Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action rises by itself?
~Tao Te Ching

This week our community is coming to the end of its study of Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath. It has been interesting to hear the many insights people have had while reading this book and discussing it with others. Since this is probably my fifth reading of the book, I am so happy to have shared it. Clearly, I am still working on this sabbath thing because I find something completely new with each reading.

Which is why I find myself captivated with a reading from the Buddhist tradition… Holy Week, no less. This writing from the Tao comes at the end of a chapter entitled ‘Be Still and Know’. Maybe it was the ‘mud’ reference that grabbed me first given the amount of mud that has begun to appear near every walkway this week. But it was also the urging to ‘remain unmoving’ that sealed the deal for me. I also liked the idea of ‘your’ mud, ‘my’ mud because I know I certainly have a lot of it!

Mud, my mud, is all the stuff that keeps me from seeing clearly, keeps me struggling against this or that, and mostly against myself. Most often I push against this mud with every muscle in my body, lifting, hefting, pushing, prodding. Rarely, so rarely, do I have the patience to wait until the water clears itself. Now I don’t claim to know much about mud but I do remember enough from some science class to know that if mud is left alone, it will settle to the bottom and the water will clear itself. It might not become crystal clear but it will not be the consistency of darkness. This is the nature of both mud and water.

The purpose of this image in Muller’s book was to point out the wisdom of simply being present in a situation, with a person. Most of the time we need do very little in the face of struggle, grief, crisis, illness, even death. Our wisest action is often no action. To simply be present until the gifts within each person, each intention, make themselves known is most often what is called for. However, it takes a very disciplined and grounded person to choose this path.

On this Thursday of Holy Week, I am thinking about and preparing for our evening worship service in which we will read the scriptures that tell the story of Jesus’ meeting with those he called his disciples on the night before he was to go to certain death. These friends had traveled the long road to this moment in his life with him. It could have been a time of crisis, certainly of great grief and unimaginable fear. This was a time of it mud.

Instead of fighting against the mud, Jesus chose to be present, to practice patience and humility and to move little as the mud settled around them. He offered to wash the dust of the journey from his friend’s feet. He shared a sabbath meal with them. He blessed them and patiently watched them, in their extreme humanness, jockey for the best position.

What he didn’t do was push or panic or try preach a sermon they would always remember. Instead he practiced the presence of God which had guided him to this pivotal moment, waited for his mud to settle, the water to clear, unmoving.

It may not seem to us like this all led to the right action. But wisdom is often illusive for those of us still trying to stir up our mud.



I am writing this as I sit near the north end of Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis. I am looking out on the fullness of a day in March. There is a blend of mud and snow, mostly shaded with the dust and dirt of a winter that has gone on a long time. Puddles line both sidewalks and roadway. Melting is a visible practice if one has the eyes and the patience to see. Gray clouds hug a horizon that is trying desperately to burn blue into the world. The light posts of the now gone skating rink look like de-branched trees in a sea of other leafless sentinels. In many ways the scene tells a story of winter on the outer edge.

The humans who walk and ride this lake’s path tell a different story. Only one cross country skier is making his way bravely across the frozen lake holding onto the gift of ice. The others who walk and run have the shape of spring in them. Gloves that served them a few minutes earlier are now held in sweating hands. Some runners still are in long pants. Others have switched to shorts, some with tights, others with legs bare for all to see. No one is walking with the familiar stance of shoulders hugging their ears. There is a lightness in the steps of most that says they are a people about to see something new. It might just be right around the corner. Or at least in the glow of a new day.

Perhaps not everyone is having the same experience of this landscape that I am. Perhaps others would not see the lift(is it joy?) in the walk of the people getting their daily exercise. But it is Holy Week and I have been steeped in the stories of this faith into which I was birthed. A faith whose message each year brings with it new and different insights. I am, as is everyone, a different person than this time last year. The experiences of this past year have made it so. It seems only right that I spend time wrestling once again with these life-shaping messages.

