New Pentecost

I had the privilege yesterday of spending time at two events led by J.Philip Newell, author, poet and former warden of the Iona community on the island of Iona, Scotland. I have long been a follower of his work which finds its home in Celtic spirituality helping readers to reclaim some ancient wisdom of the early faithful. It was an inspiring day, filled with hope and new insights for these renewing days of Lent. While most church leaders can paint a fairly bleak picture of the future of the faithful, Newell describes what he believes to be a 'New Pentecost'. From his eye view he sees the 'Spirit hovering over us bringing a 'new consciousness of Oneness.' His descriptions of co-leading retreats with Jewish and Muslim faith leaders are humbling. The ways in which he shapes words and stories to show the unity of different faith traditions rather than their division fills me with hope and excitement. Truly, as a world, we can no longer continue to further divide and alienate one another. We see the fruits of this kind of destruction all around us, in our churches, in our governments, in our warring, in our brokenness. 

Perhaps, like J. Philip Newell, we might embrace the idea, the hope, that we are in the midst of a 'New Pentecost'. Perhaps the Spirit is moving in ways that, like the story of Pentecost in the Book of Acts, shines the spotlight on people being able to understand one another even though they spoke different languages. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Wouldn't that be a sure sign of the kin-dom of God in our midst? I can imagine Israelis and Palestinians talking across fences seeing, not the long years of divisions, but the human longing in one another's faces. I can dream of seeing all the places of war in our world being healed by conversations about how both sides love their children, their partners, their homeland and each one understanding how more alike they are they they ever imagined. I can see our politicians opening their hearts, minds and very spirits to pursuing the common good, laying aside their party language for words that move toward healing and a renewed sense of what it means to be a nation that cares for the least, the lost and the left out. I imagine a time when young men won't need to join a gang to find identity and belonging but will be so secure in their home and school that they will stand strong in knowing they are unique and blessed children of God.

This kind of systemic change will take more than legislation. petitions and votes. It will take a 'New Pentecost', a stirring of the Spirit so full and vibrant that there will be no turning back. We will have understood one another so fully and will have seen the Holy in the other's eyes. I pray J. Philip Newell is right. I pray that what he has been speaking of and experiencing is signaling a new way of being in the world that allows us to see our unity, not only with one another, but with the One who breathed us all into being regardless of the color of our skin, the faith we proclaim, the political party we support, the size of our checkbook, the place we call home. 

As we finished our day with worship at the lovely Pilgrim Lutheran Church in St. Paul, we sang this chant from the ancient Gaelic writings Carmina Gadelica: 'May God's goodness be yours, and well and seven times well. May you spend your lives.' I woke this morning with those words still echoing in my head and my heart. Perhaps this new Pentecost will allow these words to be the silent greeting we offer to all we meet. May we spend our lives, literally, embracing the goodness of Creation that is our gift. And in this embrace may we hold one another dear, as dearly as we are held by the One who breathes over us. 

"When the day of Pentecost has come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them,and a tongue rested on each of them.All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.Amazed and astonished they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? …..All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" Acts 2 selected

Have a blessed weekend………………………..

Breathe on Me

In this morning's Star Tribune newspaper, I was interested in Deb Brown's article debunking certain plant facts or fiction. I was particularly drawn to several paragraphs about talking to your plants. Now this is an idea that has been around for many years and I have certainly observed many people lovingly talking to their plants. I haven't,l however, ever done any hard research to see if talking while watering and weeding really makes any difference. I mostly have just thought it was sweet, a lovely thing to do between plant and gardener.

It seems, according to Brown, that it does indeed breed healthier plants. It does not really matter much what the love words you say are as long as you breathe long and hard on them. It seem the human's inhalation of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide goes up against the plant's 'exhalation' of oxygen and 'inhalation' of carbon dioxide. As we are talking to these leafy ones, our breath feeds their need for CO2. It's kind of a mouth to leaf thing. 

