These colder days have me reaching for jackets and sweaters I have not worn for several months. There is always the kind of joy of having something ‘new’ to wear when the season changes. The lighter materials of spring and summer clothing with their pastel and bright colors gives way to the other palette that mirrors the landscape and feel of the impending winter. Gray. Brown. Black. Yesterday, at church, I noticed how some had made the shift already while others were holding on with a fierceness to brighter colors.

The last days I have started my morning wrapped in a shawl purchased on a trip to Scotland a few years ago. Normally this piece of Harris tweed lops over the back of a chair whose colors it happens to match. But on these mornings when the chill of the air bites into my skin, I reach for this simple piece of cloth and wrap it around my shoulders until the house and my body acclimate to the morning. Each time I do this I think of the woman who wove the cloth. Finding her humble studio(I don’t think she would have called it this!) was a gift on a rainy, cloudy Scottish day. A simple structure set away from the farmhouse where she lived with family, we met her and were taken with the simplicity with which she sat, day after day, weaving these cloths whose colors mirrored the landscape she witnessed out her window. The old loom and what seemed a very hard, uncomfortable seat was surrounded by the many bolts of fabric, hats, and jackets which had been born from her gnarled and aged hands. Her work blesses my morning.

Another warming piece of clothing I have reached for over the last days has been a heavy,deep, green sweater I bought in Ireland last year. For warmth, it can’t be beat and it also carries with it the memory of the woman whose hands had caused it to be. Sara was her name and meeting her was pure gift. Drawn as I was to one particular sweater hanging outside her white-washed croft house, I tried it on. “You could buy that one.”, she said in her Irish brogue.” “But this one is the one for you. It matches your eyes.” As she held the sweater, greens, golds, and browns all spun into one, I saw that she was right. To find a ‘hazel’ sweater that will keep you through the winter is a treasure. Especially one that comes with these words spoken by the tiny woman with, again,gnarled fingers from her years of knitting sweaters that match eyes.”You’ll have this for the rest of your life.” Quite a guarantee.

Mostly we do not know the gnarled hands that make most of our clothing. We go into stores and take things off the rack and rarely, if ever, think of the hands that pushed loom or ran machines that made the garments that clothe us. If we are blessed with knitters or those who sew in our lives, then we may have a greater appreciation. But for the most part this is just one more act of consumption among many others that make up the acts of our days.

But these chilly days,ones that will only grow more so as the months unfold, I am filled with gratitude for at least two of those whose labor keeps me clothed and warm. I am remembering the sight of their hands and the looks of pride and accomplishment on their faces as I received the work of their hands into mine. It was in many ways a holy moment when their lives brushed mine. The gift is that each day I can remember them though they have long forgotten the transaction that was one among many to them.

As we move into the chilling days that will become winter, may we be aware of those who need warmth, those who are without the clothes that will shelter their bodies until spring. May we also give thanks for all those whose work it is to create that which brings the warmth we need for our bodies. May their gnarled hands be blessed this day.


Baptism of Leaves

Yesterday I reaffirmed my baptism. This did not happen in the context of a traditional worship setting. It happened on a morning walk along the streets and green spaces of our neighborhood. It was not something I intended to have happen. It just did. I was really minding my own business, walking along trying to shake the night’s sleep out of my brain. The cold, crisp air was simultaneously invigorating and causing me to want to head back home and crawl under the covers. The Big Black Dog and I were doing our usual morning tango of step, step, stop, pivot all based on the power of scent. In one of our graceless stops, I looked ahead of me to see the trees slowly letting go of first one leaf and then another. Even though no wind seemed present, all around me the air was filled with the delicate, slow movement of leaves. Leaves making their way from the branches that had held them for months. Leaves that had let go of the life they had known.

Why was it a reaffirmation of baptism you ask? For some reason I felt the need to stand still and allow these leaves to fall gently around me. I stood in the center of them as they let go, as they brushed the top of my head and fell inches before my eyes. I listened as they made this sound that reminded me of the same sound snowflakes make if we truly listen. ‘Plink’. ‘Plink.’ ‘Plink’. Each tiny yellow leaf made this musical sound as they landed gently on the ground. As the leaves fell, I stood among them allowing them to remind once again of this precious, fragile, finite life I live. It seemed a sacrament,a baptism of sorts.

