New Year’s Practice

“May the accolade for the first instant of the millennium (new year) make us aware of its flip side: its precious emptiness. ” Jose Reissig

I have never been one for resolutions at the New Year. There is something about them that brings out the rebellious side of me. I can quickly fall into the path of trying to outsmart myself with cheating my good intentions. Sound familiar? My mother might call this behavior that ‘bites off my nose to spite my face’, a common saying of hers. Of course, I am the only one to really suffer the failure of my own noble, though often ill-fated, attempts to better myself.

And so as we enter this New Year I have no grand illusions that I will create the ever common list of resolutions: lose weight, exercise more, save more money….etc…..etc. Today’s newspaper listed these among the top ten resolutions of most people. Though all these would be beneficial to me, this is not the road for me.

Instead I am thinking of my brothers and sisters in the faith who have learned from those in religious community. These are folks who take on what they refer to as a ‘practice’. I like this word much better than discipline, another word that brings out my rebellious nature. To begin a practice, spiritual or otherwise, in the new year seems quite appealing. It also seems as if it might be a path to greater success.

According to definition, to practice is : ‘to do repeatedly in order to learn or become proficient, to create a habit.’ With this clean slate of a new year, I want to practice being healthier. Healthier and kinder. Kinder and more forgiving. More forgiving and fully present to each person I meet. My hope is to practice and practice. To learn, to become proficient at embracing what makes for a healthier mind, body, spirit.

Many of us practice doing things in which we will never be fully proficient. We play scales on a musical instrument without ever making it to the concert stage. We practice dance steps over and over knowing we will never ‘dance with the stars.’ Every day people practice a sport in which they will never be a standout. But there is such great joy in the practice. Tiny moments of beautiful music happens. The mastery of a turn or quick step raises heartbeats and confidence. And the physical engagement in those beloved sports build strength and sometimes a fun-filled community.

Practice.What practice is calling you in the emptiness of 2011? On the blank pages of this new year, what longing within you is waiting to be practiced until deep lessons are planted in your cells? Whatever is tugging at your heart on this final day of 2010, may the new day and the new year find you stepping out with confidence to begin your practice. May each step be repeated over and over and over. Though we may not reach full proficiency, perhaps we will all feel as if we have learned much and are better people for it.

A blessed New Year……..

This New Year

This morning I went to my bookshelves looking for a particular book of poems. Prayers for a Thousand Years, edited by Elizabeth Roberts & Elias Amidon is a collection of prayers and poems created as a celebration of the millennium. Searching for a poem for worship in the New Year 2011, I realized it had been 10 years since I purchased this collection. How this had been lost on me is probably another story! How can it be that a decade has passed since we were filling our bathtubs full of water, watching and waiting for some unknown catastrophic event to happen?

Do you remember the celebrations of the year 2000? As I write this I recall the silly eye glasses that spelled 2000 and how they made me laugh. But I also remember the beautiful all night vigil we hosted at the church. We prayed our way into the new age on the labyrinth. Prayed and sang and walked, lighting candles to mark our way. I am remembering the young woman who kept watch all night, falling asleep in the middle of this ancient pattern, held in the metaphorical arms of the Holy. I wonder where she is now. I pray she is well and still held in those loving arms.

In the middle of this book of poems these words by Jane Hirshfield appear:

‘ “Almost the twenty-first century” –
how quickly the thought will grow dated,
even quaint.

Our hopes, our future,
will pass like the hopes and futures of others.

And all our anxieties and terrors,
nights of sleeplessness,
will appear then as they truly are –

Stumbling, delirious bees in the tea scent of jasmine.’

What had we hoped for the turning of these thousand years? We had not anticipated that our world would be shaken by the events of September 11, 2001. We had not hoped for, not one, but two wars that seem to see no end. We had not seen the economic downturns and  the kinds of corporate and personal greed that shook our trust in human goodness. There have been many disappointments in this warp-speed decade from which we are emerging.

But during these times we have also seen another side of what it means to be human. We have seen people look at their lives with awakened eyes. What is truly important? What do I really need to be happy? To what degree do I need to consume things to be successful, to be fulfilled? We have seen a return to an understanding of where our food comes from and to whom we need to be indebted for it. We have prayed mightily to be reminded of those less fortunate, those who are homeless and need our care. We have watched resilience mount up like the wings of eagles in those who have found themselves unemployed and cast aside. And we have seen babies born, children flourish, songs be written and sung, poems memorized, politicians reach out and work together, new ways of procuring energy be discovered, hearts softened toward those who are different. These and so many more good things have happened in these ten, short years. It is, I believe, important not to let them be overshadowed by all the ones which were not.

