Spiritual Reading

"It is the attitude we bring to spiritual reading that allows God to transform the text from interesting words to words with the power to change our very being."
~Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life

I read many books that are meant specifically to inspire and transform people spiritually. I also read many books that contain factual information whose intention is to impart knowledge. At other times I read books that are meant to entertain, to distract me from the fits and starts of daily life and transport me to some other realm, to allow me to relax and renew.

It is not always the 'spiritual' books that are meant to transform that fill my spirit. Quite often it is the novel or the mystery that provides the hint of the spiritual that I need at that moment. Some of the clearest experiences of the Holy I have had while reading a yarn created by someone whose intention was to entertain but whose words opened a place within me that needed transforming.

Like most experiences in life, attitude and what we bring to a situation, colors the outcome. It is true in our reading,our work, our worship, our relationships. It is true in new experiences and ones we've done over and over. It is true in professional relationships, parenting, and with our partners. Attitude is key.

My mother has always said that, especially with children, when we expect the best of them we are rarely disappointed. If we expect the worst, they usually come through with less than pleasing behavior. Again, our attitude and what we bring makes all the difference.

There is much angst in our world right now. It is quite easy to allow the negative to rule our days. All the angst is real, founded in people's true suffering and systems that have failed us. And yet, I believe, that it is only the creative power of the positive that will open our eyes to the possibilities within this situation. If we wallow in the negative, if we allow the words we use to be merely interesting but not transforming, then there is no room for the Spirit to get into the mix. 

Ultimately the choice is ours. Changing the climate of our nation, of our world, is not primarily up to elected officials or those 'at the top' but up to regular people, like you and me, going about their daily lives, seeking out the words, the people, the situations, that have the power and promise of 'changing our very being.'

It seems to me it is the perfect time to expect the best of one another. I am willing to give it a try, are you?


"Sing praises to God, you faithful ones, and give thanks to God's holy name. For the anger of God is but for a moment; God's favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning."  Psalm 130

These final Sundays in the season of Epiphany,of seeking to see the light of God in our midst, find us reading some of the healing stories of Jesus. Tucked in the readings that are possible for next Sunday is Psalm 30. It is a psalm of thanksgiving for healing.

Healing is a difficult concept to get our arms around. While healing is not the same as curing, I believe it is always about bringing about wholeness. In our culture when we speak of healing we most often talk about cure…some miraculous event that rids people of a terrible disease or injustice. It would be wonderful if that was always the case but it has been my experience that this kind of miracle is rare. Not impossible, but rare.But in the times when I have been present to healing, wholeness always shines brightly.

Yesterday as we struggled through this psalm in preparation for next week's worship, we talked about the image of God portrayed in the words. People were uncomfortable with a God who is angry and certainly a God who appears to knowingly cause pain. Further into the psalm, the writer says 'you hid your face' which most of us did not embrace. We agreed that most often it is we who hide our face from God not the other way around. And we agreed that it is in these times that we most experience pain.

In the end we came to the conversation about how all the words we use to speak of the Holy are inadequate. While we know this to be true, we often forget. This leads to arguments with the scriptures, with others on the faith journey, with our churches, our faith leaders, with other faith traditions. We talked about how we express our faith today is so different than we might have even a few short years ago. Different people expressed how certain times in their lives, in the presence of fear or illness or tragedy, they found themselves praying in ways that were so different than they did when their lives were much calmer, more ordinary.

It caused me to wonder: these words, songs written by a people in exile, a people so in need of healing and their own sense of place, represented a certain time in the life of a nation. Would they have written these poems differently, had they known that thousands of years later, people would be 'taking them at their word'? Would they have described God as an angry God, as a vengeful God? Would they have used the metaphors they used if they would have known people, living lives they could not even imagine, would try to analyze, scrutinize and, for some, seek to take their words literally? It is difficult to know but something interesting to consider.

Every year our confirmation class writes their faith statement at the end of their year long study together. Many of the students follow the outline and words of people from a different time, with a different worldview, statements held by the church for centuries. Others take the challenge by the horns and put out there what they really believe, right now, as a sixth-grader living in uncertain, postmodern times. As I listen to their words, I always wonder what they will think of them  if they read them at 25, 40, or even at 70.

It is my hope that they, like the psalmists, might see their statements as words that were true for them at a special moment in time, at a certain step along their journey. And as they read them, they might experience a moment of knowing what it means to be a part of the wholeness that is the people of God, ever moving, every growing, ever seeking to know and to speak more fully about the One who birthed us and dreamed us into being. And in the end that they will be filled with grateful hearts.

Walking on Water

"The people realized that God was at work among them in what Jesus had just done. They said, "This is the Prophet for sure, God's Prophet right here in Galilee!" Jesus saw that in their enthusiasm, they were about to grab him and make him king, so he slipped off and went back up the mountain to be by himself.In the evening this disciples went down to the seas, got in the boat, and headed back across the water to Capernaum. It had grown quite dark and Jesus had not yet returned. A huge wind blew up, churning the sea. They were maybe three or four miles out when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, quite near the boat. They were scared senseless, but he reassured them, "It's me, it's all right. Don't be afraid." So they took him on board. In no time they reached land on the exact spot they were headed to. ~John 6:14-21(The Message)

Last night the sunset over the lake was breathtaking. Those of us here at the retreat center stood looking out the large windows that face the water as the sky turned from blue to lavender, then pink to orange and yellow, painting a palette worthy of any Impressionistic artist. How does it happen? Why does it happen?

