Hoping for a Storm

“No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”
~Robert Lowry, 1826-1899 

On Monday, several of the people in the office were talking about how they were hoping for a storm. The weather forecast had reported that a winter snow storm was headed our way. We felt due. There has not been a single snowfall to speak of this winter and we all were feeling the need for a good, old fashioned snow storm. We weren’t asking for ‘the storm of the century’. Just several inches that would cause things to stop….meetings, errands, games, whatever it was that was keeping us going like gerbils on a wheel.

I had just started reading a thriller written by one of our church members. It had hooked me and I longed for a time to just sit down in a comfy chair and read to the end, a chance to find out ‘who done it’. A co-worker mentioned she had two books to read in order to be ready for some upcoming book club meetings. Others I spoke to during the day talked of just wanting a storm to call a halt to everything. Each had their own reason. Things they wanted to do. Things they didn’t want to do. Everyone spoke of ‘hoping for a storm.’

It is an odd thing to hope for, isn’t it? A storm. Something that whips up wind and rain or snow, that causes ice to form and temperatures to feel frigid. A storm sweeps in and suddenly we cannot do what is normal, what is planned or expected. Most often, storms are far from what we want. They just happen to us and we are left trying to piece together and put back together what was.

I think of the people I know right now who are reeling from a storm sweeping into their lives. Those who were moving along just as happy as clams, doing the regular activities that make up their days, and then illness comes to call. The storm of an illness as simple as the common cold or as complex and threatening as cancer, provides that halt that reminds us what is really important to accomplish in a day.

Others I know have been hit by the storm of grief. What seemed normal and predictable in their waking and sleeping has been torn to bits by the loss of someone they loved, someone they walked with on their daily path. This loss can come through death or the ending of a relationship. This was not a hoped for storm. But it was a storm that hit without warning and now they are stopped in their tracks, unable to decide what to do next, needing to chart a different course from the one they had planned.

This morning as I made my way along the path of the not-so-real storm that had its way with our night time, I saw limb after broken limb split from trees that could not withstand the weight of ice and snow. Some limbs were old, dead wood that probably would have been trimmed away in the spring.  Others were new wood, the places where they split showed the raw, aliveness cut from its life source too soon. The storm was impartial in how it spread out its fury. So it is with other kinds of life’s storms.

The truth is, those of us ‘hoping for a storm’ were really only hoping for a break, a time-out, a sabbath moment, a vacation day. Most of the time we have more power to create those moments that we give ourselves credit for. It is really a matter of choosing between two or more activities or planning with more intention or being willing to let things go that we’ve given more power over us than we want to admit.  It doesn’t take a storm to make a choice like this and that is probably an important point to remember.

Today my prayer is for those who did not want a storm but got one anyway. May they know the comfort of a time of stopping, of a sabbath meal, of a deep breath that connects them to something or someone greater than their pain and grief. May the injured trees heal into a form they did not know before. And may the human ones find that same growth that stems from a time spent in the eye of a storm.

Holy Imagination

Saturday’s Star Tribune had an interesting article about three south Minneapolis churches who worked together to solve the problem of aging buildings that were keeping them from doing the ministry they wanted to do. It is a common problem across the nation. Buildings built when pews were full of people. People who were able to support these churches in financial ways that are now more difficult. These buildings are now at a point of needing repairs, are not fuel efficient, and are home to fewer people with less income. You easily see the problem.

So, when faced with deteriorating buildings and vital, yet smaller, congregations these three communities came together to become something new. It was a courageous act. They are now sharing a newly renovated building with three varied worship spaces. Attached is affordable housing and space for retail. In describing the process they engaged in to create this trio of communities, one of the clergy said: “It took a lot of holy imagination. We didn’t know where we were going or what would happen.”

I smiled all over myself when I read those words. Holy imagination! I think of the times when I have been caught up in the fervor of holy imagination. Those times when the Spirit dances through some idea or conversation and surprises me beyond belief. It is always a time when I have no idea where I might be going or what might happen. I love it!

