Beauty & Brevity

"Every day
    I consider 
the lilies-
how they are dressed-
and the ravens-
    how they are fed-
and how each of these
is a miracle

of Lord-love
    and of sorrow-
for the lilies
    in their bright dresses
cannot last
    but wrinkle fast
and fall,
and the little ravens
in their windy nest
    rise up
in such pleasure
at the sight

of fresh meat
    that makes their lives sweet-
and what a puzzle it is
that such brevity
the lavish clothes,
    the ruddy food-
makes the world 
so full, so good."
~Mary Oliver

Yesterday I shared this poem as a part of worship. It seemed the perfect piece of beautiful language to go with two of the scripture readings, Proverbs 8 and Psalm 8, both speak of the beauty and fragility of the created world. I commend them both to you. Proverbs speaks of our search for wisdom among the gifts of Creation while the psalmist lauds God's work in Creation asking what the human purpose is in the midst of it all. 

These two scriptures and the poem created a kind of perfect storm of words to bless my experience of yesterday. It was, in truth, a nearly perfect summer day. Warm and sunny with a marvelous rain storm that came in late afternoon. The brilliance of all that is blooming…..trees, flowers, plants…..created a palette of color that dazzled the eye. Outside the entrance to our church, pink and red shrub roses line the walkways and labyrinth creating a welcome of both sight and sweet scent.  The rain not only cooled things and gave a free watering to plants fresh to the ground but  also brought about an end to those flowers which had been lingering past their spring prime. What had looked bright and beautiful in the morning, seemed a little aged and worn by day's end. 

If we are awake to the daily movement of the season's work, we can honor this brevity of beauty, the elusive nature of it all. It is, I believe, an important life lesson to learn that a rose will not always be as beautiful as it is in the first days of blooming. The same may, of course, be said of so much of our living. The sweetness of an infant, the precocious nature of a three-year-old, the poignant longing of an adolescent, the wide-eyed wonder of someone newly in love, all change and come to some kind of end. Those who spent time honoring our fallen veterans on this Memorial Day know this fragility all too well. So the ability to be present to the fullness of miracle in each day, in each stage, is something to practice.

The invitation is ours each morning to awake with the blank slate of the every day looming before us. As our eyes open, and I dare say our hearts as well, we can come to know the fullness that is this life, which is pure gift. This day can never be repeated so, perhaps, it would serve each of us well to consider wisely what we choose to do with it, how we will choose to hold its precious minutes and hours.

 The beauty,the  fullness, the goodness awaits. Are you ready?



"The grace of the love of the skies be thine,
The grace of the love of the stars be thine,
The grace of the love of the moon be thine,
The grace of the love of the sun be thine."
~Carmina Gadelica

Over the last couple of days I have been rereading J. Philip Newell's lovely little book, Listening to the Heartbeat of God. This book uses many prayers from the early Celts which have been collected in a book called Carmina Gadelica which simply means 'songs and poems of the Gaels'. It is a collection of the unceasing prayers of people of the Scottish Hebrides,those tied closely to the earth, who understood the Holy's movement in their lives.This was true in the day to day tasks of laying a fire that would warm their home and cook their food, in the birth and death of their animals, family and neighbors. The prayers reflect that they saw no part of their life in which God was not active. They are beautiful, sweet,sometimes simple prayers passed down orally to generation after generation until they were finally collected by Alexander Carmichael in the late 19th century.

