Dandelions. The last few days I have been surrounded by dandelions. This does not mean that our evolving green lawn is dotted with the sweet, yellow flowers. Instead, it means that the dandelion has been the central metaphorical image for the annual gathering of United Methodists that has once again descended on the city of St. Cloud. Yes, the dandelion. There have been songs about dandelions. Liturgical words about dandelions. Sermons that use the image of dandelions. And art everywhere that has lifted the lowly weed to new heights.

Why the dandelion, you may ask? Well, we have been focusing on new ways to be church, new ways to tell the stories of the movement of the Holy in the world. Someone at some place along the line in the planning for this conference began to use words like bold, fearless, wild, unfettered, unleashed, tenacious to describe their hopes for the community of faith. For some reason the image of the dandelion came to the planner’s minds. And what an image it became for our gathering!

When something……or someone…..has been labeled annoying and misplaced, it can be difficult to change our minds about them. When something….or someone has been called wild or bold we can develop a certain negative set of feelings. When something…..or someone is fearless and unleashed we can tend to put them in categories that cause us to shy away, to keep our distance. We can want to take all the tools possible and use any poison chemical we can to rid ourselves of these beings that mess with our tidy, controlled lives.

So,you can see how the dandelion fits perfectly for an image of the way the Spirit often comes unbidden and planets itself in the midst of things that may have become staid, have become unable to grow in new ways. Enter the spirit of the dandelion into any well manicured, immaculately maintained lawn and there is bound to be opportunity to see things, to do things in new ways. This is the image that challenged, excited and confounded us. How does it ring with you?

Of course this metaphor need not stop with a new imagining of how church might be influenced by the simple dandelion presence. Most of us have places in our own lives where a touch of wild, bold unleashing might be welcomed, needed. Many of us have at least parts of our career or work that could use a little touch of fearlessness or tenacity. Perhaps a little dandelion action could make all the difference.

I have a sense that those who have given many an hour to digging the powerful, long roots of dandelions out of a yard are wincing right now. I get that. And yet I must admit that after the long winter we have endured, when one of the first bursts of color I saw in a yard I passed by was the brilliant yellow of a dandelion, nothing looked more beautiful. It is all a matter of perspective. While we may not welcome them reproducing like crazy to cover our entire lawn, it might do us well to honor their bold desire to bring their happy color to an often dull world.

Whether or not this image will carry into the more than 300 United Methodist churches around Minnesota bringing not only a renewed sense of spirit but a gentler fondness for this simple weed remains to be seen. I, for one, doubt I’ll ever see the yellow flower in the same way. Now, for me, the dandelion has taken on divine status and my heart has been strangely warmed by them. While I may still pull them from my yard lest they make yellow what we hope to remain green, I will do so with a sense of honor for their spirit and way of being in the world. I am thankful for the way another lens can make such a difference.

And that lesson is one that seems to need to be learned time and time again.

*****Extra special gratitude to Mickey Olson whose art opened to us the lowly dandelion.


Fluttering Petals

In Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple there is a line that has been jumping around in my head these last days. One of her characters says that she think it makes God angry if we walk past the color purple in a field and we don’t take the time to notice. Those who know this novel well know that this statement is made in a more colorful way but you get the point. I have been holding that statement and our church’s upcoming, summer theme ‘The Earth Delights’ in some kind of balance. Like Lady Justice I am standing with the scales of awe and daily living in my outstretched hands.

The truth is we have come through a difficult winter, a long winter that out shade its welcome. Photos from Duluth yesterday showed folks sunbathing on the beach while ice chunks floated in the waters of Lake Superior not feet away from their sun screen lathered bodies. Wow!

And yet it is the sheer beauty of crabapple trees and emerging lilac bushes that has had my head spinning. Walking along my usual paths, the brilliant hot pinks and lily whites of these flowering trees takes your breath away. Not wanting to stir up any divine anger and because the sight and smell of these trees fills me with such love, I have not only noticed them but adored their exquisite beauty. Though the lilacs are only in their summer infancy, I have stopped over and over to breathe in their signature scent. Ahhhhh…….there is nothing quite like it.

