By Our Side

Waking early this morning, I clicked on the switch of the coffee pot I had prepared last night before I went to bed. My alarm had gone off particularly early today so I might rise to watch the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. I did this because I had also watched his parent’s wedding and his mother’s funeral, again waking early to make up the six hour time difference between here and London. Frankly, I had looked forward to it for weeks.

Now I know there are those who speak of the silliness of this obsession to watch a system, like a monarchy, play out, a system which our country actually went to war to free themselves of. I know there are also those who speak of what they call the terrible waste of money spent on such an event. Certainly, England is in the same economic mess we are and couldn’t this money have been spent in a better way? And the answer is yes. It certainly it could. But I see the same argument in this as I see every time there needs to be budget cuts in our schools and the ax moves too quickly to the music and art departments. As humans, we also need beauty and diversion and that which can lift us above the ordinary.

For me, watching these two young people on what may be the happiest day of their lives so far, provided just such a lift. I had already been shocked by the horror of the tornadoes that ripped across the southern part of our country. What to even do with the feelings of helplessness those people must be experiencing? In addition, I had learned today that a dear friend will no doubt die over the weekend and my heart is breaking for his wife who is such a dear one. To hold the beauty and joy of this couple on their wedding day alongside the pain and horror of the world seemed pure gift.

But isn’t this the way of life? We wake each morning with goodness and terror walking by our side as we make our way into a fragile world. We drink a cup of coffee,breathing in the rich, warm liquid, breathing out the nightmares that cling to our waking brains. We step out in faith knowing that others are walking a path of hopelessness and we feel desperate to help. We watch children laugh and play at the bus stop praying that today will be filled to overflowing with new discoveries. This living is a stew pot of extremes and if we are lucky, if we are blessed, we can choose to walk with some confidence on a path that has more hope than horror.

Today two young people chose to do an uncertain thing in the presence of those who love them while they were watched by billions of people they will never meet. They chose to commit to a relationship even though they know from personal experience that this kind of promise is risky, often painful, sometimes fails. But they decided to step out in hope and those of us who watched were somehow bathed in their enthusiasm. For a few moments, so much seemed possible. Beauty. Kindness. Commitment. Hope. Love. A future.

Of course, the ways of the world continued and there is much healing that is needed. But for those few moments I was able to glimpse the promise of newness not only for them but for all who make their way through this day. The promise of new life that might come out of the rubble of Alabama and the tears of all those who suffer this day held gently alongside the hope and love of a young couple taking the first steps of a life together.

This is life in all its fullness. To be held gently. To be savored. To be embraced with gratitude.

Have a blessed May Day weekend……..

New Heaven

” No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”
~Helen Keller

Leafing through a book today, I ran across this quote. Normally I gloss over things like this. I wasn’t searching for it necessarily but I found it anyway, or perhaps it found me. Perhaps the words found me so they could give me a good swift kick in the pants. I needed to be jarred into my truer self. The self that doesn’t carry a little tin of pessimism in my pocket ready to be hauled out at the slightest notice. I am not by nature a pessimistic or negative person but I have found this little cloud of ‘yuckiness’ that has been following me about lately. Much like that old Cream of Wheat commercial where the bowl of healthy, steaming cereal follows the child from breakfast table to the bus and on to school. Nutrients swooping in to fill stomach and brain throughout the school day!

My shadow bowl has not been so healthy or nutritious. Instead I have allowed my spirit to be dragged down by heavy, unhelpful thoughts to the point where I realized I have been going,for what seems like a very long time, without breathing. I have realized that I have been walking around so deep in my thoughts that the center of my being seems to be my furrowed forehead instead of my heart. Has this ever happened to you?

I have spent some time reflecting on how this state of mind, this way of being came to take up residence. Partly I am sure that I am simply mirroring the culture around us all. The negative and pessimistic opinions and words of the news and the world fly around and land like bad fairy dust, settling on shoulders and eyelashes and seeping into our brains. It becomes difficult not to be weighed down by it all, not to allow it to wriggle its way into turning us all from hopeful people who have a potential to help heal the world into naysayers who cannot be amazed at the secrets of the stars or the excitement of visiting an uncharted land.