I thought yesterday about how far we have moved from this kind of deep understanding of our connection with Creator and creation. I wonder how many people say a prayer as they turn the gas on to warm the teapot that will create the hot water for their morning cup. I know I certainly don't. With a turn of the knob I watch fire flare forth and turn toward the next thing to be done never giving a single thought to gift of this amazing source of warmth. I wonder how many people took the tiny plants that have been planted in gardens over the last several days,held them gently, saying a prayer for the wonder of seed that sprouts into food to nourish our bodies. How many of us pass by fields full of dairy cows and raise our hands in blessing for the milk that builds our bones and brings us the pleasure of ice cream on a warm summer's day? So many things to be thankful over……

There is a kind of envy that wells up in me when I think of these early faithful giving thanks for the ways they were connected to their God. And yet nothing except intention and a perception of busy-ness keeps me from following their lead. Yesterday I told a coworker that it seemed nearly a sin to have left my backyard to go any place else. The bold purple irises were so splendid. The columbine, lavender and dainty, had just bloomed. The bright red gerbera daisies were lifting their faces toward the sunlight. I could have spent the whole day moving from plant to plant enveloped in the awe of it. But somehow duty called and I answered.

And if the beauty and wonder of these earth bound ones weren't enough, what about that moon last night? The deep blue night of sky was hung with a yellow moon so bright it must have kept the most sensitive awake with its brilliance. As I crossed the bridge over the Mississippi coming home from a late night meeting, I saw it hanging like a huge dinner plate in the sky waiting to be feasted upon. The ancient Celtic cells in my body collected into a prayer with no words, only deep breath,and an even deeper connection to something I can only describe as Sacred.

Perhaps it is romantic to think that, in the 21st century, we might be as prayerful as those in earlier times. Perhaps it is not possible to connect our daily actions with the Holy as deeply as they did. But I do believe that living with a sense of humility about our place in the family of things cannot be a bad thing. The beauty of the iris, the majesty of last night's moon, was something I had no hand in creating. And yet it was a gift to me from a Source bigger than I can imagine. And for that I offer my praise and my gratitude. Amen


This morning I was privileged to observe a small turtle that had made its way out of a pond that skirts a walking path I frequent. I watched as it sat in the morning sun, the dewy grass creating a cool nest and also a sense of camouflaged safety. Its dark green shell and its lighter green head blended in quite nicely among the blades of newly mowed grass. My eye had only caught the sight of it because it was reaching its head upward and I saw the movement of the breath in the length of its neck. I stopped for quite some time, watching its breath go in and out, in and out. Its contentment was contagious as I observed it and found myself aware of my own breath, in and out, in and out. The turtle and I were breathing together.

I do not know in what tradition or context meditation first was practiced. But if I were to speculate, I would say that someone observed the pace and rhythm of a turtle and knew that somehow their way of moving in the world was a good thing.I could imagine that first one human practiced the rhythm of movement and breath employed by this slow, moving one who carried its house with it.I have thought about this creature all day wondering if it is still sitting in the beautiful place it was this morning. The dew might have evaporated all around it and the sun might have risen higher in the sky. But the turtle was in a good place, a happy place and so why move on? Somehow I think there is much to be learned from this languid creature.

As I walked away from my turtle encounter I made my way along streets that are being resurfaced in our neighborhood. I was forced to the side of the road by an enormous, earth moving piece of construction equipment as it crept along the street. This large piece of machinery and the small turtle, though drastically different in appearance, had something in common…….a lack of speed. These two encounters gave shape to my day. Instead of speeding from one thing to the next, I found myself taking the time that was needed in each meeting, each conversation.I have allowed myself to be fully present to the moment at hand, moving with the rhythm of the turtle or the earth mover. And I have found that no work was neglected in this endeavor. Imagine that.

Gandhi was reported to have said,"There is more to life than increasing its speed." Today I am thankful to the lovely little turtle who halted the hare in me and allowed me to be completely present to the beauty of this day. What a blessing it has been!

Torn Pieces

"Everything in the universe is made by union, by the coming together of elements that seek out one another." Teilhard de Chardin

I have been doing a little late spring cleaning, going through the stacks of papers that seem to reproduce in both my office and at home. Reading through notes I have taken at meetings, workshops, and conferences I was able to make sense of some of them while others eluded me. What had I meant by writing that down at that particular minute? It seemed so important at the time and now its meaning is lost on me.