Breathing is important business for people, plants and, well, all living things. But it is certainly something we take for granted, in fact, I know people who often hold their breath unconsciously when under stress. Breathing well regulates our hearts and calms our tensions. Breathing deeply lowers our blood pressure and can take us to a place of meditation. Paying attention to our breath can also help us connect to Spirit, allowing our prayers and our breath to unite. And it seems our breathing can also bring much needed greenness to the world. 

On this winter day, it would be a good thing to spend some time breathing…..just breathing….connecting with the Life Force that keeps us moving through this amazing and ever changing world. Breathing in, we are filled with the Spirit. Breathing out, we exhale a life giving form that causes plants to grow and flowers to bloom. Feels good, doesn't it?

"What can we do but keep on breathing in and out, modest and willing, and in our places?"  ~Mary Oliver

Search Potholes

There is an interesting and somewhat dangerous experience that happens in the waning days of winter. In places where the pavement of the road contracts and is often pummeled with salt and other chemicals, large potholes grow at an alarming rate. We have now entered such a time. Most streets, having frozen and thawed many times over the last months, are now filled with gaping holes, some as large as several feet in diameter. Many streets are so laden with these potholes that one must drive at reduced speeds, swerving and swaying to avoid destroying their car or disappearing into the hole altogether. 

On my way into the office this morning I heard on the radio of a link on Minnesota Public Radio simply called "Search Potholes". It allows people to report potholes on various stretches of road. An area map is then marked with an orange flag to show the egregious pothole. Supposedly drivers might steer clear of these hazards by knowing where they are located. Visiting the sight I saw that, at least in certain parts of the cities, it would be nearly impossible to drive any place!

"Search Potholes" got me thinking about these road nuisances in a more metaphorical way. I thought about the people I know who are experiencing some dangerous roads. Most of them did not know the 'potholes' that steered their life in a different way, or brought it to a halt altogether, were out there. They were simply going along in their usual way when 'BOOM' they hit a deep hole breaking their speed and their spirit. I am thinking of a woman I know who is doing mighty battle for a second time with cancer. She had no idea the potholes were ahead of her ready to zap her of her energy, her zest for living. I also think of those I know who are finding themselves out of work or under-employed, people who were just cruising along in their usual way and a big hole opened up in front them, threatening to swallow all they had known. Or then there are the people of Haiti whose lives have been turned upside down by the aftermath of the earthquake. As they literally pull themselves out of the mire, there must be so many days when they long to have had a sign, a warning of what was ahead. So many potholes.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a way to search for the potholes that bring these kinds of stress and strain, even disaster, to our lives? Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to go to a "Search Potholes" link and know which roads to avoid, which ones to take? Of course, there isn't. But there is wisdom to be gleaned from these pothole days. When you drive along a road with little knowledge of what it ahead, going a little slower,helps. It also is wise to drive with intention watching with wide eyes and an alert mind to the next pothole that might appear. It is also good to keep open and flexible, taking a turn that might result in a less bumpy ride. And it is really good to be gentle with yourself, snuggling deep into the padding of your car seat, finding a nice comfortable spot to protect you against the jar and jumble of the road. 

The good news is that soon, when the days get warmer and the sun is higher in the sky, those potholes will get filled in, patched over creating a smooth ride again. Sometimes it just takes a little waiting, a lot of patience and a good dose of prayer for those bumps in life to smooth out. And when that happens we might realize that the potholes had lessons all their own.


People in Minnesota and like climes are getting antsy for spring. I saw several people carrying bouquets of tulips over the weekend. No doubt they were bringing some signs of this longed for season into their homes to add color and promise. I also noticed that many of the conversations I had over the last several days somehow meandered their way to spring topics…..gardening, Easter, baseball. Even the birds can now be heard trying to usher winter out the door, throwing out their welcome mat of music.

