Uphill Both Ways

Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
~Christina Rossetti

Every parent has no doubt told the story to a whining child about ‘walking to school in the snow, uphill both ways’. It is a joke of course but never fails to stop the complaining in its tracks, for at least a moment, as the logic of this concept tries to sink in. And yet many of us have had the experience of traveling uphill with no end in sight, feeling that, indeed, we are traveling uphill both ways.

As I continue to prepare for my October pilgrimage to the island of Iona in Scotland, I am thinking of travel, of walking, in both metaphorical and practical ways.
There is, of course, the issue of the right shoes to wear. As a self-professed shoe junkie, this has brought no shortage of anxiety. But now that I think I have that problem solved, I can concentrate on the deeper meanings of what it means to walk the path of this long awaited adventure, this journey.

Last week our group of pilgrims gathered for a final briefing by the trip planners. We shared details, a wonderful meal and a combined anticipation for what these eleven days together will bring. As I looked around the room I tried to imagine the many reasons and life circumstances each person was bringing to this road that may, at times, feel like an uphill trek. Some of my fellow pilgrims I know very well and have for years. Others I am still getting to know, learning their names,hoping that the days spent together on buses and planes and around shared food and rich experiences will bring new friends. I am hoping that by journey’s end I will know more about each person, will come to a place of gratitude for having shared the road together, from morning till night, ‘the whole day long’.

But one does not need to be preparing for a long trip to embrace the words of Christina Rossetti. Each day provides its own journey, uphill and down. Each stage of our lives also offers this gift: a road that is to be traveled without our knowing where the twists and turns will take us. All the plans we make can turn on a dime. Anyone who has lived more than a few years knows this. What seemed like a smooth moving, care-free existence can suddenly turn into an uphill battle with an unforeseen diagnosis, a deep loss, a turn too quickly made. This is the nature of life. Each day is a journey of its own if we lean into the ever increasing rays of sunlight.

And so for all those who are held in the limbo of an uphill journey, may prayers hold you. For all those who cannot see the path ahead or are too frightened to look, may prayers surround you. For those who travel alone and long for companionship, may prayers embrace you. From morn to night. From night to morn.

Savoring the Threshold

These are the days to savor. These final days of summer conjure up such joy, such gratitude, such beauty, that it seems to me, the only logical response is to drink them in……slowly. As I write this, a gentle breeze is blowing outside and is floating in through our open windows. The air conditioning that kept us sane and comfortable last week, has been turned off, silenced. Who knows if we will need the gift of it again? We found this morning that the sun was showing every streak and blotch on the windows. So, like in spring when the sunshine flows in and shows winter’s dirt and grime, the windows of summer begged to be washed of their heated-filled dusty film.

These days are threshold times. The days still hold enough warmth to require short sleeves by mid-day but the morning requires a jacket and long pants. Soon the light weight clothes will be packed away and we Minnesotans will begin our layering fashion parade. But for now there is the act of savoring. Savoring the sunshine, the green  yards and trees, the chill of the air and its cousin, heat. Gardens are beginning to bring out purples and lavenders attracting butterflies, a sea of flying color. On this threshold between what was and what is yet to be, we stand with our arms held out to receive.

Earlier this week I saw the first v-formation of geese who were perhaps practicing their eventual exit. It was a poignant sight. I thought of all this summer has held. While I will not fly off like the geese, there will be things that must be left behind. things from which I, too, must fly.  Such is the case with all the seasons of our lives. Though the life of this summer has shone with color and beauty,growth and new life, even these things will eventually become brown, dry and be the fodder for a period of rest, reflection, death and hope-filled renewal.

What are you savoring in these waning days of summer? What gifts of these last months have brought new life? What might the winds of autumn have in store? It seems to me the gift of paying attention to the seasons, which are pure gift, allows us to be in tune with the rhythms of the universe, the heartbeat of all Creation. Attention to these rhythms also remind us that we are a part of something immense and something created by a loving hand, something that is, after all, a brilliant Mystery.

This morning I read these words by Caitlin Matthews:’ I kindle my soul from the Autumn’s sunlight, glow of life,glow of light, glow of love, be upon my being, my heart, my soul this Autumn day, from break of light till fall of night.’ This morning prayer is an encouragement to savor. I offer it to you in hopes that day’s end will find you basking in the riches, and richness, of this day.

