Saturday, December 31, 2011


Dear Friends, 
It is not quite dawn yet.  This year that we have marked as 2011 is drawing to a close.  As I prepare for preaching tomorrow, I find myself yearning to be able to assure people that yes, all darkness is now behind us.  But, of course, I cannot.   So, I pray.  I pray that all the world will surrender to God's Shalom.  I pray that all sufferings will strengthen, not lessen, the faith and the belief in God's abiding and transforming love.   I pray that Christians everywhere will be willing to take their humble places in the great story of God's abiding and indwelling love that is Christ.  I pray we will not turn our churches, our ministries, our work, our beliefs into unyielding shrines and altars that need constant attention, but rather that we will allow God's holy breath to bring them to life and set them free to bring love.  May wisdom, grace, and kindness prevail.   May we understand that there is much we do not understand, so let us let love prevail.     
I leave with you a blessing from John O'Donohue.  Blessings to you in the year that will be known as 2012.  We know it will be so much more.          
Grace and Peace to each of you. 
A Morning Offering 
I bless the night that nourished my heart 
To see the ghosts of longing free 
Into the flow and figure of dream 
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.  
All that is eternal in me 
Welcomes the wonder of this day, 
The field of brightness it creates 
Offering time for each thing 
To arise and illuminate. 
I place on the altar of dawn:  
The quiet loyalty of breath, 
The tent of thought where I shelter, 
Waves of desire I am shore to 
And all beauty drawn to the eye.   
May my mind come alive today 
To the invisible geography 
That invites me to new frontiers, 
To break the dead shell of yesterdays, 
To risk being disturbed and changed.   
May I have the courage today 
To live the life that I would love, 
To postpone my dream no longer 
But do at last what I came here for 
And waste my heart on fear no more.   

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Eve Prayer

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, 
stay with us for day is ending.  
With friend, with stranger, 
with young and with old,  
be among us tonight. 
Come close that we may come close to you. 
Forgive us that we may forgive one another. 
Renew us so that, where we have failed,  
we may begin again.   
                                                    - Inona Abbey Worship Book 
Christ comes as Friend and as Guest.  Let us set the table and answer the door. 
Christmas Blessings to each of you.  Thank you for journeying with me this year.  I am grateful.        

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Path

It is evening.  The dishes are washed.  The tree is lit and fresh candles have been set out. However, I do not light them.  Tomorrow our Christmas gets underway, a bit early, but family is coming in.  So, tonight I pause.  It is still Advent.  I remember walking one morning in the high desert outside Sedona in late November.  Gently and quietly, the layers slipped away, and step by step, I traveled a little further, walking a path that so many others have walked.  It is a blessing to be no more than that.      

Lord, I will learn also to kneel down 
into the world of the invisible, 
the inscrutable and the everlasting. 
Then I will move no more than the leaves of a tree
on a day of no wind, 
bathed in light, 
like the wanderer who has come home at last
and kneels in peace, done with all unnecessary things;
every motion, even words.     
                     from Coming to God: First Days by Mary Oliver   

Friday, December 9, 2011

I Am Only the Driver

Every month I pick up one of our volunteers so she can join us for worship.  Esther (not her real name) is small, very spry, and probably one of the most opinionated people I know.  She walks just about everywhere she goes, and she would walk to the home we serve together if it were just a bit closer.  She is educated, speaks several languages, is very frugal, and maybe even more stubborn.  In the years that I have known her, I do not know if I have ever seen her dressed in anything but tweed and sturdy shoes.  She has never missed a worship service.         
This week as we were returning home, she said, "Would you look at my hand?"  The middle joint of her small finger was swollen.   
"Esther, that looks like arthritis."  
She looked surprised, as if it was a rare condition just recently discovered in this country.   
"Well, you are 85.  It is amazing that it is just now showing up."  I don't know why I was so confident I knew her age, but foolishly, I jumped right in those dangerous waters.      
She huffed and quickly replied, "I am most certainly not 85.  Try again."  
"OK.  84." 
"Nope. Barely a day over 83. Furthermore, do you know where I was Saturday night?" 
She is always asking me if I know, and, of course, I do not.    
"I was dancing." 
Now I was the surprised one.  I simply could not imagine this tidy woman in her sturdy shoes and practical tweed jacket gliding along the dance floor.  She went on to tell me that her son and daughter had taken her for an evening out, and that she danced, not just one dance, but every single number that the band played.   
I had to ask.  "Esther, what did you wear?"  
"Well, an evening dress, of course." I could almost hear her thinking, "You really do not know much, do you?"
 She smiled, "It was slit up the side.  You know, my husband loved to go out so he was always bring such dresses home (she said this in such a matter of fact way that she could have just as easily said that he was always given to bringing home stray cats).  People were particularly surprised when I danced the tango. Do you really think this is arthritis?"  
"Yes, I do, but talk it over with your doctor."   
"You can let me off at the corner."  She says this every month.    
'No, I can't. YOU KNOW  I can't just drop you off at the corner."  
"All right, darling.  You did a nice job today.  I'll see you next month.  You know, the band leader blew me a kiss when we left."     
So did I. But you know not at the corner.  Band leaders and chauffeurs know what they need to do. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Gift

