Holy Moment

There is a powerful thing that happens when people sing together. Those of us who hang around in churches know this is true because we are lucky to be a part of it every Sunday morning and sometimes even other days in the week. In church singing, you don’t need to be a good singer or be able to read music because, nine chances out of ten, the person sitting beside you will drag you along in this life transforming act. I saw it happen yesterday and I heard it, too. While everyone probably has a favorite hymn, one they may or may not even believe the words of, every now and then a song comes along that drags a whole group of people along a road they hadn’t planned to travel but there they are anyway. Yesterday morning this is what I witnessed: a group of people minding their own business, showing up for church for all the varied reasons and then, Bam! They are singing words that get right to the heart of things.

The John Bell song begins:
Take this moment, sign and space;
Take my friends around;
Here among us make the place
Where your love is found.”

So far, so good. Looking around our community of worshipers, there are indeed friends present. Friends and some others who were visitors and people who don’t know one another very well. There may even be a couple of people who don’t like one another but I am unaware if this is the case. So, asking the Holy to make a place where love is found is no a stretch. But then things started to get more complicated.

Take the time to call my name
Take the time to mend
Who I am and what I’ve been,
All I’ve failed to tend.
Take the tiredness of my days,
Take my past regret,
Letting your forgiveness touch
All I can’t forget.”

O.K. Now we are into some serious, soul searching singing. Who I am, what I’ve been, all my failings. I saw us all stand a little taller. We were dealing with big things now…in song! By the time we began singing about past regrets and all the nagging things that need our attention, things that hold our shame and cause us to turn away from ourselves and one another, it seemed the music and the words were carrying us along on a magic carpet of truth telling. It only seemed the logical and hopeful thing to do to ask for a touching hand of forgiveness, something like a big net that would spread across every voice, every face, every body. Bring it on! Please.

But the truth telling wasn’t over yet for this band of singers creating sacred sounds on an ordinary Sunday:
Take the little child in me
Scared of growing old,
Help him/her to find his/her worth
Made in Christ’s own mold.
Take my talents, take my skills,
Take what’s yet to be;
Let my life be yours and yet,
Let is still be me.”

Ah, yes. That fear of growing older stuff. No matter the age, young or not so, this uncertainty of aging is a big deal and so here we were. Naming it. Claiming it. Singing about it. I felt the crack in my voice, as I always do at this point of the song, and knew I was not alone. Indeed, this is the community I have chosen to do this pilgrim walk with, in its highs and lows, in its beauty and tears, all of it now being sung into the world.

And then there was the final flourish. In one enormous voice we asked the Holy One to take all of our stuff, all our bags packed with the generosity and greed of our lives, all that we can’t imagine happening yet and hold it and us. We had the audacity to even ask God to make something of us we hadn’t dreamed, to shape it into a holiness and to leave a little over that was just plain us, with all our warts and flaws, all our goodness and mercies.

Of course, we could have said, and do say, much of these same things in many worship services. But when voices are raised in song, when tears rise to the surface of eyes and pour over onto cheeks,the words are something more. They go deep, deep into a soul when they float on music and their meaning gets lodged in hearts. This is what I experienced and witnessed on Sunday.

It was a holy moment.

Whispered Invocation

At night, I wait for a sign
in the wind, a stillness
in the cold, black water
before jumping
from the rocky ledge,
knowing my body must
find its way through darkness.
I begin each dive like the first time-
a whispered invocation.
~ Amy Uyematsu

This past Sunday we took a drive down the river. I had been told that many birds had simply stopped down around Red Wing, waiting. Waiting for the snow to stop, the temperatures to rise, the spring to arrive. It was a gray afternoon but I come from a family of Sunday afternoon ‘drives’ so to get into the car without an intention of going anywhere for a purpose felt comforting. The driving reminded me of those many Sundays my parents would pile us into the car and we’d take off. Just to look at the scenery. Just to get a leisurely change of pace. These drives usually always ended with ice cream so these memories are good, very good.

Sunday’s drive did not harvest as many bird sightings as we imagined or hoped for. We did see several kinds of water birds including mergansers and several ducks. Some immature eagles flew overhead and there were the obligatory swooping gulls. That is until we crossed the river and came to Prescott, Wisconsin.

