Pushing Apart

"God, I can push the grass apart
And lay my finger on Thy heart."
~Edna St. Vincent Millay

I have been spending this week on vacation. It is a time I have looked forward to for a long time. I had hoped that it would be a time when I could clear out my head from a variety of things….work related, home-related, life-related. I had hoped that a change of scenery would allow me to push apart the things that seem to be keeping me from seeing with clarity. I have actually used that metaphor….walking through tall grass….to describe to myself how this time in my life has felt. I have also used my hands to make the motion of clearing the path so I can see what is ahead.

Unfortunately the days here have not turned out as I had planned. I have loved the little towns we have visited, the paths through the tall pines, even the rain-forest like atmosphere. But I am not so sure I am any closer to clarity than I was when I left Minnesota surrounded by large snowflakes falling, making the literal road difficult to see. I understood the danger of hanging too much on any time away but I did not, it seems, heed my own inner voice. Perhaps I had expected too much.

This morning we walked the beach of Guemes Island shrouded in another overcast day, the smaller islands held in a fog that caused me to squint to see their outline at the waters' edge. We watched two fishing boats cast their nets in 100 foot circles, pulling in the catch that will feed their families and grace the tables of local restaurants. As I narrowed my eyes to try to make clearer the outline of fisherman,net and boat, the out sight of a seal became clear to me. Its tiny head poked above the water, looking this way and that, until under the water it went again. Something about seeing this sweet, graceful animal in its native habitat filled me with emotion, touched my heart. It felt like a gift.

Tomorrow we will head back home and I may find myself still making my way through the tall grass. But somehow I believe that I will re-enter my life with new tools for whatever comes my way. I will be armed with the beautiful stones and shells I have collected along the beaches, treasures of memory. I will be surrounded by the strength of the forests in which we have hiked, touchstones of earth. I will find the still point within me that connected to the rhythm of the water we have gazed upon, mystery experienced. And I will remember the way the water broke so gently as the eye, the single eye, of the seal emerged from its water home seeing me, I'm sure, with clarity.


I had the privilege of worshiping in the beautiful Chapel of St. Ignatius on the campus of Seattle University this past Sunday. It is a unique. modern space that feels almost cave like. Its warm, white walls angle in soft ways making the acoustics rich and round. The music was lovely, made up of both students and several generations.

At one point of the homily the priest made this statement:"Everything is on the threshold of grace." He was using the story of Bartimaeus the man who is said to be blind. He comes to Jesus asking to be healed. It is a story rich in images and intrigue. It is also one of those rare and wonderful stories that actually makes an account of a conversation with Jesus. My favorite statement part is when Jesus turns to Bartimaeus and simply says:"What do you want me to do for you?" How straight forward is that?!

Bartimaeus wants to be healed from his inability to see. I can relate, can you? There are so many situations in my life, in the life of the world that need the shadows of darkness or the grime of confusion to be scraped away. In any given day I come upon a relationship or a challenge that simply needs me to have x-ray vision, like Superman, to clear away the debris that keeps me stuck. Like Bartimaeus, I am standing on the threshold of grace, waiting to be given the gift of seeing.

My other favorite line in this story is the description that Bartimaeus comes to Jesus 'in darkness of night'. There are so many places in our lives in which we travel in the darkness of night. We look around the edges for those places where light might break in…the gift of seeing. I believe the priest at mass on Sunday was saying that this is the human condition. Most often we travel in the darkness of night, groping our way to sight. In how we do our work, how we live our lives, how we form our relationships, how we plan for our future, we are always traveling in a form of darkness, seeing nothing or only a small part of the whole picture.

But in that darkness we are also always perched on the threshold of grace. Someplace on the edge of the shadows, we can hear that question echo through time:"What do you want me to do for you?" Being present to the question and the answers that then appear allows us to step over the threshold and into the light of grace. For each of us,like Bartimaeus, healing is just within our reach, even when we don't know it.


