Growing Up

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”~E.E. Cummings

Today’s calendar message held these words by E.E. Cummings. Or more correctly e.e.cummings. I read them and marveled at their wisdom, at how I am still, daily, mustering up this kind of courage. Perhaps it takes a lifetime to do this. I hope so and others might agree since I don’t believe I have mined all the facets of who am I. Have you? Especially if the definition of growing up is living into an authentic self that was born with us into the world but may have been coaxed or beaten or shamed out of us at some place along the years. Growing up into who we really are seems our life’s work and I hope to give myself to it every day, turning from the voices that might want to convince me of some other ‘self’ I am ‘supposed’ to be.

Seeing these words of the poet and writer who shunned the capital letter brought me back to a growing up time of my own. I recalled a specific day when I was a senior in high school taking myself and life quite seriously. At the time I was writing and reading lots of poetry including e.e. cummings. I am sure I was staring off into the distance much of the time in a way I was certain real poets did, searching for that perfect source of inspiration. I was probably just shy of donning a beret to create the perfect image of a serious artist who was going to ‘be somebody’……’someday’.

At this time I had also dropped my upper case letters in favor of the style of Mr. Cummings. I have a vivid memory of receiving a paper I had written for English from the hands of my teacher, Ms. Elcess. As she handed the lined, white notebook paper back to me, minus any capitals, she simply said, ” You’ve been reading e.e.cummings, I see.” The paper could have been covered with red marks around all the letters I had not capitalized but instead this teacher simply smiled, affirming this stage of my growing up with grace and affirmation. I still remember the heat moving into my face and my cheeks turning rosy as she moved on to the next student and returned their paper. While my face may have been blushing, in that moment I felt noticed for a pursuit, a passion, and my love for poetry only deepened. And I must admit my love for Ms. Elcess did, as well. 

This growing up to become who we really are takes many twists and turns along the way. While in that high school English class I was only imitating the poet and what I thought a writer’s life might be, this teacher’s noticing of my deep desire and longing made a difference. It helped nurture who I hoped to be. I am full of gratitude for her and for this envounter that only took a moment but has lasted decades. 

I have heard more than one artist courageously speaking aloud what they hope to become in an effort of repeating it, claiming it, until it is so. “I am a poet.” ” I am a singer.” ” I am a painter.” ” I am a sculptor.” ” I am a chef.” “I am a composer.” ” I am…….” Of course, after the saying it, we all must engage in the practice of whatever it is we wish to bring to the world. A poet who doesn’t write poetry is not a poet, after all.

This becoming our true self, our authentic self, our God-created, hoped-for self, is a courageous act we make every day while we have breath. Hopefully, along the way, there are those who notice and affirm our unfolding and help us to strive and reach toward what grows us up, what brings joy and wholeness. 

Ms. Elcess……wherever you are……thank you.


Hard Hats

And you will have confidence because there is hope; you will be protected and take your rest in safety.~Job 11:18

The last few weeks I have spent a lot of time driving. Between a trip to Kansas City, a retreat in western Minnesota, a vacation in northern Wisconsin and a couple of day drives to witness the amazing colors that are showing themselves this autumn, I have logged a great deal of windshield time. All this is fine with me. I love driving and taking in the rolling landscapes that have become home. The Midwest can be a particularly stunning sight during these days of harvest and migration.

While the landscape may be stunning, the highways are still under much construction. Nearly every place you drive, whether city or rural, has some kind of road construction. Roads are being torn up, repaved, rerouted,or actually created. Orange barrels and cones are adorning black pavement. Large yellow equipment greets you at every turn. And along with these accoutrements of construction are the people that make it all happen. Those who work long hours. Those who stand in the hot sun, the driving winds, the rain and the cold. Those who come to work clean and leave dirty. Those who, I imagine, also go home at the end of the day bone-tired.

These weeks I was aware of all those people who work so tirelessly on our behalf so we can have a smoother, safer, sometimes speedier drive. As I drove past them I was certainly aware of their hard and perhaps tedious work. I periodically offered a blessing as I remembered to do so. I did this because I am sure they are often the butt of irritation and anger as people get frustrated with having to wait, of being delayed, of having to slow down. Generally, we humans can be an impatient lot.

As I looked at these workers, I began to notice their commonality……hard hats. Hard hats. Those heavy plastic toppers that protect heads and often shine forth the name of the company that signs the paychecks of these workers. These less than attractive head coverings are a necessary part of their work attire. Each worker may have chosen the clothes they wore for ease, durability and even style, but the hard hat was standard issue. Everyone must wear one.

