For most of my life, I have been surrounded by preachers. As a child there was always at least one preacher I saw weekly from my vantage point nestled in our family pew on a Sunday morning. My mother was stationed at one end, my father at the other, while my brothers and I lined up between them, parallel flood walls to stave off any wiggling or behavior that might not be perceived as worthy of worship. I knew others, those in our town who were more demonstrative, more emotional, at churches we did not attend, perhaps even were skeptical of.

In seminary I was once again surrounded by preachers. Most of my professors had, at one time served a church as a minister, before moving into the academic world. Here they taught and trained those who saw their lives being lived out in the church. Most of my classmates also wanted to be preachers,believed themselves to be called to unpack the scriptures for people, offering the good news as they understood it. Being more of a storyteller and writer,I never completely saw myself in the same category but I was drawn to how this preaching stuff happens, the great power it can hold, the slippery slope of responsibility it can be.

Over my lifetime I have heard what I would call excellent preachers. They have been inspiring, creating a blanket of words that brought both comfort and challenge. I have also heard great storytellers, those who for my money, paint a picture of the movement of God that has me saying “Sign me up! I want what you are talking about.” I have also heard what I would describe as less than compelling preaching. Words and thoughts ramble. There is no thread for me to grab onto and hold while I ride the twenty minutes or so with this person. The caretaker in me is made anxious by this experience.

A few times I have also been present to a preacher who seems, at least to me, to be furthering some personal agenda. Sometimes they seem to be carrying an ax to grind about an issue or experience that seems more their own, one they are simply working out in the presence of a large group of people. Rather than that message of the good news most people hope to hear when they arrive at church, I can feel held captive by this preacher’s words. I feel manipulated.

A couple of Sundays ago I attended a church not my own. I was welcomed well and settled into my pew. I knew what to expect. I knew the hymns, the scripture, how things would work. I was not expecting anything particularly great to happen, no preaching that would knock my socks off or challenge me in any particular way. In some ways, my presence was the kind of obligation that can nag those of us who have made church their life.

But the preaching of that morning was not delivered with words. Nor was it delivered by the preacher in the pulpit whose words mostly bounced off me like so many ping pong balls. Instead,the preaching came from the gentle, quiet movements of the lay leader whose role was to make announcements and lead the congregation in everything besides the sermon. I watched as she helped one of the older gentlemen who had been trying to light the candles that flanked the altar. His unsteady hands quivered as he tried to reach the wicks that may have once been easy for him but in his unsteadiness he could no longer safely do. She guided his hands to do a task that had at one time been a simple gesture of preparing for worship. She helped him do the work he wanted to do. My heart was warmed.

But her preaching for the morning didn’t stop at candle lighting. Just as the minister was about to begin his morning sermon, this same man came walking out of the choir loft, saying something I could not hear. But the lay leader did and she once again gently guided him down the side stairs without making a fuss, helping him go wherever he needed to go. As her kindness and presence moved through the worship space, I was reminded of the words of St. Francis: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

And so it was. And so it was.


A few weeks ago I was listening to MPR as they were once again reflecting and reporting on the devastation of the storms that hit the New Jersey shore a year ago. They used a phrase that stuck with me. They described this community as one ‘not built for resilience”. I remember how my eyes widened and my head seemed to jerk toward the radio at this particular combination of words and all they implied. A community not built for resilience. Then I thought of the impact of Katrina, which has left a city and its people still unhealed even after all these years. And there is Haiti. And this past week, the Philippines. All these, and others whose names escape me, torn to bits by wind and rain and forces the people had no control over. Homes leveled. Families scattered. Lost. Groping around in the daylight and dark to find food, water and anything that looks familiar, theirs.