One of our volunteers has played music with her children, now adults, all of their lives.  Yesterday, her daughter,who plays a flute, joined us for worship.  As we began setting up and settling in, she asked if I would like them to play a prelude.   The residents, all who have Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia, had been gathered, and our good mornings had been said.   As the music began, I had one of those wonderful moments of not needing to do anything but to simply  witness.   As I listened to the beautiful music and watch the people's faces, I felt love filling the room.  I felt my very pores opening, and I wept.   Just because everything was so beautiful.  Just because I felt I was right where God wanted me to be.  I heard the voice of the very wise Ms. Edna, who has lived in a convalescent hospital for over four years, saying "God always gives us the community we need."  And I knew the gift, both seen and unseen, was right before me, and in me, and all around me.      
 Yesterday, Sister Maureen pondered keeping her song sheet.  However, she eventually decided that singing alone was not what she wanted to do.  "It is not as nice."  This home we serve twice a month, so I was able to reply, "I will be back soon so we can sing together again."   She said her thank you, and I took her hand.  We smiled. Together.  
May those who sow in tears 
reap with shouts of joy. 
Those who go out weeping, 
bearing the seeds for sowing, 
shall come home with shouts of joy, 
carrying their sheaves.    
                                                  - Psalm 126:5-6  
And they sang a new song.  
                                                  - Revelation 5:9   

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giving Thanks

Yesterday, our worship service started, literally on a beautiful note, although the pianist mentioned the pedal was not working.  Undaunted, she began to play the hymn, "Give Thanks."  We all began singing as we went about the tasks of greeting people, handing out song sheets, and setting things out for communion, simple tasks that I never seem to tire of.  I see Barbara in her usual spot.  She always sits in front, very upright, with her small  purse in her lap, giving me the sense that we are all waiting for the bus. The whole time I have known her, she has always politely declined communion.   However, this week, I heard the quiet response of "Yes, I believe I will."  In ministry, yeses, no matter how softly spoken, ring loudly.  It is as if I am hearing the peal of church bells.
Our ministry has always been well received in this home.  Often, several staff members will stop their work to sing a hymn with us or take communion, and this day was no exception. After worship, the activity director came up to me, and excitedly said, "Oh, Reverend (she always chimes the word in three distinct syllables), I have something to tell you.  I am being baptized the Sunday after Thanksgiving!"   We hugged, and an image of Mary and Elizabeth greeting one another came to my mind.  It is difficult to describe, but that moment seemed so full of the mystery of what had come before, and what lies ahead. I was reminded of the beauty of faith-filled friendships and why I tend to the table. Yes, I wear a stole, but an apron would do just as well.        

Perhaps this what Barbara knows - that we are not waiting for the bus, but rather we are already on it.  And there Christ is.                           

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Lightening Up

Recently I learned that a man who used to rent a house in our neighborhood had passed after having had a heart attack.  He had been terribly burdened by at least one addiction and very poor health.  Eventually even keeping a roof over his head proved to be too much.  Nonetheless, most of us in the neighborhood had liked him.  As one neighbor put it, "I think at the bottom of his heart, he liked people.  He could not get his life together, but I think at the bottom of it all, he was a good man." 
Since that conversation, I have been thinking of the heart as a basket that periodically needs cleaning out.  There are many ways to do this sort of housekeeping: prayer, meditation, or even a good conversation are some of the ways we can lighten the load we are carrying.  It is important that we find a way to do this.  Sometimes we need to hand our burdens over, or at least set them down for awhile.  We just don't need to carry it all, and truly, we cannot.   Some burdens are for God alone.  It really is possible to lighten up, and even discover some long forgotten goodness stuffed at the bottom of an over-weighted heart.      
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls. 
For my yoke is easy and my burden light.  
                                                               - Matthew 11:28- 30    
 Go with God, my friend.  You can now travel light.  

