“When all is said and done, faith may be nothing more than the assignment of holy to events that others call random.”
~Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life

The wheel has turned yet once again. For those of us who stumble and mutter our way through life by hanging out in the church, we are soon to fall headlong into the long season of Lent. This Sunday sees Jesus bathed in light and shining like an otherworldly being and next week we begin the long, slow walk through the last days of his earthly life. Days filled with the range of emotion common to all humans…..fear, betrayal, loneliness, failure, and deep, deep sadness.

In my particular community we have chosen a theme to hold us while we walk through the 40 days and 6 Sundays of Lent before we reach Easter. “Holy Way” is the short phrase that will show up in liturgy, prayers, songs, sermons, in written and spoken word. Two short words that actually hold out quite a feast to the reader or hearer. Holy. What does that word mean, anyway? What image or feeling does it conjure up?

As I was leafing through a book by one of my favorite writers, Barbara Brown Taylor, I saw the sentence above outlined in yellow highlighter. I just can’t seem to shake the ingrained school practice of underlining! Her explanation, definition, of faith was a good reminder for me as I begin this season. How can I be open to the ways in which the holy and the ordinary share space? What lens allows me to see the One who breathed the world into being in the seemingly random acts of the world?

“Faith may be nothing more than the assignment of holy to events that others call random.” For some I can imagine that this statement seems near heresy. For others they may just furrow their brow and move on. But as I read it I am reminded of the many ways I can move through the world bouncing from one random act to another. If I am lucky…..or blessed….to open my eyes and my heart to the path, I notice that something More is at work in my comings and goings. Those are the moments, for me, when a light shines more intensely on my path and I wake up to myself and the holy that has been right before me all the time.

As humans we like to divide things into neat and tidy categories. Black and white. Young and old. Rich and poor. Conservative and liberal. Sacred and profane. Religious and worldly. We seem to think this helps us traverse the paths of our lives more easily. But I am not so sure that it true. It seems to me it allows us to set up walls in our hearts and minds that keep us from seeing and experiencing the holy……the Breath the breathes through us all…..in any real way.

What if we were to approach each day and all the manner of events that make up our days with the notion that they will be filled to overflowing with ‘holy’? What if we were to allow the holy to be our modus operandi all day long? First cup of coffee? Holy! Warm winter coat? Holy! Snow piled higher than our heads? Holy! Ice formed by tires and cold and all manner of chemicals? Holy! The smile….or frown….on the cashier’s face? Holy! A friend’s phone call? Holy! The words of that person with whom I disagree? Holy!

You see how it might go. As my faith community lives into the theme of Holy Way, it is my prayer that we might all begin to see not more randomness but more holy. I wonder how that all might lead to holier days, holier decisions, holier laughter, holier tears……holier people.

Lent lasts a long time so we will have many days to live our faith…..and our holiness.



Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost. Where ever you are is called HERE…….
~David Wagoner

Over the last days I have been looking for words that reflect our upcoming Lenten theme, ‘Holy Way’. The words above of poet David Wagoner begin a poem that reminds us to be in the present moment. This is always a wake up for me, a sometimes not so gentle nudge to be awake and aware in the precious pulse of the day in which I find myself. Not yesterday, which has already etched its memory in my bones. Not tomorrow which I am still trying to twist with my imagination. Today……this HERE that is the gift of the rising and setting sun and the One who set the whole spinning in motion.

I love that this poem reminds us of the stability and wisdom of our fellow earth travelers, the non-human ones, that we often ignore. The deep knowing that the trees, which churn out the oxygen for our lungs, are simply living in the present moment without a sense of being lost or barreling ahead into the next day, the next season. The bushes are doing their own work in the HERE, sheltering us and unseen other creatures, small birds and tiny animals, from the winds that can blow through the day.