Thinking about the holy imagination it took for three different congregations from three distinct denominations to come together in this way seems remarkable. In order to create this ‘something new, I would imagine that each had to make compromises and let go of some things that in other times they would have thought to be non-negotiable. Two of the communities left the land on which they had built traditions and called home, buildings in which they had at one time made their mark in their neighborhood. All three released worship space that had held some of the most profound experiences of the congregation’s lives…..births, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals.Each community had to commit to memory, and I am sure a few well-honored photographs, the special events that had shaped their communal life.

When we agree to let Holy Imagination guide our actions, it almost always requires letting go. It also requires being open in ways that can be scary, practicing deep listening, being able to unclench our fists and our hearts. Holy Imagination will almost always take us places we only could glimpse out of the corner of our eye until the very moment when we say ‘yes’. Yes to being swept up in the Spirit’s movement and yes to not having all the control over every detail. It is my experience that Holy Imagination is never far away. Our work is to still ourselves long enough to feel its breeze blow through our words, our actions, our dreams. Our work is to be present and willing to let go of control long enough to see what might happen without our pushing and prodding. It is not easy. But, from my experience, it is always worth it.

Are there places in your life that could use a little holy imagination? My prayer is that Holy Imagination continues to bless these congregations in their new spaces and that this same Spirit move through all our lives, taking us places we never thought possible, helping us do things that will amaze us.

Broken Shards

Regarded properly, anything can become a sacrament, by which I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual connection.”
~Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

Yesterday I spent the majority of my time preparing worship spaces for Ash Wednesday observances. It is something I love. Having time to be in a space that will welcome worshipers, laying the worship table with cloths and objects that invite people to connect with scripture, story, music, prayer, paying attention to what is seen and what might be felt and experienced in worship is one of the joys of the work I do. I like having time in be in the space alone, to really spend time placing a candle just so or taking the time to drape a piece of cloth to evoke a certain feeling.

As I prepared the spaces yesterday I was armed with various shades of purple cloth, the color assigned to this Christian seasoning Lent. It is a color that has many shades and shadows. It can express so much. I also carried terra cotta pots and placed them on the table. These pots, made of earth, fired into their red-orange form, also hold earth. When we speak the words common to this service about dust and ashes, these pots reflect that image. Also scattered around the table and coming out of the pots were shards of broken glass, many colored,from bright orange to aquamarine. Nestled in between the pots and broken glass were tall purple glass globes with candlelight flickering yellow.

These pieces of broken glass were placed there to help illuminate our theme for Lent of ‘Breaking’. As people entered the space they chose a broken piece of pottery or tile. These assorted pieces were from cracked bowls, chipped coffee cups, nicked plates and cast-off floor and wall tiles. Again, many colors and varied shapes. I watched as people chose carefully without even knowing what they were doing or why. We all settled into the quiet worship space,our bulletins and broken pottery in our hands.

As the service began I invited people to look at the piece of brokenness they had chosen. Where were the sharp edges? How did the smooth places feel against their skin? What color was their broken piece? And how did this shard speak to them of their own broken places? I shared that I had chosen a piece of pale yellow with bright green stripes, a piece of a broken bowl that had once belonged to a grandmother I had never known. Was the energy of her in this broken sliver? Did it still hold the imprint of her washing and drying, her filling it with warm food?

At the appointed time, people came forward to receive the mark of ashes on their foreheads. As they did they also placed their broken pieces, now infused with their prayers and their own energy, on the worship table. These broken pieces of pottery joined the other colorful broken glass creating a wave of brokenness that filled the table. Sharp edges dug into other sharp edges. Smooth pieces nestled against those points creating a rainbow of color and texture and form. So much brokenness. But yet so much beauty.

As my blackened finger made the sign of the cross on forehead after forehead, I was struck by the way people looked into my eyes. There was tenderness and embarrassment. There was longing and joy. There was apathy and hopefulness. There was a sense of being connected to something deeply planted within each of us. It was a moment of sacrament. An outward sign of an inward and spiritual connection. To our beauty. To our brokenness. To what it means to walk this path together.