Watching the leaves fall and interacting with them as I did, I was reminded of a book I had many years ago. It was meant to be a children’s book, I think, one that would help children understand, in some not too scary way, the concept of death.The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia used the varying ‘personalities’ of individual leaves to tell the story of what happens when the leaf lets go, of the ways in which the leaves have watched their neighbors fall, and their own questions and fears about that letting go. It was a good parable as I remember.

Standing under the ‘plinking’ leaves, I thought of of Freddy and his leaf friends. Some wanted to hang on, to be the last to drop from the familiar home of their branch while others seemed to know they were participating in a life cycle that was to be honored and experienced for the mystery it is. I thought of Freddy and of all the human ones I know who are experiencing their own version of ‘letting go’. There are those I know who are letting go of the lifestyles and ways of being in the world that have been familiar. Others are letting go of children who are growing or moving or changing which is what all children must do. It doesn’t make the ‘plink’ any easier to hear. Some folks I know are slowly releasing their grip of the work they have held dear while others are finding new ways to live in changing bodies.

Truth be told, life is a long dance of letting go. This is true not only for we who walk upright but for all Creation. It is in letting go that we make room for what is yet to be. It is in letting go that we experience new life. We see this movement in the trees, in the birds who are heading south, in the light that is losing its power against the darkness of autumn days. Each day is a letting go of what went the day before, what we gave to the rest of the night, in an effort to make room for what is this day will bring.

In the Christian tradition, we speak of the waters of baptism. In our culture, we often say someone has been baptized by fire. But yesterday,I was baptized by the yellow of leaves falling. It was a wonderful lesson in one of the most elemental, and beautiful, gifts of life.

Deep Roots

Saturday morning at my farmer’s market visit, I was acutely aware of the change of seasons. It wasn’t just the nip in the air and the extra layers I had added that morning. It wasn’t even the mounds of pumpkins and gourds all dressed up in their autumn colors. What I noticed that has stayed with me the last days was that,instead of the vegetables and fruits that bloomed into the world on vines and branches surrounded by leafy green foliage, what dominated display after display were roots….roots we eat. Carrots both orange and yellow and even black. (When did these appear on the food scene?) Slender white parsnips, turnips tinged with purple rings and red radishes looking like bundles of Christmas tree ornaments. Red beets and golden beets plucked from the darkest dirt. Rutabagas like softballs ready to be flung across an invisible base. All these sat side by side with potatoes and onions and the last of summer’s herbs.

This is our step into winter. We have lived joyfully and somewhat lightly on the surface of the earth. We have felt the grass between our bare toes and stumbled over sand and rocky beaches. We have plucked juicy tomatoes and snacked on cucumbers that snapped with crispness. But for winter these vegetables will not hold up. Instead we need the food that comes from deeper in the ground, food that has had to burrow deep to find its source of warmth and growth. These are the foods that last. They don’t bruise with bumps or drip juice down freezing fingers. These roots which nourish us are terrific sources of what we need for the cold that will soon descend.

Seeing the colorful array of these root vegetables on Saturday, I thought about how important it is to understand what grounds us, what will take us through the dark and more frigid times in our lives. I thought of how there have been times in my life when the only sensible thing to do was stop, plant my feet and remember in what soil I have been grown, in what part of earth and heaven I have known home. For each of us this groundedness comes in different forms, from different sources.

Family and friends are roots for me. My faith community keeps me grounded in ritual, tradition, questions and hope. Many authors I admire give language to what holds me in the deepest places. And then there is the view of the Mississippi River that blesses me every day and the waters of Lake Superior whose visions I tuck away to remind me of my humble place on the planet. I can’t forget the sprightly chipmunk who runs every time I open the door to the deck and the cardinal that flashes his red presence when I am lucky to see. And there is the Big Black Dog and the giggling sound of the little boys down the street who visit our fish pond with their breathless grandparents in tow.

None of these, of course, could be added to a hearty vegetable soup to keep me warm in the winter that will arrive. But all these, and so much more, will ground me and help me settle in for whatever winter has to offer. Like the turnips and carrots, I will dig deep into the places of warmth that feed me as the darkness continues its slow waltz onto the dance floor of my days. As layer upon layer of clothing is needed, I will remember the gift of the root vegetables whose lives depend on the darkness of soil and the groundedness that brings life.

And you. What roots will nourish you in the cold of winter to come?


Practice to Habit

Since August I have been working to internalize and live into some principles that I discovered at a retreat with author Parker Palmer. They are what he calls the five Habits of the Heart. The last couple of weeks have had me clinching my fists and furrowing my brow over the first of these habits: We are all in this together.

