Holy Ground

This week we call Holy is a week full of memory. As people who make their home in the Christian household, we will be gathering in various forms to remember, to re-tell ancient stories, to celebrate what it means to be people who have given over their lives to certain ways of being in the world. Depending on where you live and the role of tradition in your particular church or denomination, this remembering and celebration will look different. But the telling once again of the last days of the life of Jesus of Nazareth will be a part of the remembering. How each individual congregation makes meaning of those stories is what has divided us and what also keeps that story, and its memory, alive. 

I was driving through the Ohio countryside this week looking at the rolling hills that shaped my own spirit allowing them once again to wash over me with their beauty. Something about this landscape reaches deep inside me in a way I cannot deny. The pastoral scenes are dotted with little wooden framed churches that rise out of the farmland, strongholds that have stood against change and hard times. Stopping to take a closer look at one white chapel along the road, I read the plaque on the brick entry to the cemetery and church.”Ay, call it holy ground, the soil where first they trod;left unstained what there they found, freedom to worship God.” The words were dedicated to a group of Welsh settlers who built the church in 1835. I remember worshiping at this tiny chapel in the country when I was a young girl, the Welsh voices lifted the roof in song and prayer. My mother pointed out the ‘tea room’ in the back of the church urging me to look inside. Though a CD player sat on one of the tables, not much had changed in that room in decades, and is not likely to do so.

Only a few people worship at this church now. It is served by a pastor who makes her rounds to several wooden structures throughout the countryside in addition to her Sunday morning service in town. I thought of all the tiny churches that adorn the countryside all across this land, the people who built them, who called the ground on which they stood ‘holy’. I wondered what their founders would make of the faith communities of the 21st century.

On the drive back to Minnesota, we stopped to visit my father-in-law in Milwaukee. While there I read a letter written to him by his father. I marveled at the length of the letter and longed for such written correspondence….no text ‘grunting’ here. Long, beautiful sentences flowed out as he shared his understanding of faith and the differences he had observed in the various expressions of the Christian story by faith traditions. All this he did without judgment or mean spiritedness. In today’s ways of speaking about different expressions of faith, it was a joy to read. I wondered how many people I know could do the same without creating an ‘us’ and ‘them’, could lay out the differences with such respect. His letter created another kind of ‘holy ground’ on which a life was built, a life that left ‘unstained’ what he had found in his own faith journey.

This week we call Holy provides another opportunity to till the soil of our own faith. Each year, like the spring in which it arrives, we have the blessing to turn that rich soil of memory, tradition, faith,history and longing over once again. In it we will plant the seeds of hope….for what the story will bring to birth in us this year. How have the forty days of Lent been for you? What has been itching just below the surface that has troubled you or made you joyful? What is longing to come to birth in you, through you? How are you experiencing the life of Jesus?

These might be questions to carry into this week knowing that we all come from good stock of those who have carried similar questions before us. Some built churches in the countryside to hold their faithful longings while others wrote long letters to make their way to the answers. We have been and are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who dedicated themselves to remembering, telling and living their faith. And now it is our turn. May we do this work well for the healing of our own spirits and the healing of the world. 




Last year in preparation for a pilgrimage to Italy, I was reading much about Francis of Assisi. This man later named a saint has been adopted by both Protestant and Catholics alike. His love of Creation and ability to see the Face of the Holy in even the smallest of creatures is an inspiration. I thought I had read nearly every story about this beloved man. But this week a new story came to me by way of the online Lenten retreat I have been participating in with artist and wise woman Jan Richardson. 

The story goes like this….Francis and one of his fellow brothers, Masseo, were taking a journey and come to a crossroads. It is not easily understood which is the route they should take. Saint Francis then instructs Brother Masseo to take up his place at the center where the roads cross and to spin himself around…..and around…..and around. Of course, Masseo becomes dizzy and finally falls to the ground. St.Francis and the brother then set off on their journey in the direction that Masseo had fallen.