Bondage of Complexity

I have just returned from a few days away at a friend’s cabin. It was a much welcomed and needed retreat from the daily grind. It is always a good sign to me that I need this break when the things that normally I find exciting in my life’s work become, instead, something I want to run from. Over the last couple of years, I have actually come to experience and name this in a particular way. I describe it as a need to ‘push away from the table’. By this I mean that there becomes a time when it feels like I am sitting at a table laden with all kinds of great food, interesting conversation,and fine people surrounding a feast. But I feel as if I can’t swallow one more thing. I can’t think of another word to add to the conversational mix. I need to push away from the table. The past few days have provided just that opportunity.

This morning I sat down to look through a book I purchased as a guide to my daily walk through Lent.This 40 day observance of the Christian household begins tomorrow. It is a book by Paula Huston called Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit. As I read through the introduction I was struck with her words: “I’m surprised anew by the knowledge that I’m once again undergoing a spiritual ‘recalibration’. The mechanism of my soul is, in a very real way, being cleaned, repaired, and reset.”

Yes! That’s what I needed. That is what happens when I need to push away from the table. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with me or with my life. I just need a recalibration to restore the balance my spirit longs to hold, a balance that is most truly who I am. Does this make sense to you? Have you ever had this experience? Huston later goes on: “I am released from the bondage of complexity.” Yes! That’s it. The bondage of complexity.

One of the thoughts that I wrestled with over the last few days was the ‘bondage of complexity’. So often I find I allow my days to be filled to the brim with detail upon detail with little room for taking the long, cleansing breaths that connect me with my body, with my own daily walk with the Holy. Before I know it my shoulders ride closer to my ears, my breath becomes shallow, my ability to focus on the present without allowing my mind to jump ahead to the ‘what next?’ is nearly impossible to control.

So what happened in these last few days that allowed those chains of complexity to loosen? Staring out at a frozen lake helps. Spending time watching people fish also works. Watching birds fly in lacy formations in the sky and come to feed or squirrels chasing from tree to tree is also a mind calmer. Turning off the television and most technology is a given. Watching the day arrive is also good. Waiting for the darkness to lift, holding the gaze of a pink sky until the golden disk of the sun moves over the horizon is also a way to remember to connect with Breath. Noticing the fingernail of the moon in a deep blue sky is a good ingredient to add to the mix. Walking and walking some more can’t hurt. Looking down and seeing the prints of those with whom you walk the Earth, those who don’t hold the bondage of complexity in their consciousness, those who are vulnerable at every turn,is important. Allowing your breath to slow and rise and fall with the gentle breeze moving through the trees is also good.

What needs to be recalibrated in your life? What complexities are holding you in bondage? As this day unfolds and the season of walking with Jesus in the wilderness becomes an invitation, may you find all you need for the journey. May you also have the wisdom and grace to let go of all that will not serve you well. May we all find what we need to be cleaned, repaired and reset.


As we arrived at our chapel service on Monday evening, we were asked to take a small container that contained one of four things: flour, salt, yeast and water. We each made our way into the lovely little worship space that holds the oblate’s and brother’s prayers on a daily basis. We were guests here. Guests who had been given the privilege of coming together in the evening to offer our prayers. Prayers of gratitude, hope, weariness and enthusiasm. At an appointed time our worship leader invited us forward to add our ingredients into a large bowl placed on the worship table. Flour first, then salt, followed by yeast and finally water. As scripture was read, songs sung and prayers offered, he slowly and with gentle touch, made bread dough before our eyes. His hands were skilled and familiar with this process. It was a joy to behold.

Yesterday morning as we met and interviewed candidates for ministry, we began to smell the delicious aroma of bread baking from an oven that is in a centrally located kitchen. As we came to refill coffee cups and take bathroom breaks, the sweet smell began to surround everything we were doing. Smiles passed between us. Our bread, made through our worship, was coming into being. At lunchtime, in addition to the meal created by the retreat center staff,there were two beautifully shaped and perfect loaves of honey colored bread. We lined up to receive the slices in the same spirit in which we had received communion the night before. Hands outstretched. Hearts full.