Last Thursday most of us hunkered down for the biggest winter storm of the season. For days before its arrival, meteorologists had outlined its coming.They had described,sometimes in great detail, the way the rain would begin, how it would turn into sleet and form a layer of ice. This ice would then be covered by anywhere from 6-12 inches on new snow to fall upon the banks of snow which already tower over the heads of small children. This would be followed by winds, powerful winds, that would push the snow and everything in its wake, around making it difficult and dangerous to travel. This account of the future was told to us over and over. We were wise to listen and heed the warning because it all proved to be true.

As I listened to these words of caution, for some reason I began to think of all the people who have a storm show up in their lives without any kind of warning. No wise person stands with a clipboard or animated computer screens telling them what to expect. There is no way to prepare. They simply didn’t see or know it was coming and then….BOOM…everything changes the HERE of their lives. An illness. A death. The loss of a job. A disappointment so large that it seems an explosion has happened in the very center of their being. No one said it was going to happen. There was no way to prepare. These times which we have all experienced can leave us feeling lost, hopeless, powerless to deal with the here and now.

And yet, for me, those are the times when I am most often offered the wisdom of my other companions on the journey. Human ones are there to comfort and advise, of course. But many times it has as equally been those in Creation who cannot speak words that offer the wisdom I need. The trees stand tall, roots going deep into the ground that holds my feet upright. Even now in this frozen, white landscape they are standing at attention holding out their branches with the buds pulsing to give birth. At the right time. Not yet. They are reminding me of the HERE. These silhouettes of twists and turns that through trunk and branch reach toward the clear, blue winter sky, are waiting with a patience I can only dream of. “HERE”, they are saying, “HERE.”

Predictions of storms to come are often a gift that can help us prepare for something that may or may not arrive. We can fill the fridge with milk, the cupboards with bread, the secret drawers with chocolate to help us endure. But in the end, whether storm of snow or sleet, or heartbreak or hurt, we must live through it, hoping to glean whatever the learnings might be.

It has been my experience that standing still is often a good practice. Standing still, like the trees, resting and relishing the gift of HERE.



“I’d love to have the whole place swimming in roses”
~James Joyce, Ulysses

A few weeks ago in a moment of frivolity I scattered rose petals on the snowy landscape outside our house. You read this correctly. To some, It may seem an odd thing to do. But I had purchased pink roses the week before and had enjoyed their beautiful color and sweet fragrance for days. As they began to droop, they maintained their brilliance and invitation of hope so I could not bear to simply throw them in the trash. I looked at them for a long time before the thought came to me. I will remove the petals from their thorny stems and scatter them about on the mounds of snow that have been present for weeks with little sign of melting. At least until April. Or May. Hopefully, not June.

So that’s what I did. I pulled all the velvety, pink petals off and placed them in a bowl. Bundling up in my down coat, snow boots, my scarf firm around my neck, hat tugged down over my ears, gloves firmly placed on all ten digits, I headed out with my bowl of color. Walking down our sidewalk like a flower girl in the wedding aisle, I proceeded to scatter rose petals in our frozen tundra of a yard. Some were caught up right away in the wind and were carried away to who knows where. Others settled into the drifts and unique, one-of-a-kind formations of snowflakes. Pink now interrupted the monochromatic pallet of snow. It felt whimsical and somehow powerful to make this addition to the winter portrait.

Since then the landscape has returned to white as snow fell on snow. But on Saturday as I was out shoveling, I was given a wonderful surprise. As my shovel lifted and turned the light, fluffy gift of sky that had fallen all morning, I noticed in the underbelly of my shovel something colorful. Something…….pink. In my mind, the words of Mother Mary came to me. “How can this be?” More than two weeks later, these now frozen rose petals had remained their lovely, pink selves. They had simply nestled into the snowbank and rested quietly. I laughed and felt such joy at the sight of them.