Like many of the stories of Francis, there is a lightheartedness and even humor to them. I love this about this holy man. It is a reminder to me to take myself and this life I lead a little less seriously. What a way to make decisions…..simply spin yourself around till you land in some direction….whichever way you land could work! (Or better yet, get someone else to do it for you.) Doesn’t it make you smile? 

Reading this story made me think of the many ways we make decisions. Some people make important decisions through logic, through the process of thinking things through from beginning to end, weighing all the odds. Others trust their feelings,’listening’ to their gut for what seems like the way to move on any particular path. When our sons were younger we often taught them to make a list of pros and cons of any situation and weigh the possible outcomes before proceeding. Some folks I know use visualization of imagined outcomes to make decisions. Still others require a talking out with another person or group of people of the situation at hand, until they can walk their way into next steps. 

Most people in faith communities trust in time spent in meditation and prayer that gives birth to a deep knowing that the steps being considered are being drawn out by Mystery. We often call this discernment. It is a word that has, in my opinion, lost some of its power over the last years. Co-opted by the business world the Unseen participant in the process of true discernment is often not considered.

But also, as people of faith, we can trust in the deep knowing that no matter the process we use for moving along life’s often circuitous path, the Holy is a constant companion. Perhaps this is what Francis was emphasizing to Masseo as he urged him to spin. Perhaps it didn’t make much difference to Francis which way Masseo fell at the crossroads. In his way of walking in the world, the Holy was on and in the path no matter which road was taken. 

The fact of the matter is that we probably need all the varied ways we have for making life’s decisions. If we have at the table a diversity of thinkers, feelers, left-brained and right-brained, gut and head people, we are most likely to come to a better decision, whatever the the path to be taken. It might also take a fair amount of spinning. But somehow I am also comforted by the notion that whatever the decision making process, there is also an Unseen partner at the table whose grace holds whichever way the journey takes. That even if the next step comes after spinning and falling down, we are all held by a goodness we continue to try to imagine and live into. 

For all the decisions…..and the discernments of this day, may it be so. Blessed be.

Waiting Season

The last few days have been traveling days for me. After church on Sunday we set out for a week of vacation with my family in southern Ohio. Often this is a flying trip but this time we did the road trip through the farmlands of Wisconsin, across the flatter lands of Illinois and Indiana and then into the rolling hills of Ohio. This trip is one I have taken many times. There are familiar spots along the way, markers that we are half way there or nearly there. Some of the markers have been shined up and look better than I remember while others have grown shabby over the years. There is a sadness to see them diminished.

Driving across this land in March, these fields that are home to the ‘bread basket’ of our country, look much different than they will in just a few months. For as far as the eye could see, fertile soil rolled out mile after mile in its waiting time. Waiting for warmer weather. Waiting for tilling. Waiting for planting. Waiting to come into its fullness. Rich dirt,turned over so its black color shone was, like the human who observed it, waiting for the season of spring to unfold. This   view of the waiting fields was only interrupted by a single white farmhouse plunked in the middle, home to the farmers who were likely also in the same suspension of season. Looming over it all were the enormous wind turbines gently fanning their angel wings over the waiting game. Something about these tall, white pinwheels always pulls at my heart…..their power to harness the wind and create unseen, yet experienced energy. Seeing their slow turning always expands my heart in my chest. 

Waiting is something that is difficult for most of us. Our impatience almost always gets the best of us. And yet the opportunity to observe these fields in their waiting stages brought about a certain patient pull in me. To look out over their expanse and to know that, soon, they will be giving birth to life that will then feed the lives of thousands can instill a patient hope for what is yet to be. I wonder if the farmer feels the same. I wonder if those who make their homes in the houses dwarfed by land yet unyielding look out over the black soil and experience that patient hope. Of possibility. Of promise.

No matter our work, no matter the landscape that greets our eyes each morning, we have a fickle relationship with waiting and patience. These days of Lent can be an invitation to be, simply be, in this particular day of this forty day journey. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Not the ritual of Ash Wednesday….not yet the alleluia of Easter. The fields of Lent still stretch before us and though we may have planted some seeds within the soil, patient waiting is still required. 

