Skin On

 "The story goes something like this: A
little girl couldn’t sleep one night because the shadows in her bedroom looked
long and dark. Frightened, she begged her parents to let her join them in their
bed where she knew she would be safe. But her parents assured her she would be
fine in her own room.“After all,” they said, “God is with you even when you are
alone. Won’t that help you not be afraid?”The little girl shook her head.
“Sometimes: she replied, “I need someone with skin on.”~Ellyn Sanna,
 Touching God

Someone with
skin on. I need that, too, don’t you? I had heard this story sometime ago but
ran across it again at the retreat center where I am staying for a few days.
This is an annual retreat in which it is my privilege to hear the stories and
the dreams of those coming for ordination in the
 United Methodist Church. Our system is an intricate one
with many levels which moves people, eventually, toward full ordination, to
serve churches throughout our state. It is always a holy time for me. To be
privy to people’s stories of how God has moved in their lives. To hear how they
feel called to a life of faith sometimes at great sacrifice. To hear the
surprises of how the Holy nudged, sometimes pushed them to make a life out of
listening, praying, worshiping and being present to the significant and
ordinary life experiences of others.To read their reflections on the creeds and
doctrines written years ago, making sense of them for today. It is always a
rich and, sometimes, emotional few days. It is something I do not take lightly.

Woven throughout all the stories and words of
these candidates for ministry are many examples of ‘God with skin on’. None
came to this place in their life without flesh and blood people who guided,
encouraged, and challenged them. None came to this moment without real live
people praying over them, supporting them, leading them and loving them. God
with skin on. When the shadows of their lives threatened to overcome them,
someone with skin on showed up to urge them on, help them feel safe and secure

It is my prayer,
that as we interview these people for ministry, they will see and experience us
as God with skin on. While our questions may startle or challenge, I pray that
we will be the face of the Holy in their midst.  It is my hope that we
will all recognize the sacred act in which we are engaged as we hone a
relationship with future spiritual leaders of the church and the world.

Your day may not
bring any deep spiritual questions. You may not be required to give a
definition of salvation or be asked what you believe the nature of evil to be.
But whatever your experiences of this day, may you have at least one experience
of God with skin on. And may you return the blessing to another.




Over the last year an often unused word has crept into our
vocabulary: frugal. Given the present day economic situation, nearly everyone
is looking closely at how they spend their money. They are also looking at how
they can save their money. At the heart of this search is the presence of what
we value. In Saturday’s paper there was an article about the ‘new frugality’.
The headline read: New frugality does not mean cheap.

Being frugal does not necessarily mean being a cheapskate.
Cheapskates are not very fun to be around. Frugal people are people who
understand what is valuable and place their resources, energy and heart in
those places. Cheapskates hoard things in fear of a rainy day. Frugal people
clear away the clutter of what is not needed to make room for what brings them
joy, what sustains their spirit, what provides for their future. It is an
important distinction, I believe.

 As I write this I am sitting in a small room at Christ the King Retreat
Center in Buffalo, Minnesota.
It is a simple room that looks out over a lake. The room has everything I need:
bed, comfortable chairs, a desk, lovely lighting, warm blankets, running water,
heat, a shower and toilet. Most necessities. But throughout the retreat
center there is an attention to beauty that feeds the soul. These surroundings
do not represent the work of those looking to pinch a penny but of people who
know what is valuable. There are plenty of books and the silence to read and
digest them. There is good food and plenty of it, fresh fruit and home made
cookies are available all day. It is a frugal environment allowing guests to move
about in the beautiful simplicity to do what they need to do: pray, worship,
sleep, read, restore, connect with their own spirit and the Spirit.

 I do not want to minimize in any way the challenging economic
times in which we live. I know people who are struggling desperately and see even more that I don’t know who arrive at our church doors needing help to navigate these confusing times of more need and less financial resources. But
I do think these times have the gift, if we accept it, of helping us see what
we truly value. They can provide us with the opportunity to structure our lives
around those values, allowing us to let go of many of the extraneous wants that
can distract us from what we know to be important, beautiful.