Prescott which rests at the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers is one of those lovely little river towns. After crossing the bridge and heading back toward Minnesota, we saw a section of water that was flowing but still had frozen ice making up a large part of the surface. You could see where the ice formed an undulating ridge before dropping off into open, frigid water. Standing at the very edges of the ice were several blue herons. They stood there like divers at the end of a diving board as if waiting for the signal to jump…..or fly as they had the ability.

It was an interesting sight. These enormous birds, looking every bit the ancestor of some prehistoric cousin, seemed to be standing on the edge between winter and spring. Their presence seemed to hold a kind of witness out to all who would watch winter’s departure and spring’s arrival. To wait while the ice melts? To lift up and allow the wind to carry them into a warmer and hopeful place? It was all only a matter of time.

Watching these birds standing at the edge, I thought about all the edges where we stand. Many times we stand, our feet glued to a spot where things seem safe and secure knowing with our whole heart, it is time to move. Other times we are brought to an edge we never meant to encounter but life or luck or fate is pushing at our backs and the choice does not seem to be ours. To jump? To fly? Only our courage or patience or wisdom can answer those questions.

We stand at the edges every day though we may not think of it in that way. There is the edge of this day and the next, this breath and the one to follow. I know so many young ones who are standing at the edges of what has been high school or college and now they are perched, ready to take flight. It is an exciting and even frightening time. The edges their parents are experiencing are different, their own, equally as exciting and not without fear. These life edges can be like thresholds that open us to the what next in powerful and profound ways.

On what edges do you find yourself these days? What signs are you searching for? What stillness holds you? What darkness waits to catch you? May your breath become a whispered invocation as you jump……or glide…….. or fly.


Listening to Earth

I remember the first of observance of Earth Day. I remember my passion and commitment to this endeavor to protect and preserve the beauty and resources of this planet on which we all spin. It was,in some ways, a time filled with a naïveté that now seems sweet to me. At the time when we read poems, sang songs, rallied and signed petitions to live in communion with the Earth, we did so believing that our actions and our commitment would make a difference. And I believe in many ways those early steps have created an influence that stopped many things from happening and caused others to be dreamed and created, that has helped create change and stop damage of this fragile world.

What most of us at the time did not realize was how long this endeavor would take. In the early days of what has come to be called the ‘environmental movement,there seemed to be a sense that if we just paid the right attention to the right acts, if we just shifted how we used our valuable resources, if we just loved the Earth enough, it would all work out fine. And in some ways it has while in other ways we have fallen so short of the mark.

As someone who has spent the majority of their life in the church, this need to speak for Creation as always been a perplexing thing for me. By that I mean that, at least to me, the need to preserve, care for and live in relationship with the Earth is the lens through which I read the scriptures,articulate my faith, understand the Holy. I know others see these same scriptures in much different ways than I do and, if in the same room, we might find ourselves at odds. The dance that the church and therefore faith has done with the environment is a curious one with layers that have, again in my opinion, not always served either well. What to make of all this?

On this particular Earth Day 2013, I am looking out my window at skies that are clouding up in a way whose language I understand all too well. The sky is speaking “snow”. Given that it is April 22nd, even in Minnesota this is an oddity. Looking at the gathering grayness, I am reminded of one of the wise women I know who once talked with me about climate change, back when we called it global warming. She said that, though people think the change that will take place will just be a gradual experience of rising temperatures, climate change is much more than that. Instead, she said, the experience will be one where climates will be erratic, unpredictable, full of storms that come out of no where and create damage that we had not thought possible. Certainly, the last couple of years have behaved in just this way and this particular winter in Minnesota is proving to be one that defies some odds.

A part of Earth Day for me has always been about remembering what this precious Earth has to teach us. Since this faith story in which I have found myself begins with a creation story of this universe of which I am only a speck, today seems as a good a day as any to reflect on the wisdom of this earth, air, water, plants, and animals. As I read the story, we humans are given an immense and challenging responsibility to honor all the connections in the web of life of which we are all a part. Most of the time we are pretty myopic in this endeavor, making it all about us. But the invitation of the Creator is to live in communion with the whole so the world may be as was intended. It’s a big invitation.

