Christmas All Summer

When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree.
~Vietnamese Proverb

Christmas has come every Wednesday this summer. By that I mean that gifts, both surprising and amazing, have arrived every Wednesday when the share of our CSA(Community Supported Agriculture) box was delivered by a gentle, German Baptist man named Karl. Though he may look Amish to the untrained eye, his van keys and his place behind the steering wheel of the delivery vehicle is a dead give-away. Karl arrives every Wednesday morning with boxes of produce grown by Amish farmers in southern Minnesota and Wisconsin. In the dead of winter when it didn’t seem it could get any colder, we purchased a share in the hope and promise of summer. In doing so, we agreed to be in a relationship with those who not only plant fruits and vegetables but do so out of an understanding of their faith. And with that purchase and in that relationship, Christmas has arrived every Wednesday.

The calendar I consult every day has the Vietnamese proverb above printed in lovely letters for the month of August. It is a robust month filled with all the goodness, and often abundance, of summer foods. This week, in addition to our weekly box of fresh produce, Karl also delivered an open box of beautiful, large, heirloom tomatoes….brilliant red, sunny yellow and lime green with stripes. “There are extra tomatoes this week! Give them to everyone!” And so all those who purchased shares got extra tomatoes along with some of the staff at the church who lovingly work their jobs every day and have marveled at the comings and goings of the boxes of produce.

So many times over these weeks of summer I have “thought of the person who planted the tree”. I have wondered at their lives and how I now feel a kinship with them in a way that I don’t often with my produce purchased at the grocery store. This is a shame, of course, because the vegetables and fruit purchased there also represents lives and the hard work of growing and tending. However, unlike the produce purchased at the store, our box of goodies also contains a letter written by someone on one of the farms. Sometime this letter is written by a child…..always a treat. Other times the writing reflects an older person or at least one whose life is reflective in a way that dazzles me. Often these reflections center on what life has been like on the farm that week or a particular favorite activity that is enjoyed in the community.

The early morning is a special time of day. Dawn starts to creep across the land and darkness of night slips silently into the shadows. One by one the stars fade and are lost from view. An expectant hush shrouds the farm soon to be replaced by many sounds and activities. What will the new day hold? A veil of fog hangs low over the fields. Everything has been refreshed by a sip of dew during the coolness of night.”

These words are plucked from the letter tucked into this week’s box. Clearly, there are poets among the farmers as well. This attention to the movement of Creation and our two-leggeds connection to it all is the work of the psalmist. This reminder is nutrition for body, mind and spirit and fills me with a joy that is so much more than the calories needed to keep my body moving in a whole and healthy way in the world.

In just a few short weeks Karl will no longer pull up to the door in his specially rigged up refrigerated van. The food that makes its way to our table will be chosen from the heaping mounds of produce that has traveled thousands of miles to get to the grocery store shelves. Writing this brings a certain sadness. And yet the ability to “think of the one who planted to tree” can continue. Perhaps this summer’s experience of relationship can extend the table to the countless hands and lives that work every day, seen and unseen, to bring food to all of us. Scratched on this week’s letter was also this scripture from Genesis:”And out of the ground made The Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.”

And so it is. Summer, fall, winter, spring. Our hearts can be full to overflowing for those who plant and tend and toil and harvest. Those who work in the fields and orchards. Those who carry and load. Those who box and sell. This food with sustains us comes through the sacrifice and toil of so many. And the grace of the One who breathed life into all Creation.

Blessed be.



Within us – as a sheer gift of God – is the capacity to bring forth what has never been before, including what has never been imagined before.”
~John Philip Newell, The Rebirthing of God

Here in Minnesota we are five days into what we lovingly call ‘The Great Minnesota Get-Together’….the State Fair. Some people shun this twelve day experience of foods on sticks and carnival atmosphere for the festival of over indulgence it can become. Others love it for the palette of creativity and connection with the Heartland that it preserves. I am the later, a true lover of the State Fair’s daily pull of summer’s ending and herald of autumn. I’d go every day if I could and I know that, even then, I would not see the fullness of it all. Quilts lovingly stitched. Intricate sweaters knitted. Wood-working that seem unimaginable. Art of a multitude of shades and shapes created by city-dweller and country-dweller displayed side by side. Vegetables lined up in their exquisite beauty of color and form. Jars filled with preserved goodness awaiting a winter yet to be. The list goes on and on.

On Friday, however, I stood with countless others in the Miracle of Birth barn. This red structure abuzz with bovine and swine and fowl galore is a magnet for those who marvel at the beginning of life. People crowd around pens holding pigs and chickens, geese and cows, waiting to see another life come into the world. If you are unable to see it up close and personal, the overhead screens give you a bird’s eye view of the action. This is exactly what I did for over an hour Friday morning as I waited and cheered on a mother cow giving birth to a beautiful, black and white calf. Standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers, I rooted on this strong and amazing creature. When she breathed, I breathed. When she pushed, I felt the push within my own body. I watched as she lay down and then stood allowing gravity to work in the way it does moving this birth along.

