Taking Stock

Today is July 31st.I realized this morning that there are only technically four weeks of summer left before children head back to school and the fresh, fall air begins to rush in on us, before we surrender once again to the order of autumn. In fact, last Sunday morning as I rose early to head to church, the air smelled different than it had.There was a hint of fall lingering within the morning.

So that makes me ask myself the question: Am I really enjoying this summer? Am I living it to the fullest, savoring those elements of summer that we so long for in our winter days? Are you enjoying this summer? Are you squeezing every bit of enjoyment out of it?

Here are some things I look forward to in summer. Picnics. The sweetness of watermelon. Vegetables from the farmer's market with, as a friend noted this week, dirt still clinging to the roots. Taking in an outdoor concert, most of which are free. Berries of all kinds, picking them and canning them. Watching the kids in the neighborhood ride their bikes up and down, up and down the street, aimlessly. Reading a book under a shade tree and maybe dozing off a bit. The beauty of the lakes and all the summer wildlife that grace their shores. Walking barefoot in the wet, morning grass.Simple, free pleasures.

Near our home office area hangs a whimsical picture with the words:"Most people don't know that there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don't get too comfortable & fall asleep & miss your life." Today is a day to take stock, not so much of my life, but certainly of this summer. Have I fallen asleep, gotten too comfortable or more likely, too busy,to be present to these fleeting summer days? Have you? Perhaps the Angels of August are flapping their wings over our heads right this very minute saying "Wake up! Summer is slipping away. Don't miss it!"

Here's a nod to the angels for the wake up call. And now it is time to head out into the sunshine and turn my face heavenward in gratitude. Join me?


"All has been consecrated.
The creatures in the forest know this,
the earth does, the seas do, the clouds know
as does the heart full of love.
Strange a priest would rob us of this
and then empower himself
with the ability
to make holy what
already was."
~Catherine of Siena(1347-1380)translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Every now and then you come across a poem, a phrase, a paragraph that you have been searching for perhaps your whole life. When I purchased the book Love Poems from God a few weeks ago, I didn't know that I had purchased such a treasure. In this volume, Daniel Ladinksy has translated the works of Rumi, Hafiz, St. Francis of Asisi, and others, including this particular poem by Catherine of Siena. Catherine is one of the many wisdom figures of the middle ages that bring so much insight into our 21st century life. She was a poet, a nun, a contemplative, and someone people from all walks of life came to for counsel. Her short life of thirty three years left much for us to mine.

When I read this poem, I knew that Catherine and I would have been fast friends. The message, the sentiment of this poem, struck a chord within me that was undeniable. It points out the audacity of we humans. It also points toward all we fail to see, all we miss out on as we live this audacious life, pretending as if we are the center of the universe rather than a beautiful thread within it.

How do we open our eyes to the Holy in our midst? How do we come to see our invisible lines of connection with all Creation? How do we walk the earth with gentle feet in relationship with all that has been created? How do we soften our hearts so we can fall in love with the beauty and wonder that awaits us each and every day?

I don't know the answers to these questions but I think the beginning of this kind of living falls someplace within humility. It is with humility that I recognize I don't have a clue as to how the Sun rises and sets each day. I am simply the benefactor of its grace. It is with humility that I looked upon the eyelashes of a one year old this past Sunday wondering how they could be so long, so lovely with so little effort. It is with humility that I watch the Mississippi River flow near my house as it carries itself across the fullness of this amazing land. How many other people, ones I will never meet, share in honoring this mighty body of water that makes us relatives?

All of these…Sun, eyelashes, river….have always been holy, always been held on the breath of God, birthed out of the Sacred's amazing love. I did not, nor could any other human being, make it more so.

Rain Barrel

"Playmate, come out and play with me.
And bring your dollies, three,
Climb up my apple tree.
Look down my rain barrel,
Slide down my cellar door,
And we'll be jolly friends for ever more."

I've just finished a long walk around our neighborhood where I noticed several rain barrels. They were made of various materials but all had that wonderful round shape that seems to say 'sturdy'. I love the idea that we have returned to form of collecting water from our natural sprinkling system. I have wonderful memories of my grandmother's rain barrel. My mother would draw water out of the barrel to wash my hair which seemed to always make it softer.

