Deep Listening

While doing some writing preparation, I picked up a book of prayers that had been created for the turning of the new millennium. Remember? The year 2000? It was a time of much anticipation, much anxiety. The doomsayers and pessimists had created messages that spread fear and many of us, in fact most of us, fell into their grip. We filled our bathtubs with water and had backup plans for the ‘what ifs’ that might happen. At this moment, I can’t really remember what was supposed to have happened even though it is really only a little more than a decade ago that we walked into this new age.

Looking through this lovely book of wisdom and prayers, I was struck with the different ways in which people chose to express their hope for the turning of the new one thousand years. The sections of the book expressed ‘Opening Our Hearts’ and ‘Creating Communities of Peace’. A special section was dedicated ‘For the Children’ and ‘This Moment In Time’. There were ‘Prayers of Solidarity and Justice’ and ‘Parables of Our Time’. In the last eleven years I have gone to this book for inspiration and words to hold onto in times of deep despair and of amazing hope. I have, I know, quoted many of the prayers in this space.

Two of the writings stand out for me and continue to be ones I return to over and over. again. The first because it makes me laugh with its truth. The second because it presents such a holy challenge. The words of Coleman Barks, best known for translating the poetry of Rumi, writes a poem called ‘The Railing’: ” A child stood on his seat in a restaurant, holding the railing of the chairback as though to address a courtroom, ‘Nobody knows what’s going to happen next.’ Then his turning-slide back down to his food, relieved and proud to say the truth, as were we to hear it.”

I laugh each time I read these words and have used them in meetings and other settings. They are such a brilliant reminder that, despite our planning and illusion of control, there is always a force at work over which we have little or no control and we, indeed, rarely know what is going to happen next. In fact, it has been my experience that those surprises or unexpected moments are the ones in which the greatest transformation, the most promising creativity occurs. It is at these moments that we are most at one with the Spirit that moves with us and through us at all times.

The second comes from Jay McDaniel, a professor of religion at Hendrix College:

In this century and in any century,
Our deepest hope, our most tender prayer,
Is that we learn to listen.
May we listen to one another in openness and mercy
May we listen to plants and animals in wonder and respect
May we listen to our own hearts in love and forgiveness
May we listen to God in quietness and awe.
And in this listening,
Which is boundless in its beauty
May we find wisdom to cooperate
With a healing spirit, a divine spirit,
Who beckons us into peace and community and creativity.
We do not ask for a perfect world.
But we do ask for a better world.
We ask for deep listening.”

This poem/prayer is one that digs a spade around all the cracks and crevices of the walls I find myself erecting and see others build in an effort to prove all kinds of things. It challenges me to put my ego aside, to stop my need to speak at every turn, and instead be a presence for peace, for mercy, for healing, for listening with holy ears. These are words to carry at all times.

And so, while these words were created for the turning of a thousand years, I believe they carry wisdom for the turning of this year. I offer them to you if they are helpful in your own walk into 2012 with the knowledge that this year will hold many unplanned for experiences. Some we will welcome while others we will want to rail against. I trust that all will bring their own kind of transformation.

Especially if we approach them with deep, deep listening.

Suspended Animation

This week in-between Christmas and New Year’s creates a strange feeling of being in suspended animation. The fact that both holidays fall on a Sunday creates, at least for me, an even stranger experience of hovering, not quite able to settle in to the fullness of vacation mode or work mode. Unlike the days of childhood, when the weeks between opening gifts and all the Christmas festivities and the determination to stay awake to watch the new year arrive, this week has had me jumping from one thing to another without a sense of committing to anything. It is mostly an unsatisfying experience.

Of course, the fact that there is no snow on the ground and people are playing golf in Minnesota in December should be enough to create an uneasiness, an inability to focus. Things simply are not the way they are ‘supposed to be.’ The other day my son and I discussed whether or not, once it does snow (please!) it will feel as if we need to have a Christmas do-over. While, of course, this will not happen, my hope is that it simply feels like a cake that had been left without frosting for a while.