Perched on a stool behind me was a young man in an official Miracle of Birth shirt watching over my shoulder. It seemed a perfect chance to ask all my questions and so I did. His patience at this non-farmer’s words were patient and matter of fact. But the one statement he made, not driven at all by any question I asked, has stayed with me. “It’s completely amazing. In just a little bit of time, where there was no life, another one will be here in this room, in this world. Amazing….”

It was clear to me from our conversation that this young man was probably a veterinarian or at least a vet student. He was also, from other things he said, a farmer who had grown up on a farm and seen this kind of thing many times. And yet his amazement was present and full and real. He was as filled with awe as those of us first-timers who applauded with gusto as the calf slipped silently and miraculously into the world. When the attending vet mouthed quietly “It’s a boy.” we all nodded our heads and seemed to congratulate one another at being midwives to another life in the room, in the world. Some of us wiped tears of joy from our faces and breathed sighs of relief.

This morning as I read the words above from John Philip Newell’s new book I thought of the birth experience I witnessed on Friday. The birth of this calf was a visible reminder of the life in the world, in all things, that longs to be made known. We see it with each new baby born. We see it with the birds that pecked their way out of eggs over the last months and the seeds that pushed their way out of the earth, now gracing our gardens and yards with summer bounty. The impetus of Creation is to bring about “what has never been before”. It is the work of the artist and the farmer, the factory worker and the chef, the construction worker and the scientist.

So many places in our world right now long for the gift of new birth. The hope of the miracle of imagining something that has never been before is all around us. For places of war…..the birth of peace. For those gripped in the cycles of poverty….the birth of justice for all. For all of us held captive by racism…..the brilliant imagining of a new way forward. For those who sorrow and grieve….the birth of compassion. For the lost and the lonely….the emergence of companionship.

The sheer gift of God is with us…..let the birthing begin…..



Remember to be gentle with yourself and others. We are all children of chance and none can say why some fields will blossom while others lay brown beneath the August sun.”
~ Kent Nerburn

This morning I woke to the quiet patter of rain outside the window. It is such a comforting sound, isn’t it? There is the implication that things are being washed clean while at the same time nurtured with the moisture needed for survival. The very sound of the raindrops falling on roof shingles and sidewalks, on deck chairs and the orange cloth of the patio umbrella created a varied music that held the morning’s opening hours. I found myself breathing easier, resting into the day’s beginning. It was a good way to start a Monday.

Checking some of the email that had arrived in my box, I saw this quote of Kent Nerburn creating the banner on a webpage I automatically receive. I have to say I found its presence on this particular website surprising and also heartening. “Remember to be gentle with yourself and others. We are all children of chance and none can say why some fields will blossom while others lay brown beneath the August sun.” This Minnesota author’s writings are filled with both insight and big questions and have room for readers to roll around in. They are a blessing that also can challenge.

It seems to me we are in some days that require gentleness. As the roller coaster of life goes these days and weeks seem to be fuller than usual with the pain and tragedy humans can inflict on one another. Those of us who struggle with this, who try to make sense of it, can do with being gentle with ourselves and our thoughts about what we see happening. Watching the situation unfold in Ferguson, Missouri, seeing the racism and power structures we have created that seem to favor some over others, can send a person into despair. Holding that in one hand and all the on-going turmoil that seems to never be resolved in places like Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Syria and so many other countries in the other hand makes for a some heavy lifting. And then there are the people of Africa and the Ebola outbreak. And the children now housed in shelters in Texas sent like young nomads into a country they had only dreamed about by desperate parents. What is a sensible person to do with all this?

Last week I was grappling with sorting out these big life situations and I thought to myself, “What I need is some Anne Lamott.” Her funny, irreverent yet wise writings never fail to inspire, uplift and often make me laugh out loud. I picked up her book Traveling Mercies and read the chapter by the same name. In it she was describing a similar time in her life when it seemed to her the world was falling apart. She relates a story of someone who worked for the Dalai Lama who said that these faithful who follow in his footsteps believe that when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, the purpose is to protect something amazing and large that is trying to be born. This birth needs us to be distracted so that the birth can happen as perfectly as possible. Well, ok then.

I’ve been walking around with this notion for over a week now. I want to believe it. I want to continue to pray over these things happening in the world and in the lives of real people while knowing that something big and invisible to me is trying to be born. Some moments are more successful than others. But because I do have that deep place within that believes that the Holy is always moving and bringing new things to birth, I am mostly being converted. And sometimes mostly converted is enough.