For some reason this past week, I began to wonder if there really are folks who have not noticed these flowering trees offering themselves for our appreciation. I tried to imagine what manner of to-do list might create such a state of moving through the world. I know there are folks with much on their plate, those with jobs and careers that push and pull at their hours, minutes, seconds in ways that require more stamina than I have ever had. I breathe a moment of calm upon them. And I also wonder at how much easier any task, any problem, any dilemma might be if one’s eyes could only bask in the beauty of fluttering pink petals or delicate white blossoms.

Yesterday as I left church, I noticed how the wind had begun to blow the petals off the crabapples planted near our parking lot. Little mounds of white dotted the curbs much like the snow that had lived there for months. A wind picked up and sent a few of the petals dancing across the surface of the pavement looking like little fairy wings spreading magic wherever they touched. The pavement, cracked and scarred from winter wear, had become a river of white. Petals had found a temporary home in the asphalt combining the gifts of Earth with the creation of human hands. Something in the sight pulled at my heart. These two unlike things existing together and creating an unusual kind of beauty.

A line from a Leonard Cohen song came to me: “There is a crack in everything…..that’s how the light gets in.” In this crack of pavement, brought on by the deep cold and contracting ground of winter, the gifts of spring had found a home. This is the offering of every spring, isn’t it? In the cracks and crevices of the places that lie frozen and unmoving there is always a push toward new life. This message is both literal and metaphor. In the places within each of us that have hardened for any number of reasons, there is a crack that is allowing some light to get in…..to melt the ice, to warm our heart, to grow something that has never been before.

This season of crabapple blossoms and lilac scents is tragically short. It would be a shame to miss a moment of it. The wait for hot pink and lavender may again be a long one. For this reason I suggest stopping whatever seems so important and noticing the colors, the rich and brilliant colors that are waving their arms in our faces. That noticing may be the very crack that allows the light to get in and it could make all the difference in the world. To you. To the tree. To the Holy One.


Slow Reading

The last few days has been spent in the company of preachers. This is not an unusual experience for me but this was an over-the-top gathering of those who preach called the Festival of Homiletics……church speak for preaching. When I would say to those not in on the lingo that I was attending this event, faces would take on that quizzical look of ‘whaaat?’ Each time I said it I was struck with the number of ways those of us who make our lives in the church have that inside-outside language we use that may just contribute to the many folks who no longer associate with faith communities. It is a complex and curious thing.

I am a shameless admirer of the work of Barbara Brown Taylor whose words I have often shared in this space and she was a presenter at this conference. I am always amazed at her easy-going, seemingly egoless way of articulating her own struggles with the church, faith, life and an understanding of how the Holy moves in the world. While I heard some good preaching, her illumination of both the sacred text of the Bible and the sacred text of life is what I will remember from these days.

One of the statements she made had to do with the speed at which we now live our lives. A speed we have come to see as normal, regular, just the way things are. She talked about the soon-to-be lost art of ‘slow reading’, that reading of a book or article that isn’t done for the scanning of the quick facts or top points the author is trying to convey but is mulled over, ruminated upon for the depth of what the author is saying. Her words made me think of the four, yes four, books I am reading simultaneously. I jump back and forth, back and forth between them like a grasshopper on summer grass. Surely I must be missing something, some miraculous gift of the author’s creativity in this process. How much more I might really get from the gift of the authors if I sat and gave my full attention to one book, one paragraph, one sentence, one word.

I was reminded of visiting the Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin. One part of the exhibition before we actually saw the tiny, beautifully illuminated pages of the scriptures, was the story painted on panels of how the monks traveled with the scriptures in their daily lives. As they moved from town to town, from monastery to monastery, they carried a book on a strap that was slung over their shoulder much like a backpack. It was called the Book of Mulling. It was their traveling text named not from the act of mulling but from the place Moling. But when I read this I imagined the monks walking along, ‘mulling’ over the scriptures. I imagined it as a kind of slow reading that served them well.

