"A child stood on his seat in a restaurant,

holding the railing of the chairback

as though to address a courtroom,

"Nobody knows what's going to happen next."

Then his turning-slide back down to his food,

relieved and proud to say the truth,

as were we to hear it."

~Colman Barks

am not one for New Year's resolutions. I know myself well enough to see
the writing on the wall. A long list of things I think I should do,
should change, should be, will be abandoned in the swill of the first
days of January, replaced by feelings of guilt, failure, etc, etc. I
think I am not so alone in this confession so it seems easy to make.

as I sat this morning reflecting on the past year, I thought of the
resolutions I might make, given my observations of the past year's
events and the lessons they offered. Given the economic situation we
now find ourselves in, I might resolve to pay particular attention when
greed knocks at my door, inviting me to dance, and to make a point of
sitting this one out. I might also resolve to have a heart of compassion to those who did the dance for reasons unknown to me. I might resolve to make a list of what is really
important in my life, assess what my true values are and to do my best
to live accordingly. I might resolve to remember, at all times, that as
human beings we are connected in ways we don't always see or
understand. So, it is good to act with humility and know
that my choices affect so many others, many of whom I will never meet.

I reflect on the events of our nation and our world, I might resolve to
always choose the path of hope. I might resolve to dismiss the messages
of fear and despair and instead to seek after what unites us and gives birth to the best in us. I might resolve to see the power of diverse people
bringing their gifts to the table. I might resolve, as I have many
times before, to become a witness to hope in the world and to protect that
hope with the ferocity of a mother bear.

Over the last few days, as I have listened to stories of people of faith, killing and terrorizing one another, I
might resolve to work for a greater understanding of people of all
traditions, nationalities and ethnicities.  I might resolve to look for
the face of God in each person I meet, regardless of their theology,
their political position,their country of origin, without the labels it is so easy to assign. I
might resolve to love all as I imagine the Holy One does.  I might
resolve to become a peacemaker, not only in my country but first and
foremost in my heart. 

Suddenly, resolving to lose 10 pounds or become more organized in 2009,
seems pretty easy. But, we'll see. The New Year provides a symbolic
blank slate to become the 'more' we've longed for, hoped for, prayed for.
Let's take a gentle, faithful, first step and see what happens next.

Looking for Light

"Who were these
Magi, these wise ones from the East….these star gazers who left the comfort of
home and hearth for a cold, hard journey, traveling by night through the dark
and unknown to follow the star? They in their wisdom were in touch with
something greater than human wisdom – wisdom beyond common senses. In the
darkest and cloudiest of nights, they kept a sparkle of that divine light in
their eyes."~Alive Now

This Sunday is Epiphany Sunday in the Christian year. It is the day we read the scripture story of the Magi who came to visit the Christ Child bringing expensive gifts, adding a dash of color and glamor to the stable scene. They had traveled a long distance following the light of a star brighter than they had ever seen before. The star led them to this child and all those who had come to witness the miracle of this birth.

It is a magical story and whether we read it as literal or metaphorical is in many ways immaterial. Whether we are wise or from the East, we are all seekers of one kind or another. We have all set out on journeys that were believed by others to be 'beyond common sense.' I would venture to say that all great discoveries had countless skeptics lined up to shout their nay-saying words at those who traveled along the path. And yet if what we are seeking after is important, is to be life-changing, we continue to look for sparks of light that lead us toward our destination.

The story of the Magi is always read at the beginning of what is also the Sunday closest to the New Year. So, as I have been living with this scripture this week, I began to wonder what star we are following as we enter 2009. What star are we following as individuals, as faith-communities, as cities, as nations, as the Earth-community of which we are all a part? What are we allowing to guide us as humans as we walk the fragile path into this new year….and it does seem fragile, doesn't it? And what do we hope to find ? The hope and promise of a new birth? A surprising glimpse of the Holy come into our midst? A Light that will bring us out of darkness?