Here was what we had produced. Not individually but all together. Those who had held the flour could not have created the loaf. Those with salt were only salty without the flour. The yeast-holders just carried a minute bit of smelly granules until it was added to the other ingredients. And then there was the water…..ahhhh, the water. All three single ingredients were only dry, dusty particles until the water caused them to come together in a form new to their nature, surprising their components into a fresh and different life.

As I added a little butter to my luscious bread I realized that the bread was an example of what we had been doing all along in our time here together. We had come here with our individual gifts, our own life experiences, our own lens for the world and how we see God’s movement in it. Together we had made something more. As we listened to the faith stories and the calls to ministry of the candidates, at some deep level we understood that not one single person could hear the stories fully. We needed the ingredients of each other to become the fullest body we could be, to create a container of safety and grace for those offering their very lives for our examination. It made the work I know to be holy even more so.

And yet, I believe, this is what we do all the time, isn’t it? In our families, our schools, our work settings, our churches, our nations, our world, we bring our individual gifts for the good of all. I pray that I will be forgiven for the many times I think I carry all the answers, all the ideas, all the ingredients to solve a particular problem or create a specific result to fill a need. I pray I may always remember that I have only my own ingredients to offer.I pray I learn to rely on, expect and anticipate the God-given gifts of all those who travel life’s path with me.

Closing our worship together, the smooth and beautiful round of dough now formed in a clear bowl for us all to see, we prayed these words from a prayer by Graham Sparkes:

Be careful when you touch bread.
Let it not lie uncared for….unwanted.
So often bread is taken for granted.
There is so much beauty in bread,
Beauty of sun and soil, beauty of patient toil.
Winds and rain have created it. Christ so often blessed it.
Be gentle when you touch bread.’

For all the gifts we bring, all the ingredients we offer, may we be careful to touch gently and welcome graciously, recognizing the beauty and the blessing that comes individually and creates more than we can imagine. The One who created us has made it so.



It is early morning and I am sitting in a quiet little room at Christ the King Retreat Center near Buffalo, Minnesota. I am here for the yearly retreat in which I am privileged to meet and hear the stories of those coming to be ordained as ministers in the United Methodist Church. It is always a time I look forward to, not only for the opportunity to be present to these people on their journeys but also to be in this place set apart for quiet, reflection and connecting with the Holy. As I write this a deep fog is hanging over the frozen lake outside my window. The leafless trees are standing watch over the tiny houses owned by people who are more courageous than I, people who have not heeded the warnings that our winter has been too warm for such activities as ice fishing, ice houses and driving on the lakes. In the dense fog, I can just make out one house and a truck that has pulled up to it. This scene defies wisdom for me but then I am not originally ‘from around here’ and perhaps don’t understand this lake the way the driver does.

Yesterday on the drive here, I had another experience that baffled me in another way. Tooling along Highway 55, I was minding my own business not thinking about much of anything, when two large white birds flew over the highway right in the path of my car. Flying in tandem, these enormous, beautiful birds stretched their long necks toward their destination. Snow geese. I quickly turned my head to see if there were more where they came from, thinking it odd that they were flying as a duo instead of in a flock. Instead of seeing more white flying wings, I saw a large tree with the primeval stick nest of an eagle. Sitting, watching the snow geese just as I had, was a mature white headed eagle. The two of us had been offered the gift of these soaring birds of winter. As some of my more conservative Christian friends say, I felt ‘twice blessed’.

Just last week I had had a conversation with someone about flying, about how she often sees the presence of the Sacred One in those that rise above the earth. This person talked of the many ways she had seen both the immanence and transcendence of God in flying creatures both large and small. We both shared the times when we had slept and then dreamed of flying, how it felt, the freedom of it, the sense of soaring above all we could see. Certainly there are scriptures that talk of the power and prominence of eagles, some even liken the movement of the Spirit to those with wings. As far as I know there is no reference snow geese in the scriptures. But I could be wrong.

