"The whole universe is symbolically seated about a communal fire called life – a fire that we all share in the darkness of our isolation, that courses through the veins, that maintains the life of even stones and plants and all that we seldom think of as living. It is a fire that burns in all times and places." The Celtic Spirit: Daily Meditations for the Turning Year, Caitlin Matthews

I have lost my patience for sitting in rows. I learned this over the last few days as I sat at our annual gathering of United Methodist clergy and laity. Seated shoulder to shoulder by people I know and love but could not really see, I realized my whole body had become antsy, agitated. As I strained to see the beautiful faces of my faith colleagues, I recognized the quite unnatural way in which we were organized. Long straight rows of people facing walls and screens, without the ability to truly interact. In the defense of this process, I know it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to arrange several hundred people in one room in any other way. However, that did not limit my impatience.

When I opened the newspaper this morning and saw the image of Stonehenge, my heart leaped. This ancient stone circle has always been special for me. From as long ago as I can remember, I have been fascinated with it……What was it for? What do the stones mean? Who were the people who built it? Most importantly, how in the world did they haul those stones from more than 250 miles away and how did they manage to lift them into an upright position without the benefit of crane or bulldozer?

Today’s article poses some possible answers to the first two questions.Looking back more than 5000 years at the practices of humans is a fascinating and enlightening experience. Through the amazing technology of radiocarbon-dating many cremations were analyzed giving rise to the speculation that Stonehenge was home to 30 to 40 generations of family members, perhaps from the same single family of rulers, buried beneath these memorials. It becomes clear that the symbol of the circle has been deeply rooted in the fabric of humanity for a very long time.

I have to be honest that, while interesting, the specifics of what happened in this circle is not as important to me as the fact that the circle of stones exists. My imagination can leap to the grand and the grotesque as to what transpired in this sphere, as countless others have done over the centuries. It is instead the commitment of these ancients to create such an enduring monument, one that mirrors the very creation of the Universe itself, without the knowledge of the science of it all, that fills me with awe. Five thousand years ago our brothers and sisters-through-time dreamed, labored, and no doubt died, to erect this circle. Someplace within that building they have placed the wisdom and importance of facing one another, of being seen, of gathering around the fire and the One who brings the spark of Spirit to us all.

The circle is the great leveler of people and power. As we gather in circles, around dinner tables, at the campfire, in offices, on a picnic blanket with friends, we claim the gift of looking into the eyes of one another and seeing the reflection of the Holy there. When we meet face-to-face, we listen more deeply, are present more fully.  In my imagining, Stonehenge and its builders gather with us, forming the circle with the Ground of All Being, that has existed since the beginning reminding us once again that we are connected through time and that there is nothing that can truly sever that connection.Caitlin Matthews puts it this way: "It is the calling together or re-formation of a primal web of unity and harmony that individual and corporate acts have torn or fragmented."

My prayer is that we each learn to honor the circles of our lives in ways that build memorials which transcend time in the powerful ways that the builders of Stonehenge did. In so doing, I believe we will be honored to lay the bones of our earthly bodies in the midst of the communal fire called Life.

Have a blessed weekend……………..


Last night our Bishop, Sally Dyck, spoke to the United Methodists gathered in St. Cloud. Her subject: change. Using a blues song from the ’30’s "Strange Things Are Happenin’ Everyday" she challenged us to be change agents in our own lives, in the church and in the world. Through scripture, story and song, she wove a great tapestry of inspiration calling for the hope that lives within change.

There is that old adage that the only things we can be truly certain of in life are death and taxes. But isn’t change also a thing of certainty? The very cells of our body are changing and rearranging as I write this and as you read. When we are both finished….we will be changed. Being alive means being always in some form of change. From the time children are born we observe the changes in their bodies, their minds, their ways of being and we celebrate all the growth. For some reason as we move beyond those earlier years, we begin to resist the changes in our lives. It is a curious thing.

Particularly in institutions like the church we shy away from change of any kind…..changes in the wording of prayers, beloved hymn texts, the ways in which we worship, the structures in which we organize our life together. Somehow we behave as if the notion of change holds a hidden idea that, to embrace change, means what we have ‘always’ done is less true, less real. Our faith life can slowly become a stagnant life. We can come to worship the ways of being church rather than the Source that calls us to be church.