Perhaps this strangeness is actually a good way to experience the final week of any year. As we look back at all the things that have happened over the last months, we can find ourselves reliving celebrations and grieving losses. We can marvel at the ways in which, as a nation and as a world, people have risen to amazing feats of courage and strength. We can also be dumbfounded at the pain and suffering humans can inflict on others and this blessed Creation.

As I reflect on this last year, I think my overall experience has been watching people I know and those I read or hear about who have overcome great odds, who have grabbed hope by the horns and ridden it like a bronco rider. I have seen this in those who have dealt with incredible health issues and those who have lost loved ones too soon, which is almost always, isn’t it? I have seen it as person after person rises like a phoenix out of the ashes of unemployment to reach a new place where the light once again beams from their useful, productive eyes. I have watched children learn new things and stand taller and stronger with confidence. And I know others who are battling for their lives.

Each year holds all these experiences and more. Perhaps that is the reason, in this final week, for this state of suspension. We need these days to allow our skin, our brain, our being to move slowly into the fullness of transformation. Like a snake shedding last year’s skin, we gently crawl into the new one which will hold us, protect us, house us for the gifts and challenges of what is yet to be. Charles Lamb, author and essayist, once wrote: “No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam.” And I would respectively add, our common Eve.

So, if you have also been having a similar suspended experience in these final days of 2011, I invite you to simply rest. Rest and reflect, take stock of what has happened in the last twelve months of your precious life. Let go of what is no longer helpful and all of what is hurtful. Hold on dearly to all that makes you smile, that fills your heart with love and joy. Rub this goodness all over yourself as you prepare for the new skin, the new year that is only a few days away. Say a prayer over all the losses and offer gratitude for all there is to celebrate. Allow yourself to hover within the transformation that is yours and yours alone.

We have no way of knowing what the new year will bring. No matter, may we all know we are held by a Gracious Hand.

This Holy Living

Not only is hearing in the church to bear a relationship to hearing in the world, the former needs actually to be guided by the latter. The mystery of God was being communicated in the world, through creation and in the lives of men and women, long before religion came into being. In fact it was the hearing of God in the world that gave rise to religion. In the Christian tradition we may claim a two-thousand-year tradition of hearing God in the mysteries of word and sacrament. It needs always, however, to be set in the context of the fifteen-billion-year tradition of God speaking in creation.”
~J. Philip Newell, Promptings from Paradise

Each of us has a dominant way of receiving the information that comes our way every day. Some people do this visually, others in an auditory way. Still others take in the information and make sense of it through what is known as a kinesthetic way, through touch and our other senses. These are often known as ‘hands on’ learners. I am sure there are those who take things in in a purely intellectual way or through the various ways in which our brains make order in a linear way, those who may excel at math or even science.

I know myself to be primarily a visual learner. I am always looking and taking things in, making sense of the world by the way it ‘looks’ to me. In this dominant way, I create stories and understand the way things work by how I see them. Which is why the words above of John Philip Newell, so jumped out and grabbed me as I read them yesterday. I had to stew over them, even try to ‘translate’ them into my own visual language.

Particularly at this time of the church year, we read the prologue to the Gospel of John about the ‘Word’ coming into the world. This Word refers to Jesus. This scripture is often read as an affirmation of this presence of God whose coming into the world we celebrate at Christmas. However, too often we equate the Word and word, as in scripture words, as the same. But this is not the case.

Yesterday, I thought a lot about Newell’s assertion that it was the hearing of God in the world that gave rise to religion. I would also assert that it is in the seeing and the sensing, the smelling and the tasting that we know the mystery of God in the world. That these experiences also inform what we came to create as religion(s). It is just that in many religions we sometimes forget the context of Creation in an effort to make our faith story and practice all about humanity. This says more about us than, perhaps, about God. Have you had this experience?

Christmas, and its celebration, tends to focus us so squarely on the human aspect of the Holy, that it is easy to forget that our story as people of faith, as people who walk the earth for that matter, has a much longer history than the story of the birth of Jesus. It is easy to be so fixated on the telling of Emmanuel, God-With-Us, that we lose sight of the story in which God has been with us since the beginning of any time we conscious ones can remember and repeat. Sometimes in flesh and blood experiences and sometimes in the encounter with bushes full of fire, waters that part, in mountains that stand strong and tall. Or other times in bread that falls from the sky, in stars that guide the way, in sheep and cattle that quietly stand watch, and in the total silence that engulfs a landscape and a wandering people.

