Job’s Daughters

As I continue on my "read-the Bible-in-a-year" program, I concluded the Book of Job yesterday morning. Whew! For those who don't know or need a refresher, this book of the Bible consists of the main character Job being put through a slew of horrible experiences, his anger with God, his friends ridiculing him unmercifully, his getting more and more depressed, and finally his direct encounter with God that caused him to see how God had been present to him all along…..even when it didn't seem like it. The phrase "having the patience of Job" comes from this story. Job certainly needs a lot of patience as he works through his understanding of who God is, and perhaps what God isn't, and how God is working in his life.

But something jumped out at me yesterday as I was reading the ending chapter of the book. At the end of the book, Job has had what might be referred to as a rebirth experience and is ready to live a life that is in communion with God. In the paraphrased version of The Message the story ends this way: "God blessed Job's later life even more than his earlier life. He ended up with fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand teams of oxen, and one thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first daughter Dove, the second Cinnamon, and the third Darkeyes. There was not a woman in that country as beautiful as Job's daughters. Their father treated them as equals with their brothers, providing the same inheritance."

This took on particular significance later in the day as I read about the first bill Barak Obama signed as president: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This bill allows women who have been paid less than men for doing the same work to sue their employers within a more reasonable amount of time. It is named after Lilly Ledbetter who worked side-by-side with her male colleagues for 19-years not knowing that they made more money than she based solely on their gender.

For years many women in the workplace have made less than their male counterparts. Never is this truer than in the places where the women who work need the money the most. Often it is single mothers working long hours at low wages, often under horrible conditions, who make less than the fathers who work just down the conveyor belt from them. Many, like Lilly, either don't know the facts or are frightened to confront their employers. No one…mothers, fathers, or children…wins in this situation.

So I was heartened by the news in the paper for once. I was filled with hope that Job's daughters and Job's sons can find equal respect through a new law that further protects everyone regardless of gender. It was a day when one of the oldest texts in the scriptures met the black and white of my morning paper. While none of us can hope to live 'another hundred and forty years' like Job did,the scriptures end his story with the words: Then he died-an old man, a full life.

I think most of us would wish for the same.

Have a blessed weekend…………………

Dusty Dance

"Watch the dust grains moving
in the light near the window.
Their dance is our dance.
We rarely hear the inward music,
but we're all dancing to it nevertheless,
directed by the one who teaches us,
the pure joy of the sun,
our music master."

I shared these words of the ancient Sufi mystic at our staff meeting yesterday. They are words that really capture my imagination. On these particularly cold winter days, when the sun shines so brightly as it reflects off the snow's whiteness, I have seen those dust particles dancing. I love watching them, knowing that for the most part, they are invisible at other times. Certainly they are floating in the air all the time but are lost to our eyes without the brilliance of the sun's rays. They swirl and dip, they spiral and hover, dancing in the light that makes them visible.

Rumi's words made me wonder about the many dances we do. Sometimes my daily dance seems choreographed to a tee, I know the steps, I execute them with precision and skill. Other days, the music of my life calls only for the jerky improvisation of modern jazz. I move from one step to another, leaping and falling, mostly trying to stay out of the way of myself and others. Still other days I am wearing tap shoes, my shoes moving across the hard floor with each shuffle, ball/chain, dancing as fast as I can to a music that propels me to a big finish for the day, a music that is familiar and brings me great joy.

What are the dances you do? What dance is your life calling you to today? Is it an elegant, gliding ballroom number or a hip-hop dance that leaves you breathless and exhausted? Who are your dance partners or are you doing a solo piece for your own enjoyment? Or yet, is today a day when you are called to be a 'wallflower' and sit this one out, watching, observing,holding the space for the other dancers in your midst?

Whatever the dance you are called to today, may the bright light of the sun make your movements shine for all to see. And may your inward music bring you closer to the music master that teaches us the gift of all our steps, all our days, for all  our time.


"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to who this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." ~Albert Einstein, What I Believe

Last night I stood in the line at the grocery store buying a few items for a potluck lunch that is happening today. I love looking in the carts of other people, noticing what they buy, imagining their lives outside the grocery store line. As I gazed into the cart of the man in front of me, he hefted a large bag of ice onto the checkout counter. I nearly laughed out loud.

Ice! How could anyone need any more of it?, I thought. It seems we have been surrounded by ice for weeks as the temperatures have hovered near or below zero. Ice covers our lakes, our ponds, our sidewalks. Huge chunks of ice float in the Mississippi River. I see it as I cross over its body several times a day. Icicles hang from roofs and eaves of houses and buildings, glistening like jewels in the winter sun, threatening to fall and impale those with the courage to walk beneath their sword-like structures.