This 'rain barrel song' was one my mother taught me. When it came back to me today, I found myself filled with the same melancholy I felt as a young girl. You see the second part of the verse goes:
"She couldn't come out and play.
It was a rainy day.
With tearful eyes, she breathed a sigh
And I could hear her say:
I"m sorry playmate, I cannot play with you.
My dolly has the flu,
Ain't got no rain barrel, ain't got no cellar door.
But we'll be jolly friends for ever more."

For some reason these lyrics always nearly moved me to tears. Why doesn't she have a rain barrel, a cellar door? Did the 'dolly' have the flu or did the playmate? The images this song once evoked to me…..rich girl, poor girl, playmates kept from one another….all came flooding back at the sight a the sturdy roundness of a simple barrel.

In some ways, it is a silly, child's song. And yet it proves the power of the music we learn in our formative years. Those songs go someplace deep inside, nest there, become a part of our DNA, and get drudged up at the oddest of times, transporting us to another time, another place, a whole range of feelings. In singing that song as I continued on my walk, the memory of my grandmother's house came into view. I could see the apple tree from which I hung upside down when I was about three years old….my first real memory. I felt the gentle drips slipping through my mother's cupped hands as the rain barrel water rinsed my hair. It seemed as if I might be able to reach up and touch once again the softness brought on by the rain's freshness.

All this….because I saw a rain barrel.

What Matters

"This is all that matters: that we can bow, take a deep bow. Just that. Just that."
~Eido Tai Shimano

Have you taken a deep bow lately? There are so many situations in life that call for us to bow. Yet not many of us do. It is not something we do with regularity in our Western culture, certainly not in America.  For the most part we are moving too quickly to bow. And if we all took up this gracious move at the warp speed in which we live, there would be a terrible knocking of heads.

Over the last few days, I have had several experiences that could have used a bow, a deep bow. One of the dear saints of our church passed on into eternity this week. We have all known her as someone who was rarely, if ever, without a camera. After her death, a family member delivered two large boxes of pictures chronicling the life of our church – our lives – over the last decade. Each photo was full of faces, joyful faces, caught in the act of celebration. She had a knack for zeroing in on people's faces not only with her camera but with her smiling eyes, savoring and then saving their resplendence. As I looked at image after image, I was humbled by her ability to catch us all at our best. The gift of her keen eye helped remind me of all that is right with the world. I should have bowed deeply out of gratitude.

A young woman I have watched grow up gave birth to her first child this week. I happened to be present when her grandmother came to see this beautiful boy, her first great grandchild. The anticipation with which this woman approached this tiny one cradled in my arms shown all over her face. As I handed the baby into her arms, I caught a glimpse of the generations connecting in the breath we all shared. What I should have done as I backed away was to have taken a deep bow, breathing in the  Mystery in which we all stood.

Today I was sitting on my deck, the sun streaming through clouds trying to whip themselves into the frenzy of a summer afternoon rain when a monarch butterfly made its way from purple cone-flower to orange day-lily, swooping, sweeping from flower to flower.  Its colorful wings danced in the heat, lighter than air, floating with the grace of a ballerina. I stopped what I was doing and watched, my face slowly emerging into a broad smile. If I had done what I should, I would have untangled myself from my chair and bowed deeply to the beauty of fragile wings.

Each day provides many opportunities for bowing, deeply bowing. If we really allowed ourselves, we would begin bending at the waist, allowing our head to dip reverently, embracing what really matters.

Skin Writing

"Same thing that's scrolled across the stars is written under our skin…..new horizon, new horizon within." ~David Gray

It is a scientific notion that we are all made of the stardust that emitted from the birth of the universe. Whatever account of Creation we hold dear, this still remains true. As physicists and others who study the intricate on-going work of this amazing planet and solar system of which we are all a part will tell us, the molecules of our bodies are created out of stardust. It is a fascinating concept to get your head around.

