**This post was written on December 14, 2009. Amazing to think that the children not yet born are now eight years old!

The world has tilted far
from the sun, from colour and juice…..
I am waiting for a birth that will change everything.”
~ Hilary Llewellyn-Williams

Here in the northern hemisphere, more particularly in Minnesota and regions near, we are experiencing the darkness of December. We have only two more minutes of light to lose before the Winter Solstice on December 21st. The interesting thing is that it does not get dark sooner in the evening but instead stays dark longer in the mornings. With the fresh snow that fell over night, I watched the neighborhood children run toward the bus this morning, white springing up from their feet as they moved through early morning shadows. Our world, tilted toward darkness, or away from the sun whichever way you tend to think of it, is the landscape of Advent. We live tilted….toward something….away from something.

As I look out my office window the twisted limbs of the strong oak tree is dusted with snow that clings to its gray branches making a silhouette of jagged edges against an even grayer sky. It is difficult to look at it and remember the full greenness of its alive state. And yet, its roots are still reaching down into the earth, tilted toward the life that will travel through root and branch and limb to form the leaves of next summer. It is in a stagnant time, a dark time, waiting for life to once again course through its full body. It seems almost to be in prayer.

I am blessed to be surrounded by several pregnant women these days. I watch them move in the cold of these days knowing they house life within the darkness of their wombs. While everything seems to be in stillness, in suspension, these women carry a life that will change everything for them. Families will grow. Houses will need to take new shape, find new space for an addition that will alter how things have been done before. Parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors will embrace a newness that will surprise them and change how they relate to one another.

This winter season can be a burden for many, a nuisance to others. But for me, I want to embrace this darkness, this chill that is void of color,lacking juice. In these days when we are tilted from the sun that brings warmth and greenness and life, I believe it is important to remember all that is nurtured in darkness, in Mystery. I want to spend these days waiting in expectation for the return of the Sun…..and the birth of the Child….that will change everything.

Advent Blessing

We began our worship on Sunday with a poem by Jan Richardson called Blessing the Way. It begins…

With every step
you take,
this blessing rises up
to meet you.
It has been waiting
long ages for you.
Look close
and you can see
the layers of it,
how it has been fashioned
by those who walked
this road before you,
how it has been created
of nothing but
their determination
and their dreaming,
how it has taken
its form
from an ancient hope
that drew them forward
and made a way for them
when no way could be

As we read the scriptures for the second Sunday of Advent…the prophet Isaiah and Mark’s gospel story of John the Baptist, I was reminded of this long history of which I am a part. I did not choose this Christian household but was born into it. Like most, we adopt the traditions, faith or otherwise, of our parents. Though I can wrestle with what it means to hitch my star to this complex and often flawed expression of what it means to be human and our relationship with the More, I am never far from remembering that I am connected to a long line of others who have faithfully wrestled. I stand in the ‘determination’ and the ‘dreaming’ of so many. We all do, don’t we?

We live in a culture that often over emphasizes the individual. When I look at my life story it is all about relationship and the invisible lines of connection that weave through community and time. The path I now walk was opened up to me by all those who have suffered, celebrated and sacrificed in an effort to create a more just and beautiful world, by those who have offered lessons and kind words for the journey, by those who held an ‘ancient hope’ that kept drawing them forward, a hope they lovingly placed in my outstretched hand.

Look closer
and you will see
this blessing
is not finished,
that you are part
of the path
it is preparing,
that you are how
this blessing means
to be a voice
within the wilderness
and a welcome
for the way.

Standing at this threshold time of year, as darkness descends a little bit more each day, we can take all the blessing we can get. I am thankful this day in particular for those who have shaped my journey and urged me to claim my ‘voice within the wilderness’. These encouragers are too numerous to be believed. But it is safe to say they have been the light that has illuminated my path and for that I am grateful.

Who has been an ‘ancient hope’ for you? Who has been a light in your darkness? May we name them and whisper their names into the winter sky as we continue on this Advent journey.