All I know is that on this one particular day, I was lifted above the ordinary by a soaring I will never be able to attain on my power.  A soaring that is not available to me with my two legs. A soaring that must feel like a freedom I have never known. A soaring that would allow me to grasp a perspective I do not have in my groundedness. Being caught off guard by these three beautiful birds seemed a wake up call. While two flew and one surveyed the earth from a high perch, I continued on my way blessed by their presence. It felt like a holy moment in an otherwise ordinary day.

This morning as I reflected on this experience that felt like sacred gift, I was reminded of a poem by (surprise!) Mary Oliver in which she describes an experience of snow geese. She ends the poem with these words: “ The geese flew on, I may never see them again. Maybe I will, someday, somewhere. Maybe I won’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that, when I saw them, I saw them as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.”

And to that I say ‘amen’. My encounter with snow geese at 55 miles an hour on a highway in the less than beautiful days of February was a gift that allowed me to glimpse both the nearness and the soaring nature of both bird and Creator. I don’t understand this encounter anymore than I do driving a car on a frozen lake. But as I joined my fellow earth traveler, the eagle, in observing their flight, I would like to think that we both shared in the experience secretly, joyfully and clearly.


There is a Crack in Everything

Last week was filled with holy work. I have written before in these pages about how much I enjoy receiving, reading and then assembling the submissions to both our Advent and Lenten devotionals. The writings are mostly original, created by those in the church community. If not original, they are words that have been held onto because they have inspired or challenged. I imagine them tucked into the pages of Bibles and books, kept safe for ‘just when I need it’ or when the right opportunity arises to gift them to someone else. This week was the time I gather with two other readers for the creation of this booklet which will help guide people’s walk through the 40 days of Lent. The reflections are words to accompany people on the way to Easter.

Every time I go through this process, I know it for what it is. Sacred work. But this year’s theme seemed to make the reading and the assembling even more so. The theme is “Breaking” and it provided the opportunity for people to share stories of their own breaking. The reflections are remarkable in their vulnerability and candor. Some are heart wrenching. Others are funny. All are honest and courageous. I was filled with humility at the willingness of people to share their deep hurts and despair. I was inspired by their amazing hope and faith. As we read and created an order for these writings, it felt like we were assembling the shards of stories into a beautiful mosaic, a stained glass window of pieces that individually are broken but when placed together create something more, a community that has chosen to strive together toward healing and wholeness.

Leonard Cohen has written a song he calls simply ‘Anthem’. In the lyrics are these lines: ‘Ring the bells that still can ring.Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ Yesterday, with the stories of breaking still floating in my heart, I walked into our chapel for worship late in the morning. I was met by the sight of a few of the regular members of the community who had arrived early walking closer to the stained glass windows looking at the images created by colored glass. You see, the sun was shining brightly, a rarity in these winter days. These people who had sat in the seats in this chapel with great regularity were drawn in by the light shining through the broken pieces of glass in a way they must have missed before. The cracks…..that are in everything….were letting the light shine through. This creative act of taking pieces of broken glass and telling the stories of the parables had once again found a way to amaze.  It was as if they were seeing them for the first time.

I thought of all the brokenness in our world. I thought of the people I know who are right now walking around with broken hearts and broken spirits. I thought of the many places where families and communities, whole countries are broken by war and hate. And all the places where the brokenness of injustice and greed and oppression are the rule. I thought about the brokenness in our Creation, places were the water is no longer drinkable, the air filled with harm, the ground saturated with toxins that will create more brokenness. Going down this path can be overwhelming and certainly depressing.

But then I remember the words of those who offered their life stories to us as we created this devotional. Yes, there is a crack in everything, all the time. But that is how the light gets through. The light of the sun making ancient stories dance with new beauty and meaning in a space that had grown familiar. The light of peace offered between people and countries. The light of hope held out to those living on the margins. The light of action as legislators are called to accountability. The light of love as time is shared and relationships are mended.

Today could be a day to take whatever is broken in our lives and hold them before the Light of the One who birthed the sun and everything under it. It might help us see something new, something healing, something life-changing in all those broken pieces.