That and being gentle with oneself and others. As we each go about this day with chance and distractions as our companions, may we blossom in ways that bring peace and kindness to the little sphere of world we travel. And may our prayers be flung far and wide for those who lay brown and without life or hope in the August sun. And if something truly is trying to be born, may we be skilled midwives at this birthing.


Nearly Anything

Several weeks ago I heard Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things, at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. It was a lively evening of reading and music and delightful questions from the audience. At one point, answering a question about how the act and art of writing helped her overcome some of the trials and tribulations of her life, she made the statement: ” Well, you can write your way through nearly anything you know.”

I scribbled that sentence on the program I had sitting on my lap. You can write your way through nearly anything. I have been letting that sentence roll around in my head and my heart for all these days. I keep coming back to it. I even passed on this declaration to a friend who is taking some time away to sort out some of the stuff in her own life. You can write your way through nearly anything.

Of course, the implication is that if one writes, jots, lists, makes poetry or prose about a situation or problem in life, eventually some clarity appears. There is certainly truth in this or at least I can say that it has been my experience that this is true. The act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard has a way of cutting through some of the underbrush of a day and when I reach the other side, or the end of the page, I am in a different place than I was when I began. I would venture to say that the same could be true for those who paint or take photographs, for those who make music or those who dance. The act of creating something has a way of clearing out the muck and mire and allowing the light to shine on things in new ways.

However I don’t think this ‘making your way through nearly anything’ has to be a particularly creative act. I knew someone once who vacuumed to make her way through whatever the problems of the day dished up. I always knew the state of her life by the visible pathways cut into the carpet by the Hoover. Others I know cook their way through nearly anything. Bread,pies, cookies, meat loafs, big pots of soup. Each can be a way to take yourself from one side of a problem to another. I know my love of canning and pickling is sometimes a way to make my way through situations that seem to have no solution. The very act of boiling water and filling jars has a way of lifting the veil of mystery to what might seem impossible.

You can write your way through anything. Clearly there are times when this statement is not true. I am thinking about the creative genius of Robin Williams whose gifts touched so many and who has died so tragically. Nearly everyone I have met over the last days has had some fond memory of this man who made us laugh and cry and seemed to be able to make his way through anything. But the deep pitfalls of depression are a fearsome enemy and in the end it seems he could not write, act, sing, or laugh his way out of its grip. We are all feeling the loss of his sweet and wild genius.

Perhaps the wisdom in a statement like Gilbert made is to know what it is that helps us get through the confusing and challenging times and to put our whole selves into allowing that act to move us from point A to point B. What is it that helps move you through nearly anything? Have you discovered these acts and made note of them for the life giving energy they bring? Do you have them tucked into your top drawer to pull out when times get tough and you need the repetitive motion that writing, drawing, stirring, running, dancing can bring? Perhaps, as I suspect, in these instances these motions become prayers without words connecting us in some way to the presence of the Holy. It is worth a consideration.

On this day when the world has offered itself to us yet again, we are waiting in wonder to see what it will deliver. The minutes and hours could be as ordinary as folding the laundry. And then again, there could be roadblocks or pile ups no one saw coming. Whatever the day holds, may we be blessed with the wisdom to know what can get us through with grace and an ounce of gratitude. This living is fragile and precious and to be held lightly and taken seriously.


Puzzle Piece

Last week I was taking an early morning walk to the coffee shop in our neighborhood. There was nothing particularly unusual or special about the morning. It was, instead, one more of the glorious summer days with which we’ve been blessed for the last several weeks. Cool, sunny, bright blue sky. Near to perfection…..whatever perfection means.

Coming out of the coffee shop, my morning jolt in my hand, I began making my way back toward home and the beginning of a work day that would hold some things for which I had planned and others that would unfold with the surprise that might change everything. It happens. We all know its true.I was keeping my eyes to the ground for some reason and that’s how I noticed it. Nestled in the edge of the sidewalk and just balancing on the blades of green grass was one, single puzzle piece. I knelt down and picked it up. Its backside was the gray paper of nearly all puzzle pieces. The other side was rubbed clean of color and whatever hint it held to its place in a larger picture. I tucked this little morning gift into my pocket knowing that I wanted to spend more time with it, with the metaphor it created for me on a glorious summer morning in August.

I love puzzles. I like the act of sitting at a table, moving tiny pieces around until a picture makes itself known. This love of this activity is not shared with those in my family though our Seattle Son was quite the puzzle-maker when he was little. It was something we shared often in total silence with steaming cups of hot chocolate nearby in winter and cool drinks in summer. It is a precious memory for me. And perhaps because I love puzzles, I also very much dislike when, after much effort and time, I come to the end and a piece is missing. The picture cannot be completed!

