Sweet Smells

Woke up this morning in St. Cloud where I am present for the gathering of United Methodists around the state of Minnesota. It is an annual gathering of both clergy and lay delegates for doing some of the work of the church. It is a time to meet old friends, worship together and be reminded of the broad swath of theological, social, political, economic and life experience tapestry we are when woven together. For me, personally, it is always a humbling experience and one that is a yearly reminder that this church which I chose at a young age is a complicated one, as all churches are.

The hotel room where I am staying faces east and since I had not pulled the shades before going to sleep last night, I was awakened early to the sun shining brightly through the window. Even though I could have slept later, I decided to get up early for a long morning walk along the river. Heading outside I was welcomed not only by the sun but also by the sound of the many trains that follow the paths over the river near the River’s Edge Civic Center. I do love the sound of a train so it had already started out to be a comforting morning walk.

But as I walked, I realized I was having an unusually intense feeling of comfort. What could it be, this sensation of calm and contentment? Then it hit me. In the air was the strong scent of bread baking. Looking ahead I saw that the Country Hearth Ovens buildings were just ahead. All around me bread was being baked on this sunny morning! I breathed in the sweetness and the fullness of the smell.

I have been told by those who should know that our sense of smell is the one that holds our deepest memories. I recall a conference years ago on the subject of children’s spirituality. People were asked to tell stories of their earliest spiritual experiences. I was struck with the number of stories told by people who had grown up in the Roman Catholic tradition, how the smells of their liturgy were so deeply meaningful. They told wonderful stories of how those scents shaped their experience of the Holy, how they gave meaning to their young understanding in ways words could not. I remember feeling sad for those of us who grew up in traditions that had chosen to remove the sense of smell from the actual practice of doing church. It seems a great loss.

My sense of smell is not one of my more developed senses. Our younger son has one of the most well honed senses of smell I have ever encountered. He can walk into a room and say ‘it smells like Mamgee in here’ and break out into a smile thinking of his grandmother. His deep ability has often helped trigger my own sense of smell. At his prompting I am able to smell aromas I might otherwise ignore. It is always a blessing.

How is your sense of smell? What scents trigger memory for you? Which smells bring comfort or the sense of a loved one unseen but now present because of this invisible component that rides on air? What smells repel you and cause you to want to flee?

As I think back to my earliest experiences of church it is probably not completely true that my olfactory nerves were not engaged. There was of course the smell of starch in the dress I was wearing and the Baby Powder my mother poured down my back before the scratchy but frilly fabric was buttoned up. There was the sweet scent of my mother’s perfume and the gentle odor of my father’s Old Spice wafting down the pew. There was the earthy, sweaty smell of my brother sitting next to me and all the various powders and perfumes of the full-bosomed older women whose warbling soprano voices hung in the air. In the summer when the windows were open in the church, there was the sweetness of apple blossoms and the pungent yellow smell of forsythia. There was the smell of cigarette and pipe tobacco lingering on the men’s clothes and yellowed fingertips, a smell both repulsive and rebellious. There was the smell of the peppermints my mother kept hidden in her purse within easy reach to pass to us when we fidgeted.

These smells may not have been frankincense or myrrh and they certainly were not swung in a fancy, gold sensor during procession. But they still evoked holy in their own way. Perhaps they still do.

Decoration Day

On Saturday the Trivia question on the board at my neighborhood coffee shop read: “What was the original name for Memorial Day?” Someplace in the recesses of my caffeine deprived mind, the wheels began to work. “My parents always referred to it as Decoration Day.”, I answered. Ding, ding, ding! Correct answer, the barista replied.

I sat down to enjoy my morning coffee in the chair that has become familiar to me. The one that allows me to see the early comings and goings of those in the blocks that ring our little homeland. My body was in the chair but my mind was on time-travel mode and I was hurdling back to those sweltering,southern Ohio, May days of my childhood. Those days in which school was on only perfunctory attendance, a time for cleaning out desks and little celebrations of another grade completed. Those days when summer and all its promise loomed just within my reach.

