I was looking at my hands on Friday afternoon and, unlike many other times I was not reminded of my mother or grandmother, but instead was reminded of Mrs. Dempsey. Mrs. Dempsey was the home economics teacher at my high school. She was not what I would describe as one of the most 'put together' people around. Her clothes were often a little worn, a little rumpled. Her hair always had a windswept look….but not in the attractive sense. And her hands were always a little calloused, her nails discolored, no manicure for her!

But she could sure teach a group of giddy teenage girls to bake a cake or hem a tea towel. Mrs. Dempsey, you see, when she wasn't corralling female students, lived on a farm with her three sons and husband. Their farm was actually an orchard and so she was always 'putting up' some kind of fruit. They grew apples and peaches but she also probably canned all manner of other fruits and vegetables. Having her hands in lots of hot water, fruit and sugar, gave her nails an odd, reddish-brown tinge that seemed to last all year.

On Friday I did my yearly trip to the strawberry fields to kneel on the ground and give thanks for the sweetness of this June fruit. While picking I watched as the tips of my fingers turned red and then faded to pink. At home as I cleaned the berries, cut them and prepared them for their new life as jam, I noticed the redness moving further down my fingers, under my nails. As the jars sterilized in the canner and the jam began to take shape in the pan, I cleaned up the red stains that dotted the counter and the table. But those stains on my fingers took more than a dishcloth and soap. They needed some time to wear off.

I am sure Mrs. Dempsey's hands weren't always stained. It just seemed that way to me in my self-centered place as a sixteen year-old girl addicted to fashion. At that point I couldn't have imagined the unspeakable joy that picking, cleaning and 'putting up' strawberries would bring. Before 'buying local' was the hip thing to do, Mrs Dempsey was sacrificing her nails to the gift of earth's goodness while at the same time storing away the glorious taste of summer in a jar.

And that, my friends, trumps beautiful nails any day!

"May God who gardens the galaxies, fueling star-fire, watering the world, greening the earth-May this God guide you, guard you, and give you growth." ~Sam Hamilton-Poore

In the Shadows

"For God is a sun and shield……" Psalm 84:11

On one of our hottest days this week I rounded the corner in front of the church to see three men who had been working outside the church, settling in to take their morning break. They were city workers patching and mending sidewalks and the bus stop. Taking their small coolers they had nestled themselves into the corners of stone that created a shadow protecting their bodies from the ever increasing heat. I slowed down to take in the way they had situated themselves perfectly in the cool of the building. I took a mental snapshot. They looked so at home there.

Those of us in the church work diligently to provide places for people to find comfort, hope, solace, and faith. Sometimes that takes the form of programs or educational events, sometimes it comes in the context of worship. Still other times this effort is seen in ministries that provide assistance for life's basic needs. Watching these men hiding in the cool shadows of our church building reminded me of how many times people sit in the shadows, unseen and unconnected to what is going on inside. I remember my sister-in-law visiting this church once and remarking that she had no idea that people were actually working at the church on days other than Sundays.

Yes, the community may gather on Sundays but the work of the church continues every day, all day. In small and large ways, we take steps, Sunday through Saturday, to be about the work of God for the healing of the world. The doors are open and the lights are on and people of all walks of life are seen coming in and going out. Food is served, prayers are said, letters are mailed, phones are answered.

Like most main line denominations, our church has difficulty telling the story of the work we are doing in the world, of inviting others to join us in ways that feel safe to them. I thought about those men, sitting in the shadows of the church, taking a break with their feet up…..a sabbath of sorts. If only others knew that this might be a good place to rest, to find a shelter, to lean back on the cool stone and take a time out from their daily labor.

Wherever you are on your journey today, I pray you can find a nice, cool place to find shelter from the heat of the sun. If it happens to be a church, don't be afraid to walk inside and introduce yourself. You will most likely find some people who have been waiting to welcome you.

Gift Bag

A day ago our seven-year-old neighbor appeared at our door with a bag in her hand. Smiling her now toothless grin, she announced:"We've brought you eight fish for the pond!" She and her siblings love to come over to feed the goldfish that make their home in a small pond we created to give us the comforting sound of water. She held her arm high as we lowered the fish in their temporary bag-home into the water that had been warmed by our 90 degree temperatures. They would float there until they acclimated(as much as fish do) to their new surroundings. Then they would be released to make their home among waterlilies and other plants.

While we waited she told me about her day. "Guess what? I jumped off the diving board today." I expressed my admiration at her courage. "I was wearing a life jacket." Still, a feat to be affirmed. As we talked she moved around the garden, touching this flower, bending to look at what ever caught her attention, never missing a beat in our conversation. Is there anything better than conversation with an inquisitive child?

