Church Face

This statement is in the realm of “Well, I’d never heard that before.” This week at the Minnesota gathering of the United Methodist Church our bishop pointed out that this gathering which we do once a year once had a very practical purpose. In the days when the small gatherings of people who had hung their faith-star to the ministry of a man who became known as the founder of Methodism, the communities were scattered all over a newly settled land. Preachers rode from settlement to settlement on horses giving rise to the name of ‘circuit riders.’ These faithful held on to one another in a landscape that was new to them, one they were trying to learn to call home. But once a year, the preachers gathered for an annual conference. The primary purpose? To see who was still alive!

I had never heard this before and after the bishop told this story, I began to think about these early holders of this faith tradition. I imagined their difficult and dangerous life. I also imagined what it must have been like to travel dusty roads, sleep in precarious places, not know where your next meal might be found, all in the work of telling the goodness of God while bringing hope to a marginalized people. Frankly, it makes my daily work seem quite easy if not trivial.

But to think about the idea of these men, and they were at that time all men, coming together for the purpose of proving to one another that they were, indeed, still alive gave me pause. Still alive after riding dangerous roads. Still alive after sleeping in the heat, cold, snow, rain. Still alive after eating food caught, shot, received as gift. Food that was held without benefit of refrigeration. Wounds that were treated without benefit of antibiotics. “Are we all still alive?”, they asked.

Of course, this gathering, this annual conference of which I have been a part did not carry such a dramatic question at its heart. At least, not in the sense that our ancestors did. And yet, there is a sense in which this question, this intention still holds true.

I know of those whose work in their churches has been difficult, painful and down right spirit-killing. There are those whose gifts have not been used in the ways in which they have been offered, ways that might have brought life to their community and life to the one who was making the offering. There are those who have had difficult life situations that have made doing ministry a complicated and fragmented enterprise. Are they still alive?

As a church we continue to be embroiled in speaking the language of inclusion while taking actions and passing legislation that denies our intention. We have conversations and debates that spin endlessly and arrive in no particular place. Many of these conversations hold the seeds for change without the courage to plant them. We are reluctant gardeners. The message of justice that has been at the core of this movement called Methodist since its beginning often gets lost in the minutiae of language and the very diversity that gives us our identity. Are we still alive?

Charles Wesley, the brother of our founder John, wrote these words to a hymn we sing often: “And are we yet alive, And see each other’s face? Glory and thanks to Jesus give, for God’s almighty grace!” This being church is a tricky business, filled with fragile humans, all trying to live out their faith the best way they know to do. When I think of this week, the many joys and the deep pains that have been shared, it is the blessing of the faces I will remember. The tired faces of those who have labored long and hard. The glowing faces of those who are full of the idealism of youth. The inspired faces of the newly ordained. The faces of those who are retiring and have a mixture of wonder, weariness and resolve. The faces of the faithful with all our differences….theological, political, educational, economic, racial, gender, social.

Next year, when we gather to ask the question once again, “Are we still alive?” there may be faces who will have faded into the distance, those who have left this earth. Some will have given up on this thing called United Methodism and will have taken their questions and wonderings someplace else. I pray God’s blessing on all these faces and those who will show up, yet once again, to prove to one another that, indeed, we may be bruised, we may be battered, but indeed we are still alive.



The act of creating community is a powerful one. You can be intentional about it and then, sometimes, it just happens. Many times the community is very visible and other times it is unseen, a knowing that you are connected in ways to a presence that exists in some special way. There is the community that happens in a school or church setting. There are communities that happen when friends commit to travel life’s paths with one another. Families are communities and neighborhoods can be, though many no longer embody this quality.

I have been thinking about community over the last week or so. I spent time at a retreat center last week whose hosts live in intentional community with one another. They share in the work and the welcoming of those of us who can do with a little ‘time out’ from the rhythm of our regular lives. Observing the kindness and care this community took with one another warmed my heart. I long for more time spent in their midst.