And so, as I watch the scene before me, I do so with eyes that long to see how the telling of this Easter story is also told in the sights and sounds of this day, this week, this life I am blessed to live. Of course, the Easter story is told through the lens of this one we call Jesus. But the perhaps even deeper message of the gift of birth, life, death and rebirth moves among us all the time. As those in the Christian household, we may view things through the life of this one life but it is at his urging that we live our own lives with the same passion and compassion for the lifetime that is ours, for the world that is our home.

In the email inspiration that comes to me each day, the words of preacher N. Gordon Crosby speak to me: “The whole created order has been brought into being by a loving God in order that we might enter into a covenant relationship with God. The creation is intentionally incomplete in order that we might know the awesome honor of participating with God in its completion. One day it will end. One day we will end. Creation’s potential–and ours–is being brought to a great finale of love. Jesus’ life was all about the passionate reckless abandon of being a co-creator with God.”

Watching my fellow co-creators make their way around the kidney-shape of this lake, I am heartened by the sweet, gentle voice of master calling to a frolicking dog. A mother’s song speaks to a young child being propelled at warp speed in a jogging stroller. Young people run with intention and commitment. The spray of water, once ice, washes the dirt from a curb. The yellow gold of a weeping willow tree blazes forth its own brand of glory. The clouds are still winning but the blue of a day’s end is brilliant and beautiful.

Some place in it all, there is Holy in this week.



“As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life. “
~ The Buddha

A friend told me about an app I could get for my phone that would provide a mindfulness bell which would ring at different times of the day to call me to the present moment. Given our community study of the book Sabbath by Wayne Muller which encourages such attention, it seemed a good thing to do. After downloading it, I anticipated the first chime and my Pavlovian response of stopping, breathing, being in the gift of the present moment. The first time it rang, I joyfully ceased my activity, breathed in a good cleansing breath, looked around me, made note of what I was doing and where I was. I was off to a good mindfulness start.

But as the last few days played out and the chimes have continued, I have learned some things about myself and about those with whom I walk this path. The first thing I learned was that I walk around much of the time holding my body tense. This was a surprise to me. What I learned was that when the sweet sound of the chime rang out, I almost always had to intentionally loosen the muscles in my shoulders and face as I was taking a deep breath. Where was this tension coming from? Mostly, I was surprised and clueless.

The next thing I learned was how completely NOT in the present moment I often find myself. I knew this because many times when the chime sounded its gentle tone, I jumped. This very quiet sound had startled me! After the startle wore off, I realized I had not at all been focused on what I was doing or where I was but was someplace in the future or mired in the past. Even though I was literally doing something in the present.

Perhaps the most surprising to me was the reaction or better put, lack of reaction, of those around me when the bell chimed. For the most part I did turn it off when I was in meetings believing it unfair to pull others into my evolving practice. But a few times and in my home I did not mute my phone. It was surprising to me how many people either did not hear the tone or continued to talk right over it. I guess we are so inundated with extraneous sound that a pure, clear tone at some random time is nothing to pay attention to. This seemed curious to me and not just a little sad.

Last year while touring Ireland, I found myself at Kylemore Abbey. This once family castle-home has since become the residence of an order of Benedictine nuns. Walking around the amazingly beautiful grounds, I heard the Angelus bells ring out from the tiny chapel on the estate. Just ahead of me, coming out of a door, a Benedictine sister was walking in the morning sunshine. At the sound of the bell, she stopped mid-stride and stood in a gentle, quiet stance. She bowed her head only momentarily and was in the present moment we both shared. I wondered at her prayers. I longed for a practice that would bring me to such stillness, such presence.

I am not sure what will happen with this new-found phone app. My hope is that it will help me learn more about my own breath, my own walk. Perhaps it will even help me relax the muscles that move this body through the world. This can only be a positive thing, right? If the only thing it does is to remind me of the gift of this present moment, that might be enough. And for that I can be grateful.