But first, before the summer, came Decoration Day. There were flowers to be purchased or wreaths to be created. My mother was always very particular about what was appropriate to be laid on the graves of my grandparents, my uncle. Nothing too gaudy or showy but still colorful. The procession to the various cemeteries was a family affair. There was no chance of ‘getting out of it’ unless you were ‘on your death bed’. This was the day set aside to decorate the graves of those who had died and everyone’s presence was needed.

We visited my maternal grandmother and grandfathers’s grave first. This idyllic setting with its wooden, white church was set in a rather hilly area. Most of the gravestones carried the stamp of their Welsh heritage: Jones, Davis, Evans, Williams, Howell,over and over. My Gram and Pappy with the name Lambert seemed kind of exotic. As we placed the flowers, we also looked around the gray stone for stray weeds that the caretakers had missed. There would be the requisite clucking of tongues in invisible reprimand. While there at the graveside the adults would sometimes fall into conversation with others decorating graves nearby. It became a kind of reunion of people who may just have come to town for the weekend or an extension of a conversation that may have started in the grocery store between people who saw one another nearly daily. Yet everyone was there for the decorating.

After that there was often a parade. Short and consisting of the high school marching band and the veterans that marched in their uniforms from whatever war they had been involved in. As a teenager I was a part of this band but as a child I was just a bystander like everyone else. The parade ended at another cemetery where my paternal grandparents were buried along with an uncle who had died when I was in kindergarten. It was at this place where the full ceremony to honor the military dead took place. We all gathered around the flagpole for the gun salute. I never became accustomed to those gun sounds. They always jarred me to my marrow. Particularly during the Viet Nam war, the sound of these guns shooting so near by brought tears and rage to my young body. Too many from our town had served and too many had returned scarred for life in visible but mostly invisible ways. Finally there was the playing of taps, that mournful trumpet sound with its echo played from a far off place, over a hill in the distance that capped the drama we were all playing out.

As a child I did not understand what all this meant. As a teenager and young adult, I came to understand it all through the lens of the turbulence in which I was being shaped, by a world that was becoming less assured of what war and its consequences meant. As an adult that confusion continues.

My children and many of their age have no idea what Decoration Day is. They have no memory of visiting cemeteries the way one might visit a relative’s house. They may never worry over what wreath or what flowers to place on a grave. I am not sure what to make of all that. Whether it is simply the evolution of the way in which we honor those who have gone before or a silent act of the avoidance of death. All I know if that these were acts, rituals, that shaped me somehow and I am thankful for them. They helped me sort out some important things and tied me to a community, both living and dead, that I treasure. Whether Memorial or Decoration, it is an important day.


Living a Life

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

~ Mary Oliver

Tucked within a poem series simply called ‘Sometimes’, Mary Oliver offers these four lines, these instructions for living. Over a lifetime we receive many people’s opinions for living life. I am thinking of all those who are donning graduation caps and gowns these May days. Whether graduating from preschool or high school or college, advice for how to live this thing we call life will flow from well meaning speakers. I have been one of those and know the gift and challenge of trying to shape words that might mean something to people sitting in those odd, yet traditional shrouds of swishy fabric. If only I had read these thirteen words before I, no doubt, bored a group of high school seniors on the night of their graduation.

Every day my life is filled with distractions. Is yours? The act of paying attention is an art. An art I have been trying to perfect for some time. While I know it is as elusive as my being able to play a Chopin concerto or dance in the ballet, I keep practicing. The message I continue to send myself is that this life goal may never be completely accomplished but with intentional practice I might actually get better at it.

And so each day, I vow to pay attention. More and more. More often. With greater intention. With a fiercer intensity. And the month of May is such a fabulous time to be about the work of paying attention. The world around is coming alive and being so bold in making a show. At our home we have been living in ‘iris season’ as the color purple in a myriad of tones is shooting forth color into the world. Whole days could be spent staring into the face of an iris. We have also been holding our breath as the first lupine blooms a brilliant pink in a slow meditative way from its bottom blossoms to the tips of its cone shape. All this while other sweet, less showy flowers begin their summer lives near by.

