5 Rules

Gardening metaphors are abundant these days. Perhaps it is always true, but particularly in Minnesota after a long, cold winter, gardening takes on religious zeal and the language that connects life and the garden is not far behind. I guess I believe if we spend enough time with our hands in the soil, or at least watching the growing cycles around us, we connect with the Holy One. That's how it has worked for me. I sat yesterday and listened to one of my clergy colleagues use gardening metaphors for how we are called to be in ministry…..understanding the soil, spending enough time in the light, good use of water….you get the idea.

Last week, I held out of the papers headed to the recycling bin a gardening article entitled "5 rules to grow by". I realized as I read it that while I was thinking of my garden, I was thinking even more about how these rules pertain to being a parent.

I have been aware of parenting these last months as we prepare to celebrate the high school graduation of our youngest son. We have now reached the weeks full of 'lasts'….last track meet, last orchestra concert, last official day of school. As he marks these 'lasts', he is not fully aware that we are marking them too, but in different ways. Our perspective is also retrospective, taking stock of all the places we have seen him grow, the ways we've seen his personality and gifts emerge in surprising and beautiful ways,the challenges he has overcome.

So what about those 5 rules? No. 1 Be realistic in your planning. I believe we have tried to help this treasured young man see the importance of knowing himself and his values. This kind of planning will hopefully serve him well, helping him to plan for his life in realistic and responsible ways, knowing how he is connected to his community and the world,that his actions can make a difference for good or ill.

No. 2 Take time to prepare the soil. In all the ways we could, we have helped him to know that he is surrounded by a circle of people who love him, respect him and are there for him in good times and in bad. We have tried to model kindness and a pursuit of goodness toward others that is the basis of our faith, our soil. We are praying these roots run deep.

No. 3 Give 'em space. This is a difficult one for both gardeners and parents. We want to crowd too many lessons in their days, hover too closely. But in the end that kind of tending only stunts the growth of both plant and child. Instead of reaching toward the sun on their own, they wither in the shadows. So, we've learned to back off, even when its painful, and let the space between carry its loss and its gift.

No. 4 Don't love 'em to death. Ahh, yes, the hovering thing again. Holding too close or too tight, showering with too many gifts is never good for a child just as giving too much water or too much fertilizer will surely lead to a short life for plants. Loving unconditionally doesn't smother or spoil.

 No. 5 Keep up with weeding. From the first time a child is laid in the arms of any parent, the knowledge washes over you. 'There will never be a time when I am not a parent'. I remember the fear of that realization. But I also know that as we celebrate these 'lasts', there are also the seeds of 'firsts' that will surprise and delight us. First day of college, first new job, first blooms that are yet to imagined. And surely in those seeds that are already planted, as the growth happens, there will need to be weeding. My prayer is that this blessed young man will reach out to his parents so we can help him discern what needs to be nurtured and what needs to be pulled up and thrown away. And we will have the courage to weed our own lives so we can continue to be the soil that helps him grow.

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Proverbs 22:6


On Friday I was making my way on my regular walking route near the bluffs along the Mississippi River. As I crossed the High Bridge I noticed a young man in city working attire unloading and setting up a tripod that stood about six feet tall. At the top of the three legs stood what looked like a small flying saucer. I was curious but walked on down the hill letting the beauty of the St. Paul skyline, resplendent from the glow of the Cathedral, hold my attention. At the bottom of the hill I tapped the streetlight pole in usual fashion and headed back up toward the young man who sat texting on his phone.

My curiosity had now gotten the better of me. "What does it do?" I asked. He looked up. I could tell he was a little bored with his work. "It measures any movement that has happened. It checks for cracks that might cause trouble later."

I am still not sure if it was measuring the possible cracks in the bridge to which it was pointed or the earth in which the bridge is anchored. But I loved the idea that someone had created something no larger than a dinner plate that can measure such important things…….cracks that might cause trouble later. As I walked on I thought about how wonderful it would be if we each had a little invisible flying saucer following us, much like that bowl of Cream of Wheat used to in commercials, that could let us know that the earth around us was on the verge of splintering. Wouldn't it be a fine thing if we had a heads-up that what we thought was solid ground, indeed, had some cracks emerging and we could plan accordingly?