The season of Epiphany invites us to be open and aware of the in-breaking of God into our world. We follow the Light and it leads us to be transformed in ways we couldn't have imagined. It is not for the faint of heart. And, like the Magi, we may be led to go home by a different way…..with a divine sparkle in our eyes.

We can hope. We can pray.


A Reminder

There are some things that can wait. Procrastination has its place…..most closets can wait to be cleaned out….laundry can sit for a few extra days in the hamper while a good book is read.  I learned a difficult lesson over the last weeks about those things that must be done in a timely way.

Last year as Christmas cards began to arrive, I opened a particularly fat envelope. I saw the return address and knew that it was from friends who live out east; friends,to be honest,  that I had not seen in several years. The envelope contained a lovely card with Season's Greetings. It also contained all the Christmas card photographs of our children that our family had sent until our lives got too busy to send cards anymore. I held in my hand a pictorial history of our sons early years….Christmas to Christmas. There they were, these beautiful, sweet young boys from infancy to early elementary school. My husband and I, wisely, were only present in a couple of the photos, leaving the true family 'stars' to shine.

I was on the one hand so touched by the fact that these had been saved and returned to us that I was speechless. On the other hand, tears springing into my eyes, I knew that they had been sent by someone who had been battling cancer for several years. What could this 'return' mean? How was I to appropriately respond? We weren't sending Christmas cards for yet another year and so there would be no quick note of thanks scribbled inside for the kindness of saving these treasures. After the holidays, I thought, when things slowed down, I would sit down and write a letter, catch up, ask how things were going, and thank our friend for collecting our family memories and holding them safely for us.

But life continued on and I never sat down to write that thank you. There were probably many reasons deeper than I allowed myself to recognize why I never reached out, why I procrastinated. And so, when a few days before Christmas we learned that our friend had lost her fight, I felt wretched, not only for the loss of this beautiful woman but for my frivolous lack of humanity in seeing her gift for what it was. In some small way she was offering a glimpse of the time….the precious time…that had passed, that was passing, that cannot be recaptured.

And so today, I remind myself that there are some acts that cannot wait. I pray for the wisdom to recognize them when they come into my life and for the good sense to drop whatever I am doing and pay attention to what is really important.

"I got out of bed on two strong legs.It might have been otherwise.I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been otherwise. I took the dog uphill to the birch wood. All morning I did the work I love. At noon I lay down with my mate. It might have been otherwise. We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks. It might have been otherwise. I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day. But one day, I know, it will be otherwise." ~Jane Kenyon

Once Again

It is Christmas Eve. Once again those who celebrate this holy day will fill the pews of churches large and small. Familiar carols will be sung, candles will be lit and we will sew together messages from Isaiah, Matthew, Luke and John to tell the story of the birth of the Christ Child. The beauty of the liturgical church year is that we would do this even without the commercial reminders that it is Christmas. Years before malls and coupons and the message to buy, buy, buy, this story has grounded Christians in a simple, yet profound telling of the birth of Jesus.

I have been thinking about this story and the many ways it can be read and heard. And truth be told, each of us will hear it in our own way, with this year's hearing different than last year. We have each added life experiences that have changed us and shaped us into the people we are this year. Jan Richardson writes of the many ways we can tell the story: "We can tell is as the story of an unwed mother who dared to enter into partnership with God to bring forth new life; as a political story about the birth of a revolutionary; as a tale about a love that longed so much for us that it took flesh, formed in the dark woman of a woman show shared her body and blood to bring it forth. We can tell it as a story of darkness giving birth to light." So many ways to tell an ancient and simple story. It depends on the lens of our life how we read it, how we hear it, how we enter into it.

2008 is coming to a close. It has been a year that has rattled us in many ways. Many of the safety nets we took for granted have unraveled. It has also been a year in which we have seen glimpses of great hope. Tonight as we gather to once again tell the story of Christmas, how will our experience of this year shape our hearing? As the young ones don their angel wings and shepherd costumes, will our spirits be filled with the surprise and awe of how God enters our world? As the Magi present their precious gifts, will we want to dig deep into our own gifts and share them with abandon? As Joseph looks lovingly at the young woman at his side, might we be filled with the trust and faith of those confronted by Mystery? And might each of us remember all that has been lovingly birthed in our lives this year and, like Mary, treasure all these things in our hearts?

