Full Heart

There are certain things I know to be true. One is that singing creates community, that experience of varied people coming together for any number of reasons,trying, hoping to become something greater than their individual selves. One need not have a trained voice or even a ‘good’ voice. One need only have the desire and willingness to join in, to give that voice over to the greater good. When all the planets align in this kind of experience, many things happen. Music. Connection. Beauty. Laughter. A reminder of the ways we all depend on one another. Compassion. Healing.

Last night I was privileged to be part of such an experience. I am on retreat at Koinonia Retreat Center, a retreat we have called Art & Spirit. Both showed up in the waning hours of a summer’s day, as people of all ages and abilities came together to sing. No written music was visible. Most around the circle could not have read it even if it had been present. Instead, we joined our voices in the oral tradition known by humans for thousands of years. Following a call and response learning, we layered voice upon voice until the magic became visible and audible to us. Faces of those who never would have called themselves singers glowed with what they were producing out of their own mouths, their own souls. And the collective sound filled the room and the woods outside the windows with a sweetness that could only be named holy.

It has been my life-long experience to have been surrounded by the gift of singing. Growing up in a small community settled by the people of Wales, singing was a requirement, it was as common as breakfast in the morning and lunch when the sun was at high noon. We sang in elementary school, in church, in the car as we went for Sunday drives. The expectation was that all people were born singers. I continue to hold to this idea to this day. Song, and our voice’s ability to produce it is, I believe, a given. Most of the time we simply need to be reminded or invited. In joining our voice with another’s, miracles happen.

And yesterday I was in need of an experience of something that reminded me of this goodness that happens when people join their voices in creating beauty. I needed it because the early part of the day was filled with the experience of another thing that brings people together:tragedy. On my way home from church, at noon, my car filled with the boxes of books, papers and resources I would need for this retreat, I was suddenly surrounded by the sounds of sirens. Making my way along the familiar streets I travel every day, I was forced to pull over by the sight and sound of a parade of police cars all traveling at top speed, lights flashing, sirens blasting. It was unnerving to see so many marked and unmarked cars speeding by headed toward the neighborhood I call home. And yet, that was what was happening. They just kept coming and so I pulled off onto a side street making my way home while still seeing, even on the side streets, police cars everywhere, looking intensely at each intersection.

When I got home I turned on the television only to be confronted with the tragedy of the police officer who had been shot just blocks from our house, at an intersection that I travel several times a day. How could this happen in our quiet, unassuming little neighborhood? I asked the question so many have asked before. As the day played out, my husband and I listened to the news all the way to the retreat, our hearts heavy with the news of the officer’s death, knowing the incredible loss this was to those with whom he served, the community, his family. An ordinary day had turned into something that would change lives forever. Like everyone we wondered about the person responsible, what drove their life, how choices could have been made that led to such an act. Our hearts grew heavier by the minute and I couldn’t help but think of all those in other neighborhoods for whom this kind of event has become commonplace. And that thought was heart-breaking.

Last night as I stepped with music into my privileged life, I held the families of the slain officer and the one who had done such damage and all those who know acts of tragedy around the world. In a world that can often leave us feeling helpless, I once again knew the power of singing and how it can lift even the most heavy of hearts toward something of heaven. I sang for all those who grieve, all those who suffer, all those on the margins and those in despair. Joining my one voice with a host of others, I felt the power of community and knew I was not alone. My prayer is that this grieving family who started their ordinary day just as we all did only to have it turn very wrong, can be surrounded by the sure and certain knowledge that they are held by an invisible choir made up of people they will never meet but whose music sends healing comfort their way.

Summer Rhythms

” A messenger you can trust is just as refreshing as cool water in summer.”
~Proverbs 25:13

There are many rhythms of summer. Here in the Midwest we can tend to fill our summer days with more activities than people may in other parts of the country. We know what is to come and so we can act like a desperate people. Desperate to wring out of each sunny, splendid day all the life it can hold. This is not a judgment. It is simply a fact. The act of soaking up good weather, of taking in all the color and greenness, the experience of a festival here and there, can take its toll. But mostly it is a joyous nod to the fullness that life can dish up.