***This post was originally written on December 14, 2007

Mary nurtures a Son
in her womb:
His birth a blessing to those who
discover him.
He goes forth like the sun,
great is the number of his company.

-An Old Welsh poem

It is the practice in many churches to set out Nativity scenes before Christmas with an empty manger….no baby Jesus in sight. We have a large,beautiful set in our chapel. Earlier in the week we were having Advent devotions there and commented on the oddity of Joseph looking into an empty manger. It seemed kind of sad in a way.

I read recently that it is a custom in Wales that each Nativity scene has Mary, Joseph and Jesus accompanied by a washerwoman. The belief is that if Jesus is not born into our daily lives then it makes very little sense to celebrate his birth in Bethlehem. The further intention of placing a ‘real’ person within the scene is to say that each child born is sacred, that Jesus’ birth reminds us that each household is important to God.

I began to imagine the many Nativity scenes that grace the lawns of houses and churches with additional characters…the morning bus driver, a nurse, the school lunch lady, the person who delivers my paper before 5:00 a.m every morning, the teenage checkout clerk at my local grocery,the President, the man who stands at the freeway exit with the sign that reads “hungry, please help.” All important to God.

When we think of the Christmas story in this way, it takes some of the sweetness and distance out of it. The lights flicker a little differently and the familiar carols that can run through our head change their tune.When we move from Bethlehem a long time ago, in a distant land, to the reality of our lives, gritty and messy, the Christmas story becomes our story. And isn’t that the point?

If you are in church this Sunday you will hear the story of Mary being visited by Gabriel.She is told she will give birth to the Christ Child. Each time it is read my mind goes to the ancient words of Meister Eckhart the 13th century Christian mystic: We are celebrating the feast of the Eternal Birth
which God has borne and never ceases to bear in all
eternity… But if it takes not place in me, what avails it? Everything
lies in this, that it should take place in me.

The empty manger awaits…the washerwoman watches…..how will the Holy be born in us?

Animal Teachers

We are without pets in our house these days. Our four walls have been home to two cats and two dogs. I don’t count the time the mouse from one son’s classroom was a houseguest for a long school vacation. But at this point in time only humans reside in our home. And we may be the worse for it.

Today I was reading a devotional I am following during Advent. The writer, Jan Sutch Pickard, pointed out that the donkey we so readily read into the story of the first Christmas comes from our imagination, not scripture. Our imagination and countless artist’s renderings of Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem. I suppose at some point someone began to tell the story with this added character because, really, how could a very pregnant young woman walk all that way? Those of us who have been in this physical state might ask the question, why would she want to ride on a donkey?! Speculation aside, the idea that they were headed to a stable and not a hospital makes the donkey believable and endearing.

Over the years we have infused the story with other animals…cattle, camels, and in some cultures other animals that are beloved. Because the fact of the matter is that animals can be our great teachers…if we are awake and aware. Which is one of the nudges of the season of Advent. Remember…keep awake! The animals that live in our homes or just outside our doors bring elements to our stories that words and human activity simply cannot express. How I learned the gift of stillness and tuning my rhythm to the movements of the Sun from our yellow, tabby cat Gabriel! And our English Springer spaniel, Griffin, taught me the sheer joy of life as he leapt the fence or took a running jump off the dock, airborne into the lake. And the many birds whose flyway is the sky over our yard…oh, the lessons they offer.

In downtown St. Paul, an antique store has created a quirky manger scene. It is one some might find sacrilegious but I would think they might miss the point. My husband and I happened upon it and it stopped us in our tracks, made us laugh, and has since made me think. This manger scene holds only one human…the baby Jesus…surrounded completely by animals. I wonder what the creators of the window thought while making this scene that now causes the humans moving past to stop and wonder.