Wherever you are when you hear this story, I invite you to enter into its telling fully. This year's hearing will never come again so savor it. Let it roll around in your heart. After your candle is lighted and the first notes of Silent Night have been sung, look around and be held in the miracle of these ancient words that bind Christians together everywhere. And as the candles die out and the notes of carols fades into the night, then we can begin to live into how the story might transform us, for this year, for our time. This is what will keep the message alive.

Christmas blessings to you…………..

"When the song of angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the brothers,

to make music in the heart."

~Howard Thurman

Angels Singing

"And ye, beneath life's crushing loan,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road, and
hear the angels sing!"
   ~Edmund H. Sears(1849) It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

Perhaps we simply never sing all the verses of this Christmas carol. Or if we do, I had never really paid attention to the words that make up the third verse. Yesterday as we sang them in worship, I was struck by their timeliness. It seems to me I am walking among many who are 'beneath life's crushing load.' Everyday the news seems to worsen as the economy continues to move us further into a recession. We hear of retailers who are hurting……. because ordinary people are hurting…… because businesses are failing…..because nations are in economic chaos. All are made up of very real human 'forms that are bending low.'

As I continue to prepare for the joy of Christmas, I cannot get the images of all those who steps are painful and slow out of my mind. I see them each day as I drive around the city: those who stand on corners hoping for a handout; those who stand in line for food at the food shelf. On the news and in the papers are still other stories of those in need, those who are getting lost on the margins. My heart is full of them

In the midst of it I am acutely aware of the privileged life I lead. Last night I sat among friends so gifted and beautiful it felt impossible to get my heart around. As people shared songs, poetry and stories to mark the Winter Solstice, I looked at the faces of people I love and gave thanks for the amazing plenty and grace in my life. I thought of the generosity of these people, how they give their time and money to help in countless ways those who are less privileged. Yet, some days, most days, it never seems like enough, like we are making a difference.

And then at lunchtime today, I was walking out of church and ran into several men I have come to know through our Dignity Center. This ministry helps those who have been hit by hard times to get back on their feet and make a new start. These gentlemen often refer to me as 'their preacher', which always makes me feel a little odd. If truth be told, they are the preachers. They tell the 'good news' with their lives every day. I stood and talked about everything from the weather("Cold enough for ya?) to politics(Do you think Caroline Kennedy will be the first woman president?) to which service they would attend on Christmas Eve. We laughed, shook hands and went on with our day.

Then it hit me. Maybe there is a difference being made. Maybe creative people are helping sew together a quilt that will hold us all together after all. It is being sewn by the privileged and those who have the courage to reach out for the help they need. It looks like it will take many pieces of human fabric to continue to stitch this human blanket together again. It will take all of us…the privileged, the needy, people of prayer and those who act, those with money and those with big ideas, those who know how to talk and many who know how to listen. It will not be easy. There will be those who need to 'rest beside the weary road' until they have the strength to go on. But I have faith that, eventually, we will weave something better than we've known before. Better because we have struggled and learned from one another. Hopefully someplace along the road, we'll hear a few angels singing.

Light a Candle

“Gather friends and cast your hopes

Into the fire as it snows

And stare at God through the dark windows

Of the longest night

Of the year


A night that seems like a lifetime

If you're waiting for the sun

So why not sing to the nighttime

And the burning stars up above?