Last evening I watched an independent film created by a group of college students from the University of Michigan. The filmmaker had attended high school with our Seattle Son and had launched one of those ‘help fund me’ campaigns to which I had donated. The name of the project which the film followed was called “Thrive With Less”. Its purpose was to create a simpler life than the one these young adults had been living. Their experiences had them cutting back on all the things we seem to think so necessary to a 21st century lifestyle: excess in belongings, attachment to technology, addiction to fuel-consuming travel, and a need for large living spaces. They made a commitment to one another to change these behaviors and then began to live it…..and document what they were doing.

It was a fascinating look at a group of young adults who were truly reflecting, not only on their own lives, but the life of our nation, our time. It was both painful and joyful to watch their struggles and hear their questions. And while they would not necessarily describe it as I do, what I saw them doing was coming to an understanding of what it means to live in intentional community. This community was also what some might call contemplative. My words, not theirs. They made the commitment, at least for a time, to reflect on the ways in which they were ordering their days, what that meant, how they were accountable to one another and how their lives fit into the larger picture of the world.

How we make those connections to being a part of the world matters. Seemingly simple acts can produce the most amazing results. We are experiencing just such a gift of connection right in front of our eyes, actually right in front of our house. As a Christmas gift, my husband got me a Little Free Library. It was created by some men at our church who fix and build things around the building, using their gifts while they also create their own intentional community. These small structures have popped up in neighborhoods around the Twin Cities. Their purpose is to share books with passers-by, neighbors, strangers. Anyone can open the door and choose a book to take, return it or keep it.

After the ground finally thawed enough to be able to ‘plant’ the library, my husband placed it in front of our house. I had made a mental note of the books I wanted to put into it but did not have time to do so right away. That evening when I came home, I walked out with the books I had ready to go into the library. Opening the door, I saw a row of books already there. Someone had taken the opportunity to start the sharing! Over the weeks that the library has been open for business, children and youth from the neighborhood have been walking by, opening the door and checking out what is inside. Others have dropped off a book on their way to the school bus in the morning. Adults, walking briskly for exercise, stop, open the door and take a book ‘for the road’. As I have added a title now and then, I have noticed others that I did not put there. Our Little Free Library has become a sharing in a community, visible and invisible.

Today might be a good day to reflect on the communities of which we all are a part. How are these groups of people in which we are known intentional? What kind of community does your heart yearn for? How do our communities help us, and the world, thrive?

Remember…..sometimes the beginning of community is as simple as sharing a book.


Memorial Day

May perpetual light shine upon
The faces of all who rest here.
May the lives they lived
Unfold further in spirit.
May all their past travails
Find ease in the kindness of clay.
May the remembering earth
Mind every memory they brought.
May the rains from the heavens
Fall gently upon them.
May the windflowers and grasses
Whisper their wishes into light.
May we reverence the village of presence
In the stillness of this silent field.”
~John O’Donohue

Today is Memorial Day. I have been reflecting on the differences in the way this particular day has been as compared with the observance of this day when I was a child and teenager. Growing up in a place which is a bit warmer than Minnesota, my Ohio summers began with holiday. School was finished for the year before Memorial Day. The swimming pool opened on this national holiday. There was that sense of freedom and deep breaths that come with the realization that the rhythm of your life is about to change. Memorial Day was the beginning of the adventure of what the summer months might hold.

The day was usually warm, quite warm and began with a parade. Not a large parade but one that included the marching band and those veterans who had served and were able to march. It was a small town, a short parade, but its unfolding also signaled the unfolding of so much. As a child these veterans in their varying styles of uniforms seemed mysterious to me. My own father had served in the Navy but he did not march with this group. I wondered about them, what they had seen and experienced and if they ever spoke of it to their children. My father certainly had not.

As a teenager, I had become a part of that marching band and things in the country and in my own understanding of all kinds of institutions had become confused, complicated. It was the midst of the Vietnam War and there was so much to wonder about, so much to question, so much that seemed full of an ambiguity I had not known as a child. I continued to observe these men who had served in wars that had happened before I was born knowing that somehow their experience seemed different than that of the young men I had seen return from the war that spanned my adolescence. These young men seemed removed, lost, filled with a woundedness I had not seen before. They also were not a part of the parade.

