When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it;
the light of my face was precious to them.
~Job 29:24

Yesterday people were once again stocking up at grocery stores in preparation for another predicted snowstorm. It is an intriguing process that never ceases to surprise me. After all the years I have lived in Minnesota, to see people filling store parking lots in order to make sure they have enough bread, milk…..chocolate….whatever seems to be the needs for being sequestered to your house while snow falls and winds blow as we wait for the plows to do their work, is fascinating. In today’s light, the snow really is more steady than fast falling but the colder temperatures make it more dangerous for driving. To have labeled it a storm may have been dramatic.

For many people this kind of weather brings out their dour, ‘I’m tired of this’ face. So this morning,as I read a small article in the paper about what you can do to put a smile on your face, I thought of all those who woke up today with a prepared frown. The article listed 10 things you can do to add that needed lift of the lips. It included things like cooking a wonderful meal and visiting an animal shelter to pet an animal. There were easy ideas like getting dressed up to do regular acts of your day. The thought is we always feel better when we know we look nice. The one that made me laugh was ‘organize your sock drawer’. Having just done this recently, I know the odd feeling of freedom and accomplishment this simple little task brings. I am not sure having done so made me smile but it made me feel more orderly, which is a good thing, I guess. There were several other good ideas on the list including a YouTube video that featured the song Stand By Me.

The exercise someone took on to create this list piqued my curiosity and caused me begin to think of those things that make me smile. I’d like to offer a few ideas of my own. Things that over the last few days lifted me from the doldrums of a very, snowy winter.

Dance with a baby. I did this yesterday at church. While beautiful jazz music sealed the ending of our worship, I lifted my arms out to one of our newly walking members. Her soft, pudgy fingers joined my rough, dry ones and we swayed to the music as she looked deeply into my eyes with all the wonder and curiosity of her freshness on the earth. I carried the memory of her, our dancing, with me all day creating smile after smile. The sheer act of holding her aliveness lifted my spirits.

Let the snowflakes fall on your tongue. Catch them as you did when you were a child and make a note that you, a unique creation, are swallowing an equally unique creation. There is something to all that which brings a smile to my face. Uniqueness savoring uniqueness.

Spend time looking out a window. Narrow your view for a few minutes and let the vast worries of the world fall away. For a few moments give thanks for all you can see out the limited view of your window. The children waiting for the bus(say a prayer for them).The mounds of snow that have now become near icebergs. The tracks of a rabbit that kept watch outside while you were sleeping. Where is it now? Is it watching you,hidden from your human eyes,as you look out through your refined vision?

Every day brings with it many worries, many sorrows. Every day also brings the potential for lifting our spirits, for taking stock of the joyful moments that are gift to us. As we exercise our face muscles we generate endorphins that nourish us, maybe even adding a few moments to our longevity. Sounds worth it to me.

What puts a smile on your face? How can you create more of those experiences that feed your smiling spirit? I invite you to make a list. Refer to it often. Add to it with each new, grinning observation. The dark of winter may feel as if it is holding us hostage. But we have the power to lift ourselves above the drifts with the beauty of an upturned smile.


This week I began reading The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham. It is a book my clergy support group has chosen for an upcoming retreat. I am really only a few pages into the book and already can see that this is going to one that is marked mightily with my pen and highlighter. Sentences like: “Spirituality teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in life……..errors are part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.” And “Spirituality begins with acceptance that our fractured being, our imperfection, simply is: There is no one to ‘blame’ for our errors-neither ourselves nor anyone nor anything else. Spirituality helps us first to see, and then to understand, and eventually to accept the imperfection that lies at the very core of our human be-ing.”

And all that is only in the introduction! In beginning this book I was reminded of a not too distant time when then word ‘spirituality’ used in mainline churches made people quite nervous. What did it mean? How was it different from religion? What did it look like to be spiritual? How was what happened in church spiritual…..or not?

But over the years even the most mainline of mainlines have come to a certain comfort, if not out right acceptance, of the word spiritual. It now shows up in most church newsletters and may even creeps into a sermon or two. While its definition may still be elusive to some, there is a sense that being spiritual is simply something we are. Something we are in all our imperfections not in spite of them.

As humans we have this bent toward pursuing perfection. It is present in so much of our culture and drives the advertising that engulfs us. Perfect bodies, perfect relationships, perfect jobs, perfect homes. This list goes on and on. Indeed, United Methodists speak of ‘going on to perfection’ a statement woven into our fabric by our founder John Wesley. The fact that he was speaking of wholeness often is lost on the hearer given how ingrained that pursuit of perfection is in our common language. Just talk to any therapist and it will become obvious how deep the chase for perfection runs within us.