Palmer uses these five habits to help individuals and groups reflect on how they do their work, how we live in the world and how we creatively function as human beings in our time, in the places where we make meaning of our lives. This first habit is a biggie especially in a culture that has based much of its understanding on a notion of individualism. This is the culture that says: ” I can do anything I want to do, be anything I want to be.” “It is up to me to make it happen.” Or “It’s just me against the world!” These statements and so many like them breed a false sense of what it really means to live in a world that is so intricately woven together that the threads sometimes become invisible to us and we can only see our own single thread thinking it is the only and most important one in the tapestry of our world.

Over the last weeks when we have seen our government behave in ways much like happens in school yard bully scuffles, I have been thinking about this habit of the heart: We are all in this together.Trying to live into the fullness of that has allowed me to dig down deep and work to understand the playmates with whom I am most radically opposed. Because, like it or not, their behavior affects me….and you….and everyone else, just as mine and those whose views are more like my own do. This has been an often strange exercise and probably not any less frustrating than if I just railed at the television or radio shouting my own opinions.

But my faith tradition, this Christian household into which I was born, holds out a principle deep in its core that we all have sprung from an eternal seed of goodness, this sacred breath of the Holy. Not just me in my sense of righteousness but also all the others with whom my mind and heart do not agree. Even all those who look differently and those who believe differently and even those who can find no way in their hearts to believe much of anything, are still held in this eternal Breath. We are all in this together.

And so that is why I am thankful that Parker Palmer has chosen to name these gifts of his own imagination ‘habits’. As I understand it habits come from much practice. Anyone who has ever tried to establish an exercise regimen knows that you have to practice and practice before running or walking or, whatever it is, becomes a habit that leads to better health. To practice every day this notion that ‘we are all in this together’ opens my heart to a way of seeing and a way of being that just may become a habit. Every day I must practice, sometimes with the same grunting and sweating that comes from lifting weights, that I am in this living with a wide variety of people whose life experiences cause them to see the world in a particular way just as mine does.

My hope is, my prayer is, that as this practice becomes a habit I can more wisely see how every word, every action, every vote, every dollar spent, is a reflection of this togetherness. As practice builds muscle into habit, my hope is that I learn to hold gently these threads that unite us and never jerk or tug too strongly in my own direction, for my own perceived good or benefit.

This is my prayer for myself and for those to whom we have entrusted the ordering of our common life. May they, too, not be fooled by the single-mindedness of individualism and instead remember that ‘we are all in this together.’


Reality Focus

Whatever you believe about yourself, whether it’s accurate or completely off base, is likely to become true. With that in mind, try this one on for size: You are at the beginning of a cycle of prosperity.”

This was my horoscope on a day last week. I read it over a few times allowing its message to sink in. A barrage of thoughts flowed over me. Did I believe these direct and curt words? At some level, I did. What could it mean by prosperity? Was it metaphor or literal? How had others with my birth sign read these words? Did they take them seriously or allow them to roll off with the nonchalance of a fortune cookie message?

Perhaps I let this particular horoscope get under my skin because just a few days earlier I had been sharing a process called “appreciative inquiry” with a group of people. I encountered this way of assessing a situation,decision making, group process, this past summer while at a conference with author Parker Palmer. The second principle of appreciative inquiry is: “What we focus on becomes our reality.” The fact that this horoscope came so close on the heels of this conversation seemed important to me.

This short statement may seem simplistic to some or untrue to others. But I remember when I first came in contact with it and it caused me to reflect on what had been some particularly difficult experiences that had lasted several months. I realized that my focus had, indeed, created a reality, a reality that was painful and could have, if I had switched the focus even a degree or two, created a completely different experience. I began to wonder how much my focus had helped deepen an already difficult, already frayed fabric. It was a humbling realization and I feel sorry for it.

Over the years I have known people who practice daily affirmations, positive words that guide their thoughts and actions. They do this in intentional ways, like a prayer. Thinking about these folks in the context of both my horoscope and appreciative inquiry, I came to see that these people are often the very ones who seem in possession of their path, grounded in a way that I admire. They are also some of the most gentle, kind and joyful people I know.

All this caused me to wonder: Were the messages they sent themselves, whether accurate or completely off base, such positive words that they were creating a reality that was beneficial to their own well being and also to those with whom they have contact? Like a pebble dropped in a pool of clear,cool water, did the ripples of their affirmation spread out into the world?