Have a blessed weekend………


“Imagine the last time your faith failed. Faith in yourself,your family, your God, your country, love, the arts, even faith itself. Of course, faith is Janus-faced. One face is blind, unquestioning; the other sees far and deep, trusting what is unfolding in you, in life.” Phil Cousineau

You don’t have to be someone who is part of a church to speak about faith. It is a word that is used with great abandon in our culture. Some people had faith that Brett Favre would return to the Vikings this season. Some people have faith that it won’t rain on their outdoor plans. We all place our faith in institutions like banks, government, the transportation systems. Most of the time that faith works out well for us. Our money is safe and grows through interest and investments. The Systems within our government bring us security, freedom and a general sense of an ordered life. The majority of the time our buses,planes, trains and freeways allow us to make our way in the world in with very little thought as to how it all works. Most of the time, it is faith well placed.

But there are times when our faith seems difficult to hold,impossible to grab onto. I think of the people I know who are faced with the ravage of disease and, a too soon, impending death of a loved one. How to have faith becomes a nagging night-time partner.  Or those who have been knocked down over and over again by life’s challenges….poverty, unemployment, loss of homes and friends and all that defines who they are. How do we hold onto our faith in those situations? How do we continue to practice our faith in the face of what can seem like insurmountable odds? In times when God seems far away?

These, of course, are age-old questions. However, it is at times like these that,I believe, we see the very real, and fragile relationship that exists within faith. At the times when I am unable to sense or believe God’s presence travels with me, it is then that I trust that there is a greater faith at work. A faith in me and all the created order, a faith that can become hidden in the shadows of our daily walk. It is at these times that I latch onto the force of a common good that breathes beneath and through all Creation. With white knuckles and,often, clenched fists, I ride out the wave of my faithlessness held by a deeper, more abiding faith than I can ever imagine. It is then that I know the presence of the Holy in new and surprising ways. The Holy One’s presence in my life is bigger than my ability to imagine my own faith, a practice that is often blurred by own need to harness what I believe to be fair, or right, or true. In the final analysis, I must rest in the arms of the One who has faith in me, even when I am faithless.

If today finds you clutching a faithless moment, may that moment be brief. And may you and all those you love be held by this deeper, eternal faith that is breathing, unseen and yet felt, as near as our own next inhalation.

What We Weave

The words we weave can  become a web in which we also are bound. Once uttered, these words cannot be called back; they fly out on the winds until they find their target. In a tradition that recognizes the power of words, we also maintain a watch upon our tongue, lest it speak words that we will regret.” ~The Celtic Spirit, Caitlin Matthews

When I read these words in my morning devotion today, my mother’s voice rang out loud and clear in my head.  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!” How many times over the years did she heard me heading over a cliff from which I might not be able to return, only to caution me about the power of words?

Just this past week I was flipping from channel to channel on the television looking for something to entertain me for an hour. I was struck with the raw and angry language that was being bantered between people. I finally turned it off. The same thing can happen on the radio. I once listened faithfully to a station that mostly just made me laugh. It did not have any redeeming educational value whatsoever, but each show was filled with silliness. But over the last year, that same station, has turned some dark corner and it seems all the hosts need to lash out, take cheap jabs at people, exhibit a general mean-spiritedness. I have chosen to take them off my listening line up.

Unkind words can also be found in emails, that instant form of communication where we can rant and rave and hit send without any effort at self-censoring. It is quite common to get these forms of communications. Sometimes they are followed by an apology in which the sender recognizes that, if they had only taken the time to reflect on their words, they would have chosen their words more wisely and not have hit ‘send’ so quickly.

I am of the belief that words are so powerful they find a home in our bodies, affecting our day, our sense of self, our lives. I believe this to be true because I have had it happen to me. Words spoken unkindly, cavalierly, have nearly made me physically ill. Has this happened to you? it is difficult to bound back from, isn’t it?

What we say to another person is important, whether we are speaking about issues of ultimate concern….life, death, love, forgiveness….or the mundane…..please pass the salt….how much are these bananas?  How we choose our words just might make all the difference in the world to another person. This is something not to be taken lightly.

May we all be surrounded this day by beautiful, kind and loving words. May all the words that come out of our mouths, or through our fingers, be ones we are proud to speak into the air or have printed on paper. May all the words we weave,  spoken and received, be ones that bring the greater good to an already hurting world.