Yet every morning we each awake with the failures of yesterday painted in our cells and dripping off our skin. It is simply a fact. Some of us carry more paint, more drips than others. But no one, no one is immune. And someplace in that drippy paint that covers us, we can, if we choose, come to know the Spirit that moves in it all. The Spirit that does not expect us to be perfect but to be a human be-ing. It is a vulnerable place to be, a vulnerable relationship to develop. But in truth it is, I believe, the only way to move through the world. Daily wearing our vulnerability, our humanness, our imperfection like the images of God we are.

The authors of The Spirituality of Imperfection include in their introduction a small story I have heard often and love more each time I hear it. It originally comes from a work of the great theologian Martin Buber: “Rabbi Zusya said, ‘In the coming world, they will not ask me……’why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me…..’why were you not Zusya?”

And so it is. Perfection, however we define it, in whatever way we pursue it, is not really our work. Our work is to embrace the fullness of our imperfection with all its gifts and failures. Our work is to become the fragile, fractured human we are. It is joyful and painful work. It is spiritual work.

Be gentle with yourself this weekend………


On the coldest day of last week when it was fifteen degrees below zero with a twenty seven below wind chill, I noticed something quite unusual. Out of the corner of my eye, crawling toward the ceiling,up the gold painted wall of our family room, was-believe it or not- a box elder bug. There it was, this harbinger of late summer, black and very visible against the wall. My heart softened toward it. What a survivor! Where had it been hiding? What had it been eating? How long do these bugs live anyway?

I got distracted and hadn’t thought much more about this tiny, valiant insect. And then last night we were watching television in another room of the house when my husband pointed to the bug crawling its way across the floor. I watched it as it made its way slowly, slowly through the pile of the carpet. What did it feel like to its tiny,probably exhausted, legs? A mountain? My eyes darted to our cat lounging near the fireplace. Silently, I willed the feline to not notice this small, innocent being that could quickly become a frivolous play thing. Apparently its warmed,furry induced laziness trumped any desire to pounce.

Survivors. They are all around us. I know quite a few, don’t you? I marvel at the human spirit to prevail against sometimes unimaginable odds. We read the story of just such a person on Sunday during worship. In our continued attempt to rekindle the fire of the scripture stories that have shaped us, we read the life journey of Moses as chronicled in the book of Exodus. This unlikely man, chosen by God for great work, came up against obstacle after obstacle as he led the Hebrew people through the wilderness. He endured plagues and the abuse of complaining people. He overcame his weak voice to receive and proclaim the commandments that were given as a covenant between God and the people. He walked and climbed and eventually received bread from heaven. Moses was a survivor.

In many ways the story of Moses is our story. Though not as dramatic as forty years in the wilderness, many people continue to get back in the game after multiple failures. Somehow the hope that glimmers deep within is fanned into a fire once again and they step out on the road with renewed spirit. I send my prayers out to these survivors today. Those who have received bad news yet again. Those who have searched for jobs without finding a fit. Those who feel as if they are pursued by armies behind as they approach the Red Sea and cannot see the way opening to the next step in their lives. Those who feel the fire within dying away. May each, like Moses, find renewal beyond any thing they had hoped that might lift them once again to a continued walk toward some distant Promised Land.

Someplace in our house a box elder bug is experiencing a lease on life that seems remarkable. May it be so for all of us.

For the Love of Books

“I have sometimes dreamt, at least,that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards – their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble- the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy in seeing us coming with our books under our arms,’Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.'”
~Virginia Wolf

This quote made its way into the morning’s newspaper in the upper right hand corner of the editorial pages. I grinned as I read it. Thinking of the feisty, driven spirit of Virginia Wolf, these words have many layers, as most statements do. She seems to be getting some jabs in at the ruling class and at the ‘Almighty’ all at the same time. But her deep love of words and books lifts their art to heavenly status. It warmed my heart.

I was particularly taken with it because I spent Friday morning at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. This jewel of a place is dedicated to the creation of beautiful books, handmade paper and the book as art form. There are large books and miniature books. There are flip books and pop-up books, comic books and hand-sewn books. You can see the amazing, painstaking process of a book’s birth. In the books that are on display, the words are important. But equally so is the way in which the book itself is put together. Seeing the unique and beautiful creations is truly inspiring.

