. Growing up in a small town with small churches and few resources, Holy Week was the one time a year when the churches came together to create something larger than their individual congregations. Beginning on Palm Sunday night and every night during the week, we traveled from church to church for worship. There was special music at each church and a sermon. The one rule: no one could preach or sing in their home church. As I think about this I am not sure what the total appeal was for me. But I did love it and went even when my parents didn’t go.There was the chance to hear things in new ways from voices I was unfamiliar with, whose way of interpretation didn’t always reflect my own. But there was also something rich in the gathering of these people whose lives were bound by a common heritage, a common faith story, and the chance to share in that message.

As we move into the next few days, I pray for the grace to be present to the story that unfolds….through the scriptures, through the music, and through the faces and lives of those who gather to create a little glimpse of heaven on earth. This Jesus who calls for us to be open to God’s movement and to live likewise did so with his very life. I can only pray that in the year 2228 someone, somewhere will still be telling the story in one form or another. Perhaps it will be infused with a ‘wakefulness’ we can only imagine.

Surprised by Beauty

I knew the weather forecast for today and I was not particularly pleased with it. Snow. Like many, perhaps even like most, I am at the end of my fascination with snow. As I wrote yesterday, I am ready for green. So as I looked outside in the early morning darkness I was not overjoyed with the sight of white. Trying not to look too often out the window, I moved around the house, reading the paper, drinking my coffee, getting ready for the day’s meetings that were ahead.

And then I walked outside and was stopped in my tracks. Silence held the morning captive. Even the cars moving by seemed to have muted tires. My eyes moved from the heavy, wet snow on the ground upwards until they were startled with the overwhelming beauty of the snow clinging to the tree branches. I stood in my driveway looking up and down the street, nestled in a lacy, white doily. Walking underneath the maple tree that brings us such joy when it turns brilliant red in the fall, I could see the buds peaking out from under the chantilly flakes. "Not yet, not yet," they seemed to be saying, "But soon, very soon."

My son who has just returned from Mexico and is also finished with winter came outside to head to school. We stopped and looked together at the trees holding what may perhaps be their last heavy coat of snow. "I always think I should take pictures on days like this," he said. I silently agreed and tried to memorize the scene to save for one of those hot, humid days in August when we will be finished with summer.

The great gift of living in a place that moves through the seasons is that you have the opportunity, the blessing to notice the cycles of Creation. Birth, life, death, rebirth, over and over again. Sometimes we are ready when those cycles arrive in our lives, and sometimes we want to hold them off or stop them all together. Other times we want them to come sooner than would be best. Trusting in the internal rhythms of seed and soil, rain and sun, wind and breath, we come to be surprised by the beauty of it all. Always on our way from ‘not yet’ to ‘very soon’ and finally to the amazing ‘now’, we are held in the wonder of the world.

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted." Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Green Feast Day

"Lord of All Nations and All Peoples, we rejoice today in a special servant of Yours, St. Patrick. Irish or not, Catholic or not, we all dance a gleeful jig on this his joyous feast day. His green feast day gives us all a chance to wear the green of spring and life. Four days from now our old friend winter will loose his lease of life. Packing up his ice and snow, his chilly winds and frosty breath, he’ll soon be gone. The green of this day foretells of rich vegetation soon to grace our countryside; proclaims the fresh and new to the tired and weary; announces to one and all that spring is on her way! Lord of All Seasons, winter is on his deathbed, but songs and mirth are greening all around us. Blessed be St. Patrick, bishop and man of prayer. Blessed be all saints, and the wee folk as well." Edward Hays, Prayers for the Domestic Church

Ah, St. Patrick’s Day. I have just driven down the streets in Saint Paul where green is being worn by every man, woman and child. Though the city, and certainly the church celebrated on Saturday due to the day falling during Holy Week, there was still a ‘wearin’ of the green’ for as far as the eye could see. And what a welcome color it was with the skies as gray as a goose and peppering the people and streets with slushy snow. How we long for green right now….and so are thankful for this celebration that allows us to pull out all the green clothes we own, put them on and head out to create a little interruption of the monochromatic to the world.

As I attended the St. Patrick’s Day mass at the Cathedral on Saturday morning, I was struck with the joy that green can bring into a room. Looking around there was kelly green, forest green, lime green,pale green, green feathers, hats, shirts, pants, jackets, even a few heads of hair that had been dyed green. All that beautiful, rich color even outshone the priests in their Sunday-best vestments.

St.Patrick’s Day is a celebration adopted by many for all kinds of reasons. But I would venture to say that a part of the attraction is trading the browns and blacks of winter in for a brilliant green, at least for one day in our snowiest month of the year. Ask a person who has just returned from a warm weather vacation what the best part was. Almost all will say ‘the color!’  After a certain amount of time we simply crave the sheer beauty and stimulation of color and its residual effect on our spirits.

And so if you haven’t already, I invite you to search for your green clothes and put them on. It doesn’t even matter if they don’t match very well. Put them on anyway. And head out into the streets to join the others proclaiming the message. "Winter’s work is over. The spring lies waiting to be born. St. Patrick has given us the signal. Wear green and coax the new life to begin." I promise you will be well received.