Each generation, I believe, has a very important task if they choose….to discern the presence of the Holy in their midst and to give voice to telling the story. We cannot possibly tell the story of how God moves in our lives in the same way those people in the first century did. We cannot even tell the story in the same way people of faith from other parts of the world do. Our work is to tell the story for our time, in our time. And that means to be not only witnesses to change but agents of change….to continue to be present to the winds of the Spirit moving with a quiet presence and sometimes a passionate wildness. It is the Spirit of change that longs to enter our lives, our churches and the world urging us to an even deeper relationship.

What are the winds of change that are moving through your life this day? What place in your life needs to be jarred loose so growth can happen?  Are the communities you hold dear longing to be tilled and planted in new ways? How are you being invited to help that change happen?

Change……let’s embrace it and be a part of it. I trust that the Holy One, in the midst of it all, bids us welcome and will give us courage to see it through to new beginnings.


"When your children ask in times to come,’What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of God. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever."  Joshua 4:6-7

I was driving with my oldest son yesterday when we passed by Fort Snelling National Cemetery. The miles of white gravestones undulated off into the distance while countless American Flags,both large and small, blew in the Memorial Day wind. We could see the cars lined up on the narrow roads, people dotted the cemetery grounds standing in front of the simple, clean white stones remembering those they loved who had been lost to war and death. Fort Snelling on any day is an awe-inspiring and, to me, a sobering scene. On Memorial Day it seemed even more so.

Watching all this I realized I was filled with a kind of strange ambivalence. The Memorial Day of my childhood was always marked by the visit to the cemetery complete with a flag ceremony and the playing of the hauntingly sad sound of Taps. But yesterday there was no cemetery to visit. The cemeteries where I have family and friends buried are not here in this place. I knew that my family would be putting flowers on th graves of my father, my uncles, my grandmother and grandfather but I was not there to participate.

Memorial Day also causes me to reflect on the cost of war. My father fought in World War II, and while he never talked about it much, it is a war that seems easier to make sense of , if that is ever true, than the one in which we are engaged today. After we observed the scene at Fort Snelling, I remarked to my son that for many of my teenage years, supper time was accompanied by the grainy black and white footage of the Viet Nam War. Periodically we would see the coffins unloaded from planes draped in the United States flag. It was a war that was very real to my generation, we consumed it with our evening meal.

After the Israelites have traveled through the wilderness,the writer of Joshua asks: ‘When your children ask in times to come,"What do these stones mean to you?"’ The stones marked the place they were to remember as holy….. the place where they knew the Sacred to be present and acting in their lives…..a memorial forever.

I do not know the stories that were being played out yesterday as people gathered around the white gravestones of those who served in wars our country has waged over the last decades. I can only imagine their pain, their broken hearts, their despair, their future dreams cut short. My prayers are with them. But I am sure that one thing each family asks of us is, no matter our feelings of wars past or present, is that we honor the memory of those they loved….children, grandchildren, sons, daughters, parents, all….forever…and that we teach our children to do the same.


For the last several months many people have been reading the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Being on the New York Times bestseller list and an Oprah pick has created quite a readership for this memoir of one woman’s spiritual quest. It is a great account of her pilgrimage through Italy, India and Indonesia as she searches for ways to make sense of the tragedies and insights of her life while moving into her future with hope.

Memoir is a fascinating genre of literature. It presupposes that any given life is interesting enough and instructive enough that other people will want to read about it. The truth is that each of our lives is worthy of memoir…..the writing down of our experiences, our relationships, our search for meaning……but most of us never think to do so. Ms. Gilbert, already a journalist, simply took the time and effort to write her story probably funded by a nice advance. And her story has touched the imaginations of many readers and helped them see their own life path in new ways, incorporating the wisdom inherent in Eastern culture.

Of all the things I found entertaining and interesting in the book, the words spoken to her by her funky little Yoda-like teacher in Bali, keep coming back to me. "You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You can calling the good energy with a smile."  It should be noted that Elizabeth’s gift to her teacher, in exchange for his wisdom, was teaching him to speak English. Clearly, some of the syntax was yet to be understood!

But these are powerful words… in your liver….that organ that cleans out all the toxins and junk that gets pulled in through a variety of entry points. Over the last few weeks I have been trying to smile in my liver. In a meeting that seems to be dragging or creating lots of negative thoughts, I focus on an internal smile. When I am stuck in traffic and will be late to wherever I’m headed, I let the muscles in my face relax and put allow my inner self to smile all the way down to the gas pedal. When confronted by a rude or angry person, I breathe deeply and give attention to my inner smiling practice. Right now I am smiling……are you?