The good news, and there is so much of it, that this elicits is that we are designed to be ever-renewing. The average lifespan of our skin cells for instance is 2-4 weeks. So we might say we have a new face every month or so. I realize that is simplistic but there is a level of truth to it. As we grow and age, parts of our bodies are always changing and taking on new shape. This is not always to our liking but remains true nonetheless.

All of Creation calls us toward a renewing. Across faith traditions,in the sacred stories that guide our lives, there is always the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. The seasons teach us this. The trees and plants teach us this. Our very living teaches us this.

What new horizon is pulling you these days? What uneasiness within your skin is urging you to pay attention to the stardust waiting to shine? Are you in a birth cycle, a life cycle, or a death cycle? It is always a good thing to take stock of just where we are in this amazing circle of sacred story.

As I have watched the various flowering plants in our garden take their moment of center stage, I have been reminded that there are times to bloom and times to let go of brilliant color. The pansies so sweet and beautiful in May are now leggy and pale. The cone flowers, having worked for months to reach their full height, are now raising their sunny faces toward the sky. In just a few weeks, they too, will begin to fade making way for the next wave of newness, of color, of life. And so it goes.

Each part of Creation, including we human ones, have seasons imprinted within us. Yet each season calls us forward toward the new horizon within.

Enjoy the beauty of this summer weekend……..


"I will pour out my Spirit
   on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
   also your daughters.
Your old men will dream,
   your young men will see visions." ~Joel 2:29

When was the last time you have felt inspired? I have just spent several days in the presence of some very inspiring people, artists, writers, poets, preachers, musicians. Sprinkled among these artistic types were also other quiet voices, deep listeners that seemed to hold the space in which we were meeting, offering just the perfect spoken thought that caused everyone to stare into the middle distance with the look of "ah, yes" on their faces.

To be 'inspired' is to be in the Presence of the Holy. This inspiration can come in many forms….a good book,a well presented sermon, a beautiful piece of music, the wisdom of an elder, the joyful play of a child, the sight of a flower blooming, the calm with which a cat moves, the purposeful movement of an ant hill. To be inspired enlivens us, fills us with a forward motion, often resulting in emotion welling up that takes us by surprise.

One definition of the word 'inspire' is "to breathe on or to breathe life into." This definition is listed in the dictionary as an archaic one. Oh, I beg to differ. The ruach of the Holy,that Breath that blew over the deep and Creation was born, is still breathing, still enlivening. We see this with the dawning of each new day, in the birth of each tiny child, in the face of someone who has just connected with a deep realization.

Yet another definition of inspire describes the "inhaling, the drawing in" of that same sacred breath, that air that keeps us living, moving, finding our place in the world. Breathing in…..breathing out…….inspiring….being filled with Spirit….inspirited.

A common prayer at the beginning of many worship services is "open our hearts and minds by the power of the Holy Spirit." If we take this invocation seriously we are asking for something amazing, something powerful to happen in our midst. Come among us, breath over us, breath through us, Spirit. Come among us and allow our breath to become your breath and your breath to become ours.

Simply put: Inspire us.


"The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened
up and he saw God's Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing
on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: "This is my Child, chosen and
marked by my love, delight of my life." Matthew 3(The Message)

This morning I attended a worship service as a visitor. This is unusual for me given I am in worship leadership most Sundays of the year. It was glorious to not know what might happen next, to be able to be a participant, to have my prayers be focused in a different way, to sing without leading. I was able to be present in a completely different way. It was a wonderful experience. I personally think all church goers should go outside their 'comfort zone' several times a year, attending churches other than their own. It is not only good for those who venture out, it is good for the 'visited' church and for the 'home' church. Every one comes back with new eyes.

This morning's service was graced with a baptism…..a beautiful baptism….with lovely words, an immensely happy family and a sense of connection to the gathered community. That gathered community today included me. As I was present to this young one….Sarah Genevieve….I realized that I was now connected to her life whether I meant to be or not. By being present today at her baptism, by witnessing her family's commitments to her, I was now tied to her. Though we may never see one another again, I am now a part of her story. All those present today are connected to Sarah Genevieve through the invisible lines of connection of Spirit. What an awesome gift! What an amazing responsibility!

