Tilting World

"The world has tilted far from the sun, from colour and juice….I am waiting for a birth that will change everything."  ~Hilary Llewellyn-Williams

As spring continues to elude us here in Minnesota, we are all on the watch for any sign of a birth that will change everything. I overheard people yesterday talking about the green they had seen poking its way out of the ground. Indeed bulbs and perennial bushes are working overtime to make their way into the world. But today we are threatened by another snowstorm and the skies continue to pour forth only gray and very little sunshine. Not excellent conditions for the birth of green.

The final days of Lent are upon us. As Holy Week begins next week I am reminded of those early followers of Jesus who were looking for a birth that would change everything. Isn't that, after all, the story we proclaim at Christmas? The disciples had encountered a person whose life changed theirs in every way. In traveling with him, living with him, being present to him, they had seen miracles, known justice, experienced a love they had never known, a love that transformed their lives and made them into a new people. It is this reality that we remember during Holy Week. We remember a birth, a life, that changed everything, that helped people encounter Emmanuel, God-with-us.

As Christians it is easy to come into Holy Week and allow the days to wash over us with a certain been-there, done-that, kind of mentality. We attend worship, we prepare certain foods, we perhaps even buy new clothes in preparation for Easter Sunday. The songs are familiar, the scripture we have heard for years on end. But to those early followers of the Way of Jesus, their lives had been turned upside down, nothing was familiar to them anymore. They had experienced the birth that changed everything, not only in the person of Jesus, but in their own lives. Because they had known him and loved him, their lives were changed forever. This is what we celebrate on Easter morning.

Many times as our community comes to baptize an infant new to the world, it is my privilege to be present to a birth that is changing everything. I observe parents I have known only as individuals now intimately connected to this small bundle of humanity that has created a new way of seeing, a new way of living, a new way of being present in the world for them. It always reminds me that with each of our births there is such great potential. With each birth the world experiences the opportunity for change, a new vision, a fresh start.

We will continue to watch and wait for the re-birth of the earth around us. But to experience the gift of another kind of re-birth, we need only look, really look, into the eyes of those we meet today. We need only look, and remember, that each of us carries within us the potential of the birth that will change everything for at least one person, or perhaps, many. The potential is a gift. The choice is ours.

Isn't is glorious?


"When I try to recall the girl I was decades ago, at my high school graduation, I seem to have as much in common with her as I do with any stranger I might pass in the doorway of a Starbucks or in the aisle of an airplane. I cannot remember what she wore, or how she felt, or what she said, or ate, or read. But I can tell you this about her without question:She was perfect."~Anna Quindlen

Perfection. Ann Quindlen in this tiny little book simply called Being Perfect, describes the years she spent walking around with what she called a backpack of bricks as she did everything 'perfectly'. From schoolwork to relationships, from leisure to fashion, she sought to present to the world her 'perfect' self. She carried it into her adulthood and parenthood, trying to be the perfect daughter, the perfect mother, the perfect employee, the prefect writer.

And then she wised up.Through trials and life lessons she learned the danger and the pitfalls of the pursuit of perfection. If you have read any of her novels or nonfiction you know her gift for portraying less that perfect people……people like you and me. 

I have to admit as I read her little book I saw myself splattered on that ink and paper. I, too, spent many hours, days, and years in the pursuit of the elusive….perfect daughter, perfect student, perfect mother, perfect…..whatever. It's exhausting work and thankless and completely impossible.

In the United Methodist Church we have a saying: "We are going on to perfection." a phrase coined by our founder John Wesley. In some ways it is a poor choice of words. But when he made this statement 'perfection' may have had a different meaning that the white-knuckled endeavor of modern day. He really meant something more similar to 'wholeness'.

Wholeness…..now there's something I can buy into. Each of us is going on to wholeness, I believe. It is life-long work. From our birth we are, with some hope, welcomed into a world that offers us gifts and challenges, opportunities for growth, experiences of transformation and transcendence, traveling companions who love us and guide us. All these combine to lead us along a path toward wholeness, an experience of the fullness of our humanity,our true selves.