Resilience. As a parent, I remember talking with other parents about the hope of raising resilient children. Those young ones who could take the inevitable knocks of life from pillar to post and still be able to pull themselves up, remember who they are, and move on. Until the next joy or sorrow hits. Resilience seems to me to be one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, ourselves. But none of us, I believe, embraces that resilient spirit alone. For me that is an impossible task. Resilience comes, not from being a strong individual, but from knowing how intricately woven together we all are in a community. Whether that community is family, neighborhood, church, school, a circle of friends, it makes no difference. So to be a part of a community that is built for resilience is important, imperative, down-right bone, deep necessary. Isn’t it?

Now I recognize that the MPR report was mostly speaking about the ways in which the people along the Jersey shore had built the structures of home and business in ways that did not take into account how they might be called to live in communion with the land and water that is so important to their livelihood. The same could be said about so many of our cities and communities. Because as humans we love the water, the cliffs, the mountains, we forget that we are as equally yoked with this land as we are to the human ones who share our spaces. Living in relationship with how creation works is as important as being kind to our neighbor which can mean we don’t get to do what we want without responsible thought or action.

But if we were to think about and plan for creating a community of resilience, what would it look like? It seems to me being known is important, really important. We need to know one another’s names and the things that make us most alive. When was the last time you asked someone, a child, a friend, a partner what is making them most alive these days? Listening, really listening,to their answer is also important. Kindness is a must. And grace. Then there is the deep belief that most of us are simply doing the best we can. Every day. Over and over.

A resilient community shares some common goodness, or at least a belief that goodness is possible and necessary. This takes a big dose of creativity. Resilience is planted in the soil of seeing the best in the other, helping when we can, knowing that someone will do the same for us when the time comes. The early followers of Jesus knew this and made it a common tenet of what became articulated as faith. Sometimes these days we forget and think this faith is about believing and being with people who believe and look just like us. But resilience can get drowned in such a way of living. So it seems wise to throw the net pretty wide. You just never know when it will be the person who looks, acts, or believes differently who might be the very one who shores up the community after a storm, who picks up the debris that flew wildly in the wind until it landed right in your yard.

I am sure there are so many other traits that help build resilience. You have your own list. But I hope we all can agree that we can no longer afford to be living in communities that are not built for resilience. The normal, daily storms that rock our world will continue to happen. It is the way of life. Let’s remember we are all in this together and do all we can to build not only resilient children but resilient communities.


Docks Out

Last week I walked around the shoreline of one of Minnesota’s more than 10,000
lakes. It was a frigid morning and the ice was beginning to form on the space where water washed onto the land. The sound of my own feet padding along pavement was accompanied by a clinking sound. New ice pieces were sloshing in the water like the sound of ice cubes in a frosty glass. The slightest motion of wind caused a somehow comforting connection of temperature and water to be the soundtrack for the beginning of my day. This sound was an echo of the way in which my cheeks began to feel the tingling of the cold, piercing little pinpricks of cold on flesh.

All along the lake, the beaches and grassy land was dotted with the docks and rafts that had,only a few weeks before, been floating lazily in the water. They had felt the frenzied feet of children running, jumping, diving into the cool,refreshing water. They had been the stability for those stepping on pontoon boats headed for an evening’s contemplative ride around the lake at sunset. They had held the hopeful promise of those carrying fishing rods as they packed tackle and coolers into a boat ready for a day’s catch. These wooden structures floating on the water’s surface had also been the rock on which kayakers and canoeists had steadied their bodies as they lowered themselves into their tippy, water crafts. Now they sat, alone, unmoored on land.

Perhaps it was the cold temperatures that sent my mind racing about these landed docks. More likely it was the time spent earlier in contemplation at a retreat center further down the lake. Whatever the source, I began to think about the times in our lives when it is necessary to remove ourselves from certain situations, opportunities, places, and all that allows us to make the passage from one to another. Those times when it seems the wise thing to take our dock out of the water and wait.

Sometimes this choice is not our own but is chosen for us. I have people in my life who might feel like their dock has been lifted out of the water, stranding them on land for an undefined season of time. Grief can do this. Illness, too. The loss or change in a relationship can remove that connection that bridges the ground and the ability to float. The act of taking the dock out of the water of our lives can be what allows us to take the time we need, to allow our spirits to prepare our bodies and minds for the next season, a future that is yet to be imagined.