Coat of Grace

What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”
? Mother Teresa

Today I am thinking about family. Night before last I woke in the night and for whatever reason began to think, not so much about my biological family, but the families we create, the families I have been a part of creating. The truth as I see it is that we are always a part of multiple families. Sometimes this happens out of necessity and sometimes out of sheer desire. Each of us arrives in the world and into a family through no effort of our own. We inherit the color of eyes, hair, skin, mannerisms of this DNA family. Some on these things we rejoice over, others maybe not so much. But this is the family that birthed us and it is a fact.

We also create families. Those people with whom we share more than casual relationships. Those with whom we celebrate holidays and life events. Many times these are created families of people we choose or who, through circumstance choose us. The examples of these are too numerous to mention and too creative to try to define. These created families are made up of people with whom we often share deep values and a shared worldview. Sometimes this shared understanding of living comes to us through illness, parenting, education, employment and other circles that draw people into a deep experience of living.

Many people find in their place of worship another kind of family. We refer to ‘our church family’ and truly mean it. Like biological families, church families share all the diversity and dissension of what it means to be human. While learning to live under the same roof, we can often learn not only about another way of seeing the world but find the opportunity to further define our own view. This is a good thing. Again, like families who share the same genetics, we don’t always agree, aren’t always our best selves with one another. In this setting, wearing the coat of grace is constant. Spring, summer, fall and winter, in all kinds of weather, we are always reaching for the coat that will soften our words, make our spirits nimble, remind us why we are hanging out together in the first place.

In my own life, in addition to my family that birthed me and still loves me in spite of all my shortcomings, I have several other families. I have my Minnesota family, those folks with whom I celebrate holidays, life events, joys, sorrows, illness, births, deaths. I have my book club family, women and their families who have traveled life’s path wrapped in words and stories and a shared sense of friendship that goes bone deep. I have a family of sorts in a group of other clergy I have met with for years. In this family it is safe to ask big questions, struggle in our work, and tell the truth. And there is my church family, a community with whom I have shared so much of life and who never cease to amaze me as they seek to be faithful people in a spinning world.

Perhaps I woke the other evening thinking of family because I knew that members from one of my families was traveling across the country and would act as kin to our Seattle Son. I knew that this connection was an extension of an umbilical cord that only reaches so far. It is a gift to know that those we love are surrounded by many arms, many hearts. While families are often complicated and messy, most of us would not choose another way to walk the earth. When our DNA families can’t be there for us, we seek out stand-ins. Friends. Neighbors. Church community. This tug to be in relationship is built into us.

What about you? What circles of family hold you? How do you make an intention to connect with these varied and yet important family groups? Today may be a good day to put on your grace coat and reach out.

Longest Lent

At first I thought it was just me. But yesterday I received an email from a friend who wished me greetings in this ‘longest Lent’. In a regularly scheduled Monday meeting I remarked to my colleagues that this Lent has seemed longer than its 40 days. And we still have nearly two weeks to go before Easter. For me, this particular Lent has brought with it the feeling of moving through mud. Except the mud is ice. And snow. And cold. And there does not seem to be any end in sight.

The word Lent itself is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words lencten, meaning “Spring,” and lenctentid, which means not only “Springtide” but also was the word for “March,” the month in which the majority of Lent falls. Like most of our seasons and holy days in the church, they were layered over the rituals and celebrations of people who lived more closely to the earth than we now do. The early church fathers, and they were, found it easier to layer Christian meaning and intentions over these already long-held days of importance to the people. The hope was that over time the less prescribed celebrations would fall away and purely Christian understanding as defined by the church would be what people remembered.

For the most part that has been true. It is only when someone asks the question: “Why is Easter celebrated on a different date every year?” that we move into these muddy….or icy…waters. It was the Council of Nicaea in 325 A. D. that set the date of Easter as the Sunday following the paschal full moon, which is the full moon that falls on or after the vernal (spring) equinox. The full moon of March, if you have checked, falls next Wednesday the 27th and today is the spring equinox. This makes the celebration of Easter fall on March 31st. Got it?