“The first duty of love is to listen.” ~Paul Tillich

The walls in my office seem to be throbbing. I mean this in a good way. So many times our spaces are just that, walls, floors, furniture. But sometimes I become aware of all that has been said in my office, this space where I spend so much of my waking time. That expression: “If these walls could talk…” fits any space and certainly works for these four walls I call a kind-of-home. They have held the joy of announcements…..engagements, soon-to-be-births, new jobs, adventures to be taken. They have also been privy to deep sadness…..broken relationships, funeral planning, lost jobs, grief too great to bear. All spaces have been present to the scope of life’s fullness. Today I just became aware of my walls, my ceiling, my window.

On this day my walls were present to a rich and wonderful conversation. One of the dear ones of our community was trying to sort out several deep and important questions. A few of my colleagues and I created our own version of the Quaker clearness committee, a process of helping someone tap into the inner resources they already have for answering their own important questions. It is, as I understand it, a process of deep listening. It is a forum for asking the questions that will help someone hear themselves in ways that bring clarity to their struggles, their future, their life. Our role as listeners was not to answer any questions or give any advice. Our role was to offer our presence, our hearts. In that heart-filled presence we assumed the Spirit was with us.

What a privilege it was to be a part of this experience! Later I thought of all the people I know who might benefit from such an audience. Young people, older people, middle-aged people, all can blossom in such a setting. As the conversation became less animated, more settled, I began to feel the ‘clearness’ move into the room. I am not sure what eventual action will be taken by this dear one. But I cannot help but believe that being heard was helpful, healing even. I know it was an act of love.

For all those who are searching for answers, for a new vision, or a way out of a difficult spot, my prayer is that you may find at least one person to listen, really listen so you may, eventually, hear yourself into clarity.


The Celtic theologian, poet and wisdom-carrier John Philip Newell often speaks about ‘the healing of the world.’ I have been thinking about this phrase alot this week. On Tuesday at our staff meeting, another wise man I know spoke of the United Methodist notion of ‘going on to perfection’ and the difficulty he has had in giving flesh to these words, this concept. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, often said that as Christians we are ‘going on to perfection’. Since I, too, have had difficulty with this concept, these words, I listened intently to the content of the conversation searching for further understanding.

Sometime over the years I have begun to translate this concept of perfection into ‘going on toward wholeness’. For me, this is more helpful, less full of baggage. Perfection has such a heavy cross to bear in our 21st century culture. Ads of ‘perfect’ bodies, ‘perfect’ homes, ‘perfect relationships spring to mind. This is, I am fairly sure, not what John Wesley had in mind. But wholeness,shaping my life, my walk in faith, in a way that leads me home to the original wholeness from which I was born, that makes sense to me. And it seems even doable.

I am pretty sure that wholeness and healing go hand in hand. In a world that is splintered by so many factions, so much ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘right’ and left’, ‘included’ and ‘excluded’, wholeness would certainly be a goal to pursue. If we believe that we are created in the image of God, which I do, that pursuit toward wholeness and, eventually,  holiness seems a noble endeavor, doesn’t it?

And how to do that? I don’t really have the complete answer but I am sure that some attention to compassion, justice, humility, and kindness is in order. These are not qualities that are celebrated in the advertising world of perfection. But they are qualities that were lifted up by Jesus and other prophets of God as the way in which we bring healing to the world and wholeness to ourselves. Embracing these goals may not help any of us fit into a size six pair of jeans or keep the wrinkles from aging our faces. But setting our intention to live a life of kindness and compassion, following a path of justice and humility just might bring about a better world. And some how I think that would be worth it.

In one of his prayers Newell writes: ‘Grant me the grace to reclaim these depths, to uncover this treasure, to liberate these longings, and in being set free in my own spirit, to act for the well-being of the world.’ Sign me up.

Have a blessed weekend……..

Shaking Eyeballs

“Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same God; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

Yesterday I spent the first part of the morning being a helper with Vacation Bible School. My role was to be a shepherd of sorts for the group known as the ‘Dandelions’. I met them as they sat on a pale green quilt laid out on the floor where they were having their morning gathering time. The Dandelions ranged in age from 5-7 years and had yellow name tags hanging around their necks. While waiting for the official gathering time to begin, we leisurely discussed whether the dandelion was a flower or a weed. Everyone had an opinion and expressed it with great passion. It was clear that no consensus would be made on this horticultural issue and so the conversation soon petered out.