Friday, October 21, 2011


For months now, at some point in the service, Sarah will close her left eye and then gaze at me intensely with her right.  Then, in a slow cadence that I think must surely belong solely in the realm of oracles, she will pronounce, "God has blessed you."     
Today, the oracle spoke before the service began, just before May was brought to our circle.  May is very reserved and modest, so I am surprised to see her dressed in a bright pink hat and a deeper pink floral blouse and pants.  Her very spring outfit was particularly striking against the back drop of pumpkins, cardboard autumn leaves, and other Halloween decorations.  I found myself immediately  throwing out anything I ever thought I knew about the logical progression of the seasons.  Here, in the midst of autumn I found spring blooming.  I could not help but exclaim, "How beautiful you look!"  She smiled and whispered "thank you," the only word I think she ever speaks aloud.      
Later, just as I am about to give the benediction, Rita walks in from her time spent with the Catholic lay minister who comes every month to give her communion.  As I raise my arms, she comes immediately to my side, gives me a warm hug, and laughs her robust laugh.    I keep my left hand lifted, and place my right arm around her.  She puts her left arm around me and raises her right hand.  "Let us go forth knowing God gives us the gift of friendship." Rita echoes me.  "And let us go forth knowing that God gives us the gift of love." She echoes me once more.   It is one of the rare moments when I wished someone was there to take a picture.  It would surely be a fine portrait of the ministry - two of us arm in arm, laughing and claiming our blessings, blooming unexpectedly in this time of our lives. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Light, Reluctantly

I cannot remember where I bought this set of candles, but they inspire my curiosity because they are a little slow to light.  This is strange because for most candles, illumination is their sole role. However, as I wait the few moments for the flame to rise and stabilize,  I think of the human heart.  Often, it, too, is slow to be kindled.  Perhaps God finds it odd that we can be so reluctant to accept the one thing we are here to do - to be a small light in this very big world. 
May your gifts and your light shine brightly today.  
You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light. 
                                       - Psalm 18:28    

Sunday, October 16, 2011


As many of you know, Tyler and I adopted a rescue standard poodle in June.   That meant that we have spent quite a bit of time this summer in obedience classes.   When training our dogs, our goal is  never absolute perfection, but rather safety and good manners.  However, we have always asked our dogs to be good ambassadors.  Jack is making much headway, but he struggles with learning to trust, and that has been an interesting lesson for us all.  There is no command for trust.    
The following paragraph from the book The Big Book of Christian Mysticism by Carl McColman is really too long for Ponderings, but it is beautifully clear and succinct, and that is always one of my goals in my writing and sharing.  Every one of us is call to be an ambassador.  We are called to help the world to trust that love is real.  And, of course, we can only do that when we step over the threshold of our fears and journey there ourselves. 
God is love.  God loves all of us and wants us to experience abundant life. The means abiding in love - love of God, and love of neighbors and ourselves. Through prayer and worship, meditation and silence, we can commune with God, experience his presence, have our consciousness transformed by his Spirit, participate in his loving nature, and be healed and renewed in that love. This new life (what the New Testament calls "the mind of Christ") will not only bring us joy and happiness (even when we suffer), but will also empower us to be ambassadors for God, to bring God's love and joy and happiness to others.  There is much work to be done, and the task is overwhelming. Even our own need is very great, for we tend to resist God's love, even as we hunger for it. Yet, God continually calls us back to his love, and continually empowers us to face the challenge of bringing hope to our broken world.    

