“The wisdom of the humble lifts their heads high, and seats them among the great. The bee is small among flying creatures, but what it produces is the best of sweet things.” Sirach 11:1,3

Yesterday I heard a wonderful report on MPR about a Minnesota woman who received a ‘genius’ grant from the MacArthur foundation. This grant carries a gift of $500,000 for the recipients to continue the study in which they have been engaged. The recipient, Marla Spivak, has spent years studying the honeybee. In the report she was asked how she came to such work. She declared that she had been ‘hooked on bees’ since she was eighteen years old. I laughed out loud in my car. Hooked on bees! I think of what it must have been like to discover your passion so early and to have continued its love throughout your life. And then to have received a coveted award for that same love.

Now, to most people, honeybees may not seem like very important beings. Certainly not worth such a grand prize. But Marla Spivak points out that honeybees pollinate a third of the food supply of fruits and vegetables in the United States. Without their work, our lives will become less healthy. Something to think about, isn’t it? Those little insects that buzz around the flowers and sweet drinks we hold on our decks on sunny days are important to our over all well being. And the truth is, they are not doing well. It seems that with diseases and pesticides and (can you believe this?) less flowers in the world, the honeybees are declining in numbers and in their own ability to do their work. And so the point needs to be made: If the honeybees aren’t doing well, what about we two-leggeds who can sometimes walk about as if we are the center of the universe?

This all made me think about what other beings in our world we might be ignoring or overlooking simply because they seem smaller and, to us,insignificant. I happen to be one of those people that believes that each part of Creation has a purpose. Sometimes, in my limited life experience, in my narrow understanding I don’t always realize this truth. But hearing about the honeybees yesterday gave me a reason to keep my eyes open, to be on alert, lest I think myself more important than I am. It was a good wake up call.

There is a story I have heard more than once about the ways in which the rabbis used to help their students understand the sweetness of the scriptures. They would fill a tray with a thin layer of honey. Then they would have the students write the Hebrew letters in the honey. After the letters had been formed, the students would be instructed to lick the honey off their fingertips. As the sweetness slid off their fingers, onto their tongues and down their throats, the gift of the scriptures literally became a part of the aspiring writers. It is a wonderful image isn’t it?

Perhaps those of us who travel life’s sweet path today, might take a moment to be present to all the small creatures with whom we travel. We might pause and think about what they bring to our lives and how we would be less without them. And then we might say a prayer of gratitude for the ants and worms that plow our garden dirt and the box-elder bugs covering our window screens. For the squirrels busily gathering food for their winter sleep. For the bats which swoop and the mosquitoes that fly. And especially for the honeybee on whom we depend. Even when we don’t know it.

And while we are at it, how about a prayer for the ones who get hooked on these creatures and can bring us to a greater appreciation.

In the Flow

What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn’t have any doubt-it is sure to get where it is going and it doesn’t want to go anywhere else.” Hal Boyle

Wasn’t yesterday an absolutely stupendous day? The fall colors are beginning to emerge. The sun was shining so brightly, sending shafts of light through the yellows and reds that are beginning to paint the trees in our landscape. Even at the height of the day, there was just a hint of chill in the air. Children in our neighborhood were running around, playing, yelping, as if trying to squeeze the last bit of freedom out of the days they had known in summer. It was one of those days when a teeshirt was not enough. A jacket was too much. Some might even be so bold as to call it a ‘heavenly day’.

We took the opportunity to wind our way down the river to Hastings taking in the half harvested fields of corn and summer’s exit. Brilliant green shown on one farm while others were dotted with the nubs of corn mowed to the edge of the ground. Flocks of birds could be seen overhead doing their little lacey dances in air. I love this autumn flight show they do. I always try to turn on the radio so the music can accompany their flights of fancy. No matter the tune on the dial, the music seems to fit.  They, like the children, seemed to be making a last ditch effort at soaking up the sunshine, the warmth, the gifts of frivolous days gone by.

At the edge of the Mississippi River, we sat watching the powerful waters make their turns in some of the widest areas of the river’s path. The waters seemed even more treacherous than usual, fueled by the heavy rains we experienced last week. We sat and watched as enormous, rootless, trees floated alongside smaller branches and limbs torn loose by strong winds and the rains that are playing even greater havoc further down river.  Floating along in the current were also debris of all sorts: plastic soda bottles, all kinds of aluminum cans, papers, plastic, an upended paper plate(how did it stay afloat?). A styrofoam cup half filled with muddy water stood upright as if someone might reach out, pick it up and take a drink. And the most unusual, a black and white Adidas sport sandal riding the water as if making a miraculous, one-legged walk on the waves. The sight was both astounding and quite sad. This mighty river filled with such filth and pollution. My husband pointed out that, if all went well for some of the debris, it would be in New Orleans in a couple of days. A tragic but interesting thought.