All these are ways in which those with eyes and ears and noses and skin, came to know the brush of Mystery in their every day living, and continue to have those experiences today. It is the way in which I also imagine Jesus came to know the movement of the Sacred in his life. I imagine it is why he told stories of sheep that graze and fish that swim, of birds that fly and flowers that grow. In the telling he connected Word and word……for hearing, for seeing, for smelling, tasting and touching.

After all, it takes the fullness of being human to experience the fullness of a Creator who formed and breathed the whole of Creation into this beautiful life, this holy living.


This Advent I have used a devotional written by Thom Shuman which came to me through some of the writings of the Iona Community in Scotland that I visited two years ago. Its title is ‘Gobsmacked’. Today as I read the entry for Christmas Eve, the writer finally used the word in speaking of the birth of the Christ Child.: “You came a tiny vulnerable baby, lungs screaming for life, fingers grasping for something to hold on to, your whole being completely depending on us (!)to feed you, change you, clothe you, protect you, love you, and we were gobsmacked.”

Until I read those words, my curiosity had not been piqued enough to even search out what the word meant. But after reading it in this context I googled it to find that it is a slang term used in Scotland and other parts of Great Britain, meaning gob(mouth) and smacked. Its full meaning is ‘to be taken unawares, completely astounded, to be made utterly speechless’.

I have now been thinking of this season of Advent when we wait and prepare for the Christmas. Have I been gobsmacked during these days? Have there been moments of being astounded, of being taken by surprise by the movement of the Holy in the world? Have there been times when I have been left speechless? How about you? It does us well, I believe, to reflect in preparation for this Christmas Eve and all it may hold.

In just a few hours I will get ready and make my way to our Christmas eve services, all lovingly prepared for by countless people. It has been my blessing for years now to be a part of two distinctly different worship experiences. One will happen mid-afternoon in our Art Gallery. It will be quiet, contemplative, using poetry and a few select instruments. Piano, guitar, cello, flute. Candles will surround our labyrinth and those who come to the service will walk their Christmas prayers to the sounds of music, poetry and silence. It is a beautiful dance of meditation, for some a welcome respite from the bustle of the outside world. Every year this service holds more and more delight.

The other service later in the day, will hold all our children and youth choirs. I have often referred to this service as having the quality on an ant hill! This year twenty four three-year-old cherubs in angel wings and halos will sing Away in a Manger. The Holy Family will arrive with one of our newest to the world taking the honored place of the Baby Jesus. Well rehearsed children will read the Christmas Story and parents of all, from the youngest to the oldest, will look on in pride and wonder. I can imagine that many IPhones will be delicately placed to snap an image that will be posted for all to see within moments of the service’s ending.

And ah, the ending. As the sanctuary rests in darkness, the candlelight will slowly be passed from hand to hand as individual lights are lit. Faces, young and old, will be illumined with the beauty of candlelight, that light in which all humans look their best, as we once again affirm that, indeed, we stand in the Light of the One who walked the earth much as we do but who reflected God’s presence in a way that continues to call us to do likewise.

As I stand to offer a Christmas blessing of words, I will receive the real blessing. I will look out at the beautiful faces, the hope and longing reflected in their eyes. I will see those I have known since infancy and those I have only met. I will see faces I have not seen in a long while and will be astounded at the changes. And once again, I will be reminded that the message of the Christmas story is ours to live out each and every day, not just when we are bathed in soft candlelight but also in the pure, often harsh, light of day. I will wonder at the Holy One’s confidence in us to do so.

And I will be gobsmacked.

A blessed Christmas to you all……..


Elves, originally found in Germanic and Scandinavian folklore, were a very mysterious race from the beginning of time. Later they became supernatural beings, mainly shaped as human beings.”