On Friday evening we headed down to Rice Park in St. Paul to look at the ice sculptures being created for the Winter Carnival. Huge blocks of ice stood reflecting the twinkling lights hung on the trees in the park. Men and women dressed for Arctic temperatures used chainsaws, torches and other tools to carve the art of their imagination out of ice. As they carved, a fine spray of ice flew into their faces,clinging like snow to their scarves and beards. There were dolphins,palm trees, a fountain of unicorns and even the Lord's Supper preserved in ice. I wonder what DaVinci would think of his immortal painting recreated in such a manner?Somehow I think it would amuse him.

These artists are not only undaunted by the presence of January ice in Minnesota, they embrace it and use it to make us smile and fill us with wonder. What a gift! Robert Frost in his famous poem 'Fire & Ice' wonders whether or not the destruction of the world will come through fire or ice. I am humbled by the artists who see ice, not as a vehicle for destruction, but instead to lift us above the January doldrums and help us see ice as the mystery it is…..water become solid and shining before our very eyes, a fleeting gift of winter to be enjoyed and savored as much as we do the heat of the July sun.

Guest House

"This being human is a guest house.
Every morning is a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond."

I ran across this poem yesterday while searching through a book for something else. I have come back to this poem, written hundreds of years ago, many times. It is challenging, isn't it? The idea that even our sorrows, even our down times are guests that are meant to offer us gifts. That even a meanness or malice carry things we should invite into our lives. It seems to require an openness to daily life that most of us would want to avoid. I know I do.

And yet in the very next breath I can utter that "God is everywhere, in it all, moving in the cells of my body and the ideas of my imagination. The Holy is in our relationships and the turning of the seasons, the birth of a baby and the death of an elderly friend." If this is a truth I cling to, why then is the idea that the Divine is also moving and making meaning in the more desperate moments of our lives so difficult to embrace? There are so many possible answers to that question and greater minds than mine have spent years writing, discussing and theorizing about them.

Instead, today, I want to make myself a guest house. I want to open the windows, clean the cobwebs out of the corners, and let the fresh air of the Spirit blow through the moments and the hours of this day which is, lest we forget,  pure gift. I want to keep awake to each detail that makes up the comings and goings of this day, noticing especially the rich and beautiful faces of those I meet, and not miss a single minute. I want to set a feast of hope on my table and make a dessert of love and compassion. And then I want to accept with gratitude the guests that arrive. Perhaps in embracing this wisdom of Rumi, I will encounter the gifts of the Holy in new ways.

Join me?


"Cold, Cold,
Frost, Frost,
Fling me not aside!
You have bent me enough.
Away! Away!"
  ~Aivilik Eskimo Chant

Winter is getting to people. I know it is true because, here in Minnesota, people are beginning to have that far-away look in their eyes. Their bodies are here in the ice and the, now dirty snow, but their eyes are looking into the future, toward a warm place, a place that doesn't seem gray and dingy. People have begun to wear the same dark clothes over and over. Blacks, browns, grays, that is all we can muster the enthusiasm for. If by chance we walk past someone in a bright color it seems, not beautiful, but gaudy. Winter is definitely getting to us.

January, frankly, is the time to lean toward our creative side. While people may be dressed in dark colors they are knitting bright red sweaters as a woman I saw last week was doing.Dressed in gray, she held the bright red yarn gently as her hands worked methodically. Seated next to her, a woman in black, worked the rich colors of a rainbow into a prayer shawl. They both seemed to be holding a string between the dullness of January and the promise of lighter, more colorful days. Writers I know hole up in January days to bring to birth the seeds of words they hold within them. Cooks try new recipes, woodworkers head to the workshop, musicians practice a little harder. Songs are born.

There are gifts that live within each season, each month. January finds us looking deeper for the gifts. Which is a good practice to have. This can encourage us to do the same with  people in our lives that may seem to be more January than June…….those people that seem cold, distant, a little removed. These January people are waiting for the gifts to be mined in them. Strapping on our hats,headlamp shining,we head into our interactions looking for the brilliant color that lies some place in depth of the darkness. January can teach us this.

On this winter day, on this winter weekend, may you find a splash of color, a place of warmth, a good book, a steaming cup, to hold you in these last days of January. I invite you to look for the gifts that are always lurking some place just below the surface. 

Have a wonderful weekend…………………………………


"May we find each other in the silence between the words. May we heal the loneliness of our expertise with the wisdom of our service. May we honor in ourselves and all others the deep and simple impulse to live, to find sacred space and open land. May we remember that the yearning to be holy is a part of everyone and the only hope for the next thousand years."  ~Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

Some days leave you speechless. Yesterday was such a day. From early morning as I caught snippets of the coverage of Inauguration Day, I found myself without words, adequate words anyway, to name my feelings and observations. I know that there were people who went along without noticing but I believe they were few and far between. Nearly everyone I know, whether they voted for Barak Obama or not, recognized the pivotal, historic moment we were witnessing. Words could not, can not, describe the breadth of the moment, the day.

