One Walk

There are many things that have kept me from writing in this space over the last days. There is the different rhythm that is summer. That rhythm that catches you up from one place and deposits you in a completely different landscape, both literal or imagined. There are the many activities that come with summer that joyfully fit into a day, acts that cannot be done at any other time……like picking strawberries for instance or staring at the garden growing right before your eyes. Then there is also the fact that I have been working on a book which will be published soon and I have spent the writing time I have making edits, rereading sentences that formed in me months, even years ago, to see if they still fit and are spelled correctly. More on that as the days unfold.

But last week I had an encounter that bears telling. It was a unique experience that happened on what was an ordinary morning. Heading out as I so often do to walk a bit before beginning my work day, I made my way down our street my mind full of the cobwebs of dreams and sleep that still hung on. I was just a couple blocks away from home and had not yet spoken to a person. My voice was still in its nighttime phase, groggy, unpracticed. Coming toward me on the sidewalk a woman and her dog were moving with purpose. My plan was to move past her and continue on my way. But she clearly had other intentions. “Excuse me. There is an animal down here. On the ground. I don’t know what it is but I think it must be dying. At least hurt. What should I do?”

Yikes! I was awake now. We walked together to the edge of the next block. I had no idea what I would find but also knew that I am not an expert in any way when it comes to dying animals. We came upon a small, gray, body nestled among green grass on the boulevard. Was it a squirrel? A rabbit? A mole? A vole? I don’t know. But it was definitely struggling and was abandoned. We discussed what it might be as the dog remained, I thought, quite well behaved about this small food possibility. I looked overhead to see if there was a squirrel nest in the tree nearby but saw nothing. We both bent down now, closer, to see if we could see its breathing. I didn’t see movement but my new companion did. As she pointed I then saw a tiny, ever so minute movement of its gray, fury belly. We, the human ones, stood watch over what were probably this mysterious animal’s last breaths.

After agreeing that we could really do nothing, that taking it to a veterinarian would probably have us looking silly, we looked at one another and made our way on into our respective days. But not before one last look of hopeful blessing. As I walked on I wondered at what had just happened. It seemed that I had been witness to a compassionate heart and invited into its presence. As two beings who walk upright, who have power and choices of some of the ways our lives unfold, we had chosen to stand over an unnameable creature and watch its passing. We could do nothing. We could not change the outcome but we could offer the kindness of our hearts. It seemed a blessing all around.

Later on that same walk, I noticed a flock of pigeons circling a house. There must have been 20 or 30 of them. They took a circle round and as they did so, a few would peel off and head off leaving the circle smaller and smaller. I stopped walking and allowed this action, this ritual I could not understand to swoop over me. I could not only hear the flapping of wings but I also could nearly feel the energy they were sending out into the Universe, over me.I stood there until the final circling and the last bird made its way to wherever it was going.

One walk. Two encounters with animals. One,a moment of life letting go. Another, a moment of life taking flight. Both a reminder to stay awake to the rhythms of these summer days that can wake us up from sleep.


Glorious Green

In high school I had the most beautiful green,velvet dress. It was a rich, dark green and as you ran your hand across the fabric, the luscious color would change ever so slightly as if the very threads themselves held a variety of hues. It had been purchased for a dance and so had special sewn right into it. When I wore this dress, I was immediately lifted above my normal, ordinary, every day teen-aged self. Instead I felt beautiful, elegant, regal. Green velvet can do that.

As I drove across the Wisconsin country-side this past week, I thought of that dress. Out my car window the land was unfolding in field after field of green. Some were dark, forest-like. Others seemed to be immense mats of moss, no doubt springy to the touch. Still others were just emerging in their green-ness. They looked like adolescents in their color compared with the grown up fields that stood on each side. Their color varied, of course, depending on what was planted in the fields. It was a mile by mile gift of what is happening in the ‘Earth Kingdom’ right now, in these early days of summer.