For some reason, I imagined the rose petals freezing and turning brown, burrowing down into the snow till they became only another addition to the compost of leaves and needles and someday, melting snow. But no! These petals held on to their color despite freezing temperatures and blankets of snow. They remained true to their nature, their authentic ‘self’. They continued to inspire awe and delight and an appreciation of beauty. This is the work of the rose, isn’t it?

It has been a difficult winter for many. All across our nation and, in fact, the whole world the weather patterns are creating devastating and, also, beautiful scenes. Some places there is more snow than has been seen in years. Other places there is too much rain while still other landscapes are held in drought. I heard that over the weekend only one state in our country did not have snow. Florida. There are many things to ponder and wonder about in all this.

But one of the things that the rose petals taught me is that beauty has a power in it that will not be silenced. Each of us and the very core of Creation has that same vein of beauty at its very heart. Sometimes that beauty is covered up by debris, by hurt, by all manner of life experiences. And sometimes we take our beauty into hiding. This hiding is driven by many things. Lack of confidence. Grief. Fear. An unkind, untruthful word that once came our way.

But make no mistake about it. Our beauty, whatever that is, whatever it looks like, is needed by the world. This original beauty that was planted within us by the One who breathed us into being is our gift to offer. So, what is the beauty, the special color you have to present to the world? Have you uncovered it recently?

The snow continues to fall outside my window. It is lovely even after all these weeks, even as the inches continue to accumulate. The snow is offering its gift of white that will, in a few short weeks melt into the water that gives birth to green. As this happens and I rejoice in it,I will also know that sliding down into that watering of earth will be a little pink, a tell-tale reminder of a frivolous day in January and the roses that told their own story.


Great Absurdity

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”
~Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

Earlier in the week I was at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis to hear author Sue Monk Kidd speak. She shared not only a history of the books she has written but her own spiritual formation during those years, in the writing of the particular novels or memoirs. I have enjoyed her work for years and it was a joy to see her and to share in the gentle, sweet rhythm of her presence and words.

A few of those words have been nagging me. At one point she said:”Every life needs one great absurdity.” At first glance this may appear as a negative statement. Absurdity? But in the context she was speaking about, how she came to writing after having been trained as a nurse as was the custom of the time in which she grew up,it was anything but negative. This absurdity was indeed the step she made into her true, authentic self, the ‘who’ she was born to be. She was born to bring to birth stories and ideas that inspire, challenge, entertain and eventually transform the reader.

Absurd…..wildly unreasonable,illogical or inappropriate. So the definition goes. It reminded me of the times in my own life that something, something wildly unreasonable has drawn me toward the place that, later, proved to be exactly where I was meant to be. Has this ever happened to you? Perhaps it is happening right now. Perhaps there is some urge, some longing that just won’t let go, just won’t stop popping up in heart or mind. Whatever it is may seem, on the surface, unreasonable….wildly so….illogical or even inappropriate. It has been my experience that these are times to pay attention and to look for the opening that is calling.

Over the last weeks I have sat in meetings with wonderful people who are trying to understand and create vision for the church. These gatherings can be inspiring, frustrating, enlightening, challenging. Most of the time the conversation stays within the confines of predictable. I found myself longing for absurdity. Something that would jar us all off center and plunge our thinking and planning into illogical. For me, this is where the Spirit dances and, personally, I never want to miss the chance to weave and dip in what could become an opportunity of unimaginable creativity. That’s just me. I know others prefer the predictability, the knowing what is what. I pray there is room for both.

But hearing Sue Monk Kidd make the statement about absurdity, great absurdity, has me thinking and hoping for just such a thing. For myself. For those I know who are itching for something they can’t name. For the institutions that know they must change or cease to be. For the young folks, and the not so young, I know who are searching. For those who have chosen the well defined path but have a pull within that won’t let them go.

For some reason her statement made me think of all the folks in scripture stories who were visited by great absurdity. When you think about all those many of us claim as spiritual ancestors, their story is only told because a great absurdity came into their life. Moses. Mary. Paul. Ruth. Esther. Jesus. All of these who are a part of the roots and branches of our faith tree had their lives shaped by a wildly unreasonable, illogical, inescapable event or experience that led them to their true selves. Why would the same thing not be true for us?