"You cannot travel the path until you have become the path."
~The Buddha

Over the years I have learned that there are basically two kinds of travelers. There are those who love the planning, the maps, the itineraries, scouring for the best deals at hotels or with airlines. These people, I believe, get nearly as much enjoyment from planning the trip as actually going. Then there are those folks who find great enjoyment in not really knowing what the plan for the day is, just getting up and wandering until a sight or experience calls out, talking to strangers, asking for directions, the surprise of new found places, all combine to provide the perfect travel experience.

In a meeting last week someone told of a man who simply got in his car, went through the drive-through cash machine for cash, and then just started out on the open road. Several around the table sighed while admitting that this is a fantasy they have. Others looked on with a sort of fainting, strangled, trapped look that showed their utter horror at such an idea. What does this idea conjure up in you?

It made me think about my own travel comfort levels, what makes for an exciting trip, what makes for comfort, what drives me crazy, what I can live with and without while traveling. I have to admit that I was one of those who have always wanted to simply get in the car and just drive without a particular destination in mind. Just see where the road takes me, what I might discover in the process. I'm not sure when such a notion came to me but the thought of it still makes me smile though I have never actually done it.

I realize traveling is a thing of privilege. And how we get to travel or don't get to travel is also a mark of a life of means. I think of those people I know who have not been able to choose the circumstances under which they travel life's paths. For them every day is the open road, with no destination in mind, no plan in place. Or the plan they had has been interrupted by situations not under their control. A lost job here, a missed bill there, an illness, a broken relationship all can contribute to a change of travel plans. 

What does your itinerary hold today? Where is life taking you? Are the plans yours or do they belong to someone else? A group of people from our church is traveling in Cuba right now. I think of the many plans that were made to make this trip a possibility. But I am sure that all the plans in the world have not prepared them for some of the many surprises and gifts of this journey.

Today,whether the path is smooth and well thought out or your day is wide open waiting for the surprises to arrive, my prayer is that you can find a way to be open to the possibility of the journey itself. And isn't that always where the true rubber hits the road?

Pulling Weeds

"I learn more about God

From weeds than from roses;

Resilience springing

Through the smallest chink of hope

In the absolute of concrete…."

~Phillip Pulfrey

October is, in some ways, an odd time to write about pulling weeds. The yard work that needs to be accomplished around our house comes more in the form of raking and bagging the leaves that have fallen and are falling each day at an alarming rate. But I just saw a report from Balmoral Castle, the country home of the British royal family,situated in the highlands of Scotland. Now I am a hopeless anglophile so I am always drawn to anything that remotely mentions the royal family. The report included tours of the beautiful grounds that surround the castle and the interior that has not changed much for over a hundred years. But what caught my attention was an interview with the head gardener. In addition to showing the amazing geraniums that are a favorite to the queen, she said that often, when the queen is in residence, they will find little piles of weeds on the grounds where the queen has settled into doing a little yard work of her own.

Imagine that! The Queen of England weeding! Doesn't it just make you smile? Can't you imagine her down on her knees in the dirt pulling a stray plant that doesn't seem to fit in the scheme of the well manicured gardens? I love the idea of it.

It made me wonder if the gardeners, instead of being lax in their work, really left a few patches of untended areas simply for her pleasure, for her work. Because in the end, don't we all need to do a little weeding now and then? It is quite therapeutic to bend down and pull out what is misplaced and throw in onto the compost heap. I imagine the gardeners at Balmoral must know that the queen might benefit from weeding just like the rest of us. As she pulls out that errant thistle who planted itself among the roses, is she thinking of all the world's problems that she has no power to overcome? What about the situation in Palestine? In Israel? In Afghanistan? As she gives the Scottish equivalent of the dandelion a good yank, is she trying to rid herself of all the economic worries of her people, their unemployment woes, the latest escapades of the Prime Minister?