The rains have not fallen with abandon in the parts of Wisconsin I traveled through, unlike what we have experienced in southern Minnesota. Only rarely was there standing water in a corn field and this same corn is well on its way to being knee high by the 4th of July. Growth was everywhere and it was very, very green.

At some point of my drive the winds picked up and began to play with the color green that was visible out my windshield. A few times, the wind moved in just such a way as my hand had on my green velvet dress, creating different shades of the same cloth. I watched with awe at its beauty. West…..dark, rich green. East…..lighter, softer green. And so it went for mile after mile.

The experience had me reflecting on color and its varieties, its variance. Here was the same field, planted with the same vegetation and yet the power of wind, the movement of the nap of green could create a visual that was completely different. In the blink of an eye.

I thought of the ways in which not only the plant world but the human world holds variety and variance that can, with the movement of wind or perhaps Spirit,cause this amazing change. We hold within us both compassion and self-righteousness, kindness and neglect, hope and despair, peace and anxiety. With a whoosh one way or the other, a different side of the same being shines forth. One is not necessarily better than the other…..just a shade we had not considered, had not realized was there, had hoped to avoid, wished would appear.

Wearing green velvet is a glorious experience. Seeing the fields dance in their unfolding is glory of a different sort. And yet, on one ride on a particular day, these gifts of green came together.

Blessing. Pure blessing.


Trickster Spirit

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
~John 3:8

Many times in these pages I have commented on how a particular phrase, image or metaphor has been chosen by a group of people to be used in a worship service or a season and how that same theme starts to show up in my every day life in amazing ways. Call it chance, coincidence or serendipity. Whatever it is, it never fails to bring both wonder and humor to my life.

A few weeks ago I shared the image used for a gathering of United Methodists at our annual days of meetings, worship and celebrations. The dandelion, the humble often misunderstood flower, had been lifted to the place of honor as one example of how the Spirit moves in people’s lives and the life of faith communities. I was touched by so many people’s communications with me about what the dandelion meant to them. Who knew this tenacious, colorful, happy, frivolous, often detested weed could connect with so many people? I was gifted with stories of dandelions being given to mothers, pictures of grandmother’s holding bouquets of the lovely, little blossoms and even a jar of powder made with dandelions that makes a yummy, coffee-like drink. I was amazed at the blessings this little flower brought into my life.

So, why should I have been surprised to have found a Dandelion Farm? The Spirit works in often quirky ways! I was walking along a country road getting my daily exercise. I am sure I had passed the dirt road a number of times but had probably been intent on some thought and had kept my eyes straight ahead not noticing the lovely, white barn and silo visible at the end of the path. That particular day I must have been more in the present moment and upon seeing it, decided to explore to see what was further down the lane. There was no house that I could see, only the barn and silo painted a brilliant white against the Irish green of the trees and grass that surrounded it. It was a scene of pastoral calm that caused me to take a deeper breath, to feel a bit of the stored up tension leave my shoulders.

After drinking in the beauty and as I turned to leave, I noticed a sign on the tidy, white fence:Experimental Dandelion Farm Do Not Disturb Weeds. I looked around to see if there was some kind of Candid Camera thing going on. Was someone playing a joke on me? I read the sign over again. Was this someone’s idea of No Trespassing humor? Well, it worked on me. I laughed and breathed in the presence of the trickster Spirit.

The rest of my walk was given over to the idea of experimental dandelions and those who might give space for them, lovingly nurture them, even protect them with cautionary signs. I was reminded of all the ‘weeds’ I have known……those often ‘misplaced people’ who have been recognized for the beautiful, unique people they are, those people who have bloomed and grown in the most unlikely of places. I also thought of those folks who have been unable to do so, whose growth has been thwarted by the over zealous gardener, teacher, boss, parent, those who nipped too quickly an opportunity to blossom, to plant deep roots.