I have thought all week about how we in the Christian household somehow live in both the world created for us as the church and with the ancient memory of those who came before. Both were, are, filled with a sense of the Mystery we have formed into a faith tradition and story. As we live the days of Lent, following in the path-story of Jesus, we also are living at some level the deep longing for the season we call spring. Both stories tell of the new life that comes out of the places that are dead. They are the stories that combine to make our spiritual DNA.

So in that case, it has been the longest Lent. While we are about to open once again the triumphant story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem this Sunday, signs of the long awaited spring are no where in sight. We will wave our palm fronds but that will be the only green that graces our worldview. It is a pretty good bet that come Easter Sunday snow will still be covering any ground where colorful eggs might be hidden.

I am reminded of the Natalie Sleeth song that has become a favorite to many:

In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree,
In cocoons, a hidden promise, butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”<

This year, in this longest Lent, I am looking for the lessons in ice and snow. And longing for the spring that waits to be.


Lost Things

Yesterday morning I saw a sad and yet common sight. Coming out of one our local grocery stores, I schlepped my purchases into the car. Food for breakfast, lunch and dinner filled my arms. I had already maneuvered my way around ice patches and their accompanying melted puddles filled with water. Safely stashing my food into the car, my eyes saw the sad sight of one single, tiny glove on the ground. It was not an ordinary glove. It was a Spider-Man glove. A black background of knit held the yellow and red webs shooting down each of the fingers. Spidey’s super powers were now drenched with the muddy, wet run-off of a spring that is trying to make an appearance. This tiny glove had been, no doubt, the casualty of an adult trying to juggle both child, packages and who knows what else as they entered their car.

This glove will, of course, be the first of many that will begin to be seen over the next weeks. As the weather warms up, we take our gloves and mittens on and off with such regularity that their being lost is almost a sure thing. Soon we will see gloves riding a street sign. Another will be placed hopefully on a wall or other cleared surface. They will mostly be singles. It is rare to lose both at the same time. In houses near and far, children will be sent to search for handwarmers in boxes, under beds, in mud rooms, in a stray coat. They will come back empty handed. It is the inevitable result of needing gloves for too many days, weeks, months.

Seeing this stray glove led me to think about lost things. For those of us in the Christian household, last Sunday’s scripture brought us the familiar story of the Prodigal Son. This story is sandwiched together with two other stories of lost things. The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. In all these stories, what was lost was eventually found. For the most part.

But it is not always the case. The wet Spidey glove will probably make its way into a garbage can, picked up in spring cleaning, never to be reunited with its mate. Those of us who have lost other things…, people, faith, confidence, hope……just to name a few, often still struggle to find what is lost. We push and pull, fight against the flow of energy, sometimes to no avail. Other times we are handed what seems a miracle.The lost is found.

Sometime ago I read a book whose title was The Patron Saint of Lost Things. At this point in time the fullness of the story is lost to me but the title comes through loud and clear. How I wish the Patron Saint of Lost Things could surround all those who carry loss around like an overstuffed backpack. How I wish this same saint could soothe the suffering of these dear ones.

Reading these scripture stories again this week it was clear to me that being lost or losing something or someone dear is a part of what it means to be human. It was also clear that the stories attributed to Jesus seek to bring some kind of balm. One of their central messages seems to be that whenever we experience loss, which we inevitably will, we never experience this alone. The One who breathed us into being holds the wound of that place with us and celebrates with us when the loss is overcome in some way. Sometimes this comes through the hand or word of another. Sometimes it is a soft wind of feeling that washes over us that just carries a comfort of Mystery.

May the Patron Saint of Lost Things walk with all of us this day. Just in case.



Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing? Can one really explain this? no. Just as one can never learn how to paint.”
? Pablo Picasso

We are a people hungry for color. The gray of these March days has started to burrow in and become another layer of skin we’d like to shed. It has been several days since the sun has been visible and the only disturbance of the monochromatic sky comes from a stray snowflake fluttering in the breeze. Color. Any color will do. Just take us out of our browns, blacks and grays and let us see a glimpse of some brilliant and bright hue. Please!

It is that time of a Minnesota winter when the dreariness has lingered too long. Snow piles are brown and ugly. You hear people make unbelievable statements like: “I just wish it would snow to clean this place up!” Here we are wishing for more snow to try to move us out of this grayness.

I wasn’t exactly thinking about the dreariness yesterday as I was driving into the office. But I found myself on the river road near the University of Minnesota. Generally people had their “it’s a gloomy day again” face on as they moved along to their destination. Most, myself included, also had that dazed look of a daylight saving time hangover. It is a rough week trying to rewire our circadian rhythms, isn’t it?

But moving along among all the uniformed blacks and browns, emerged a tall, lanky young man with an enormous smile on his face. He was making his way across the Franklin Avenue bridge with a gait that said “What a beautiful day!” I noticed him first for his energy. But then I took in the whole picture. Long, thin legs were housed in bright red and blue plaid loose pants, maybe even pajamas. They were worn with a green army jacket. Atop his tossed hair flying in the frigid breeze was a bright cap that looked as if it had dinosaur horns, again a bright red and blue. Riding on his back he carried a lovely multicolored backpack, striped and designs using all the colors of the rainbow. He moved along, a song of joy in the requiem that surrounded him.

Seeing him lifted my spirits. He gave me the inspiration to forsake my usual black or browns and to choose more colorful clothes this morning. Instead of mirroring the landscape, why not go against it? Why not try to anticipate the spring that is certainly on its way? It was bright blue and green for me today.

As I was thinking about all this color, I also have one ear on the news of those who are watching for black or white smoke. The process of choosing a new pope is fascinating especially to those of us who only know this tradition from observation. All the layers and centuries of ritual and meaning making unfolding before us in a world to which the clothing and behaviors seem so foreign. And yet here we all are watching for a stream of smoke that will mark a change that could affect the lives of many. Fascinating.

Black. White. Red. Blue. Gray. Brown.There is no promise of a break in the weather any time soon so the gray will linger a while longer. Perhaps our job is to provide a hint or two at what is to come. It may not be too early to pull out a bit of color and shock the dreary system into waking up. While we are waiting for black or white smoke, it might not be a bad idea to throw in a little color.

You know you want to.


Fill In the Blank

This morning I sat in a comfortable rose colored, Queen Ann chair staring out as the day arrived. I am blessed to be at one of my favorite retreat centers for a three day retreat. One of the blessings of this experience is that I am clueless as to what is going to happen. I am not in leadership in any way and am simply here to receive and be present to whatever has been planned. Just writing those words brings about an ‘ahhhh’ in my chest. It is a rare and wonderful gift in the midst of Lent to be able to experience this kind of space and time. I am grateful.

Sitting as I did, looking out at the frozen lake now void of the colorful ice houses that dotted it earlier in the year, I watched as the light turned the snowy landscape from darkness to light. As it did, the color blue was opened up in all its various hues…..from navy to steel gray and on into pale blue and then white. It was like watching a color wheel turn. This play of color and light framed perfectly the black silhouette of bare branches that adorn the lakeside, waiting for the spring that is yet to be.

At one particular turn of that color wheel, when the sky was that faint tone of Scandinavian blue, my eyes were drawn to the lace of the branches. What became clear in this light were the many buds that perched on all the skeletal extensions. New life! My heart warmed at the prospect in this still frozen landscape.

Those who know trees will tell you that the buds are there all the time even in the dead of winter. But we don’t see them or we forget to look. Within the flow of life in the tree, new life is always coursing, waiting to break forth at the perfect and appointed time. It is their nature. And ours.