Just then one of the girls turned to me and made this statement: “I can shake my eyeballs.”  Her declaration was pure, simple and to the point. I tried to keep my expression neutral. “Really?” I said. “Yes.” she returned and then began to somehow make her eyeballs shake back and forth from side to side without moving her head an inch. Seeing that I was clearly impressed, she smiled.

What to say to such a feat? I commented with the first thing that came to my mind: “How did you first realize you could do this?” She paused for a very long time and then said: “I don’t know.” as if the mystery of it all was answer enough.  This gift which she had discovered at some point of her young life just was. She was a ‘girl who could shake her eyeballs.’ It was simply a part of who she was. There was no memory of how she came to try this. No memory of practicing in front of a mirror till she got it right. It was just a gift she possessed.

I carried that image with me all day. Those sweet, little blue eyes wiggling back and forth framed by her pale, blond hair that had not been completely combed before her morning arrival. I thought of all the gifts people have and how I am so often blessed to observe them or, even better, be a recipient of those seeds planted deep within them. I think of the people I know who have such a gift for hospitality, how they make me feel as if they are so glad I am in their presence, how they mirror God’s movement in the world. I think of those who have the gift of teaching, of leading young and old into a discovery of information and transformation. I see many of those with the gift of teaching moving among our young ones this week. I think of those I know who have the gift of administration, keeping systems moving, details covered. I think of those who have the gift of music, of art, of storytelling, of opening the world to others in profound ways. So many gifts. So many ways to share them.

Like the girl who could shake her eyeballs, most often we are unaware of how we came to act on our gifts. It was simply something we tried once, were led to do by a force that is unseen but felt. The Spirit perhaps? I think so. But the result is always the same when gifts are shared. The giver and receiver are blessed and the world seems a little brighter, is healed in some way.

What are your gifts? Have you shared them lately? Today is a good day to offer what you have and to brighten the world. It might even include a little shaking!

A Full Heart

This past weekend I had the privilege of being witness to and a participant in three significant life events. I sometimes am filled to overflowing with gratitude that I am blessed to be present at so many important times in people’s lives. It has been a surprise to me and to this calling that has become my life, the life of ministry. Sometimes I have to shake myself that I get to be present to such amazing things.

Friday evening I participated in the wedding of a beautiful, young couple. It is always a joy to see the families, people have heard stories about over the time we have met in counseling and wedding preparation. People I have, up to this point,  only imagined. It is wonderful to watch the interaction of the parents wondering what they are seeing in the unfolding lives of their children. I am always intrigued by the choices couples make in the way they shape their wedding service, what is important to them, what seems insignificant. The music that is chosen, the scripture that is read, the friends that stand alongside, all create a picture that will, hopefully, last a lifetime.

On Saturday, I was blessed to participate in the memorial service for one of the saints of our church.  This man was a mentor, a source of wisdom to me,and a beacon of kindness. I will miss him terribly. His memorial service was the craft of his own hand, put together from the notes he had made of the music, words, and scripture that had given shape to his life of faith. While my heart was filled with sadness for his death, it was as equally filled with celebration that, in all the ways the world can turn, I got to travel some of my days with him. I’d like to think that some of his compassion and deep faith rubbed off on me and that I will carry it with me forever.

On Sunday, we celebrated the baptism of one of the newest members of our community. These worship experiences always fill me with such hope for the future and such love for this place I call my church home. We have a special way of inviting people from the community to bring forward small cups of water to create the waters of baptism as they represent the tributaries of the community that will nurture this child in their faith life. Water is brought from special places in the life of the family. This baptism also contained rain water that had been collected from the many rains we’ve known over the last weeks. After the baptism, as this beautiful, young one was passed among the gathered people I allowed myself to look at the faces as they greeted her. Every face was full of promise. Every face was full of love. For me it was a glimpse of the kindom of God.

And so even these few days after, I find my heart is full. I carry the hope of a newly married couple. I am filled with the gifts and memory of a saint. I hold the image of faces full of promise.

It is good. Very, very good.