I have never been in any line of work where hard hats were required. That doesn’t mean one would not have come in handy at times. I’m sure nearly everyone can imagine a time in their work life when the protection a hard hat, real or imagined, would have felt good. I imagine there are teachers, lawyers, doctors, cashiers, who might welcome a hard hat on any given day. I am sure there are parents waking up this morning who might like the protection of a hard hat for all that might be flying their way. Likewise, there are children waiting for the bus who would welcome a hard hat for the difficulties that greet them in the classroom and on the playground.

Some time ago our church produced a Christmas production called ‘The Nativity’ in which we turned our sanctuary into a theatre for the telling of the story of Jesus’ birth. This required putting a large, wooden stage over much of the front of the room including the organ console. However, we also needed the organ to be played during the production. So every night, our organist would don a hard hat and climb down under the stage to sit on the bench at the organ and play Christmas music…..wearing a hard hat. I still chuckle to think of it! He never imagined, I’m sure, that his work would ever require this kind of head gear. 

Today I give thanks for all those whose work requires a literal hard hat. This is most certainly work I do not understand and could probably not accomplish. And for all those whose work this day might have them longing for the protection to their head and their heart…those who must fight off angry words, difficult decisions, harsh people…..I pray an imaginary hard hat upon you. May it keep you from all harm and send you home intact.  


Peaceful Heart

While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more freely in your heart.”~St. Francis of Assisi

Sunday evening we celebrated the Blessing of the Animals service at church. This has become a tradition in our community and is always filled with such joy as people bring the whole of those who reside with them, the whole of their family. This year’s gathering of critters included not only dogs and cats, guinea pigs and mice but also a lovely, salmon-spotted corn snake but also a boa constrictor who traveled in a brown, leather satchel. It is always a humbling experience for me as people offer the names of their pets…..Lucy….Ricky…Polkadot…..and I place my hand on their heads, or whatever part of them that seems reasonable. ” May God bless you and keep you safe.May you always be a faithful companion all your days.” Many times these precious, vulnerable ones look knowingly into my eyes and we have some kind of holy connection.

We celebrate this day and offer this service of blessing because it falls near the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi known for his attention to all Creation as a reflection of God’s presence in the world. Francis has given much, not only to his own faith community if Roman Catholics,but also we Protestants. His message of simplicity and humility, his urging to ‘listen to the birds and learn from them’ is embraced by those inside and outside the Christian household. Last year at about this time, it was a privilege for me to travel with a group of pilgrims through the places in Italy where Francis lived and served and died. To see the devotion people still have for him was humbling.

I stumbled upon the quote above which Francis was said to have spoken. “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more freely in your heart.” I thought of all the times my words have spilled out proclaiming all kinds of peace-filled phrases and yet my heart was anything but peaceful. I thought of all the people I know whose outside demeanor speaks one thing while inside they are a churning kettle of many other emotions. Anger. Fear. Anxiety. Despair. To proclaim peace with our lips which most of us want desperately to do while holding some other contrasting inner message is a great burden. We humans are a complex lot and can often walk around carrying much that is invisible to the world. There is a quote attributed to Philo of Alexandria: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” And so it is.

How did Francis keep a balance between the inner and outer messages? How did he encourage it so in others? I imagine spending time in silence and contemplation helped especially in the exquisitely beautiful places in which he was blessed to live. Of course, there was the attention to the song of the bird, the scurrying of the squirrel, the sight of a morning sunrise. There was the opportunity to watch the olive trees drop their fruit and the wildflowers blooming in the fields around Assisi. His understanding of God’s presence in all Creation must have informed his inner, peaceful heart.

What informs our inner, peaceful hearts? How can we proclaim peace not only with our lips but also carry it in our hearts? Perhaps Francis still has much to teach us…..if we have the ears to hear.

May peace fill your heart this day……and may your lips pour forth peace into a world that needs it so desperately.



Yesterday morning I rose early as I do nearly every Sunday morning as I prepared to head to church and lead in a series of morning worship services. It has become a part of my Sunday morning pattern to listen to Krista Tippet’s ‘On Being’ radio show as I get ready. I feel as if she, and whomever is her particular guest that morning, are my companions for preparing my heart and mind for all that the morning will hold. It is a centering experience for me. Her quiet voice and gentle rhythmic questions pulling wisdom from a well chosen guest become the backdrop for my day.
Yesterday morning’s guest was Mary Catherine Bateson the author of Composing a Life, a book I read long ago, and now know I want to pull out and read again. Bateson is the daughter of anthropologist Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. A quick internet search could render several quotes of this author and student of humanity. But it was one sentence she spoke when describing the millennial generation that grabbed me: “Many feel they are on stage without a script.” This is one of her observations about this group of young people raised in the shadow of 9/11 and those that we have such hopes for in our world. 