Friday, September 23, 2011

Looking Back; Carried On

I have not yet read Walking Home by Margaret Guenther, so I am grateful to the Shalem Institute for sending the following excerpt.   I am reminded of Grandmother Donaldson, my paternal grandmother.  Despite my never really knowing her, I have always had a strong sense of her in my ministry.  Part of the reason is probably because in SpiritCare we focus on singing the traditional hymns that she no doubt loved to sing as well.  I know she was a dedicated and determined Southern Baptist, and went to church whenever possible.  I am sorry I never got to sit in a pew with her.  She evidently wrote religious poetry, but alas, no family member has been able to find any of her poems.  She was a sharecropper, and paper was scarce. These poems were written on the backs of envelopes and other slips of paper; I fear they may have been unceremoniously thrown away after she passed.                   

Guenther's piece is not exactly about singing or writing, but rather the art of looking back while looking forward - and this is the frontier where I and my grandmother stand and greet the elders I serve.  They have made a long journey, and many pause for just a moment before moving further on.  At this place, burdens and worn out baggage can, and should be dropped; they are no longer needed.  This is the territory of the mystics; only God's love can carry us further on. 

Looking Back
by Margaret Guenther
Pictures of my parents and grandparents look down on me from the top shelf of my computer desk. My father looks very much as I remember him:  gentle, benevolent, and wise, with just a hint of a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. My German grandparents are upright, stoic, no-nonsense folks; I suspect that the ordeal of being photographed frightened and oppressed them.  My mother looks a lot like me, with her head tilted slightly to the side; my friends tell me it is my own look when I am paying attention.  My grandmother, whom I knew only as an old woman, is beautiful and my Scottish grandfather, whom I knew only as a very old bald man, is a gorgeous blond.  As they look back at me wordlessly, they remind me where I have come from, they remind me that I am part of the long family walk that my children and grandchildren will continue when I have gone far enough.  They remind me to keep looking back as I continue to look forward, a feat that my ophthalmologist would judge impossible if I tried to accomplish it literally.
Surely there is a lesson here.  There are different ways of looking back.  Like the child at the Seder, we can yearn to know who we are and where are our roots.  When we look back on our own little lives, if we can manage such retrospection honestly, we can rejoice in what we have been given.  We can trace the path winding away behind us and chart the bumps in the road, the times when darkness fell before we had reached the day's stopping place, the times when we ploughed through snowdrifts, the times when we fell either painfully or with a total loss of dignity on the ice.  We can see all the places where we took a wrong turn, all the places where we received generous and unexpected hospitality.  We can see how the walk strengthened us even if, when we reached the end, we were worn out and quite ready to cross the second great threshold.  We can see ourselves clearly, maybe for the first time.

Excerpt from Walking Home: From Eden to Emmaus.  New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2011.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Gratitude on a Sunday Morning

In addition to hardware stores, I also like post offices.  Maybe not the mega-postal centers, but the older, smaller post offices.  I like going in and picking out stamps, or deciding what might be the best way to send a particular package.  I also like our mail box here at the house, with its kind of silly plastic red flag that can be raised and lowered.   In short, I like mail.   
A few days ago a friend sent me a birthday card.  I immediately recognized her large, flowing handwriting.  I knew there would be a very upbeat note inside,and I smiled.  However, I did not immediately open the card, but rather tucked it in my purse.  For a couple of days I simply savored the anticipation. 
This morning, after lighting my candles and pouring my tea, I opened the card and read that cheery note.  I then spent some time in gratitude for life and friendship.  Grateful that there are simple rituals and things we can hold in our hands - thrift store tea cups, birthday cards, and even a dog's curly head.   Even with all the greeting, preaching, and singing, so much of ministry is about touch - the gentle taking of a hand or touching a shoulder.  Then, quietly letting God do the rest.    
That which was from the beginning, 
which we have heard, 
which we have seen with our eyes, 
which we have looked at 
and our hands have touched - 
this we proclaim concerning 
the Word of life.     
                                   - 1 John:1  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Blessings in a Teapot