Of course there is no such thing. But it was a fine thought to spin out as I walked on up the hill and back toward home, thankful that, at least for now, the ground seems pretty solid.

"May my feet rest firmly on the ground. May my head touch the sky. May I see clearly. May I have the capacity to listen. May I be free to touch. May my words be true. May my heart and mind be open. May my hands be empty to fill the need. May my arms be open to others. May my gifts be revealed to me. So I may return that which has been given, completing the great circle." The Terma Collective


These past few days I have been captivated by the story of young Danny Hauser and his mother Colleen. Danny is the young man with Hodgkin's Lymphoma whose family rejected chemotherapy to ward off his growing tumor. They embrace a faith tradition that favors other means of controlling disease. I don't usually get caught up in news stories like this but the situation in this family will not let go of me. Danny and his mother are now missing and supposedly seeking help and sanctuary in another part of the country or trying to leave the country. This flight comes after the courts, who believe they also have Danny's best interest at heart, are demanding that he receive the Western medical care they believe he needs to survive.

This is a very complex and multi-layered situation full of faith, different understandings of medical treatment, and a deep love for the young man at its center. The media has helped fuel the debate about right and wrong and, as it often does, tries to pit groups of people against one another. While the story has been compelling to many of us, the newspapers, radio and television companies stand to make money out of our desire to know the facts of this very challenging tragedy. This is their business and I am really not faulting them in this.

I have been drawn into reading and listening because my heart is breaking for everyone involved. I cannot imagine knowing my child is in such danger. I cannot imagine trying to make sense of the legal system and its entry into the life of my family. I cannot imagine the fear, the pain, the confusion, the sheer need to protect your child that this mother must feel. I cannot imagine the courage it must have taken to do what she felt she had to do. I cannot imagine the equal courage it may take to turn back from that same decision.

What I can imagine is the love she feels for her son. On Wednesday I was in the chapel of the Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet for a retreat. In a time of silence and prayer I found myself standing in the intimate alcove dedicated to Mary the Mother of Jesus. As I stood before her statue looking at her kind and lovely eyes, it came to me that while I could not understand what Danny's mother is feeling, Mary could. So, being the good little Protestant girl I am, I did the only thing that seemed sensible: I said a prayer to this holy woman who understood what it meant to be in fear for the life of her son, who to knew the powerlessness of that fear and the courage it took to stand by him.

It is my hope that all the prayers that are being said for this mother, this son, will hold them close and that they will know the deep love of the One who bore them both into the world. All the judgment in the world will not help these people but all the prayers we can offer just might.

In the Presence of Kindness

I have been away from the computer the last couple of days participating in several events with an author I have mentioned a few times in this space. J. Philip Newell, Celtic theologian, poet, and teacher has been in the Twin Cities and I have been privileged to hear him and experience the gift of his words. His ability to invite people into an ancient expression of the Christian faith in new ways, with new insight, has been an special experience.

While what I have heard has been powerful, I think what has been more profound has been the overwhelming experience of the presence of kindness. This kindness has exuded not only from Philip but from all those who are present. It has been like taking a shower in hospitality, bathing in a pool of people offering their best selves. The kindness extends to the ways in which people look at one another, the ways in which they listen in deep ways. It has been nothing short of remarkable and I have been healed by it.

Even as I write this, I do so with a certain sense of sadness. Why is this experience so different? Why are the experiences we have in groups of people so often tinged with rudeness, negativity, gossip? Even in the church, sometimes especially in the church, people express themselves in judgmental and harsh ways over the simplest of things. Why is this?