Last week we were on vacation at a friend’s cabin in Canada. It held the rhythm of a by-gone time. Without electricity, the lights were powered by the Sun. A system created by black tubing and other contraptions I don’t know the names for provided our water. There was no indoor plumbing but, again, the compostable toilets did the work they needed to do. No television. No internet. No cell phone service. By the end of the week when the landline phone rang from its ancient looking black cradle, it jarred the senses. What was this interruption?

At first this daily rhythm, stripped of the urgency that usually fills my days, was unsettling. Like an animal trying to find a good place to rest or hide or die, I wandered from place to place, picking up one thing and then another. But before I knew it I had allowed the pure, gentle rolling of waves on the lake and the wind in the trees to relax the muscles in my body, calm my mind, settle my spirit. Making my way to the hammock that hung between two trees, I settled in to the act of doing nothing. The only need to get up from that place was the occasional requirement of preparing meals or replacing my reading material, or reapplying sunscreen.

A few weeks ago I read a line in a book by Barbara Brown Taylor. In it she talked about the months after she left her work as a minister in a small, Georgia church. In those months she recognized that she had been ‘addicted to adrenaline’. This was something I had never thought of before. The rush we get from filling our calendars to the brim can create an illusion that our work is more important, more vital, than is really true. It is a good thing to ponder in these days when we can alter the normal rhythms that guide us and perhaps add some needed perspective to our lives.

Last week I allowed any addiction to adrenaline I had to fall away….cold turkey style. Instead I spent whole hours watching an enormous bald eagle watch me from across the bay. We kept watch over one another and every now and then one of us would take wing. I watched the play of light on the water from the misty morning rising of the sun to the brilliant golds, pinks and blues of the sunset. When it was necessary I spoke words with friends. I savored the simple, slow meals this kind of life allows. The experience seemed to shed a light of truth on everything.

Coming back into the city and into my ‘regular’ life, I was aware of how everything had continued on without my input. The flowers in our garden had grown and blossomed without any help from me. They stand now in their summer splendor. So, too, the vegetables we are watching over in a neighbor’s garden while they are on vacation. The cucumbers and tomatoes, the dill and basil have flourished and are bursting out of their beds. It would be easy to slip into the adrenaline rush of thinking I have to do something to help them along, spur on their natural growth. But that would be wrong and would undo the lessons I learned from the hammock.

Summer may be the time to fill our days with the unusual and full rhythm of summer fun. But it is also the time to let go of the daily grind, to relish the sweetness of doing nothing, ‘dolce far neinte’ as the Italians say. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

May your day hold enough adrenaline to get accomplished what truly needs doing and may it also hold a bit of the sweetness of summer….the art of doing nothing.



God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the different.”
~Reinhold Niebuhr

A few months ago I wrote about the oak tree outside my office window. I was waiting, somewhat impatiently, for the tree to change. For it to pull forth its green leaves and create shade for the ground below. Fr it to show its summer-self. My impatience was driven by the sameness of a long, cold winter and my spirit needed the hope of change.

As humans, I think, we tend to long for change while at the same time fearing its impact on the tidy lives we seek to create. As parents or teachers, too often we long for the children in our care to grow, to change toward what we believe will be an easier time,less demanding on us and out time. Those who have walked this path know the folly of such belief. In some respects, the same longing for change takes place in our own lives. We hope for the changes a new job will bring….or a new relationship….or a new city or different house. Perhaps this is all a part of our evolutionary DNA. There is, of course, the change we create by our own intention and also the change over which we had no power. Those same jobs can be pulled out from under us. A relationship fails or another materializes. A transfer to another city, one we hadn’t ever planned to explore, becomes the new address. This kind of change can be seen as gift or curse depending on the lens we wear any given day.