Which is why i am so glad that there was a poet in the crowd, a poet commissioned to find just the right words, only a few words, that would mark the inauguration. The carefully chosen words(for isn't that what poets do?) by Elizabeth Alexander will be read and reread many times over the next weeks. English teachers will hand the poem out to students who will analyze it, criticize it and eventually,perhaps, write a paper about it. More words, too many words.

Several months ago I listened to an interview of Professor Alexander talking about her process of writing this important poem. She was asked if she was frightened or nervous about what people's about tackling such an awesome task. She answered that she couldn't think of it that way, the profundity that might be anticipated. She simply had to do what she knew how to do…write a poem.

And she did:…."Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of……….In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun." These words are only a few she chose, the right words for the right moment.

And perhaps that is exactly what we do on this new day which seems to hold so much promise for healing a wounded nation, of mending so many broken hearts. All that is really asked of any of us is to choose just a few good words, to speak them truthfully and then give ourselves to the task of listening deeply to one another. It is my prayer that our new president woke this morning ready to do just that. In the end it may be the holy poet in each of us that brings about the change we have longed for.


Many of the conversations I have had over the last several days inevitably turn to the heroic landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. It is such a compelling story and the images seen almost immediately via the Internet make for lasting impressions. Who can get the picture of people standing on the wings of the plane, seeming to walk on water, out of their head? It is truly the stuff of big screen movies. But it actually happened. Really.

Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger, known as Sully, is now a hero to people around the world. Saturday night on Prairie Home Companion Show, Garrison Keillor even created a song using his and his flight mates' names. The song was simple, sweet, and filled with deserved admiration. In times when our news is usually filled with disaster and how people failed one another, here is a story to hold onto…tight. Each of us want a Sully in our lives, someone who under extreme duress, remains calm and does what needs to be done. Some of us even hope to be that kind of person.

The part of this story that intrigues me most is that what Capt. Sully did was something he never practiced. While he had flown gliders, what he knew about landing a plane of that size on water…a river, no less….he had learned only in theory. At some point of his flight training he had learned what he needed to do, the timing of doing it, what he needed to avoid to exercise such a landing and it planted itself within him to be called upon when…if…needed. He carried that wisdom someplace deep within himself and when the time came he retrieved it for the good of all the people on that plane and most likely those who lived on each side of the river.

Today is the celebration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As a child I was shaped by Dr. King's message and mission of nonviolence and peace, of his dream for a time when all children, regardless of the color of their skin, would stand together and bring about a world where racism no longer is a shadow upon our land. For so many years we have continued to tell his story, lift his message of hope for the freedom of all people as we have celebrated this day. For nearly forty years children have read and memorized parts of the I Have a Dream speech as teachers hoped to plant deep within those students the seed of wisdom that can grow and flourish, a seed that will grow into the fullness of Dr. King's dream for our great country.

In so many ways we are like Captain Sully. We have within us what we need to know to reject hate, to lift up the poor and impoverished, the downtrodden and the hopeless. We have within us the wisdom to shun violence and to be peacemakers in our time for the sake of the world. We have within us the power of love for our brothers and sisters, a love so great it could heal any wound the world might inflict.

This wisdom, this love, this power was placed within us at our birth by the Creator. Perhaps today will be the day when we reach deep within and remember how to do what, up to this day, has only been known in theory.

"I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." Martin Luther King, Jr.


Over the last few days almost all conversations begin with some comments about the cold. Minnesota has been held in the grip of subzero temperatures for the last two days with some frightening wind chills. When I speak with family in other parts of the country they are dumbfounded that we leave the house at all, that we don't take a cue from our animal relatives who hibernate. When I tell them that children go to school, people go to work, some people continue to exercise outside, they basically think the cold must have numbed us to stupidity.

Yesterday in something I read a person was quoted as saying "Cold weather is the great equalizer". At first I took that statement at face value and then my mind began to be nagged by it. Cold weather can be seen as a great equalizer if you know you can go home and turn the heat on. Cold weather can be the great equalizer if you have a home to go to at all, if you are not destined to spend your day walking the streets until the shelters open up. Cold weather is a great equalizer if you have used your last few dollars to buy infant formula and you have turned the heat off so you won't be delinquent in your payments.Winter days are harsh for those without resources, those who live on the margins, those who are just down on their luck at an unfortunate time in our country's history.

There are many gifts of winter…snow, the beauty of brilliant blue skies and golden sunsets, the miracle of a snowflake, the comfort of a warm fire, the smell of hot cocoa, the gleaming red cheeks of a child who has played outside. As a person who lives a privileged life I name these with gratitude and, hopefully, some humility for I know they are not the gifts those less fortunate enjoy.