As a person of faith, I believe we have great potential to help open up a new heaven to the human spirit. In some ways this is one of the gifts of the Easter story we heard last Sunday. In the midst of what seemed like a terrible tragedy, new life sprang forth to change lives forever. The sacred texts of most traditions continue to reaffirm similar life-giving stories. Pessimism rarely wins and never, in my experience, feels very good nor is it easy to continue for long periods of time without burning out or burning up.

So, right now I am choosing to breathe. Breathe deeply and allow the goodness that is the air filling my lungs remind me of this precious life through which I am blessed. I am going to imagine another bowl, a different one, following me around for the next several days. A bowl overflowing with the life-giving nourishment of compassion, love, peace, hope, joy and kindness toward myself and everyone I meet. I am going to fill my belly with its goodness and be about the work of healing the world.

One spoonful at a time. Over and over again until my own human spirit catches a glimpse of that new heaven. If you too have been eating a bowlful of negative mush, I invite you to join me.


Easter Sunday brought with it the glorious weather we have been longing for. Sunshine and warm temperatures illuminated everyone’s Easter finery. People wore big smiles as they greeted one another. Children could be seen in various yards and parks hunting for brightly colored eggs hidden in obvious sight in the still greening grass. It was indeed s beautiful day.

I began the morning with our Easter sunrise service. It is one of my favorite worship experiences of the year. There is always something mysterious and exciting about getting to church in the dark, watching others arrive with sleep still hanging on them, to do something a little out of the ordinary. And this year’s service certainly delivered that experience.

Just as we were beginning the service, I walked outside to prop the door open for the grand entrance of one of our guest musicians who would be playing the didgeridoo, that wonderful Australian instrument whose tones touch something deep and primal in us. A few people were entering at the past minute and we all were surprised, shocked actually, to see a coyote walking across the lawn and parking lot near the church entrance. That’s right, a coyote! In the middle of the city, only hundreds of feet away from a major freeway entrance ramp.

It was such a shock we hardly knew how to react. Many thoughts went quickly through my head. Where did it come from? How did it get this far into the city without being injured or even killed by all the speeding cars and trucks? How was it going way find its way to safety? My colleague who lives next to the church pointed out that a family of rabbits lives near his house. My mind then raced to the rabbits and their safety. All these thoughts flew through my brain as we began our sunrise worship.

As I welcomed the people to our Easter morning together, I shared the coyote sighting. Heads shifted in wonder and surprise. Then someone said loudly: ” Ah, the trickster!” Indeed, in the Native American stories of the Southwest, coyote is seen as the trickster who comes to shake things up,to help the people see things in new ways. After doing a little research I read that in one myth the Coyote also brings seeds of life to sow new growth upon the new world. Interesting.

Perhaps this relative of the dogs we love so much was simply a misplaced animal who had wandered too far into the urban chaos. All I know is that his presence caused many of us to take quick, surprised breaths, to sit up more attentively in our seats, to be open to what other gifts the day might dish up. Easter morning had provided an experience we had not rehearsed. Even those who had not actually seen the coyote with their own eyes told others about what they had heard. Much like the women in the gospel story we read in the hour that unfolded after the coyote sighting, people continued to tell the story of this strange and startling vision. We all carried into the day the message of surprise, confusion, new life.

If Coyote is a trickster, I think on this Sunday his work was a trick of the best kind. And I pray, now that his work is done, that he has found a safe place to make his home.

Glory Everywhere

Beyond Easter.
we go singing.

Having been grabbed
by resurrections
we are full of tears and laughter.

The way ahead is unknown.
It will always be like that.

But having danced in the light
we will look for glory everywhere.

~Ruth Burgess

An interesting coincidence is that this year the Christian observance of Good Friday and the international observance of Earth Day fall on the same day. I have been thinking about how these particular observances might inform one another. For Christians, Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. It is a somber day, one where introspection, repentance and penitence is offered. Earth Day was created to help us be reminded of the ways in which we humans who call Earth home do so in a daily act of interdependence. We do this not only with our fellow humans but with all living things…..animals, plants, water, air, soil. We are all connected in ways known and known to us.