Much later, after we had finished our fish release from bag to pond and had scooped out the one fish that had not made a successful journey from store to our home, we walked to the front yard. As we stood talking, her summer day-care provider happened to drive by. "Did you tell everyone what you did today? Remember by the end of the week you won't need the life jacket!" She turned around beaming at the prospect of future jumping as only her body and swimsuit hit the water. Another life adventure accomplished!

Later in the evening I thought of the times when we need the comfort and safety of life jackets to hold us on whatever jump we are taking. And then there comes a time when we can slowly unzip the floatation device and propel ourselves over whatever precipice we seek to conquer. Hopefully, like our young neighbor,we each have someone who can help us maneuver the waters, someone who can help us see when the time is right to let go of the securities that help keep us afloat. Hopefully we also have those around who can urge us on and affirm our landing, whether beautiful in its execution or its clumsy, belly flop.This is my prayer for everyone, whether seven or seventy.

We now have seven new fish in our pond. What a great gift bag to receive on a hot, summer evening. Fish…….and so much more.

"With water, which is as clear as your spirit, my child, we bless you. Grow in conscience, be rooted in good stories, grow spiritually, for spirit too is a good gift. " ~Mark Belletini

Awake to Strength

"Awake, awake, put on your strength, Awake, awake, put on your strength." ~Sounds of the Eternal, J. Philip Newell

I have been beginning my mornings and ending my days with listening to the prayers and chants found on this cd by J. Philip Newell. Plugged into my new lime green ipod, I allow the words to flow over me and gently find their way inside to a place of contemplation. Soon my muscles relax and my mind begins to slow down to be present only to the music. These become grace-filled moments.

Some days require more strength than others. My days lately have been filled with situations that ask me to be strong, to have peace of mind, to be present, fully present, so as to know what is the best path. Ever have those times?

As I listened this morning to this cello accompanied voice singing:"Awake, awake, put on your strength" I have to admit an image of Wonder Woman came to mind. You might remember how, when confronted with danger or the need to save the world, Linda Evans would begin her spinning motion that led her into her red, white and blue, Wonder Woman suit. Her wrists adorned with wide bracelets that deflected any evil energy coming her way, she set off to do right in the face of wrong. Some situations require much spinning and deflecting. Others demand a deep connection to what tethers us to the earth, to our soul.

The beautiful Scottish voice that delivered its chant to me this morning didn't ask me to spin or deflect. Instead it invited me to be still, to ground myself in a wisdom that is quiet and strong that resides within. As I rested in this music, I made the connection with Spirit that has awakened me to the strength that will guide my steps and inform my words. It was a good way to begin this warm, summer day and I feel that strength that is holding me with its gravity.

I'll hold onto its wisdom….but I won't rule out spinning if need be!

Food Gratitude

"And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food. God saw everything that was made, and indeed, it was very good." Genesis 1:30-31

I am in the midst of reading A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Bibically:One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I have laughed out loud more while reading this book than any I have read for a very long time. His premise is to take all the laws he finds outlined in the scriptures, both Hebrew and Christian, and to systematically try to integrate and follow them to the letter. It makes for some very funny reading and I commend it to you.

Of course the scriptures are filled with many laws surrounding food. What we should eat, what we shouldn't eat. When we should eat certain things and when to abstain from others. The rules boggle the mind and could lead to some very obsessive-compulsive behavior. But I was struck with a particular realization he comes to around saying grace at meals. "They(the prayers) remind me that the food didn't spontaneously generate in my fridge. They make me more connected,more grateful, more grounded, more aware of my place in this complicated hummus cycle.(He is eating hummus and pita bread.) They remind me to taste the hummus instead of shoveling it into my maw like it's a nutrition pill. And they remind me that I'm lucky to have food at all. Basically, they help me get outside of my self-obsessed cranium."

I connected with these words because I have been thinking about all the mixed messages we get in our culture about food. From the myriad of ads on television for diets that replace food with either pills or mixtures of bizarre liquids to drink instead of eating, I began to wonder when food became the enemy. For a culture that is hurdling into a obesity epidemic, how did we get to this place? Hungry yet never satisfied. Craving the very things, mostly not real food, that will, if taken to the extreme, kill us. It is a curious state.

I wonder if we took the time to give thanks for the food we find before us at meals, even in a silent way of taking it in and mentally following its path to our table, if it would allow us to taste more fully, savoring the connections made along the way satisfying us more. Can you say grace over a Twinkie in the same way you can an apple? I don't know but I think the humble act of offering thanks might also provide that reflective moment between plate and mouth that would bring us back to our senses and set us on a better path.

Over the weekend I will continue to read this book which is providing me with some much needed laughter. I also plan to take time to offer my gratitude for the food which is nourishing my body and soul, which came to me through no work of my own. In that offering I will honor the connections of the hands that planted, toiled, harvested and carried the gifts of nutrition that feed me and, I pray, satisfy my hunger.