Yes, the Spirit is still dancing. Still calls us to respond….sometimes wildly….sometimes without any logical reasoning……sometimes in ways that may even seem inappropriate. And yet saying ‘yes’ to this Dance Partner may make all the difference in our lives……and in the life of the world.

Random Acts

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
~Henry James

A particular obituary in last week’s newspaper has been haunting me. It is an occupational hazard, I believe, to peruse the obituary section of the paper with greater attention than may be necessary. More than once I have learned the news of a church member or former one who has passed from this life and whose family had not let the church know. It is always a sad and troubling experience. Invisible lines of connection are tenuous.

But the photo and name of the troubling passing was not anyone from our faith community or anyone I know. It was the news of the death of a young man, nineteen years old, whose notice declared in the first words that he had died of an accidental overdose. His sweet, young, open face looked back at me from the black and white pages. I tried to imagine his parents grief, their pain at losing this beloved child. I tried to imagine all the experiences that had brought him to such a tragic death. My heart broke for him and for his family and I sent prayers toward them.

This young man’s obituary ended with the words…The family wishes you to take the time to do a random act of kindness on behalf of Tracy today! In writing this, the family had even chosen to use an exclamation point. Reading it I felt not only deep grief for this family but also those invisible lines of connection grow stronger. Somehow I could do something for this family, something to help them honor their child’s young life. I could do something kind.

It seems kindness is often in short supply in our world. We move at warp speed through our days trying to accomplish task after task after task. I know I often forget to even make eye contact with those I meet much less remember to offer kindness. And yet when I reflect on the gifts of any day, it is often the acts of kindness that have come my way that stand out. It is the moments when those invisible lines of human connection quiver with gentleness, sweet words, an unexpected act of generosity, that make all the rest of the flurry of activity fall into perspective.

Yesterday I spoke with a friend on the phone. She told me that the calendar she uses to guide her days had declared this week ‘random acts of kindness’ week. Sounded like a good plan to me! With the cold we have been experiencing we may have had a tendency to allow our senses to be dulled and the kindness to be wrung out of us. Which is as good a reason as any to dedicate the day to committing at least one random act that will lift someone above the freezing temperatures, above an alienation they may be experiencing or a hurt that is throbbing.

Another reason is because Tracy’s parents asked us to.


Holy Path

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

It is a rare experience, I think, to be able to sit with someone while they pour out the ways they have seen the Sacred moving in their lives. If not rare, then it is certainly holy. And yet that is what I have been doing for the past three days. It is my yearly privilege to be a part of a gathering in which people are interviewed for ordination in the United Methodist Church. It is intense, beautiful work that spans over long hours of listening, praying, talking, worshiping, and then listening and praying some more. Through it all we try, in our feeble and imperfect ways, to practice the presence of God to one another.

Each time I do this I am struck with the power of our stories. Telling them. Listening to them. Be present to the stories of one another. Of course these stories I have been hearing have the added dimension of theology…..people reflecting on how they perceive God has been at work in their lives. Where they have seen the threads of holy movement. Where they have understood themselves as co-creators with the Creator. Where they have wrestled, been changed, found surprise, been enlivened and eventually found themselves in this place. Ready and willing to answer some still small voice or a loud clap of thunder that they understand as God’s voice calling them to a particular place.

Of course, this movement does not just happen with people who are moving into ordained ministry. It happens all the time, every day, in ordinary and extraordinary places. Most people don’t notice and certainly aren’t asked to write…..long, detailed papers…..about it. In classrooms and hospitals, around kitchen tables and along the factory line, people are making sense of their life’s story in the grand picture of who they are and the particular time and place in which they were born. Each of us feels some inward pull toward expression of some life’s work that says ‘I was here. I am a part of something larger.’