I don't know the answer to those questions but I know what the result is: awe, wonder, a sense of being present to something so much bigger than myself that I must stop and take note of it, perhaps breathe out a prayer of gratitude.

On the frozen lake, the ice houses dot the landscape with color…reds, blues, yellows…..tiny structures floating on water. Sitting beside the houses, trucks, cars and 4-wheelers, are in the ready for a quick, or leisurely, get-away, most likely driven by the windchill that sweeps across the lake. It is a truly Minnesota scene. There are few other places on the planet where people don't blink at such a sight. Houses, cars, lives being lived out held up by water.

The ancients believed that evil lurked below the surface of water, things unseen over which humans have no power. So the stories of Jesus walking on water showed his power to overcome the fears that can grip us. As he walked toward the disciples they knew that he indeed was the prophet they had longed for, the one who could over turn the tables of injustice, the one who could release them from their fear of the most unseen thing of all…death. He walked with confidence on the surface of what had the potential to swallow them up.

On the frozen Minnesota lake, suspended between the awe and majesty of the Creator's artistic hand, people sit now. They may not be having any particular transcendent moment or thinking thoughts about overcoming evil. But I bet they are sure having fun……and God is at work in that, too.


"I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they are my own.
I am from fudge and eyeglasses,
    from Imogene and Alafair.
I'm from the know-it-alls
    and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I'm from He restoreth my soul
     with a cottonball lamb
     and ten verses I can say myself………"
 ~excerpt, Where I'm From, by George Ella Lyons

I ran across this poem on a website the of Jan L. Richardson, a writer and artist I admire, one who inspires me. I have found it to be one of those poems that travels with me. I can't stop thinking about it.

Last night, I worshiped with some of my colleagues in ministry and those who are walking through the ordination process in the United Methodist Church. We have come together for interviews, for hearing the call stories of those who have felt nudged, pulled, shoved, into a life of service in the church. I have been privileged now for three years to be a part of this process. It is a holy time for me. Hearing the joys and struggles of these people, what they have learned, let go of, abandoned, held on to with white knuckles, what they have sacrificed to get to this point, always humbles and astonishes me.

We used this poem "Where I'm From" last night in our worship. After it was read, those gathered were invited to name aloud the places they were from. They were allowed a time to name the shape and texture of the land that had shaped them. They were asked to offer the names of the saints that had held their hands and rocked them to sleep. They were urged to dig deep into their psyche and offer to one another and to God what it was that had held them in Mystery until this day.

To say this was a powerful experience would be an understatement. "I'm from cotton fields, cornbread…..I'm from rolling hills and blooming prairies….I'm from coal mines and pie-baking women…I'm from the lake that is so deep it holds the secrets of countless boats in its depths….I'm from a father who taught me to fish even though I wasn't the first-born boy………." On and on it went creating a massive poem in the sacred space of the tiny chapel.  I watched the faces as the memories clouded and shone. My eyes filled with tears as we called into our midst the cloud of witnesses that had birthed, blessed and nurtured us, not all human but all Divine.

After the speaking, the chapel was full of light in a way that was nearly transcendent. It was a moment of the in-breaking of the the kin-dom of God. The ancients would have built an altar.  What a blessing……..

Where are you from?


I am the unopened bud, and I the blossom,
I am the lifeforce gathering to a crest,
I am the still companion of the silence,
I am the farflung seeker of the quest,
I am the daughter gathering wisdom,
I am the son whose questions never cease,
I am the dawn-light searching out glad justice,
I am the center where all souls find peace."
~     Caitlin Matthews, Celtic Devotional

This past Saturday
could be described as nothing short of glorious. Here in the Twin Cities the
temperature reached 45 degrees. After weeks of never going above freezing, this
break in the weather seemed absolutely a miracle. People headed outside in
droves. We happened to be among them walking through the Como Zoo. Children,
still dressed seasonally in snowsuits, were red-cheeked having thrown off
their hats and mittens, as their sweaty hair stuck up in wild directions.
Adults, so accustomed to layering on garments, were carrying fleeces and
jackets rolled up under ever-visible arms.

aside from their outerwear, it was the look on their faces that was the true
glory. Smiles all around as people once again looked one another in the eyes,
nodding, grinning from ear to ear, no longer hunkered down amid down and wool.
The looks seemed to say:"There is life teeming here, even under dirty snow
and cars caked with salty residue. There is life here!"

all seemed to fit the ancient Celtic calendar where spring begins on February
1st. Spring hinted its entrance to us on Saturday, planting hope and promise in
our minds, causing us to release muscles tensed by brutal temperatures and darkness. As
people who knew well the gifts of the seasons, the Celts created celebrations
to mark the thresholds that lead us from winter to spring, from spring to
summer, from summer to autumn. from autumn to winter. They also recognized the
wisdom of each season and how those relate to the seasons of our lives. It is
wise living to see our passages of time in this way. It helps keep us connected
with both Creation and Creator.

know that the thaw of these last couple of days will not last. There are still
frigid temperatures to endure. But the glorious gift of Saturday is that it
helped us remember that beneath the frozen ground, life is beginning to wake
up, bulbs are reaching toward the sun, grass is remembering itself. In the
limbs and trunks of trees, the motion of growth is moving upward toward leaves
that are yet to be.

we human ones, we are mining the gifts of this winter to bring to birth what
this new year, this spring, this season will hold for us. It is yet unknown, a
gift, a glorious gift, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be lived.