Later we walked another path further north along the river. A plaque along the way pointed out that people had walked, lived, and flourished along this river for 8,000 years. An amazing idea. As I looked out toward the burgeoning waters flowing around islands of trees and docks that seemed to be free floating, I wondered about those people. What manner of things had my genetic ancestors seen float by 8,000 years ago? 5,000 years ago? 1,000 years ago? 100 years ago? Surely the floods, which are predictable and a part of how Creation works, have always caused debris to make its way from our end of the river to the Gulf that will receive it. How has that changed over the years? What does the ‘stuff’ we send down the river have to say about who we are now?

I don’t have any answers to these questions. But I did leave that experience feeling a greater connection to those ancient people who made their lives, their homes by the shores of the river. I felt a connection and an obligation to walk gently on this land. Perhaps some day, say 1,000 years from now, someone will stand at the river’s edge and wonder about me and my life companions. Perhaps they will wonder if we loved the river, if we felt its connection to our living and to our brothers and sisters who we share its flow. I pray they will think on us kindly.


“As you start on the Way, the Way appears.” ~Rumi

These past days, with the rain coming down and the darker days descending as autumn approaches, have been good for self-reflection. It seems, for me, that fall always conjures up this inner work. Maybe it is just the school year rhythm that is so firmly planted within us that gets this movement happening. But whatever it is, I welcome it. And this fall I am particularly aware of it given my upcoming pilgrimage to Scotland. Those of us who are embarking on this adventure continue to affirm that this is not merely a trip but a longing for transformation.

Of course, one need not be heading off to far away places to be attentive to the unfolding of our life’s path. This is a gift that is present to us with the rising of each new day, at the beginning of each season, each year. The Quakers often speak of this presence to our unfolding life simply as ‘Way’. Most often, however, our human inclination is to stumble after things we think are outside of us, outside our reach. These are goals after which we strive. And yet, over the years I have come to believe that everything we need to do the work to which we are called, to be our authentic self, our God-created self, is present within us from the beginning. This discovering and uncovering of the way in which we are to walk is a life long process. Our circumstances, often created by others, can bump up against what we know to be true. The choices we make about those circumstances either help or hinder our discovery, our attention to the Way. Does this ring true for you?

In the lives of the early Christians, they often referred to Jesus’ teaching, even Jesus himself, as the Way. I love this idea. It helps move people away from the traditional practice of speaking about belief and places the emphasis on how, as people of faith, we pay attention to how Jesus lived, how he moved in the world, walked his path, created his Way of being in relationship with the Holy. This was what, I think, his life offers ours. Belief keeps us in our heads and often has been designed to keep others out of the circle while declaring how right the ‘believers’ are. Attending to walking the Way of Jesus, while perhaps more challenging, opens our hearts, softens our hearts to one another, to the world.

Sometimes Way, as the Quakers put it, is a path that is full of shadows, maybe even completely dark. These become difficult times for the one who is walking the path and often for those who stand by the side of the road with only their love as an offering. And yet I am somehow comforted and inspired by the words of Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart who describes this challenging life time as: “The Wayless Way, where the Sons(and Daughters) of God lose themselves and, at the same, find themselves.”

Isn’t this almost always how it goes? We awake each day with a notion of what the day( or our life) may hold, what we have planned for it to hold. We walk out into the world and sometimes our plans work out just as we hoped. But often Way calls to us from someplace just outside our vision, tugging at something that is planted deep within. We can choose to be open or not, to follow or run away.We can choose to change our route, make a course correction, close our eyes and hide. Though it may not always seem as if the choice is ours, it really is. If we have the courage and the heart to listen to the Spirit’s movement, Way will open.

No way, you say? Way!

Have You?