I love hardware stores.  Last month, when I was looking for a particular type of butter dish, I visited one of my favorites.  The store did carry several types of butter dishes, but not the type I wanted.  Yet, what I did spot was  a ceramic tea kettle.  The tag that was attached assured me that it was safe to use on the stove, and that the tea could be brewed right in the pot.   The label advised that the kettle is such a good inductor of heat, that the water would continue to boil for about twenty seconds after the burner was turned off.  I tried to put the pot down.  The purchase seemed so impractical, but I loved the way it felt.  The kettle came home with me, and I have used it just about every day since then.  
The kettle brought to mind a history program I saw quite some time ago.  I remember very little about it, except for the comments of a reserved English gentleman who declared that the decline of the Western world could probably be traced directly to the invention of the tea bag.  While still needing that butter dish, I splurged again and bought a tin of whole leaf tea - a second flush Darjeeling.  I believe the gentleman may have a point.  I love measuring the tea into the still rolling water, and catching a glimpse of the leaves beginning to unfurl before the lid is replaced.  I then wait four minutes, and strain the tea into a rather plain maroon teapot that I inherited from my mother.   When cool enough to handle, the tea leaves go into the compost.  The cool damp brown and bronze leaves are quite beautiful.  The kettle is rinsed, and that water, with whatever leaves were left behind, goes to the ferns growing beneath the dining room windows.  They seem to love a spot of tea.   The kettle is ivory in color, so its color is already deepening.  I wonder what it will look like in a few years.       
In a society where we often sip (or gulp) our coffee and tea from a paper cup, the simple process of brewing the morning tea seems almost revolutionary.  It starts a chain reaction - and that reaction is one of calmness. Of appreciation.  Of connection.  Of gratitude. Of remembering my mother who did not drink tea, but somehow ended up with a teapot that I have always loved.  
I am grateful.    

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Finding the Calm

Charlie has been struggling with illness all of his life, and the difficulties of keeping his medications in balance is taking a toll.  When I saw him this last week, he was in bed with a migraine.   We talked for a few minutes, and I said a prayer. He then said, "When illness finally takes hold, there is actually some relief, even in the pain.  A sort of innocence." 
"God?," I asked. 
He then surprised me.  "I would like to sing."  I have had migraines, but never one that inspired singing.  He continued as if he heard my surprise, "Yes, just a verse or two of How Great Thou Art, you know, the one written by Martin Luther.  I smiled. Lately, Charlie has been attributing more and more hymns to Martin Luther. 
"Charlie, are you Lutheran?" 
"Oh, yes." And so we sang.     
I think of that God filled place of innocence as I think of Heidi Skidmore, a friend who passed last night.  I shall miss her exuberant faith and encouraging notes and comments about my writing.  Her laughter and her tears blessed me in seminary.  Thank you, Heidi, for being, for singing, for crying, and for laughing - for making room for a friend through it all. 
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation 
and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow in humble adoration, 
and there proclaim, my God, how great thou art.   
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee;
how great thou art, how great thou art!
- written by Stuart K. Hine, who was inspired by a poem by Carl Gustav Boberg that was written during a thunderstorm.  Perhaps with a helping hand from Luther.  Who knows? I am learning to dismiss very little these days.    

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mary's Song, Continued

In honor of Mary's passing, I am posting an email I sent in May of 2010.  I learned this week that Mary has indeed passed.  For the past several months she had been bedridden, and I would visit her in her room.  Last month I was told she was in the hospital, so I really did not expect to see her again.  However, when I entered the convalescent hospital a few days ago and asked about her, the very shy activities assistant replied, "I think she is in another hospital," and looked away.  I was puzzled.  How many hospitals does a 99 year old body need?  After worship I gently pressed for more information.  He replied, "Well, we are really not supposed to talk about it except to a family member, but I know you were a friend of hers.  She passed away."  I felt very sad.  Not for Mary, for I could feel her dancing in the heavens.  I feel sorry for a society that so fears the full cycle of life that includes questions, grief, passings, and sorrows.  Recognizing that the assistant was trying his best to do the job as presented to him, I touched his arm and said, "Thank you for telling me.  We grow close to those we serve, don't we?"  He nodded his head and we hugged.  
Dear Mary,
Your presence was, and always will be, a gift to me.  You once said you would put in a good word for me with Jesus.  Would you kindly ask him to continue to walk with me as I discern how to best to serve this home?  Thank you.  And, oh, yes, please keep singing.   Sometimes I need the company.       
Sue Ann 
Mary's Song
Mary tells me that she is close to 100 years old.  She now lives in a convalescent hospital where she sits with her large print Bible.  She does not sing out loud much anymore, but she expresses much gratitude that we gather for worship.  She is still able to take communion.  I think Mary has been coming to the table for a very long time.   
Every month, she takes my hand and tells me that if she is not at the hospital the next month, I should not be sad because I will know that she has gone home to her Lord.  She is one who seems to have achieved a wonderful balance between accepting her life today, and having confidence in the life of tomorrow.  In her I sense no fear.  
This week she told me that she will always sing with me.  I am grateful.   There are probably many Mary's with us.  We may not consciously hear their songs and prayers, but that may be because we have not yet learned to listen. There is indeed music in the air.   Let us lean our ear and rejoice that we do not sing alone.     
Their voice goes out into all the earth, 
their words to the ends of the world.   
                                                           - Psalm 19:4  
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul,
How can I keep from singing?
                                                - Robert Lowry, 1869