For those who make their way to a worship service today, they will hear the scriptures of how Jesus entered Jerusalem only to be arrested, tried and sentenced to death. His ministry had been about building communities that were healing, compassionate, just and moved with hope. This work, his presence was a great threat to the power structures, structures which worked to keep people in need, under control, alienated from one another and from their own sense of power.

Our Earth home is being threatened by a mindset and systems that deny the innumerable ways we are bound together in our common life. There is killing off of clean water, healthy air, and nutrient rich soil. Our burning desire and addiction to fossil fuels continues to bring both economic and political hardship. The issues sometimes threaten to overwhelm the most rational among us. And so Earth Day also calls for introspection, repentance and penitence.

But what kept the disciples going and what can keep us going in the face of what sometimes seems nearly impossible to hold is the important fact that we have seen new life happen again and again and again. Even as the devastated Japanese people work to pull themselves out of the aftermath of an earthquake, they continue to show remarkable signs of hope as they reach out to one another and employ their immense creativity to solve huge problems. As a nation many among us are continuing to chip away at systems that do not take the Earth into consideration.Many are offering creative alternatives for living ‘with’ rather than simply ‘on’ the planet.

Like Jesus’ ministry, like the disciples work that followed and continues today, it is slow work. Work that is often misunderstood and threatening. But it is work that continues to lift before an often blind and battered people: We must depend on one another.We must take care for the good of all. It is what we were born to do, to be.

For me the sure way of reminding myself of this claim on my life is to ‘look for glory everywhere’ as the writer Ruth Burgess says. When I am attuned to the glory that comes to me as pure gift, I am reminded of my responsibility, of all the many invisible lines of connection that make up my life, my living. I travel this world with the story of Jesus planted deep within me. I also travel its whirling paths on a planet that continues to fill my lungs with air, nourish me with water and food. I travel with companions that delight and surprise me with beauty and wonder. Indeed, glory is everywhere when I have eyes to see.

Good Friday. Earth Day. So many connections to honor. So many opportunities to be a part of the on-going telling of goodness in the world. What a privilege. What a responsibility.

A blessed Easter to you all…….


“Tonight the breeze is just so.
It stirs your ashes
in the bowl of my heart, just
so I know you are there. You,
all of you who are love
returned to dust.

All day it has been this way.
The sun shining just so.
This restless stirring
to know I am here. Me,
all of me, becoming love
before dust.”
~Annie Breitenbucher

This year, Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, coincides with the anniversary of my father’s death. I had not actually thought much about this fact until this week when I have been living with the words and messages of this day, Maundy Thursday. In worship services everywhere we will once again remind people of Jesus gathering with his friends in what we have come to call the Upper Room. This story is woven throughout with the humility of Jesus. It is in this room where he washes the feet of his friends and they share in what we have come to call the Last Supper.

Perhaps I am thinking of my Dad because pretty much everything I have come to know about humility, I learned from him. He was also a man who loved to eat and to share food with those he loved. He was happiest when food was plentiful and people were filling their plates with the bounty. He moved quietly in the world and I don’t think I ever heard him say a bad thing about another person. I only wish I could say I had inherited this trait. But I will say, when I find myself forming what could be hurtful words, I often hear my Dad’s breath moving someplace near my ear as an unseen censor. It is a blessing.

There are other times,of course, when I am reminded of my Dad and the important, though understated and quiet, presence he had in my life. The sound of a radio announcer’s voice as a baseball game is being played conjures up memories of hot summer nights and the muffled calling of a Cincinnati Reds game wafting from my parent’s bedroom late at night. The sight of pie, nearly any pie, his favorite dessert. Once a quick turn of my head as I observed our oldest son standing with arms crossed over his chest, listening intently to a conversation, carried a resemblance to my Dad that took my breath away. And being in the presence of our younger son whose gentle ways often remind me so much of his grandfather, make me smile a knowing smile. These are all visceral moments of deep memory