They say that one of the reasons for tragedy is that you learn important lessons from it…appreciation for your normal life for one thing….a new longing for things only ordinary…the feeling is that we are so caught up in minutiae, slicing tomatoes, and filling out forms and waiting in lines and emptying the dryer and looking in the paper for things to do. That we forget how to use what we’ve been given. Therefore we don’t taste the plum. We are blind to the slant of the four o’clock sun against the changing show of leaves. We are deaf to the throaty purity of children’s voices. We are assumed to be rather hopeless. Swallowed up by incorrect notions divorced from the original genius with which we are born. Lost within days of living this distracting life. We are capable only of moments of single seconds of true appreciation and connection. That is the thought.”
~ Elizabeth Berg, Range of Motion

Recently, our girl’s book club at church, asked the women’s book club to tell them our favorite beginning paragraph of a book. These words by Elizabeth Berg from one of her many novels continues to be one of my favorites. Of all the ‘great books’ this might not appear on people’s lists but for my money this opening paragraph nearly says it all. I have used these words in sermons, as a meditation and continue to return to its inherent truth.

This past week I read it once again and allowed the words to seep into the crevasses that had been made by the death of a dear person in my life. For the past four months I, and so many others, have followed the tragedy of her journey with ovarian cancer. Each day her husband religiously(and I do not use this word lightly) wrote of her struggles, her triumphs, her joys, and the tragedy that was gripping their family. he also wrote of the deep wisdom that grew out of this rich soil. Each day I logged onto her Caringbridge  site to electronically share in the journey. I was privileged to witness her pictures and her family’s pictures as they traveled this difficult road with grace, faith, sorrow and a immense joy.

Each day, after sending up a prayer for them all, I would remind myself of the gifts of my own life. I tried to remember to be present to the beauty around me, to really look at the food I was eating and notice its colors and savor the tastes on my tongue. I looked into the eyes of the enormous black dog that lives in our house and saw the unconditional love there. I welcomed the pleasure of walking with my husband, having dinner with my sons and talking with neighbors about mundane things. I tried not to live the distracted life. Always a challenge, don’t you think?

This is, as Berg points out, the gift of tragedy. Of course, I did not experience this in the deep, powerful way those much closer to my friend had. But its wisdom was not lost on me and, I hope, my attention to living was somehow a testament to my friend’s grace-filled passing from this earth.

The first day I met her, I pulled my mini-van up behind hers for what would be countless soccer games to follow. Her bumper sticker read: ‘Have You Thanked God Today?’ It is odd that nearly ten years have passed and I still remember that. Today, the answer is yes. I thank God for her life. I thank God for the reminder. I thank God.

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.

As I continue to prepare for my October pilgrimage to the island of Iona in Scotland, I am thinking about the 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 show 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 o f this long awaited adventure.

Last week our group of pilgrims gathered for a final briefing by the trip planners. We shared details, a wonderful meal and a shared 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 often 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.

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

Mother of Us All

“Story is the mother of us all. First we wrap our lives in language and then we act on who we say we are. We proceed from the word into the world and make a world based on our stories.” Christina Baldwin

I am knee deep in story talk. With our fall theme of “A Story to Stand On”, I am listening to and thinking about stories all the time. I am listening for words in conversations, words like ‘remember when’ or ‘ can you tell me’. These phrases often give the cue that a story is ahead. As humans we are made of stories, like the quote above notes. And as our language increases, our stories become richer and deeper. Stories get planted someplace just beneath our skin, someplace behind our heart and often near our tear ducts.

When we begin to ‘wrap our lives in language’ we begin to shape who we will become. It is always fun to look at people’s baby books to see what a child’s first word after the obligatory ‘ma-ma’ and ‘da-da’ were. What was yours? My mother tells me my first word was ‘listen’. This always makes me laugh but I am sure my family and friends see the early stages of a pattern.

There are times when we tell our stories more than others. Those holy moments often come at life’s transition points. The beginning of a new year. The start of a new relationship. At holiday times when we all gather, trying to piece together our far-flung lives into a unified whole once more, when we long to remember what we once were so we can know who we are becoming. At endings….of a year, of an event, of a life. All these times, and so many others, cause us to collect, tell and re-tell the stories that shape us, on whose tenets we stand.

What are the stories that shape you? What are the stories that bring meaning to your family, your neighborhood, your faith, your world? In these autumn days of transition from one season to another, it might be good to take the time to remember your stories, re-tell them around the dinner table, email one to a friend, write one down and tuck it away in a safe place for ‘just when you need it’.

And if you are interested in hearing a really interesting story, you can visit dig.hennepinchurch.org and click on How the Monkey Saved the Fish.