Since Friday I have had several moments in which I have thought about the creators of those lovely books. What does it feel like to have such a call put on your life? For that, I believe, is what it is…..a calling. In a world in which more and more of our communication is electronic,black and white and unadorned, it might seem as if such an art would be on its way to being obsolete. But somehow I do not think this is the case. Something is still moving within these artists. They are still feeling a pull that cannot be denied. This fact gives me such hope.

This morning I was reading about the times within the early Celtic church in which there was much movement by Rome to dominate and change the ways in which Christianity would express itself in the remote islands of Britain. There was a push by the well structured church in Rome to deny the Celts their ties to an understanding of the movement of God in the goodness of all Creation. Out of resistance to these forces that would dominate a culture, that would make everything uniform and black and white, the beautiful illuminated manuscripts of The Book of Kells and the Sacred Texts of Lindisfarne were born. It seems there will always be among us those who must create the inspired words and the equally inspired art that accompanies them.

It is a gray day in Minnesota. Winter has us in its clutches. But someplace in our city, a person sits hunched over a work table. They are folding colorful papers and using ink in the ways of the ancients. As they dip their brushes and pens into wells of brilliant reds and deep golds, they are answering the pull that unites them with monks and abbesses from long gone monasteries. Though words may fly off computer screens at dizzying speeds, these faithful ones are methodically and perhaps prayerfully creating. Page by page. Book by book. Building a stairway to paradise.

A Small Reminder

Creating God, your fingers trace the bold design of farthest space;
Let sun and moon and stars and light and what lies hidden praise your might.

Sustaining God, your hands uphold Earth’s myst’ries known or yet untold;
Let waters fragile blend with air, enabling life, proclaim your care.

Redeeming God, your arms embrace all now despised for creed or race;
Let peace, descending like a dove, make known on earth your healing love.

Indwelling God, your gospel claims one family with a billion names;
Let ev’ry life be touched by grace until we praise you face to face.
~Jeffrey Rowthorn

Every now and then, I believe, we need a reminder about the magnitude of which we are a part. A couple of Sundays ago, we sang this song set to a beautiful tune by local composer David Haas. The music is haunting and sticks with you. But as our gathered community lifted their voices, it was the words that got stuck in me. As we were singing, I glanced around at people’s faces and recognized that many were having similar feelings to my own. When we were finished I said my usual lead in line to our time of announcements: “There are many ways to be involved in the life and work of this community this week.” But instead of going on to all the many wonderful classes and opportunities, I invited people to take this hymn home and put on their fridge or in a place where they would see the words often during the coming week. On the following Monday morning, I posted it on my office door so I could read it as I come and go and those who came to my door might also be drawn into its power as they knocked or waited.

It is so easy for me, and I don’t think I am alone in this, to get bogged down in the mundane details of any day and to forget that I am a part of an ancient and unfolding story. This story of the Universe, this telling of God’s movement in the world, is one in which we each play a very small part…..but an important one. Our work is to be awake enough to remember that we are important to its unfolding.

Last night as I stood bathed in the blue light of the full moon, I felt how small I was in comparison to ‘the bold design of farthest space’. But I also understand my work as a human to be one who speaks praise, awe, amazement, to point out the beauty and wonder by which we are surrounded. I had already pointed the moon out to my husband and his sister. And earlier I had done a similar thing with some colleagues as we left an evening meeting. Finally, I sent a text message to our son in Seattle.”Have you seen the moon tonight?” As I made my way to bed, I took a final glance out the window and noticed how the world which had been so white all day was now a brilliant blue. It seemed a moment of pure gift.

These moments when we allow ourselves to be bathed in the mystery of what it means to be alive in our time, in this world, are ones in which we can know in a deep way what it means to be connected to all other humans everywhere. Awe is an experience that is not bound by creed or race, education or economics or status. It is quite simply something that brings a certain peace that is difficult to find words to express. And so I trust that in city or village, on many continents around our world, people are lifting their eyes toward what amazes them, what shows them the presence of the Holy. They are turning their attention from the little details that can wait. They are having an experience of grace, a fullness of knowing that we are a part of something big, something mysterious, something to be held gently and with reverence…….praising that which some of us call God, face to face.

