Good Thoughts

We carry messages around all the time and we drop them into the middle of group of people sometimes with little or no thought. Often we throw these messages along the sidewalk as we pass, and leave them on the table at the restaurant where we just had lunch. Sometimes these messages are actual words we speak and sometimes they are waving energy that pours off us spreading positive or negative shocks to those we pass by. As humans we are bundle of messages all the time. With just a glance we can have a child feel like they are royalty. Or a different glance can cut away at self esteem and break an innocent heart. The messages we put into the world are life altering and most often we underestimate their power. 
Last week while driving down a country road lined with apple orchards and brilliant, red barns, we came across someone’s attempt to be clear and intentional about their messages. Along the road flanked by prairie grasses stood a sign with the painted words ‘good thoughts’. On the edge of the sign was a hook and above the hook was painted the word ‘be’. Hanging on the hook was another painted, wooden sign that simply said ‘flexible’. The sum of the message? A good thought is ‘ be flexible’. We stopped the car so I could get a closer look. I was interested to see if there was some other message printed on the other side of the ‘flexible’. It was empty. Clearly these were one-of-a-kind signs that were changed out every now and then.

I have thought about this sign and the sign maker ever since. I imagined a workshop someplace where a person is using up all their old paint left over from house projects to send a ‘good thought’ into the world. I imagined the person thinking of all the words that might follow ‘be’. Be.. kind….be….gentle….be…loving….be…helpful…be…still….be…humble….be…honest….be….funny..There was an endless string of good thoughts that might follow the word ‘be’.

I wondered at how this person had come to plant this sign and its invitation in this pastoral scene. What led them to do such a thing? Perhaps it was the realization that, if we are sending messages all the time any way, they might as well be bold about it. The idea made me laugh and also filled me with a deep sense of gratitude. Then I imagined someone driving down that road, perhaps wound tight with all kinds of anxiety or worry, trying to be in control of one of the many things we humans believe we can be. And just when they needed it most, a sign appears….be flexible. They might see the whole thing as glimpse of divine intervention.

What messages are you hoping to round the corner and see? What message do you hope to deliver this day? Maybe we all should go digging in our garages or wherever that left over paint is kept and we should all start painting. Good thoughts….good thoughts…….be….be good thoughts.

It couldn’t hurt.


Stone Builders

” Do you know about ‘cans’?”, the young man asked, his eyes alight with something near to a religious fervor. He had just emerged from a bank of cedar trees, tall, green and said to be 500 years old. He seemed to need to say something to someone, anyone. And as we happened to be there at his emergence, we tried to understand his glowing face and seemingly odd question. 
“You mean, like the film festival?”, I fumbled, trying to make a connection. He shook his head clearly not understanding where I was going with this game of charades. “You know, like the rocks, stacked on top of one another! Down there”, he pointed, “there are hundreds of them.” 

” Oh, cairns.” I said. “Yeah! Cairns!”, he agreed as his eyes and smile grew wider, happy to share something that seemed amazing to him. He simply shook his head in wonderment and seemed happy to have someone understand. Taking his experience with him, he headed to his car while we made our way along the path to share in this experience of a stranger who had had his eyes opened in some new way.

This was an experience my husband and I had while traveling this week in Door County, Wisconsin. We had pulled into a state park in this beautiful, autumn landscape and our first encounter was with this young man. Something about his face will not leave me. He was someone who looked more like he might recite rap lyrics rather than be overwhelmed by the sight of stacked stones. And yet his need and willingness to fold us into his experience keeps warming my heart. The look on his face reminded me of descriptions of mystics I have read, descriptions of their encounters with the Sacred.

And, indeed, the site was breathtaking. A long beach filled with white stones, common in this area, all stacked with varying heights and artistry. I stood on the beach and just took them in and something moved so deeply inside me that I knew it struck some ancient chord. Like the young man, I, too, was having my own experience of Mystery. Of Beauty. Of Wonder. After the initial awe, questions fluttered in my mind. Who was the first person to build? Why? Was it someone calling on their own ancient and deep knowing of placing a stone and then another and another to mark the place where something important, something holy, had happened? Did they somehow attune their heart with that of the biblical Jacob who placed a stone and said, “Surely a God is in this place?” Was each tower a prayer…… or a work of art, which is just another form of prayer, isn’t it? 