Time Travel

The last several days have been a whirlwind. Friday morning I headed out to Seattle to accompany our youngest son back to his second year of college. This falls in the realm of: Where did the time go? It was a short trip of two days. Factoring in the time change, it has made for a fuzzy sense of time. What day is it? Why am I sleepy right now? Questions like these are dancing around the frontal lobe.

Today as I moved from meeting to meeting, I have recognized the privilege with which I was able to do such a thing. Beyond the privilege, there is also the speed, the sense of entering another part of the country and the gift of noticing how, what seems novel and interesting to me about life in another place, is something those who witness it daily, might find mundane. I, for one, could not imagine taking for granted the daily passage of ferries, much less the beauty of Puget Sound. I cannot imagine coming to see the color and eccentricities of Pike Place Market as anything short of astounding.

And yet there are probably people who walk past these sights daily and do not notice. There are probably those who rush from work to home, from school to their car, without thinking twice about the beauty and wonder that is theirs to behold. What we have on our plate, in our sight, often is overlooked in our every day rounds. We simply don’t have the presence of mind to see.

That is why my experience on the flight out was so memorable. As we were approaching the Seattle airport, the pilot came over the sound system to say, that if we looked out the windows to our left, we would be able to see Mt. Rainier. If we looked out the right side of the plane, we would be able to see both Mt. Hood and Mt. Baker.
Sure enough! There they were. Above the clouds that settled over the ground below, the sun was shining boldly on these signature mountains.

But the best part was watching the people strain their necks to see these massive, snow-covered peaks. My seat partner, a stranger to me, leaned back and pointed out the window letting me in on the sight. He smiled broadly and pointed out the window sharing the gift of this moment with me. I looked around as others around the plane made similar gestures. Smiles were all around as we shared in this mid-air glimpse of majesty and wonder.

I was reminded of a few lines of a Mary Oliver poem:
There are things you can’t reach. But
you can reach out to them, and all day long.
The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.
And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.
…….I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
as though with your arms open.

I hope I always have the presence of mind to see the things in my own daily life with the fresh eyes of a visitor, even a tourist. I hope I see, open my arms and point, all the time wearing a big smile.

Tree Memory

I have this belief, a deep held belief, that human beings travel much of their lives in search of understanding who they really are, why we are here, where we have been and how we are to live in the world at our time and place. In that searching we also carry within us the gifts of our ancestors we know and those that are mystery to us.  Of course, most of us do not think of this minute to minute, even hourly or daily. But every now and then, we have a moment where we glimpse something that lies deep within us. We don’t always understand why our eyes tear up at some experience or phrase we’ve overheard. We don’t quite fathom why this particular sunset seems richer than others or this view of a lake tugs at our heart. We don’t always understand how a place we’ve never been before feels so familiar. All we know is that when these experiences happen, they are profound. Often fleeting, but still profound.

This morning I had one of those experiences. I sat and had coffee at a park near our home. I have walked by this park hundreds of times, have taken my children to play on the playground there. But today I became completely aware of the grove of trees that make up this park.  I vividly saw their shapes and their spacing, how they formed a canopy of shade and protection for those animals and people who walk through and play in this park. I was aware of their aliveness and how my aliveness was somehow connected to theirs. I furrowed my brow but held on to the feeling.

Later I drove down Summit Avenue in St. Paul. I do this periodically, taking in the beautiful houses, the regal lawns, the exquisite landscaping. It makes the regular drive to work more a trip to the art museum rather than the daily schlog. Again, I became aware of how, down the boulevard, the trees are planted in a canopy that creates a pathway of green which will seen begin a show of color. Down this pathway, through these trees, humans walked and ran.  I take this same drive nearly every Sunday morning and yet I had never seen that particular protective formation of the trees before. Another brow furrowing. And yet both these experiences of trees connected with me at some deep level, a depth I could not quite put my finger on.

And then I remembered a bit of what I was reading last night before I went to sleep. I have been reading The Mist-Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers and Seekers by Frank MacEowen in preparation for my upcoming pilgrimage to Scotland.  MacEowen writes: “We Celts are lovers of trees. On one day in particular when I was out in the trees, something happened. I had a sudden and shocking remembrance of the trees as guardians, allies, and as conduits for activating memory………In that moment the trees suddenly told me that they were my ancient home, that I had known them intimately before, and that one day I would live among them again.”