As we enter the next decade of these two thousand years, we are still stumbling, still in search of the sweet scent of jasmine. It will probably always be so. But let us not forget to stop our struggling long enough to pay homage to the goodness with which we were created, that blesses us daily. Perhaps then, and only then, do we have a hope of carrying that great goodness into a future healing of our world.


“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…..And I heard a loud voice saying,”See, the home of God is among mortals.” Revelation 21:1a, 3a

The last several days have been filled with so much that I have not made it to the computer to write. I trust that for most people these days leading to Christmas and those between its celebration and that of New Year’s has a special quality unlike any other of the year. Even if we are not on holiday from work during this time, the days have a certain ‘other’ quality to them. People seem to be doing the tasks of their days in a different order. The days seem to have a fluidity, melting one into the other. And so I find myself suspended between the beautiful intensity that leads to the celebration of Christmas and the slow slide into 2011.

As I think back on the celebration of Christmas Eve, I am reminded of its sweetness. Moving among several worship services,as I am privileged to do, I am struck with the deep joy I experienced. So many of the people I encountered had such a look of expectation in  their eyes. Of course, the children I spoke with had dreams of what the next morning might hold for them. Would Santa have heard their pleas? I spoke to two young ones whose cheeks grew redder and redder, their eyes brighter and brighter, as they told me their hopes. How they were able to sleep that night is a wonder!

But it wasn’t just the children who carried a deep longing their eyes. The adults, too, had  an extra sparkle. For some it was the grandchild whose hand they held that caused that extra glow. For others it was the presence of a new love or a visiting relative who stood beside them being introduced to friends and family. Still others were present to the simplicity of being in a faith community they hold dear for yet another blessed year.

This story we enter each year, the Christmas story, calls to some very deep part of who we are. The birth of this tiny child who would alter the world forever rings true for each of us in different ways. And yet any one who has given birth, who has been a parent or acted as one, knows that this same thing can be said of all children. Each birth brings a world shattering experience. This tiny one comes into our world and nothing is ever the same again. Our pain is deeper, our joy more overwhelming. Indeed, each of us have caused such an event in the lives who brought us into the world.

As the children of our faith community donned their angel wings, shepherd costumes and Magi crowns again this year, we all sat rapt with attention. It is the same story we have heard time and again. But the truth is that we are not the same and so the story comes to us in new ways. We hear with deeper listening. We sense it with a heart-space grown full of hope. We know the shepherd in each of us and long to be attentive and nurturing for all placed in our care. We recognize the Magi-searching within each of us…hoping for a Star to guide our way. We want to take on the beautiful song-like courage of the angels who bring God’s constant message: “Fear not! Fear not!” And like Mary and Joseph we pray to be surprised by the Holy in ways we cannot turn from, ways we can truly ‘ponder in our hearts’.

During these days which are unlike any others, suspended between the celebration of Christmas and all it can bring and the hope of a new year, I invite you to rest in this on-between place. Perhaps what Christmas has brought will inform the ways in which we each walk into 2011. This expectation for which our eyes glowed and our hearts raced might carry us into a new age. And the world might never be the same again.

It is something for which to hope…..and pray.


“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:5

For two nights, I have been in the presence of candlelight. On Monday evening, in the midst of yet another snowstorm, I was privileged to gather with friends for a healing circle for a dear man who was to have surgery yesterday. As each person shared a prayer or inspiring words of hope, they lit a small candle to light the way of their words into his heart and into the wisdom of the Universe. We came together in the cold darkness and left in the warm glow of candlelight that held our prayers and our deep hope for this one we love.

Last night was another night of privilege. I attended a service of observance of the Winter Solstice in the beautiful chapel of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet. We entered the chapel in nearly total darkness, led to our seats by the tiny flashlight held by an usher. Seated in my pew, I waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark space which was lit only by the colored globes of flickering candlelight. Slowly I began to detect familiar parts of this sacred space. As the service evolved through music, the poetry of Rumi and the beautiful reflections of Karen Hering on darkness and light, candles were lit around the sanctuary. More light. It is surprising what light can be shed by many candles all lit at one time in a concentrated area, altars for instance, or birthday cakes. And then finally, we all ringed the beautiful space holding a lit candle in our own hands. The light had spread from one central source, one central Source, and been passed one to the other. (Isn’t this always the case?) These strangers who had come together in darkness, on the darkest night of the year, were now bathed in the beauty of candlelight and one another. We lifted our voices in the chant “Light and Darkness” and carried it into a round. The music of our voices bounced off the walls that have held the prayers of women for at least a hundred years. It was primal and yet held within it a longing for a future yet to be realized.