Speaking of slow reading allowed Barbara Brown Taylor to move on to the act of slow writing. She described slow writing as writing to discern. Those I know who keep a journal do this. I am a sporadic journal keeper at best but my intentions are always grand. Perhaps you can relate. But I do write to discern in many other ways in a variety of places and ways.

Which brings me back to preaching. Some of the best sermons I have ever heard have invited me into my own discernment and have filled me with more questions than answers. They are not so much a to-do list or facts and figures that have a particular clarity. These are the sermons that allow me to see the wrestling the preacher is doing with the text and gives me permission to do the same. Since I don’t consider myself a preacher but often find myself in a place where I am asked to do something similar, my biggest hope is that everyone present, including myself, will be open to new ah-ha’s, to walking through the back door of a text, to discovering something new, something surprising, something challenging.
It is what I imagine those slow reading monks were doing with their Book of Mulling. As they walked along taking a phrase or word, allowing the scenes of field and city to wash over them, they must have had the opportunity to see the ways in which real life and the words on the page wove together in some way. Perhaps they were even inspired to see the Sacred in the every day, to feel the words take on flesh and bone, to be visible in the faces they met, the landscape that unfolded before them.

Mulling. Slow reading. Slow writing. It might be a good day to do all this.


Wanted: Noticer

Good work joins earth to heaven.”
~Lu Chi

Noticing is a full time job these days. Papers pile up on my desk. Emails need to be answered, phones calls returned, meetings attended. There is the usual work around the house…..laundry to be done, meals to be made, the cleaning of this and that. But noticing is the real work and the other jobs have, I am happy to say, suffered.

Our winter was incredibly long and it is still cooler outside than is normal. And so I find myself clinging to the work of Creation with ever greater tenacity. Noticing how the impetus of Earth is toward rebirth, to respond to every warming place by bringing forth life, color, beauty, a glimpse of hope. This has become the real work. I have made a pact with our garden that each morning I will walk about, like a pilgrim in search of salvation, to notice the changes. I will notice how, despite temperatures that require layers and sometimes gloves, the soil is being pushed aside by green shoots that must be born, must make their way into the promise of a May day. I will notice how the chipmunks run wildly when I begin my inspection, their bodies fat with the birdseed they nuzzled into in the garage, a welcome gift from careless humans to a tiny four-legged that survived a harsh and frigid winter.

Noticing has become a full time job and so yesterday I gave up, pushed myself away from all that seemed imperative and gave myself to the work. I was rewarded with a paycheck from the mysterious work of the Creator. I marveled at the tulips whose colors seem impossible, their patterns seemingly designed by a hand artful at both color and pattern,feathered with the daintiest of brushes. I stooped to look at how certain spring grasses rise from the Earth in perfect circles like mandalas formed by fairies for their own tiny world. I wondered at the ways in which the bleeding hearts in their more nubile form never gave a hint at the brilliant pink heart shapes that were to come. I spent time inspecting the tiny feathery buds of a volunteer chestnut tree that decided our yard was a good home. The buds have now opened into fans of chartreuse that waved in the cool, morning breeze. All this noticing in only a few minutes. My head was spinning!

As if that weren’t enough work for one day, my husband and I visited a rookery in the afternoon on our way to our church’s retreat center. We had visited there before without seeing many birds, only the tall, spindly trees rising from cold, autumn water, looking forlorn for want of residents. But yesterday, yesterday was a whole other story. Great blue herons swooped over the water spreading their prehistoric wings like the pterodactyl I always imagine as their ancestors. The swooping often took them to the top of a rookery tree so thin it would seem to break under their weight but didn’t as they stood atop the gray-brown pinnacle looking out over their kingdom. They shared air space and tree limb with cormorants, black as coal, and equally as impressive. Further noticing through squinted eyes and then the magic of binoculars showed nest upon nest of beaked heads……parents sitting, quietly warming their next generation. All around us in the bushes and smaller trees that blanketed the shore, warblers sang and chirped their migration song.