Perhaps the reading of this book influenced my experience this morning. Or maybe I was simply more awake and open to the world this day.Who knows?  But I guess that each of us has certain ancestral memories that are planted deep in our cells, deep in our minds and hearts. These memories can be awakened at the oddest, yet perfect, moments.

This morning my Celtic ancestors paid a visit.

All Are Welcome

“Let us build a house where love can dwell
And all can safely live,
A place where saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive.”
~Marty Haugen

We sang this song at church this past Sunday and it has become an ear worm I can’t seem to shake. I will be mindlessly doing something only to realize that this tune, these words, are floating through my mind. I am choosing to see them as a gentle breeze blowing through all the dust and clutter that can become a part of one’s brain, one’s consciousness on any given day. Truth be told, there could be so many tunes that could have taken up residence in my gray matter, songs that have no redeeming value or even less artful creativity. I am thinking “It’s a Small World” or even “Feelings” right now.

But yesterday as I read or heard report after report about the pastor who is choosing to burn the Qu’ran as a marker of September 11th, I was so happy that this lovely song of Marty Haugen’s was in my head. I realized that the more I heard of this outrageous story and felt my blood pressure and anger rise, that this song was becoming an internal meditation, a mantra to counteract the outward absurdity and the inward pain. The song continues:”Built of hopes and dreams and vision, rock of faith and vault of grace; here the love of Christ shall end divisions; All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”

So today I am turning my back on the messages of those who want to spread hate and fear and division. I am not listening to those who can make money from whipping the news of one person and a very small community into a lather by reporting on this proposed act. Instead I am choosing to sing this song in my head and even out loud if I need to. I just walked through the offices whistling it at the tops of my lips. A co-worker walked out of their office and looked to see who was doing such a thing. For me it is a musical act of defiance and a grip on hope.

There are so many things in the world we have little control over. This may be one of them. My prayer is that the outrage of faithful people everywhere will sway this man to abandon this senseless act. My prayer is also that no one will believe that he represents all Christians any more than the terrorists who ended their own lives and so many others’ nine years ago represent all Muslims. To believe either would be an act of tragedy.

I guess my real prayer is that the Holy will blow through the lives of those with this misguided intention and that grace will prevail. But since I have no control over that either, I will continue to pray and to sing in the hope that in doing so I will wear my faith like a breastplate of protection and hope:

“Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone,
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face.
Let us bring an end to fear and danger:
All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.”

Turning the Page

“Education is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire.”  ~William Butler Yeats

Today marks a turning of the page. Whether there are children returning to school in your household or not, or you may be returning to school yourself, today marks the beginning of fall and all that brings with it. Last night the winds seemed to pick up with a felt ferocity that blew away all summer had held. Winds were so strong I began to imagine them cleaning the slate clean for a fresh start. And don’t we all need this every now and then?  Although many of the schools in the area began early this year, before Labor Day, today all children will find themselves caught up in a routine that looks nothing like their summer life. Some will embrace this. Others will not. But all will be changed by the turning of this page.

Fall brings with it shorter days and colder temperatures. This requires an attention to what we wear and how we plan our days. No more grabbing a t-shirt and shorts, ones that may have been on the floor from yesterday’s wear. Instead, there must be an attention to layers and the fickle temps of these autumn days. Some are as warm as summer only to turn bitterly cold by day’s end. As we layer on clothing, we also take on new ideas, new experiences and wear them like jackets that bring us warmth or comfort.

But it is the rhythm of the change of seasons that calls to me. As I watch the children this morning waiting for their buses, I will think of what lies ahead for them in this change. New things will be learned, challenges will be overcome, successes and mistakes will be made. There will be new friends and mentors they never expected. I have already heard children I know look forward to the milestones they will experience this year: being in the class that goes to the State Capitol, getting their Bible as a third-grader, beginning in confirmation, graduating from high school, going off to college. So many pages, large and small, that turn in our lives.

As we grow older, if we allow ourselves, we can see this time of year as a time to turn a page also. The wind that blew throughout the night and threatens(or promises) to continue today is ready to offer itself as a slate-cleaner. What pages are ready to turn for you? What adventurous experience do you want to embrace? What new friend do you want to make? How do you need to be mentored?

The pages of summer have come to an end. But the story of fall is yet to written. How we choose to embrace the ever turning pages of our lives is a gift, a gift not to be taken lightly. Come winter, and make no mistake it will arrive, what will you have learned? How will you spend these glorious days of autumn?

As the page turns, let the new story begin.