It is true that we all look better in candlelight. Any one person in either of these situations carried their own inner beauty but, in the pure light of day, are quite ordinary. Flaws exist. The scars of time, worry, and injury mark our faces. But when the light of a glowing candle is held in hopeful hands and lights our eyes and cheeks, mouths and noses, brows and lashes, each of us becomes magical. A thing of pure beauty.

Perhaps, in those moments when candlelight brings life to our watching faces, we connect with our ancestors. Those who first hit stone against stick, saw the flicker of what would change their lives for ever. Perhaps we hold within our faces the gift of fire…..and we cannot help but bask in the hope of a way to tame the darkness that can surround us.

Many of us will have at least one more opportunity to stand in candlelight this week as we gather for celebrations of Christmas Eve. As the flame of the candles are passed from one person to another, I suggest we look, really look at the faces around us. That we look and  hold onto that image for the times when darkness seems to overcome. Hold on and remember, we are the ones who long ago discovered how to bring light out of the dark. Hold on and remember the beauty and the power.


Tonight is the eve of the Winter Solstice…..the shortest day and longest night of the year. It is a particularly rich time of year for those of us living in the northern hemisphere. As darkness has descended over the last weeks, we can trick ourselves into thinking that winter is on the wane. Of course, it is really only beginning. I need only look out my window to confirm this fact. Snow is once again falling like the final scene of White Christmas. However, unlike Bing and his sidekicks, we are not waiting for snow to come to the ski hills. We have plenty to begin with, thank you very much.

Tonight’s observance brings with it a special feature. Tonight there will be a total eclipse of the full moon.The last year North America saw a total lunar eclipse on the winter solstice was 1638. The next is 2094 – making this event a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But as I look out my window the skies are so cloudy, it is doubtful whether or not we will be able to see this ‘once in a lifetime’ event.  It is said that the moon will be in a reddish shadow for up to three hours around the time of the eclipse. But will we be able to see?

This question has been following me around all day, nagging at me. Because…….I want to see it! But, then again, there are so many things I want to see, that we all want to see, that remain hidden, invisible to our human eyes. And there are many events which happen that change the course of our lives that remain unseen to us. It is a fact of living. The sheer desire for seeing is often outside our control. Anyone who has lived more than a few years knows this to be the truth.

And so tonight, as the snow falls once again on our streets and sidewalks, I will pinch myself to stay awake to look at the early morning sky. I will scour the heavens for a glimpse of red, or a moment of deep darkness that allows me to know the eclipse is indeed happening.  I will count it among all the unseen things I long to see and believe in. Things like peace and angels, miracles and even God.  This total eclipse is one more message that we are all a part of a vast and amazing Universe. Whether we believe it or not. Whether we can see or not. The apostle Paul said it this way: “For now we see in a glass darkly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

For this Winter Solstice 2010, that will have to suffice. Blessed be.

Cords of Human Kindness

“I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.”
~Hosea 11:4

A friend wrote on Facebook about an experience she had this week. She was in the drive through at Starbucks and ordered her morning jolt of caffeine. When she stared to pay, the cashier told her that her coffee had been paid for by the person who had been in front of her in line. She then paid for the person behind her, hoping to start a chain reaction of kindness.

I’ve held this simple act in my consciousness all week. Driving through at Starbuck’s competition yesterday I kept looking in my rear view mirror hoping a car would follow me so I could try this act of paying it forward. I must have been there at on off time. So my chance will have to wait. Running errands with my sons yesterday we talked about what a great and simple idea this is and how surprised and special the benefactors must feel. The question became: why don’t we do things like this more often?

Kindness has a way, I believe, of not only altering our experience, but also providing the opportunity for our way of walking in the world to change. Who knows what might have been happening in the person’s morning when they received the gift of free coffee from a stranger? Who knows how that simple act may have changed their whole outlook on the day, on their life? A simple yet profound act.

Perhaps I am thinking about this even more right now because this morning I had the opposite experience. Taking my packages to be mailed to family around the country, I was greeted with a less than cordial manner by the postal worker. Now I will be the first to admit that their work this time of year must be horrific. And for that I am working hard to muster compassion. But the words and manner of this person’ s actions toward me are still ringing in my body and I am aware of how one person’s actions carries such power.

It seems to me we have a choice with the rising of each new day. Walk the world in kindness or battle our way through with the first words that come to mind, without thought of how those words may affect another. In these remaining days of Advent, as I continue to live into the theme ‘In days to come….great joy’, I pray I can choose the former. It seems the best choice not only for all those I will encounter but for myself and for the world. Walking the world in kindness seems to be the path to great joy.