This was an image, a metaphor, that so connected with me. Since my early career was spent in the theater world, for years I had the recurring dream of finding myself on stage, in a play, but I did not know what script was being performed. It was a vivid dream, one in which my behaviors varied as did the other players on the stage. Sometimes in the dream I froze and tried to stay in the background, be a part of ‘the chorus’ rather than at the center of the action. Other times I simply went with the flow, observed, tried to listen well enough to see if I had ever known the story, the lines, being played out. No matter the way in which I played ‘my part’ I almost always awoke with a sense of anxiety.

All day yesterday I thought about Bateson’s statement:”Many feel they are on stage without a script.” I thought of this generation upon whom we have heaped such a great deal of hope and whose behaviors seem to confound so many. I thought of my own two sons who fall into this group. I wondered if, to a degree, each generation has always felt this way. I also thought about how each season of our lives brings a certain quality of being onstage without a script.

What I remembered from those dreams was that the times when anxiety did not rule supreme were the times when I employed some of the gifts of improvisation….an acting style that is often script-less or minimally so. The guiding principles for this kind of acting are….be in the moment, in the present moment…..listen well…..say ‘yes’ to the other actors by responding to the story they are offering. To do so keeps the actors engaged in the eventual outcome of where the story leads.

I am thankful for yesterday’s early wake up and this sentence that has captured my imagination. It was good to remember those dreams, the feelings they conjured and the gifts they brought.

Mary Catherine Bateson also said: “Of any stopping place in life, it is good to ask whether it will be a good place from which to go on as well as a good place to remain.” In the scripts we are invited to act each and every day, this is great wisdom. Is this a place that is leading to someplace else? If this a place to rest and remain for awhile? Is this a place to abandon altogether? 

Perhaps someone you know is on the stage without a script searching for what their role is in the unfolding story. Perhaps you are that person. May you find the wisdom to be fully present. May the gift of deep listening be yours. May you find an authentic ‘yes’ someplace within that allows your story to further unfold in the world. 

It is a story that is needed. Of that, I am sure. 


Creative Living

If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.”~Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

On Tuesday evening I had the amazing privilege of meeting and introducing Elizabeth Gilbert when she spoke at Hennepin Church. This was one of those crazy opportunities that comes along that you didn’t expect nor plan for but there it is. It was a great collaboration between the fine people at Magers & Quinn Books and Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality. And I think all of us who had been on the planning end were overwhelmed with the joy that the experience brought not only to those who attended but also those of us who had been creating lists and handling details for months..  

Her topic was creativity and more specifically living a creative life. By this she did not mean taking up painting as Grandma Moses did or giving one’s self over to learning the piano at an advanced age. Instead, what she was calling each of those present to is the life that is in concert with the Divine Spark that moves through all of us and throughout all Creation. It is the life of co-creation we have with what is deepest within us that brings us joy and in turn brings joy to the world. 

In very amusing and even hysterical ways, she outlined many of the fears that keep us from living this creative life. And they are numerous. She in no way offered ways to ‘get rid of fear’ but instead encouraged embracing fear for the teacher it is while also not letting it have the greater power in the creative life. Her words struck a chord at some point with nearly every one who was listening. Watching heads nod in agreement as she was forth coming with her own fears was a gift to behold.

We need truth tellers in our lives and Elizabeth Gilbert offered this to those who showed up on Tuesday. Her willingness to share her own insecurities, her own foibles, gave people the opportunity to let their shoulders relax and their furrowed, worried brows to smooth out. In many ways we are often surrounded by a barrage of messages that are anything but true, messages that create a palette of a public relation’s effort to keep us marching to the drum of fear and self-loathing. It is driven by so many efforts…..perfection…..other’s insecurities turned toward us…..old messages planted by parents or teachers or a world gone crazy with a false sense of what is beautiful. It is a wonder any of us can get out of bed in the morning!

But for those of who sat together on Tuesday listening, laughing, nodding, agreeing, remembering the true wonder in which we were all….all…created, we were granted a reprieve and encouraged to claim once again the goodness spoken by the Great Artist at each our birth. ‘If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.’ We ARE creative beings, made in the image of the One who breathed us each into being. Will there be fears and missteps in this creative life? You betcha! as we say here in Minnesota. But that does not negate this eternal promise of living in this co-creative relationship because the world needs us to do so.

Today is a new day….a sunrise of perfect gift. On Wednesday morning I woke up with my mind and heart broken open with the possibility of the creative life offered up yet once again. My gratitude is palpable and I am up for the challenge. Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert for being a voice of reason, of humility, of authenticity and of inspiration. 

And what is your creative life calling you to this day?