There is a saying that ‘the only constant is change.’ Certainly, there is truth in this. Days move into months and into years….change. Seasons roll round their circle…..spring, summer, autumn, winter…change. Even our bodies in their very make up, skin cells giving over to new ones even in the course of one day…change. Lines appear around eyes that have known laughter in abundance marking the changes of years. We gain a skill one day only to lose it as years progress. All these require a certain response to change.

I, like many people, find myself in the midst of significant change these days. Most of it is not change I instigated but instead is the gift of what it means to hang your star in the sky with a community of other people. In this experience, I am trying to be present to the wisdom of my oak tree companion in my response to changing times. Looking out my window, I am aware of the ways in which this mighty tree bends and pitches with the winds and rain that have been gracing our summer days. Its roots seem to be digging even deeper as it stands tall in a summer that has blown hot and cold, literally. The trunk of this old tree continues to be home to birds and squirrels, a stray chipmunk now and then. It offers itself with such grace and ease while still standing strong, sure of itself. There is such compassion in the way it stands there. As its limbs reach toward heaven and out over the children’s playground, this beautiful source of greenness and oxygen never wavers in it identity, its ‘tree-ness’. It seems to know its purpose, its work, its reason for being in the world. I have no idea how old the tree is but I am sure it has been around long enough to have been witness to all kinds of change. Change in a neighborhood, a city, a people, a place. It has become a model to me of sheer groundedness.

In just a few short weeks, this oak tree will begin the change of letting go…..an ever present requirement of change. But before it begins the slow, slide into winter, its leaves will turn brilliant colors and create a beauty that can only be brought about by change, by leave-taking, of all that has gone before. It will open itself to wind and colder temperatures and will become something new, its autumn self. I will stand witness to its change just as it does to mine. Peaking through the window, tree and woman will watch one another in the change that is always present. In that peaking, may we also see the beauty and the wonder in it all and in our own separate ways, may we give thanks…..for change.



The celebration of beauty is an invitation to ask your soul every day, ‘mind if I join you?’

They say it is good to alter the patterns of your daily movements. Take different roads to work now and then. Change up the loops you use to walk or run for daily exercise. Choose different foods. Add variety. Even use your non dominant hand now and then to get the other side of your brain working its way out of its sluggish homeland. Doing all these things help balance out the ways in which we are hard wired and can lead to creativity, new ideas, solutions to problems and a sense of possibility.

I try to do this with some regularity particularly on my daily walks in our neighborhood. It is easy to always follow the river making my way along the bluffs of St. Paul waiting for the glimpse of the skyline that always takes my breath away. The silhouette of the St. Paul Cathedral rising up out of the hillside making its mark of faithfulness over the city and its neighbor the State Capital are sites I never tire of seeing. It always causes me to remind myself that this beauty, this city is my home.

On a day when I want to shake my brain up, I walk away from the river and into what is called the Westside of St. Paul. This walk takes me by a home that is in an old firehouse, a home whose owner is a boat builder. If I am lucky, the large door that once was the exit for a red fire engine is open and I can catch a peek of a boat being created with all the sounds and tools of an ancient craft. Sometimes the sweet smell of wood being planed and shaved fills the air.

But it is not this house that has been capturing my imagination these days. Instead it is a small, stucco bungalow tucked under two large evergreens that has been making me laugh and filling me with wonder. Several weeks ago I walked by this house with my mind going a mile a minute, my body present in its motion on the sidewalk but the spirit of presence a million miles away until……Until my eyes saw the three,clear wine glasses sitting neatly in a trio on the lawn. Nestled in the green, summer grass they seemed a monument to celebration. It was as if the hands that had toasted and clinked had been placed them there to remind passersby to celebrate the goodness of these glorious days. I smiled as I moved on thinking about all the things I have the privilege to celebrate.

A week or so later I walked by again and expected to see the triad of glasses sitting in their spot. But no. Instead, there stood two champagne flutes with red stems flanking the sidewalk that leads to the front door. There they were, signs of the urging to celebrate the going out and the coming in of those who made their way to the door. A part of me wanted to simply sit down and wait to see who the people were who were so free in lifting their glasses to the world.