For deep in the stillness, deep in the cold

Deep in the darkness, a miner knows

That there is a diamond in the soul

Of the longest night

Of the year


Maybe peace hides in a storm

Maybe winter's heart is warm

And maybe light itself is born

In the longest night

In the longest night

Of the year “

~ Peter Mayer, The Longest Night

As is usual this time of year, each day has been fuller than
seems humanly possible and so I have not made it to my computer every day to
write. The lists seem to grow longer instead of shorter. One act that you
really want to accomplish leads to others that had not been anticipated. It
can, if we let it, lead us to feeling exhausted and sometimes even resentful.
Instead of recognizing that each little act of Christmas preparation can be a
gift to be opened, it is easy, at least for me, to go the ‘humbug’ route.

 And then along comes December 21st, the longest night of the
year, Winter Solstice and we have the opportunity to stop and be fully present
to the darkness. It is a celebration that calls us inward. At the peak of Advent, as we have been preparing for
the Light of the world, for the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child,
we get to experience the year's longest stretch of darkness. I believe it is a gift to
be savored for what it might offer us as Peter Mayer’s words imply. Who knows
what gift the darkness has to offer us?Who knows what our small act of light might bring?

 This year Winter Solstice falls on the first day of
Hanukkah. As one of our son’s friends said to me the other night:”Isn’t it
really cool that the first night of the Festival of Lights falls on the darkest
night of the year?” Yes, it is cool. As my Jewish friends tell the story of the
lamp that had only enough oil for one day but continued to burn for eight days
as they rededicated the Temple, they will celebrate the miracle of light in the
darkness. They will “gather friends and cast their hopes” for a world that
embraces the light that shines, miraculously, in the darkest of places. Three
days later Christians will gather and light candles as we sing “Silent Night”
praying that “peace hides in the storm”, declaring that “the people who have
walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

As humans it is our lot to live with both darkness and
light. Their rhythm is planted in the fabric of all Creation and we are born to wrestle with both. When the early
church placed the celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25th it was
with the full knowledge of its proximity to the longest night of the year. And
so in these days, we will experience the ‘perfect storm’ of darkness. Our role
in this unfolding drama is to light our candle and to be witness to the

 Have a blessed weekend….stay warm………..

Christmas Tree

"O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, You stand in verdant beauty! Your boughs are green in summer's glow, And do not fade in winter's snow. O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, You stand in verdant beauty!"

This old German carol has been running through my head over the last days. We put up our Christmas tree over the weekend and we have declared it the most beautiful tree we've had in many years. It is such a wonderful tradition, bringing this 'ever-greenness' into the center of the house. As I look out the window this morning, the subzero temperatures are having their way with the roads, the windows of neighbor's houses, the breath of those who have ventured out. But inside, a green tree stands as an ancient symbol that winter will not overtake us.

The tradition of bringing an evergreen tree into homes predates the Christian celebration of Christmas by hundred of years. It was a way for the ancients to be reminded that the dark days of winter would not reign forever but spring and rebirth would dawn again. It is the symbol of the presence of life in the death-like sleep of winter. Here in Minnesota where temperatures have been deadly these last few days it is a good reminder. After what have become increasingly long and arduous commutes, to be able to walk into your home and turn on the lights of the evergreen Christmas Tree, is nothing short of miraculous. Sitting beside the tree, adorned with the ornaments that have been collected over the years, grounds me in something deeper than the annoyance of winter driving. This act connects me with the countless people over time who have brought the simple beauty of Creation inside to nurture them through the darkest days of the year.

Here in the northern hemisphere we are living in the darkest days of the year as we approach the Winter Solstice this weekend. I watched this morning as the young children on our block, bundled up against the elements, stood like little colorful sticks waiting the arrival of their bus. Their usual playing was halted by the freezing temperatures making them statues. They waited in the dark and many will come home in the dark.

But, hopefully, for those who celebrate Christmas, they will open the door and begin the process of removing the layers of protective down and thinsulate. Their wet boots will be abandoned by the door, as all good Minnesota children know to do, and someone may hand them a warm cup of steaming cocoa. They will walk in to where the evergreen tree sits. Like generations of children before them they will sit down and let the scent of evergreen-life lull them into warmth while the lights make sparkling flecks in their young eyes. 