Sometime during the next week I hope to pay it forward with a cup of coffee for someone. It will be an anonymous gift of something fleeting. But it will also plant in the cells of both giver and receiver a bent toward kindness. A kindness that might counteract whatever experiences either of us might have had or are yet to have.

It seems like as good a goal as any for the walk toward Christmas.

Have a blessed weekend……………….

Rest and Remember

“Grant me grace this day
to rest and remember
that there is nothing I have to do
nothing I have to buy or sell,
nothing I have to produce or consume
in order to become who I truly am:
your beloved creation.
May your overworked creation
and those who cannot rest today
come to know the liberation of your sabbath.”
~Sam Hamilton-Poore

Yesterday I was busily working on worship liturgies for the next several weeks when my eyes fell on these words. Tucked into a book of prayers and poems for worship called Earth Gospel, this small prayer called to my heart. In these days when many of us awake with lists as long as our arm already forming, these thoughtful words were welcome.

I have not traveled much to the malls these last weeks. My shopping for Christmas presents is, I would say, half way finished. The one time I did walk into the crowded hallways of the mall nearest to our house, I was struck with the desperation, or weariness, I saw on many of the faces there. I have to admit to being caught up in compassion for those people who must have been searching for something ‘perfect’, something perhaps just out of their reach. I was so caught up that I didn’t make much progress on my own list. I left with a certain empty feeling, a feeling of sadness.

So many expectations get layered onto this time of year. Expectations about the gifts we will offer, the gifts we will receive. Expectations about how far our financial resources will stretch and how we will be able to give to those we know are less fortunate than we are. There are expectations of family, always a complicated fabric, of who will be present, who will be absent, and all the myriad of ‘whys’ that accompany that inner dialogue. The fact that the movies and television shows we watch at this time of year are created to tug at those heartstrings of relationship complicates our feeling about this season even more.

And yet, the joy of this season lies not in perfection or the right gift but in remembering that we are all beloved of the One whose incarnation we celebrate. This remembering is difficult to achieve when we are travelling at warp speed. It can really only by touched by stripping away all the trappings, all the grasping, all the distractions we humans infuse into our living.

So, on this day when lists may be growing and the messages of ‘how many days are left till Christmas’ bellow from advertisers, I invite you to rest. Rest and remember that Christmas will come, does come, and the message of this blessed season is so much more than our pursuit after the perfect gift.  Resting and remembering that we are beloved… there is a gift to pass on and on and on.

Digging Out

When I sat down at the computer to write today, I tried to think of a way around writing about this past weekend’s snowstorm. But it is impossible. The weather has had us in its grip, through an incredible amount of snowfall, and now the chilling temperatures. It has defined every act and led to an immense amount of inaction. Plans made for this busy time of the year were sidelined by an inability to move ourselves, and most particularly, our cars through the towering snowdrifts that line every street and corner.

This morning I watched as the Twin Cities was the lead story on every news program. The video footage displayed the Metrodome with snow breaking through the Teflon ceiling and finally imploding altogether under the weight of the more than seventeen inches of snow that had fallen over 24 hours. It was a spectacular sight, I must admit. Luckily, no one was hurt in this event.

But, for me, the real story was the way in which total strangers pulled together to push, dig, pull, pry and lift cars and people out of the ditches and piles of quickly mounting snow. Nearly every corner had at least one car stuck, sometimes several. People met under the circumstance of shared strandedness. And so,they did what they could. They pitched in to fix the situation through energy, imagination, and goodwill. Several times I looked down a street to see people lugging shovels on their shoulders. They would stop to eyeball the car that was incapacitated and then go to work.

Several ideas came to mind watching this kind of cooperation First of all, the sheer goodness of people. Really. When faced with a common problem, people most often rise to the occasion and solve it in the best way they know. Through the collaboration of the weakest and the strongest, the youngest and oldest, those who have resources and those who have little, people got through the mess of Saturday and Sunday. They may have even shared a laugh or two in the process.

The other idea was this: What might happen with our political leaders if they were made to help one another dig out and  jump-start themselves out of a blizzard? What if, armed with only shovels, some salt and a bucket of sand, they had to work together to get unstuck? It would, I believe, require cooperation, compassion and good old common sense. But I have no doubt at all that they would succeed.

Of course, the situation we find ourselves in as a nation is complicated and it took more than a weekend snowstorm to get us here. But I can’t help but think that some of the solution lies in the same skills employed all over the Twin Cities the last few days. Things like seeing a neighbor….or a stranger….in need.  Setting personal gain aside and deciding to get involved. Putting in the effort required to work for the common good. Saying a big thank you and then moving on.