In our backyard, a rabbit’s tracks in the snow make its presence known. I am thankful that it has made a home under our deck and finds sanctuary there. The days and months ahead will be cold and this courageous creature will winter storm and freezing temperatures. He is braver than I and I know it. Perhaps with no pets inside the house, this rabbit is a new teacher. Time will tell.

Back to that donkey. I am thankful to the first person who added this creature to the telling of one of our most sacred stories. Doing so reminds me of the humility, the vulnerability and the gifts of stillness and quiet of those without words who are our companions, those that also have the ability to show us the Face of God. May it be so in this year’s telling and in this year’s living. And may this prayer by Jan Sutch Pickard be ours:

“God of creatures great and small,
we thank you for those that accompany us on our journey through life,
and belong in the stories that we tell,
and for all we can learn from them – patience, usefulness, and trust. Amen”

Irrational Season

Sitting down to write today’s post, I knew that the words that would come to my mind  would be something similar to what I had written before. Today is our younger son’s birthday and I always think of similar words on this day. In searching back through what I have written in past years I found this post with the quote I love so dearly. Nine years have passed since I wrote this and yet my feelings remain constant about the irrationality of being a parent.

This is the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild. Had Mary been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the child.” Madeleine L’Engle

I am sure that, on this day last year, I probably used this very same quote to begin my Pause post. I think of it every year on this day. Today is our younger son’s birthday and these are the words we used on his birth announcement. They had always been meaningful to me but now they are even more so.

Birth is a powerful experience for anyone at any time of the year. But to have an infant in your home at Christmas holds a special power. Singing the traditional carols, full of the images of birth, stirs sweeter feelings. Hearing the familiar story causes you to examine the trusting, irrational nature of Mary and Joseph in new ways. Identifying with their plight, their searching, their amazement at the child they hold between them, becomes even more poignant. Angels sing, people bring gifts, the world stops for a little while to welcome the child. And as parents you are simply left to ‘treasure all these things in your heart.’

Reason, for the most part, plays very little into the choice to bring a child into the world. If we allowed ourselves we could each think of countless reasons against it. And yet we continue because, I believe, each child is not only an expression of the love of two people, but also the expression of our hope in the world. Our hope that as humans will do better……as parents, as families, as neighborhoods, as nations, as faith communities. Our hope, someplace deep within us is that this child, our child, will know a more peaceful world, a more just world, that they might in fact be a part of its creation.

It is an irrational thought,in some ways. But then so is faith, and hope and love and how many of us would want any less of these three in our lives? This sweet child, now a man, who came into our lives eighteen years ago today, has filled our home with all these things and much more. He has made us laugh uncontrollably and filled us with immense pride. He has challenged us to see things in new ways and completely confounded us at times. He continues to bring a gentle spirit to our lives and to our home. His smile lights up our home and my heart.

And for all this, I am irrationally grateful.



***This post was originally created on December 14, 2011.

“We see the signs
but cannot always
divine their meanings.
You call us to move forward
not always knowing
whether what we grasp
in our hands
will prove to be
a seed of hope
or a thorn in our flesh.
Train our fingers,
that what brings life
we may with persistence hold,
and that which wastes
our souls
we may with grace release.”
~Jan L. Richardson

Isn’t amazing how often we choose to do things that leave us lifeless? Whether it is the simple, daily activities that can chip away at our spirits or the toxic, human encounters that leave us blistered and burned, it is sometimes very difficult to turn away, to instead choose what brings life. To choose a new, a different way of walking in the world. This being human is a curious thing. A complex thing. A holy thing.

Which is why when my eyes beheld these words of Jan Richardson today in her Advent book Night Visions, I was drawn to this poem tucked into the fourth week of this path toward Christmas. Certainly the scriptures we have read in worship have spoken about signs, ways we know that the Holy is on the move in the world, on the road in our lives. Even our lives. But it is often difficult to ‘divine’ the meanings of the word of a stranger spoken in a tone hushed enough to be an angel voice. Or the glimpse out of the corner of an eye of something that seems to call to us in ways that nudge at something deep in our heart. Or even the out-right booming voice that wakes us up to what we love or causes tears to spring in the corners of our eyes that feels like something more than an ordinary voice, more than an every day encounter. Are these signs? Signs of the presence of God?