Dancing Crows

I am not sure if I am the only one noticing this phenomenon. But on these particularly cold days, when the sky is brilliant blue and the sunshine is blinding in its reflection off the mounds of snow that make up our landscape, flocks of crows are dancing in the sky. They seem to fly in a plenty that is not visible in summer. I watched yesterday as they soared in a dance that seemed to be accompanied by the music on my radio. Up and over, around and down, they formed black lace patterns against a dying day on my way home from work. I watched the flock form an undulating motion as, every now and then, one bird would peel off to land for a rest on a light pole or rooftop.

Perhaps it fascinates me because their posture is so very different from our human ones. Bundled up in down and fleece, our shoulders touch our ears as our lumpy forms plod along. We can seem to dance a penguin dance as we move across the icy pavement. But we all know that this is not a true dance, only a movement that tries to create a safety net that might prevent any real breakage should we fall.

And so the dance of these black, soaring birds elicits some desire of freedom in me. In a poem by Mary Oliver called ‘Crow Says’, she finishes her observation of these common, often raucous tree dwellers. Using the voice of the crow, she writes:

“Well, maybe now and again, and mostly in winter,
I have strange, even painful ruminations.
When you’re hungry and cold
it’s hard to be bold, so I sulk,
and I do have dreams sometimes, in which
I remember the corn will come again,
and vaguely then I feel that I am almost feeling
grateful, to something or other.”

I love the idea that the crows, like me, are remembering that corn will come again. Traveling last weekend through the farm country of Minnesota and Wisconsin, I allowed my eyes to take in all the white fields that in just a few months will be green and tall and waving in the warm breezes. I remembered last summer and the joy I found in driving through just such farmland, reveling in the beauty and bounty of miles and miles of the work of people I did not know but admired still.

In that remembering, my shoulders relaxed and the distance between my shoulders and ears grew. I felt all the tense muscles, held just so out of protection, relax into warmness. I do not have the ability to fly, to dance in beautiful patterns riding on the frigid winds. But, if the poet is correct about crows, we both have a similar sense of gratitude. For the miracle of a sun-cold day and the hope of the corn yet to be. And to the Spirit that moves in it all.

Winter Hope

“Seeds germinate in the dark,
sing their roots, develop stems.
It is the way of thought also.
Only when what has been invisible
breaks the surface can you see
what to weed,
what to feed and water.”
~Gunilla Norris, A Mystic Garden

Yesterday at worship, during the prayers of the people, someone offered a prayer of gratitude for the seven seed catalogues that had arrived in her mailbox this past week. One for each day of the week! In most places this might seem an odd expression of thankfulness but given the fact that in Minnesota we have not seen the ground since early October, everyone knew exactly what she meant. The snow that came early and has continued every day, minus two, in January is beginning to play with our minds. Our household has not received any of the winter blessings in the form of colored pictures of beautiful flowers and regular and exotic vegetables yet. But yesterday’s prayer planted a certain sense of expectation. Now I will be vigilant as I watch each day’s mail arrive. The catalogues are, after all, a sign of winter hope.

Hope comes to us in many ways. When we encounter a new born baby, most of us would describe that experience as one of hope. We might even say “God has said yes to the world again.” The rising of the sun every morning is also a sign of hope. Like our ancient ancestors we often sense the new opportunities that arrive with the beginning of that first ray of new light after the darkness of the night.  The beginning of a new year can often signal a sense of hope, the chance to begin again, to right some wrongs, to recommit ourselves to change. Many experiences of hope are a natural part of the rhythm of life. Like the wisdom of the writer of Ecclesiastes, we know that ‘to everything there is a season.’ This kind of hope is simply another thread in the pattern of fabric we know as life.

But there is also, I believe, a hope we need to create, we need to feed. This kind of hope is a choice. It may be something we must commit ourselves to even when it is invisible to us. Like the promise of the seeds that can be ordered in the midst of winter, we embrace a hope of what is yet to be, yet to be dreamed. Those of us who are parents or have been teachers know this kind of hope-as-choice quite well.

I was reminded of this very fact yesterday afternoon as I participated in the funeral of one our dear saints of the church. This amazing woman had been a pillar of our church and a life-long teacher and missionary. She had taught and served children in the Minneapolis public schools and had also in Africa. I have had the privilege of knowing her for more than twenty years. We once even slept on the floor of a New Orleans church fellowship hall where we accompanied youth on a mission trip. I remember her laughter and how she clearly and gently led our youth and those we met in an orphanage where we assembled new beds for the children. She was no nonsense person but was also full of love. Love for church, for children and for God.