In the air over these works of art birds fly and sing and swoop. Paying attention leans into astonishment. At their ability to take to the wind, something I cannot do without the help of a multi-ton vehicle. At their sheer beauty and diversity…..feathers of simplicity and color which causes my heart to pull in my chest. At their vulnerability and fragility yet boldness in making music and risking life and wing to fuel themselves with food and feed their young.

Paying attention and being astonished in the month of May can be a full time job. In addition to the flora and fowl, there are children to be observed. How they open themselves to the freedom of warm weather, shedding the clothing that held them captive in winter, the sound and sight of their bare feet,much larger than a few months ago, as they make a flat, flapping sound on concrete. And there are the first foods that are arriving, greens and reds and earthy tasting. And the feel of the sun. And the smell of rain. And the morning mist it creates.

And so I am telling you about it. Because I can. And after all, isn’t this the role of the human? To be present to the glory of Creation, to marvel at the gift of Creator and then to spread the gospel of it all? I think so.

I think so.


Song Circle

My life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the real though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
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) 

Here is one thing I know for sure: singing with people is powerful work. Those who sing in choirs know this to be true. Those who are blessed to be a part of a faith community that really sings together also know this. I grew up on singing. It was part of my life from as far back as I can remember and probably even in the places of memory that are unconscious. My mother is a singer and sang to all of us while rocking us to sleep and in the car when going to and from places. Songs like ‘Beulah Land’ and ‘Always’ float through the membranes of my memory like a comforting blanket.

On Monday evening I had a unique experience. A member of our church had told me about a gathering for Irish singing at a pub in Minneapolis. It is an establishment that is a favorite but I had never been there on a Monday evening. It was the eve of my birthday and I invited those who could to join me for this adventure. I had no idea what to expect. I only hoped it wouldn’t be an awkward, unpleasant experience. I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised.

Gathered in a large room were people of all ages. Children to elders lined tables, some eating their supper, others just nursing a glass. One man seemed to be the keeper of the lineup of songs. He moved among the ever-growing crowd of people writing down  titles in a small, black notebook. Every now and then he would, himself, teach a short phrase and others would come in on the refrain of song. Without introducing who would be the next singer, he must have given them some visual cue that was subtle and the next song would begin. Each tune was a sea shanty, a love song or a mining song. Some were quick and lively. Others were more melancholy as Celtic songs can be. Many there knew all the words and joined in quickly. Others, like myself and my friends, learned as we went along. All of us threw in harmony with wild abandon. At the end of the first hour the children and parents left to go home. Others filled in their seats and the singing continued for another hour. Nearing nine o’clock, one man came into the center of the room and began what was clearly the last song of the night. Everyone stood without invitation and sang this final song. It was a ritual moment.

I thought of all the places around the world where such singing happens. Those places without trained musicians and with no accompaniment. People making music for their own enjoyment, mimicking the voices of those with wings. People telling the stories of hard work, lost love, life’s ups and downs, their faith and doubts, their wildest dreams. People telling tales of ships on the sea, love of the earth, death and grief, some ancestor story. I felt sad that there are fewer places to do this work, that we have allowed those with training to do so much of this for us.

The energy of that song circle has carried me through this week. Looking at the faces raised in song, standing firm in the power of their own voice. A few singers admitted that this was there first time to stand and sing and they were nervous.  It seemed to me that the group only undergirded their sound with even greater spirit. As it should be. To have been in that circle seemed a primal thing, something that connected me with an ancient droning that goes very deep.

I am grateful to have learned of this opportunity and hope to attend whenever possible. In many ways it was a kind of worship. Unscripted, free of the trappings of traditional church, but full of a dancing Spirit that could not be denied.

Gift of Sun and Moon

All this time
The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe

What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the

Last night the sun was spreading its love all over the sky. Yesterday we were witness, if we chose to notice, to a partial eclipse of the sun. Here in the Midwest, the light show began a little after seven in the evening and continued on for about an hour. Those who were watching may have noticed how incredibly bright the sun’s rays were. You could not, and should not have, looked directly into its light.