On this Earth Day, when we recognize that there is still so much to do to live compassionately and responsibly on this blue, green earth home, I offer these words of M.J. Slim Hooey as found in the book Earth Prayers from Around the World:

I have come to terms with the future.
From this day onward I will walk
easy on the earth. Plant trees. Kill
no living things. Live in harmony with
all creatures. I will restore the earth
where I am. Use no more of its resources
than I need. And listen, listen to what
it is telling me.”

In this long, protracted winter, what is the earth telling us if we but only listen?


Snow Guerilla

When you make a choice, you make a future.”
~Deepak Chokra

Our lives can change in the blink of an eye. We know this though we mostly move through our days as if it were not the case. Whether we are attached to the minutiae that makes up our minutes, our hours, our days, or we have an elaborate plan for how life will go and we are sticking to it, no matter what, we mostly behave as if we have more control over our living than we do. I think it has probably always been the case, our brains and egos being what they are. But our ancestors probably had fewer expectations and a greater sense of both the beauty and the danger that is this living. Their lives were perhaps simpler. They lived closer to the Source, however they might have named that and may have had a more realistic sense of the fragility of it all.

This week has brought this wisdom to the forefront for me once again. I have thought of all those who traveled to Boston thinking they knew, at least in part, how their time there would play out. They had made plans, reservations, trained well or not quite enough and they had a pretty good idea how the days would unfold. Of course, we know that did not happen and these fine people, and we in turn, have been living with the ways in which life can go so differently than the plans we make. It is one more reminder of the ways we are inextricably linked together on this planet. Whether we like it or not.

Our lives change not only in the face of sorrow and disaster but also in those moments of joy and revelation that come to us. A phone call comes and a new opportunity presents itself, one we had not had dared to imagine. Where no children had been present in a relationship, a pregnancy or an adoption changes everything in ways there is no way to prepare for. A teacher affirms a child and a creative spark is lit that will take that child down a lifetime road of creativity no one had dreamed for them. A kind word is spoken. A seed is planted. A hand is held out. All these and so much more have the potential to be life changing.

As humans we must sometimes work very hard to be awake and aware to this gift of living. And how we approach each day depends a great deal on the power, and it is power, of our ability to decide how we will react to any given situation or person that comes our way. I am imagining those who were present in Boston on Monday and the choices they are now making about their reactions, their fears, their grace, their hopes, their ability to move on. My prayers go out to them.

Yesterday, I witnessed a full bodied example of this power of choice. Minnesotans in general are reaching deep into their creative pockets to find new ways to deal with the winter that will not end. Yesterday we were hit once again with a powerful snowstorm which paralyzed the roads and caused people’s faces to glaze over in an ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ look. I was making my way along the East River Road having decided to abandon the freeway that had become a parking lot. Though we were not moving quickly, we were moving in a slow, steady fashion and, I must admit, it was beautiful.

Up ahead, standing at the side of the road, I saw a tall figure holding a sign. My first thought was, ” Who is hitchhiking on the River Road? In the snow?” My mind raced thinking about whether or not this was even legal. I didn’t think it was and felt a sense of apprehension. As I got closer, I saw that this young man was holding a piece of cardboard with a single word on it: Smile. And he was. And I did. And I waved at him, a wave of thanks and deep gratitude for making a choice to not be overcome by this storm of white and inviting all who passed to make a choice they may have not intended to make.

This one person with one single word on a hand painted sign took hold of the power he had to change the perception of any person who was willing to be drawn into his sweet, guerrilla act. It has been a difficult week that has held more than we wanted to hold. I am thankful for this one person who decided to make a small, quiet difference. In the course of this week, I know there are others who have done much more heroic acts. But yesterday, at about 5:30 p.m., this guy was my hero.


Eternal Helpers

And so once again we go to sleep and wake up with ‘why?’ freshly pressed upon our lips. In the blink of an eye and the explosion of two bombs, lives are changed forever. A day that had begun in the pursuit of physical training and prowess, ended in a state of disbelief and horror. As most of us listened or watched reports over and over again, our hearts were torn with the echo of ‘why?’

As reactions began filtering in to the bombings at the finish line of yesterday’s Boston Marathon, I found it particularly interesting that people did not search for the words of a great historian or theologian. No one that I heard quoted Jesus or Mohammed or the Buddha. Though people offered prayers, I did not even hear the name of God, one of the many, invoked.