Being present to young adults as I am blessed to do, it is such a gift to observe them maneuvering the path of their life’s story. Most young adults I know are thoughtful, searching, trying to shape their own stamp on the world in responsible ways. They have watched a world struggle with too much stuff, known a lifetime of people standing at street corners with signs pleading for help, seen the rise and fall and rise again of economies that impacted their families and their futures.

And yet, they and those we have interviewed over the last days, haven chosen a path of hope. It has been my experience that all these people have decided to give every day to being ‘in’ the world in gentle yet powerful ways. Though some may not ‘theologize’ as I have been witness to, each is trying to find that sliver of space that can only be occupied by their gifts, their life. Holy work.

The thought of this makes me stop and think of all the people I pass every day on the street, on the freeway, in hallways, at tables in coffee shops. What is their story? How are they making meaning of the ‘voice’ they hear nudging them toward…..something? How will that ‘something’ bless the world?

My three days of being present to these candidates is nearly over. But the every day work of being present to all the life stories that come my way is always there. Ready to surprise. Ready to amaze. Ready to help me see the Sacred.

Holy people. Holy work.


Pushed to Create

There is within each of us, I believe, a push toward creating beauty. If not beauty, then certainly something interesting or novel. Something that takes the raw materials before our very eyes and makes something new or permanent, something to delight or challenge. It is our birthright as those whose existence was formed from the mud and stardust of the original blessing of Creation. This One who breathed us all into being also implanted the genetic code that thrusts us toward creativity.

There are signs and wonders of this all around. In museums and books and on stages. In classrooms and hospitals. In offices and living rooms. Everywhere humans are something is also being created. There are stories of the early settlers in prairie sod houses who, at the end of a tiresome day of toil, pull from the rafters a quilting frame and spend the dark hours of the evening stitching together scraps of fabric, leftover pieces of clothing or feed sacks to create a blanket of beauty and warmth. This idea and others like it always amaze me and fill me with such a sense of hope for we beings who walk upright.

During these cold winter months, the raw materials available to us for creating beauty could seem like a vast and frigid wasteland. White for as far as the eye can see. Windows seeping freezing air. Trees bare of leaves and the landscapes void of color. Lakes and rivers are frozen over and no movement of water fills our sphere of vision. It would seem the world is static, dead, without hope of any creative act.

But for those who visited the St.Paul Winter Carnival or the Minneapolis Lakes Loppet we know this is not true. There are those among us who see ice and snow and cannot resist the urge to create. These winter artists take up pick and saw, planer and torch and fashion beauty out of the frigid scene in front of them. Through a process of vision, melting and subtraction something emerges out of frozen water and the moisture that falls from the sky. Amazing! Walking past the sculptures created from ice, I marveled at our human ability, our deep need, to create. Why not just walk past ice or snow and let it be? Why not just wait it out till the sun turns its face in our direction once again and brings forth the green and golden gifts of spring and summer?

This human need to create beauty, to respond to the land and landscape that holds us, runs deeper even than the challenges of weather or season. Perhaps it is because we have seen the structure and uniqueness of a snowflake or have heard the living, breathing groan of ice under our feet as we walk across a lake, that demands our response, our connection. Perhaps it is the awe that wells up in us as we witness the rainbow colors of sundogs that have graced the morning skies of these frigid days. All of these glimpses of the Creation at work and the connection we feel with the Creator push us toward response and relationship. In this beauty is often born.

Today may not find us carving sculptures out of ice or building snow figures that dance in our yard. But today may find us paying attention to the way light plays on the snow as day progresses. There may be the opportunity to notice the crystals with their jagged edges forming lace on our windows. Whether creating beauty or responding to it, let us all give thanks this day for those moments that remind us that we are all children of the Great Artist. Perhaps our response with lead us in those wild and wonderful footsteps that brought us to this here, this now.

Blessed be.