Lent, which comes from an old English word meaning spring, holds the promise of new life. But it is a new life that does not come with the fast paced, do-it-now, immediate pace to which we are accustomed. Instead, it is the ‘slow work of God’ with which our faith community has been reflecting over these last weeks. Slow work that thaws frozen ground. Slow work that allows planting small seeds and trusting in the movement of Sun and rain to pull and water them. Slow work that begs the humans observing to breathe more deeply, to keep an eye on what might happen when control is turned over to the Mystery. 

And perhaps, this is the greatest lesson of all in this long, waiting season.



We are people of story. We were made for story, made of story and it is story that helps us survive and evolve. To tell the important stories that have shaped us and to do so in new ways is the gift of imagination and creativity. But it also the stuff that saves us and breathes new life into us.

Personally, I have always been someone who loves to see a Shakespeare play ‘updated’, told with props, scenery and nuance that brings another dimension to a classic tale. While Elizabethan clothing is beautiful and I love looking at it, there is something to be said for hearing the verse of this great playwright spoken by people wearing clothes that are familiar, in scenery I may have experienced. Though, of course, I cannot know it to be true, I somehow like to believe that Shakespeare would also like to see these flights of his imagination brought to life in settings he could not have imagined, allowing him to see the timelessness of the stories he wrote.

Yesterday I attended a production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at Lake Harriet United Methodist Church in south a Minneapolis. This 1970 rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice was a hit in its time and also one that was shunned as heretical by some. It was the stuff of my youth and I even had the gift of being in a production in college. It was fun to experience how the lyrics, the pauses, the phrasing, the music came flowing back and washing through me as if it had never left. Good stories do that. As the musical tries to answer many of the questions people have had over time about Judas and Jesus, their relationship, the balance of power and justice, Jesus’ own understanding of his life and role in what is the central faith story for the Christian household, it was a massive undertaking by two artists. The fact that this particular rendition of its telling has not been left to some forgotten shelf, to another time of rock opera mania, is fascinating.

And yet it is a story that can be…..actually must be…picked up from its 1970’s home and placed in a new time. This production used a homeless shelter to house its characters. Jesus, Judas, the apostles, Mary Magdalene, all were found in a shelter for the least among us. They were fed at a soup line and surrounded by the various, colorful characters that can be seen at any shelter, in any city, all across the country. Pilate, Herod and those in power looked like those many of us sit next to at desks and see moving along the avenues of business and government. Business suits, red power ties, cellphones close at hand, checking all the important information flowing to us at all times. It was powerful imagery and good theater. The fact that it was created by a church community, with people of all ages, made it even more so.

So much of the time we like to keep our faith stories where they were….written two thousand years ago or more. We like to do the work of studying historical context and unpacking language interpretation to better understand what the writers of the stories really intended. This is important work to do but it can also allow us to stay in our head, to think that this faith thing is a purely intellectual exercise. But the real test of a story and of faith is to bring the intention and power of that story off the page and into our living, to let it into our heart. That’s what this production did for me…..a show that in the time it was written, was likely thought might become just a campy musical created by people who wanted to have guitars in church, to distance themselves from the hymns of their parents and grandparents. To see the story we have all been walking through once again in this Lent brought to life by regular people, re-imagining it for our time, placing it at the intersection of one of our biggest challenges we know as a nation and a faith tradition…..homelessness….was brilliant and prophetic. To them all, I say ‘Bravo!’

I say ‘bravo’ and thank you. Thank you for reminding me of the power of story and that these stories we tell are ones that are ‘living’ if we allow them. In that living we we can come to know in new ways their transformational power which is the point, isn’t it?

This production is running one more weekend. If you are reading this in the Twin Cities, I commend it to. You will not be disappointed.


What You Hold

What you hold, may you always hold.
What you do, may you always do.
And never abandon, never abandon.”