Other times the act of taking the dock out of the water is an act of planning and wisdom. Summer turns to autumn and then to winter. Leaving the dock in the water will only result in cracked wood, the damage that comes from thawing and freezing, from water pushing and pulling on a solid mass. Removing the dock, from water or our lives, can be a choice to pay attention to the ebb and flow of changes, hopes, and questions that are nagging us. Sitting on the beach, forcing our bodies into a stillness that will feed the ‘what next’ is time well spent and provides a deep well from which to draw.

And you. Are there docks that have been lifted off their moors in your life? Is there something that might be pulled out, set aside for a time to make room for the next season, one you only sense but which does not have form in you yet?

All around Minnesota, in these November days, you can see these docks. Sitting. Waiting. Sculptures that tell of a different season. Not this one. Or the one that has past or is yet to come. They might be calling us all to stop, listen, wait. Something is always being born in us. But perhaps, not yet. Not yet.


The Tapestry of a Day

Each day has a certain weave to it that gives it its own personality, its own set of threads in a tapestry that is unique to that block on the calendar, that turn of sun and moon. Some days we are aware of that weave. Most often this seems to happen when tragedy strikes. We are able to mark the ‘before’ and ‘after’ and see the day in the brilliance and shadow of itself. But there are days when the threads that weave into the tapestry of a day are so rich, so beautiful that even the most distracted person wakes up to the gifts that are being offered in the unfolding. Sunday was just such a day for me.

I began the morning, as I do nearly every Sunday, in worship with a community of people I have been blessed to travel with for many years. We celebrated the baptism, the folding into the community of faith, of a sweet new woman-child. In this particular community, the theme of baptism is woven throughout the entire service. It becomes a reminder, even a reaffirmation for those who notice, of each of our births,the ways we are intricately connected through water….its presence in our bodies,the eternal need we have for it, the tributaries we become to one another on life’s journey. In a refrain we sing as the baby is adored and passed through the community, we declare:”Welcome to this spinning world!” We say it for ourselves and believe it to have been on the lips of the Holy when we each made our own entrance into this precious life.

Later in the morning, in another worship service, we read aloud Psalm 104 as the psalmist declares the beauty and wonder of Creation. We spent some time together reflecting on how we had seen the movement of God in earth and sky. Listening to people’s own psalm language emerge and seeing the looks on their faces when they made those connections of seeing the Sacred in their everyday lives was such a gift. I left that place bathed in their words.

In the late afternoon, my husband and the Big Black Dog and I headed out for a walk along some trails in our neighborhood. We were anticipating the colder temperatures that were to arrive and were working to squeeze as much enjoyment out of the waning November weather as we could. Leaving the paved walking trail that runs through the woods, we stepped onto the soft, gentle ground made so by the fallen pine needles that blanketed the earth, sending up their rich, pungent, piney smell. We seemed to adopt the quiet walk the needles demanded. Suddenly, overhead we saw what seemed a huge, flying presence. Stopping, settling ourselves for what we might see, we raised our silent heads toward the tops of a tree. An enormous owl looked back at us. We stood and sat, respectively, looking at one another…..owl and humans, even dog, awake and aware to their fellow earth travelers. It was breath-taking!

But this day was not yet finished offering up its riches. Driving home from our owl encounter, someplace in the midst of conversation about dinner yet to be prepared,our eyes were jerked into over-drive. The trees ahead of us were shining! Their branches were red as if on fire. An enormous paintbrush had taken the now bare, drab branches and painted them with brilliance. The Sun’s setting was creating what is called Aspen Glow on the landscape around us. Amidst the “Wow!” and the “Look!” of our human voices, I seemed to hear a “You’re welcome.”sounding forth. We were like Moses standing in the presence of a bush that burned but was not consumed. We were in the presence of the great ‘I Am’.