To Westerners this concept may seem, as one of my colleagues always says, "Just plain goofy". But I believe there is a deep wisdom in this practice. Another wisdom teacher, Jesus, told the people of his time: "Do not worry about your life. Look at the birds of the air. Consider the lilies of the field. Have faith."

Life is, of course, filled with serious business.But it seems to me the gift of this practice is that it allows us to be open to all the possibilities for creative solutions, for being open to how Spirit is moving among all the moments of each day. "Too serious, you make you sick."  Wise words……right now I am smiling in my liver. It feels good.

Enjoy this long weekend…….


"Good people,
Most royal greening verdancy,
Rooted in the sun,
You shine with radiant light,
In this circle of earthly existence
You shine so finely,
It surpasses understanding.
God hugs you.
You are encircled by the arms
of the mystery of God."
     ~ Hildegard of Bingen

Saturday I was surrounded by royalty. In the early afternoon I was working in the garden and heard laughter and the sweet sound of voices of little girls. I looked up from my work to see the girls who live behind us running toward the swing set……all dressed in long, flowing princess dresses. They jumped onto the swings, calling one another’s names, their crowns shining in the early afternoon sun. What a sight! On further investigation it seemed to be a birthday party with a Disney Princess theme. For those few hours, Snow White, Belle, and Cinderella all danced around within my view.

Several hours later I found myself at the Grande March for our younger son’s prom. The young people who usually appear at our house in sweatpants and T-shirts had been transformed into royalty. Tuxedos of black and white were accented with bright colored vests and ties…..bright red, pale yellow, deep blue, hot pink even. The young women were in long dresses, short dresses, sleek or billowing. Their normal ponytails had been curled and uplifted….some were decorated with crowns. Flowers were worn or carried by everyone as parents snapped pictures and video cameras rolled. Everyone looked beautiful…..shining ever so finely. The adults looked on, filled with pride and memory.

The rituals we have created to claim our beauty in the world are complex and deep seeded. In every culture, humans festoon their hair, arms, legs, bodies with shining metals, jewels, beautiful fabric. Dances and processions are created to move from one life moment to the next. What is believed to be beautiful by one culture is seen quite differently by another. And yet we all have the need to feel, every now and then, that we are royal creatures….standing in some radiant circle of light in the world.

The tuxedos have been returned. The dresses have been taken to the dry cleaners. The Disney Princesses are back in their play clothes. Hair has returned to its daily, messy state. But I do believe I could see many of those who were royalty on Saturday……..and they will still be wearing crowns. They are simply invisible to the naked eye.


"God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it." Genesis 2:15

On Saturday it finally happened. The dirt was turned, the shovels were filled and the plants began to find their home in the ground. Lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and strawberries. The growing season, though cooler than usual, has begun and there is no turning back now. Now there is only the weeding, the watering, the watching.

As I knelt on the ground, my hands feeling the coolness of the soil flowing through my fingers, I had this sense that planting a garden is so much more than digging. Planting a garden reminds us of where we started. Garden is both reality and metaphor and to engage in its creation and maintenance reconnects us with something very deep, a source of the Sacred we often ignore.

A favorite author,J. Philip Newell, puts it this way:"What is it we have forgotten about ourselves and one another? In the Celtic tradition, the Garden of Eden is not a place in space or time from which we are separated. It is the deepest dimension of our being from which we live in a type of exile. It is our place of origin or genesis in God. Eden is home, but we live far removed from it. And yet in the Genesis account, the Garden is not destroyed. Rather Adam and Eve become fugitives from the place of their deepest identity. It is a picture of humanity living in exile." Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation

There is something about gardening that reminds us of blessing of our own origin stories. Even if we have never planted a literal garden, this deep knowing that we are planted by the Creator who breathes us into being, runs someplace below the surface of who we are. The garden of Eden represents that place, the place of our birth, the place we wander from and return to, the place that can never be destroyed. As humans we seem to be always in some state of exile, fugitives searching and being found by the Holy.

I recognize that’s a lot to attach to a little patch of land in my backyard. But somehow it has meaning for me and makes sense. Come August, the broccoli -if it isn’t eaten by the rabbits- will be tasty. But its planting is so, so much more. It is good to be reminded of home.