The stories that shape Advent are all about bringing life. The life of a new born infant. The life that inspires shepherds to leave their flocks, their livelihood, and travel to unknown places. The life that is grabbed, that ask a young woman to give birth to the Holy in her time. The vibrant life-changing voice of an angel, speaking the truth. The life that must have been challenged in an older man who finds himself confounded by the woman to whom he has promised his life. The sacrifice of lives that chose to pay attention to stars that led them into the deepest desert.

If nothing else, Advent invites us, even challenges us to reflect on what brings life. What stirs within us, at the place where the Spirit dances, calling us to the ‘more’? How is the Holy calling to us, just as once happened to Mary, to be birthers? What signs are being made known to us that we are ignoring or are even invisible to our distracted eyes?

The rush toward Christmas Day has begun. It is easy to get caught up in the flurry of activity and the downward spiral of ceaseless movement. If we stick with the wise rhythm of Advent we will ‘train our fingers’ to hold with persistence what brings life, the precious gift of these days.

May we be held by the gift of patience, of waiting, and of being open to signs of the Divine that travel with us. Even when we cannot see.

Until Now

We are a world of multi-taskers. It is a badge of honor in most circles to be able to do many things at one time…cook dinner while finishing up a work project….make phones calls while wiping the kitchen counters…running while listening to a podcast…texting with a child while walking the dog. The list goes on. Of course, much can get done while juggling these many colored balls. Most of us can come to end of the day feeling quite pleased with ourselves.

And then there are the times when you realize you have driven several blocks and don’t remember having done so. How did you get to this place, past that house you particularly enjoy, on down the road from that amazing red oak tree, the one that turns such a lovely color in autumn? Looking back on the day, it is easy to have swaths of time that seem impossible to recall. Like a person with some kind of amnesia you can realize that you simply don’t know where those moments went, how they were spent and with whom.

Recently I received an email from an online community I connect with on a semi-regular basis. The writer who hosts this group told of a monastic practice called statio. This word was new to me and I perked up at its presence. Statio is the commitment to stop one thing before beginning another. In that suspended time between acts, the practice is to pause(I liked this!) and to breath five long breaths. Once this has been done the next activity can begin. The writer said that this practice in a monastic setting even extended to moving from one place to the next, one room to another, taking time to pause at the threshold, giving honor to each moment as unique and pure gift. Since reading this I have thought much about what impact this practice might have on my life.

Given that Advent is itself a threshold time, I wondered about the ways we move so quickly from one activity, one event, to another during these times. Doing so is so counter to what the rhythm of the season is about and even what is happening within Creation. Looking out my office window right now darkness has already arrived at 4:50 p.m. I can see the snow hugging the limbs of the oak tree I consider my work companion and the lights are twinkling from the balcony highrise next door. The scene calls for a slowing down, a paying attention to a threshold of day and night, of light and dark, of work and rest. Rather than barreling through I have decided to take those five long breaths and honor this moment, one that has never been before and will never be again.

Like the threshold, like the breath, like this time of day, there is possibility in the in-between time. Taking those five long breaths as I did I felt myself sink into the moment and that place of possibility opened in ways I would have missed otherwise. I was reminded of a poem I have always loved by David White :

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused again and again
until now.
Until now.

Perhaps Advent is an ‘until now’ season. Its invitation is to pare away the distractions and the mistaken belief that we can do it all. Its invitation is to do one thing at a time and to breathe deeply in between. This practice just might bring us through the darkness and into the light of Christmas fuller and more ready to welcome the Light of the world.