Some days the tapestry that is woven of our daily walk is muted, even mundane yet serviceable. Other days, God shows up in that show-offy way that brought us peacocks and birds of paradise and giraffes. When this happens it is best to make note of it which is what I have tried to do by writing this. It is my meager human attempt at documenting the beauty offered me on one particular day, in one tiny life.

Whatever the tapestry of your day, may your eyes, my our eyes, be open to it and may our hearts be overflowing with gratitude.


Winter Strategies

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
~Edith Sitwell

After writing about the flight behavior and migration of monarch butterflies last week, I was interested to read in Saturday’s paper the following from Jim Gilbert, a naturalist and author whose words always peak my imagination: Winter strategies for Minnesota’s native species include migration, coping and hibernation. He goes on to describe in detail what happens to animals whose makeup includes the act of ‘sleeping’ through the winter. Heart rates slow to almost nothing. Blood flow slows to a crawl. Breathing becomes almost undetectable.

This morning the temperature tells us there is no turning back. Winter is here. It is time to decide on some ‘strategies’ for making our way through icy winds, freezing temperatures, and dark and cloudy days. For most of us, while some long naps might be in order,hibernation is not an option. Too much heart slowing and little breathing seems a terrifying option! And so we are forced to look at other ways of living into these winter days.

Of course, there is always ‘coping’ as Gilbert suggests. We will all do this in some ways but I believe there is greater gift in these days that simply coping. There is also the option of migrating. I know many people who now make their way to warmer climes and live a double life of north and south. They pick up what is important to them here and carry it to another place, a warmer, sunnier place, where they have incorporated the gifts of what they love in a kinder, gentler climate. Those who are blessed with certain resources may even adopt this migratory behavior for a least a week, say, sometime in February when the work of coping is fraying nerves and spirits.

But I would like to suggest that there are many other strategies for living in winter that go far beyond the act of coping. I know people who have once again picked up yarn and needles and are settled into a cozy chair waiting to knit their way through winter. Others are tackling that large stack of books that accumulated in the ‘to-be-read’ pile. What can be more comforting than a good book on a cold day? Some I know are pulling out that art project they have been dreaming about all summer when the weather was too warm and seduced them to be outside. And, of course, the foodies are planning soups and breads and sweets that will nurture the tingling cheeks and frost fingers of those they love.

Those of us who love to write are making lists of ideas for stories or poems. Some may even be tackling a first stab at a novel or a recommitment to memoir. There is something about the colder temperatures, the darker skies that can stir up the creative muse for writers. Thoughts spin more freely in a brain whose body home is numbed by cold. Words seem to form out of the visible breath that surrounds the head like a comic strip conversation bubble.

The seasons we are blessed to live are gift of the Great Artist and call to the artist in all of us. Migrate? Hibernate? Cope? It seems there are so many strategies for wintering.

What are yours?



Over the last week I have been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior, a story that looks at the effects of climate change on the monarch butterfly. The ways in which she is able to weave scientific concepts into a story of human longings, confusions,questions, and heartbreak is a marvel. Her ability to educate and inform while pulling the reader into the lives of every day people, trying to do the best they can in the only place they’ve ever called home, has given me much to think about.

In Minnesota this summer, we often talked of the absence of the monarch butterflies. There was much speculation about why there were so few. As the summer started drawing to a close and fall began to set in, their absence was obvious. Normally the coneflowers and other flowers of purple in our garden would be dotted with the delicate wings of these miraculous beings. But not this summer. I believe I saw only one monarch the entire season. Kingsolver’s novel highlights the migration patterns of these paper-thin fliers. Until this year, we would see them in our yard and know that soon they would be on their way to Mexico. It is a totally miraculous thing to think about. Beings that are born in one place. Fly to another. Give birth. Die. And then the children and grandchildren make their way back to an original home.

My head was still buzzing with this story when I read these words from a morning devotional: “I give thanks for the ancestral experience that I inherit in every cell of my body.” Of course. The ancestral experience is not just for butterflies! It is in all of us, isn’t it? The way in which these two encounters of words intersected in me had me reflecting all day about how those who came before me are imprinted in so much of who I am and what I do.