A little after seven my husband and I headed over to the bluff that looks over the river. At the street that runs along this high point, people had already gathered. Several had set up impressive telescopes, the better to view this heavenly phenomenon. As we arrived so did a couple of minivans. Small children unloaded their lawn chairs and spread blankets for their comfort while waiting and playing in between peeks at the sun and the moon dancing together. Several groupings of men stood around the various telescopes talking the lingo of such devices……words like lens, aperture, scope and some numbers were being tossed about with ease. I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. But I so loved watching the camaraderie they showed one another, how they had all gathered round, friend and stranger alike, to have this common experience.

What surprised me most, I guess, was how gracious and welcoming they were to those of us who only had a lowly piece of paper with a whole poked into it. Our pitiful excuses for eclipse watching learned in an elementary classroom. Those with telescopes invited us to look. “Do you want to see? Just be careful not to move anything.”, they cautioned the novices.

And so I looked. I have never been very good with telescopes or binocular or most things with lenses. Maybe it’s something genetic. It always takes me a long time to find my object and sometimes by the time I do, it has flitted away. But I took my time noticing that this eclipse process moves at a pace for even those of us who are challenged by such gadgets. I adjusted my eye, moved my head back and forth and then side to side, never touching or bumping the finely calibrated scope.

Finally,there it was. The brilliant, shining sun with what looked like a round bite out of it. But it wasn’t a bite at all but the moon making its way into the path of this other sky light. I smiled and shook my head ‘yes’ to the telescope owner who shared in the wonder of the moment with me. I stepped aside so another human could take my spot in the place of awe.

Something about this whole experience touched me deeply. I looked up and down the walkway at the people who had gathered to see this gift of Creation offered without admission. I did not know them when we arrived and I still do not know their names. But for that hour of time we were united in a sacrament of wonder. Unlike our ancestors who must have been terrified by such a sight, we knew what was happening but it didn’t lessen our amazement at it. We stood, tiny in our place on one planet, looking toward the two lights by which we see our days and our nights as they moved and made a shadow play for our pleasure. In all the ways in which we have progressed as upright creatures, in all the brilliant things we have created and produced, we were still, like those ancient ones, filled with awe at the sight of it.

As with every sacrament, I could only say, thanks be to God.


One of Those Days

Worship is thus our whole life– our breath, our food, our work, our play. It encompasses human being: birth to funeral, night and day, inhale, exhale, rise and fall, black, white, and with all the shades of the rainbow, solitude and multinational conversation.”
~Pamela Ann Moeller

This morning was one of ‘those’ mornings, a morning when I couldn’t quite get my spirit to haul my body to the office right away. On days like these, I sometimes do what we call in my family an ‘RDS’. These three little letters stand for ‘ride down Summit’, Summit being the avenue that moves past some of the most beautiful homes in St. Paul. These mansions built by some of the city’s wealthy founders continue to impress decades after they were built. At this particular point of springtime, it is a breathtaking drive. Lilac bushes send forth their sweet, fragrant flowers lining long sections of the drive. Well manicured lawns and professionally planned gardens make for show-stopping scenery. For a prescription of healing beauty, it can’t be beat.

There are many churches that line this avenue. Most are as immense and eye-popping as the neighboring houses. I have been keeping an eye on House of Hope Presbyterian Church as they simultaneously do spectacular stone repair and plant a community garden. For some reason the juxtaposition of these two activities makes me laugh and fills me with such hope.

But it was a sign in front of another church that caught my attention. “Experience God Service”, it read. I did a double take to make sure I had read it correctly. Much as some churches advertise a ‘healing’ service or a ‘recovery’ service, this one was inviting people in to an ‘experience God’ service. What a concept!

Driving on down the beautiful avenue, I began to think what might happen at this service. Of course, those of us who plan for worship each and every Sunday do so with the hope that each service is one in which people experience the Presence of the Holy. We choose all the words we think are fitting, carefully pour over what music will lead people into hearing the scripture of the day in illuminating ways, fashion prayers to be read and make a special spot for the sermon. But the question always remains, did anyone one experience God?