Friday, August 26, 2011


Whenever I am in San Carlos, I usually stop by their library.  They have a nice section of used books which they sell at a very low cost.  I do not always find something of interest, but I often do.  When I was there last week, I picked up a copy of the novel, Crescent, by Diana Abu-Jaber.  It looked to be an engaging tale, and I could not even argue with the price: $3.  I thought to myself that I might never get around to reading this novel, but I went ahead and bought it.  
This week, however, I found myself with a sore knee, and the routine of elevation and icing has taken up almost two full days.  While a bit frustrating for the dogs, this time has given me a chance to immerse myself in this novel, a story that weaves together love, ancient Middle Eastern recipes, poetry, an odd photographer, poignant tales of exile, strange stories told by a loving uncle, and more.  It has been so long since I have read a work of fiction that I am even hesitate to say, "This is a very good book."  I think it is, but sometimes after fasting, even the simplest piece of bread can seem particularly delicious.  I am reminded of a long afternoon into evening decades ago when I rented four movies, and watched them back to back.  Three of them I do remember at all, but the fourth, Babette's Feast, has long stayed with me. As night descended and the story continued, I did not even get up to turn on the light.  When the movie was over, I was amazed to find myself, not at Babette's table in Denmark, but rather sitting in a very dark apartment in Oakland.   
We humans are story tellers and story listeners, and I think it is important that we remember that - it is often stories that knit us into the fabric of culture, family, and tradition.  As a child, I was convinced that if we could imagine something, it must be happening somewhere, and that was of great comfort to me.  It meant anything was possible - maybe not right at that moment, but if one could just have patience...  
There is a recipe from the medieval book that she wants to try - an omelet fried in oil and garlic, a stuffing of crushed walnuts, hot green chili peppers, and pomegranate seeds.   She goes to the cabinets and the refrigerator and begins to work while her uncle sits at the table and opens his history of Constantinople.  She stands at the table, peeling and mincing onions, then fries the omelet lightly, turning it once, and its aroma is rich and complicated.  Then Sirine and her uncle sit together in the library and eat. 
The dish is sweet, tender, and so delicious that it's virtually ephemeral, the eggs dissolving in their mouths.  Sirine is hungry; she eats more than the she has in a single meal in over a year.  It's good - she can taste that.  For the first time in over year,she can taste her influence on the food.  She licks her fingers when she's done. Her uncle puts down his napkin, says, "Alhamdulillah, thanks be to God." Then he nods, points to the empty plate, and says, "The eggs have forgiven you."  (389).  
Thanks be to God.    

Friday, August 12, 2011


Often, when I am facing a moment, or days, of thinking, "I cannot write anymore.  I have absolutely nothing to say," I invariably will find a poem that lets me breathe a little easier.   David Whyte is one of those poets whose work always helps me to feel a little saner.  I probably have shared this poem before, but that happens from time to time.  When I was reintroduced to this poem a couple of days ago, I found myself thinking that much of the wisdom and beauty of growing older comes from acceptance.  Acceptance of who we are.  Accepting who God is (thereby accepting who God might not be).  Accepting it all.  Poetry helps those times when we fear we just can't measure up.   Poetry helps us to measure down.  Down to who are really are: beings living on the solid ground of love.           
That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.      
It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.
It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.  
                                    - David Whyte    