Last night I came home and some members of my family watching the movie ‘Elf’, the silly and laugh-producing story of an adult sized yet childlike man who believes himself to be one of Santa’s elves. And this morning as I was walking I turned on my IPod to find a podcast called ‘First Elf’ told by a designer who had been hired to decorate the White House. The storyteller, who described himself as small-in-stature tells of standing by Michelle Obama,who we know to be quite tall, as she oversaw his designs for the various rooms that need to be decked with holiday cheer. It was from this experience that he came to see himself as ‘first elf’. Both are hilarious stories centering around these tiny, yet magical, beings.

I have to admit that I have not thought much about elves. Of course I have, over the years, read countless stories to our children that included the behind the scene work of elves. Not only have I not thought much about them, I find the ‘Elf on the Shelf’ being sold in some stores kind of creepy. This foot high doll like elf is a way of ‘keeping an eye out over children’s behavior in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. Yuck!

But this morning on my walk, I began to think about how the work many of us do in the church at this time of year is ‘elf work’. I thought about all the details that go into creating worship for Christmas Eve and this year for Christmas Day. I thought of the music that is found or written to illuminate the experience of these celebrations. And there are the words that are shaped with a certain flair to speak to a particular community or a specific intention for a service. There are all the bulletins to be created and printed to help people feel welcome and included and led through a communal ritual. There are floors to be cleaned and wood to be polished, flowers to be arranged and candles to be readied for lighting. So many little acts, behind the scenes acts, that go into creating a celebration of the birth of the Christ Child.

When the moment comes on Christmas Eve, we will not think much about these little details or who cared for them. We will, hopefully, be present to the music, the words, the candlelight, all coming together to remind us once again of our place in this precious story that shapes the faith of the Christian household. The ‘elves’ will have faded into the background as is their custom. Their job, to prepare the space so the story can be told and no one need miss a beat in its telling, is over.

When the space has been prepared by countless of now invisible hands, that is when our work begins. To listen for the angel’s song calling, not only Mary’s name, but our own as they ask us how we are prepared to give birth to the Holy in our time. To be as awake as the shepherds, and as courageous, willing to go to places unfamiliar in order to glimpse the fresh face of the Christ Child. To listen to our dreams, and like Joseph, allow them to guide our unfolding path. To offer our greatest gifts, as the Magi did, for the healing of the world and the hope for peace on Earth.

We can do this because the space has been prepared and we have been invited.


Blessings and Praise

For the return of the sun- blessings and praise!
For the gifts we give – and receive- blessings and praise!
For all the gift-givers – blessings and praise!
For the Children of Wonder- blessings and praise!
For children everywhere – blessings and praise!
For sunsets and starlight – blessings and praise!
For fabulous feast days – blessings and praise!
For those who cook them – blessings and praise!
For the tree in the corner – blessings and praise!
For the candles in the window – blessings and praise!

~John Matthews

The last few days have been filled with much activity and preparation, not only at church, but in our home, so much so that I have not been able to sit down to write in this space. It is that amazing time of the year when we move from the ordinary actions of our days and fill them with little moments of festivity, small and large actions of blessing and praise. We engage in traditions that have been handed down,in some cases,for generations. Some of these traditions we have even forgotten the ‘why’ of. We only know they are important to continue. Something deep inside us tells us so.

Two weeks ago, when we began moving furniture around in order to make room for the Christmas tree that now stands in the corner, I recognized how for a few days it seemed I was constantly moving one thing or another so there would be more order. At one point I laughed at myself. What do I think happens when you move a large tree into the house? Of course, things must be moved around! Of course, things must be jockeyed about until there is a new kind of order! It was important for me to remember that the evergreens we now call Christmas Trees were once brought into the house to remind humans that, though winter has descended brown all around,there is a life that continues on and, indeed, will come again. It only seems right that we might remember this, that we might make room for its wisdom, its presence in our midst.

And today, this day, is the shortest of the year, the night the longest. Winter Solstice. Around the world, in the northern hemisphere, people will celebrate and enact traditions that have been handed down by others they never knew. Many may have lost their original intention but the people gathering have that distinct knowing that they need to continue singing the songs, lighting the candles, telling the stories, honoring this recognition of light and darkness that comes to us all.