As I think of the many times when I have had an experience of the Divine, it has only sometimes been in a church setting. When I have been in places when people have described their own experiences of the Holy, my memory is that the stories they tell are more often about something that moved them while in the woods, at the ocean or as a wind brushed past their face in some remote and wildly, beautiful place. No one was at work fashioning any kind of liturgy or carefully preparing words to provide the environment for this to happen. God just showed up in surprising and transforming ways. All these thoughts have led me all day to wonder what it is we are really doing when we create worship.

My biggest wondering became thinking that perhaps our real work, those of us who have given our days and our lives to this thing called church, is to provide a container, an open, gentle container. A container into which those who wish come to find home in community. Into this container we pour enough space, enough silence, enough breathing room for people to slow down and remember their own bodies, their own heartbeat, their own deepest longings and most passionate hopes. Are not these the movement of Spirit in each of us? In that spacious, loving container we name as sanctuary, we all wait and listen for ways we can then go into the regular living of our days, our daily walking in the world. Perhaps it is in these Monday through Saturday places that are the ‘services’ in which we will truly experience God.

I can hear many of my colleagues arguing with this idea. And I am not completely sure about it either. But on this day, which was one of ‘those’ days, the idea just wouldn’t leave me. And perhaps that was an Experience God service, too.

Summer’s Song

Not quite four a.m., when the rapture of being alive
strikes me from sleep, and I rise
from the comfortable bed and go
to another room, where my books are lined up
in their neat and colorful rows. How
magical they are! I choose one
and open it. Soon
I have wandered in over the waves of the words
to the temple of thought.
And then I hear
outside, over the actual waves, the small,
perfect voice of the loon. He is also awake,
and with his heavy head uplifted he calls out
to the fading moon, to the pink flush
swelling in the east that, soon,
will become the long, reasonable day.
Inside the house
it is still dark, except for the pool of lamplight
in which I am sitting.
I do not close the book.
Neither, for a long while, do I read on.
~Mary Oliver

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time staring out at the waters of Lake Sylvia. It is a beautiful lake on which our church’s retreat center finds its home. One of my favorite spots there is a swing the size of a porch swing that faces the lake. Sitting on it provides that perfect combination of water moving in the breezes with the rhythmic, calm movement of swinging. Back and forth. Back and forth. I do this to allow my spirit to catch up with the often frantic pace of my body’s full-speed-ahead movement in the world.

I arrived in the early morning having driven a little over an hour through early rush hour traffic. My bloodstream was probably also pumping with caffeine. Sitting in that swing allowed my pulse to slow and my mind to stop following whatever shiny thing that passed across its radar. Slowly, ever so slowly, the back and forth motion did its trick and I found myself become fully present in the moment. My breath became deep and purposeful, rich and full with this precious life.

My eyes had also stopped darting from thing to thing and I stared into the middle distance. That’s when I heard it. Out in the middle of the lake, the tremulous, rich sound of the loon bounced off the waves of water sending its song toward my listening ears. The moment became complete and utter joy. I continued my back and forth motion to the song of summer’s call.

This was my first loon song of summer and I felt so blessed to have been present to it, actually aware of its gift to me. I looked across the glassy surface of the lake as the black and white dots and striped body descended deep into the still freezing waters. Soon I would see its head emerge in some other place on the lake as I marveled at its ability to hold its breath and travel so far. It seemed at that moment there was just me and the loon awake and aware of the privilege of being alive.

I did not grow up with the sound of the loon. It was not a native bird to my southern Ohio roots. I believe we were probably only a fly-over zone in their migration pattern. If this Minnesota bird was a part of my youth, I was oblivious. But once I established these northern climes as home, the sound of the loon has come to signal so much. Hot summer nights. The freedom of moving from pajamas to swimsuit. Food cooked over open fires and under warm,starry skies. Lazy reading into the wee hours of the night. Being awakened by the nearby sound of flapping wings on water and the mournful cry of this strong yet mysterious bird. Soothing small, sweaty children whose sleep was disturbed by the same magical sounds.