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I Singing, Ms. Edna Leading

Yesterday, the pianist called in sick at the last minute.  However, the folks in the convalescent hospital are always good sports about singing a capella, and I keep some song sheets with well known hymns that I can boldly lead in my three note range.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be doing such a thing, but I think this leap of faith has indeed done me some good.  
I do not think Ms. Edna has ever missed a service.  She is quite reserved, and sits very still and upright.  She seldom speaks, and I do not think I have ever seen her singing.  She will not even take a song sheet, but I can always tell when she loves a hymn.  She will rock side to side ever so slightly, and sometimes will even quietly clap her hands.  Yesterday, as we finished up with Amazing Grace, she raised her right hand and kept time - pretty rowdy behavior for Ms. Edna.   I knew she was happy. 
I am pretty certain she used to sing.  Her husband was a pastor, and she has told me more than once that they would sometimes need to lead singing without a pianist.  Yesterday, she told me, "That last verse sums it up.  When I was a child I was baptized in a pond, and I have tried to walk with the Lord every day since then.  I know one thing:  no matter what our denomination, we go together.  Our bodies will always go where they need to go, but this helps our spiritual life to keep going in the right direction- together."  
I was formally baptized in a church, but I think my real baptism happens in this hospital.  Here, where Ms. Edna keeps time.  Here where Gary grows more ill, but always says, "I love you."  I think those will surely be his last words.  Here where the soft spoken Mrs. Chin worries about her husband. "He is almost 96 now..."  Here, where Darlene has scowled at me for close to four years, but yesterday, she smiled.  Here, where I muster my courage and sing.      
Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares, 
I have already come. 
"Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.    

Friday, August 5, 2011

Just a Day

The first time I met Elizabeth, the person doing the introductions said, "Elizabeth, I would like you to meet someone." 
Elizabeth, not looking up from her newspaper, replied, "Thank you, but I have no interest in meeting ANYONE."  I liked her immediately.  
Elizabeth lives in private room in a fairly large skilled nursing community where privacy is not the norm.  Here, I do quite a few hall and room visits, and over the course of a few months, Elizabeth and I have moved from nodding to one another, to jauntily waving, to actually spending a bit of time in conversation.  She is articulate, and loves reading newspapers.  I have never seen her without one.  Yesterday she asked, "Did you lead worship downstairs?  Did you have a nice turnout?"  I replied, "Yes.  I think it was one of the largest we ever had.  I would love to see you join us sometime."   She smiled and pointed to the front page.  "Did you see that at one time we may have had two moons?"
I was delighted to see Anne downstairs.  So often when I visit she is in bed, and I must gently wake her.  I still know very little about her as she has an interesting way of conversing without sharing much information.  She often tells me that she wants so much to see her brother again, but has no idea where he is.  We always tell one another that we love each other.  Yesterday I told her how happy I was to see her in worship.  She replied, "I am happy as well, but I tell you, I am always surprised to wake up and find myself here."     
We really did have a large turnout downstairs, and by the time I had led worship, served communion, and talked to various folks, two hours passed.  The conversations included those with Elizabeth and Anne, with David, who tells me he is writing a book about Jesus and the space aliens because Jesus' flock is that large.  I also talked with the soft-spoken Roger who is so distressed with our government that I think our nation's leaders just might be embarrassed to cause such a gentle soul so much concern, with Ed who has a firm handshake but still mourns the loss of his wife five years ago, the activities assistant who is excitedly waiting for the birth of her first child in November, and Charlie who continues to struggle with his medication.  He doesn't want to take it, often does not remember the difficulties he runs into when he does not, but promises to keep trying.        
A large flock.  Maybe not quite as large as Jesus' but large enough that I see glimpses of moons, stars, and a surprising galaxy or two as I move through.   
When I consider your heavens, 
the works of your fingers, 
the moon and the stars, 
which you have set in place...
                             - Psalm 8: 3      