Sometimes our work can be exhausting. Other times it can be stressful. If we are lucky, or blessed, our work can be fulfilling and lift us to a place of illumination, a place only the mystics seem gifted to experience. This work of noticing often does just that. We are reminded of the great canvas upon which we have all been painted. A canvas that is ever evolving, changing and re-creating itself. In this life of art of which we are all a part….human, animal, insect, bird, plant, soil,air, water…..we all have a job to do. Mostly as humans our work is to notice. The Great Artist has seen to it by allowing us words and the ability to tell the story.

The poet Mary Oliver reminds us that our real work is to ” Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” My job description, and yours if you so choose, simply reads ‘Noticer’. It is a job that is never finished, always rewarding and often illuminating.

And now…..back to work.


Weeping Mothers

It had been my intention to write something in this space about Mother’s Day. I feel particularly blessed to have my mom in my life. We talk several times a week and we laugh a lot and cry sometimes, too. I am grateful for all she has passed on to me and how she has been a mentor in more ways than probably either of us realize.

I am also blessed to be a mother of two young men who ceaselessly bring me joy and fill me with wonder. Watching their lives unfold is one of my life’s great gifts. There are also young women who, though I did not give birth to them, feel like daughters to me. This generational landscape that makes up my daily life, that colors how I see the world and the hopes and dreams I have for it, is never far away.

But this year’s celebration of this day that pays homage to those that mother, whether literally or figuratively, seemed a bittersweet day. Unlike those that I call sons and daughters, there exists in the world a band of mothers whose daughters have been taken from them. The young Nigerian women kidnapped from their school would not leave me. Like people all around the world, I have been outraged, saddened, and unable to fathom how humans can do these kinds of things to one another. How can it make any sense at all to take young girls at the freshest time of their lives and hold them for some political or religious purpose? Of course, this is not a logical act and the question I ask is based on some belief that logic or humanity or compassion makes sense to every one in equal measure. We know this is not true.

When I was in college I lived next door to a family from Nigeria. Actually, there were many students on campus from Nigeria studying and preparing to make a better life for not only themselves but also for their country. This was my first experience of people whose lives had been so different than mine. I treasured the time with them and came to know them as friends, particularly the two children, Cheetah and Ansu. They liked hanging out at my apartment. We did crafts together and played games. I also showed them how to put sprout seeds in a mason jar, cover the end with a nylon stocking and grow sprouts for their sandwiches. They thought it was magic! I thought it was a cheap way to make a sandwich taste better. Daily they would show up at the window of my apartment, push their beautiful brown faces against the screen to check on their sprouts.

This past week I have thought of them. They would now be about the age to be parents of one of these young girls. In thinking this I was once again face to face with the deep connection we have as human beings. We are woven together with mostly the same hopes and dreams regardless of where we were born, the color of our skin, the house we live in, the language we speak, the God we worship. We want to be safe….and know that our children are. We want to have food and shelter….and provide it for those we love. We want to be loved…..and to love. We want to make meaning of our lives….and create a place where the next generation can do the same.

And so on this Mother’s Day, I was filled to overflowing with love and gratitude for my life and my sons who I helped bring into the world and who bless me every day. That overflowing stream was also filled with the faces of those young women that I name ‘heart-daughters’. The privilege with which I walk the Earth was not lost on me as it is not, I hope, lost on them.

But my heart was also breaking for those Nigerian mothers and fathers who did not get a phone call or a card, who know nothing of this day we celebrate so richly here. Instead, they live with a fear and despair I cannot imagine. The prophet Jeremiah’s words floated in my mind: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted.”

Rachel weeps. The Nigerian parents weep. We weep. The Holy weeps.


For Our Own Good

Yesterday I pulled a pad of paper out of my drawer on my way to a meeting. Though I have migrated to using technology for notes I may take in a meeting, every now and then a good old fashioned pad of paper and pen is what is required. This was one of those times. Walking down the hallway to the meeting, I looked down at a cryptic few lines I had jotted down at some earlier time: ” You want to cry aloud for your mistakes. But to tell the truth the world doesn’t need any more of that sound.” After these sentences, I had simply written M.O.