We have planted several things indoors that are helping us gauge the coming of spring. We have a long silver planter filled with herb seeds beginning to show their lovely little, yellow green heads. We have another pot filled with paper whites reaching toward the brilliant February sunshine flowing through the window, reflecting off the still white ground.And on our kitchen table is the creme de la creme….an amaryllis bulb as big as a softball digging its roots into the dirt. Planted sometime last week it is now making a show of itself, green shoot pushing out of the gnarly bulb at what seems like an inch an hour. It is growing so quickly, it seems as if we could almost watch it, catch it in its upward movement toward becoming beautiful. 

These are the little tricks we winter people allow ourselves so we can hold onto hope, so we can remember what growth feels like, looks like. I recommend it. By the time spring actually arrives, which will be much longer than we'd like given March is our snowiest month, there will be the delicate flowers of paper-whites blooming in the family room. And if the amaryllis continues at the speed and power it has shown so far, our kitchen will be flooded with a flower the size of a dinner plate. These little signs of growth will carry us through the days when the melting snow will turn even dirtier as it reveals all kinds of hidden objects caught off guard by the falling snows of October. 

Over the weekend, our opossum returned to the backyard. This time I wasn't even concerned. I just smiled at his seeming eagerness for spring as well. He loped around the backyard looking not quite so confused, more awake, as he munched on some stray birdseed. The squirrels didn't even give him so much as a look. Perhaps we are all just getting used to one another, waiting for winter to be finished with us.

Spring is not here yet but we are having glimpses and that can make all the difference. On Sunday at church someone requested the lovely song by Natalie Sleeth, "Hymn of Promise". We began our singing clothed in the grays, browns and blacks of our winter state of mind. Our voices joined together: "In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed an apple tree; in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there's a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see."  When we finished singing, our cheeks were rosy with the promise of what is to come.

This spring we long for will be revealed in its own time, like all good gifts. Our work these days is to wait……and watch. And not get too antsy.


"The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw-and knew I saw-all things in God and God in all things."  ~Mechtild of Magdeburg

Here we are two days into Lent. How is it going for you? Some people I know give up things for Lent…chocolate, wine, television, mostly things that give them pleasure. I've yet to hear of anyone giving up say, spinach, brussel sprouts or exercise. Why do you think that is? There is a movement I've also heard of this year to give up driving to reduce one's carbon footprint. Not a bad idea but one that would take, for most people, an incredible amount of re-orchestrating daily movement. I am sure these sacrifices all have meaning to the people who are embarking on them. I personally have never found this kind of practice helpful to my spiritual life which is, I think, the purpose of giving something up for Lent. 

Instead, for me, Lent has always been a time of taking on something, something that will in some way lead me into a deeper relationship with the Holy. Taking on a new dimension of life has more power for me than giving up something like chocolate which, for me, would only make me crabby and obsessive, waiting so much for those Cadbury Easter eggs that I would miss Lent altogether. Different strokes. One year I prayed a novena every day using a book by Joan Chittister,OSB called Life Ablaze. One Lent I made a promise of writing a poem everyday.(Nominal success,leading to some pretty bad poetry.) Another I did lectio divina, a practice of reading scripture slowly, meditatively, looking for the phrase or word that seemed to speak directly to me. Of course, all these practices had limited success in living them out as most life changes we make. But I do believe they served to give a certain intention and focus to this season which can shape us in new ways if we let it.

This year I have decided to read through the book of Ezekiel and try to create something visual as a daily practice. Ezekiel has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible. It contains the resurrection story of the Hebrew scriptures, the story of the dry bones scattered in the wilderness waiting for the Spirit to breathe over them bringing them to life once again. It is a good story to walk with in Lent, in winter days. In the midst of February and March, two of the coldest months of the year,who can not identify with the white bones, lifeless and without form? These months are filled with waiting for new life.