Sometimes I will catch a glimpse of my hands out of the corner of my eye and see, not my own hand, but my grandmother’s. It is an unnerving experience until the comfort of it washes over me. There are times when a particular tone in a song touches me in a way that seems deeper than anything logically understandable and I sense that somehow I am connecting through time with something, someone I once knew.

There are also places that seem to hold greater meaning, landscapes that feel like home though I have never lived there. Landscapes that have a familiarity to my eye and that tug at my heart in a special way. Stones that ground me. Water that causes my breath to become even and sure and earth that feels more solid beneath my feet. Does this make sense to you? Does it fit your experience?

We carry within us, within the very cells of our bodies, the gifts and curses of our ancestors. Their lives have shaped us in ways that may seem mysterious and sometimes even cause great pain. This inheritance has instilled courage and allowed us to step out into paths that surprise. Like the monarchs we have within us a pattern that flows out, urging us to follow, until we make our way home.

Today my heart is filled with prayers for the monarch and for all those whose flight behavior is being challenged or altered by larger forces. May we each know the fragility of our living and give thanks for the inheritance of ancestral experience.


Moment of Grace

If we are lucky, and if we are truly blessed, we have a few moments when we are in the presence of someone who speaks such truth that our heart sings. Last week I spent two days in the company of a person, who for me, spoke such beautiful, plain truth that I felt a place open in my heart and I came to understand, not only the world, but myself in a fuller way. I was privileged to be among a group of people who hosted John Philip Newell, author,Celtic theologian and former leader of the Iona Community in Scotland. I had heard him speak before and have read most of his work but this time his words seemed more timely than ever.

Newell has given his time and life to the ways in which people search after an understanding of the Holy within a variety of faith traditions. His work in the last years has been to notice, study, and articulate for others the ways in which the East and the West can, indeed must, be in conversation with one another. His experiences with people of faith around the world and the many ways we can learn from the wisdom of one another is pure gift. He speaks of this coming together as ‘A New Harmony’.

At one point in is talk, Newell quoted another author and theologian, Thomas Berry.” We are living at a moment of grace.”, Berry said when speaking of this 21st century in which we find ourselves. He went on to wonder if we would miss this moment or be open to the many ways we are being called to be faithful to our understanding of the Holy, to our responsibility to our Earth home, and to living into what it means to be images of God for the healing of the world. Both theologians believe in our profound ability to be agents of transformation for the good and brighter future of our planet.

I have thought often over the last days of what it means to be living at a moment of grace. Of course, part of me believes we have always been, are always, living in a moment of grace. How else would we continue? But this statement has much greater cosmic implications than my every day embrace of grace. This grace carries with it not only a hope that lives deep within me but also the hope that rests at the heart of the Sacred. It is the dance between the two that holds this moment.

Just after Newell spoke of this moment of grace, he told of the island of Iona and the pilgrimage on which those who visit the island are invited. He spoke of the crossroads that the pilgrims come to and what is said to them there. The funny thing about this crossroads is that the island is so tiny, there are only two roads and one point at which they cross. Having stood at that very point, the winds from the sea blowing around me, I could well remember both the reality and metaphor of this place where roads cross. The kind voice of the leader of our pilgrimage came back to me: “What are the crossroads at which you stand in your life? In your nation? In your communities?”

I cannot remember how I answered that question for myself then. I cannot remember what issues or situations were pulling at me or even those that were straining the circles in which I travel and make a life. But the act of standing at that crossroad in all of its visible simplicity and complexity still rings in me. As those who seem to be grappling with so much, we still stand at this moment of grace in which we have many more roads that intersect than the two on the tiny island of Iona.

And yet, if we allow ourselves to be bathed in the grace that is being offered to us at this moment in which we have been called from our mother’s wombs to live, surely there can be a goodness that is born. This moment of grace begs to be not only noticed but embraced. It seems to me much, much depends upon it.