Advent again,
and the very stones are silent.
In the east, no star;
only shadows
and the threat of darkness.
We have run out of light,
and we wait in fear.
from the cosmic distance,
tentacles of brilliance probe,
seek us out, look for a dwelling place
among us.
~Caryl Porter

One of the truly wonderful and beautiful things about my work is that people often send me poetry, words they know I might enjoy or find helpful. A few times, and what a joy it was, someone has actually called me and read me a poem over the phone. It is at those moments, among others,that I pinch myself to think this is my work!

The poem above came to me last week from a dear friend and colleague. I read It over and over and felt the weight of it on my chest. Yes, Advent again. I have often said that the true gift of the seasons of the church year is the fact that, if we are blessed or lucky, we will have the opportunity to go at them once again. And the truth is I am different than I was last Advent. As are you. As is the world. The life experiences we have lived have made it so. Our hopes, our disappointments, what we’ve learned, how we have chipped away at our unknowing, has brought us to this place in the second week of December with, perhaps, recognizable faces but changed spirits. It will always be so.

Yesterday I sat with two friends and we talked about the fear that comes of darkness. Literal darkness and the darkness that threatens to overcome in what we are uncertain of, future and past. We talked of our own times of darkness when we faced illness, our own or of a loved one, what it means to grow older, our view of the world’s environmental changes that seem dark and foreboding. In those times, it is true that it seems ‘we have run out of light’ and ‘we wait in fear’.

But just as quickly as we painted these pictures of dark and stormy nights, we began also to speak of the people who held the lamplight for us. Those who, often through very small acts or a well turned phrase, allowed us to not let the fear debilitate us. It was as if there was some miracle of light that illuminated the darkness, making it holy.

Today I am thinking of all those for whom this may not be the case. People are living through life situations and doing so in very lonely ways. Those with a chronic illness or chronic job loss. Those who suffer from the darkness of depression or the effects of loss of sunlight. Children seem lost. Parents are aging and need more help than any child can offer. The cold has surrounded and there is no bed, or home, or friend to walk beside.

And yet, here we are, me writing and you reading. From what I know of the faith story, of all sacred scriptures, we are imprinted with the tendency toward goodness, kindness, and love, by the One whose very Breath caused us to be. That breath of never-ending Life,probes the darkness and asks to breath through us. We are the lamplighters. We are the tentacles, dim as we may be, whose acts of hope have the power to change the world. Or at least one life. On one day. In the cold, dark days of December.

So be it.

***This post was originally written on December 11, 2012.

Super Ordinary

I see the Moon
And the Moon sees me.
God bless the Moon
And God bless me.

On Sunday, we began the season of Advent with its usual greeting: Keep awake! I so love this yearly demand to pay attention. The command rises out of the scriptures and seems to hang like a cartoon ballon over the gathered community. You can notice people smiling, some looking perplexed, that such a directive is so clear, so concise. In the many ways we can wrestle with the meanings and interpretation of these ancient texts, this one cuts right to the chase. Keep awake. Be alert. Pay attention.

It seems such a simple thing on paper. Black Ink rising from the white page telling you just what to do. But we all know the difficulty of keeping awake in the ways the words are intending. This is not ‘don’t fall asleep’ as in literal nocturnal behavior. This is keep awake to the ways God is on the move. This is keep awake to how the Spirit is weaving in and out of the ordinary and the extraordinary. This is a keep awake to the in-breaking of the Sacred in the macro and the micro of our living.

We certainly got a big dose of the macro over the weekend. The Super Moon was in its full glory, shining forth from a midnight blue sky on Saturday, looking close enough to reach out and touch. This magical, mysterious glowing globe hung suspended over our heads and sent its rays into our windows causing a middle of the night wake up call. It was so amazing I got out of bed and just went to stand in the flood of white light it poured onto the carpet. It seemed the right thing to do.

Standing in its full force of brilliance, I was reminded of a story my mom likes to tell. Apparently when I was very small I cried for my father to get the Moon for me. I wonder if this happened on another of Creation’s showy Super Moon experiences. I love to think of my little girl self who loved this beautiful orb so much that she wanted her dad, who could do anything, right?, to pull it from the sky and place it in her tiny outstretched hands. Keeping awake, even in the middle of the night, has its gifts in the memories it serves up.