It is difficult to know if the queen's ability to weed is made possible through the neglect of her hired staff or not. But the one thing I am sure of is that we all have the need to weed at times. Even the queen.

So my question is what needs weeding in my life? What needs weeding in yours?

What Heals Us?

"This being human is a guest house.
Every day a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house

Empty of its furniture,

Still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

For some new delight."

It seems there is a certain time of every year when pain, suffering and death come. It is not always the same time of year but when it comes it seems to take up residence until it is ready to leave. We don't get to choose the time of year though it does seem that winter is often to be the most likely season. This year, however, it has been different. Late summer and early fall has held its share of sadness, of loss.

This loss that is present has caused me to reflect on the matter of what it is that heals us. What is it that brings a mending, a reaching toward wholeness that brings us back to center, back to who we know ourselves to be? There are many answers to this question: beauty, laughter, prayer, a child's presence,a brilliant sunset, bread or the sweet taste of any food that comforts.

I believe music heals us. Singing with others, having others sing to you, being surrounded by the fragile, tentative voices of other humans making the effort to bring music to birth. I am not sure if it matters what music it is, perhaps it does, but I am sure that in any situation needing healing, 'Silent Night' rarely fails to do the job.

Of the words that can heal us, I believe they must be spare. Perhaps there are sermons that heal, or speeches, but I have never experienced them. Most often in these situations there is too much space being taken up by words. But a poem, in my estimation, is what is needed for healing. Those few carefully chosen, labored over words, that fit together like a marvelous puzzle will almost always pull loss toward wholeness.

And the final thing that I believe is imperative to healing is community. The gathering together of loving friends, sometimes perfect strangers,like minds, soft hearts, to allow the suffering one to name and be named moves everyone to the edge of what it means to be human. In that energy that is generated by the collective breath and presence of one another, all are nudged to remember and reclaim the Breath that breathed them into being and continues to hold them in deep love.

I believe this and know it to be true because I have lived it and I am grateful.

Never Commonplace

"To the real mystic, the passing of the seasons is never commonplace. It is the repetition that finally, finally opens our eyes to God where God has always been: right under the feet of us." Joan Chittister, Sacred Moments in Everyday Life.

Over the last two weeks I have observed much worship happening. Almost none of this has been in church. Driving on Highway 13 which runs along the Mississippi River near our house, I have observed people standing on bridges and along the road simply looking at the colors of the leaves changing. Many times they are just standing as if in a trance, as if drawn there by something out of their control. While they may stand in small groups or in couples, they are not talking, they are looking, gazing at the miraculous show of life slipping from the leaves, signaling the end of another season. Perhaps there is nothing that need be said in the presence of such Mystery.

Yesterday in a meeting we were sharing what our favorite thing about autumn is. One person spoke of the smell of rotting leaves, the moisture they hold, the scent of the evergreens in fall. She said,"It always amazes me that death can smell so wonderful!" These trees, that bring oxygen to we lowly humans, put on the show of their lives as their leaves slip slowly to feed the earth once again. The brilliant reds, deep oranges, and mellow golds stop us in our tracks and nearly demand our attention, even our worship.

As Joan Chittister points out, this passing is never commonplace. The repetition of the seasons does, indeed, invite us to see God where God has always been:right in front of us, right under our feet. As I see those who are drawn to stop their cars and pay attention, deep attention to this passing, it warms my heart. The beauty of God has lured them from their frantic lives and offered a gift. The leaves are offering the gift of their very lives. It is the ultimate sacrifice. It is full of color and a wonderful scent that only happens once a year.

And there is nothing commonplace about any of it. Let us worship!

Have a blessed weekend…………….