I am sad to say that often people come to worship with little understanding of the immense story of which we are a part. Each of us comes to any given worship experience ready to have our needs met….whatever that may mean for us. We come to connect with the Holy and to offer our joys, sorrows, gratitude and questions. This is all good.

But what really happens….whether we own it or not….is that we become entwined in each other's lives. We share Breath, hear the prayers of those we know well and those we've never met. We share in the sacred stories and, if we are really present to the words, we are transformed in some way, becoming a part of that Big Story of faith.

All this makes worship risky business. Worship when done with true intention is not a spectator sport. It is a laying your life on the line experience. It is an opening your heart for the world to see event. It is a digging deep, take your shoes off happening. Or at least it should be.

I know this is all true because, you see, I looked into the round brown eyes of Sarah Genevieve, eight months new to world, the waters of baptism still fresh on her forehead, and she looked back. Her eyes told me we are bound together………forever.

Change of Scenery

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.
~Robert Frost

This week has been a travel week for me. After spending a
few days in Grand Marais,Minnesota, I am now
in Asheville,North Carolina for a few days. I am here for
a gathering of people who are interested in Creation Spirituality and the work
of Matthew Fox, theologian and author of such books as Original Blessing and
others. The conference is made up of an eclectic group of people with many
diverse ways of seeing the Holy in their lives. Through art, music, poetry,
story, and ritual we are learning and sharing with one another. It has been a
rich few days.

 In the midst of this gathering what has been a constant
source of inspiration are the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround me. In the morning this rich mountain range is cloaked in fog and
the mist of daybreak. The blue haze that appears to cover the tops of the
mountains touches the sky, explaining to my eyes what its name signals: the
blue of the mountains blends directly into the blue of the sky. There is a
comfort in being enfolded in the protective cocoon of these mighty peaks. Their
quiet power brings a sense of safety and a feeling of awe.  Waking up this morning, I thought it was
raining, but the sound floating in my window was really the sound of the early
dew falling through the trees.

 It is always good to have a change of scenery. I recognize
fully the privilege of this ability to travel, to see how others live, how the land they love shapes them. The gift of seeing the power and majesty of Lake Superior
and the languid, flowering richness of the Smoky Mountains in one week is more than gift. I know this and do not take it for granted.
Allowing the round, flat sounds of speech in northern Minnesota
sink into me one day and opening up to the slow, musical speech of these Carolina voices in the
same week, has my aural senses swimming. I am listening to my native language
with an attentiveness that does not come on ‘normal’ days.

 However, a change of
scenery can come without ever leaving the place we call home. Perhaps it is a
state of mind, an intention, to open ourselves to the ways in which others see
the world. We don’t need the privilege and blessing of travel to help us have a
‘change of heart-scenery.’ This gift is as close as our ability to go out of
our well worn paths to see with new eyes, hear in new ways, shed our
preconceived notions about a person, rid ourselves of what we hold to ‘true’.
When we allow ourselves this kind of change of scenery, it is almost a forgone
conclusion that something wonderful will happen. Most likely we will be opened
to a part of ourselves we didn’t know existed or had been forgotten long ago, stuffed in
the back of the closet to gather moth holes.

Moth holes? 
Mountains? The choice is ours to make.



Sit Still

"Reverence is the recognition
of something greater than the self-something that is beyond human creation or
control,  that transcends full human
understanding. God certainly meets those criteria. Reverence stands in awe of
something-something that dwarfs the self, that allows human beings to sense the
full extent of our limits-so that we can begin to see one another reverently as
well.  The easiest practice of reverence
is to simply sit down somewhere outside, preferably near a body of water and
pay attention for at least twenty minutes.With any luck you will soon begin to
see the souls in pebbles, ants, small mounds of moss, and the acorn on its way
to becoming an oak tree." Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

Yesterday morning I took Barbara Brown Taylor's advice and spent more than twenty minutes sitting still, staring out at the glass surface of Lake Superior. With my first cup of coffee warming my hands in the cold morning temperatures, I simply sat, watching, allowing the stillness and beauty of the beginning of another day of my life wash over me. At first it was difficult to stop the jumping jacks my mind wanted to do. But somehow the calming influence of the water soon had its way with my busy brain. I found myself simply in a state of being. It was sheer gift.