Instead, across social media everywhere, people posted over and over the words of Fred Rogers. That’s right. Mister Rogers. This kind, gentle voice that called to children through several generations was the source of solace then and now. How often I sat with one of my young boys and felt welcomed to a neighborhood where everything was drenched in kindness, creativity and goodness. I believe nearly every parent whoever switched on that screen had to admit that going to Mister Rogers’ house, watching him slip on his cardigan and tennis shoes, was as much for them as it was for the kids. Everything seemed more possible, no matter how tired or overwhelmed I may have felt, after hearing him say “won’t you be my neighbor?’

Last night his voice rang out once again: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

And of course, that is what we saw when we looked at the scenes coming from Boston. Runners and crowds of people cheering them on. And when things turned for the worse, we saw the helpers. Helpers in uniforms. Helpers in running shorts. Helpers with discarded, cheering signs. Those who knew what to do immediately and those who did what they could. Those who made phone calls, held hands and offered prayers, their blood, their tears.

A few weeks ago I sat in a setting where a speaker emphasized over and over that ‘the world has gone mad’. I realized how angry this statement made me because, though I don’t agree, I have carried it around all this time and have been replaying it in my mind. I had wanted to argue with this person, prove him wrong. But I realized later that, perhaps to him, the world has gone mad. It seems when the world does not work the way we think it should, does not follow our rules or beliefs or worldview, the world has gone mad.

What I would have said to that person if I’d had the opportunity is that the world has always contained madness. We need only read ancient texts, scripture or otherwise, to see the madness that makes its way into the world. Wars are waged. Children are abused. Women and men suffer in horrific ways. Bombs are planted by people whose intention is to do terrible harm.

But even in the midst of what seems madness, I believe there exists, and always has, a beauty and goodness that seeps in the cracks and crevices of the painful and horrible acts. Sometimes this comes in the form of an outstretched hand or a cool drink of water. Sometimes it is the warm breath that blows over a fevered face. Sometimes it is a kind word or a crust of bread. Sometimes it is a whispered prayer. Sometimes it comes in the form of a helper.

And sometimes it comes in the quiet, gentle sound of a voice that reminds you of what it feels like to snuggle by your mother, or your son, on a couch, just before nap time.


Airport Stories

Airports can provide some of the best people watching in the world. So many people, from so many backgrounds traveling to so many different places. You can readily know those folks who travel by air for business. They are the ones who seem most hurried and most bored. There are those who are perhaps flying for the first time or at least have not traveled in this way often. They have a certain look of excitement or apprehension on their faces, in the way they carry their bodies. There are families, young lovers, exhausted older people. All share a space for a short time before jetting, literally, off to some other place that will receive them.

Because airports are good places to observe people, they are also good places for people like me who have a tendency to spin an imaginary tale about those I see. This is a ‘habit’ I employ not just at airports but on the train, sitting in traffic, in the coffee shop I frequent. Observing people is a kind of hobby. Not a very ‘Minnesota’ thing to do but It is a difficult habit to break and I am not sure I want to anyway. Always up for a good story, whether factual or imagined, I don’t have any plans to stop this practice any time soon.

Yesterday I spent a longer time than planned in the airport in Columbus trying to get home to Minnesota which had been hit by yet another snowstorm. Unlike most people, I don’t mind sitting in the airport, waiting for a flight, even one that has been delayed. It simply provides more people watching time. Yesterday’s experience did not disappoint.

Immediately, I was taken by a young boy, probably six or seven years old, who was obviously flying for the first time. He and his mother had been there quite some time because they had been scheduled on an earlier flight that had been cancelled due to the snow. He was wearing his disappointment and his excitement on the outside, jumping around, trying to contain himself, but not being very successful. His mother was so patient and kind. I loved her for this. She simply walked with him, kept showing him new things he might have missed, re-directing his energy in ways that would pass the time.

Two women, also to have been on the cancelled flight, were giving off the vibes of people bored beyond words. They were out of things to occupy their time. Others around them were on cell phones. One selling real estate.( It was easy to hear his booming voice!) Another person was making arrangements for someone who was quite ill, which seemed to be the reason for their travel. My heart went out to him.