It seems a beautiful possibility, doesn’t it? And it seems drenched in prosperity to me.Maybe not the prosperity of financial wealth but the wealth of healthy, happy living. Suddenly my horoscope, those often-thought frivolous words guided by the stars, seemed a credo to give my heart to, an act that might just make me rich.

So today I am being careful. Care-full with what I am believing about myself, those I meet, even those that rub me the wrong way. This reality thing is fragile and I want to be kind to myself and to everyone I meet, at last as much as I possibly can. Something tells me it could make a world of difference.



Autumn is a season of great beauty, but it is also a season of decline: the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer’s abundance decays toward winter’s death. Faced with the inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn? It scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring -and scatters them with amazing abandon.”
~Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

The last few weeks I have been aware of the embarrassment of riches of acorns. Outside my office window and all along the walking paths I frequent every day, there are strong, tall, oak trees that are making their way into their winter fashion statement. However, before they can let go their brilliant red-brown leaves, they have work to do. A work that makes a smorgasbord of delight for the hundreds of squirrels that also have their own work to do. Their work is to eat, to get plump,to make ready their bodies for the cold temperatures and lack that will be their winter life. I have marveled at how these two partners in Creation are in this seasonal cahoots.

Acorns are an amazing little seed. Their unique shape is sleek and that sweet hat that sits on what seems its head is a fascinating wonder. Both children and adults alike cannot resist the urge to bend and pick them up and put them in a pocket. The sound they make as they crunch underfoot in unlike any other. Both squirrel and human foot help the acorn do its work… spread the hope of new life for yet another go round the sun.

Many people I know dread autumn, hate seeing the summer green turn its kaleidoscope
of unimaginable colors. They hate to see autumn arrive because they know that winter is not far behind. Darkness becomes our companion in winter, and even in these still autumn days, the darkness is already seeping into the ways we shape our comings and goings. We need to be aware that darkness is descending earlier and light is arriving later as we plan whatever outdoor activities that have become our pattern. An after work or after dinner walk can now be completed in near total darkness. If the pattern is to rise early, as is mine, the walk outside is starting later and later each day if light is required.

All this can seem like decline. Decline of light. Of color. Of green. Of life. Unless, of course, we pay attention to the acorn and its parent, the oak tree. This oxygen producer with a trunk and limbs is busy ‘scattering with amazing abandon’ the promise of air and shade and foliage for the year that is still only dream to us. While we may be making plans for what next year or the next ten years may bring, the oak tree is literally giving of itself for a life that is yet to be. As acorns hit the ground, as they fall softly or with a thud, the oak tree is making an investment in our future and their own.

In theological circles, we might call this sacrifice. We might attach all kinds of heady language to what is happening and we would not be wrong to do so. What the oak tree is doing is what our ancestors did for us and what we human ones also do for our children, our grandchildren, the future of the world. We give of ourselves, we plant the seeds, we water them in hope, that new life will grow, a life that has a little bit of us tucked inside what will be born.
This is one of the lessons of the seasons of which we are blessed to be a part. It is not something to dread as much as open ourselves to, be aware of, so we do not miss the blessing of what it means to be a part of this amazing Creation. As the trees let go their leaves, as the earth gives up whatever it has grown, seeds for what is to come are falling, burrowing, resting into what is yet to be. The earth is doing this with abandon.

It gives me reason to pause and wonder how I might do the same. What about you?



Essential. Nonessential. I am not sure what it would feel like to have someone say to me that my work was ‘nonessential’. I am sure that there are many people, and it seems more every day, who would see the work I and my colleagues do as ‘nonessential’. The church and what it stands for is seen by many to be the work of the dreamers and delusional. After all, how can anyone in the 21st century believe all that stuff anyway? But I see what they might not: people fed, spirits nurtured, hope held out, dignity restored. Essential.

The last days have had me wanting to tell people how essential they are and how the work they do, no matter what it is, is important in the turning of the world. Of course, there are people who would tell you that there are nonessential jobs. Someone might say those who administer manicures and pedicures are not really essential in the grand scheme of things. Those would be people who had never sat in a chair, their tired, aching and crusty feet in a bowl of warm, spinning water, only to have their soles lifted out, rubbed, exfoliated and soothed. Every time I have this done I am certain I could negotiate world peace if all the players were seated in the massaging chairs that flanked mine. Who could not agree to a more peaceful union with others after this experience?