Sifting through one particular stack I found a folded piece of paper with the statement: 'The more a thing is torn the more it can connect.' I recognized these words from a workshop I took in the winter with Jan Richardson. Jan's work in collage art and poetry helped frame these words but I knew I had written them down sensing they meant more than the way pieces of torn paper come together to form a collage. 

The ways in which our lives are torn by the struggles and stresses that come our way provides oh-so-many-ways to remember the many ways we are connected to one another. I am thinking of the immense oil spill in the Gulf. I am thinking of those people whose lives have been upended by this terrible catastrophe. I am also thinking of the animals, birds, fish and wildlife that have been harmed in ways yet to be determined. I am thinking of the water and the landscape scarred and torn by this unimaginable hole that continues to spew forth oil, gallon after gallon of oil. 

Perhaps the many tears that have happened in this situation will finally bring us all to the recognition of the ways in which we are connected that are seen and unseen. I don't believe Jan Richardson was speaking about destruction. She was, instead, speaking of creativity. And creativity, BIG creativity is what is needed now. What are the ways the engineers and the experts can take the torn pieces of what has happened and make connections that will take us toward a brighter future, one that is more sustainable for our children's children? How can we take the torn pieces of this catastrophe and demand a world less dependent on oil? How can we all take the torn pieces of what has happened and move them around on the page until they form connections that can be glued down and smoothed out to make a more beautiful picture of what is yet to be?

For all those who are experiencing torn places in their lives, let us pray for the deep wisdom that leads to making the connections toward healing…..healing ourselves,healing the world. May the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrated this past Sunday, be among us moving, shaping, dancing us into the Great Connection.


"For everything there is a season"…………Ecclesiastes 3

Being one of those people who often talk their way into an understanding of personal awareness, I found myself explaining to a group of dear friends yesterday what was going on in my life. As I talked my way through it I realized that I am in the presence of many transitions. I am surrounded by people and situations that are experiencing in-between times. I was reminded of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with explorer Anne Bancroft who described herself as 'between expeditions'. I wrote about that conversation in this space and the metaphor has stuck with me. Her words rang true to me yesterday as I talked my way into a deep understanding.

Many people I know are in transition. Some are on the verge of retirement while others have just graduated from college and have their whole career ahead of them. Some are unemployed and filled with soul searching that is laced with anxiety and fear.Still others are in the midst of jobs that are taking on new shapes that cause challenges and opportunities. Most institutions, including the church, are also in a time of great transition: not what and who they were, not yet what they will become. Transition is all around.

As I took a morning walk I was also aware of all the transition around me. The evidence of the work in people's gardens and yards was everywhere to be seen.Upturned soil housed newly planted vegetables and flowers. Shovels leaned against the sides of houses. Piles of uprooted plants sat in buckets to be thrown or replanted or given away. All the human hands at work had participated in creating a visual image of transition. None of these garden plots will look the same in August. Some of the plans for how the garden will succeed, no doubt plotted in the dead of winter's cold, will flourish and grow. There will also be surprises, unplanned gifts that the gardener could not have expected. And only part of the success of the garden can be claimed by the ones who did the planting. Forces greater than those with dirty knees and sore muscles are also a part of this great Creation play. Weather, sun, rain, stray animals, insects all contribute to what grows and what doesn't.

And so it is with all transitions. We hold only a piece of the great puzzle that will eventually take us from one place in the journey to the next. But there so many other, unseen, pieces that take our trust, our faith, our sitting still. Trusting that there is much to be learned in the in-between place can make all the difference. The tomato plant in May is only a few green leaves on a stem. Come August the red, ripe juicy fruit will bring delight beyond measure

For the in-between times, it is a good image to remember.

Have a blessed weekend……….……


Fair Share

Yesterday morning I read of a new Panera Bread restaurant in St. Louis. As customers arrive at the store they are greeted by the sign that simply says:"Take what you need, leave your fair share.” While still serving its delicious breads and healthy soups and sandwiches, the store allows people to pay what they can for the food they will receive. The cash register is replaced by a 'Donation Jar'. The article reported that, though no one is required to pay any amount for the food they order, 1/3 of the customers are opting to pay more than the retail value of their check. Those who cannot pay at all are asked, if they are able, to help out some place at the store.