"And then all that has divided us will merge……And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth……and then everywhere will be called Eden once again."  ~ Judy Chicago


"One hundred years from now
It will not matter
What kind of car I drove,
What kind of house I lived in,
How much I had in my bank
Nor what my clothes looked like.
One hundred years from now
It will not matter
What kind of school I attended,
What kind of typewriter I used,
How large or small my church,
But the world may be …
a little better because…
I was important in the life of a child."
            ~Forest Witcraft, "Within My Power"

Both my sons had the same second grade teacher.He had this poem hanging above his desk. He was an amazing man who began every school year by teaching the children to sing "It’s a Wonderful World" along with Louis Armstrong. He believed completely in the innate goodness and potential of each child regardless of what may have come before in their lives or how they behaved on any given day. He was funny, inspiring, clear in his expectations and seemed to genuinely love each child for who they were. Like anyone in the teaching profession, I am sure he had his days when he was exhausted, frustrated, even depressed. Like all teachers he was not paid nearly enough for his long hours and incredible dedication. But he was in the business of making an investment… lives, in futures, in hope.

Many people are thinking these days about their investments. The stock market and the economy do not bring much promise of yielding any shining dividends. As has always been the case, these are investments known to be a roller coaster ride. We give over our money and trust in organizations and people we don’t know and maybe wouldn’t trust if we met them. But we agree to be a part of the game so our earthly treasures might have the opportunity to grow in some way.

Last night I was present at a party to celebrate our youth director who is leaving our church to be in ministry in North Carolina. The room was filled with parents, youth and young adults, all who had in some way been touched by this woman who has given hours upon hours of investment. There was laughter and tears, story upon story of mission trips and retreats, in-jokes and knowing looks. The room was filled with life….and lives….changed by one person who has chosen to put her life of faith to work in the world.

It is the kind of investment that no one can really measure. The NASDAQ or Dow don’t have a meter for this kind of time, energy,and commitment that builds up over time and flows out in unexpected acts of love, justice and compassion in places unknown and unreported. But it happens every day. We have all been touched by those people…parents, teachers, mentors…..who decided to believe in us and help us believe in ourselves. This is the real reward of investment.

On this Monday, a rather gloomy one here in Minnesota, it might be a good time to reflect on those people who made an investment in our lives. We all might want to call up those folks, or write them a note or email, or send a blessing their way. Each of us got up this morning filled with other people’s investments in us. Maybe it’s time to let them know how their stock in doing.

It truly is ‘A Wonderful World.’


It is often said that weeds are simply misplaced plants. There is a probably a pound of truth in that statement. I just drove past a large field near a church in our neighborhood. In that field there is an abandoned baseball diamond and a lovely labyrinth that, I have learned, was an Eagle Scout project of one of the young men from the church. I always glance over at the labyrinth, silently making a connection with this ancient prayer path. I wonder if it feels somewhat misplaced in this suburban neighborhood. I have walked its path but I have never seen anyone else there. Perhaps it is not so important that it doesn’t see many walkers. Perhaps the important thing is that a young man gave his time,energy and creativity to the sacred geometry that has found a home on this land.

But it was not the labyrinth that particularly caught my eye today. I was instead drawn in by the expanse of yellow that ringed the labyrinth and poured out like syrup onto the baseball field. Dandelions! Dandelions had created a brilliant carpet of maize that held the pattern of the labyrinth in a golden ring. It was so beautiful in its simplicity, in its power.

I recognize that there are people who hate the lowly, long rooted dandelion. These are the people who stand watch, tool in hand ready to poke and dig until they have reached the depth of the root of this ‘weed’. These little yellow flowers are the enemy of the well manicured lawn. Whole chemical companies have been born to do battle against them.  It is true, they do tend to take over…to surround themselves with their friends…as they have in this field.

Anyone who has ever felt misplaced, knows it is not a pleasant place to be. It is certainly painful to have the experience of knowing you are not in the right job or relationship.To find you are not on the right life path or in the faith community that fits who you are and your experience of the Holy.  Thinking oneself to be a ‘weed’, to be misplaced, is difficult. And yet this experience seems to be a part of what it means to be human and can be a place of great growth. Like the dandelions in the field, living bright and large, creating beauty, they are showing their value, shining for all the world to see. I think we can learn something from that. As long as we know our roots are long and strong, we can hold on until we find our fit.