I think it is not coincidence that 'wholeness' and 'holy' sound so much alike. For it is in the pursuit of our true, human selves, that we come most often to know the Holy. With all our warts and wounds, all our brokenness and beauty, we come to stand face-to-face with the One who has held us from the beginning and will greet us a life's end. And in that moment we are not perfect but we are whole and holy.


Spring is slow in coming to Minnesota. Though the calendar has registered March 21st, snow still flies and winter garb is still being worn. People are resigned to it. There is really no more reluctance. We are shrugging our tense shoulders as we simply surrender to the cold and biting winds.We are doing this so we can be completely and joyfully surprised when the temperatures finally warm and the sun shines bright.

Yet even in these cold March days when the skies are grayer than gray, I was blessed to catch a glimpse of the surprise that is to come. High above in the dismal sky this week I caught sight of an enormous bird. At first I thought it was an eagle but then saw that its body was too thin, its wing span too wide. It seemed to almost camouflage itself in the wintry clouds. Its solo flight seemed lonely to me and I felt a melancholy tug at my heart. As it dipped lower in the sky and descended to a dead tree along the waters' edge, its identity became clear. A great blue heron!

Suddenly the mere sight of it lifted my spirits. Though the wind about me was cold and the skies above were colorless, a great blue heron was in sight. The surprise of spring could not be far behind. I said to several people, "I saw a heron today.", feeling the need to offer these words of hope,the gift of this vision.

Last night my husband and I were walking along the river and he spotted it first. We watched yet another heron slowly swoop down and land on a dock. It seemed to look around as if to ask: Where are the boats? Where are the people? Where is the spring?

Walking on, we carried those same questions. At least we are now asking them in the finest of company. 

"…..this opening up of the heavy body into a new life:see how the sudden gray-blue sheets of her wings strive toward the wind; see how the clasp of nothing takes her in." Mary Oliver, excerpt,Heron Rises From Dark, Summer Pond

Have a blessed weekend……………..


Every now and then I become fascinated with how certain things continue to be done though they seem archaic. For instance, though I know that fewer people use the postal service, I find it wonderful that mail delivery still works pretty much the same way it always has. I write a letter, put a stamp on it, take it to a mailbox, it goes through some magical process of sorting and sending, and in the end is delivered by another human to its receiver. Even writing this, I marvel at the fact that it all still works this way.

In the Midwest we are held spellbound by those in the Red River Valley, residents and volunteers, who have been filling millions of sandbags to shore up the banks of the overflowing rivers which threaten to flood homes and whole cities. Sandbags. Doesn't it seem that by the 21st century we would have figured out another way to work against the power of a flooding river? Certainly there are examples of temporary levees and other walls that are being tried but the sandbag remains the primary form of holding back these rising waters.

And yet as I watch the faces of those hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people putting shovel to sand, handing the bags down the assembly line to the next person, hand over hand, till the filled bag reaches its destination on the ever-growing wall, I see the answer to my own question. Through strain and stretch, through sweat and exhaustion, these people are creating a chain of humanity joined in a common aim. Their faces, though covered with dirt and grime, are filled with exhilaration and even joy. They are rising above their individuality to become something bigger and better, to do work that can only be accomplished with multiple hands. They are all generations, all faiths, all education levels, all economic groups, doing what needs to be done. For the good of all.

In reflecting on this effort of multiple hands, many hearts, I believe there is a message of hope for the flood of despair and fear that is gripping our country. Just as no one person got us into this mess, no one person can get us out. It will take all our hands, filling, passing, piling, standing shoulder to shoulder until we see the waters recede and the river of our existence return to its original beauty. And maybe, when we've washed the grime off our faces we might realize that indeed we are better off than we imagined, or even were, before the crisis happened. Perhaps in the working together we will re-member what it means to be community, what it means to share in the work of the people, what it means to sacrifice for the common good.

