"See, I am making all things new."  Revelation 21:5

 I read recently about an ancient Scottish custom. It called the celebration of "first-footing" and honors the first guest to cross the threshold of the house after the beginning of a new year. This guest is thought to bring good fortune and the custom is that the first-footer will bring with them a gift is helpful to the household. That person is then also offered a gift in return and invited with great hospitality to join in the celebration of the house for the new year.

 Over time I imagine there has been much planning as to who will be the first-footer to come through the New Year's door. It has probably become a ritual much like when Santa Claus visits some houses on Christmas Eve only preparing the children for the excitement that will happen while they sleep. But if we did not plan for it or in essence choose the first guest, we might do well to be open and aware to who or what it is that 2010 brings through our doors .What guest might we welcome into this year that will bring gifts we might not have imagined? 

As we look back at the guests who have crossed our paths this year, many have been welcome and many have not. Some have opened doors to find   illness,grief,disappointments, or sorrows knocking. Still others have opened doors to adventures, accomplishments, fresh starts, dreams fulfilled. Whether welcomed or not, all these have been guests, first-footers, in our lives. It is only in living into their arrival that we come to know their gifts. Initially we may not be able to celebrate their step across our thresholds. But with retrospect we can, through grace, mine the gifts they have brought.

Today we stand in the in-between place between the year that has been and the one yet to come. Guests have come and gone, leaving behind assorted gifts that have changed us and shaped us, preparing us for the newness of the year to come. In the reflection that will no doubt happen at some point of this day, it will be good to offer our gratitude for all whether welcome or not. And as we move into the darkness of this night which also offers us a Blue Moon, a blessed second full moon of this month, may we all find ourselves waiting with anticipation for the first-footer who will bring the first gift of the new year to our homes. May we open the door fully for all they carry and bid them a hearty welcome. 

2010….here we come!


"Out of clutter, find simplicity." Albert Einstein

I received an email from a friend who was basking in her acts of de-cluttering. Over the past few days, I too, have been making plans to clean out little spots that have collected more than they need, more than they can hold. Yesterday our youngest son cleaned and organized a kitchen cabinet that had been neglected for far too long. This morning as I opened it to take down the coffee for my morning cup, I could almost feel the fresh, opening breeze blow out and over me. 

There is something about these days that create a certain urgency for de-cluttering. Our house, like many, has taken on the extra 'stuff' of Christmas decorating making for a 'fuller' household than usual. With all the regular furniture, books, photos and artwork, we have added a large tree, wreaths, extra candles, garlands and much more. At some point after the Christmas celebration, this all begins to make me feel a little claustrophobic.  I begin to count the days when it can all be put back in the boxes for storage until next year when I will once again long to deck our halls.

De-cluttering is most often associated with material objects, things that can be discarded into the trash or given away to someone who has need of them. But there is also the non-material de-cluttering that calls to me in these days, at the eve of a new year. There are those attitudes and opinions I have carried that have cluttered my mind with breed negativity. There are angers I have harbored allowing them to dig a deep trench in my spirit. There are habits that I have adopted that are no longer helpful, even harmful, that need to be shed to make room for better practices. Perhaps I am the only person thinking in this way today but somehow I don't think so. De-cluttering is called for not only in the stuff that has accumulated in my living space but also in my heart and my spirit. And the turning of the year is the perfect time to give them attention.

Today, on this eve of New Year's Eve, I want to sit awhile and reflect on what clutter has taken up space in my life. I want to ask myself questions like: What needs to be boxed up and discarded? What is best forgotten without a glance backward? What room can I make for what really needs to be a part of my life right now? These are my questions. I am sure you have your own.

Whatever the clutter in your life, I pray you will have the will and the courage to sort through it, making room for whatever brings you life and propels you with joy into these new days which are pure gift. So be it. Amen.

Heart’s Desire

I have a daily meditation book called The Celtic Spirit. Its pages are filled with beautiful, wise and often playful words encouraging the reader to stay in tune with the daily transitions of the year and how, if we awake, we find the Sacred in the midst of the ordinary. It is a book I return to over and over again.  