Once again the sight of these two glasses caused me to think of all there is to celebrate. In my life. In the lives of those I know. In the life of the world. So often we focus on all that can pull us down, all there is to lament and we forget to celebrate. Each week in the worshipping community of which I am a part, we take time for celebrations….birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, new houses, a child’s lost tooth, graduations…..so much to celebrate. It is important to remember, isn’t it? In the midst of all the news that can overwhelm and send us to our knees, there are still so many, many things to lift a glass to, so many things to celebrate with our full hearts.

So today I celebrate….the taste of red raspberries that are fresh from gardens….the laughter of children wafting over the backyard fence…..the big brown eyes of the curious dog that passes by on the sidewalk…..music that makes my heart sing and brings tears to me eyes…..the compassionate words of a friend…..a card that arrives in the mail with just the right words….the cool evening breeze that carries a hint of a far off campfire…..the sound of a train whistle making its way to an unknown place…..the gift of a day…and another.

And you. What is it you celebrate today? Let us all lift our glasses in celebration.


Creation Stories

Do you imagine the universe is agitated? Go into the desert at night and look at the stars. This practice should answer the question.”
? Lao Tzu

Over the summer months our faith community is living into the theme of ‘The Earth Delights’. The particular worshiping community that I most often find myself in is walking slowly with the Creation story from Genesis. Day by day. It has been an amazing thing to methodically pay attention to only a few verses of scripture particularly one that you think you know so well. All kinds of little hidden gems, insights and surprises lurk where you least expect them. I have found myself loving each word and turn of phrase in a new way. It has been pure blessing.

This week we are on Day Four….sun, moon, stars. Did you ever notice that plant life came on Day Three? Before the Sun which we know plays such an important part in anything that grows! What to make of that……But these few lines that make up Day Four have fallen on my real-life days and nights when we are making our way toward July’s full moon. Depending on where you do research this moon can be called Full Buck Moon……because it is during this time that buck’s antlers begin to poke their way out of the majestic heads of the deer. It can also be called Full Thunder Moon because this is the month that seems to have a number of thunderstorms.

But most places refer to it as the Super Moon. I like that. Last night I stood outside looking up at the night sky and squinting, allowing my eyes to see the shadow of the full white globe that is yet to be revealed. It seemed pretty Super to me! It is will come into its fullness on Saturday and, if the skies are clear enough, I will carry the memory of seeing this Super Moon into worship on Sunday morning. Its beams will break on the reading of the Fourth Day and we will once again grapple with ancient words, trying to find their wisdom for our 21st century lives.

As I have lived with these words held poem,metaphor and beautiful tale by some and literal truth by others, I think of those ancient tellers of this story. Their flat world, their lens was so drastically different from my own. I have the benefit, in my opinion and experience, of science and astronomy, of evolution and intellect, of a knowledge of our round Earth and expanding Universe. I have a limited but informed understanding of how plants need sun and water to grow and how humans and animals are inextricably linked through time. I see the movement of the Holy in all this and it forms the basis of what I might define as my theology…..my understanding of God and a Source of something larger than myself in the world.

What I am finding in the rhythm of this story this slow go-round is the inherent comfort and wisdom of this created Universe. This rhythm has brought a leveling to the anxiety and distress of a culture that can often seem out of whack, in a non-productive place of chaos. The poetry of the words once again instill that sense of awe and mystery that holds us all and provides a reminder of both our responsibility and our limitedness. “Do you imagine the universe is agitated?” Do I allow the circumstances in my life to agitate? If your answer is yes as mine is, take a moment to look at the stars from desert or lakeside or street corner and allow them, in their infinite wisdom, to wash over you, to provide perspective.

If you haven’t read the Genesis story in a while, I commend it to you. Or better yet look for other stories of creation that come from places around the world, cultures different than our own. What are the truths that ring out? What are the similarities and differences in those stories and this one we hold out from the Christian household? There might be amazing surprises in what we find.