You may be surprised to learn that this Sunday is Dandelion Day. Harriet Godfrey introduced dandelion seeds to St. Anthony Falls on the banks of the Mississippi in 1849. This calls for a celebration, complete with necklaces and crowns of brilliant yellow….dandelions, of course. What we may think of as weed, Ms. Godfrey thought valuable enough to spread around. May it be the same for us.

"Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of sheltered grass–innocent, golden, calm as dawn,
The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful face."  Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Enjoy what looks to be a fabulous weekend……………

Almost, Not Quite

The last few days have been in the place of ‘almost but not quite’. Driving across the rivers as I do so many times during a day, the trees are putting forth not quite green and not quite yellow as they work to produce the fullness of their leaves. Walking through my garden, the hostas have pushed their way through the ground, long spiky shoots make circles of what in just a few weeks will be fully formed, lush leaves. Other ground cover has peeked through the soil and is beginning to inch out, ready to spread in its usual way, creeping around all in its path.

Of course the tulips have had a head start. They have been slumbering in the dark, cold ground and now stand in their fullness, showing off their colors while their botanical siblings are stretching to become themselves. The crab apple trees outside my office window are trying so desperately to be hot pink….and soon they will be. In the next few days the branches will be heavy with shades of red, pink and fuchsia waving gently in the spring breezes, sending their sweet scent into the wind. It is a glorious sight.

It is a time of year when one can become so acutely aware of what it means to be alive, to be a part of something much bigger than our human-ness, to literally watch the world come into its fullness. It is the time of year that begs us to become children again, stopping at each next interesting thing to see. This brilliant bud….this lovely leaf….this mossy mound. Why, it could take hours to walk one block!

The ‘almost but not quite ‘ part of spring invites us to pay attention…with a capital P & A.  If we don’t we will miss its unfolding and that would be a terrible shame. Because we all know that it doesn’t last long and its gentle beauty is meant to remind us of who we are…….the ones with words, the ones given to experiencing awe, the ones who can proclaim their praise. We have important work to do and now is the moment.

Go ahead….get out there….do what needs to be done!

"All you works of God, every mountain, star and tree,
bless the One who shapes your beauty,
who has caused you all to be one great song of love and grace,
ever ancient,ever new.
Raise your voices, all you works of God." (by Marty Haugen)


What is it that justifies your existence on this Earth? It is not a question we think of very often. Perhaps if we did we might live differently, choose more wisely, let go of a few things, take on others.

The question was raised for me when I read the story of Irena Sendler in yesterday’s newspaper. Irena was a social worker for the welfare department in Poland during WWII.  As a 29 year-old young woman she devised a plan and carried it out, with the help of her trusted co-workers, for smuggling nearly 2500 Jewish infants and children to safety. She meticulously recorded their names on slips of paper, placed those names in a jar, and buried it under an apple tree in the hopes that these children would be re-united with their families. Can you even imagine the courage, the dedication, the commitment? All this done in secret….without motivation for reward or recognition.

In fact, when she was being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, she said: "Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory." Irena did what she did because it was the right thing to do….not because she was working toward, or for, any form of recognition.

Her statement made me think about what a ‘reward based’ culture we live in. From the time children are very small we give them medals, trophies, letters, stars for everything from a completed sports season to words spelled correctly.It can be quite a shock to when this practice does not continue into adulthood. I certainly admit that building self-esteem through affirmation is imperative. But I do think that, sometimes, it breeds an ‘I’ll do this because it gets me something’ kind of attitude and a mentality of entitlement. We can easily forget that doing something because it is the just thing to do is reward enough.

Justification is defined as: ‘to show adequate reason for something done….to show to be just, right or in accord with reason, to vindicate….the state or condition necessary for salvation, of being blameless or absolved of the guilt of sin.’  Daily we hear of people justifying their actions in so many ways, many to their own benefit, many to point the attention and direction toward another for a deed gone awry.

Irena sought to justify her existence through the compassionate, courageous action of saving the lives of the innocent, certainly at the risk of her own life. And then she systematically preserved the futures of these innocents by holding their names safe until they could be claimed.

It was a good life, a long life of 98 years…..perhaps, I believe, its own reward. May we each be able to say the same.

"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says God, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."  Jeremiah 29:11