Monday Guffaw

So out of the ground God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them; and whatever Adam called every living creature, that was its name.” Genesis 2:19

This Monday began early. I was trying to get into the office before all the children arrived for this week’s Vacation Bible School. I always love this week when the whole shape of the energy in the church gets upended with the enthusiasm and spirit of the children. It is easy in the summer to get into a routine, a rut, of a slower pace. People are on vacation. There are not as many people coming in and out of the church building during the week or on Sundays for that matter. So, Vacation Bible School becomes the late summer shot in the arm to wake us all up to the approaching fall.

I was driving along Highway 62 going West when I heard a siren behind me. I saw the seas beginning to part behind me and I followed suit, allowing a State Highway Patrol car to whiz by toward an accident up ahead. That’s when I saw it. Coming east, in the opposite direction, a silver pickup truck was hauling a flatbed. Sitting on the flatbed was the upper part of the body, neck and head of a dinosaur, a Brontosaurus. Its head was poised above the traffic, speeding along, seeming to shout, ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ I dissolved into laughter.

What a great way to start a Monday morning! The sight of the dinosaur prepared me for the fresh faces, laughter and joy of the children. I thought back to when our sons went through what I always referred to as their ‘dinosaur period.’ Sometime around five or six years old most children discover dinosaurs and they are captivated with them. For several weeks, sometimes months, children will pour over picture books of these enormous, prehistoric creatures. I have always thought that the fascination comes, not only from the sheer size and mystery of the animals, but from their names. The children simply like the power of saying words like Tyrannosaurus Rex, Brontosaurus, Triceratops. As those who are in a free fall of language development, these big words are powerful symbols that their brains are bigger than the animals they are naming.

So the sight of this creature this morning riding along at the speed limit not only made me laugh but made me wonder. Maybe the kids at Vacation Bible School might also like to learn some Big Bible names. Words like Deuteronomy and Ecclesiastes or Nehemiah  and the ever popular Leviathan. It could add a whole new wrinkle to the week. Maybe I’ll suggest it to the teachers.

But no matter what, I will still have the image of that dinosaur flying by, the image that got my day off to a great start.

Sacred Journey

“With a deepening focus, keen preparation, attention to the path below our feet, and respect for the destination at hand, it is possible to transform even the most ordinary trip into a sacred journey, a pilgrimage.” ~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

This morning began in joy. I met for breakfast with the other leaders of a pilgrimage I will be privileged to take in October to Scotland. This adventure has been more than a year in the making, and as most adventures do, began with a passing statement of “Wouldn’t it be great……?” We had all had a desire to travel to the Island of Iona and several other recognized holy sites in this loveliest of British lands. The passing statement began to take on flesh and here we are only a few weeks away from what we all pray will be a transforming experience for all involved. As the details get more refined and the seeds of hope become more deeply planted, I am recognizing the richness of what this journey might offer. The trick is to prepare just well enough to relieve anxiety while remaining open and receptive to the surprises, the movement of the Spirit that will travel alongside each pilgrim. It will be a balancing act for sure, but one that if held gently enough, will deliver us all back to our ordinary lives changed forever.

To think of oneself as a pilgrim seems as ancient term, an ancient endeavor. And yet, if we honor the way in which we travel each day in the companionship of the Holy, every day is a pilgrimage and we are all pilgrims of the daily Earth path. How might your day be different if you saw it that way? How might your work day unfold if, instead of the same old daily grind, you stepped out your door with the hope of a pilgrim heart? It is something to think about, isn’t it ? Think of how meetings might be approached if we all sat down with the idea of being, not just a worker, but a pilgrim in search of transformation? Or how might we experience the load of laundry thrown into the washer in the early morning hours before work if we thought of the act as preparing our clothes for the important journey ahead? How might we eat our breakfast or our lunch with attention to the steps along the sacred path? And how much better falling into bed at night might feel if we had the opportunity to reflect on what we experienced as holy in the ordinary living out of the day?

These are all pilgrim questions available to us with the rising of the sun each morning. It is up to each one of us whether or not we pick up the gauntlet and deeply focus our attention, being present to the path of our feet and finally giving proper respect to the destination at hand.

Pilgrim or not? You choose. But with the choice comes the prospect of being changed forever. Are you up for it?

Have a blessed weekend…………………