The Sounds of Silence

Last Friday, while on a retreat at Koinonia Retreat Center, I made my way down to the shores of Lake Sylvia. I walked slowly out onto the frozen lake aware that the colorful ice houses normally dotting the scene were absent. The winter has simply been too mild to risk setting up housekeeping in the middle of the lake. Far out on the frozen water, two lonely ice fishermen stood, auger in hand, having just drilled a hole in the ice to wet their lines. Brave souls. The temperatures were mild, the scene a blanket of white.

That’s when I noticed it. The sound, or lack of sound, that has been missing in this less than wintery winter. Normally, when the snow falls and covers everything around in its thick, sound-muffling blanket, there are the moments when you can become aware of what I always think of as ‘the sound of sheer silence.’ This phrase comes to me from the experience of God that the prophet Elijah has on Mount Horeb: ‘The angel said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before God, for the Holy One is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before God but God was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but God was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.’ It was in this sound of sheer silence that Elijah experienced God.

Certainly over the years many people have come to know the presence of the Holy in the sounds of silence. It is a rare thing these days, silence. We are surrounded by sounds, chosen or otherwise, wherever we go. Many of us cannot stand to be in a room that is completely silent. We have the television or radio or our computers playing some kind of sound, music or voices, to keep us from walking completely into the silence. Some of this is simple personality type. We extroverts like to have the sense that we are surrounded by at least the sounds of people all the the time. It brings us energy. Our introverted brothers and sisters are often much better with silence.

So here are some questions: When was the last time you experienced silence? How did it feel? Was it comforting or anxiety producing? Did it highlight aloneness or make you pleased to be spending time with yourself? Are you good company?

The mystics of years gone by and of today know the gift of silence. It is in these times of an absence of sound in which we come to connect with the movement of our own breath, the rising and falling of our chest as it signals our aliveness. In silence we can come to know the beating of our heart, remember its rhythm, find a walking pace that tunes us to an awareness of other beings and landscapes that travel with us on a daily basis. Silence can offer the gift of being awake to observing the Holy’s movement in Creation. It is the leveler of distractions.

And on certain days, silence becomes the entry point to an experience of the Sacred. Standing on a frozen lake, waters alive with a spring that is yet to be moving unseen beneath my feet, I had just such an experience. On my drive to this retreat, there had been the sounds of cars whizzing by on the freeway, but God was not found for me in their automated chugs and whirrs; and from the sounds of the radio,music pleasing enough and news blaring its terror, but God was not present to me in the airwaves full of things to amuse or produce fear; there were my plans and notebooks and hopeful intentions for the retreat that was to follow, but God did not at that moment show up even in these.

Instead it was the gift of no sound at all, the enveloping of the sound of sheer silence that wrapped me in a cloak of comfort and knowing, a deep knowing, that I am, we all are, a part of something immense. This Something does not need to always dazzle or shout out our name. Sometimes, in fact most often, we are reminded of this Presence in the silence.

An invitation this day is to find yourself some silence. Rest in it. Allow it to have its way with you. Like Elijah, allow your life to be changed. And be grateful.


Cue the Birds!

“He giveth snow like wool; he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes.”
~Psalm 147:15-17 

As I have mentioned before in these writings, some weeks are just fuller than others. Do find that to be true in your own life? I am finding myself knee deep in a couple of those very full weeks. This is not a complaint but an observation. I am blessed to be able to do all I am doing. It just all happened to fall at the same time. Many extra meetings in addition to the ones I attend on a regular basis. Two retreats in two weeks which are more working meetings with an overnight thrown in than true retreats. All good stuff. Just a lot of it.

This past weekend I was blessed to drive west of the Cities to our church’s retreat center near Annandale. I had given myself plenty of time for the drive that takes little over an hour. I was driving in the middle of the day, not at rush hour, so I was privileged to take in the ways in which the city quickly rolls into suburbs and finally to farmland with lakes thrown in for good measure. Of course, there is little if any snow so the normal February landscape seems jarring, out of place somehow, as if, like Rip Van Winkle, we have fallen asleep and missed a season or two.

