If you are an early riser as I am, you have likely been audience to some amazing sunrises these past days. I am unsure why at this time of year, in this particular climate, the sky wants to dress itself up as if the whole day will be a grand ball complete with young women decked out in feathery, multi-colored ball gowns that vaguely resemble clouds. Is it the January light setting its sights on the spring we all have begun to talk about, dream about, plan for? Is the sky filled with an invisible moisture that creates the pinks, purples and indigo hues that paint the heavens just as the first peek of the Sun makes its entrance over the horizon? These are the times I wish I had paid more attention in science class. Perhaps I might be able to answer my own questions.

But I am not sure that any scientific understanding of the dawntime phenomenon would be adequate. The show of sky and light seems to me more worthy of poetry or music and certainly silence. The awe it elicits would not find justice, at least for me, in any rational explanation. What it calls for is something much more….prayer…..praise…..adoration….reverence.

One morning I had been busy over something that seemed immensely important, looking down at my computer, pecking away frantically at the keyboard. Out of the morning quiet, my husband urged me to turn my head and look out the window. The sky was hot pink, deep orange, lemon yellow, brilliant purple at the level of the horizon we glimpsed through the trees. While we watched, within moments somehow, the colored lights flipped upward and flooded the puffy, marshmallow-like clouds with purple and pink causing them to look like cotton candy hanging in the sky. There were no words……only the feeling that you had been privileged by something that verged on miraculous.

And then within what seemed like the blink of an eye it was all gone. All gone. The sky seemed ‘normal’ again. Blue, though not overly so. Clouds without any particular sheen or sparkle. Just there. They promised to make the upcoming day one more day of meteorological ‘Partly Cloudy’. It was stunning to realize how fleeting the beauty was, how fleeting the experience of that beauty. It felt like a punch to the chest. I wondered at the blessing of seeing such a morning begin while also feeling a sadness at how quickly it took a turn.

The experience of this bright and brilliant morning caused me to think of all the fleeting moments that pass through our days, through our lives. We have all had those moments on which our life seemed to turn for better or worse. A look full of love across a table and a beloved is discovered and things seem to change in a forever kind of way. And then there are the fleeting moments of children growing up and the wondering where the time went and why we didn’t pay more attention, why we focused on the petty,seemingly urgent and not on the precious present of a giggle of a small hand held against our face. Looking back at photos of these young ones we try to conjure up the full hearted experience of those fleeting moments.

Thinking along these lines reminded of a poem by Jane Kenyon in which she talks of the ordinary things that begin her day with the husband she loves. A cup of coffee shared. Breakfast at a simple kitchen table. Reading the paper together. She celebrates these moments and ends each celebration with the words ‘some day it will be otherwise’. In its writing the poem recognizes the fleeting nature of the beauty which graces the every day…..and the reality that someday that beauty, that grace, will be no longer present for us. Like the quickly changing colors of a January morning, it will be otherwise.

And so on this day, may we all open our eyes to the gifts that show up in all their ordinary splendor. May we celebrate them and relish them and honor the fleeting brush with which they paint the canvas that is our living. Somehow the fleeting nature of it all makes it ever so much more precious.


Fiercely Kind

At a memorial service this past week I was struck by two words a granddaughter of the deceased used to describe her grandmother. “Fiercely kind.” In many ways they seem two words that do not go together. And yet……I thought of the many times in any day when kindness might not be my first choice, when irritation or frustration are scrambling my brain and I simply want to say the first thing that pops up and allow it to come shooting out of my mouth. So many days are filled with a personal agenda that seems so urgent that nothing, certainly not the effort of kindness, can be allowed to get in the way of accomplishment. To be fiercely kind, I believe, takes a commitment, a discipline, that does not come easy to everyone. I felt blessed to hear this young woman’s description and that she had had the kind of relationship with her grandmother that created the opportunity for her to notice and to be in its presence.

The day after hearing these words I was driving down Highway 13 near our house. It was early morning and people, myself included, had that ‘I must get there’ look on their faces. Plans had already been put into motion for a day over which we thought we had control. Serious delusion, this. Abruptly, ahead of me the line of traffic in both lanes came to a halt. I craned my neck to see what was happening. Who, what had the nerve to be messing with my need to get going?

Then I saw them. At least eight large, wild turkeys. One had ventured out onto the road and the others had lined up behind as if cueing up for a carnival ride. Slowly……for these birds do not move anything but slowly…..one by one they made their way across the road. While they may not be elegant in their movements these large birds make up for their lack of finesse with their sheer beauty and magnificent presence. One of the birds must have felt some anxiety and actually lifted its wings in a short burst of flight but came back to the ground to get back in step with the others. Four or five crossed and many of the cars moved on no worse the wear for having had their human morning interrupted by turkeys.