As our flight was called to board, I made my way to the line full of the stories that had surrounded me. But the observation and the story making was not yet over. Looking ahead of me, coming down the long corridor, my eyes were met by three uniformed officers, sheriffs, in their brown stately hats perched on their varied leveled heads. Walking along,they ringed a young woman being escorted through the airport in handcuffs. My heart seemed to stop. She stared straight ahead with a look of complete resignation on her youthful face. Her pale skin showed the marks of a recent outbreak of acne and her brown hair hung limply to frame her lack of emotion. Ripped capri jeans and a sleeveless blouse, exposed green and white straps, hinted at the warm days we had been experiencing. I tried to take in everything about her down to her dirty, slip on tennis shoes.

Who was this young woman and what had she done? Where was she going and to what? This young one, someone’s daughter, someone’s child, was being moved through this group of travelers in what seemed an act of humiliation and shame. But maybe that was only my storytelling mind speaking. All I knew was that my heart broke for her and I wanted to follow and do something, anything to try to help mend whatever had been ripped in her life that had brought her to this moment.

As I turned to walk forward in the line that would take me home and from this scene, I realized tears had formed in my eyes. I did not know this young ones’ story. And yet I felt a great connection to her. In my head I heard the words of another story. ” When did we see you in prison?” And the answer came back, “whenever you have seen this in the least of my people, you have seen it in me.”


Bring on the Yellow

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the color of hope is yellow. Of course, green is full of life yet to be and is the color that lets us know that winter is turning to spring. But yellow is the color that says “keep your eyes open……great things are on the way!” I say this with some assurance because I have spent the last few days being dazzled by yellow. Along highways and in yards throughout southern Ohio and parts of West Virginia and Kentucky, yellow is literally shouting forth hope, showing itself like a Vegas dancer. It is coming in the form of bushes and hedges of forsythia.

If this burst of yellow doesn’t get your attention, then the clumps of daffodils that sprout around the edges of houses whisper hope into the world. And if that weren’t enough, there is also clump after clump of these bulbs-cum-flowers that seem to spring up in open fields. I am not sure how that works. Perhaps a house once stood in this now open field or their brilliance was carried to the open expanse by an animal or bird. However they got there, I am thankful. Seeing this yellow, I became even more anxious for the full range of color that will soon, soon, be ours. In this winter that doesn’t seem to want to end, we are hungry for some change in the white, gray, black and brown that has been our visual palette for so many months.

Truth be told, I would have it no other way. There is something wonderful about knowing that we are a part of something much larger than our own personal desires. Seasons and the fickleness of weather can help put our humanness in perspective in a way that is not too life threatening. There are other ways that are not nearly as gentle or kind.

These seasons that hold us give us the opportunity to be present to the movement of moon, sun, ocean, air and earth. There is nothing we can do to move any of these in ways that directly benefit our wants or wishes. Of course, we have seen and are seeing the ways we have created circumstances that affect how these planets and environments are not working in the ways they once did. For the most part this is not a good thing. But the reality is we still live at the beck and call of the ways of Creation.

There are the seasons of the year and those of our lives. The wise writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes put it this way: “There is a time for everything,and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die,a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal,a time to tear down and a time to build,a time to weep and a time to laugh,a time to mourn and a time to dance,a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,a time to search and a time to give up,a time to keep and a time to throw away,a time to tear and a time to mend,a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate,a time for war and a time for peace.What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. God has made everything beautiful in its time. God has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

It seems to me one of the ‘burdens’ God has laid on the human race is to be awake to these seasons we travel, to pay attention to the ebb and flow of each season knowing that we may not be blessed to travel it in the same way again. This can create a certain ‘awe-walking’ that keeps each turn of the day, month, year, fresh and full of the eternity set in our hearts.

Since not one of us can fathom what God has done from beginning till end, I am betting on the color yellow to keep bringing on its hopeful hue. It seems the very least I can do.


Sweet Work

This is a fact: I love my work. I love what I get to do and the people with whom I get to do it. But sometimes I wonder if a stranger, someone who doesn’t know me, could tell that I love what I do simply from observing my behavior. I have a feeling that, more often than not, I walk around with a furrowed brow, intensity seeping out my pores. I hope that at least some of the time my face shows the joy that is inside, joy I feel at the privilege of being able to do what I love. I am afraid that many times I forget to allow this joy to spill out and create a puddle that splashes before my feet as I go about my daily rounds.

