Encircling Wind

Wind. Over the years I have had some powerful experiences of wind. The past few days have been ones where wind has been a nearly constant companion. For the Thanksgiving holiday we are staying in a house on Whidbey Island, Washington as we gather our now far-flung sons together in a family gathering. The waters of Puget Sound are steps away from our view of the world dotted with boats and wood and rock. We find ourselves situated on a peninsula with water on each side of the road and houses. Perhaps it is because of this configuration that the experience of wind has been so profound.

On our first night here I was awakened by the rush of the wind as it made circles around the house. Safe under the covers, I listened as the wind’s voice spoke its words first to the tip of my head and then made its way along walls and the length of my body, growing softer as it moved its circuitous path around and around the house, arriving again at the top of my head. Whoosh…..whoosh…whoosh….the wind became visible to me. The sound was so powerful and strong I got up and went into the living room where I could keep my eye on the crashing waves spewing water and anything else that found itself housed in the salty brine onto the beach.

Sitting quietly in a chair, I began to remember the other places where wind had been such a full bodied experience. While I have known the force of wind on the North Shores of Minnesota and the rocky paths of the Irish coast, my fullest experience of the circling of wind was in the Abbey Church on the island of Iona, Scotland. Having arrived late in the day on this holy island that has welcomed pilgrims for hundreds of years, we made our way in the dark to the 9:00 p.m. service of prayer. Sitting in pews with people from all over the world, we sang and read and prayed beautiful words created by gifted writers and liturgists. But it was the wind that brought the real message of the evening. Round and round the building it rushed. You could hear the very pattern of its flight. Eyes met eyes and we all knew in some unspoken way that the movement of the Spirit was present.

This circling presence is what has been holding me and reminding me of that powerful night that still niggles at my heart. I would like to believe that one does not need to be on an island to have such a fullness. But as is almost always true in the spiritual life, our experiences are both real and metaphor for something larger, something wiser. Sometimes when we feel most an island, alone and cut off, the Spirit shows up to whirl around and remind us of its eternal presence. When that island of self feels most unmoored, the power of Spirit creates a nest of wind so powerful that we cannot ignore its place in our lives. Round and round it moves carrying its wisdom and strength. Round and round its force becomes a connection that will not let go. Round and round this Breath which breathed us all into being speaks.

This morning the wind is much calmer and the waters out the window are flowing with a greater gentleness. The sea birds are flying in a lazier, easier fashion as they search for breakfast. Logs swim along, guests from the north that will arrive on the beach to offer the makings of forts and caves for creative souls. The horizon is open except for the far off glimpse of mountains. Of course, the wind is still moving, the Spirit’s presence still flows but its voice, circling is less visible, subtler. And so it goes and always will.

But sometimes, sometimes, we need a wake up call…..like the rushing winds of Pentecost. Circling. Circling. Circling. And may we each find those moments whether on island or street corner, whether in the solace of sanctuary or the details of the every day.

So be it.


Compassion Cost

Is there a price tag for compassion? Those were the words that jumped off the page yesterday as I read the morning newspaper. The question came from an article that would have been easily overlooked tucked as it was amidst the usual murder and mayhem that makes black marks on white paper. The report was of a wayward bird. A rufous hummingbird to be exact. A bird that was observed at a nectar feeder in St. Paul by a woman who knew her birds. Good for her and good for this bird.

Terri Walls noticed the colorful yet miniature winged one, perhaps, even more visible with our blanket of white snow that came as an early gift this week. I don’t now if Terri has a bird book by the windows looking out to her feeders like we do, but she clearly knew something was unusual about this bird. You see the rufous hummingbird’s homeland is the Pacific Northwest in summer and Mexico in winter. She had the wisdom to contact the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and spoke with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator named Jessika Madison-Kennedy. Through the kindness and compassion of these two women the bird was captured and taken to the Center where it is awaiting a trip on the wings of another kind of bird…..a metal bird….to get it back on course. In Arizona.

Madison-Kennedy spoke of the bird “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The thought is that it had been blown off course by weather disturbances in the Pacific Ocean. And so it found itself here, in Minnesota, in some of the coldest days we’ve known in November in some time. While it was described as a “healthy adult male of typical size, a few inches long and a penny’s worth of weight”,this fragile creature needed to rely on the kindness of strangers. And now it is about to get the ride of its life so it can see familiar landscapes and join up with wings and beaks it knows.