Friday, July 22, 2011

Allow for Now

According to the text of Matthew, when Jesus went to John the Baptist to be baptized, John reluctantly replied, "I need to be baptized by you..."  However, Jesus simply stated,  "Allow it for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."  
I think of this passage every time I see the sister sitting quietly in the congregation.  I would not even know she is a nun, except the executive director happened to mention it.  The sister now resides in a home dedicated to the care of those with dementia.  She has yet to speak to me, but she will join me for the Lord's prayer, and she smiles when she accepts communion.  Sometimes she even shakily takes my hand.   It is all I can do to not kneel and ask for a blessing from her, although I think she has already given it.  The director,new to this home, says that she does not know how the nun came to live at this particular community, but often the staff is very reluctant to give details of people's lives.   So, I make allowances for the now that we find ourselves in.  I am reminded that we are not simply a laundry cycle of remembering and forgetting - that we journey in and to God. There is more.         
I discovered the following prayer in an intriguing  book entitled, Leading from within, Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead.  This poem has some formatting that is impossible for me to duplicate in email.  My apologies, and my gratitude, to the author, Winston O. Abbott, and to all of you.  With you, I find fulfillment in this strange time of now.  
Let me remember 
Let me remember 
beyond forgetting -
let me remember -
let me remember always 
for my spirit is often shrouded in the mists -
let me remember beyond forgetting
that my life is not a solitary thing - 
it is a bit of the rushing tide 
a leaf of the bending tree - 
a kernel of grain in the golden wheat fields -
a whisper of wind about the mountaintop - 
a reflection of sunlight upon the 
shining waters - 
it is fleeting - 
it is of the moment 
it is timeless - 
it is of eternity.        

Saturday, July 16, 2011


n a few hours I will be officiating at a wedding of a lovely, young couple.  I have enjoyed getting to know them.   They have each written their vows, and I am the only one who has read both.  I am encouraged to see how similar the wording is.  I pray this really is a sign that their hearts are echoing one another.    
Today, many pictures will be taken, and I cannot help but see these pictures on a distant wall sixty or seventy years from now.  I lean closer, and wait. I sense a beautiful ancient story coming round once more.  
The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you,
Not knowing how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They have been in each other all along. 
-  from Rumi, The Book of Love, translation by Coleman Barks

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Our Church

Until fairly recently, I never heard Pamela say a word.  Generally, she comes soundlessly into worship, accepts Communion, and then quietly leaves.   She always has make-up on, albeit slightly askew.  Her overall look is slightly unorthodox and a bit disconcerting, but does hint of a woman who enjoys dressing.    
Two months ago, she came into worship just a few minutes late.  This is not unusual for her.  However, instead of finding an empty seat as she usually does, she walked up to me and asked, "Will you be serving Communion soon?" 
Surprised, and in mid-hymn, I responded, 'Yes, in just a few minutes.'
'Good. I want to get out of here as soon as possible.  I miss my lover.'  I was completely taken aback, and could only mutter rather ineptly, "Why, yes, I am sure you do."  
After worship today, there was an empty seat beside her, so I sat next to her for a few minutes while the pianist continued to play.  We compared bracelets - mine a single plain silver bangle, while her four bracelets were made up of colorful beads.  She also had on a very nice pair of leather shoes.   I said, "Pamela, I do believe you enjoy clothes."   
We both giggled.  She replied, 'Oh yes, we must do the best we can.' 
Rae also lives in this community.  Today she said, "I love this church.  By the way, is this your church or my church?" 
I had to smile.  'Perhaps we should simply call this our church.'
'Good idea.  By the way, I love your long hair.'
My hair is actually short while hers reaches below her shoulders.  'Thank you, but you are the one with the beautiful long hair.'
She laughed heartily and said, 'Oh, yea.'   
I do love this church.  Even if I am a bit underdressed, we are all indeed doing the best that we can.     

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blessed Be the 5th of July

For those of us in urban environments, July begins with a bang, whether we want that or not.  Teachings and teachers show up in surprising guises, and often what we think we are seeking is indeed beside the point.  The image of the hookless fishing line makes me think of Jesus and the disciples who first had to set aside their nets before their journeys could continue.      
May you hear your teacher's call to peace today.   
My thanks to the World Community of Christian Meditation for bringing us this poem.  

“Finding a Teacher,” W. S. Merwin, MIGRATION: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005), pp. 206-207
In the woods I came on an old friend fishing
and I asked him a question
and he said Wait
fish were rising in the deep stream
but his line was not stirring
but I waited
it was a question about the sun
about my two eyes
my ears my mouth
my heart the earth with its four seasons
my feet where I was standing
where I was going
it slipped through my hands
as though it were water
into the river
it flowed under the trees
it sank under hills far away
and was gone without me
then where I stood night fell
I no longer knew what to ask
I could tell that his line had no hook
I understood that I was to stay and eat with him.