I had no answers to the questions that roamed and danced through my logical brain. For the experience of this beach of stacked stones…..cairns….was not one that called upon the logic of the intricate,human brain. Their power came from the visible presence of knowing that so many had walked the beach before and had left a marker that they were there. Their power came from a recognition that as humans we have the ability to take whatever is present to us and to create something of beauty and to make meaning of that creation. To walk among the stones and to see the ways in which some were piled higher and more precarious than seemed possible gave me courage to make my own symbol, my own cairn, that now stands among the hundreds that will continue to be there. That is until the winter winds blow fierce or the waves crash onto the beach from stormy waters, toppling those most fragile creations. At that time, many will go crashing to the beach floor spreading the time, energy and hopes of the builders onto the earth and into the waters. In another season, others will arrive and try their own hand at building, at creating, at honoring the place where earth and water and sky come together.

And as they do, some will say “Surely God is in this place.” And so it goes……..



Gemini Future

It has been a long time since I have written about my horoscope. While I read it nearly every day and sometimes pay attention to it, I haven’t been moved to expand my thoughts and experiences of the messages for some time. But today, today, I just couldn’t resist. “Small steps lead to big things. Today’s step will include exchanging a first greeting with someone who will change your entire future. Be ready to introduce yourself.” 
Wow! As I read these words offered as wisdom for those of us born under the sign of the Gemini twins, I found my antennae perk up. This was a message urging me to pay attention to each and every person I meet today. Because who knows….maybe this is the person who will ‘change my entire future.’ The words are an invitation to be present to each person I encounter, to give them my full attention in a way in which I will listen for….look for…their deep calling. This is big work! 

Reading the words I think of all the times I stumble through a day and simply nod to those I meet or, even worse, look straight through them without noticing. How can I do this? Especially when I know how it feels when it is done to me. Have you had that experience of knowing full well that the person you are speaking with is a million miles away? That they are not really listening to what you are saying or, even worse, not seeing you really at all? It is a feeling that makes you feel worthless and unimportant.

And yet, how often do I do just that? I take my purchases from the woman working at the check out without looking at her, without noticing perhaps the pain in her eyes from something I can only imagine. I brush by a child on the street and don’t bend to receive the smiling joy that children offer so freely. How often I rush past those family and friends that I greet on a daily or weekly basis without stopping, without being present, to the love my heart holds for them. 

The truth is, I believe, every person we meet has the potential to ‘change our entire future.’ The encounters of the every day can lean our future into a more compassionate, a kinder, more joyful life. I believe this to be true because I have catalogued memories of such encounters with strangers who have looked at me with knowing eyes, as if they could see within my soul. I believe this because I have been present to the loving words or the equally loving silence of so many. These are future-changing experiences.

As humans we so rarely claim the power for goodness we have. We live our days, which is our life, rushing from one task to another as we leave our fellow human beings in our wake. We live our days, which is our life, asking forgiveness for the sins of omission for all we have failed to do when most of the time what is asked of us is so simple. Be present to the holy, hurting, hopeful ones who travel this planet with us. When we have the courage to do this, turning away from the urgency that our culture creates, we indeed meet those who ‘change our entire future’. 

And future changing is a reciprocal experience. As I am changed, so is the one who has greeted me and back and forth, over and over. It is how it works. But first, I need to be in the moment enough to even know it is happening. To engage in the breathing, heart-pounding presence of the beloved ones with whom I share the path.

Today I am giving myself to being awake and aware of those I meet. I am going to ‘ be ready to introduce myself’ to all who will change my entire future. Someone, most people, will change my future in some way. Even if just for this day. Because I have encountered their God created self, I am blessed. And blessing is a lovely way to have your future changed, don’t you think? Gemini or not, I invite you to join me.


Word Search

A few weeks ago now I attended three days of amazing words, music, thoughts, ideas, images, all of which I am still trying to integrate and process. I was privileged to be at a gathering where author and theologian Barbara Brown Taylor and poet and Celtic minister and wise man John Philip Newell spoke and held space for others to do the same. The days were so full and rich. It was like pulling a chair right up to a huge buffet, utensils in hand… plate, no tray…..just gorging myself on beautiful and profound words. Blessed and privileged reigned.
Several days after someone asked me how the event was and what I had really ‘gotten out of’ listening to people talk for that long a time. It was a legitimate question. I engaged this person in a conversation that moved to the question of why people go to these kinds of events. While we had a fun time in our talk, we both left somewhat unsatisfied, I think. 

But the conversation and the question has lingered with me. I have kept coming back to the intention of the question and trying to move toward some answer for myself. Why is it that we go to hear people we read, those we see as experts or teachers? Why do we, in the presence of those people, take copious notes, hanging on their every word? What is it we hope to find as we listen?