Loons have many calls, many songs they sing for various occasions. Most are mystery to me as I’m sure my language, my song, is to them. All I know is that when I hear that plaintive, haunting tone ring through the air, something calms in me and I feel grounded in something deep and ancient. A freedom rises in my throat and I sense the possibility that comes with embracing summer.

A lake. A swing. A loon song. Deep breaths all around.



I have really only lived in about four houses in my life. This is, of course, not including the dorm rooms and apartments of college and those few years afterward when I shared a variety of great and terrible living spaces with friends. This probably explains why my nesting instinct goes pretty deep. I am a person of minimal nests. Anytime my husband and I begin to talk about moving….some day….to a smaller more manageable space, I often have a visceral, choking sensation someplace at the base of my throat.

Until I was eighteen I lived in the same house my mother still lives in. It is a house that started out as many did in the early fifties. A box shape with four rooms and a bath with others exactly like it lining the treeless street. Over the years it has had at least two additions that I remember and several remakes to make room for more kids and more stuff. The tall maples now dwarf many of the single story homes. It is the nest from which I launched. I love the look of it, the smell of it, and memory of it. It is simple and understated but it is my image of home.

Last week I stood with our neighbor as the moving truck pulled up to her house. She has not lived full time in this house for years. She lives most of her time in Alaska where her adult daughters immigrated some years ago. The oldest of these daughters was present for this final move, this final sale of her ‘growing up ‘ house. The mother told me what a mess her daughter was, crying over the loss of this childhood connection. As I listened the mother’s eyes also filled with tears. So much life had been lived in those walls and now that chapter was truly coming to an end. My heart went out to them both knowing that I would be having the same reaction, will be having the same reaction some day.

Our oldest son came home to a house we no longer live in, having moved to the house we now call home when he was a little over two years old. It is a house I loved, the first I had ever had a hand in owning. When we left that house, I had to be the last to leave, staying long after the last box had been taken away. A friend who understood stayed with me as I moved from room to room sweeping and remembering, saying goodbye. To this day when I am in that neighborhood, I drive by to see the house and marvel at the now enormous tree we planted as a sapling, a wedding gift from friends.

These places we call home are important. The walls live and breathe our joys and sorrows, our laughter and tears. They show the scars of our arguments and the marks of children’s growth. They house our memories and ground us in a community and landscape that knows us and names us. We are imprinted in them and they in us.

I am imagining that my neighbor and her daughter were experiencing all of this and more when they put the final box on the truck and closed the door for the last time. She told me the new owners were going to make some changes in the house and she was sure she did not want to see them. She offered a place to stay anytime we come to Alaska. Seems a far fetched chance but I nodded my assent as I left her to her severed grieving.

Someday another neighbor will no doubt have a similar conversation with me as I pack, clean and close the door. No doubt, like her, I will not want to see the changes that will be made in this place in which so much has grown. Until then I am feathering my nest for the summer that is just around the corner…… and the years yet to come.

River of Life

My dissipating thoughts of life in terms of victory or defeat came along willy-nilly from a culture that pretended that life was far more solid than it actually was. The edges were actually blurred and moved along in the infinitely variable shape of a river.”
~Jim Harrison, The English Major

Last night I finished this interesting novel which included these two sentences. Sentences that captured my imagination and sent me back through the pages to find them this morning. The novel is the story of a sixty year old man who is confronted with several life situations that throw him for a loop and send him on a cross country tour of self discovery. It is a ‘coming of age’ story for an older generation. At one point in the story, after attempting to climb a mountain without the correct footwear, minus enough water and provisions, still filled with lots of anger and angst about his life, he makes this realization. The script he had held up to this point seemed to be about some projected sense of victory in life that was clear cut, logical, fair and deserved despite the odds. It became a turning point of embracing the ambiguities of his life and seeing its living as more a twisting, turning river than a well developed system of highways.