All these experiences and memories are ‘stirring the ashes in the bowl of my heart’ today. Over the last years I have reported on a small cherry bush that is planted in our front yard as a memorial gift from friends, a gift to commemorate my father’s life. In the first two years of its living in our yard it actually bloomed on the anniversary of his death. It seemed a miracle to me. The next spring, like this one, followed a too harsh winter and there were no lovely pink blossoms to mark the day. That spring I felt an agitation and impatience that nearly undid me. But this year I have seen it coming. There have been no visible buds until the last few days. Hopefully, with the warm weather this weekend,progress will be made and blossoms will soon be bursting with hope and memory.

Tonight as we gather to remember the life of Jesus, his humility and his acts of hospitality and service, I will be present to the story that is being told, the telling of ‘love before dust.’ But I will also be holding in my heart the love returned to dust that continues to stir bringing memory and definition to my life. What has not yet blossomed will be made known in its own time and for that my heart is very full.


“the dead shall rise again
whoever says
dust must be dust
don’t see the trees
smell rain
remember africa
everything that goes
can come
stand up
even the dead shall rise”
~Lucille Clifton, The Raising of Lazarus

I woke this morning to snow falling outside the window. The trees once again are wearing a glistening coat of white looking like a scene held captive by the White Witch from C.S. Lewis’ book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I was reminded of the first Easter I lived in Minnesota, seeing the little girls in their springy dresses and hats, their little white shoes shuffling through the equally white, slushy snow. I want to believe that Easter fell much earlier in the year than April 24th but I could be wrong.

Even though the snow might douse our spirits today, I am making the commitment to keep my mind on what is being reborn. Our garden is a visual reminder. Tulips,irises, and other early bloomers are undaunted as they make their green way in the world once again after being held in darkness and cold for so many months. The lovely little warbler that snuggled in the branches of a tree outside our living room window this morning is another. He had the same dazed look we did as we watched the flakes falling. I saw an earthworm wriggling on the pavement trying to make his way to the now thawed ground, ready to do the work he is created to do.

There are also people I know who are experiencing a kind of rebirth after what seemed like a slow walk through a dark valley. Those who have known the full throttled pain and uncertainty of illness are now on the other side of despair, filled with a hope they thought might be lost forever. Still others have moved through painful job and relationship conflicts and are arriving at new places of understanding and commitment. What seemed like never ending dust has become something that is breathing new life. This is the wheel of life at its full spin.

Some spring seasons simply take longer to grow into their fullness. This spring is one of them. Just like some of us who need more patient nurture and support, this spring is inching into existence at its own labored tempo. And yet by day’s end the snow will likely be melted and gone into the on-going process of watering the sore earth. As humans short on patience, our work is to watch and wait and notice the tiny glimpses of new life wherever we see them.

And in our noticing take a moment to be grateful. Very, very grateful. Snow falls. snow melts. But a grateful heart is something to hold onto for dear life.

Faithful, Risky Business

For those of us who make our home in the Christian household, as writer J. Philip Newell calls the Christian tradition, this is the beginning of Holy Week. During this week we come to the of end our forty days of Lent and begin to focus on the final days of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a week that holds different experiences for different people. It is filled with a dramatic telling of Jesus, gathering with his friend’s,his acts of servanthood to them, their sharing of a final meal, his ultimate betrayal by one that sat around the table. The scripture that will be read will be heard and interpreted differently by individual hearers in an effort to understand once again what this life, lived more than 2000 years ago, has to do with our lives today. Those who have studied and read much will bring one lens to the telling while those who find themselves hearing the story again on Easter Sunday much as they did last year will experience it quite differently.

For those of us who find themselves reading, studying and thinking about these sacred texts more than perhaps others, it always brings an opportunity to be confronted once again with fullness of this story. Yesterday as we waved palms and heard the telling of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, I was given the opportunity to reflect on this story in yet another way.  I was reminded of a process I learned from author and cultural anthropologist Angeles Arriens for approaching any situation, any meeting, indeed even any given day. It a fourfold way of making sure one is true to one’s self. Her invitation is this: “Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the results.”