It is at least one way to follow the good words found in these ancient texts.

Have a blessed weekend……………….

Dream More

"Dream, dream, dream, dream……" The Everly Brothers

On my walking route in our neighborhood, I pass by a public tennis court. There are always assorted people playing. Older men, laughing and obviously not keeping score. Young couples trying to impress one another with their skill. Youth, whacking the ball as hard as possible and running with all their might to chase it. This is to say that not many people who play on this court are what I would call 'serious' tennis players.

This lack of competitive seriousness may have contributed to the stenciled message that exists on the mat hung on the fence that keeps balls from going into the woods, down the bluff, and into the Mississippi River. The message is simple:"Dream More". It is stenciled in red letters with hearts surrounding it.

Dream more. Not just dream but dream MORE. Perhaps it is a subliminal message for those playing tennis. Dream more and become better at the game. Somehow I don't think so. The message was so carefully done, not your usual graffiti, so I think it was posted there for the goodness of the message itself. Dream MORE.

Couldn't we all do with a little more dreaming? Adults in particular, myself included, often have put their dreams to rest. Gone are the hours spent dreaming about the things we will achieve, the irrational 'what ifs' that can give birth to some new adventure, some amazing change.  After a certain age we can begin to replace the dreaming with regret, no longer seeing the possibilities of our big ideas. Life can then become an act of marking time.

Maybe the person who stenciled that message was a child. Maybe they snuck out to the tennis courts in the middle of the night, paint and brush in hand to remind all the adults who pass by all the possibilities they once saw. Maybe all the hearts that surround the words are simply their way of saying this is a message of love. Please, dream more.

What dreams that once drove your life have you forgotten? What dreams do you want to rekindle? What space can you make for dreaming today? No matter your age, young or old, someone needs us to dream more. They went to the trouble to stencil their message. I saw it and I am passing it on to you. It is now up to each of us what we will do with it.

Outing Hope

“I hung hope out with the laundry,

clothes-pinned tenderly

beside a pillowcase and two sheets.

I could tell she needed air,

a sweet puff of wind.

She needed to get warm again

basking in the sun.

After a few hours,

I came out with my basket

and took her down.

We both felt refreshed.

She said,”don’t put me
in the closet

with the sheets.

Spread me on your

Let your guests spill
wine and

crumbs of bread.

Wash me gently, put me
back in the


Lay me across your

so I may warm you in
the night.

that I might comfort
their dreams.

Whatever you do,”she

“include me.

It is the only way
that I can live.”



This poem was read at a memorial service I attended on Saturday. In addition to the service I also presided at a wedding and attended the graduation party of a young man I have known since he was a small boy. So many life transitions all held in one day. I felt blessed to be a part of each of these.

As I reread the poem that had also been printed on the memorial program, I thought of how it was an appropriate message for all three life events. For the young couple beginning their married life together, I pray that they remember to keep hope fully alive between them, that they place it at the center of their breakfast table and start their day fed by it. For the man who shared with us the stories of his wife, gone too soon, too young, may he grip the hem of hope with all his might and let it wrap him in powerful arms. For the young man fulfilling one goal of graduating high school, I wish that he be grounded in a hope that is planted in gentle heart, a hope that will carry him through the 'what's next' that awaits him.

Keeping hope alive takes intention and dedication. Too often we fall head long into our days without remembering to take it out of the closet that is full of haphazard stacks of mismatched sheets. Too often we forget to place hope firmly in the center of our desk, our table, our front yard, our heart. Hope's very life depends on our invitation to be included in all we do.

On this Monday, the beginning of another week, let us all make room at the center for the hope. Let us give her air and warmth and a place to grow and live. God knows we all need her.

Aimless Summer

"The children play
in the stream that runs to the sea-
splashing, kicking, dancing,
boys calling, "Watch this!" as they climb the dune
and race down.
"Look – my hair is a kite," the little girl laughs,
"It's blowing in the breeze."
I sit on the warm sand with dry towels,
breathe in the sun, the sand, the salt,
and the pure joy of children at play,
all given as gift
all to be enjoyed."
~Roberta Porter

Yesterday morning as I was heading out to my car to go into the
office, I looked across the street where one of our young neighbors
stood in his front yard. He was surveying the street dressed in a
t-shirt, still wearing his pajama bottoms. He was looking up and down
the sidewalk, rubbing his eyes, no doubt looking for the first sign of
all his friends, now fresh to the aimlessness of summer.

stopped for a moment to take in the sight of him. Someplace deep inside
me a memory flickered of how summer felt when I was a child. The
endlessness of days. The sheer possibility of each day and what it
might hold. The gift of walking unhurriedly with a friend,reading a
book on the porch when it rained, staying in my pajamas until it was
time to shift to my bathing suit. A wave of longing and nostalgia swept
over me.In the office, a colleague and I stood talking about
some projects we were working on. As the details and responsibilities
began to mount, she said:"So much for a relaxed, laid back summer!" We
silently agreed and went on our way.