That is just one job that some might deem nonessential. You probably have your own ideas that you could lift up. But, really, who am I, who are you, who is anybody to say another’s work is not necessary? I would venture to say that, if we take the time and hear the stories, others could tell us about how any particular job that someone does has touched their life. To think otherwise is to play into the great lie that we are not all, all, connected to one another by invisible lines of connection designed by the Great Weaver of cosmic tapestry.

So, what can we take from this time when adults with whom we entrusted, by our vote, to care for our government, our way of living, and now they have so tragically failed us? It is a powerless feeling. But in the midst of it all, I am thankful for the reminder of how, nearly everything and certainly everyone is essential to someone. It is so pompous of me to think otherwise.

And so today, in an act of solidarity and quiet protest for their shenanigans, I am reflecting on all the ways I can remind myself and thank others for how essential they are in my life. Of course, I will start with my family and those I love more than life, my friends, my soul friends, my companions on this path. I will try as best I can to let them know that I could not travel without them.

After that I will make an effort to pay attention to all whose work brushes against my life this day. This work they do is how they spend their days which, of course, is how they spend their lives. It is the currency we each use for paying our way along life’s path. It is the least I can do to treat them with respect and thank them for what they do. The cashiers, the road workers, the teachers, the cleaners, the cooks, the grocery baggers,whomever it is, today I will remember how essential they are and will try to find some way to tell them so.

Why stop there? What about the Big Black Dog,the one who has come to know me so well that even when tears come at the end of a sappy TV show, comes to stand by me with compassion clinging to his fur? And the sumac bushes whose redness brings me hope? And the goldfinches who are losing their yellow and turning a winter brown? And also the geese who remind me everyday of their brilliance and ability to know when to let go, when to fly south?

It is all essential, isn’t it? Without it, we could not live.



Hurry is an unpleasant thing in itself, but also very unpleasant for whoever is around it. Some people came into my room and rushed in and rushed out and even when they were there they were not there – they were in the moment ahead or the moment behind. Some people who came in just for a moment were all there, completely in that moment…..I do not think it is lack of time that keeps me from doing things, it is that I do not want enough to do them.”
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Bring Me a Unicorn

I have not read this book of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s though one of her books, A Gift From the Sea, is one I have re-read so many times it is marked and dog-eared nearly making it unreadable. But today I ran across this quote and it was so confronting that I have thought about it all day. I copied it down so I could carry it with me allowing its message to be like a large stone I pushed up a hill or carried around my neck.

My middle name could be ‘Hurry’ though I wish it weren’t so. It has lessened over the years but this way of ‘rushing in’ and ‘rushing out’ of a room, a conversation, an experience still has its way with me, mostly against my will. If truth be told one of the few regrets I have had as a parent is that, when my children were little, I hurried too much. Hurried myself. Hurried them. Hurried our life. I am eternally sorry for this and just pray that they do not remember it with too much of a heavy heart.

Most of the time, I believe, our hurrying is for noble reasons: We take on more than we ought. We want to give more of ourselves than is possible. We can’t decide between the best of whatever the world is offering up at the moment. Our sense of obligation overwhelms us and we fill our cup with all that need be done for others and for the hurts and needs of the world. And so we hurry. From this moment to the next. From this day to tomorrow. From this year, barreling into the future that is not yet ready for us.

There are people, of course, who do not hurry. I know some of them and I almost always feel safe and at home in their presence. They are the ones who look at you, really look at you and seem to know you fully. They are the ones who give you in the impression that they do not want to be anywhere else except where they are. This kind of presence to another person can only be described as blessing. When we are in such an unhurried moment we feel and deeply know the movement of the Sacred in the space that exists around and between and in what we name as time. The space of that place and that time seems to expand making room for the More.

In addition to unhurried people there are places that, by their very nature, refuse to allow us to hurry. The rhythms they offer up seem to actually cause our blood pressure to balance and slow, our hearts and minds to go to some place of original blessing. These places are often away from the freeways and city expectations of hurry. Many involve water….lakes, rivers, streams…..that seem to remind us of some primal need to stop, rest, stay put. Jesus knew this and was often calling his friends to a lakeshore or seaside to lure them into a unhurried time in which they could remember who and whose they were.

Nearly every day it can seem that the world is pushing in on us, urging us to hurry. But in these autumn days, whose lesson is letting go, perhaps we can slow down and look at the beauty around us. Notice the color that will so soon be gone. Look at the face of that child who will soon be grown. Savor this day that will never be again.

It will be a blessing. For us. And for the world.