On the surface it sounds so simple. But when I have chosen this way of being in a meeting, for instance, I find out quite quickly how much I have a need to control what actually happens! When this process is played out from that angle, the truth telling becomes stilted toward controlling the conversation, paying attention goes out the window as I wait to make my point rather than listening to the other and showing up becomes primarily a way to win my desired outcome.

So yesterday as we once again told this story of Jesus heading out into what was to become the last days of his life, he chose to be his true self. He entered the city in the humble way he had moved through the country side as healed and taught and told of God’s movement in his living. He most likely knew he was entering hostile territory but he knew what he had to do: Show up. Pay attention to the people and the way he knew God to be at home in the world. Tell the truth about the injustices he saw and the power that was being misused. And, in the end, to not be attached to the results. It proved a faithful but risky choice.

I am going to take this fourfold lens into my experience of the fullness of this Holy Week. I am going to pay particular attention to the words we read, sing, and say, listening for the authentic message that invites me to walk the Way of Jesus in the holy and not-so-holy weeks of my own life. And in the final analysis, I think that is the point of this walking, this observation of this week which leads us toward Easter.



Over and Over

“Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns to life.”
~John O’Donohue

These words begin a poem by John O’Donohue, beloved Irish poet and gentle theologian. The poem is simply called ‘Light’. Perhaps I am very aware right now of images of light and dark as I prepare worship experiences for Holy Week and Easter. These mind pictures come in a different form during the season of Lent than they do in Advent, the season that precedes Christmas. In December, darkness and light are clothed in the realization that the winter darkness is surrounding. Though the Winter Solstice promises the return of the light and the Christmas story speaks of the Light of the World, the light and dark we speak of in Lent is different. The real meaning of the word Lent is ‘to lengthen’ and that has now become a daily experience. In truth the light is lengthening each and every day. As Goethe said on his death bed,we also declare: “More light!”

I am aware of this lengthening of light not so much because of the actual sunlight but because of its effects. This morning I sat having my breakfast and looked out our kitchen window. Within one day, the tulips and daylilies have been drawn out of the darkened earth several more inches than yesterday. I stared in wonder. It made me long to have the entire day to simply sit and watch. Might I actually be able to watch the slow, Zen-like movement toward the light?

Next week we will once again tell the stories of the final days of Jesus’ life. These tellings contain the joy of human friendships and the depth of compassionate service to others. They are full of prayer and healing and embracing the immense gifts that remind us of what it means to walk life’s path. The stories also show the darker side of humanity. A lust for power, a fear beyond reason, the need to extinguish what is misunderstood and threatening. All this leads to a tragedy that could have overcome those who had shared Jesus life and ministry, those who would, in the final telling, agree to continue to walk in his Way.

But this story continued to ‘lengthen’ and continues to lengthen still as those of us who try to walk in his Way give new birth and meaning his actions, his words. In the darkness of a tomb something continued to be drawn toward light. Like the plants now being drawn to the ever-warming sun, a nurturing toward growth was born. Some two thousand years later we continue to proclaim the story that has shaped a people, given them hope for a future, helped healing to continue, offered a way of life that longs for the re-creation of the world.

O’Donohue ends this poem with these words:

“And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found world.”

The nurturing toward growth for those who walk upon the earth and those who make their home in it must contain both darkness and light. In these ever lengthening days, may we offer our gratitude for the darkness which holds Mystery and the Light that continues to coax the world to be reborn.

Over and over and over again. Day after day. Year after year. Life after life.







In all the flurry moving toward this year’s late Easter, I have managed to allow half of April to fly by without noting that it is National Poetry month. I have never been sure how these proclamations occur. Why April instead of, say, November? Who decides? What goes into any month being given over to a particular distinction?

Make no mistake about it. I am all in favor of a month dedicated to the art of poetry. Truth be told, these days, I find more wisdom and clarity in poetry than in most other forms of writing. There is something about the spare nature of poetry that is able to get at a particular feeling or experience. With all the information that can flood our ears, our eyes, and our senses, it is refreshing when a poet takes only a few lines and several well chosen words to speak a truth, to describe a beauty, to tell the truth of a story.