It is easy to keep awake to the magnificence of Super Moon moments. What isn’t so easy is keeping awake to what gifts might also be hidden in the more mundane…doing dishes, making a way through a to-do list, sitting in a meeting where it appears nothing is getting done, another conversation with a person that you find particularly annoying. These are times when it is easy to allow spirit numbing distractions to take up residence. And yet these are the majority of how we spend our days. Super Moon experiences are few and far between…which is what makes them super.

Keeping awake to the ways in which the Holy shows up in the every day is our on-going work. Noticing the way the sun slants through the window. Paying attention to the precious sound in a loved one’s voice. Savoring the taste of that first sip of coffee or the tart tang of an orange slice. Feeling the wind on your cheek and seeing, really seeing, the rise of the bird who just ate breakfast at your backyard feeder as it takes flight. All these moments of keeping awake connect us in invisible ways with Creation and Creator. And yet none could be thought of as particularly extraordinary.

How are you staying awake to the ordinary, holy moments? May these Advent days find us all keeping watch, paying attention, open to what gifts might be right in front of us. It just might lead to something super.

Learning from Others

** Ten years ago I began a daily blog during Advent. My intention was to offer the faith community where a I am blessed to be in ministry, the opportunity to ‘pause’ in the busyness of December. Writing became a practice for me and continues to this day. During this Advent I have chosen to offer another chance to take a quick time of reflection in what can be a hectic time. Some of these chances come from blogs written over the years during the same weeks. The following is from that first year of writing on December 12, 2007. I would love to say I have not other times like the one described here. That would be untruthful. But I continue to practice!

I have been blessed to be a part of a faith tradition, Christianity, my entire life. I have often done battle with its stances, its practices, its doctrines, but still I have been blessed by the core messages of this tradition. The messages of unconditional love, the model which Jesus provides for confronting injustice in the world, its work for peace, have been the solid ground on which I have built my work and my life.

And yet there are other traditions that have wisdom for me, the practice of Buddhism for one. I believe I have mentioned before The Barn at the End of the World:The Apprenticeship of a Quaker,Buddhist Shepherd by Mary Rose O’Reilley. It is a book I have been taking small bites out of for the last couple of months. Yesterday, after a particularly trying day, I picked it up to relax. Instead I was confronted by wisdom and a good, swift kick in the seat of the pants.

“Anger is a dangerous wave. Somebody does something terrible and a great wave rises. You need to practice on little irritations, so that you can resist the great waves when they come. Practice and look deeply.” While my day had not been trying because of anger necessarily, I was in a stewing mode and I gave my all to it. Stew, stew, stew….until I had nearly reached a boiling point. I had missed the opportunity to ‘practice’ on the little irritations that come with the very act of living, and had chosen to ride the dangerous wave.

“In practice we learn what to let in and keep out. A conversation with a friend may be full of joy or it may make us not want to continue living.We (must) give the consciousness good food.” I had spent the day mostly adding really bad ingredients to my stew. Not something I am proud to admit.

“But suppose you are tired. Meditation makes us less tired. The breath becomes deep and slow. If we’re tired, we must look after the body. When you’re exhausted, just nourish yourself. In this condition you cannot look deeply. Nourish with breath. Smile with your tiredness. In-feel better. Out-remove poison. In-deep, out-slow.”

Breathing……I am for it. In yesterday’s stew there was no room for breath. No room for nourishment. And so instead of connecting with that ruach….the breath of God within….I just kept adding more fuel for exhaustion.

I feel blessed to have the wisdom of this tradition to inform my living.I am thankful that yesterday I chose to sit down and pick up this book. I am also thankful for the swift kick…and the reminder….to practice, practice, practice, the art of living with compassion for others…..and myself.