But Friday’s drive and, indeed, the whole weekend did not disappoint. While the snow was absent from the fields, the trees and bushes along the roads made up for it. All the trees, evergreens or otherwise, were decked out in white crystals suspended against the gray skies. The phenomenon known as hoar frost covered everything for as far as the eye could see. I was thankful to be able to mosey along at a slower pace while looking out the window like an alien dropped into a Doctor Zhivago set. Such beauty!

At the retreat, this white covered world became the topic that united us. “How does it work?” “Why does it happen?” “Look how it is starting to melt and drop on that side of the tree but not on the other.” “What does the name mean anyway?” “ Watch how the light shines through the crystals!” “It looks like the trees have grown white hair.” And on and on.

Of course the work we were engaged in was important. We met. We sang. We prayed. We made decisions and asked more questions. Friendships were formed and old ones renewed. We created plans and rolled out hopes for our work together. All good things.

But as we left the retreat late on Saturday afternoon, the sun had finally broken through the clouds that had held us for days. The sky was turning lavender as we drove through fields still visible with nubs of corn from fall’s harvest. The lavender glinted off the white trees creating shadows worthy of an Impressionistic artist.  At one point overhead, a flock of large, white birds flew in ragged formation. Snow geese? I didn’t know. They just seemed to fit right into whatever picture was being painted in the moment, as if the director of some large production had said’ “Now. Cue the big, white birds. Fly right there. Go.”

Their flight and the entire scene seemed to be meant to stun, to amaze, to fill us with awe. And it worked. My breath left my chest and I knew that I was, I am, a part of something huge and wonderful and beautiful.

And it took the tiny, white, glistening crystals of the hoar frost to remind me.



Rainbow Band

Several days a week I gather with others for lunch in the church’s library. We sit around a table and take a break from whatever it is we’ve been doing all morning and open our lunch bags of leftovers and sandwiches. I often station myself so I can peer out the window that looks onto Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues. With great regularity I see the preschool class from a church down the street on their after lunch – before nap – walk. They move with a methodical pace, each holding onto a rubber ring that is attached to a rope. The adult caregivers flank them, one at the head of the line, another at the end, and one stationed right in the middle, guiding their little line up the street. It is such a sweet, comforting sight.

The warm winter we have had has given this little band a varied look and rhythm. One day they were moving along in tiny colorful sweaters and tennis shoes, the sun shining like it was springtime. They walked rather quickly for being tethered to a rope. Just a few days later, snow had fallen and the path had become icy. Now they moved like little robots, snowsuits causing a stiff-legged march up Douglas Avenue. I imagined the swishing sound of the waterproof material making sand block rhythms as they moved. Each kept pace with the nearest child as they moved along held safe and secure by the length of rope that connected them.

Rope. I have thought about that rope many times over the last few days. I have been thinking about the times when it would feel awfully good to be walking along holding onto a rope, safe and visibly connected to the nearest breathing human in sight. There are many people I know right now who would do well being able to reach out and hold onto just such a rope. The knowledge that they are held together, not alone, with another human being would bring such comfort. As I have been remembering this band of rainbow children, I have wished a precious rope for these dear ones.

Some time ago I read a book by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner called Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary. It was a wonderful compilation of the ways in which we are held together on a daily basis by unseen connections with the Holy and one another. It is a book whose intention was, I believe, to remind us that we are always connected whether we choose to remember or not. Connected to those we know and those we don’t. Connected to the movements and seasons of this amazing Creation. Connected to the One who dreamed us and breathed us into being.

Perhaps today is a day when you are feeling particularly alone. It could be a day when life threatens to overwhelm. Or it may be a day when you are aware of someone else who is in this very place of believing that they are moving along life’s path untethered to anyone or anything that can bring hope and comfort. Wherever you are on your journey this day, I invite you to imagine the small tribe of brightly clothed children as they walk along holding the rope. If you need to hold on, reach out. If you can offer a helping hand, make room in the slow moving band for just one more.

In the end, I believe, this is our real work.