This could be a Pollyanna way of looking at things but it seems to me like a good way to go. It has been my experience that when I put my bets on a group of people, a community committed to one another, I am rarely disappointed. I would even go so far as to say that I believe it is what we were created to do and be……partners, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Holy, in the on-going birthing of the world.

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." ~Margaret Mead

Holy Walking

"Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; rather, seek what they sought." Gautama Buddha

I have the privilege of being present to many seniors in high school, those who are seeking to make decisions that will give shape to their future and how they will walk in the world. At the same time, I am also privileged to be among people in the middle life who are also seeking out the path of 'what next' in their own living. As I listen to each of these generations, I am struck with the similarities of the questions and the quest. Certainly the decisions to be made will be colored by maturity, resources and an understanding of longevity. But each generation is bushwhacking their way through the questions and answers that give meaning to life. Questions of passion,gift, faith, doubt, responsibility, opportunity, imagination and a deep desire to become 'what they are meant to be.'

Many times people make their life plan based on the inspiration of another person…what they have seen that person accomplish, what they admire about another, even the rewards they have seen someone else receive. Still other times the plan we create for our life is highly powered by what we think others, usually parents or other family members, expect of us. Though this is more common in younger folks, its influence continues for some of us decades longer. This can create a lot of years of 'should' and a life shaped more by obligation than anything else.

As these words of Gautama Buddha advise, we ultimately must find our own path. Though we might seek the wisdom of another, we each must find our own way to that wisdom. None of us can walk the path that can only be walked by someone else. Often this is a very difficult lesson to learn.

I thought of this last evening when we gathered for a service we called 'the sacredness of doubt' in which people brought the doubts they carry about God, their faith, the church, their life. It was a time of quiet, an intimate sharing of those places we often keep to ourselves, sometimes in confusion, sometimes in shame. It felt good to place those doubts in the center of our worship circle. It seemed healthy to set this act of seeking in a place of honor.

While I cannot walk the footsteps of those whose doubts are only mystery to me, I can promise to bless their journey. As men and women of old have done for thousands of years before, we took some steps on the path that can only be walked by an individual, seeking the answer that only can be found by clearing our own path. But in coming together we paid homage to those whose footsteps have gone before and made room for our own walking.

No matter the age, this seeking, this clearing, this walking is holy business. May we be blessed by those who walk with us and the Holy One who forges the path. 


When our children were small we read The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The story centered around very small people who lived in the floors and walls of regularly sized people. They 'borrowed' things they needed from the larger people to furnish their home, create their clothes, make their tools. Their biggest danger was, of course, the family cat, who could hear them moving about when the less refined ears of the humans could not. The stories were filled with adventure, fun and some fine life lessons.

On this first day of spring, I thought of the Borrowers. As I walked out our side door I caught the first glimpse of our family of chipmunks that lives under our deck in the summertime and sleeps away the winter, I believe, in our garage. I saw the small scurrying body slip under the porch fresh from its sleep, ready to begin its work of spring. I have not thought of these creatures all winter thought they have been close by. 

It reminded me how many indigenous cultures have the understanding that we are co-existing across time with those who have gone before and those who are yet to be born. Many of these people, certainly the Celts and Native Americans, call upon those unseen in their time of trial,asking for wisdom or simply companionship. I love this idea, this practice really, of these wisdom p bound people. As western humans we so often think of ourselves as the center of all that lives rather than a small part of a greater whole that is mostly Mystery, beyond our fullest knowing. The chipmunks were alive, doing what their life required of them, just as much as the humans who walk in and out over their heads.

I think of all I have 'borrowed' from those I no longer physically see. The gifts to me of those who have passed on into eternity guide how I see the world, influence my decisions, and nurture the seeds of my present relationships. Though my eyes see them no longer, their presence is still with me. In the Christian church we call this 'the great cloud of witnesses' who accompany us on our life journey and stand just in the shadows of our days.