It seems to me it is rare
these days that there is the full enjoyment of what the song
called 'the lazy, hazy, crazy, days of summer.' For the most part we
just keep on schlogging through without allowing ourselves to take in
the fullness of this gift of more light, warmth, and what should be a
vacation mode. For the most part summer is a mind set more than even an
actual suspension of work ethic. Opening ourselves to moving slower,
lingering, allowing the heat of the sun to fill us, savoring the color
and light that will, too quickly, be gone. For those of us who live in
a four-season world, the gift of summer should not be squandered.

is Friday. The weekend awaits. Here in Minnesota it promises to be a
beautiful few days. Perhaps the invitation is to remember what it was
like to play outside until the mosquitoes became too fierce. Perhaps
the invitation is to stay in your pajamas until you switch to your swimsuit or biking shorts. It might be time to eat Popsicles for
lunch and sit and stare into the middle distance until the next good
thing comes to mind.

Summer officially begins in less than two
weeks. It is time to begin to practice how to engage in the aimless
enjoyment that is summer's gift.

Keeping Appointments

" We all have an appointment with life and the time is now." Thich Nhat Hahn

I was leafing through a notebook in which I had jotted down thoughts and ideas from a recent conference I had attended. At some point the speaker spoke these words of Thich Nhat Hahn, the wise Buddhist priest, who walks so easily in his Buddhist world while gently holding his Christian brothers and sisters. It is rare for me to come across his words and not be stopped in my tracks at their beautiful simplicity.

We have an appointment with life and the time is now. We know this. We can say it to ourselves over and over and yet, if you are like me, we so quickly forget. Stuff piles up, lists get too long, dramas evolve, and before we know it, we are speeding down the road at 100 miles an hour having missed our appointment with now. We allow all kinds of infringements on the most precious gift we are being given with each breath… This moment. This amazing and beautiful space of time and place, of presence and being.

The Scottish theologian and poet George MacLeod said: "God is now." Can it be that when we barge full speed ahead that we not only miss our appointment with our lives but we also miss an appointment with the Holy? It is something to consider. In the presence of this very moment, everything that has ever been and everything that is yet to be lives in eternity and we who are living, breathing, with hearts beating are held in between both, carried on the Breath of God. What a glorious realization!

Here I am. Still in my pajamas, sitting at my computer working on all manner of things, riding on the Breath of God… Of all the appointments I may keep today, none is more important than this one.

Breathe with me?

The Great Work

"The success or failure of any historical age is the extent to which
those living at that time have fulfilled the special role that history
has imposed upon them."Thomas Berry, The Great Work:Our Way into the Future

Last week was quite a blur for me. Being involved in the many events that have surrounded our son's graduation from high school have kept me swimming in a sea of delightful details. In the midst of all of it, I was aware that one of the great voices of our time had passed on into eternity. Thomas Berry,writer,cultural historian,geologist and wisdom figure,died June 1st at the age of 94. His work and words has influenced so many to nurture the relationship between our faith traditions and the scientific world, a relationship that has often been under attack. One of his most famous quotes, "The Universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects." shows his great love for the universe into which he was born, where he lived out his call to awe and wonder, and his dedication to passing on that message to the world. 

Two years ago I had the privilege to be present in a beautiful hall named in his honor on the grounds of the Whitbey Institute near Seattle. The space seemed to be hollowed out of an enormous tree, trees being a symbol often used in his work. This large tree hall was used for worship, lectures, concerts, dance, and the play of children. Its very architecture was about the relationship in which we are all involved, whether we notice it or not. Thomas Berry's work was to remind us of the scared nature of our reliance on all the relationships of our living. From atom to air, from soil to sun, from human to humus, we exist in an interdependence in the unfolding universe that is mostly invisible to us. Yet what is unseen, the Mystery, is what holds us together. Berry's words and wisdom are a great reminder.

So today, now that the blur has cleared for me a bit, I will celebrate the life of Thomas Berry by reminding myself of the invisible lines of connection that hold us all and keep us dancing in this amazing universe. His earthly work, his Great Work, may be finished but his invitation to us continues. I encourage you to seek out his writings if you have not done so as we carry into the future the gifts which he placed in our hands.

"The excitement of life is in the numinous experience wherein we are
given to each other in that larger celebration of existence in which
all things attain their highest expression, for the universe, by
definition, is a single gorgeous celebratory event. "