As I read this article, my heart filled with a sense of gladness and hope that had been absent for awhile. In the face of all the other articles in the paper that showed a less than stellar side of humanity, this story lifted me up. I found myself, once again, able to glimpse an imageof the greater good. I pray this endeavor, underwritten by the company's foundation, works. If it does, the concept will expand into other markets that Panera serves. Wouldn't that be wonderful? I thought of the many homeless and transient people I pass on Nicollet Mall as they ask for handouts. Near by is a Panera restaurant. I loved the idea that these people might some day walk in and be served with all those able to pay, many even more than the face value of the cost of their order.

Despite the sheer goodness of this story, i know I was drawn to it for at least two other reasons. The first is that it seems to live out what the early disciples did as recorded in the book of Acts. "Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were
being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and has all things
in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the
proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together
in the temple, they broke bread at home, and ate their food with glad and
generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people." 
These early followers of Jesus banded together, not only out of self preservation, but to continue to live out in community what they believed Jesus would want them to do. They were all about  taking what they needed and leaving their fair share. 

The second reason I was drawn to this story was because of my father. My Dad was a man who loved food and had also been a cook in the Navy. He could never cook for just four people. Everything he created in the kitchen was meant to serve a crowd. He said to us on more than one occasion that if he ever became rich, which was a big if, he would open a soup kitchen. My Dad was also a man that really believed in the dignity of all human beings. I can imagine that the soup kitchen of his dreams would have countless ways for all who came to eat to be given ways to help out in some way so their food was not a hand out but a hand up. I can imagine him walking into a Panera store today and putting far more than was required for his meal into the donation jar.

I will look forward to following the progress of this amazing act by a corporation. Its intention brought hope to my day and an opportunity to think that a dream my Dad once had might have the opportunity to be lived out by others with equally generous hearts and souls. May each of us walk into this day taking only what we need and leaving our fair share.

Paying Homage

This morning started out with a flurry of activity. Last night I had baked a cake that I wanted to share with my co-workers and knew I had to run to the grocery store this morning for whipping cream to top it off. My feet hit the floor with the running list of 'to be done' zooming through my head. Making my way downstairs I found that we, in the night, had been home to a sick dog in the living room. (You don't want to know.) This threw a wrench into the works of what was already an out-of-the-ordinary morning. By the time breakfast was eaten, hair was washed, dishwasher loaded, lunch packed, paper read, I felt as if I had lived nearly a full day and it wasn't even 8:00 a.m. Several times in my bustling about I had glimpsed, out the window, the grape iris in our garden as it seemed to grow even taller reaching toward to sun. Each time I saw it I thought, "I have to go out there and look, really look at it." Distracted by the next thing, I moved on and never made it outside.

As the morning sun shone on the backyard, its rays coaxed the brilliant purple petals open on this queen of the garden. I busily packed all the stuff I needed for my day into my car and backed out of the driveway. As I buckled my seat-belt, my eyes caught one last view of the stately iris. I made it all the way out of the driveway and several feet down the street. Then I stopped. I halted the busyness of the morning and pulled over and parked my car. With purpose, I got out and walked back  up the driveway and into the backyard to do the one thing I truly should have done all morning. I walked up and stood looking at the sun's rays fall across the deep purple of the iris. I stared into the heart of it, its deep yellow center with the brown stripes like eyebrows floating out toward the petal edges.(How is this possible?) The sun caught the colors as I reached down to smell the grape scent that emits from the deep purple, a smell that only comes my way for a few days of every year of my life. In just a matter of weeks these beautiful flowers will have died and been cut back as the next wave of color arrives in the garden. To have missed it would have been, dare I say it, sinful.