Of course, the route of the parade ended in the cemetery where prayers were prayed, flags were raised and the mournful sound of ‘Taps’ wafted across the humid, summer air. We were there to help hold a memory of the ones who had not returned and all those, whether military or not, who had slipped from our sight.

Today My Memorial Day held none of this. I no longer watch as the band marches by or the veterans carry flags in procession. I am the poorer for it. But I can still hold, and do, the memory for those I have known who have served and pray God’s ‘perpetual light’ upon them. Some have passed from this earth yet others, still living, carry their own memories of what this way of honoring their country means to them. At least one in our family is now serving in his own way and will be storing up his own experiences. My prayers surround him as well.

For what or for whom do you hold memory today?

Embarrassment of Riches

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.”

Every birthday celebrated carries with it a certain uniqueness. Just the sheer act of adding another number to your age provides difference. There are golden birthdays. Milestone birthdays. Birthdays that are quiet and those that are overflowing with celebration. The older one gets there are birthdays that are remembered as particularly special. They were celebrated in a unique setting. There were surprises. And sometimes there are birthdays whose number a person does not want to admit. A lifetime, I imagine, holds them all.

Yesterday as I celebrated my birthday, I remembered the first birthday party I ever had. The yearly blow out celebrations kids have these days were not an annual occasion then. If you were lucky, you had two or three parties in your youth. Mine was a party at my house. My mother had placed a long table in the living room and chairs were arranged around. There was a table cloth. The girls wore dresses, Sunday best dresses. And the boys arrived in coats and ties. It was a scene out of Leave It To Beaver! Just thinking of the awkwardness and the excitement made me laugh. And thinking of how drastically different this party was from the many we arranged for our sons had me shaking my head.

If I had to describe my celebration yesterday, I would have to say it was an embarrassment of riches. The ways in which people offered their well wishes caused me, once again, to remember the amazing people in my life. When I tried to decide how I wanted to actually celebrate, I realized that I simply wanted to do more of what I already do. I wanted to go to my favorite coffee shop, have coffee with my husband, read the newspaper, walk through the neighborhood I love, spend time talking to friends and have dinner with the family that is near by. I want to believe this is contentment and a love for my life and not simply a failure of imagination.

But yesterday’s birthday was also filled with the privilege of being a part of the memorial service for one of our dear ones. This ninety-eight year old had been both mentor and colleague. Her life was filled with the tragedies and triumphs of most lives. She had risen above most of them through a faith and perseverance that was inspiration to us all. She was a writer and student of scripture whose quick wit and welcoming spirit had been the companion of our community for more than forty years. To be able to participate in the celebration of her life was a gift to all who were present and to me.

In the late afternoon as I was driving home, I heard a report on the news that caused my heart to race and fear to well up from that place it lives when its not wrecking havoc. A group of fourth-graders had been fossil hunting in the park near our house and there has been a landslide. Children were hurt and missing and one was known to be dead. Arriving home after a circuitous drive past emergency vehicles and flashing lights, the sound of helicopters over head became the soundtrack for our pre-birthday dinner conversation. We know this park well, our son takes groups of students there regularly. We could imagine just where these young people and their adults had been climbing. Our neighborhood seemed cloaked in a fog of sadness and my prayers are being sent to all those families and innocent ones affected.

Each day carries the fullness of life. There are births to celebrate. There are lives to mourn. There is the joy of a long life, well lived and there is the overwhelming tragedy of those that did not get to celebrate another birthday. This living is big and it does not serve us well when we choose to pretend otherwise. Each day is a gift held out to us in the hope that we will not take its importance lightly but that we will honor it with the sacredness it offers. This embarrassment of riches is the gift of every day if we have the eyes to see.