But such is life. How rare it is to ever have all the pieces of a vision or a solution right at our fingertips, one we can see without too much finagling. I think of the many people I know right now who are struggling with the missing pieces that are causing them strife, confusion, even anger. The picture they are trying to create with the stuff of their daily living seems all a jumble. And just when they think they have it all put together, every thing lined up just so….bam!….a critical piece is missing.

Sometimes, perhaps most times, we don’t really even have an image of what the missing piece might be. We wrack our brains and twist ourselves into all manner of contortions trying as hard as we can to find that last, little hint at what will solve a problem or mend a heartache or bring some balance where there once was such tranquility. Or other times we know for sure what is missing if we could just lay our hands on it, just reach into the couch cushions and pull it out from where it has been hiding.

Over the last days I have been in more than one conversation with someone about the current state of the world. It seems that the pieces to the whole picture of countries and the people who call them home have been scattered about and are aching to be brought back together, to find the complete picture once more. People’s questions outweigh their answers and it seems as if there are more than a couple of missing pieces to the puzzle….pieces that might stop violence, end wars, bring peace, help bring people back safely to their homes.

That puzzle piece I found? I tucked it so carefully into my stack of books and papers that I took to the office the day of its finding. I had so fully planned to photograph it, to reflect on it, to allow its quirky message to shape something in me. And what did I do? I lost it. I have now searched the floor of my office and cleaned out my book bag looking for a puzzle piece that was lost, then found and now lost again. While my floor and bag are much tidier, the puzzle piece is still missing. I am sure there is something to be gleaned in all this but right now it simply seems like irony to me.

And so for all the places in the world where pieces are missing, I offer prayers of hope and promise. For all the people who need just that one last piece to make it all fit together in the way they hoped, prayers of patience. And for all the missing pieces lingering in unfound places, prayers of peace……and maybe even a sense of humor.


Charmed Life

Peace where there is war
healing where there is hurt
memory where we have forgotten the other.
Vision where there is violence
light where there is madness
sight where we have blinded each other.
Comfort where there is sorrow
tears where there is hardness
laughter where we have missed life’s joy
laughter when we remember the joy.”
~John Philip Newell

Now and then I am confronted, face to face, with the privileged life I lead. Most days I forget that the path I walk is paved with golden stones that so many others do not even know exist. So busy I am in taking out the trash and filling out forms and sorting the details of my everyday existence that I forget that the gifts which have been showered on my simple life are unknown by much of the world. A safe home. More than enough food. Health and the access to the health care I need to keep it so. Loving family and friends all around. Enough financial resources to be more than comfortable. Work I love and that fulfills some purpose. These are our basic needs lest we forget.

It is a privileged life. And these last three days have thrown this mirror up to remind me. I have been blessed to take a few days to explore and experience the work of art and Spirit. In a retreat I have helped to lead people have gathered to connect with the ways the Spirit urges them to creativity. There has been singing and dancing, storytelling and painting, poetry and writing, photography and prayer. All in abundance. People have tried things that were unfamiliar while others shared skills they had practiced for years. Discoveries were made. Insights gained. Laughter and tears was our food. Privilege.

Several times as we were doing these creative acts, someone would name a place or persons who were outside this circle of privilege. We would send a song, like the prayer it is, toward our human brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine, in Russia and the Ukraine, in the neighborhoods we know where violence is daily. It was a moment of remembering and connection, a moment of recognizing the privilege. Our painting and poetry pulled in the goodness of Creation and the sights of the green and vibrant landscape just outside our windows. This view was often accompanied by the plaintive call of the loon from the nearby lake. Painting and poetry became prayer for all the ways those of us who walk upright continue to harm this planet. With privilege comes responsibility.

Last night as we were about to fall asleep my husband said to me:”We lead a charmed life you know.” Indeed. The luxury, the gift of coming away to do what we have done for these days is the life of a blessed people. And my heart is filled with gratitude for the gift of it. Given the state of many places in the world and the state of lives not so distant from my own, some might say this is frivolous work. But I believe that is not true. The work of creating art has always been the bedrock of what it means to be human. All the stories ever told or written of how the world came to be find their truth in the act of creativity. And, if we allow ourselves the time and presence, I believe all the solutions to the problems and disputes we see around us will come about through the this same power of creativity whose Source we name in different ways.

We have been blessed these days to learn some of the techniques and stories used to hold the spirit and art of the aboriginal people of Australia. The art uses simple yet profound symbols to tell the story of the life of a family, a community, a connection with the larger story of which we are all a part. As each of us took up our canvas and began our own painting, our own story, I was struck with the power of the energy in the room. I was held in the spirit of the people to my left and right and those throughout the room. Our abilities and skills varied but our presence together held great promise. And so it is and has always been.

On this day, this privileged day which never has been or will be again, may we each walk in the privilege of creativity. May we walk gently on the Earth and may our prayers be flung far and wide for our fellow travelers whose lives may not be held in the same privilege as ours.