So on this first day of spring, as the earth, the creatures, and we begin to awaken from our winter's sleep, may we remember to periodically stop and watch the movement in our peripheral vision. It could be a chipmunk or a borrower of another kind offering us a gift of being startled into wakefulness.Whichever it is, rest assured that the Holy lives in it.

"And have you brought the wisdom that we have near lost? Or have you brought the peace that we're all aching for?" ~Mary McLaughlin, "Bring the Peace"

Have a blessed weekend…………….

Sixty-Six Times

"Sixty-six times have these eyes beheld
the changing scene of autumn.
I have said enough about moonlight,
Ask no more.
Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars
when no wind stirs."
~Ryomen's Death Poem, Buddhist nun born in 1797

Yesterday I took a walk looking for the signs of spring. Unlike Ryomen, I am not watching for the gifts of autumn but those of its opposite cousin. Meandering along the dirty sidewalks in my neighborhood, I observed the waste of winter. Still frozen piles of black snow revealed many emerging things……countless discarded bottles and cans, cigarette butts, a golf ball, shards of glass and a mirror ripped from the side of a car, a completely frozen squirrel. All these mixed with the leaves of last year's trees, now brown, soggy and clumped in unattractive ways. The poem unfolding before my eyes was not necessarily pretty but it was, in some odd way, filled with promise.

Ryomen's eyes had looked upon sixty-six autumns. My eyes haven't as yet seen so many springs but when I read this poem, sent by a friend, I made a mental note to not take a moment of this springs' arrival for granted. After all, in the grand scheme of things, we are only given so many to behold. Only so many times will my eyes be blessed by the gradual melting of the snow as it runs down our street toward its eventual destination to ride the waters of the great Mississippi. Only so many times will it be my blessing to hear the first birds of spring, to see the green sprouts of plants pushing their way skyward after having slept through the winter months. Only so many times will I be privileged to watch a squirrel (very alive!) run up the limb of the maple tree, a bundle of leaves held tightly in his mouth, as he headed toward his nest.

One spring, I can't remember what year, I realized I had, indeed, missed the whole turning. The days had passed, the buds had appeared, the ice had melted and the water had begun to flow, and I was oblivious to the movement. The trees along the river had gone from invisible to brownish-red, to yellowish-green, finally choosing their own brilliance of color without my noticing.Upon realization of my loss, I still remember the sadness, the regret. I wanted to ask for a cosmic do-over.

But there is no such thing.There is only one spring of 2009. And our work is to watch…..to listen…to be present….to the gift of it all. For the first, the twentieth, the fiftieth, the seventieth, the hundredth time, allowing our very selves to behold these changing days.

Song of St. Patrick

"May the Spirit of Christ be our hope through the day,
Be our guard through the night,
Our companion on the way.
Christ be ever before us, Christ be ever behind us,
Christ be ever within."
~Marty Haugen, based on St. Patrick's breastplate

Today is the feast day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. One this day, it is said, 'everyone is Irish'. It seems everyone wants to don their greenest shirt and show up for the party. I am not saying that this is a bad thing necessarily, but that celebration of this day is much more than shamrocks and leprechauns.

St. Patrick also gave us this beautiful prayer that is said to have been his breastplate. While there were literal breastplates, those armor-like chest coverings that were used for protection, St. Patrick's is more a protection of the words of his prayer. In a sense they were his understanding of how he traveled, how we all travel, with the presence of the Holy in the world. Many hymn writers have set these words to music. Singing them can be a powerful experience, connecting us not only with this ancient saint, but with all humanity and with God.

"Christ upon our left hand watching, at our right hand guiding, Christ above, beneath us guarding, Near to us abiding.

Christ be in each holy silence, Christ be in our speaking, Christ in every work we offer, Ever in our seeking.

Let us be God's light in the darkness, Let us be God's kindness; Let us be God's justice and mercy, Hands and feet of Christ.

God Creator, bless and keep us, Christ, be ever near us; Spirit be the light before us, Gentle be our pathway."