Perhaps we are ever-students. That is one reason. Perhaps we have a need to surround ourselves with people who might have ‘worked harder’ or ‘studied longer’. Perhaps we have the sense that if we can bask in their light we will not have to do our own work, our own study. These are all possibilities. But I have come to believe that we really attend events like this because we are trying to unlock the word search that is at work within us at all times. Mostly we walk around with one of those comic-strip bubbles above our heads waiting for our deepest thoughts and longings to find the right words that make sense of our living, our experience. We cannot do this work, most days, on our own. We need the company of strangers and friends to help us search out the words that listen us into our knowing. We need those people who have searched or stumbled onto the very words that form the deepest expressions that lay lodged within us.

Barbara Brown Taylor has done much thoughtful work about the role darkness plays in our unfolding spiritual quests. “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”, she writes in Learning To Walk in the Dark. This speaks to my experience though I might not have been able to say it so poetically or truthfully. And coming from a faith tradition and a culture that values so strongly light over darkness this is wisdom to treasure.

Watching the unfolding news of all those fleeing this week from the lands in which they were born, hoping to find welcome, hoping to find a new place of belonging, I am struck with an awesome humility. Listening to our country and all the others try to make sense of what this welcome looks like and how it will be offered, I wish I could have searched out these words of John Philip Newell’s that would be ready on my lips:

To the home of peace

to the field of love

to the land where forgiveness and right relationship meet

we look, O God,

with longing for earth’s children

with compassion for the creatures

with hearts breaking for the nations and people we love.

Open us to visions we have never known

strengthen us for self-givings we have never made

delight us with a oneness we could never have imagined

that we may truly be born of You

makers of peace.

We spend our lives roaming in a giant word search puzzle. Barbara Brown Taylor puts it well…..“No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.” 

I am thankful to these two wise ones for the wisdom they have offered me, for the way their words have awakened something sleeping within my spirit. May this day have us finding the words we need. And may we even find that they are our own.


Glory Index

Maybe the bush was burning all the time and Moses didn’t notice…..Maybe the miracle is when you stop and pay attention. ~ Francine Prose
Many things have kept me from these pages over the last weeks. Some of them have been important while others were the frivolous acts of the every day that are easily forgotten. The act of sitting down to write, something that brings me joy beyond measure, got pushed further and further back until it became easy to not do it at all. Whole lives are filled with such actions and it is a sad and perhaps even sinful thing. Sinful is not a word I use lightly so I am paying attention to the fact that it slipped so easily from my mind into my fingers and onto this page.

And paying attention is, after all, the point. The point of this living, I mean. Which is what drew me to the quote above whose source was the ever present calendar of lovely pictures and words that graces a space my eyes fall easily on several times a day. “Maybe the bush was burning all the time…..” Moses, called out by God despite all his human qualities and slow speech, had perhaps walked by the burning bush many times but he simply didn’t notice. And then one day he did. It happens to all of us at one time or another. We are awakened by what has been in front of us all along. A person whose gifts have been quietly being offered day after day. A sight, full of its own beauty, which we have walked by and ignored. A word or a phrase that we have heard or even spoken without noticing its meaning, its fullness, its true intent. 

If we aren’t careful, our days can be filled with endless tasks that lead only to the ability to mark another day off the calendar. This is dangerous work. Bushes are burning all around us and our real work, just like Moses, is to notice. It is the kind of work that can have a person flinging their to-do lists aside and sitting down to pay attention to all the miracles that are happening in the smallest and widest spaces of each and every day. It is the kind of work that can propel a person into walking into a wilderness, into being present to seas parting. It is the kind of work that can have a person accepting bread that falls from the heavens. Yes, stopping and paying attention is radical and life changing work.

While these last weeks have not been filled with writing for me, they have been filled with noticing. I have been noticing how this particular summer seemed more amazing than others I can remember. The days more comfortable, the colors more beautiful, the air fresher, and the sunsets more stunning. I thought perhaps it was just me but then over the weekend I read an article in the Star Tribune that confirmed my feelings. The article reported on something known as the Summer Glory Index, a tool devised by Kenny Blumenfeld, a climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. A ‘Glory Index’! Who knew? Apparently there is an actual tool that measures temperature, humidity, all those factors that lead to what makes for an exquisite summer day and which is declared glorious.

I would like to believe that there is a ‘glory index’ for nearly everything. When I heard this term which was new to me, I was reminded of an old hymn whose one line I have always liked to sing….”changed from glory into glory” the words ring out. The idea that each creation,both human and otherwise, is created and moves from one state of glory to another is such a beautiful idea and I believe it to be true. Everything finds itself someplace on the ‘Glory Index’. And like Moses, our real work in the every day of every day is to notice the glory that is always present.

The season is now turning. It is time to pay attention. It is time to get to work.