This morning was for paying homage, for being a pilgrim in my own backyard. I could have missed it. I could have continued driving and made my way onto the freeway and the rest of my day. But something inside me would not let me go, urged me to stop and see. Whether is was the Spirit or just good, common sense depends on your perspective I suppose. Whatever it was, it was a blessing and It has made all the difference in this day.

"Each day, every moment, you place your hand of blessing upon the brow of creation. In your touch, in your words, everything flowers, everything remembers the deep, perfect loveliness within. The deep, perfect loveliness of you." ~Sam Hamilton-Poore, Earth Gospel


What a glorious weekend we've had! Here in Minnesota the days were filled with bright sunshine and warm temperatures. The rains we had earlier last week created a lush blanket of green grass that rivals the Irish countryside. With the rain came some colder temperatures that helped hold the blooming flowers….lilacs, irises,columbine, bleeding hearts, jack-in-the-pulpits….to a more realistic calendar. These early spring flowers are now showing their color accompanied by the sweet fragrance of the lily-of-the-valleys that dot the edges of many gardens. It seemed everywhere I looked this weekend, there was a veritable banquet of beauty. 

As this Monday morning begins another work week for many, we can wear the glory of this past weekend like a cloak, a cloak that reminds us of the amazing world of which we are only a tiny part. Always a warranted reminder lest we become too full of ourselves and our place in the cosmos. As I was thinking about that very thing this morning, I read the following words: "May the craft and mastery of my daily work enhance the great weaving of the universe."

Wow! Most mornings I simply stumble out of bed,caffeinate myself, create my to-do list and head into the work day. I rarely think of the work I do as having 'craft' or 'mastery' much less how it might enhance the 'great weaving of the universe.' Perhaps this is not your experience. And yet when I really allow myself to think of the work I do, the work which hopefully uses the gifts I have been given in the best way I know how, why shouldn't I spin that thought out to its greater place in the big story of things? Why shouldn't we all? If we are here at this time and place, living with a certain intention about, not only our work, but our relationships, our values and our footprint in our community, why shouldn't we seek to live our lives as important strands in the great weaving that is our world?

Sometimes I think of those people who have moved in and out of my life leaving an indelible mark. I think of teachers, family members, friends who have said just the right thing at the right time to move me past a deep, dead spot I felt I could not overcome.I give thanks that at some place they understood their part in the big picture. I also think of those people who may have done the exact opposite, bringing a sense of negativity and dismissal to an idea or dream I held dear.I think of the time and energy it took to heal from those wounds. I would pray that I have spent more of my time being the former person than the later in people's lives, don't you?

Perhaps today, Monday, is a good day to take stock of what it is your work is calling you to craft with the mastery only you can muster. On the heels of such an amazing display of Creation as we were given this weekend, we are given the opportunity to recommit to being a part of the marvelous whole, bringing our unique offerings to the weaving of this day. 

Let the weaving begin!

End Times

I know people who are really drawn to certain kinds of buildings. Barns, for instance. They are drawn to the beauty and intrigue of the many kinds of barns that dot the landscape of our country. Red barns, brick barns, perfectly painted white barns. Barns that have 'Mail Pouch' painted across the side, offering advertising from a different time. Round barns with green roofs. Giant barns with several silos. There is something solid and purely American about barns.

Barns are great but I am drawn to churches. My family has been known to set limits on the number of churches that can be entered on any given day while we are on vacation. On car vacations I always look out the window toward the steeples reaching from the main streets of small towns that are just out of reach of the speeding traffic. These steeples change in architecture and style, usually influenced by the ethnicity of those who settled the particular area. For my money, you can't beat the small, white wood church with a simple steeple that can be seen in nearly every small town across the land. 