In all the revelry of this day, when we all want to 'be Irish', it might be wise to consider the words that are said to have guided this man's life. This enfolded way of walking in the world is a sacred reminder to us all of what it means to live a life of prayer, a life made holy by walking gently with the Creator.

In the wearing of the green today, may the prayer of St. Patrick be on our lips and in our hearts.

Messes Welcome

I am always interested in the messages churches put on their outside signs. Every day I drive by a church in our neighborhood that says:'Go ahead and eat the chocolate. Just come worship with us Wednesdays in Lent.' It always makes me smile and actually makes me think I would like worshiping with this community that has a sense of humor.

Last week, I saw this one: 'Messes Welcome'. I did a double take. Messes, really? Welcome? After the message there was a listing of the worship times. A simple, yet profound, message that told me a great deal about this particular worshiping community. I have not been able to get these words out of my head. Messes Welcome.

Shouldn't this be the implied message that each church sends? As I read the scriptures it seems 'messes' are the norm rather than the exception. As we read the Christian scriptures leading up to Easter, it is sometimes astounding how the disciples rarely got Jesus' message, how they seemed to mess up at every turn. It is comforting in some ways because we continue to see his great love and compassion for them. As 21st century followers, it is good to know that, even in our messes, we are accompanied in love by the Holy.

The 'messes welcome' also applies not only to individuals. Certainly the church as a whole has done a wonderful job of creating messes. One could name the Crusades on a large scale and its smaller versions that continue to play out even today. Every day church bodies create messes of exclusion, injustice, judgment, and great pain. These are often done with the greatest of intention and without full understanding of the repercussions in the long term.

The part I love most about this message is that it implies the hard reality of what it means to be the church,humans doing the best they can to experience the presence of God together and to live the life of faith in their time. Those who have chosen to be a part of a faith-community come with all the wounds and brokenness of their lives each week. In community we look toward those around us to be the face of God in our midst, holding our prayers, holding our hands, holding our hearts. This kind of community asks us to take off our masks and be who we truly are, God's beloved ones, warts and all. And in so doing, we are blessed. Grace happens.

Traveling the spiritual journey with others is always messy……but always worth it. May we continue to welcome the messes. Together we can tap the creative energy of the Spirit to see ourselves through to whatever comes. It is what the church has always done, sometimes with greater success than others. But in it all, God shows up, and we are changed for the better.


I was following the common green sedan looking at the bumper sticker that has now become a fairly common sight. 'COEXIST' it reads using faith symbols that spell the word. The message is one of tolerance, honor and peace among religious groups that can sometimes bicker over one thing or another making it seem as if the possibility of coexistence is impossible. Seeing the bumper sticker, I always have that feeling:"ah…these are my people." Yesterday was no exception.

And yet as my eyes moved to the inhabitants of the car, I saw that, instead of a car of middle aged liberals,  there were four young women driving along carrying this message. Even more, they were four young women, dancing in their seats, singing at the top of their lungs, smiles spread like sunshine across their faces. I couldn't hear their music but I felt their song.

As I passed them they saw me smiling. They may have thought I was an older adult shaking my head, smug with frustration that they weren't paying enough attention to the road.  They would have been wrong. Instead I was thinking of the gift they had given me…..the moment of connection with my own inner young woman who dances when she has a chance, whose heart sings to all kinds of music, who has done what they were doing many a time. Singing for the sheer fun of it!

A few minutes later as they passed me, the driver looked over briefly, her finger pointed in the air in Saturday Night Fever fashion as she continued to sing and bounce with one hand on the wheel. Our eyes met, smiles shining, we connected through their silent song that I could hear from some time past.

As we returned our attention to the road ahead, I felt the joy of the ability to 'coexist' with these vibrant, happy, carefree young women. Some of the worry I had planted that morning seemed to melt away in the momentary presence of their pure joy. The air lifted, my breath became steadier, deeper. My face relaxed and took with it the muscles in my shoulders and back.

What a blessing………thank you…….be well………traveling mercies. It's good to travel the world with you.

It promises to be a warm weekend. Finally! Enjoy…….