Each of us is basically an experiment, aren’t we? We come into the world with a certain combination of DNA, life situations, family, friends, economic means. We are nurtured or neglected, we rise above or conform, we seek to create a path that in great hope allows us to make meaning of our lives. Sometimes we are planted in just the right spot. Other times we find ourselves in the most unlikely of places trying to make sense of it all. Most lives contain a combination of both. If we are lucky, or blessed, we are given the chance throughout our lives to continue to experiment and try new things, new ways of being, until the right combination of soil, sun, and water allows us to flower. Those of us who walk this path with a lens of faith might see the Spirit at work in it all, might see the little wisps of feathery, white dandelion seeds blowing through the ordinary, often mundane, moments of our days. It would be good not to disturb this but to celebrate it for what gifts it might bring.

Perhaps the sign was only a joke meant to make people in the know laugh. All I know is that its message was something that went deeper for me and helped me once again see this simple flower with eyes of wonder and to feel again the Spirit who dances through it all.


Knee High

It is often difficult to see growth. We can monitor change sometimes but actual growth is often elusive in any visible way. Growth is something we most recognize in retrospect. After the fact we can see how we, or someone we are close to, has matured, evolved, grown into a wiser or more fulfilled being. But the actual growth is often invisible while it is happening. It is as if the hard work, the stretching and pulling, the pushing and bending,happens in some hidden way that can only be seen and noticed after it has happened. Perhaps this is just how growing works.

Over the last week I have been driving on country roads back and forth to our church’s retreat center. Koinonia, as it is named, sits on Lake Sylvia about an hour’s drive west of the Twin Cities. The drive there takes me through field after field of, you guessed it, corn. And what I have been so aware of is how the corn is growing. First it was only about two inches of green, waving arms visible only if you really were looking with all your might. But within just a few days these green, outstretched appendages are visible as the tall beings they will become. Field after field now looks like corn!

This windshield time and the sheer expanse of these fields has me thinking of all the ways we can despair at the lack of growth. In ourselves. In others. In our institutions. In our nations. The patience for growth is so often in short supply. We want to see whatever growth we hope for immediately. Right now. If it is learning something new, we want it to happen in the next moment. If it is change in a system that is cumbersome or no longer useful, we want the growing to follow our own time table, some schedule we have configured most often for our own comfort. But growth rarely happens this way.

This past Sunday the worshiping community I am privileged to be a part of celebrated 20 years of worshiping together. It is a community that sings, prays, laughs, cries and hopes to express the way they see God show up in their lives. It was the Sunday called Pentecost where we hear the scripture of how the Holy Spirit came upon the early church and the people were able to hear one another speak in different languages but yet all were understood. The story is one of seemingly immediate growth. And perhaps it happened that way or perhaps it can happen that way. The immediate cause and effect of Spirit and understanding, Spirit and growth, Spirit and blooming.

But as I listened to the stories people told of how they came searching or broken and found wisdom or healing, this did not happen in the flash of brilliant moment. It took the metered exercise of showing up, of giving in to being cared for, nurtured, of engaging in building relationships that mattered, of seeing the Face of God in the person next to them. This growth first required vulnerability, one of the first steps in growth. The seed first has to go into the soil and open itself to sun, rain, wind and all the elements for growth to happen.

Growth takes time. It is not always visible or certainly not fast enough for our impatient temperaments. Growth has its own way of moving in and offering its wisdom. On Sunday we had the joy, the sheer joy, of seeing two of the young ones who had blessed the circle of worshipers in our beginning life as a community. We had not seen them in some time. What did we notice? How they had grown! What had once been two, sweet little girls who liked to sing and dance and twirl during worship were now tall, beautiful young women, poised and ready to tell us about their amazing, unfolding lives. This growth did not happen over night. It has taken the patience of years in order to become.And that is as it should be.