So, while I still don’t have the answer to the ‘why April’ question, I have made my own conclusions. The month of April is so full with blossoming and new life it could easily be overdone by, say, National Novel month or National Sermon month. How quickly any writer could fall into a wordy frenzy describing the crocuses gleaming purple along a white picket fence. How risky it might be to allow the speech writers to take over the month proclaiming how the ice slowly turns black, begins to recede from the shores of lakes and finally disappears altogether at some central point as it hovers over the depths of frigid waters. And could a journalist give adequate expression to the sheer wonder of deep, green,velvet grass as it emerges in full force from beneath the black crust once known as snow?

No. Poetry, for my money, is the only use of language that can adequately tell April’s story. The sweetness of a well crafted line. The beauty of a few well honed words that feel holy in your mouth as you allow them to roll around forming glimpses of springtime memory in your brain. Perhaps April also is poetry month because so many famous poets have written about this spring month. Poets like Laurie Lee:

“If ever I saw blessing in the air
I see it now in this still early day
Where lemon-green the vaporous morning drips
Wet sunlight on the powder of my eye. ”

Or Edna St. Vincent Millay:

“April this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago,
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Of dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.”

In observation of April as Poetry Month I have just purchased a little book written by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. It is simply called A Poetry Handbook and is a guide to writing poetry for we wannabe poets. There are still enough days left in this glorious month for creating a few poems of my own. I will try to lay aside my tendency toward over-stating and wordiness. Instead, I will practice observing the unfolding world around me and choosing a few words, a very few, to tell the story of April, this very blessed month.

Do you have a few lines of poetry in you to honor the glory of April?

Let It Go

There are courageous, daring people who will go to great lengths to spread a message. Some of these messages come in the form of what some people would name graffiti, words painted on highway signs hung far above moving traffic. When I see these words suspended in mid-air, many in languages I do not speak,I try to imagine when these words were painted. How did the writer make their way to the precarious precipice with a spray paint can in hand? Was someone hanging onto them for dear life while they wrote their message for the world to see? How were they not seen, perhaps arrested? At what time of day or night did this happen without being spotted? Did they dangle upside down, held by their ankles by an accomplice, chosen to be the writer because they have the ability to form letters backwards or inverted?

Over the weekend I came upon one of these highway messages. This one did not take such acrobatics. Its message did not use paint but what appeared to be strips of cloth woven through a freeway overpass bridge made of chain link fence. Carefully threaded through the links of the hard metal, in neatly created third-grade cursive writing, were three simple words:”Let it go.”

Let it go. Seeing these words made me smile, made my shoulders relax away from my ears, allowed me to take a little deeper breath. Let it go. I imagined all the people who have traveled and are traveling past this message even as I write this. People who need to have someone say these very words to them. People who are clutching the steering wheel too tightly. People who are clenching their jaw, grinding their teeth unknowingly as they hold onto, what? Fear? Dread? Anger? Hurt? Failure?

I know these people because,several times a day, I am one of them. In an effort to create a life, I can try to control so many things, things over which control in only in illusion. And because that illusion becomes the focus of my attention, I can send messages to the muscles in my body to “Hold on”. Hold on. I am going to conquer this. Hold on. I can make this come out just like I want it to. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” says Joseph Campbell. This is a difficult message for most of us. Yet so many of the world’s faith traditions carries this very wisdom. The season of Lent has this letting go at its center. We read the sacred texts that tell of Jesus’ eternal letting go into the living out of God’s call in his life. His works of compassion, mercy, healing and hope led to events over which he had no control. His life was a continual letting go into love. And so it is with each of us.

How does the message ‘let it go’ sound in your life today? How do these words come into your eyes and ears and find a home? What needs ‘letting go’? What is really at stake in doing so?

Someplace in the two cities I love there lives a messenger who has less fabric than they did a week ago. They used those pieces of cloth to send a message to all who need it, to all who will listen,to all who will answer its call.

I am grateful.