~St. Clare of Assisii

There are words that seem to draw us back to them. You can be walking along, minding your own business, and a phrase or word will play itself across the screen of your mind or whisper into you ear. Who knows why this happens? Sometimes these are not welcome words. Sometimes they are old, poor messages given us in other days that are not helpful, even painful. Words a parent or teacher or supposed friend said that sought to define who they thought we were but were not true at all. These are the phrases that can show up that to try to pull us from a new found path or some well worn practice toward healing and wholeness. These are not the phrases I am thinking of today.

Instead, I am remembering words that can be touchstones, reminders of the truly, deep wisdom that we all have but often forget. Things we know about ourselves….how we tick, what ways of communicating make sense and what ways will never work for us. Things we have come to believe in down to our marrow. What we would ‘go to battle for’ and what we are willing to let go. Sometimes these reminders are snippets of conversations that seemed benign at the time but on later reflection we knew to be pivotal in our shaping. Again….a parent, a teacher, a friend could have spoken them or sometimes it is a favored author whose well chosen words were the ones to hold this weight, this power.

Periodically, I come back to the words of St. Clare of Assisi which appear above. These words came to me later in my life by way of a short sung refrain. I remember where I was and the sights and sounds and feel of the room. I was swept up and held by the powerful intention of her words. From that moment on Clare’s words have become a sort of affirmation of faith for me. They seemed to speak of that knowing that we often feel just at the center of our body, our gut, but the place that represents something more. In chakra language it is the solar plexus, the place of our life force.

This past weekend we sang this refrain again at a women’s retreat. We did so while honoring the women in our lives who have nurtured our roots and grounded us, those that have helped us stand strong and those who have helped us reach up and out into the world. Clare’s words seemed the perfect soundtrack for what we were doing, what we were claiming.

In our lives situations happen that can draw us away from what we know, what we hold. People can come into our lives that can try to distort our own deep knowing. It can be a mind altering and heart-breaking experience. Life circumstances…..illness, loss, grief, injury, abuse, addiction…..can also mess with what we hold most dear and knock us, temporarily, off center. Right now, I am thinking of the many people who have recently lost jobs in our community due to corporate change. I am also thinking of a dear one who is fighting for his life in a hospital across the river. May they all find some way to hear the phrase, the sacred word that brings them to their own deep and grounded knowing of what they hold, what they will never abandon. And may it lead them to their own experience of how they are held and never abandoned by the One who walks with them.

There is courage and power in Clare’s words and they can draw you into a confidence and certainty that can serve you well. I know they have for me. In October I was blessed to be in a church in Italy dedicated to Clare’s work, her life. Standing before a wax figure depicting her that lay on top of her tomb, time stood still for me, an odd thing for this Methodist gal. And yet it was true. I was suspended in some liminal space and time. Perhaps her words were once again affirming themselves in me. Whatever happened it was a moment I will never forget. I felt it in my solar plexus…..my life force.

What you hold may you always hold.
What you do, may you always do and never abandon.
But with swift pace, light step and unswerving feet,
so that even your steps stir up no dust,
Go forward, the spirit of our God has called you.”


Five Senses

These are the days to be vigilant. To keep our eyes and ears and all our senses open to the change that is slowly arriving. There is a palpable shift in the air around us. If you breath deeply as you make your first morning step into the outside world, you can smell something happening. It is the scent of ‘what next’. Full of wetness and earthiness and hope, its scent lingers in your nostrils. The scent is accompanied by a different slant of light. The Sun seems closer, more vibrant, as if it has tremendous work to do….which it does. While we humans may have messed with our created timepieces and moved an hour ahead over the weekend, the Sun is doing its work without need of anyone naming its light, its intensity, its beauty. It is simply doing what it has always done and will continue to do. For those of us with sensitive skin, it is time to ramp up on the sunscreen usage!

Yesterday morning as I sat in the semi-darkness of early morning, I was startled by the loud, honk of returning. Two large geese flew right over our house, low enough for me to catch a good look at their improbable, flying bodies. Their honking greeting seemed to say: ” Hello! We’re back! Did you miss us?” And then later in the morning, I was walking out of the church and coming in the door was one of our dear ones who also flies to warmer climes in the winter. We greeted one another with hugs and laughter saying….”It must be spring!” It was good to see both human and bird for seeing them signaled a change that is coming.