Earlier in the week I was confronted, and that’s how it felt, with a group of women who were clearly enjoying their work. They were enjoying it and they didn’t care who saw them! It is a tradition in my family that, when I am home, we drive out into the country to a wonderful bakery that is run by Amish and Mennonite families. This drive is so lovely and it always amazes me to see the line of cars and trucks headed to this place. The business plan didn’t include the ‘location, location, location’ theory. You clearly have to go off the beaten path to get to the neat, white structure built just to edge of one of the Amish farms. A gravel parking lot holds lines of motorized vehicles as the non-motorized horses, cows, donkeys and other animals look on in their bored and relaxed manner.

The bakery itself is also stocked with bulk food items you might find in any food co-op. Granola, oats, spices, sit near jars of jam, jellies, pickles and other vegetables. It is a rainbow of color placed on neatly organized shelves. When I arrive I just have to take a few minutes to let the beauty and creativity flow over me. It is a breath taking sight.

While people do purchase these bulk items, the main reason for the drive is the donuts. Raised, cake, filled, sugared. The very air itself is a sugary heaven. These donuts are circles and twists that literally melt in your mouth. They are made by a group of women, young and more mature, who are busy as bees in a kitchen that is visible to the paying customers. In their various colors of simple dresses, white aprons and bonnets covering their hair, they too create a rainbow as their hands fly fast and furious cutting, frying, and dipping these gems of confection.

And the laughter! Speaking in a mixture of English and a form of German, they were laughing, joking,their faces full of a joy that was contagious. I watched as they shared a comradarie we all long for, I believe, in our own work environments. They were doing the work they knew how to do, and do well, while also having the time of their lives. I wanted to jump the counter and join right in.

The work we do, whether paid or unpaid, is the stuff of our lives. How we spend our days and with whom we spend them is the ticket we use to go through the gate of our living. It can be mundane or miraculous, tedious or terrific, depending on how we approach it. Whether it is washing a floor or painting a portrait, the way we work is the way we spend our precious days. Something in this working pulls from gifts placed within us that are only ours to offer. From a perfectly crafted donut to an equally perfect plan for a building that will be built, we take what the Creator has sown within and offer it to the world.

This work we do is meant to bring joy, fulfillment, hope and even healing to the world. No work is too large or too small for this. The One who breathed us into being, after all, is also the Creator of both ant and elephant, crocus and towering mountains. Why should we be anything more, anything less?

How will you find the joy in the work that has been prepared for your hands and heart today? May the Holy One bless both the workers and the work this day and every day. May we all find sweetness in the gift of work.


Joy & Melancholy

On Thursday I flew to visit my family in southern Ohio where I was born. I have been looking forward to this little respite for some time. In addition to getting a little dose of real spring and seeing my family, I am always anxious to once again bathe myself in this landscape that shaped me. Driving from the airport and seeing once again the rolling hills and greenness, I was reminded of the words of Irish poet John O’Donohue that had guided our pilgrimage to Ireland last fall: “Landscape is not just there. It was here long, long before we were dreamed. It was here without us. It watched us arrive.”

Driving down the highways and country roads that held my growing up, I have felt a tug at my heart that has been both joyful and melancholy. Passing houses and farms that once housed folks who were the legend of our small town, many now have younger, different owners, these wise ones having passed from this world. Others stand empty or have been torn down altogether. Change comes in its varied forms. Wisdom passes from our midst. But the memories I have, the stories I remember, have a special place in my DNA.

As for this landscape, I know I have been formed by the soft roll of hills and valleys, sights that no doubt lured my Welsh ancestors to settle in this place. I am also shaped by the country roads and creeks that flow through farmland tied together by wooden bridges that help travelers hop from one side to the other. The wooden houses and trees that line the streets of most small towns would look familiar to anyone who had come from such a place. Except I can look at these houses and pass spots on streets only to have vivid feelings of childhood or adolescence course through my veins. These are not just buildings or strips of asphalt but vaults of memory.