 What do you truly value? What do you really need? How are
you living your life, arranging your days around those values and needs? What
creative ways might be nudging you to a new frugality?  These are fascinating questions to ponder. Answering
them might lead to ways of living that would change us in ways we never

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?" Matthew 6:24-25


Six Words

"It's the process of writing and life that matters….We are trying to become sane along with our poems and stories."  ~Natalie Goldberg

I  was listening to a Minnesota Public Radio show a few days that featured Rachel Fleischleiser and Larry Smith, authors of Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Authors Famous and Obscure. The book consists of submissions by people who have created a six line 'statement' that speaks volumes about who they are. I was fascinated by this concept. I had actually heard these two interviewed before but had forgotten how compelling this idea was. Six words to sum up our lives. Isn't it any interesting idea? You can learn more about the project and even enter your own six word memoir at

When asked where the idea came from, Smith stated that it had its inception from a story told about Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, taking up a bar bet about whether it was possible to write a novel in six words, replied with:  For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn. The imagination goes wild with a statement like that, doesn't it? It truly is a story in and of itself. And so, these two authors began collaborating by asking the famous, the infamous and the ordinary to offer their own six word memoirs.

Perhaps I was taken with this idea because I started a memoir writing class yesterday. This is something new for me and I entered it with some trepidation. I have not been in a writing class since college. Will I make a total fool of myself? Will I find new inspiration? I don't know the answers to these questions yet but I do know that I love stories, particularly life stories and will find some kind of wisdom in trying to shape a way of speaking about my own life. I do not think, however, that the task will be to condense it to six words! But it might be fun to try.

For some reason the concept gave me the idea of thinking about a six word memoir for individuals in the Bible. Take Moses for instance:'Burning bush. God speaks. Long Journey'. Or Mary: 'Angel arrives. Answer yes. Changed forever'. And John the Baptist: 'Don't look at me. He's coming'. Finally, Jesus: 'I told the truth. No regrets'. It's a great exercise,isn't it?

What might your six word memoir be? What pivotal moment defined who you are? What might your six word spiritual memoir be? What six words might illuminate your faith life to others, to yourself? The economy of language in an exercise like this can be helpful in sharpening our vision of what we value, in telling the story of who we are at our very core. It might be worth some contemplation. I offer it to you in these winter days when reflection seems to be sewn into the marrow of the day.

Weekend arriving. Wide open. Adventure ahead?

Gluing the Pieces Together

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely God is in this place – and I did not know it! How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
~Genesis 28:16-17

I have been privileged to spend the last three days in the presence of artist and author Jan Richardson whose work has been an inspiration to me for many years. Her use of poetry and collage to express her spiritual journey, her faith, has often helped me find words to express my own deep longings, my most difficult questions, and my most heartfelt prayers. I always find it a great gift to pick up a book and read someone's words that so adequately express something I have struggled over. Jan's words have done that for me.

Yesterday I spent the morning with others as Jan led us through scripture, prayer, and reflection that moved toward creating our own collages. While I had looked forward to the morning for some time, I also knew I harbored a sense of apprehension. As someone who does not think of themselves as a 'visual' artist, I carried into the morning memories of every 'bad' art project I had ever created, from elementary school to adulthood. I mentioned this to one of the participants, a known artist, as we shared coffee before the workshop began. She simply smiled at me. I was not sure what to make of it.

We listened as Jan wove the story of Jacob taking a rock for his pillow and dreaming of the ladder going from earth into heaven. Angels coming up and down….I've always been intrigued by that coming and going from heaven piece of the story. As Jacob awakes, he looks around him and says "Surely God was in this place and I did not know it." Another favorite part of this story. How many times do I, do we all, miss the presence of Holy right in the places where we are? And then, in response, Jacob pours oil on the rock, marking it as a holy place, a sacred moment in the midst of the ordinary, fractured life he lived. 