I shook my head is disbelief or to jar a memory loose as to where these words came from and why I had written them down. At some point they must have grabbed me and I had quickly committed them to paper before moving onto the next thing. Typical. And M.O.? I am assuming this is Mary Oliver whose work always wakes me up to something. I had written this shorthand as if we are close personal friends! The thought made laugh and feel humble all at the same time.

Later in the day I came back to the now crumpled paper I had quickly torn off the pad in order to make way for the meeting notes. I stared at these words and allowed their truth to sink into me. How many times a day do I want to cry my mistakes aloud? Some days too many to count. Some days the mistakes I have made are tattooed invisibly on every available patch of precious skin. ” Look at how I’ve messed up!” “See the things I overlooked, have forgotten, have neglected!” “What can I possibly do about the people I have hurt and those I have ignored?”

Any of that sound familiar to you? Have you also wanted to cry aloud your mistakes to anyone who will listen? It seems to be a common thread that we humans want to beat ourselves up for all manner of things. Things we’ve done and those we’ve left undone. There is a great prayer in the Christian tradition, and probably other traditions as well, that speaks to this human condition.

But our mistakes are only a small part of who we are. We are also people filled with the great potential of goodness and kindness and mercy. We are people who are capable of amazing beauty and the creativity that has brought healing and hope to the small places and grand places. If we are to cry aloud anything that might transform the world, wouldn’t it be those things? As M.O. points out, ‘the world doesn’t need any more of the sound’ of our crying out our mistakes.

I am not, I hope, being Pollyanna here. It is just that mistakes are most often an opening for something more, something new, something waiting to be changed or transformed. Naming them, honoring them for their role in our ever-creative lives is important. But crying them aloud? I don’t think so.

So on this day, this gorgeous spring day, may we each be found crying aloud, not our mistakes, but all the joy and hope we can muster. For some of us it will take more effort than others. Blessings on each. Let’s choose to give to the world this day a sound that can be heard by all Creation. For our own good. For the good of those we love and those with whom we tangle. And for the healing of the world.


Waiting and Watching

We humans spend a lot of our time waiting. We wait in lines and in traffic. We wait for special days to arrive and other days to end. We wait for certain years to come round, certain birthdays that mark moments of growth or transitions. That is until we aren’t so interested in marking birthdays any more……which I’ve never understood. Consider the alternative. With all the waiting that is a part of living, you’d think we’d get better at it. But it is the nature of waiting, perhaps, to be a nag.

Right now I am sitting in my office that overlooks an enormous oak tree. It doesn’t look too much different today than it has over the last several months. Bare. Barky. Gnarly. Limbs twisted this way and that in a way that fills me with love. But I am waiting for some action from this tree. I am watching for the greenness of buds to begin to emerge, creating the shade that plays havoc with the little solar powered wind chime that sits near my desk. A robin, plump as anything, sits on one of the branches. But no other life seems to be happening out there. No signs of the rebirth that is to come. I am left waiting.

Truth be told most Minnesotans are waiting these days. We are uncovering flower beds weighed down by months of snow and ice. And we are looking with hopeful eyes toward the ground that is invisibly ripe. We vaguely remember the plants that will soon….soon….make an appearance. But for now, our work is to watch for the incremental arrival of green in a variety of shades pushing its way to the stage that is our yard. Our eyes will work overtime, as mine are right this minute, scanning every available space for something, anything, blooming.

I have seen some daffodils showing their brilliant yellow faces toward the sun. It felt like a pure shot of adrenaline! I wanted to stop my car and get out, run around and shout loud hosannas just like we did Easter morning. But I didn’t. I just tucked the sight into that happy place where we store memories for recall…..for a time when we need them.

Do you think humans are the only ones who have this experience of waiting? I don’t think so. Anyone who has ever been greeted by a dog at the end of a day knows somehow they were anticipating someone’s arrival. They might not care who that someone is but their excitement says something.

Waiting can be, if we allow it, not an annoyance but a meditation. How long might it take a bud to appear? How much longer till it becomes a leaf? How long will I need to wait to see the color of tulips emerge from their winter home? How much longer until they unfold their sunburst to its fullness and then let loose their petals,dropping them to the ground below? Being present to this slow, mysterious process, a process we have no part in nor control over, can teach us much about living this precious life.