Now every morning when I get up, I come down stairs and the first thing I do is to turn on the lights on this amazing and beautiful tree that sits in our living room.I do it because it is such a blessed sight in the dark hours of early morning. I look at the way it shines forth from a corner of what is usually a fairly ordered living space, a corner that normally holds my reading chair. Its limbs hold a testament of our family’s life over 26 years. Ornaments of first Christmas celebrations and those to highlight the different interests and stages of our son’s lives. Some were created by their, then, much smaller hands. Others given as gifts, the givers remembered as they are hung on the prickly branches as if to further etch the memory of friends we may not see as often as we once did. It is truly a reminder of life lived, life renewed, the hope of life yet to be.

In these darkest days of the year, it is a good reminder and a beautiful one at that. And on this day of the Solstice, when we honor and celebrate the eternal rhythm of light and darkness, I am thankful for its steadfast wisdom that has caused me to move things around to make room for it, to embrace the beauty that arises out of chaos.

The story that grounds the Christian and Hebrew households begins with the Holy One sweeping over the formless chaos filled with darkness. Out of this God gave birth to light and we have ever since been held in the balance, the beautiful balance of light and dark. Today is a good day to remember this and to offer blessings and praise for the gifts of both. As generations have done for more years than we can imagine, let us declare that it is all very, very good.

Blessed Solstice!


Cosmic Dance

When we are alone on a starlit night, when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children, when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet, Basho, we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash–at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the ‘newness,’ the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, all these provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.”
~Thomas Merton

Everyday I receive an email called Inward/Outward that has a short poem or saying to inspire my day. Sometimes I take the time to read them. Other days I find myself so caught up in the messages that demand my time and attention, that require me to do something, that I let them roll by and I catch up with them at a different time. I find that in receiving these emails, I want to be able to spend time with them, not just a quick glance while moving on to the next thing. This ends in my allowing a few to wait for a time when I can savor the words and intention of the words.

This is what happened with this quote from the works of Thomas Merton. It arrived several days ago but I just got around to being able to sit with the words this morning. While reading them I smiled. I also had the strong sense of my feet growing, getting wider, grounding me in one of the eternal lessons of the Universe. This connection with the wisdom of all Creation and our Creator, is one I long to have more often than I do. Those often tiny moments that remind me of how I am held, entwined with and actually find my identity in the cosmic dance, are longed for experiences. They are ‘wake up’ moments.

Since Advent is the season of being awake to how God is being birthed in the world, I was captured by the gift of these words. On the first Sunday of Advent, this season of the Christian year which moves us ever closer to Christmas, we heard the prophet’s words: “Stay awake!” I have been about the business of doing this over the past days. It is powerful and rewarding work if you stick to it.

Yesterday I had the privilege of gathering with many of the United Methodist clergy women that serve in various capacities in the Twin Cities area. In our introductions to one another we answered the question: “How have you seen the Face of God over these Advent days?” It was a rich time of sharing story, of being witness to this cosmic dance of which we are all a part, even when we don’t take the time or do not have the courage to be present to it. Stories were told that made us laugh and cry, that made us nod our heads in affirmation and shake our heads in disbelief. Through it all the palpable experience of the Spirit grew larger and larger in the room. We were all connecting once again to a lifeline of bringing to mind the movement of the Holy in our midst. It was a profound time.

Many times we are caught by the Spirit. Experiences we had nothing to do with show up in our lives and we are surprised by this Presence we had forgotten to notice. Other times we place ourselves and assemble the best possible ingredients for walking onto the dance floor with the Sacred. But the truth is it is happening all the time.If we are awake. If we choose to pay attention and remember to listen for the music and get moving, no matter how awkward or graceful our steps.

So, I will ask you the same question: How have you seen the Face of God over the last weeks? How have you handed your dance card to this Love that will not let you go, that wants to lead you in a waltz for all time? I invite you to reflect, remember and then tell someone or respond to this post so we all can allow their beauty to wash over us and ground us with big feet that will firmly plant us on this holy Earth.