Sweet Music

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you.”
~Maya Angelou

The weekend was bookended by two musical events. The first, a solo cabaret show and the other a concert with choir, jazz ensemble and brass orchestra. It was a sweet and inspiring way to spend a weekend in May especially one that danced with varying levels of intense rain. Thinking about the many ways music can be experienced, I marveled at the contrasts in these two events.

On Friday evening, I was blessed by the gifts of one woman telling a part of her personal story using music that was familiar. It reminded me of the times when I have imagined a soundtrack that underscores my own life. A show tune here. A jazz piano there. A little rock, a banjo or two, finished off by a symphony. Depending on the mood and circumstances that make up any day, the music changes to fit the feelings, the experiences. Have you ever done this? Imagined a soundtrack for your life?

Listening to this woman’s story I was struck with her vulnerability, her ability and willingness to tell some very deep and powerful tales that pulled me in and allowed me to identify. As she wove her own spoken story with familiar music, she allowed me to hear these tunes, understand these lyrics in new ways. Mostly I was stunned by one person’s ability to hold the attention of an audience with her own story, her own beautiful reflection of what might be seen as a rather ordinary set of life circumstances. But when told with such intention and passion, when held in the beauty of music, these experiences many in the audience had probably also had, created a spell-binding show.

The Sunday evening concert was big with content and with sound. The words of scripture and those of Martin Luther King, Jr. set to music by jazz legend Dave Brubak combined to create a bigger than life experience. There were few quiet moments and so the ones that did happen carried an even greater weight. I looked and listened to all the people who had joined forces to tell a story of justice, its illusive nature and yet the deep hope we have in its realization. It would have been difficult for one single person to have told this story or given voice to this longing. The music and the message needed a host to bring its telling to life.

I thought of the many stories we tell as humans. We are, after all, the ones who tell the stories of those who have gone before. It is the task of being human to not only tell our history but also to imagine with words that inspire the hope of a future. And the place in between, this place where we live in the here and now, is the story we are living. In its dailiness with all its ordinary and amazing experiences. This ‘here and now’ was once a future and will, in the blink of an eye, be our history.

What might the story of your life look like if you took it to the stage? Would it be a comedy or a tragedy? Would it have the audience cheering you on? Might there be moments when others might wince with knowing at some of your choices? Might others be inspired and moved to tears by the telling? I imagine all our stories would hold these elements and so much more.

These life stories we are privileged to act out on the stage of our lives are ones none of us auditioned for. And yet, we get to be the actors, we get to choose how we will play the part. Sometimes it feels like a solo cabaret show and other times we have a full company of performers who help us keep the show going.

And sometimes, if we are exceptionally blessed, there is music. Sweet music to help bring the fullness of our own story to the world’s stage.


How God Works

This morning’s newspaper carried an interesting article that has me ruminating. It was a story of a man who was cleaning out a cookie jar in which he had always stashed his lottery tickets. His wife was obviously in a spring cleaning mode and told him to throw them away if they weren’t worth anything. Not ready to part with them yet(sound familiar?) he took them to the local 7-Eleven to make sure none were winners. He found that most were not, one reaped the grand total of $3.00 and the other gave him……. $4.85 million dollars.

To this all I can say is “Wow!” The story went on to tell that just a few months before he had appeared in court because his house was to be foreclosed. The judge had given him three more months to find a place to move and then the bank would take the house. Now he found himself not only able to keep his house but a millionaire. As the man told the story he said these words: “This is how God works.”

This is how God works. Here we have one of the central complexities of what it means to be a human and particularly a human who claims a faith life, a belief in a Higher Power with whom we are in some kind of relationship. For this man, the set of circumstances that unfolded in his life was an affirmation of the presence and action of the Holy in his life.

Frankly, I am not so sure of God’s movement in the lottery or football or any other game of chance. I do have an understanding of the breathing presence of Spirit in the gifts of those who use mind and body who participate in a sport, an artistic endeavor and the mundane and heroic tasks of any day. Whether or not the use of these gifts results in a win is another thing for me. The idea of God’s intervention in the winning of such a sum of money does not fit my own personal theology. My sense is this man and his family may have a deeper chance of understanding ‘how God works’ now that they are millionaires. But this is simply my lens and not everyone’s and does not speak to the lens of the Sacred.

This Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost, the time when the followers of Jesus had an extreme visitation of the Spirit, and went on to become the church. That is a simple definition of this day we call the birthday of the church. For these ancients, God ‘worked’ by filling them with an unquenchable fire for following in the Way of their friend who threw around the gifts of presence, compassion, justice, and humility like it was confetti at a New Year’s celebration. One of the winnings of the day was they were said to have been able to understand one another though they were speaking in different languages. And couldn’t we use more of that? We barely understand one another when we are speaking the same language!

Over time we have come to struggle and triumph as people who try to figure out how God works. We have called this place of challenge and healing, the church. Gathering together we bring stories of how we have seen God working in our own lives, in our communities, in the world. Mostly they are stories of ordinary people doing very ordinary things. Washing feet. Feeding those who are hungry. Standing up for those whose homes are the margins. Visiting prisons. Singing. Praying. Laughing. Crying. Offering whatever gifts we have for some greater good we often don’t have words for and can’t completely imagine.

Nearly every day we dig into a cookie jar that does not hold a winning ticket. Out of it we pull the best we have to offer…..ourselves. We ask God to work in us in whatever ways are possible. As tickets, I believe, we are priceless. To the world and to God.



I dwell in possibility…..”
~Emily Dickinson

Possibility. I’ve been thinking a lot about possibility lately. Of course, spring is the season of possibility. Look out any window and you are confronted by the possibility of the summer that is yet to be. Trees are teetering on the edge of their green fullness. Their leaves are inching out as if trying out a few dance steps before breaking into a full production number. Flowers are reaching up toward the now warming sun before breaking into the brightness of their particular colors, their own unique petal formation. Even the grass is slowly waking up to what it might mean to go into its blanket form for its summer lie-down.

Many I know are either graduating or about to graduate from high school and college. Seeing photos in caps and gowns of varying colors is like seeing holograms of what possibility looks like.Faces full of confidence, smiles broad and open to the world. They have the ‘I’m ready for what next’ look written all over them. Possibility embodied.

Perhaps I am thinking about possibility also because I have been reading and preparing for author and speaker Phyllis Tickle who will be our guest at Hennepin Church on June 9th. Ms. Tickle’s area of expertise is the emerging church. She has written extensively about this particular place those of us in the church find ourselves. Her premise is that every 500 years the church and, indeed culture, goes through a major change and restructuring. We are, she says, in just such a time and place. Without judgment or condemnation she outlines the trajectory many of us have felt we have been on but had no words for. Many might read this with fear and trembling and even despair. As I read her words, I am filled with excitement for the possibility of it all and also a feeling of blessedness at being alive at such a time as this.

For some time I have felt the heavy mantel of cynicism that seems to cloak our culture. It seeps into nearly every space…, national, global, theological, relational. Have you felt it? In fact, I have been know to make the flippant statement “Well, that is not going to happen in my lifetime!” Whatever the ‘that’ was at the time really signaled my inability to see the possibilities that are all around. Indeed, this world is filled with the hope of possibility all the time if we have eyes, and heart, to see.

What possibilities are lurking just outside your vision these days? What hopes are being watered and plowed in the dry, dusty places of your life? Is there space in your own spirit to be open to the possibility of what is to come? Are you, perhaps, full of possibility?

As one who makes a home in the Christian household, this should not be news to me. This is basic resurrection theology. Our whole communal life has its foundation in possibility. The possibility of justice and compassion. The possibility that kindness and generosity will prevail. The possibility that a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish can feed a crowd. The possibility of new life springing from the most unlikely of places. The possibility that, yes, even in our lifetime God is doing new things. Even in the church. Perhaps especially in the church.

May we be gripped by the possibility of these spring days and filled to overflowing with what is yet to be.