As many people spoke about the gifts this faithful woman had imparted to them, I was struck with what hope she had planted in the world. She boldly and with deep commitment worked with children who could have been lost in the shuffle of society. But her belief in each as a beloved child of God allowed her to continue to help them rise to their best selves. Hopefully, each of us have had at least one person in our life who bestowed just such hope in the container of who we are.

In addition to this lovely woman, I have the blessing of knowing her grandson when he was just a little boy. I had observed over the years, the doses of hope she had poured into him. And so, to now see this handsome young man stand confidently in his grief and speak of his grandmother, of her love for him and her church, brought tears to my eyes. As a journalist, he chose his words wisely, and with expertise, just as she would have liked. He spoke eloquently about her life story and the good with which she moved in his life. He was clear in outlining what was truly important to her. The hope which she had planted in him, was now being passed on through his education, his devotion, his love, his work.

Sometimes the colorless season of winter is real. Other times there are just days or weeks or years that need a good infusion of hope. A hope we choose.  For all those who have chosen to have hope in us, may we give thanks this day. And may we choose to pay forward the many hopes that have been sent our way.

Good Lunch

“Let love be genuine;hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:9-10

Yesterday I had a good lunch. I have been known to say many times that if you have a good lunch, you can get through almost anything a day has to offer. This statement, of course, needs to be tempered with a certain amount of perspective. I often say it on a day that will be full of meetings. Meetings in which any sense of moving forward or productivity may be fleeting. And so to have the image of that lunch that awaits can be a comfort….and a nice distraction.

But yesterday’s lunch was not one I had packed myself. It was one I had in a Finnish cafe and bakery. I had planned my morning around arriving there at lunchtime, before I attended a meeting in the sweet, little St. Paul neighborhood where both church and cafe make their home. It is a haven of Scandinavian looking people and food… faced sandwiches, colorful, spare salads, desserts flavored with almond and butter. Really,what more could you want? As I enjoyed my lunch, I picked up the St. Paul Pioneer Press to read an article about a woman who would be turning 100 years old this week.

Sister Mary Mark Mahoney, a sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet, smiled gently from the paper’s page. When any of us encounter someone who has walked the earth this long, we often want to know the ‘secret’ of their long life. We also want to seek advice. The reporter for this article was no exception. Asking what we as humans need more of or to do, Sister Mary Mark replied that we need more common sense, more kindness, more showing of love, and caring for one another. She added that “We have a lot to do.”

When asked what we needed less of, she replied simply, “hate.”

Way to go Sister! In a week that has been fraught with hate, it seemed a welcome message. A little common sense and an ounce of kindness can carry us a long way. It certainly has done so for this sister centenarian. The article goes on to tell of the work she has done in her retirement which has now lasted more than 20 years. She has written letters to those in prison who live on death row. I can imagine her correspondence in longhand, precise cursive letters, to these people who are perhaps rightfully feared and shut away. I can also imagine that her letters may be some of the only kind and caring words these inmates experience or may have ever experienced.

Having finished my lovely tomato basil soup, I bit into the Finnish kringler I had been eyeing since entering this little establishment. The sweet, almond, buttery concoction began melting in my mouth. Bathed in such sweetness, I continued to think about Sister Mary Mark and all those like her who, every day, rise from their beds to do good work in the world. I thought of the nuns like her who have lived a life of faithfulness for decade after decade. I thought of others in faith communities, those in hospitals and nursing homes, those in schools and day care centers, who each day perform countless acts of kindness. I thought of the parents and grandparents and those who care for children and others who are vulnerable. Those who tie shoes, wipe noses and dish out encouraging words and common sense over and over and over. I thought of those who staff homeless shelters across our country, those who daily hold out dignity and hope to those who have little.

These are people we rarely hear about. Instead our newspapers and televisions share with us all the stories of people who have behaved otherwise. But make no mistake about it, they are out there, these bearers of kindness and caring and common sense. We know it is true because we have met them and they have offered their gifts to us. And sometimes, sometimes, we even find that we are behaving just like them. And it feels good. Very, very good.

My good lunch provided me with more than most lunches. In addition to a lovely meal full of nutrients and a little treat on the side, it also served up a dose of faith in the essential goodness of humanity. For the Sister Mary Marks of the world, I celebrate your birth and your life. Lives that continue to bring good news, gospel news to the world.