As winters go this one has not been bad. There have been cold days, yes, but we have not seen the snow we so often do. That precipitation has made its way to other parts of the country this year. But winter has a way of running its course and the inevitable turn toward spring is always welcome regardless of the severity of winter. It is a guest whose face we never tire of seeing at our door.

There is a grace that lives in spring that calls to some of the deepest parts of us. It is the new life that we thought was perhaps impossible. Because, if we are honest, it is the cold and frozen places in our lives that we think might never change, might never warm to something different. In truth sometimes we want to hold onto those frozen places, keep the cold, hard thoughts, feelings, opinions, beliefs, just as they have always been. It is easier that way. After all change is difficult, growing is often painful, and courage can be in short supply. To remain in the wintry places only requires putting on a few more layers of protection and nothing ever need change.

But there is a seed that was planted within us by the One who breathed us into being. It is a seed that has provided for the grace of all that would call us to our fullness.. And this requires the painful and beautiful work of letting go, of reaching up, of melting, of changing,of growing. While we often forget this seed, it becomes visible to us in the change of seasons, in the movement from winter to spring. It does not happen over night. It happens slowly, with metered intention. It may arrive in the semi-darkness but longs to live fully in the brightness of daylight.

These are the days to be vigilant in our watching,in our acts of being awake to the slow work of God in our midst. Piles of dirty snow are melting back into the Earth. Green is emerging from white. Buds are itching to burst open. There is returning all around. Within it all there is an eternal message that calls out to us asking us to take stock of those places within that are begging for the warmth of the Sun, those places that are hoping for the grace of change.

On this emerging day, may we have the capacity to see and hear and taste and smell and feel the gifts of all that is arriving.


Confirmation Words

“Winter is such a good time to read.” This remark was made in a group I was in this past week. And it is true. These cold days that have surrounded most of the country are perfect for curling up with a good book. Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, these days seem to say it is ok to rest and warm up with the diversion of a good book. The fact is that, for me, all seasons are good times for reading but winter has its own joyful rhythm for reading. I have noticed that I have moved from book to book these last weeks without taking a breath in between. And while some of that reading has to do with my work, the majority of it is completely for entertainment. The longer the cold temperatures linger, the more I want to devour books.

A couple of weeks ago I was driving through the Highland Park neighborhood and noticed a large truck ahead of me. It was painted colorfully. It had pulled out of the parking lot that led to several apartment buildings. As I came closer to the truck I saw fanciful characters painted all around the truck. It was a Bookmobile! I had no idea these even still existed especially not in the city. But there it was fresh from delivering books to an apartment complex, or so it seemed. I wondered at why this would be so when a library was just blocks away. Perhaps it was a gift of winter for those who find it more difficult to get out when we are surrounded by snow and ice.

As a child I visited the library weekly if not more often. Summers were spent in the cool, air conditioned space breathing in the smells of musty paper and ink. As a teenager, after school hours were often spent at the long library table in the room filled with reference books. Looking back I think I was ‘playing at college’, anxious to be done with the trials and trivialities of high school and on to what I dreamed would be bigger things. When our sons were younger a weekly visit to the library lasted well through elementary school. And one of my deep joys is to have conversations with our English major son about the most recent book he has read.

We are people bound together by words. From the moment that first word formed from a grunt on the lips of our ancient ancestors, we have been held by these creations of our imagination and necessity. Words help us tell the story of who we are, where we have been, what we hope for, what we fear. Words can help us be understood and also serve to confuse our deepest intentions. Words can hurt or heal. Words can unite or divide. And words can be strung together to create beauty and humor and inspiration and wisdom that bring us life.