As I watched the fishermen leave for the beginning of their work day, I was witness to their launch. I watched two grown men eating large cookies for breakfast, obviously fresh from their tents with hair sticking up all over their heads as it must have done when they were four years old. People walked their dogs with sleep still in their eyes as they were urged ahead by the next best smell of their furry friend. I watched as the world, at least my world, awakened.

I thought of the poet Mary Oliver's words: "I do not know what a prayer is, but I do know how to pay attention." Since so few of my mornings begin this way…sitting still…paying attention….I wondered how my days would be different if this became a regular practice. Of course the gift of the presence of Lake Superior does make a difference. It is impossible, I believe, to not find some sense of peace, perhaps even prayer, when looking out at what one of my traveling companion's called 'our ocean.'

If you are reading this, your day has already begun in whatever way it usually does. But tomorrow awaits. May you, may I, find a way to begin the gift of the next new day with at least twenty minutes of sitting still, of simply being. If a body of water is not near, may we find ourselves near some natural thing that can bring a similar rhythm of calm to our breathing. And in that breathing, in that sitting, may we see our own souls and their connection to all that lives.  May we begin our day….praying.


On Friday night my family attended a performance of Cirque du Soleil. What a
marvelous experience! The sheer unbridled joy of people coming together to
watch feats that seem impossible, that cause people to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ out loud
is so gratifying. I am not sure what I enjoyed more: watching the performance or
watching people WATCH the performance. As the lights hit the faces of those
around me, especially my now-adult sons, watching their faces erupt with
laughter or awe, simply filled me to over flowing.


The performance included the usual: A juggler, tossing
plates, balls, knives and bowling pins into the air. The tightrope walkers high
above the audience balancing on bicycles and chairs causing us to keep one eye closed for fear of their falling. The two young women who were contortionists,
twisting their bodies into all manner of shapes that didn't seem humanly possible. The clowns whose entrances
were spaced just perfectly so we could take a breather from holding our bodies
tense from the more daring acts. The young acrobat who stacked chair upon chair
hundreds of feet into the air balancing first on his hands, then his hands,
then his head. The most amazing, at least to me, were the two men on the
humongous gerbil-like wheels that turned and defied gravity, spinning, turning,
flying at break-neck speeds into the air. I held my breath, looked through
closed fingers as if watching a horror movie…..only this was real, happening right before
my eyes.


At some point in the middle of the performance, I started
thinking about the trust these people must have, must demand, in order to do
the work they do. Their very lives depend upon the people they live with and
work with to keep them from falling, from tripping, from perhaps even dying. I began to think about what
it would mean to have that kind of trust in every work setting. What would it
mean for each of us to trust our co-workers in this full-bodied way? What if we
needed to work so closely with one another, sharing the breath and the beat of
the heart of another so we wouldn’t fall down and hurt ourselves? What would it
be like to look into the eyes of the person at the desk or office nearby and
say: ”I’m trusting you with my life.”? This is certainly what the Circque du
Soleil performers must do twice a day for every day they are doing their
amazing work.


As for me, I’d like to think I also have the grace to be a colleague most like
the juggler’s assistant. Wearing a beautiful costume, her smile rich and pure, her
sole job is to hold the space for the one who tosses, pitches and throws. She
hands him what he needs to look good, to be successful. At the end of each part
of the act, her other job is to focus the attention on the one who is the
center of the attention.  With a flourish
of her lovely arms, she affirms her co-worker with a “Tah-Dah!” and the
applause ensues, the audience wildly affirming his skill and expertise.


Each of us, in our work setting, with friends or family,play certain roles. In your work place, what role do you play? My prayer is that each of us
might work more like these amazing performers…….knowing the trust we must
have in one another……the trust that the other is looking out for our very
lives.And that the end of the day, we each might lift our lovely arms toward one another with a "Tah-dah" and stand in the arm glow of the applause….together.