Keep these stories pouring into a world so longing to be healed. A world so hoping to dance the cosmic dance.



“We see the signs
but cannot always
divine their meanings.
You call us to move forward
not always knowing
whether what we grasp
in our hands
will prove to be
a seed of hope
or a thorn in our flesh.
Train our fingers,
that what brings life
we may with persistence hold,
and that which wastes
our souls
we may with grace release.”
~Jan L. Richardson

Isn’t amazing how often we choose to do things that leave us lifeless? Whether it is the simple, daily activities that can chip away at our spirits or the toxic, human encounters that leave us blistered and burned, it is sometimes very difficult to turn away, to instead choose what brings life. To choose a new, a different way of walking in the world. This being human is a curious thing. A complex thing. A holy thing.

Which is why when my eyes beheld these words of Jan Richardson today in her Advent book Night Visions, I was drawn to this poem tucked into the fourth week of this path toward Christmas. Certainly the scriptures we have read in worship have spoken about signs, ways we know that the Holy is on the move in the world, on the road in our lives. Even our lives. But it is often difficult to ‘divine’ the meanings of the word of a stranger spoken in a tone hushed enough to be an angel voice. Or the glimpse out of the corner of an eye of something that seems to call to us in ways that nudge at something deep in our heart. Or even the out-right booming voice that wakes us up to what we love or causes tears to spring in the corners of our eyes that feels like something more than an ordinary voice, more than an every day encounter. Are these signs? Signs of the presence of God?

The stories that shape Advent are all about bringing life. The life of a new born infant. The life that inspires shepherds to leave their flocks, their livelihood, and travel to unknown places. The life that is grabbed, that ask a young woman to give birth to the Holy in her time. The vibrant life-changing voice of an angel, speaking the truth. The life that must have been challenged in an older man who finds himself confounded by the woman to whom he has promised his life. The sacrifice of lives that chose to pay attention to stars that led them into the deepest desert.

If nothing else, Advent invites us, even challenges us to reflect on what brings life. What stirs within us, at the place where the Spirit dances, calling us to the ‘more’? How is the Holy calling to us, just as once happened to Mary, to be birthers? What signs are being made known to us that we are ignoring or are even invisible to our distracted eyes?

The rush toward Christmas Day has begun. It is easy to get caught up in the flurry of activity and the downward spiral of ceaseless movement. If we stick with the wise rhythm of Advent we will ‘train our fingers’ to hold with persistence what brings life, the precious gift of these days.

May we be held by the gift of patience, of waiting, and of being open to signs of the Divine that travel with us. Even when we cannot see.




” When God restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.”
~ Psalm 126 

Today I had a truly freaky experience. I was running errands for some church related Christmas items. I had stopped off at Bachman’s to check out some things I had seen online that might help spruce up the sanctuary decorations. According to the online descriptions they also happened to be on sale. So, ever the frugal shopper, I nipped in to see these items first hand.

After a successful purchase, I stopped by the cafe for a late afternoon cup of tea before heading back to church for an evening event. I took my tea and a section of the newspaper someone had abandoned, found a nice, quiet table surrounded by the oxygen and humidity producing plants in this lovely cafe, and settled in. I was reading a letter to the editor, entitled ‘Imagine’. The writer was honoring John Lennon whose death is remembered on December 8th. Using some of the inspiring and challenging lyrics of his music, she was urging parents to pay careful attention to the ways in which we parent because, indeed, we have the power to change the world.

That’s when it happened. On the subtle Musak playing just below a conscious level, I heard not, the 100th playing of ‘ Feliz Navidad’ or even the 1000th hearing of ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas’. No, playing ever so gently was the sweet, sensual voice of John Lennon singing…….’Imagine’.

I looked around. Was this some kind of joke? What were the odds of reading about the song and then hearing it randomly being played in these airwaves so saturated with constant Christmas music? I sat very still and listened to the words I know so well. ” You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. Someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.”