Lent can be,if we allow it, a time set aside for creating a practice to wake us up to the presence of the Holy. It can be a time to wander in the wilderness like Jesus did further honing our identity, getting to know ourselves in new ways. In the process we may just come to know God in new ways as well. This might happen through giving up something. It also might happen by committing ourselves, like Mechtild, to seeing God in all things and all things in God. As I read the scriptures it seems pretty clear that this is what Jesus did. He walked around looking for God in all things…people, places, fish, bread, wine. And in the process enfolding all things in God. 

Whatever the practice, or lack of one, may our walk these days lead us to a fuller knowledge of the One who walks with us, even when we do not know it.


Yesterday I was standing in line at a neighborhood post office. I love going to this particular post office because it is like taking a side trip to the United Nations. There are so many different cultures represented, faces of people who have made their way to this country from lands far away who now call the United States home. As we all stand waiting to make connections through the United States Postal service, I always find myself imagining where their letters and packages are headed. My mail, in comparison, always seem so boring, so routine. I listened to the different languages being spoken and then the broken English that was conjured up to communicate with the postal worker. It was wonderful to watch the interchanges on the faces of both the worker and the sender as they maneuvered through language and body language to get to a certain destination: their mail sent

Standing in front of me in the line was a man who had earphones on, listening intently. I assumed he was listening to his ipod trying to tune out the jumbled sounds of voices and interchanges that were giving me such pleasure. But then he turned to me, a smile spread across his face. "Do you want to know how Lindsey Vonn did?" I was startled out of my multicultural experience. "Yes. " I replied. He then smiled even wider and put his fist out toward mine. "Gold!" he said and moved his fist closer as I returned his fisted salute, bumping our gripped hands together in celebration. 

Now I have to admit I have seen many people do this fist bump greeting but I have never participated in it. And as I did this with a total stranger it filled me with such joy. Here was a man so into the Olympics that he was walking around listening to broadcasts while he did his errands. At that moment he needed someone to share his joy over a gold medal won by a fellow American on the other side of the country. I happened to be the lucky one standing behind him in the post office line. 

These Olympic games have the ability to galvanize people of all walks of life, don't they? I find myself talking about them with people I know and don't know, sharing what we thought, felt and believe about these athletes. Even people who never talk about or follow sports, somehow get drawn into the thrills and the defeats of these games. Yesterday I watched as the young Georgian luger's body was returned to his country and my heart ached for his family, for the people of his homeland who had followed his career as we have followed our country's athletes. Such loss, such hope, such opportunity all crammed into a couple of weeks in February. 

And what a gift they are in these February days when we ourselves are tired of snow and long for summer sunshine. To see others taking on the cold and the snow in ways that defy the odds and sometimes even sanity is a bright spot to lift us above the ordinary. While I can never imagine doing any of the skateboarding or figure skating moves, I can appreciate and cheer for those who have the skill and gifts to create such speed and beauty. Plus it gives us something to talk about at work and in the post office line besides the weather. And that is always a good thing. 

"The Olympic Games are the quadrennial celebration of the springtime of humanity"~Pierre de Coubertin

Inside Out

"All we have in life is life. Things-the cars, the houses, the education, the jobs, the money-come and go, turn into dust between our fingers, change and disappear….the secret of life….is that it must be developed from the inside out." ~Joan Chittister, Illuminated Life

 I don't know about you but when I see the words ' the secret of life' I always perk up. Finally, someone's going to tell me the answer! Of course, we all know, in part, the answer to the question 'What is the secret of life?' But we mostly want to find a short cut, a Cliff-notes version that is easier, takes less time, can be completed with fewer headaches and heartaches. Mostly we want to stay on the surface and glide along with few bumps and bruises.

But if we are really honest with ourselves we know that anything that really matters takes time,effort, commitment, sweat and a few well shed tears. And since life really matters,the secret to its living should be no exception. Do you agree? Instead of living our lives like little water bugs flitting across the surface of the water, we must go inside, deep inside, to develop the gifts of this living.