Once while riding the Atlanta Metro with friends, mostly church professionals, one voice rang out:"Wow! There it is!" We all turned to look at the grey cinder-block building with the simple sign that said:'The Perfect Church". We laughed out loud thinking of all the times we had tried to create just that…..the perfect church. No disagreements there. No out-of-tune choirs. Perfectly executed sermons, deeply engaged parishioners, children who never wiggle and are always well behaved. Our laughter may have held some longing but also the deep knowing that the perfect church was perfectly impossible.

Last week while traipsing off the main highway my husband and I came upon another interesting church building. It sat well back off the road. What had been the lawn was filled now with overgrown weeds and fallen branches. Its once white exterior was chipping paint and the red cross that had been painted on the side of the church seemed tarnished. The sign on the outside simply said "EndTimes House of Prayer". I had to stop and simply look at this place that had at one time meant a great deal to those who found a place to express their faith. Its doors now closed,clearly abandoned, I wondered where its members had gone. While I know that the end times of which they most assuredly spoke was not something I think much about, I did wonder: Had their prayer held them through the end times of their lives together? I pray so.

In a few weeks I will attend our denominations' annual gathering of clergy and lay people where we will, not only ordain people for ministry, but also take action to close churches that are no longer able to support a congregation. It is always a deeply sad time as we are present to a remnant of people whose lives have been tied up in the life sustaining work of a faith community. Births, baptisms, deaths, funerals and all the very ordinary events have held these people together in a building that has provided, not only shelter, but a deep sense of place. The walls of these church buildings have held the tears and joy of all the holy days that have been celebrated. They also hold the prayers, all the prayers, that have been spoken and offered for the many life events that connect humans to one another and to God. The building itself holds the power of home. A home that will be no more.

Today I found myself offering this prayer…..For these end times and all the end times that come our way, may we each find our house of prayer.

Bring Many Names

"Turner of the Season's Wheel, while I have slept you have been hastening summer. Before I enter into the motion of the day-star, I rest in the stillness of the wheel's turning." ~Caitlin Matthews

I begin many of my mornings by using a devotional book called Celtic Devotional:Daily Prayers & Blessings by Caitlin Matthews. I love this little book for many reasons. It has a rhythm about it, moving from the outward to the inward, staying in touch with the seasons and their turning. But one of the things I love most is the myriad of names that Matthew uses for God. Names like: Gardener of Dew, Summoner of Night, Faithful Companion of the Night, Opener of Morning, Healer of Hurts, Smith of Souls, Keeper of the Heart. The list goes on and on invoking the many ways in which the Holy One weaves in and out of our daily walk whether sleeping or awake.

These names open doors for me. To tell the truth they keep me from trying to put God in a box I can latch tightly, securing the Sacred within my own limitations. These names keep me from trying to control the ways that I build the Sacred in my own image rather than the other way around. Many of the names might stretch readers sense of the Holy. Names like Hostel of Welcome, Lap of Peace, Revealer of Dreams or Singer of Summer. And yet when I allow myself to say those names, let them roll around in my mouth and my heart, I remember times when, indeed, God was a Lap of Peace to me. I have known the Holy as One who throws open the door of a hostel, welcoming me in with a warm bed and a filling meal. I have also known God as the One who prods and pokes me until the dreams I cannot see or choose to run from are revealed in ways I cannot deny. And who among us, though we may not express it this way, has not come to the end of a glorious summer day filled with green and brilliant sun, colorful flowers and freshly harvested vegetables and not given thanks to the Singer of Summer?

Mostly we try to fit God into the smallness we can understand. We even make rules about which names for God are acceptable.  We sometimes even further fit those names into denominational boxes or constrain them within faith traditions. I find this very sad. It seems to me that this Mystery we experience as the Source of All cannot be contained in one or even a hundred names. And so I will continue to pick up my daily devotional and try on yet another name for the Unnameable I try so hard to know, hoping beyond hope to glimpse a clearer vision of not only myself but the one who delights in all Creation.

Cradle of Quietness…..Womb of the Night……Keeper of the Flame…..Cup of Transformation…..Ocean of Blessing………..on and on and on chasing after Mystery.