But as my car inched up I caught sight of three more birds lurching slowly up the incline of the roadside. I stopped as did the traffic on the other side of the road and we all waited once again for the stragglers to meet up with their band of feathered friends on the other side of the road. Iridescent navy blue and deep green feathers shown beneath brown as I caught an ‘up close and personal’ view of this beautiful bird. Soon all the turkeys were once again united having perhaps answered the question…..”Why does the turkey cross the road?”

For some reason sitting there in our metal boxes watching these turkeys, having had their presence bring the free fall of our days to a halt, I thought of the granddaughter’s description. There was a certain amount of kindness that was born in that moment….the stopping….the waiting…the watching…..the noticing…perhaps even the awe that was felt at the beauty of another being so different than our two-legged selves. Somehow the gift of these vulnerable creatures engendered a realization that might be described as kindness.

There are many moments in a day that might call for us to be fiercely kind. Sometimes we notice them and sometimes we are too busy and we miss an opportunity to birth kindness in the world. What a shame that is. Not every day will turkeys cross our path requiring us to stop and notice them. But human ones walk in and out of our day all the time and they may be as vulnerable and fragile. Many are carrying hurts and disappointments that go deep. Many are feeling just at the edge of giving up or shutting down. Many have not had anyone notice their beauty for a very long time.

All need someone to be fiercely kind. Someone to stop what ever important thing they might have been planning and to notice them, to honor their place in the Universe, someone to see the unique gift they are in the vast scheme of things.

May this day find us being fiercely kind. May this day find us receiving a fierce kindness.


Lesson Learned

It is always good to have the opportunity to learn something again. It builds the humility muscle and sets you on track for the next patience marathon. For me these learning opportunities often have to do with things like time and my ‘tiny control issues’ as Anne Lamott writes so beautifully. Being able to be present to what is rather than forcing my wicked step-sister big foot into a tiny Cinderella shoe of what I want to make happen can have me eating bowl after bowl of humble pie. In the arena of planning and goal setting I have had to learn over and over again that, most often, the way things unfold or are created, have their own wisdom about how to make their entrance into the world. This, of course, runs counter to every five step plan for a fabulous future workshop that you have ever attended.

More than two years ago I began work on a book which consisted of edited versions of many of the blog posts found on Pause. Over the course of the summer of 2013, I spent time rewriting and making additions of practices readers might find helpful to incorporate in their daily spiritual walk. The book’s intention was to provide short, devotional pieces to encourage staying awake to this amazing living we are invited to each day. A publisher was interested and I turned over the manuscript. Knowing that the publishing process is a slow one, I settled in. Over time rewrites were made, endorsements received, permissions for other’s quotes were denied or accepted. I learned much.

What I re-learned is that there is a force at work in the Universe that has its own time. It is not dictated by my, or anyone’s, goals or bullet points jotted down for ‘how to get it done.’ There is a slower, wiser movement at work that wakes us up to our own illusions of control. This lesson learned once again reminds me of all the times I want to force something to happen right now. This lesson also reminds me of the many visual sources of wisdom at work in Creation that teach us of the slow, patient work of God……bulbs burrowed in frozen ground doing their winter work….trees standing tall, leafless and yet holding the buds that will burst forth green in the spring…..babies moving from being cuddled to crawling to running to eventually moving on into a world that waits for them……yeast rising in dough to make bread to nourish our bodies.

None of these things can be rushed. None of these acts of becoming can be forced into fruition before its time. And so it is with every creative project. Perhaps our real work in all we create is to hone a way of being present to the growth and wisdom that already exists in whatever process or creation we are birthing. Perhaps our real work is holding the space for what is waiting to come into the world through us.

What is being birthed in you these days? In these first days of a new year we all hold hopes and dreams, perhaps even goals, for 2015. How is it possible to both move with those desires for the future while holding them lightly enough so they can emerge in their own good time? It is an act of humility and patience and trust. But we have the model of this amazing Creation that teaches us over and over if we allow it.

The Practicing Life: Simple Acts. Sacred Living was finally birthed and placed in my hands on December 22nd. At the busiest time of year. In the midst of countless other happenings. It arrived in the world through the grace of many people. It arrived with many lessons learned. It arrived in its own good time.

Lesson learned again…..for now.


Spiritual Director

There was a full moon this past week. And with the bitterly cold temperatures that made for very clear, blue skies. It was a sight to behold. Did you see it? With my lingering cough, I have been a creature of the night much like the moon. In the wee hours of the night I was up and was drawn by its pull to look out our front windows. There I saw the white orb shining down through a haze of magic mist casting shadows on the bare branches of trees that line our street. Though I would have preferred not to be awake, it seemed a kind of gift to be able to stand and allow this light to shine on my presence, my world.