Today's reading had to do with our heart's desire. I believe it was written to coincide with the coming New Year and the traditional practice of making resolutions. These things to be 'taken on' or others to be 'let go of' frame how we enter the next year we will travel round the sun. I've never been much of a resolution maker having learned early in life that it can often be a deep, dark pit of disappointment. But that doesn't keep me from thinking about this transition of year's end and noting the possibility that new things can happen that will be for the good. By this, I mean, that small intentions I can make as I enter 2010 will have the potential to move my life in a way that will more fully realize who I was born to be. And, after all, isn't that the point of our living?

The writer of this daily meditation book, Caitlin Matthews, makes a clear distinction between our wishes and our heart's desire. I can wish for all manner of things….a new car, a slimmer waistline, that lovely sea foam green angora sweater I saw in the store window…..but these things are fleeting in their ability to bring happiness. But my heart's desire is the connection with that deep seed of hope that was born with me, that seed which I nurture or neglect. Coming to know my heart's desire means focusing inward for what will fulfill and bring my given potential to the world. This becomes not only the fulfillments of my heart's longing but also, I believe, the longing of the One who breathed me into being. This work is much more difficult and requires more commitment on my part than the wishes I harbor. It also allows me to connect with the Holy that rests in the heart of that deep seed. Matthews writes: "If we can commune deeply upon our heart's desire, rather than upon our fantasies, if we can envision it with every cell of our body and call to it, then we send a true song to make the pathway between ourselves and our heart's desire."

What is your heart's desire? What is the seed that lies deep within that is calling you to sing your true song? How will the pathway between your self and your heart's desire be paved this coming year? These cold winter days can provide the perfect environment for looking within to re-member our deepest self and set our intention for how we may live into the new year with clarity and vision. There are a few days left in 2009, good days to contemplate our heart's desire.

Solved by Walking

As the events of Christmas week are fading into the distance and those of the New Year are moving into focus, I have finally had the time to reflect on what is often the frenzy that is Christmas Eve. The snow that was predicted did, indeed, arrive though not to the debilitating degree that was expected. Most people still made it out for both afternoon and evening worship services. Parties still happened though the traveling from place to place took more patience and time.

When I think back on Christmas Eve, one of my favorite memories is of our labyrinth service which is held amid candlelight and quiet music. People of all ages showed up this year for this more contemplative service of poetry and carols. Nearly 50 people walked their prayers while gently singing familiar songs, stopping to gaze upon the beautiful art that surrounds the room or squeeze the hand of a fellow walker, a prayer companion.  As I watched the different people slowly make their way around this ancient prayer path, I began to notice their varied walking rhythms…..some slow and deliberate…..others quicker and confident. Still others made smooth, dancelike movements as their bodies twisted and turned in the circuitous path. All these individual ways of walking were also affected by several small children who moved among and around the adults. Their energy provided a certain electricity that added something special to this particular Christmas Eve celebration. At one point almost all the people were on one side of the labyrinth at the same time, something I don't think I've ever seen before. It was as if they all needed to be close, to walk their prayers together and not alone.

We are coming to the end of not only a year but a decade. It is a decade that has held the joys and sorrows, challenges and successes of any collection of years. And yet, this decade began with the events now known simply as 9/11 and those days and all they held have shaped the years that followed. We carried into the successive years the vulnerability and wounds we experienced in the early part of this ten year cycle. I heard a commentator today refer to this a 'the lost decade'. His implication was that we have spent so much time trying to recover, repair and prevent another act like 9/11 from happening that we have wandered in the wilderness instead of making any particular progress.

Lost? I'm not sure if I completely agree but it is worth some further thought as we reflect on the ending of this year, this decade. Certainly 9/11 has shaped us but have we been lost because of it? This concept will give me something to ponder as I move through the snowy days at the end of this decade. But for now, at least, I will remember those people carrying their prayers on their faces as they walked a path traveled by other pray-ers for thousands of years. Each step,each sole laid down, represented a hope, a hurt, a promise, a prayer for what has happened or is yet to be. They were individuals, yes, but they held the collective energy representative of a people who wake every day to a new day, a gift as great as any. And in the walking, in the praying, they….we...walk to solve whatever problem, whatever challenge is before us. And in the walking, in the solving, we are held by a Love that will not let us go. And that for me is one of the greatest reasons to know that, even when it seems like the wilderness, I will not be lost forever.