This is my experience. But what about you? What landscape gave birth to you? What landscape watched you arrive? What patch of land housed your earliest dreams? What soil and sights stir joy and melancholy in you?

When we are offering thanks for who we have become, we mostly think of the people that shaped us. This is important to remember and to honor. And most places cannot be separated from the people we associate with that particular landscape. It is a tapestry we weave our whole lives though are not always aware of doing so. Whether it is through the gift of travel or living in a particular place, we meld the landscape and the people that add a pinch of this and a dash of that to our life experience creating the ingredients that feed and nurture us.

Landscape watched each of we two-leggeds arrive. Long, long ago before we were dreamed and before our own dreams shaped us into the people we now are, the landscape stood, strong, true, fragile, beautiful. Every now and then we have the opportunity to dip once again into the fullness of this gift. This has been my privilege these last days. It seems a bit like taking a deep drink of a cool and refreshing water.

This landscape which welcomed me was once rich with coal and iron ore. A part of the legends that laced my childhood were the stories of grandfathers who worked in the mines and the brickyards and the furnaces. It was hard work. But what I remember and have now heard once again were the stories of the community that grew up around this hard work. Men who did honest, hard labor. Women who made homes and food and watched over children. Children who played, making fun and friends out of whatever was available. These communities were carved out of a landscape they came to call home. The children’s children of these communities now live different lives, many like myself, moved to larger cities. But the landscape is remembered in us. There is both joy at what we have known and melancholy at what we have lost.

It is, as it has always been and will continue to be.



A couple of days ago I heard an interview on MPR that caught my attention. The person being interviewed was speaking about an endeavor to get more fresh produce to be available for those who use the Twin Cities’ many food shelves. She spoke of the generosity of residents in donating canned goods and other nonperishable food. In March there is a big food drive across Minnesota for these much needed resources for those among us who live close to the edge. During this time people who have the ability to do so make donations of both money and food to keep these important and vital centers operating. But what is missing are the fruits and vegetables that bring taste, beauty and nutrients that cannot come in a can.

The name of this endeavor? ‘Plant an Extra Row’. Isn’t that a fabulous name? It just made me smile. What the organizers are doing is asking those of us who plant gardens to plant an extra row and then donate that fresh produce to their local food shelf. A little lettuce, a few tomatoes, some green beans, and of course zucchini……just a little extra to pass on to those who may not receive this healthy food in any other way.

It has been a long winter. Many of us are itching to get our hands into some soil. Some have been pouring over seed catalogues during these dark months. Many already have tiny plants germinating in the dark places of cellars and basements. As the soon as the ground thaws, the madness will begin!

I began to think about the tending that might happen to this ‘extra row’. The one that the grower knew would be handed off to waiting hands they do not know. Perhaps that extra row might contain the best seeds, the ones held out for just the right season, just the special occasion. I can imagine the gardeners planting this extra row and, as soil and hands meet, a prayer is said for not only the growing of seed to plant, but also for the family these seeds will feed. The extra row might become the greatest gift the gardener might give and also the greatest gift that might be received. Who knows?

Plant an Extra Row. I thought about all the other acts we plant in the course of any given day. We plant words, as I am doing now, or through our conversation. What if we were to plant an extra row of affirming words? Think of choosing to offer affirmations to coworkers or children? This row might be the one that lifts them from a place of despair or soothes the wound of other harsher words that have come their way.

Or what about planting an extra row of kindness? I can imagine choosing certain actions or creating experiences where a row of kindness buffers other experiences people might have. I can see a trough hollowed out whose intention is simply to be filled with good and pleasant intentions toward everyone I meet. No judgment. No gossip. No ill thoughts or words. Only a row of kindness blossoming.

Every day we are gardeners in the world. We plant our feet on the ground and move into the gift of a new day. As we go we are like the sower in Jesus’ parable. We throw out seeds of the work we do, the words we say. Some of these seeds fall on ground that will not grow into anything of worth. Other times our work and our gifts for this work, gets buried in soil that will bloom into something we hope for. Often it becomes something that surprises us and is more than we could have imagined.

What are you planting this day? What seeds do you have to scatter on the thawing ground? Most importantly, are you willing to plant an extra row?

Someone needs what you can grow. I am sure of it.