I have this awful feeling that I am moving through mud this week. No matter how detailed my to-do list is, I seem to end up at the end of the day asking myself the question,"What in heaven's name did I do today?" Perhaps it is because I have been having the 'whack-a-mole' syndrome. Do you know what I mean? It is that carnival game where you stand with a rubber mallet as these little,furry, fake moles pop up in random places on a flat surface. The point of the game is to 'whack the mole' back down into its hole. The better you are at it, the faster the moles pop up. You can imagine it. Perhaps you have even felt the same way some weeks.It is simply a fact of life that some weeks are just more complicated than others. More challenges. More conflicts. More opportunities. More, more, more. I liken it to the same experience I have when I have a cold. When you are in the midst of a full blown,nose-blowing, stuffed up, red faced cold, it is difficult to remember when you ever felt 'normal'. At least that is my experience. I become the person who has always had a terrible cold, have always been whacking moles.

But, of course, this is not true. Soon this rolling around in the mud will break loose and things will ease into a calmer, quieter, more peaceful way of being.Much of that has to do with the ebb and flow of work, of life. But sometimes we have the ability to soften the thrust of the mallet and smooth out the muddy mess by simply stopping and remembering that it will not always be so. After a deep breath, an uttered prayer,clarity creeps in. Solutions will be found. Challenges will be overcome. Conflicts will be resolved. It is the nature of goodness and order to prevail.

If you are in a similar place as I am, I invite you to put down your mallet and take off your waders. Let the moles pop until they exhaust themselves. Invite the sun to come out to harden the mud. Take the reins of creativity and calm and hold on tight. Better days are ahead.

"Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead,
Find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed:

Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we can see
All the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be."
~Shirley Erena Murray

Color Power

Yesterday I was in a workshop that provided me with some very helpful information. The leader of this workshop was a lawyer and an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. At one point of her presentation she asked us what we thought was the most important point listed on an image on the screen. After several answers were offered, she pointed out the word 'resolution'. Now, indeed, the process of resolution was the point she was making but then she pointed out that the word resolution had been written in the color blue. She then told us that in one of the most important classes she took in law school she learned this: Blue is the color you wear when you want people to know you are speaking the truth. Somehow 'blue' signals truth to our brains. When you want to distract or keep people not focusing completely on our words, wear red. When you want people to completely focus on what you are saying, wear black.

Now there were many important things I heard during this presentation, but these are the messages that have been playing with my imagination. Blue, the color of truth. Perhaps I am thinking about it because I would have to say that blue is not really in my color palette but mostly it is intriguing to me that, as humans, we are such complex creatures. The idea that the colors we choose to wear can have such an influence on people's experience of who we are and what we say is fascinating, isn't it?

It led me to think about all the times I might have been distracted by red. Was I so enthralled by the brilliant scarlet of a jacket or scarf that I completely was taken in by words I might have heard differently if my eyes had been bathed in blue or green? Have I listened too intently to words that really should have rolled off my back because the speaker was wearing basic black? It is a fascinating concept to me. I think of all the years that the 'red power tie' has been a symbol of men's power in the work place. Hmmmmm……We can all surmise what we will from that.

Today I will be traveling along the country roads of Minnesota on my way back to the Twin Cities after a couple of days at a retreat center.My eyes will be shocked by the blaze red of the sumac and the amazing gold of the birch trees that line the freeway. As I walked early along the shore of the lake that was shrouded in the mist of a colder than usual autumn morning, the deep, blue sky of morning truth gently cradled the brilliant crystal of stars and a sliver of white moon. Over in the east, the sun was making its way toward the horizon causing streaks of lavender, hot pink and a golden yellow to streak across the brightening sky. The colors of the October morning took my breath away. Never underestimate the power of color.

"Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe
nothing just because a belief is generally held.Believe nothing just
because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is
said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else
believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true."
~The Buddha

Divine Liturgy

One of the Lutheran churches in our neighborhood recently sold their building to a Roman Catholic church. As I drove by the other day I saw on the outdoor sign the title "Divine Liturgy" giving the time of the mass. I actually said the words out loud:"Divine Liturgy". Since I am not well versed in the various kinds of masses of the Catholic church, this could be a service for something very specific. But what struck me is that the word 'liturgy' literally means 'the work of the people.' Divine liturgy…..the divine work of the people. Doesn't it sound wonderful?