The season of Lent is an invitation to going inside, to taking the time to search within to find what has been hiding there. Lent asks us to stop what we have been doing and take a look in the mirror, perhaps take off the masks we've worn for too long and see ourselves in new ways. These forty days give us the permission to stop clinging to those things outside us that seem to give us definition(do they really?) and remember the soil in which we have been planted. Lent is not so much a time of self denial as it is self assessment. What temptations are luring me? What roads am I willing to walk down? How might I be more authentically both my human and divine self? 

Lent is where the rubber meets the road. If we allow ourselves to be swept up in the gifts of this season, in this time of the year, we can come through these forty days a fuller picture of who we were born to be. And wouldn't that be a good thing? I think so. I believe the Holy One would agree. My mother has a saying: 'No one ever said life would be easy. But it will always be worth it.' She also says: 'A hundred years from now, you'll never know the difference.' But that is a thought for another day.

For this day, this first full day of Lent, I plan to allow myself to look inside. I pray I find some beautiful secrets there waiting to be discovered, secrets that will lead me to a fuller picture of my life. 

Entering Lent

We are now in the grip of February. All memory of the the festivities of Christmas and the New Year seem to have faded. This weekend we celebrated Valentine's Day. So all the days which break up the seeming endlessness of winter have passed. February has lost its luster and it is time to move on. It seems only fitting that tomorrow we begin the Christian observance of Lent. We begin with ashes and the reminder that we are people whose lives have always been shaped by earth, formed from earth. As we are marked with the ashes of last year's palm branches, we reaffirm ourselves to our birthright and to once again be shaped by the faith story of the Way of Jesus.  

Most often we forget…if we ever knew….that the word Lent simply means 'to lengthen'. It stems from an old English word 'lenten' which most accurately is defined as 'spring', meaning the way in which the days of winter lengthen into the newness of spring. For the most part, in the church, we have lost that nuance. And yet, as we begin with the reminder of our connection to the earthiness of what it means to be human, and end these 40 days with Easter, the celebration of rebirth, it seems good to be reminded. 

Over the next weeks we will clothe ourselves in the stories of Jesus and how he walked the earth forming relationships, healing people and living into the fullness of God's presence. The invitation of every Lent is to hear these scriptures in new ways, ways that will change us. As we do, without our even realizing it the snow that is piled higher than most of our cars, will begin to slowly melt. Buds will begin to be visible and the birds' songs we have missed will be heard once again. If we are intentional….or lucky….the sacred words will dig their way into us and plant seeds. We may be blessed to mirror the outside world…..melting, greening, birthing, growing. 

But for now we continue to walk into the waning days of February with a furrowed brow. What will this Lent bring? How might it be different than others? What seeds are waiting to be planted in us this year?  And what changes will we find in ourselves when Easter morning arrives? 

Only time and the lengthening days will tell.


"Be like the bird
That, pausing in her flight
Awhile on boughs too slight,
Feels them give way
Beneath her and yet sings,
Knowing that she hath wings."
~Victor Hugo

I have been doing some mid-winter decluttering. In a bag of letters I found this poem written on a 3 x 5 index card. Though the writer's name was not on the card, I knew exactly who had written it and when. At some point of a dark and difficult time in my life, one of the dear saints of our church had tucked this poem into a card or letter she had sent me. I remember receiving several such 'love' notes from her during this time. The notes were extremely helpful to me, not only for their beautiful sentiments, but because I knew that they were also accompanied by her prayers. I knew this woman's prayer patterns well and I knew that in the early morning hours she had other index cards placed near her Bible and her comfortable chair. Those cards held the names of people for whom she had been praying for days, weeks, even years. When I would see her, she would often ask me about someone, recounting their illness or difficulties, asking me how things were going for them. A few years ago, when she passed on from this world, I remember feeling that one of the great 'pray-ers' in my life, in the life of our church, was lost to us. I did not know who would take up such a mantel.