Blessings of Heaven

” On the day
the blessings of heaven.
On this day
the blessings of earth.
On this day
the blessings of sea and of sky.
To open us to life
to ground us in life
to fill us with life
and with wonder.
On those we love this day
and in every human family
the blessings of heaven
the blessings of earth
the blessings of sea and sky.”
~John Philip Newell

Today has certainly felt like a day filled with blessings. The mornings seem to begin ever earlier with the sounds of the winged ones singing out their morning hymns of praise. If you, like our family, like to sleep with a window slightly open to allow fresh air to filter in, you know that these are not days for late risers. The chirping calls alone make early birds of us all.

And why wouldn’t a being sing like that if they could? The sun rising, the air filling with the ripe scents of growing, it is a fulsome time to be awake and alive. Today’s sky is a rich blue, clouds are few. And yes, it is a little warm but for those of us so accustomed to layer upon layer of warmth-producing fabric, we have little to complain about. This sudden warming will, no doubt, cause blooming and blossoming all around. This is, after all, what we have been waiting for. For more than nine months there has been some form of snow or ice present on our lawns, in the parks and on the lakes. And now the blessings of earth and sky are calling to us to ‘ open us to life, to ground us in life, to fill us with life.’ And our work? To be filled with wonder. Seems a pretty easy job to me.

I read these words of John Philip Newell this morning while the day was still fresh on me. Awakened by the birds and anticipating the details that would make up this day, I turned to his Celtic Benediction for a morning prayer. His words calling for this full body blessing seemed fitting. Especially when I got to the next line: ” On those we love and on every human family” blessings.I thought about the simplicity and the depth of this prayer. Not just my family and other families I love but on every human family. For such a small number of words it is a tall order.

To pray this prayer with any integrity means I am calling upon the Sacred in this amazing day to bless every family…..those with whom I disagree…those that look drastically different than my own…..those who do not share my often self-righteousness way of being in the world……those who work against the issues I hold sacred…….those who have much and those who have little….those who never imagined a world I take for granted…..those who name God by a hundred other names and those who do not take to this God thing at all. To all of these in the human family, the blessings of heaven,earth, sea and sky.

This state I call home has been embroiled in heated debates over the last days that have resulted in a vote for equality of marriage that has been the triumph of so many and the seeming defeat of others. People I know have given their hearts, their talents, their time and passion to this endeavor. I have one lens with which I see this all and I am overjoyed at the outcome. I want to wear this joy in humility.

And so on this day, when we declare that love has triumphed, may we also take a moment, as the bird’s did this morning, to offer a blessing on those we love and every human family.


Help Us to Grow

God, help us to grow
like a garden
like a song
like a tree.

Like a great tree
like one of those great, old trees
you meet sometimes and hug
wandering lost
or enchanted
in a deep, dark forest
in an empty field.

A great, old tree
with roots that reach down to the heart
roots that reach down but
break through the ground around the trunk and lift
as if the earth can’t contain the yearning.
As if the earth shall erode and pass away and
all that shall be left in the end is Spirit.
~Neil Paytner

There are years when the emergence of green on trees seems to happen overnight. You can go to bed noticing only tiny buds and by the same time the next day the tree is in its summer fullness. This is not one of those years. I have been keeping an eye on the tips of branches for weeks now, watching for that moment when there is an artist’s brush of yellow-green etched on the skyline. It has been slow in coming. The artist seems to have taken a very long vacation.

Watching trees is important. Watching trees in this particular spring has become a Zen-like experience. Breathe. Open eyes. Breathe. Notice. Breathe. Wait. Breathe. Observe. Breathe. Smile. Breathe. Open heart. Breathe. Repeat.

In my practice of this mental tree hugging, I have noticed that all around the Twin Cities there are blooming magnolia trees. It seems a miracle to me that this flowering tree, one I associate with more sultry, warmer climates, can survive the Minnesota winters and now be showing forth their magnificent blossoms. Their white or pale pink,showy flowers seem foreign somehow, a transplant that is trying to fit in but is unable to reign in their southern showiness in this spartan, Scandinavian landscape. Their fluttery petals always remind me of Zelda Fitzgerald or other women of a fragile nature whose personalities are highlighted in stories of misplaced people, humans who find themselves living in a place that does not quite fit them, in a place they can never call home.