Stepping into the River

“At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Child, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” Mark 1: 9-11 The Message

This past Sunday is what is know in the church year as Baptism of Jesus Sunday. It always feels a bit peculiar to me. We have just finished Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus. Some people have yet to put away all the manger scenes that dot their house. We skip right over the few verses that say anything about Jesus as a boy. Instead we jump right into the beginning his ministry, his way of showing God’s Way in the world. For this, the scriptures tell us, he must be baptized by his cousin John. Wild, crazy John. And so he steps into the river Jordan and nothing is ever the same again. He hears the voice of God echoing around him, speaking unconditional love and acceptance and off he goes.

Not many people I know can remember their baptism. I certainly can’t though I have seen pictures. Pictures of a small baby made miniature by the flowing white dress that clothes her. She is held by a beautiful young woman who stands by a smiling young man whose faces speak of unconditional love and acceptance if not down right adoration. Certainly, at the time, my baptism was not the kind of life changing experience that Jesus had. But it was the start of being marked over and over by the love of a faith community and for that I am eternally grateful.

Everyone has experiences where they have stepped into a river and their life was forever changed. In our community on Sunday people told of just such moments. Being married and learning what it means to be a partner. Having children and the joy and chaos that life shift brings. Admitting their powerlessness over alcohol. Taking the first step of healing after a parent’s death. Encountering the world through travel and feeling that connection in new found ways. The stories were rich and we could still be there hearing them all. They carried the fullness of life.

The experience caused me to think of all the ‘stepping into the river’ experiences I have had. It also allowed me to remember these pivotal events that I have seen happen in our country and our world. Depending on one’s age, these moments are different but they are the markers by which we gauge our lives. There are always the ‘pre’ and ‘post’ times. Like before the war, after September 11th. Before the recession, after the election. Before graduation, after the baby was born. The moments go on and on. They are important markers and they provide a certain balance that helps us map what it means to be human.

When have you stepped into the river and never been the same? Perhaps you are at just such a point right now. Whether remembered or about to be experienced, may you, may each of us, find in this moment an encounter with the Holy. An encounter in which we are bathed with the message: “You are my Child, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”

Blessed be.

Prayer Search

“If you do not believe in God
Go on a blue spring day across these fields:
Listen to the orchids, race the sea, scent the wind.

Come back and tell me it was all an accident
A collision of blind chance
In the empty hugeness of space.”
~Kenneth C. Steven

I did not know it. But I have been searching for prayer. After the groundedness of Advent and the flurry of Christmas, I entered this season of Epiphany much like the Magi……searching. I found myself wandering from bookshelf to bookshelf. Leafing through poems, devotions,digging out bits and pieces of theological candy. But in the end, I was left still hungry. It was frustrating and confusing.

And then Friday I headed to a local store that caters to ‘all things churchy’. Candles, vestments, music, and books. I found myself roaming around, somewhat aimless, until I landed in the section labeled prayer. I began to look around at the various books and felt something move inside me. Like the Wise Ones who traveled through the desert, the Star had led me to a treasured place. I began to read the pages filled with prayers and words about prayer from various perspectives. Prayers from other traditions. Prayers for those who wanted a deep, spiritual practice. Prayers for women. Prayers to color. Prayers to read aloud with others. I walked out of the store with four books that seemed to bring something hopeful to my search.

Now I don’t hold any illusions that these prayers written by others will completely fill this longing I feel. But they may be a start. Like Mary Oliver who wrote:”I don’t know what a prayer is, but I do know how to pay attention.”, I am paying attention to this gnawing at my core that will not let me go. I am paying attention to the Holy trying to communicate with me. I am trying, trying to listen.

What better time to be searching for prayer than when our country has just suffered another horrible and violent destructive act like the one in Tucson? How do we make sense of such a thing? While my heart goes out, not only to the families of those killed and injured, my heart also goes out to this young man who is so ill. To plan and execute such violence is unimaginable. And yet, over the last few years our society has surrounded itself on the fear, rhetoric, meanness and vile evil of its own words. Words that are played at a fever pitch over and over on news, in newspapers, and on the internet. Words that come to make a home in us. How can our hearts not break with the sadness, the deep sadness of it?

This morning as I sat, coffee cup in hand, preparing for a little quiet time before my day began, I reached for one of the books I had purchased on Friday. “Where does this deep down, soulful hunger come from? The ache that you and I experience deep in our souls was created by the One in whose image we are made. We are meant for God and God is meant for us.“, writes author Dan Schutte. In the fullness of this day, with all its beauty and its violence, I am holding out that prayer can and does make a difference. And with each breath, I will continue paying attention and………..searching.