These are the acts that get us through the darkness and the frigid days. They are healing acts that continue to bless us through time. So, go ahead and indulge yourself in the simplicity of it all. It has worked for hundreds of years and will hopefully continue for many centuries to come.

Surround Sound

On Saturday I attended the
annual Christmas gathering of United Methodist Women. It is one of those
traditions that signal, in case you somehow had missed it, that Christmas is
definitely on its way. In the sea of red sweaters and holiday jewelry, swims a
spirit of joy and good will. There is always an attention to beauty and all
things sweet. There are also always many delightful handcrafted items for
sale…quilts, dolls, cookies, lace doilies…plus the beautiful native crafts made
available to us through various outreach organizations. It is a joyous morning.

 This year’s program was a
concert by the Minnesota Boychoir. We all gathered in our Art Gallery,
old and young and everyone in between, as these young men filed in and formed a
singing circle around us. From the first note, I was undone! The clear, pure
sound of their maturing male voices, held us in a nest of sound. Sitting there,
I seriously wondered if there is any ill that can’t be solved by the act of
being sung to. From my vantage point, I could only see a few audience faces but
those I could see positively glowed. We were being seduced by the power of
music. For a few moments, no one thought of what was happening in the world.
There was a suspension of fear, anxiety, and despair. Instead we were bathed in
the hope of youth, the goodness that comes from singing together, the act of
becoming something greater than our individuality, and by the human pursuit of beauty.

 At the end of the concert,
the young men led the gathered in a carol sing. As their conductor turned to
us, including us now in the creation of music, each of us sat taller, our faces
turned toward him in anticipation. We launched into the familiar songs, ones we wait all year
to sing, the melodies that reach each of us in some deep way that is unexplainable.
How can we still get misty singing ‘Silent Night’ after all these years? What
is it about these particular songs that moves us so?

I don’t know the complete
answer to those questions. But I do know that something transcendent happens
when we surround ourselves with music that has held us together in our
traditions. Singing binds us together in ways that sheer words do not. Even
those who don’t think of themselves as singers, open up to the songs of
Christmas with a child-like hope. Perhaps the fact that we haul out these
familiar tunes only once a year to serenade one another, to affirm their images
and lyrics, provides another opportunity for change, an act of grace that we
all long for.

 So, wherever you are today,
I invite you allow your singing self to come out. If you can find a few
friends to join you, even better. If you ride the bus, start a sing-a-long.
Imagine the scene that could make! If you will be traveling in your car, turn
on the radio and sing along with Bing. He’ll sound better and so will you and rush hour may not make you so crabby. Surround yourself today with the sound of music. I can assure you, it will
improve whatever your day holds.


a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons.  You will find it
is to the soul what a water bath is to the body."  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Altered Scripts

"Someone has altered the script.
My lines have been changed.
The other actors are shifting roles.
They don't come in when they're expected to,
and they don't say the lines I've written
and I'm being upstaged.
I thought I was writing this play
with a rather nice role for myself,
small, but juicy
and some excellent lines.
But nobody gives me my cues
and the scenery has been replaced
and I don't recognize the new sets.
This isn't the script I was writing.
I don't understand this play at all.
To grow up
is to find
the small part you are playing
in this extraordinary drama
written by
somebody else."
~Madeleine L'Engle

I was a actually searching for a specific Advent reading in a book of Madeleine L'Engle's writing when my eyes fell on this poem. Its message took be aback. I read it over several times wondering what disturbed me about it. Knowing that L'Engle spent the early part of her career in the theater, I understood why she chose the words she did. Perhaps because my first career was in the theater I was drawn to the poem in ways others might not be.

Upon further reflection I realized that I was connecting it to a set of interviews I had watched this morning on television. I was mindlessly wrapping Christmas presents while watching Good Morning America. My attention was not fully with the presents or the show. By then my eyes fell on the faces of the people being interviewed and I put down my scissors and tape and really focused on the five people who have lost their jobs over the last months in this economic down turn. They were professional people of varying ages who were now in a play they never imaged being in, one they did not audition for. They were jobless. As at least two pointed out, they were jobless at Christmas time. They spoke poignantly of how awful it was.