In some ways, the story made me laugh. How does one get to be sixty years old and not discover such wisdom? But then I realized how deeply ingrained this notion of victory and defeat is in our culture, how deeply present is the believe that things are more solid than they are. I think of the immense number of dollars spent on all kinds of competitions that have clear cut winners and equally clear cut losers. We enroll our children in just such situations at a very early age and they soon learn the drill of victory and defeat. In the same way, we ensure them that they can be anything they want to be if they work hard enough. And while this kind of privilege is more possible perhaps in this nation than in many others, we know that it is not completely true and sets many up for a lifetime of frustration, anger, depression and pain. This life is not as solid as the picture we want to paint of it.

I fear we have even done a similar thing in our faith communities. We have, mirroring our culture, created language and stories and doctrines that give the illusion that this life’s journey lived in faith can be followed without much messiness, can be carried out without much pain or suffering if we only follow the rules or hang around with those who think, believe, speak the way we do. Of course, those of us in the Christian household have as our example one who did everything but follow the rules, never hung around with the ‘right’ people and in all practical understanding would have been thought of as suffering defeat. The river of Jesus’ life was full of currents and snags that could be wisdom for us.

Where is the river of your life taking you lately? Has it been a nice, easy, lazy river ride or have you found yourself in rough waters with blurred edges, unable to see what is around the bend? Do there seem to be more rapids than usual, more opportunities to dump onto jagged stones? Or are you moving along taking in the burgeoning spring trees placed in your view for your delight? Whatever the water ride, may we find moments of gratitude and mercy.

This metaphor of river for our life is a powerful one. I have found it helpful so many times. It has been an image that has calmed and inspired people throughout time to hold their own lives lightly, gently knowing that a river is an ever-moving, always evolving body of great power. Much like your life, much like mine.

Feast Day

My lovely calendar once again set the trajectory for my day. As I was checking its message for May 8 I saw the name Julian of Norwich(1342-1416) etched at the bottom of the square. While I was unsure exactly what it meant, I smiled at the thought that somehow this day must be connected to her in some way. This writer whose beautiful words I discovered many years ago always seems to ground me and fill me with immense hope. For those unfamiliar with her, Julian was an English woman regarded as one of the most important Christian mystics. Her wisdom and influence is celebrated by both the Anglican and Lutheran churches and it seems today, May 8th, is her Feast Day.
Like many women of her time, the details of her life are somewhat sketchy but the beauty of her words and their rich intention ring out through time.

One of the first experiences I had with her came in planning an Easter worship service years ago. We were searching for words that reflected the nature of God to always be about rebirth. Julian spoke: “And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness, it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.” This poetic image of how the Holy is made known in even the tiniest of created things was made visible to those worshipping through the image of the hands of a child cupping their tiny, somewhat dirty little hands and in the center lay a hazelnut. As these words were spoken, you could feel a relaxing move through those gathered. If the hazelnut is loved then so are all. Ahhhh….

Such wisdom, once discovered, might go on to incorporate her affirmation: “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.God is the ground, the substance,the teaching, the teacher,the purpose, and the reward for which every soul labors.” What might our days be like if we got up, planted our feet on the ground, and took on the mantle of these words to guide our working, our playing, our meeting, our conversations? What if this pursuit of joy was our labor?

It could, of course, only be answered by these few words: “What could make me love
my fellow Christian better than to see that God loves us all as if we were all one soul?”
I would venture to say, as I read Julian’s words, that if living in these days some 500 years later than her own time, she would include more than just her Christian brothers and sisters in that statement.

Julian seemed to understand what many living today may not. Her words and her work seemed to be about connecting those around her with the gift of positive presence, of opening eyes to the movement of the Holy in the every day. She didn’t even have to understand how it works or be tied to results she could readily see. “Pray inwardly, even if you do not enjoy it. It does good, though you feel nothing. Yes, even though you think you are doing nothing.” Something to consider, don’t you think?

But of all Julian’s words the ones that cut right to the heart of the matter, those that over and over again bring calm, a deep breath, a check in with what is real are contained in this simple sentence. “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” How many times over the years I have used this as my mantra!

So on this day I step across the ecumenical aisle and claim Julian as my own. I feast on her words and know the nourishment of this food. Blessed are you, ancient woman, who continues to speak through the ages.