Waiting for the Storm

Most Minnesotans and other Midwesterners have been spending the last day watching for updates to an anticipated Christmas Eve snowstorm. We have listened as the meteorologists have reported the snow arriving in a few hours from 'watch' to 'warning'. That always sounds so ominous to me…..WARNING! Snow coming! We are, of course, watching with more intensity because we observed the East Coast get hit just a few days ago with a storm that crippled travelers and left many stranded. And so, on these most busy and traveled days, we are rearranging plans, thinking of a 'plan B', and generally watching the skies turn grayer and grayer as the threat seems to grow all around us.

For those of us who work in the church, we are paying particularly close attention. Since Christmas Eve services have been planned and music rehearsed for weeks, even months, the question as to whether or not we will be 'snowed out' or not is floating all around us. We spent considerable time yesterday going over all the possible scenarios that might occur: People will come to only the earlier services  trying to miss the impending blizzard. Others will stay home and skip church all together. And then there will still be others who will see this as a challenge to be met….to Christmas Eve services or bust! In the end our message to one another was 'be safe' as we silently hoped that message would span out into the community. 

I have to admit I find it interesting that in the Advent when our community chose as its theme "Welcoming the Wild One" we find ourselves waiting for a storm this Christmas. Instead of the soft falling Hollywood  flakes that become visible in the movie White Christmas, we are battening down the hatches for a full out blizzard. It seems to me quite appropriate that this Christmas in particular finds us held in the balance of what happens when wildness comes to call. Here we are waiting to welcome a tiny child who would turn his world upside down, who would challenge the powers of injustice in his time and invite all manner of people to his table. By choosing to follow his example, we are urged to do the same in our time…..welcome the outsider, lobby the rich and powerful, rebel against systems that continue to oppress. 

It somehow only seems appropriate that when we chose to welcome the Wild One we would find ourselves waiting for a storm.


"The light shines in the darkness"……. John 1:5

Just a few hours ago the Winter Solstice arrived. On this day,December 21st, we recognize that the sun will begin returning and our days will once again grow longer. There was a time in my life when this awe-inspiring fact would have gone unnoticed. Growing up we never spoke of the Winter Solstice. To have done so in a predominantly conservative Christian area of the country would have seemed suspect. After moving to Minnesota where the winter days are even darker than those of my childhood, I began to notice the ways in which the darkness plays havoc with the rhythm of people's lives even with their very spirits. Not long after this awakening I began to come into contact with people who paid attention to celebrations like the Winter and Summer Solstice and their awareness shaped mine.Even many churches, including my own, now fold this celebration into its worship life. For this I am very grateful.

My gratitude comes from a deep place. Knowing that the community that shapes my spiritual life also holds in honor those whose wisdom and knowledge of how the universe works is important to me. The recognition that the date set for celebrating the birth of the Christ Child was placed close to this important celebration held sacred by ancients also is important. It helps me see myself and all others connected through time by a great Mystery that holds us all. It helps remind me that while Christians wait for the coming of the Light of the world we are also waiting for a literal return of light that will nurture and sustain not only the human ones but all the earth. It is a very heady thing to think about!

The light will not return to us right away. Over days that have passed and for a few more to come, we will be held suspended in the darkness that has descended incrementally since the full light of June's Summer Solstice. Mostly we have not noticed its slow ebb. But over the last several weeks we have all felt the slow depletion of light, not only in our days but in our souls as well. The change toward more light will happen just as slowly. But it will happen. On Christmas Day we will be graced by one more minute of sunlight. That day, while presents are being opened, while toys are being played with and new sweaters are being pulled over heads, a little more light will come into our world. We will hardly notice, in fact it is a sure bet we will not even be aware. That is unless we choose to stay awake to the play of light on the snow, the light that edges its way into our over packed and exuberant day. 

That tiny infant born so long ago was also easy to miss. And yet the light that its life shone into the world shines still……if we are awake…..if we choose…to watch and be aware of the ways hands reach out to other hands and hearts are continue to be warmed by a Love born out of the deepest darkness. This is the gift of the solstice. This is the gift of Christmas.

Christmas Tree

"O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
How lovely are your branches!
Your boughs are green in summer's clime
And through the snows of wintertime.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
How lovely are your branches!"