On Sunday during worship, one of our dear ones was sharing her experience of how she had been witness to the ‘slow work of God’, our Lenten theme. While sharing she mentioned the scripture verse that had been ‘her confirmation verse.’ This was a foreign concept to me and after worship I asked her about it. Soon someone shared their ‘confirmation verse.’ Apparently it had been, perhaps still is, a practice to assign confirmation students a particular verse from scripture that is ‘theirs’. I imagine a confirmation leader or mentor reflecting on scripture and deciding on the perfect one for each student….words that will travel through life with a person…..as these scripture verses certainly have for those who shared them with me.

I wondered at what words are ‘my confirmation words’……words that have traveled with me, challenged me, buoyed me, held me. What are yours? I have wondered what stories have done the same, stories from both sacred and popular texts, that have served to lift me up and cause me to continue on the path with confidence or fortitude. These words of inspiration need not always be ones from great writers but are often the simple gift of imagination by authors whose only intention was to offer a diversion on a cold, winter’s day or respite in the heat of summer. And yet something in the words they chose to string together has helped us or healed us.

On this day, this frigid time before the world turns its face toward spring, what are the books that have brought you back to life? What are the phrases that you have repeated over and over in the darkest night? What words are your ‘confirmation’ good news?

Whatever the stories, the phrases or the single word, hold them close today. Words matter.


Good job!

There comes a time in winter when the need to see green things and color cannot be denied. The white and gray of winter days, no matter how beautiful in its own right, can become mind and spirit numbing as well as flesh freezing. Though the actual temperatures can get to us and cause us to want to hibernate, I think it might be the monotony of a colorless view of life around us that can send us screaming to places south if we are privileged to do so or at least to the florist’s for a bit of relief. We have reached, I believe, that time in winter.

Over the last few weeks I have purchased, first one and then a second, bulb garden. These little pots of green that promise so much more are some of the best medicine for the winter doldrums. With a little bit of water and any sunlight that can be found, they provide a daily dose of hope and green and, eventually, color. To watch their daily progress is like watching a baby roll over, finds its way to crawling, then to pulling itself up and finally taking a first step. With each move along the path I want to clap my hands together with praise and affirmation:”Good job! Good job!”

This is where we are. And like the landscape around us most of us are also very tired of the layers of clothes we have been putting on for months. Tired of their blacks and grays and browns. I told a friend that what I really want is a school uniform so I do not have to think about what combination of drab, winter clothes I will throw on. Again, a thought of pure privilege and I know it is so and yet I confess to thinking it. It is fairly easy to take the words of the scriptures to heart…..do not worry about what you will wear….because….I am considering the lilies and waiting for their arrival.

Sometimes our deep desire for color and green finds an extension in giving that gift to others which is what happened to me this past Sunday. I came into my office after worship and found a tall, white garbage bag on my desk. Nestled inside was a large pot of unbloomed daffodils someone had forced through the winter. A gift of green with the hope of color. This pot sits now waiting to surprise me with its next steps. Though the gift-giver left no message, I think I know who who the anonymous giver is. Someone of like-minded need.

One of the gifts of Lent is that it comes to those of us in the northern climes in these days of winter when we are longing….longing…for newness, for what might be. We are able to take the daily steps toward something that is not yet visible to us. “Above all, trust in the slow work of God” ……says Pierre Teilard de Chardin, SJ. This is what we are doing in these long, cold and often dark days of Lent. We are trusting that some new brightness will come into our lives and show us, once again, the possibility of it all. It is slow work and often invisible work and yet it is happening none-the-less.

But, like the act of placing a bulb garden in our midst, sometimes we need to create touchstones that allow us to walk with intention in this slow work. The clothes we wear for this work is patience, something I find personally challenging. Do you? Somehow the visual of the bulb garden is a good reminder that rarely does something of beauty and worth happen quickly, overnight. It takes time and blessed waiting and watching.

As we continue into the heart of Lent, my prayer is that this slow work will have its way with me and I will come to the celebration of Easter with a quieter, calmer heart for the possibilities placed before us with each new day. This walk toward rebirth can be a dark and colorless path. But the rewards are priceless and beautiful. The bulb garden is teaching me that.