So to be bathed in the goodness of these days seems a luxury. And yet it also seems simply 'the way it is supposed to be', a glimpse of the kindom of God. Perhaps kindness has been contagious over these days and those of us who have been in attendance will go back into our daily lives with the edges of what divides us softened somehow. We will see those who want to nip at the heels of others with more compassionate eyes and those doing the nipping will be transformed in some way. We will treat ourselves more generously recognizing God's image in our own mirror. This is my prayer. It is a prayer that is held in the utmost gratitude for being in the presence of kindness, for being healed.

"We stumble on the journey, O God. We lose heart along the way. We forget your promises and blame one another. Refresh us with the springs of your spirit in our souls and open our senses to your guiding presence that we may be part of the world's healing this day, that we may be part of the world's healing." ~J. Philip Newell, Celtic Treasure

Solved by Walking

"It is solved by walking." Augustine of Hippo, 4th-5th c.

These lovely days call out to us to get outside and walk. Most of the time we are walking to raise our heart rate, to tone our muscles, to increase our longevity….all good things. But there is also another way to walk that has been with humans for centuries. It is a more meditative walking, walking prayer if you will, and these beautiful spring days are perfect for this practice.

Walking prayer invites us to move slowly, paying attention to all that is around us…..sights, sounds, smells, the light and shadow of the sun. Moving in this meditative way hones our senses to the presence of the Holy in our midst, helps us to notice what is always there and just missed at our warp-speed movement through the world. In some ways, I think this kind of walking is what young children, and even dogs, do all the time. Have you walked lately with either a three year old or a dog that's been cooped up all day in the house? It can take what seems like hours to walk fifty feet!

Augustine of Hippo, one of the early theologians in the Christian church, made the statement: "It is solved by walking." Considering most of us have many things in our lives that need to be 'solved', walking of any kind might be a good practice to begin. The solutions we may discover while walking are most likely to be found while walking in an intentional way. Noticing how our body moves through space can put perspective on nearly every problem, helping us to see that, indeed, we are a part of something much larger, much more intricate, much more beautiful than we realize in our fast paced living. This realization in and of itself clears out our mind and makes space in our heart. This condition is the fertile soil of discovery, creativity, prayer.

What problems are nagging you today? What situation seems impossible? What idea is floating around in your head waiting to find form? Strap on those walking shoes and get out there for a good walk. Solutions are to be found in the places between heel and toe as they hit the pavement. Blessings on your walking………………..

Deep Knowing

"A voice soft and musical I pray for thee,
And a tongue loving and mild:
Two things good for daughter and for son,
For husband and for wife.
The joy of God be in thy face,
Joy to all who see thee."
~Carmina Gadelica

My last few days have been steeped in the final details for an event that has been a year and half in the planning. We are about to welcome Celtic theologian and author J. Philip Newell to our community. Newell has been a voice of wisdom for me since I first heard him speak three years ago. He is a gifted thinker, poet and lover of the Holy. And, for me, he has given voice to what I have known deep within me for perhaps my whole life. He articulates a way of knowing God that is planted in the soil of Creation. He reminds us that we carry within us a spark of the Sacred that cannot be denied not even by the church or those given power by the institution.He affirms the importance of community in helping us come to fullness. And he celebrates the eternal joy of being surrounded by the Presence. These are things I have known in some deep place but many times have not been able to speak.

I believe that we all have deep knowings. Many times it is impossible to find the words for this wisdom within and we wander about waiting to hear the words spoken by someone who wakes us up to what germinates at our core. I believe Jesus did this for this disciples, does this for his disciples. He gave them language that freed them. This is the work of prophets among us. And those prophets are still at work for all longing to hear the voice they long to discover.

Perhaps each of us is a prophet for someone and we may not know it. But just the thought can make me choose my words more carefully, with more love and care. This act, even if not prophetic, is certainly wise and if, in my speaking I can help someone connect with their own deep knowing, then there is undoubtedly a double blessing in that.

As you go about your weekend, there is the invitation to breath fully and listen to what you know deep within. The world needs your voice, your wisdom. Now is not the time to hold back.