Keeping watch over the oak tree has reminded me that the two of us are in a relationship. I am witness to its living season to season and I suppose it does the same for me. Over the years I have seen its limbs bear bud and leaf and then slowly let these leaves fall to the ground below. I have followed the path of their falling knowing that their letting go signaled by own. Another season come and gone. Another one on which to wait. This oak and I have a ‘thing’ going on and I plan to stick with my part of the bargain.

The buds will soon be visible and leaves will make their way into the world. That is the work of the tree. I will wait and watch and give thanks that I have the privilege of watching and waiting into one more season, one more summer, filled with its beauty.

It is an agreement we have made with one another.


It’s May! It’s May!

Cancel work today. Go and enjoy May Day by doing something that gives you great pleasure. Try to be outdoors all day if you can. Leave formal meditation alone and let your natural joy find its best outlet.”
~Caitlin Matthews,The Celtic Spirit

Yesterday was May Day, the first day of the month that welcomes summer into our lives. Or so says the Celtic calendar. Here in Minnesota we would be hard-pressed to see signs of spring much less summer. But the calendar read May 1st and so I imagined the many places in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland where people danced at dawn to welcome in the delights of summer. I did this while pealing off my flannel pajamas and donning the same number of layers, minus one, that I have worn for the last eight months. Can you hear my weary voice?

Generally, I am unscathed by weather. It drives certain people in my family nuts that I say with regularity that ‘My favorite season is whichever one we are in.’ There is truth in it. It keeps me living in the moment and not projecting ahead too far to what is yet to be. But yesterday’s gloom piled on gloom did fray my edges. I forced myself to walk outside in the morning while the mist gave me a free facial. It actually was enjoyable though cold and wet. While walking I squinted my eyes to see the tiny buds on lilac bushes and trees. Minuscule, chartreuse sightings opened something deep in my heart. I offered them a blessing….one for them and one for me….that their hope, and mine, would not be stifled much longer.

May Day is celebrated, of course, not only in those nations that flow with Celtic blood. The Scandinavians also honor this day. And it has also been celebrated by those whose
political views swing far to the left and nearly off the grid as a day to lift up issues of social and political injustices. The morning paper was filled with stories of those protests and marches, some that got sadly out of hand. Sometimes our fervent passion for change or new life takes us places that can be dangerous, even hurtful, though I want to believe, perhaps naively, that this is not the original intention.

May is the month when we open ourselves to the passion that lives within, the passion for re-creation, the madness of love. (Cue ‘It’s May!It’s May! The lusty month of May!) The Earth and its people are ready to fall in love all over again with whatever it was that stole our heart and then buried it deep in the winter snows. I imagine those who live even further north in this hemisphere than I do, those whose lives are cloaked in precipitation and darkness for so many months, as they celebrate with fullness the joy of the green born of the rain and the brilliance of the sun that will shine upon them. Who wouldn’t want to dance and sing at the coming of the month of May and the promise of increased sunlight?

Yesterday I did not do what Caitlin Matthews suggested. I did not ‘cancel work’. But I did spend a fair amount of time outside and I ended the day dancing which always brings me great pleasure. But on Sunday, I will join with others to welcome spring at the annual May Day parade hosted by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. This yearly gathering of creativity, art, social justice, imagination and hope is a tradition for me. It is the yearly shot in the arm of what can happen when a group of people choose to live out loud and thumb their noses at the cold, the darkness that can overwhelm. They do this by doing what people have done for hundreds if not thousands of years. They gather to mark the change of seasons and the welcoming of new life.

On this first Sunday of May, as I watch the parade and that band of people who give their lives to creating both small and enormous works out of the simplest things, I will be filled with the goodness and promise of another summer whose time will come. Eventually. This will be my ‘few days late’ May Day celebration. Like the winter that does not want to let go, my timing may be a bit off. But I will get to it in due time. I will welcome the promise of May, which is also my birthday month. Even more reason to celebrate…….each and every precious day.

It’s May! It’s May!