This poem holds so many metaphors for our fragile, human lives, doesn't it? Don't we all feel, at times, as if the boughs on which we rest are too slight? I know I certainly do. There are those times when the weight of what we carry threatens to break the very ground on which we stand. When that bough gives way, we often feel as if we are going to fall with a harsh thud. And yet, if we allow ourselves to rest into the assurance of who we truly are, God's beloved ones, we can find the memory of our wings. This praying saint sent me this poem to guide my memory. In finding this card, I am once again reminded of her wisdom…..and her encouragement of my own. 

If we allow ourselves, we can probably conjure up the names of people who are our 'holy reminders'. Those people who, with a word, a call, a note, a nod, help us to remember the fullness of who we are. These are the people, I believe, who offer us unconditional love, though we may not always define it in this way. These are the people who nearly always see the best in us and, even when they don't, they honor the relationship, not with judgment, but with a knowing glance. Sometimes these people are our parents or siblings. Most often they are people who have decided, for whatever reason, that they are our earth-traveling companions who love us just the way we are. What a gift!

The reciprocity of this kind of relationship is that we offer that same kindness, gentleness, generosity to another. Because we have been given the gift of these people who help us see the sacred nature of our living, we can make that same offering. And so the questions become: In your life, who has helped you see the best in yourself? Who has encouraged you to see yourself as the image of God? And: To whom can you return the favor? 

I am grateful to Elizabeth who reminded me of my wings, my ability to fly even as the odds weighed me down. I am grateful that she empowered me to pay it forward.

On this Valentine's Day weekend, what better gift can we offer than to send the gift of unconditional love? Enjoy!

Blessed by Sunset

God said “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day
from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years and serve as
luminaries in the sky, to shed light upon the earth. God made the two great
lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the
night. God saw how good it was. Evening came, and morning followed.” Genesis 1

I am watching the sun set on the frozen lake outside my
window. Dotting the water’s surface are the countless ice houses that break up
the sea of white stretching onto the horizon. Their mostly monochromatic colors
of beige, white, and gray are punctuated every now and then with a brilliant
red structure, a bright blue one. (If I had an ice house, I’d paint it red so I
could find myself in a snowstorm!) The sky is, just this minute, forming hot
pink and lavender stripes that in turn reflect onto the white prairie of snow.
It is an Impressionistic canvas being painted before my very eyes. Two snowmobiles
are shooting across the lake …..bundled up cowboys riding into the sunset.

 Giant trees, oaks and maples mostly, are creating a black
lace curtain against the lake. Snow clings to the branches, holding on for dear
life. Up one side of the sturdy trunks the wind has glued the memory of its
flight pattern. Yesterday morning I watched as a squirrel jumped from tree to
tree with the ease and confidence of a trapeze artist. It made me laugh.

This noon, while eating lunch, my eyes were shocked by the
sudden soaring movement of an enormous bird flying toward the center of the
lake. Upon further inspection, I was blessed to recognize the brilliant white
head of a bald eagle, its wings outstretched surveying the ice below, perhaps
remembering warmer times when a tasty meal lingered below. Not today, my
friend. You will have to be content with your gift of flight. He circled
several times over the ice house villages offering his blessing.

The sun is a half sphere of red about to dip behind the
farthest side of the lake. It is creating a deep yellow and orange that brushes
color onto the white clouds, the edges now tinged with gold leaf, as if the
Great Artist added that last touch just for dramatic effect. The now purple
clouds are moving south as the wind picks up and, no doubt, the temperature
plummets. But wait, the sky has gone completely fuchsia.  The sun seems to be saying “I’m not quite
finished with this day.” Oh, brilliant Sun, you always have the last word!

 What possible reason is there that I have been given such a
gift of beauty, of mystery, of wonder? Since I cannot answer this immense
question, I will say only Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.