I listened as they talked about how they spend each day, how they look for work, how they deal with their humiliation, their despair, their fear, their sadness. I listened as they described losing weight, gaining weight, receiving joyfully hand-me-down clothes from friends. They told how much they needed their friends not to withdraw from them, how much they need community. The final statement made by one of the men:"I know that in the end it will all be fine. It will get better. I believe that." His words brought nodding  smiles from some and worried, distant looks from others.

These people are living 'altered scripts' right now. They find themselves in a play not of their own making, saying lines they did not write or choose. L'Engle is right that each of us is engaged in an extraordinary drama. Sometimes we are able to alter the script, write new lines we love and play the part we had prepared for. Still other times, through a variety of life circumstances, we find ourselves in a wakeful state living every actor's nightmare: finding yourself in a play where everyone else knows their lines and you are trying to figure out what play you are in. Every actor I've ever known tells of having this dream.

As I turned back to my wrapping, the presents held a little less luster. My heart was with those people as they searched for the next line to say. I pray they, and all in the same situation, will once again find their role in the extraordinary drama that is their life. May we who know our lines right now keep them in our prayers and reach out to them as they make their way on the stage.

It is a full moon tonight. Look up!


"There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is."  ~William P. Merrill

I rose even earlier than usual today, at 4:00 a.m. to be exact. Today was the final radio show for MPR's The Morning Show. For the past 25 years, I have listened to this show with its quirky characters, its creative dj's and eclectic music. It has been a staple of my morning in good times and in bad.Today I was able to witness the countless others who, like me, have started their morning with Tom Keith and Dale Connelly. As we stood in line at 5:00 a.m. to enter the Fitzgerald Theater, I greeted some friends but for the most part I did not know these people but felt tied to them in some unexplainable way.

Radio is a strange medium of communication. Relying only on sound, you are forced to imagine the stories you hear. In some way this allows you to become a more responsive participant than the more passive form of  television. Radio artists are also required to be more descriptive in their language and sound effects than television or other visual media. My mother in particular talks about the power the radio had in her early life, of whole communities of people gathering around the radio to listen to the weekly serial much like many of us do now with A Prairie Home Companion. I still love listening to her talk about getting up very early to listen to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip's wedding.

As I watched and listened this morning, I was also struck with the fact that radio allows for creative people who look like everyone else…ordinary, not particularly glamorous, which seems to be required in television. There is something wonderful about that. A person can get the idea that ,"Hey, I could do this, too!" given the right circumstances. I could sit down with another person I communicate well with and we could put together some of our favorites songs, create some characters and tell really great stories, and people would listen to us. Of course, I know it is more complicated  and requires much more than I can imagine.But on first glance it seems possible.

Over the years these two radio artists have shaped the lives of their listeners by bringing new music, thoughtful music, music we might not have hard otherwise. They have kept a sense of humor and love for the state of Minnesota ever before them. They have laughed at themselves and always exhibited an air of humility that is rare in any media. And they have also helped their listeners when we needed it most as they exhibited on September 12, 2001. 

I remember turning on the radio that morning as I always did. These two men must have stayed up half the night looking for just the right songs to hold up a fragile people. They chose music that comforted, that held a deep mercy, that allowed our tears to flow on the waves of note and chord. They did not try to use too many words knowing we had had enough words that would not compute. They gave a simple language to our confusion, our despair and held out hope like a gift-wrapped package. I imagined each listener reaching toward the radio to receive the offered present. It was at that moment that I realized their genius. In some ways, they had done what few ministers had been unable to do. They had quieted us to the point of prayer.

And so today I am thankful to have been with 'my people' as we celebrated these two wonderful, creative men. They have planted songs in us that will continue to keep us in good times and bad. It was good to see such love pouring out of ordinary people toward two of their own kind. I wish them God speed on their journey and thank them for the memories.