Reading this article yesterday I couldn’t help but think of the many two-leggeds I know who must feel similar feelings to this rufous hummingbird. Blown off course. In unfamiliar landscape. Looking out for others that seem like faced, like winged, like feathered. We have all been there. We find ourselves in a place that doesn’t seem like a place we know and we wonder how in the world we got there. Sometimes this comes abruptly, out of the blue, with a choice or a decision that rocks our world. For many this is a constant, every day experience they’ve know their whole lives. Various circumstances bring on such a state…..slips in mental health……addiction….illness….loss…..grief….anxiety….depression……whatever the trigger….the result is being blown off course with what feels like a disturbance from some distant place.

Enter compassion. The question: “Is there a price tag on compassion?” came from the person organizing the conversation and compromise between Minnesota and Arizona to send and receive this tiny bird. Will it cost money? Yes. Lots, I would imagine. I don’t know how that will work out. I am confident that there are those who would scoff at the expense.

But as one who has taken the lead in life from one who believes in the care of the least and the lost, this seems a no brainer. Is there a price tag for compassion? I don’t think so. Compassion flows from the goodness of heart, the kindness of strangers, the blessings of beloved ones.

Today, I am imagining a tiny bird wondering what it in the world happened to its simple, flying, eating-sweet-things life. I am imagining this flash of color inside a flying plane headed south just like the human ones we call ‘snow birds’. I am imagining the moment at which the plane lands, the cage is opened and this fragile being lifts its body into warm, familiar sky and breathes home.
Is there a price tag on compassion? Yes. It takes all we have.



Sometimes it simply takes longer to make your way back into your regular life. Sometimes, after a walk to the mountain top, setting the alarm or doing the laundry seems odd, unnecessary. This is what my experience has been after ten days in Italy with an amazing group of spiritual pilgrims. Traveling as we did with an eye to the Holy, the beauty of each day staggered us. The privilege of another week’s travel through the beautiful landscape of France had me arriving home full to overflowing. Team that with jet lag and you can get a little loopy! Which is why I have not visited this space for awhile.

The truth of the matter is that the experience of this pilgrimage has left me somewhat wanting for words. Which is probably as it should be. The sheer magnitude of art, sacred space, beauty, language, food, and the hospitality that was showered upon me should be something that leaves one speechless. In might be enough to walk around the world stunned for awhile waiting for my body to catch up to my spirit, rather than the usual other way around. I find myself staring off in the middle distance remembering the way the fog rose off a Tuscan hillside. I can hear the sounds of Gregorian Chant from mass at St. Altimo Monastery ringing in the far reaches of my heart. The sight of bread….any bread….reminds me of the snap of crusty baguettes or flaky croissants. The gentle pace of a daily life that doesn’t include rush hour tugs at my sleeve.

I know. These are the delusions of the privileged and pampered. I know it and yet can’t make an apology because I learned things in all these experiences, things that in some way connect me in a deeper way to the One who breathed all that beauty into being, or was at the very least the object of its creation. This is what has me so baffled and unable to come fully again into the dailiness of my life.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of travel is that it offers the opportunity to see the world with another lens, to realize that all the nitty-gritty details of my life, those that can nag or worry me, have no bearing on the lives of others. It is a humbling, yet important thing, to realize that whole cultures are living full, beautiful, rich lives without much of the minutiae that can set my nerves on edge. What a gift! My world, my culture, my way of seeing the world is only one, tiny glimpse of what life can be like. Immersing one’s self in another place is the only way to really know this.

Another gift might be the ability to take a small dose of this and that and incorporate a new value into our own lives. Perhaps taking an evening stroll around the block as a family, as they do in Italy, is something that might draw people closer together, calm them down for the evening ahead. Maybe sitting facing the street, watching the ‘show’ of people and traffic, as they do in Paris, might be a good way to understand our neighborhoods and neighbors better, helping us to feel more connected to those around us. Or maybe the act of lighting a candle, remembering the saints in our lives, has a way of connecting us with those who have gone before who have shared their wisdom. Simple things, simple values that have traveled the miles with me and planted a seed.

Eventually, I will return to my regular life. My sleeping patterns will once again be on Minnesota time and my stomach will growl at the appropriate times of the day. No 3:00 a.m. granola! But for now I am content to still be in the weeds of travel. I will spend the next weeks or months reflecting on all that has passed before my eyes, all the rare sounds of languages not understood but beautiful still, the variety of life’s rhythms I have experienced,the tastes and smells of food not known in my common daily round.

My prayer is that I can come to some new understanding of what I value and what no longer serves me. The result of a true pilgrimage is that one walks the path in a new way having left behind what needed to be shed while carrying forward a new heart. No one need leave home to come to this. It is the gift of the pilgrim of the every day.

Blessings on all our paths…….