What if every morning we woke up with the idea that today we were going to be about divine work? What if every time we walked into our places of worship we really set about engaging in divine work? What if we saw all our work as a relationship between us and the Divine? How do you think your work would be changed by this intention? It is an intriguing thought, isn't it?I am imaging how I might approach that difficult person if I truly believed the Divine was standing right in the midst of us. Wouldn't I see this person with the eyes of compassion? I am imaging all the mundane tasks I do, we all do, daily. How might I approach them differently if I saw the Presence of God intricately woven into each little detail, each form, each copy made? The meals made and eaten, the hands touched and held, the eyes met, the words said, all wrapped in the breath of the Divine One.

Those who have declared many times "God is in all places." forget the truth of this with great regularity. Those who have heard these words also allow them to roll off their backs with ease. It is our way.

But what if today was the day, the real beginning of a new way of employment? What if today is the day to begin our Divine Liturgy? A snowy Monday in October seems as good a day as any to begin the work of the people anew. It couldn't hurt and it just might make all the difference in the world.

When we get together to make liturgy
we share things,

no hierarchies,
We are wordsmiths and story-tellers
sculptors of images
 explorers of silences
 music makers
 singers of songs.
We move chairs
 create sacred spaces in living rooms
 set off fireworks in back gardens
 dance in cathedrals
 picnic in rain-threatening weather
 float candles in baptismal fonts.
When we get together to make liturgy
 we rejoice with the saints and the angels,
 discovering our creativity,
   being ourselves
in the image and glory of God.
~Ruth Burgess

About Effort

The sun hears the fields talking about effort
and the sun
and whispers to
"Why don't the fields just rest, for
I am willing to do
to help them
Rest, my dears, in
~St Catherine of Siena

I don't play golf often but when I do my favorite part is 'whacking' the ball with my wood and seeing just how far it will go. I love putting all my energy and force toward this little inanimate thing and letting it fly. I usually do pretty well at this.

Where my game really falls apart is with putting. The small, often gentle, precise movements needed to actually put the golf ball in the hole are lost on me. I cannot contain my need to go at things full force long enough to rest in my movements, focus on the connection between my arms, the club, the ball and the hole. I usually end up laughing at myself over this for a few moments. But then it is on the next good 'whack'.

We recently received as a gift to our community a beautiful, crystal singing bowl. These bowls are used in meditation and are tuned to the different chakras of the body. This bowl, larger than your largest salad bowl, is tuned to the throat chakra and has a high, ringing tone that stays in the room for minutes after it is rung. It is rung by tapping it gently with a rubber mallet and then the person ringing can gently move in circles with the mallet on the inside of the bowl to keep the ringing going on and on. It is a glorious, calming, centering sound.

I, however, cannot seem to master this second part of creating the on-going sound. I tap, tap, tap and when I try to move the mallet in circles within the bowl, I apply too much pressure and the sound comes to a grinding halt. As I was trying this one morning before worship I realized that I am approaching the singing bowl much like I approach putting. Too much effort, too much energy, too much punch, just plain too much.

Many things, perhaps most things, in life take little effort. Most often the things that matter….relationships, love, kindness, appreciation of beauty….really only require being present. Riding on the breath of Spirit we can find a way of walking in the world that isn't so much about how we push and pull, but how we rest and pray. Just writing those words made my shoulders relax.That tells me there must be Truth present.

I am breathing now, deeply, all the way down to my toes. No whacking for me today. Only resting and breathing which may be a good definition of prayer. If you are also wearied from effort, I invite you to join me.Breathe in. Breathe out. Deeply. Resting. Praying.

Have a beautiful, restful weekend……………….