I am sitting right now in the glow of our beautiful Christmas tree. Last week our younger son and I went to the tree lot to choose it and waited while two Boy Scout fathers tied it to the top of our car. We inched our way along city streets and across bridges to finally get it to its new home…..our living room. As we drove more leisurely and carefully than usual we talked about why we were actually doing this…..bringing a somewhat live tree into our house, that is. I explained that it is an ancient, pre-Christian custom associated with creating a reminder that even in the dead and cold of winter, new life will return like the evergreen. We both agreed that this was a tradition worth keeping for a very long time.

Throughout time Christians have affirmed and rejected this ancient custom for all kinds of reasons. But I believe it is here to stay. As long as people need a reminder that life will always triumph, that the branches of a tree that continues to shine green into the world in the midst of winter is a wondrous thing, I believe we will continue to haul trees into our homes. Whether real or artificial, the very act of moving furniture around and making room for a tree in the house stirs up a sense of reflection on all that brings beauty and hope. 

In addition to bringing beauty and a sense of wonder into our living room, the Christmas tree also chronicles our family's life. As ornaments are hung on the branches we can see the history of our family emerge. Ornaments given as baby gifts, others in recognition of special loves we each have…soccer, basketball, fishing, angels. Still others were made by small hands and dated for years in pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school. Each a memory of years gone by but entered into once more when brought out of the storage box and placed with reverence on the prickly branch of the tree.

I am always reminded of this fact each year as we place one particular ornament on the tree.  At the top of our tree a small ornament encases a whirling fan-like object given to me when I was a child by my grandmother's friend, Mame Woods, whose name I would never remember except through the placement of this ornament. As I look up right now it is whirling round and round driven by the small amount of heat generated by the twinkling lights.

So this ancient custom meant to remind us that life will continue even in the darkest winters does more than that. It connects us with our past and helps us name and celebrate the present in which we live this day, this moment, this Christmas.  Bringing this evergreen inside and making room for it at the center of our living encourages us to look for the life that is already present. The life that is real and precious and eternal, clothed not only in green but in the stories represented in glass, paper and plastic hung by metal hooks year after year. 

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, how lovely are your branches!

Have a blessed weekend………


I am surrounded right now with a low hum of activity. Here in the church office we are busily and steadily preparing for Christmas Eve. Though there is still one Sunday left in Advent, all the many details that go into creating the services of worship that usher people into the Christmas season have been being refined for weeks. Bulletins need to be printed. Music needs to be rehearsed. Liturgy needs to be written, speaking parts assigned. People have been signing up for the last month to be a part of one or more of the many services that will bring the Light of Christmas into the hearts of those in attendance.

It has been my privilege for many years to be a part of the 4:00 Christmas Eve pageant. This service of worship which features our children and youth choirs also tells the story of the birth of Jesus complete with angels, shepherds, Magi and the Holy Family. Those desiring these coveted roles have volunteered to don wings and halos, wear crowns and carry staffs. Only the Holy Family is invited……a new baby in the family makes you in the running for this center stage appearance. 

I have to be frank that the days moving up to the pageant are chaos. Even the rehearsal is chaos. Try bringing children of all ages together in the days moving up to this important day, sugar coursing through their bodies, sugarplums dancing in their heads, and it is nearly impossible to have anything but chaos present. Little bodies and even larger bodies fidget with excitement. Those reading in public for the first time are filled with a certain anxiety. Parents and grandparents, full of pride and anticipation, juggle to see their particular actor in the Nativity story.

I sometimes wonder what St. Francis of Assisi, the purported creator of the first Christmas pageant, would think if he saw the pageants we produce today. They are certainly more elaborate, more polished. Our costumes are finer, our words more well chosen, our choirs better trained. Rarely are live animals a part of the mix, adding yet another level of possible chaos to the tableau. I pray he would be pleased with what he might see. I pray he would experience the same level of awe at how ordinary people, mostly children, rise to become an angel heralding the news of Jesus' birth. I hope he would smile at the commitment of the shepherds to make their way to the manger, staff in hand, eyes transfixed by a baby they will see in a different light than ever before. I hope he would look with humility upon the Magi, knowing that the gifts they offer represent something more than the colored, glass beads glued to a fancy box.