Soon it was time to move to the tables where beautiful papers, magazines, glue sticks and scissors were placed in preparation for the collages we were to make. I chose earthy colors of greens and browns, some flecked with shining gold. As I tore the pieces of paper making their edges ragged and round and cut others for precision of straight edges, I began to move the pieces around a small 3 x 5 index card until the pieces seemed to fit. I saw something there, something that had meaning for me in bringing together the tiny pieces into something larger than themselves. As I filled myself with confidence, I lifted the glue stick to make permanent what had been impermanent. My collage took shape. And I liked it. 

Now I am not saying what I created was great art. It wasn't. But it was my art and it brought me pleasure to have made it. It also mirrored my experience of the story of Jacob who took what was ragged and ordinary, a stone, and saw something more in it. As he used this cold, hard object for his dreaming pillow, he came to know the presence of God in even the torn and broken pieces of his life. In his waking, as in my pasting, there was the experience of something larger than our individual lives. Taking the pieces and putting them together……angels going up and down, scraps of paper, pieces of dreams, glue that sticks, oil that pours…..I touched the Spirit and the Spirit touched me. I left the morning more of who I am than when I arrived. I'd like to think the same thing happened to Jacob during his slumber party in the wilderness.

What are the pieces that are flying around your life these days? Where are the wilderness places that might bring dreams? How might you touch your inner artist to bring the separate individual shards together into something greater, something more? Perhaps today is a good day to sit down with an index card, some colored paper and a glue stick and see what might materialize right before your very eyes. It just might be a holy moment.

Unspeakable Joy

Yesterday was one of those days. Instead of moving in any logical form, say from point A to point B, I seemed to be stuck in a revolving door. I'd start one thing and either a distraction or an interruption would take me off course. Ever have a day like that? Add to the winding nature of the day, driving in the slowly falling, traffic congesting snow, and it was no wonder I never made it to my computer to write. 

However, in that spinning I did see something that caught my attention, something that brought laughter and joy to an otherwise confusing day. Driving along Lyndale Avenue past a neighborhood community center I saw these words on the sign outside the building: Preschool Communal Singing and Dancing, Tuesdays. Now this did not seem to be an invitation to organized dance classes or music lessons. It did not seem to be offering tap or ballet classes which would culminate in costumed Sugar Plum Fairies or Prince Charmings. I think the word 'communal' was a well chosen word. On Tuesdays we could walk into this particular community center and be witness to preschoolers….three, four and come five year olds……dancing and singing. Doesn't it just make your heart full of delight?

One of my favorite moments at weddings I attend is when the children begin to move to the dance floor in anticipation of the music to come. Sometimes even before the bride and groom can have their first dance, the children are gnashing at the bit to get those little bodies moving. As soon as the music begins, they are on the floor, gyrating, spinning, moving until little beads of sweat ring their exuberant faces. It is clear they are doing something primal, something that lifts them above the ordinary, as muscles and music meet.

I once had a music professor who had done her doctoral thesis on the spontaneity of children singing. She had traveled to several countries observing children on playgrounds and in relaxed atmospheres. Her findings were that children spontaneously sing with great regularity. In the midst of playing and simply moving about in the world, they hum or sing with abandon.

As adults, we have much to learn from children, not the least of which is remembering who were once were……beings that sang and danced with joy for no reason whatsoever. Children can remind us that at one time we thought of ourselves as artists whose work brought us joy simply in the creation of it. Our imaginations drove what we would do and who we would become. I believe children can also remind us of how the Spirit moves in our lives if we are awake, if we are aware, of what brings us joy and what brings life to those around us.

You may or may not have a child in your home or your neighborhood to be this sacred touchstone. If you don't I invite you to think of those preschoolers filling a gym space on Tuesdays while the snow falls outside. Barefoot or in stocking feet, their winter boots abandoned by the door, I imagine them walking to the center of the gym as the music begins. And then their little bodies will commence dancing and singing for all they are worth, storing up memories for a much later time. Memories of how they danced, how they sang, how they were artists, how their whole bodies were filled with an unspeakable joy.

I bet you are smiling right now.

Work like you don't need the money.
Love like you've never been hurt.
Dance like no-one's watching.
Sing like no-one's listening.
Live like there's no tomorrow.
~author unknown