This song has always held such hope for me. All Lennon sings about seems so simple yet so elusive. As I sat there still dumbfounded by the synchronicity of this, I thought of our church’s theme: We Are Those Who Dream. Yesterday in worship, we read Psalm 126, which holds the inspiration for this theme. I thought about how often I pay lip service to the power and gift of dreaming. But do I really practice it? Do I really allow myself to be lifted above the cynicism that is rampant in our culture and, like Lennon, be a dreamer? Do you?  And why not?

Perhaps my spirit, like so many, has been deflated by unrealized dreams. Or perhaps it often seems so much more expedient to make a list of the jobs that need to be done, be about doing them,and checking them off my list, chalking it all up as success. Isn’t this what we are rewarded for doing? Is anybody really rewarded for dreaming any more?

I thought of what I once dreamed of doing, of being. A ballerina. An actress. A peacemaker. A cowgirl. A nurse. A music teacher. A weaver. A collage artist. Someone who rallied people for ‘saving the world’. A travel writer. So many dreams.

Of course, I have dreamed many things that have come to fruition. Being a wife and mother. Being a minister. Having what I’ve written published. Making music often with people I love. Traveling to places that inspire me. Being given the privilege of walking the spiritual journey with so many.

Dreaming is, I believe, what makes the world go round and move forward. It is what helps us imagine what we can be and what might be. It is what helps us paint a picture of what God hopes for us and then walk into it. It is what allows us to envision a better world, a safer world, a more peaceful world. A place where ‘the world will live as one.’

Somehow I also believe that is what this season of Advent and Christmas is all about. Dreaming of the promise of a tiny child to transform the world. Dreaming of parents who nurture and guide. Dreaming of the inherent value of each human being. Dreaming of the invisible lines of connection that bind us all together. Dreaming of the hope of healing the world.

Imagine. Just imagine.



And Mary held
the infant
In her arms
new to the world,
fresh gift of her
labored body.

Like mothers before
and after
she quietly practiced
her dreams for him.
Dreams that would last a lifetime.

…….May he know happiness
and safety.
…….May his eyes behold beauty
that fills his heart.
…….May he love and
be loved.
…….May he find his path
and walk it with wisdom and courage.
…….May his life be long and full.

All these dreams
poured into the soft, warm flesh
of the tiny child
nestled against hers,
dependent upon hers
for what would sustain.

As it was in the beginning
is now and ever shall be
world without end.

I wrote this poem for the church’s Advent devotional this year. I titled it ‘Mary’s Dreaming’ but the truth of the matter is, the words are what I believe most mothers dream at some conscious level or one that floats below the surface of their knowing. At a Christmas gathering on Wednesday, another person read the poem aloud and affirmed that, indeed, this is what she has longed for her own children, now all grown up, and far from that time when they can be swaddled and held safe. It was an honor to have it read but also to have it affirmed that my instinct was a common one.

Yesterday, our younger son turned twenty-one, a milestone for all number of reasons. Though at eighteen, he could vote which is a signal of adulthood, twenty-one is the age the majority in our culture see as truly be a grown up. And he is. It has been amazing to watch him mature, to see his new found confidence and his love of the precious world around him. To be present to the emergence of another human being may be the greatest gift there is, whether you are parent, grandparent, teacher, neighbor. Whatever the relationship, to be present and observe another discover their gifts, understand their limitations, know what brings them joy and what crushes them, watch them overcome challenges and achieve success, is a privilege beyond comprehension or articulation.

As I reflected yesterday on the immense gift this young man has been in my life, I remembered a statement my mother made when his older brother was born. “From this day on, you will always be a parent.”, she said in all her ever-present wisdom. I knew what she meant and it took my breath away, caused me to shake a bit. No matter the age-infant, toddler, teenage, adult- I would always be a mother. I would always have some small part of my brain and my heart tuned to where my children were. I would always have concern, hope, dreams, and love for them. And, of course, as always, she has been exactly right.

In a few weeks we will gather and read the Christmas story. Children will don white robes and angels wings. Others will cover their heads with brown scarves and carry shepherd’s crooks. The older, taller chosen three will get to wear crowns and carry bejeweled boxes. All on their way to honor the Christ Child. There will be laughter and tears all wrapped up in the gift of memory and promise.

But I will listen with my mother ears for my favorite line in the story: ” And Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”