"The love and affection of the angels be to you,
The love and affection of the saints be to you,
The love and affection of heaven be to you,
To guard you and to cherish you."
~Carmina Gadelica

A Different Voice

"We need to find God and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature-trees and flowers and grass-grow in silence. See the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life."
~Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I have been searching after silence lately. Perhaps that also means I am searching after God. I don't know about you but I often have the sense that the information coming my way is about to overwhelm me. Between email, land line, cell phone, television, radio, and all the other ways that speak at us, it is rare to find a moment of silence. Even our worship services have little silence in them these days.There are very few places where no musak is piped in, no sound is heard. Even libraries are loud!

Last evening my husband and I were walking through a wooded path near the backwaters of the Mississippi River. Even if we had been silent, the air was filled with the song and verse of countless others. The red-winged blackbird was courting another across the pond blodly singing his love song. The robin was vocally protecting its turf in the trees nearby. The early season's frogs were making a beautiful racket of sound that cannot be fully described in words. The wind was strong and the trees were creeking and cracking all around us. Our conversation was accompanied by the symphony of spring as we made our way down the cool, shaded path.

Along the path on each side, wild violets poured forth a dainty lavender. My husband began to say something and before I even realized it, my voice rang out:"SHHHHH!" I stopped before the violets and simply looked at them. How is it that something so sweet, so simple, so pure, exists? How did they get there without anyone planting them? It seemed the only response was a reverent silence. I did not mean to be rude in my shushing. It is just what seemed necessary at the moment.

Many scenes require our silence though they don't often receive the quiet they deserve. Look around. Where is silence called for in your daily life? What sight is just outside your vision that asks not more sound, but less? Pay attention. Something you encounter may be asking for a different voice….one that says nothing but watches with a deep and abiding attention. I am convinced the world needs more of this lack of sound. I am convinced our souls are healed by just such an action. I am convinced this is prayer.


"This day God gives me
Strength of high heaven,
Sun and moon shining,
Flame in my hearth.
Flashing of lightning,
Wind in its swiftness,
Depths of the ocean,
Firmness of earth."
~James Quinn, SJ

This is my prayer this spring morning. You see, I find myself in a place I can only describe as 'schlogging', that feeling of needing to move through some days thick with challenges, deep sadness, and difficulty. It is rare for me to feel this way and for that I am grateful. But, like most people, these times do come and when they do, I think of it as needing to push through the thick energy that surrounds…schlogging. I am not even sure if that is a word but it fits for me and my experience.

And so when these times come, I try to connect myself with that which does not change. The rhythms of the Earth, the rising of the sun, the moon shining in the night sky, the emergence of the season at hand, and the presence of the Holy in it all. It allows me to plant my schlogging feet on something solid until the thick energy softens and allows me to move more freely. It reminds me of who I am in the great scheme of things and, in turn, to perhaps take myself less seriously, allowing the challenges to find perspective.

The reality is that each of us is held on this planet by forces unseen. The gift of walking upright, warmed by the sun, made vital by the oxygen, not of our own making, but created by the trees that fill our lungs. We move through our day by the force of those who have gone before, hose left the gifts with which we do most of our work. The things we take for granted were made possible by people who sacrificed, created, and schlogged before us……parents, grandparents, inventors, artists, dreamers,preachers……prepared the way for this day in which we now stand. This is important to remember.

And so on this day, even in my schlogging, especially in my schlogging, I give thanks for the on-going grace that holds me, that holds each of us. 

"This day God sends me Strength as my guardian,

Might to uphold me, Wisdom as guide.

Your eyes are watching, Your ears are listening,

Your lips are speaking, Friend at my side."