My morning devotion from a book by Joan Chittister, ended with the prayer prompt:”Give me, Great God, a sense of the Breath of the Spirit within me as I……..”. It is my prayer work to fill in the blank. Just like the trees who appear stark and naked, dead even, that Breath of the Spirit still moves within me. And you. As we walk around in our dailiness, most people cannot see the buds of new life that we wear. But they are there. Waiting for the perfect moment to be nurtured, fed, watered, honored. Waiting to bring forth something that has not been before.

May this day find me, find you, taking the time and space to have a sense of the Breath of the Spirit within so we can prepare the soil of our lives for what is new, what is waiting to burst forth. May this day find each of us looking with new eyes for all that is budding. In this winter landscape. In those we meet. In those places that seem hard and impossible. In those we love and those who are like a splinter in our finger. In the landscape that opens before us this day.

Give us, Great God, as sense of the Breath of the Spirit within us today as we………….
You fill in the blank.



Just last week I was thinking about the fact that I had not seen any interesting bumper stickers lately. Spending as much time in my car as I do, I am always privy to someone showing their pride in their children’s school as it is displayed on the rear of their vehicle. I am also able to gauge people’s political leanings by their stickers and often peer in to see if I think the face matches the message. I am rarely disappointed. But I had not seen anything new and compelling for quite come time.

And then this morning as I was creeping along in the March snow that seemed as if it was something new to these Minnesota drivers, my eyes fell on the bumper in front of me. “Keep Church Weird” the taped message said. I laughed out loud! I tried to get in front of the person or at least beside so I could catch a glimpse of the person who was carrying this intention into the world. The snow slick streets did not allow this to happen so I could not infer anything into the message by putting a face with it. I simply had to take the words for what they were.

I have pretty much spent my life in the church. In fact I have referred to myself as a “church nerd.” By this I mean that I have almost always found the ‘stuff’ of church……the words, music, trappings, endeavors…interesting. I have not felt the same about the politics of church but that is a subject for another time. Church has been for me a kind of home. Most of the time I know how it works, how it doesn’t, how it is hoped it will work, how it probably never will work. There is a kind of comfort for me in that.

And yet I admit church is kind of weird. There are particularly ‘churchy’ words that you don’t say anyplace else. They can be a kind of code for those on the inside. This can be weird for those who have not traveled similar roads. The clothes….the robes, the vestments, the collars….also weird and from another time. In worship, I now wear them less and less in favor of ‘street’ clothes but each time I put on a robe and stole, I am aware that it connects me with some ancient practice, some community of people that has come from another time. Watching the cardinals gather to choose as new pope, I am aware of the impact these visuals can have on people.

But there is much about the weirdness of church that is such a good thing. It can be, if we are authentic to the one we claim to follow, the place where status, wealth, gender, education and all the other things that divide us mean little. Church can also be the place where those on the margins find a home, a hot meal, a hand to hold. This can seem weird to the rest of the world. Church can be a place where the most well trained musician can stand beside the one who searches for the tune and yet the two make beautiful music together. Church can be the place where the person who cannot find a home any place else, finds their name in print, on a name tag, spoken in prayer. All this often seems weird to those merely peering in through the stained glass windows.

Keep church weird? I think so. Where else could a person struggle with their deepest questions, their unwieldy demons and still be a part of the community? Where else could a bowl of soup or a piece of bread and sip of wine become something that lifts the spirit and fuels the soul? Where else could a person be blessed with water and welcomed into the clan? Where else would friends, enemies, liberals, conservatives, young ones, old ones, people of all shapes and sizes all come together to try to make sense of the More they feel moving in their lives?

Churches may change. They may grow and decline. The ways of worship may shift between what is new and what is ancient. But what makes church ‘weird’ may be the very thing that saves us and helps us continue to be relevant.

What do you think?