On Monday as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, the new first family has invited the nation to be in service in our communities. Folks I know are rallying to do a myriad of things that will connect them with those who have been pushed to the margins by economic, social, educational and racial imbalance. It is an opportunity to look beyond our own comfort zones and participate in the true equalizers…..compassion, empathy, kindness, humility,love, faith, peace.

Here in Minnesota we will undoubtedly reach out with gloved hands. But it is my prayer that we will also do so with hearts filled with warmth and hope for building communities that sustain all the people regardless of wealth or status. As people of faith we are, after all, only following the example of Jesus.

"I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me." Matthew 25:37-40 The Message

Blessings on your weekend……………..

In the Shadows

This year I began a read-the-Bible-in-a-year program. I have always been inspired when our bishop and others I know talk about doing this. I thought 2009 was as good a year as any to begin. I am not sure what I expected when I began. Mainly it is a good spiritual practice and it will help me read parts of the Bible that I most likely would never get to, or quite frankly, might avoid. I have extended an invitation to members of our church community to join in the 'challenge'. We will get together every few weeks and see what gems have shaped us, troubled us, helped us pray.

Early on in Genesis, I began to notice names….names of women that have not been spoken much in the life of the church. Now it is no secret that women's stories and women's names are often missing from the scripture and from history in general. There are many reasons for this….the culture in which they were written and told, the status of women in those cultures, and mostly who did the writing. Something inside me said:"Write down these names". So I have been keeping a log of the names of these women in my journal. Adah, Zillah, Sarai, Milcah, Hagar, Reumah, Dinah, Deborah, Oholibamah….on and on. Mostly they are identified as someone's wife, someonee's daughter, someonee's concubine. Again, a reflection of the time in which these words were written.

It caused me to think of all the people, not only women, who live in the shadows of our lives, whose names are rarely spoken. Those with unspoken names who contribute to our well being, our history, our daily comfort, our unfolding future. How often I buy groceries, pay for them, and walk out of the store without ever having read the name tag of the person who served me, without ever saying:"Thanks so much, Charlotte." I don't know the name of the person who delivers my newspaper in the frigid morning hours. The list is endless.

We all like to have our name known, have it spoken aloud in intimate and public places. Do you remember when your name was written on the blackboard as a child, how good it felt?Even if your name was there for a negative reason, seeing your name in print is a powerful thing.

So today, I pledge to speak the names of those I meet. I will ask those whose name I do not know, to tell me their name, so they are not simply a face to me, but someone I may known in a different way. I will continue my list of the women in the Bible who have lived in the shadows of our faith stories, who if the culture had been different, might have been the leading character instead of a marginal one. I will do this because the scriptures have also told me the words of the Holy One: "I have called you by name and you are mine."(Isaiah 43:1)

Squirrel Nests

"A dazzling dare to perch up there–
a slender-branched moxie, swaying
in wind whips, impervious, curtailing
nothing on land or in tremulous air.
You sail the maple's masthead,
You scout the rolling hills, apprise the skies,
and you descend at will; no seeming dread
your reconnoiter with the earth, no surprise
amid your daily ups and downs. At dusk
you ride the coming dark, the stars
ablaze in night's broad bowl above.
Defying rain and ice, astride that leafy husk
you grip–pendulous–crepuscular,
no steering by our blinking lights; you simply hover."

~Deborah Carlin

Now that the trees are bare, stripped of their leaves by the winter wind, I have become aware of the squirrel nests that dot the branches. All along our street the nests perch precariously high in the trees. The nests are not visible when the trees are full of leaves. But now, there they are, resting between branches once full of green life, their cocoon of leaves and twigs and who know what else forming a home, a place to rest, give birth and grow.

I can't imagine what a squirrel thinks but from a human perspective it seems to me that building a nest closer to the center of the tree makes more sense, is much safer. Why does the nest need to be so high, out on such a thin limb? And yet, haven't we all built our homes sometimes in some very difficult and dangerous places? Haven't we chosen to rest and grow in places where their is great opportunity and yet great peril? It is the choice of adventurers and seekers to go to the edge, to seek the opportunity to grow in ways new ways. Perhaps it is the practice of going back and forth to their nests that allows squirrels to run across the telephone lines with the skill of an acrobat, never falling, always a straight shot from point A to point B.

Where we build our nests can help us grow or challenge us to new feats of adventure. Where we build our nests can instill courage and daring or invite us to leap with faith. I once had a card hanging on my office door that read "Leap…..and the net will appear." That must be the mantra of squirrels and all those who build their nests on limbs that seem fragile to the outsider. 

Where are you building your nest these winter days? Is your life calling you to build higher, go out on a limb so to speak, take the contents of your nest to the edge? Or are you carrying the materials you need, comfort perhaps,to a safer place to hunker down against the winter wind near the sturdy trunk of the tree and be present in a quieter more contemplative way? The good news is that life calls for both.