These are my hopes because I know that this miracle happens for me every year. When the chaos of costumes and children transforms into the wonder of once again seeing that a Child can make a difference in the world, not only for me, but for everyone present. At that moment, when we are held in a thin place between what is real and now and what is eternal, the only possible response is to light a candle and sing with a lump in your throat: "Silent night….holy night…all is calm….all is bright………"

Winter Picnic

In the late afternoon hours of waning light, I walked across Loring Park on my way to the light rail station. It was very cold yesterday. I am not sure the temperature made its way into the double digits. This cold makes for very vivid and clear colors reflected in both sky and earth. The sky seems bluer, the trees darker. The blue of sky reflects on the snow covered ground making a sea of blue that seems endless.

 As I walked, surrounded by the steam of my own breath, I heard the call of the jet black crows calling from the tops of the naked trees.Having learned over this past year that crows have the ability to recognize humans, that they come to not only recognize them but develop a certain like or dislike of we two-leggeds, I was hoping to be on their good side because I was certainly out numbered. In the frigid air their strident crowing was nearly deafening. I slowed to watch them, sitting like royalty at the tops of the trees, singing their song for all to hear. What must their view be like from that vantage point? I might sing loudly too if I could see what they see. Instead I huddled my shoulders around my ears to keep out the cold.

Then I saw what they were most likely crowing about. Sitting in the center of the now frozen lake, a group of their own kind sat in a circle….really, it was a circle….having a feast,eating something, perhaps a fallen squirrel or other smaller bird. I noticed then that every now and then a call would be let out and one or two black forms would swoop from the treetop to take their place in the circle. There was a winter picnic happening right there in the middle of the stilled and solid water. These birds often thought of as greedy rogues seemed to be taking turns, sharing the gift of this cold winter meal. 

I smiled as I continued my walk. It seemed even these scavengers of death had been infused with a little holiday generosity. Perhaps it was just a survival of the fittest mentality but to my untrained eye, it seemed a circle of generosity saying that especially in these cold, winter days we need to stick together, draw our circle closer and share the goodness with which we are blessed.

 I am thankful to the crows for this reminder, for this lesson offered up in the subtle blue of a closing day.

"Crow is crow, you say.
 What else is there to say?
Drive down any road,
take a train or an airplane
across the world, leave
your old life behind,
die and be born again-
wherever you arrive
they'll be there first,
glossy and rowdy
and indistinguishable.
The deep muscle of the world."
~Mary Oliver 



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

Here in the northern hemisphere, more particularly in Minnesota and regions near, we are experiencing the darkness of December. We have only two more minutes of light to lose before the Winter Solstice on December 21st.  The interesting thing is that it does not get dark sooner in the evening but instead stays dark longer in the mornings. With the fresh snow that fell over night, I watched the neighborhood children run toward the bus this morning, white springing up from their feet as they moved through early morning shadows. Our world,  tilted toward darkness, or away from the sun whichever way you tend to think of it, is the landscape of Advent. We live tilted….toward something….away from something.

As I look out my office window the twisted limbs of the strong oak tree is dusted with snow that clings to its gray branches making a silhouette of jagged edges against an even grayer sky. It is difficult to look at it and remember the full greenness of its alive state. And yet, its roots are still reaching down into the earth, tilted toward the life that will travel through root and branch and limb to form the leaves of next summer. It is in a stagnant time, a dark time, waiting for life to once again course through its full body. It seems almost to be in prayer.

I am blessed to be surrounded by several pregnant women these days. I watch them move in the cold of these days knowing they house life within the darkness of their wombs. While everything seems to be in stillness, in suspension, these women carry a life that will change everything for them. Families will grow. Houses will need to take new shape, find new space for an addition that will alter how things have been done before. Parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors will embrace a newness that will surprise them and change how they relate to one another.

This winter season can be a burden for many, a nuisance to others. But for me, I want to embrace this darkness, this chill that is void of color,lacking juice. In these days when we are tilted from the sun that brings warmth and greenness and life, I believe it is important to remember all that is nurtured in darkness, in Mystery. I want to spend these days waiting in expectation for the return of the Sun…..and the birth of the Child….that will change everything.