“tell it as a story
about darkness
giving birth to
light, about
seemingly endless
waiting, and
about that which
lies at the end of
all our waiting
with each
telling, more
of the story
comes to light
darkness can
become the
tending place
in which our
longings for
healing, justice,
and peace grow
and come to
~Jan L. Richardson

And so the winter days are unfolding. Here in Minnesota these days have been held under an even greater blanket of snow than usual and the weekend promises even more. Cold temperatures which seem more like February are already filling our bones and causing people to walk around in the shoulders-to-ear, guarded fashion, eyes straight ahead looking ever toward the goal of the next warm place.

For those of us who are trying to pay attention to the season of Advent, the cold and snow provide the perfect backdrop to the play in which we are actors. This landscape spells longing and longing is really one of the major feelings of Advent. Longing for what is unseen. Longing for what might be born in us. Longing to be awakened to the goodness and kindness the world often hides. Longing………so much longing.

If we allow the commercial world of Christmas sales to guide these days, we miss, I believe, such an important part of the process of this life’s journey. To come face-to-face with the longings in our lives is an important task, a task that should not be left to the realm of regret. And so an Advent practice of reflection on our longings can bring us to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a person of faith, any faith really, not just the one that captures these December days.

Someplace in the darkness of our inner life something lurks. Not something frightening or evil, but something for which we long sometimes even beyond our knowing. For some it is meaning, for others a sense of peace. For some it is being loved, for others it is a place and experience of being known. Being known for who we really are not just what we do or what we own. For others it is a sense of hope that all will be well, in their lives and the lives of those they love.

This longing is multiplied by the fact that we are beings held together through community, through national and international connections . We long for the understanding and cooperation that would put an end to war. We long for the recognition of greed that harms the innocent. We long for the honoring of our blessed Earth home.

What longings are pulling at your heartstrings? What tugs at your soul in a way that will not let you go? On these days, in the middle of this season of waiting and watching, may the One who travels ever near, hear your often silent voice and affirm your path.


“You won’t be able to control your thoughts. They are like birds that fly from your grasping hands. But if you relax, those birds may perch on your shoulder, and then you can walk, taking them where you want them to go.”~Horoscope, December 8, 2010

When I opened the paper this morning and read my horoscope, I didn’t so much laugh as I felt resigned, perhaps even redeemed. Redeemed from a night when sleep would not come. Or at least would not come at the ‘proper’ time. This is the second night this week when I have done battle with my eyelids. Monday night I also had bizarre sleeping patterns, finally getting up at four in the morning and giving in to the circling thoughts that kept my mind too busy for sleep.

I am normally a ‘very good sleeper’ just as I am a ‘very good eater’. I listen with all the compassion I can muster to many of my friends who struggle with insomnia. The nutritional and physical gymnastics they go through to get a good night’s sleep frankly exhausts me. But last night, when my brain would not stop its work, I began to feel a kinship with them like never before. I can chalk it up to stress, the general work load that is December, the pattern of the moon, what I ate, what I didn’t eat. But mostly I think it was a mixture of creativity and anxiety.

The creativity comes from many projects that are in a state of transition….dreamed but not yet in motion or realized. The anxiety comes from the same source……big thoughts that are swimming in my gray matter but not yet fully formed. Ever had this experience? The difficulty with not being able to turn that part of your brain off for the sake of sleep is that, in the nocturnal state, our vulnerability begins to add all the other worries we carry just below surface. The little pain becomes something grave. The door we see opening suddenly smacks shut. The people we are sure of in our waking hours can seem less our allies in the fog of sleeplessness.

So in this hyper-thought place, I decided to do the only thing I knew how to do. I began being present to my own breath. Holding myself as still as possible, I began riding the wave of the energy that gives me life. Soon I realized that my breathing had become a prayer: “Let sleep come. Let sleep come. Let sleep come.” The Spirit and I had come to an agreement and we were co-existing.

The Buddhists refer to my nighttime experience as ‘monkey mind’. But today’s horoscope gave me a different image, one I find helpful. Birds. The thoughts which were flying around could have been the harbingers of creativity that need a nest in which to rest. My real work is to relax enough, to breathe deeply enough, to allow them to perch on my shoulders so I can hear their song.

Are they doves? Crows? Chickadees? Cardinals? I’m not sure. But if today….or tonight…finds you unable to focus the gifts of your thoughts, I invite you to imagine these invisible thorns allowing them to become companions. Companions with wings set to travel with you through the ups and downs of this cold, winter day.

Who knows what message they might deliver, what Advent song they might sing?