Last weekend I was at our church’s retreat center and sat for some time in the chapel which has windows that open all around into the wooded areas that surround it. Bare, gray and black branches held forth. Only the majestic Weeping Willow pushed any color into the world. Its drooping, teardrop branches offered a golden yellow into a scene that could have been a snapshot of November or March but not May.

This morning as I walked out into the world, I looked up and was greeted by the pale, yellow-green I have been waiting for. Breathe. Notice. Nearly all the trees seemed to have awakened in the cool temperatures that moved in last night. But the trees, in their innate wisdom, seemed to have made some choice. Enough is enough. Even those that have no showy magnolia blossoms to offer woke up to the May that is here.

Growth, for trees and for humans, comes in its own good time. Earth and skin, at some point, cannot contain the yearning. And so we breathe, open our eyes and hearts. We notice, observe, smile. And we repeat for all the seasons we are privileged to do so until all that is left will be Spirit.


See the World

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it is everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was lived out their lives……”
~ Carl Sagan

Yesterday I got my annual injection of hope. It wasn’t Christmas. It wasn’t Easter. It wasn’t my birthday. It was the annual In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater’s May Day Parade. This homage to cardboard and wheat paste and sheer human ingenuity and creativity is a tradition. I had been so worried that this year’s prolonged winter was going to cause me to stumble into whatever spring might offer without this infusion of inspiration. But yesterday the skies cleared(yeah!), the temperatures rose(yeah!) and it became a perfect day for this gathering of free spirited artists.

This year’s parade and ritual had the theme of “See the World” and was not the travelogue the words might imply. Instead it was a challenge to see, really see, this precious world in which we live, this fragile planet on which we travel and to recognize the intricate and enormous connections we all share. Not just the human ones but all of Creation, plant, animal, soil, water, air, all. The challenge was to not only see these connections but to take them seriously. All this was done through the use of puppets large and small created by ordinary people. It is storytelling on a grand scale.

The parade winds through a section of south Minneapolis that has become more and more diverse over the years. It is such a joy to see the ways in which Sandy Spieler, the artistic heart and mind that leads this theater, brings those diverse voices together in such a sensitive and respectful way. The belief of this group of artists is that art truly can be employed for social action and creation of a kinder, gentler world. It is a miracle to behold.

The highlight of the day is the ceremony in which the Tree of Life rises once again from the shore of the lake in Powderhorn Park. Countless people of all ages dance in costume or mask while others paddle with all their might in canoes decorated in the colors of the sun. This year they also took on the form of snakes celebrating the Chinese year of this slithery one. And slither they did….in circles, round and round….all the while making their way from the tiny island in the middle of the lake. As they are paddling, other performers bring in the Tree of Life shrouded in black and laying close to the ground. Observers eyes dart to and fro, watching land and water as the drumming intensifies and the canoes carry an enormous sun puppet toward the shore.

At this point the audience chants “Sun! Sun! Sun!” and the red and yellow puppet dips to bless the prostrate Tree. And then it happens. The Tree of Life is lifted by an army of people of all shapes and sizes into a standing position and the crowd erupts into applause and excitement before breaking into song: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray.”

This parade and ceremony has been happening in this neighborhood for 39 years. One of the beautiful things about it is that, aside from the use of a sound system, not much has changed. Puppets are still made with cardboard, paste, newspaper and donated paint. Anyone who wants to can gather and help choose the theme, make the puppets and be in both parade and ceremony. Over time more languages have been spoken and the faces of the family that is created in this act of art has taken on different shades and hues.

But the mission remains the same: honoring what it means to be here on this earth dot, to be us, to be home, to celebrate the goodness of working together, creating art, making music, living out our lives. In hope. In the springtime we thought might never come.

It was, indeed, a miraculous day to ‘see the world’.