Not long after that illumination, I walked to our back doors which look out on the snow covered, moon lit, blue yard. Its beauty washed over me. And that is when I saw a small movement at the very corner of the deck. Wriggling its small body was a rabbit. Nose down, furry rump in the air, it looked like an acrobat trying to do some somersault maneuver. I kept my body as still as possible so as not to distract or frighten. For some reason the rabbit seemed young to me so I was particularly filled with compassion for it as it tried to burrow its way under our deck to seek out some warmth. As I stood watch, finally, the softness of its fur made a path through snow and cold to a place we have long known is home to perhaps this teenager and its family. I breathed a sigh of relief that, at least for that night, it was out of the elements.

Days later now, on this morning, I have been observing the prints in the snow on the deck. There are small prints and large ones and while I can identify very few animal prints, I do know these to be those of rabbits. On a less happy note we have also noticed that another part of this family’s nighttime activity is gnawing on the limbs of our winged euonymus(burning bush) tree.

All this activity of a Disneyesque nature has me thinking about the many ways we coexist in the world. We each go round every day with our own agenda in the forefront. All the while others are doing the same. How very seldom I take the time to stop and think of those whose very existence is just outside my peripheral vision….outside my window….across the street…..at the street corner….under my deck. Each creature, human or otherwise, has a life they are striving to live. Just like me. Just like you. They may be in need of a warm place, a safe place, something that feeds them and gets them through cold and difficult times.

A friend recently spoke of how trees are spiritual director for him these days. These last days when illness has made me self-centered and detached from the world, spiritual direction showed up in a brilliant moon and a small, furry, fragile creature. I was reminded that I am, we all are, traveling this world surrounded by companions and teachers. If we have the presence of mind and heart, they may have the ability to soothe a troubled night and connect us once again with the Light that continues to shine even in the coldest of nights.

I will continue to keep watch over our rabbit family and hope for the best for them as we all make our way through winter. I will notice their amazing foot prints and hope that mine do not frighten them from the safety of the home they have created. I will also hope that they might find another source of nutrition than our beloved burning bush which brings us such joy in the fall.

This co-existing can be tricky business!


A Richness of Seasons

“That’s how this Christmas season has seemed to me.”, she said, pointing toward the small, ornamental stone fountain I have in the corner of my office. That morning I had been too busy to plug it in, leaving the wall of stone dry, with only the mineral deposits of water making white streaks on the gray background. I looked at her and knew what she meant. Some holiday seasons are just like that. They miss our expectations by a long shot for all kinds of reasons. Instead of the heady energy of joy and celebration, we find ourselves in another kind of land, swimming against a current that seems foreign and mean spirited. Because I knew some of the things going on in her life I understood how her description could be true. I took in a deep breath and hoped my eyes spoke care and concern and compassion.

The holiday season is now past and yet I continue to think back on it with some longing. The terrible respiratory illness that has been dancing its way through people’s lives added its name to my dance card a few days before Christmas. For the majority of all the festivities and traditions that are so ingrained in our family, I was in a suspended state brought on by fever and the side effects of cold and flu medications. While they may help in the short term, they have the effect of making you feel mostly stupid with numbness. It has all lingered longer than seems realistic. And yet now that I am finally on the other side of it, I have thought back on the woman’s statement and how in many ways it was my own experience of this particular Christmas season.

As someone who makes their life in the church business, these holidays can have a set of expectations that are difficult for anyone to achieve or produce. The longing and hopes drummed up by Christmas movies and advertisements reach into those places that get at deep crevices in us. It is easy to over reach toward some Hollywood experience of a sweet and spectacular script that has its final moments in candlelight and music and over the top happiness. It can be a set up for a pretty hard fall into disappointment or at least melancholy.

This particular Christmas season was home to many deaths within our church community. As we held the promise of new birth and the Christ Child’s light shining into our midst we also said goodbye to some saints whose lights had been equally bright. The season also saw tragedy and disruption on the world stage. While we held the hope of peace on earth, good will to all, we grappled with the injustice of racism and the on-going warring around the globe. People were ill. Others lost their jobs and were pitched into a whirlwind of fear and hopelessness.

My gut tells me that this is always so. We are not an either-or world but a both-and. Which is why it was somehow comfort for me this past Sunday when our scripture reading came from the book of Ecclesiastes. These words from the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew people rang true to me:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

While we may live with the rhythm of seasons, seasons we imbue with all kinds power and hopes, we do so in a much larger framework of life. Life with all its beauty and terror. This Christmas season was filled with richness and miracle for some. And it was filled with hopelessness and dryness for others.

Perhaps our work is to continue to light the candles and to sing the songs, to choose to see Light in the darkness and offer it when we can. There is a season and a time for everything under heaven. No matter which side of the phrase we are on, it is good to remember that we ride on the Breath of the One who breathed us, and the seasons, into being.

And so it always will be…..