There is a wisdom that resides in the telling of our Creation stories. It can be a challenge and a balm. When held alongside a watchful eye and a curious spirit, we can be rocked gently in both story and observance finding new words for a telling that never ends. A Super Moon awaits us. It is good, very, very good.


Place at the Table

Most people will not cry while reading a cookbook, I am pretty sure of that, unless of course they are doing so while also slicing onions. But that is exactly what I did a couple of days ago while leafing through the gorgeous pages of The Midwestern Table by Amy Thielen. Since context is everything, I should point out that this weeping was done while I was also riding through the same Minnesota and Wisconsin farmland I have honored in these pages at other times, a landscape that often leaves me bereft with gratitude and awe. Green fields ripe with grains and produce. Red barns and white farm houses. Cattle, sheep, horses. The stuff of grounded, solid, fragile lives that depend on the blessing of sun, rain, and seasons. Something about the stories that accompany the recipes and the hope of passing on tried and true foods held in the beauty of the unfolding scenery just grabbed my heart and wrung it out. Reading it I was transported to all the tables that have fed me……my family table, those of friends whose love of cooking is legend, my Aunt Enie’s farm table where food was simple and plentiful, and more church potlucks and dinners than I can even count.

We are people fueled by food. Over the years we have made healthy and unhealthy choices about what we put in our mouths to produce energy, have tried to make things in boxes and bags replace the stuff that comes from the Earth, but we have rarely succeeded. Food is plentiful and it is scarce depending on economic status and where we live. In the last years we have realized the terrible fact that some of our poorest city areas, those in great need of affordable, healthy food, have no grocery stores except quick stop markets. These tables are very different from the ones I have been blessed to sit at.

The food we eat around our family tables is an extension of where we come from, where our ancestors traveled from and what we value. I have friends who are vegetarians and vegans, some who eat no gluten or dairy products. This is driven by attention to how they feel and also the footprint they want to make in the world. Depending on the family traditions, there might be bratwurst, pasta, enchiladas, pierogis, dumplings, rice and beans, fried chicken, or pot stickers. In my family there will almost always be pie. Our tables say much about us.

In the faith tradition in which I have traveled, the United Methodist Church, we refer to ourselves as being ‘people of the table’. This, of course, refers to the communion table in which we welcome everyone without a need to profess any specific creed or doctrine. All people of faith are welcome to receive the bread…..that gift of sun, soil, rain and hope….and the cup……the gift of vine and years of tending. While we may argue and disagree over theological issues, this is one place where that all falls away. Hands are cupped to receive. Eyes meet eyes. Blessings are pronounced. The table becomes the great leveler.

For me, there is an invisible line of sacred connection that happens when we gather around the table, nearly any table. As bowls are passed and plates are filled we are silently remembering that we are beholden to the people who did work on our behalf…..the farmers, those that planted and harvested, those that loaded and drove trucks, those that stocked shelves and bagged groceries. We pick up a fork with the dust of those who ground wheat into flour, those that bottled beverages, those that tended animals, falling all around us. Their sacrifices, their hours, days, weeks, years,their very lives become a part of the food we take in to fuel our living. We carry that sacrifice with us as we leave the table. It is something not to be taken lightly.

Living in this slice of the country that holds the two coasts together, we are blessed with foods that know their season. We relish the first tastes of asparagus in spring and look forward to the squash that will arrive when the days turn their faces toward winter. Last Friday I spent the morning crouching in strawberry fields with a friend picking this sweet, red fruit that stained my fingers all week, a gift of early summer. Soon the blueberries and raspberries will pull at their branches and we will fill buckets and freezers and jars to try to extend the table of summer into the winter. “With winters this long, keeping some proof of summer in your pantry becomes essential.”, writes Thielen. And so it is.

This extending the table crosses seasons and traditions, family lines and political leanings,lifestyles and education. At our tables we are invited, commanded even, to remember the deep,holy ways we travel this life’s path together. One meal at a time.