In a few weeks I will head back out along the fields lined with corn. If the weather is kind and the sun and rain do their work, these fields will be ripe with the gifts of tasseled stalks. Corn. All from tiny seeds nurtured with time and patience and a good bit of luck and faith. It won’t happen over night but if it works as we have come to expect, it will be ‘knee high by the Fourth of July’.

And to that is just as it should be.


Open Windows

A squirrel flies in,” said Dr. Meescham. “This I did not expect at all. It is what I love about life, that things happen which I do not expect. When I was a girl in Blundermeecen, we left the window open for this very reason, even in the winter. We did it because we believed something wonderful might make its way to us through the open window. Did wonderful things find us? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.”
Kate DiCamillo, Flora and Ulysses:The Illuminated Adventures

We have finally settled into a reasonable weather pattern and since Minnesotans love to talk about the weather, I will. These days represent the short, glorious period between the frigid cold and the time when air conditioning keeps us trapped in a suspended animation of heat. These are the days when windows can be open. All day. All night. The current of spring air turning toward summer is upon us. Heavenly.

This last week the windows in our house have been opened with abandon while we are home. And no time is that more wonderful than at night. While we may be inside doing normal, evening chores and entertainments…..reading, watching television, doing laundry, cleaning up dishes after supper…..the sounds, smells and experiences of the darkness waft into the walls of our house. We can hear the children playing, laughing, a ball bouncing, a Big Wheel gallumping over concrete. The planes landing at the airport, people home after a vacation or business trip. Or those taking off, adventure throbbing through veins of the travelers on board, all these sounds become part of our nightly activity. Cars go quietly or too fast down the street. Someone as far away as the next block is trying to get their lawn mowed before it is too dark to see the lines of before-and-after green. The ordinary lives that surround us, those that have been silenced by snow and cold and windows locked tight against it all, have once again become a part of ours.

This experience is only heightened during the hours when sleep is the work to be done. Just as I am dozing off, a dog begins an anxious bark. Does it sense a stranger or is that a joyous greeting to a master who has stayed away too long? A June bug flies against the screen sounding much bigger and weightier than is actually true. The light or heat or smell of humans attracts it in ways that may well lead to its demise. As sleep takes over, the cool breeze of the wee hours blows gently, pulling up childhood memories of summer nights of freedom, no school, no responsibilities.

Some time around 3:00 in the morning, the people who deliver the morning newspaper begin their way down our street. I can hear their muffler, loud and rusty, and the music they have chosen to be the soundtrack for their work. 70’s rock, loud, the bass beating out its driving rhythm. I wonder about them. Who they are? What makes up their lives? I hear conversation between two people and the sudden ‘thud’ of the news of the world hitting our front steps. With that finality, they make their way on down the street, stopping and starting, pausing, much like many of the stories we will read a few hours later.

These days at 4:30 a.m. the sounds of the night are given over to the music of those with wings. Sleeping or not, I am aware of their music, sweet songs that seem to coax the Sun up, up over the horizon. These tiny beings sing out and wait for their song to be answered someplace on the block over or in a tree down the street. Soon their songs either rock me back to sleep or urge me to get on with the day. Whichever it is, I am given to offering a prayer for the sheer joy of traveling the planet’s rotation with these singers, these harbingers of morning.

Windows. There are times when closing them is the act of keeping out the danger of cold, ice, snow, and frigid weather. Closing them also draws us into a safety net that is both real and imagined. Opening those same windows allows the Breath of Morning, newness, a cool, fresh breeze to be the balm of the night. Opening windows invites us into seeing the world with different eyes. The eyes of imagination, of our other senses, of the promise of a new day.

What windows are closed in your life these days? How might opening a window be the invitation to some new experience of Spirit that longs to lift you toward something just outside your imagination? This Sunday marks the celebration of Pentecost in the Christian household. We will read once again how the Holy Spirit came upon the people and nothing was ever the same again.

Flames danced. People spoke. Windows opened. A new day had arrived.