Lacking Neatness

"I know a bleeding-heart plant that has thrived for sixty-years if not more, and has never missed a spring without rising and spreading itself into a glossy bush, with many small red hearts dangling. Don't you think that deserves a little thought? The woman who planted it has been gone for a long time, and everyone who saw it in that time has also died or moved away and so, like so many stories, this one can't be finished properly. Most things that are important, have you noticed, lack a certain neatness. More delicious, anyway, is to remember my grandmother's pleasure when the dissolve of winter was over and the green knobs appeared and began to rise, and to create their many hearts. One would say she was a simple woman, made happy by simple things. I think this was true. And more than once, in my long life, I have wished to be her. " ~Mary Oliver

The bleeding-hearts are blooming their beauty into the world in our garden. Like a fairy princess,they are throwing their hot pink blossoms into the open space where hostas are only beginning to have the courage to show up. Such delicate bravado, daring to be so pink in a newly greening world!

In this prose-poem of Oliver's, I love the description of those plants that grace so many gardens, those handed down or planted by someone who is now departed from us. Our garden has several…..bulbs and bushes nurtured by others and carried from plot to plot, a long history of connection with hands and earth, of birth and rebirth, of memory. As they bloom each year we find ourselves surrounded not only by their beauty but by the memory of those gardening saints.

But the line that particularly jumps out at me is this: "Most things that are important, have you noticed, lack a certain neatness." Perhaps I have just been surrounded by messiness lately, or by things important, that I resonate with this statement. I am aware of all the important things that lack a certain neatness…….raising children, friendships, faith communities,working with others,any creative endeavor, seeking the Holy, love. All the important things of life have soft edges and not much structure. They are not easily controlled or manipulated. They are full of surprise and challenge. There remains at the center of these important things a little ball of chaos out of which usually flows the best part of that most important thing.

So on this Monday, the beginning of the week, it was good to be reminded of how 'what's important' works. If I just hold onto that wisdom, I trust my week will go much smoother….maybe messier….but smoother.


Yesterday I had the privilege to gather for the majority of the day with my female colleagues in ministry. We came together from around the state for one purpose and one purpose only: to be together. We shared food, laughter, good stories, concerns, prayer and a common understanding of what it means to have given the lion's share of your life to work in the church. There were stories that made us double over in laughter and some that broke our hearts. While some of us have always been in ministry in an urban setting, others find themselves in small towns where the ability to have a truly good friend is problematic. You are always 'the preacher' and that can often be a very lonely place. Still others have found their calling not in a parish setting but as counselors, chaplains, and on university and seminary campuses.

I believe there is great value in having the opportunity to gather in single gender settings. While the fullness of what it means to be community contains all, so much can be shared in the times when women come together with women, men come together with men. The anecdotal evidence was clear yesterday as hugs were given, compassion shared, electrifying the space There were only about 40 women in a large room and yet, from the sound of conversation and laughter, it sounded like at least twice that number.

Added to the richness of simply being together was the fact that we were several generations gathered in one space. Those in the group who are now retired glowed as they talked about how in retirement 'you get to do everything you've always wanted to do!' The youngest told of being a new mother and juggling the schedule and demands of ministry. Those of us who have older children remembered those days, the difficulty of them, and know how the shifts of parenting have become a part of our work and our life. Sitting on the outer ring of the circle I was struck by the wisdom and energy in the room, how so many of those now retired had been inspiration to me. I now look at those just beginning their work in the church and am blessed by their enthusiasm and their own wisdom for the work to which they feel called.

Throughout time, generations have gathered around fires, in tents, on the front stoops of city apartments. Coming together, young, old, middle-aged, children, infants, we have the opportunity….the gift….of looking forward and looking back while holding our place in the present. We see what might be, what has been, what is……all a blessing. I need the wisdom of those who have retired because they calm my fears and bring me hope. I also need the inspiration and energy of those new to this work I have given my life to because they help me see and reaffirm that younger self that still lives within. Being in their presence helps me remember who I am. Being in their presence fills me with gratitude.

"I know myself linked by chains of fires
To every woman who has kept a hearth.
In the resinous smoke
I smell hut, castle, cave,
Mansion and hovel.
See in the shifting flame my mother
And grandmothers out over the world."
~Elsa Gidlow

Have a blessed weekend…..and if you are a mother, have a beautiful Sunday.