Saturday, January 30, 2016


The following passage is from the book, Atchison Blue by Judith Valente. I have mixed feelings about her writing style, but this passage, which she says is from an "anonymous Zen master," has stayed with me.      
I see a person riding on an ox, looking for an ox, 
searching for what isn't lost, 
climbing an invisible mountain, 
striving for what is already possessed, 
dividing people in order to unite,  
killing to achieve peace, 
working for grace, which is a gift, 
alienating to bring people together, 
questing for God while already standing on holy ground.  


Friday, January 29, 2016

A Walk in Early Spring

It was with hesitancy that I embarked on this morning's walk. I have been coughing and sneezing since Monday. The sky was overcast and rain had fallen during the early hours. However, Tyler needed to be on his way early and Jack needed an outing. Off we went.  I am thinking, just a few blocks and then we will turn back.   
Yet, as we walked, there spring was, peaking out, encouraging us to go just one block more  We did not get rained on.  We said hello to several neighbors we have not seen this winter. Yes, I am still coughing and sneezing, but I do not think I am any worse for wear.   
Sometimes, spring starts out small.  Even in our own reluctant hearts.  Yet, it cannot be denied. Blessed be. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Apply Yourself

I have just received confirmation, through a very sweet telephone call, that I have been accepted for a spiritual direction/pastoral ministry intensive that is scheduled for a week June. I am grateful to be accepted, and I am grateful that I actually sat down and completed the application. As we age, the number of applications we fill out start to decrease. Most of our formal schooling is behind us. It is likely that we have settled into a ministry or work that can carry us into retirement. We even have the credit cards we need. I think being settled is a good thing.  It reminds me of the Benedictine vow of stability.  Without stability, growth can be stunted. I am reminded that without stability, there would be no such thing as a tree, and there certainly would not be such a thing as ministry.   
Yet, even in times of stability subtle changes continue.  This is a very tender time of my ministry, partly because I am slowing down.  I have come to treasure this slowing as a time to let my experiences deepen. One of the things I am noticing is how often some of the young assistants confide in me. I come around enough that they trust me.  When I ask one of them if they want communion, it is not uncommon to hear the response, especially when there are many distractions going on, "No, not now. But may I have a hug?". This is as close as I will come to being a grandmother. Yet, I know that even these hugs benefit the elders. We are all in this together, and love is weaving us together in systems that are often broken. Yes, people want to know about God. They want to know about Jesus.  But mostly, they want to know, without a doubt, that they are loved, and as the person standing before them, that is my call. To manifest that love through who I am today. Love is attention, even when words are not being said.  This is the sacred realm where God, and love, and yes, even you and I reside.  I have never thought of myself as a spiritual director, and I still do not.  It is enough for me to be an attendant at the door.     
For Joy 
Jan Richardson 
You can prepare, 
but still 
it will come to you 
by surprise,
crossing through your doorway, 
calling your name in greeting, 
turning like a child 
who quickens suddenly 
within you. 
It will astonish you 
how wide your heart 
will open 
in welcome 
for the joy 
that finds you 
so ready 
and still so 

Friday, January 22, 2016


While driving yesterday,  I heard a great old song, "Waltz Across Texas," sung by Ernest Tubbs.  As I started to write this, I almost wrote, "that great old hymn," for I think that most of us who grew up in Texas experience some sense of reverence when we hear this song.   Certainly my Aunt Frances thought so.
Aunt Frances was a spirited, very funny, short round woman whom I dearly loved. She did have a few inner demons to slay, and I am not certain she was ever completely able to annihilate them all.  Few of us can.  However, that combination of traits made her pretty much the perfect aunt. She spent many, if not most of her adult years living in Oklahoma, but in her heart, she always considered herself a Texan.  She was stunned when she heard I was actually getting married, but fortunately, she fell in love with Tyler, and he loved her as well.  He would address her as "My Favorite Redneck," a title she cherished.  She gave him her brisket recipe and knighted him an honorary Texan. Yes, I have lived among royalty.    

So, this rainy morning, in honor of my aunt, I made, not brisket, but brisket's most humble of side dishes, a pot of beans.  The smell took me back to the wonderful kitchens I knew as a child.  It was a rare day when one went into a kitchen where food was being cooked and there would not be a pot of pinto beans on the stove, and skillet cornbread in the oven. If you were lucky enough to be in Amelia's kitchen, you could maybe  get some of her homemade flour tortillas.  In the bunkhouse with Jesus (pronounced hey-soos) at the stove, you just might get some of his wonderful biscuits. My mother's best friend, Arlene, made ethereal rolls.    
In honor of cooks, love, food, and all that is good, I will share with you the recipe that Aunt Frances gave me over the telephone.  Unfortunately, I did not date it, but I think this came to us shortly after we moved in this house - over 20 years ago.  I can hear her voice today and I can still hear she and Tyler argue about whether or not brisket could actually be cooked in a oven.
1. Put yer brisket in a pan. 
2. Pour a whole bottle (now, not a quart, a bottle) of Liquid Smoke over it. Yer brisket should fill the pan, smoke and all. 
3. Sprinkle with garlic salt, onion salt, and celery salt. Don't use the real stuff because they don't do right. 
4. Refrigerate. Don't cover it. Let it soak.  
Next Day 
1. Add Worcestershire sauce. Don't be stingy. Add salt and pepper. 
2. Cover with foil - snug!
3. 275 degree oven for 4-5 hours (pronounced ours), dependin' on whether you want it dry or moist or if you have opted to use a stingy (that is, small) cut of beef. 
4. Then, cover it with one bottle of yer favorite bar-b-que sauce. 
5.  275 degrees for one more hour. 
6.  Take it off the heat and rest. 
7. Slice thin.   
Aunt Frances' note to Tyler was, "Be thankful that yer an honorary Texan, or you wouldn't even be readin' this."  Friends, guess that makes you honorary Texans as well!  At least for today. I have very limited powers in such matters.    
Warning! We never were able to completely replicate her brisket, and it is an expensive cut of meat. My guess is that in step 4 and 5 you should leave the meat uncovered.  Regardless,  if you are not stingy and try to do right, it will come out fine. Add some beans and cornbread and maybe a recipe or two of your own, a few family members and some friends. Really can't get much better than that.        

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Word, Please

A wise elder recently told me that she had decided to make "faith" her word this year. She had heard of a practice of rather than making a new year's resolution, one dedicates the year to living a particular word. She went on to explain that she worries too much. "So, instead I will try to keep reminding myself to live in faith." 

The more I thought about this practice, the more beautiful it seemed. It is actually reviving a spiritual practice from centuries ago when seekers would go to the desert ammas and abbas and ask for a word. I, too, have decided to adopt a word. That word is  "patience."  Since patience is not my strong suit, I have already had a few opportunities to put this mantra to use. Every time, my breathing slowed; my mind cleared, and a way was shown in love. In this society that is so overrun with words, it is Interesting to experience how much healing one word can bring. I am reminded that we, too, can be living words of God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.  John 1:1        

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Grotto

Yesterday as I walked, I found myself thinking of a friend who is ill. I paused at a small garden where I spotted these tiny harbingers of spring.  In that moment, I thought of those who journey to places such as Lourdes to pray and feel Mary's healing touch.  During my time with the old and frail, I have heard many whispered prayers to her, enough so that I know we do not have to travel far to experience that gentle presence; our lives can be journey enough.  This morning, I add my whispered prayer, "Thank you." 


Saturday, January 9, 2016


Janet (not her real name) is one of the young activity assistants whom I have come to deeply admire. She works during the day in a rehab hospital, and she does so with much attention and good cheer. She attends school at night and has done so for as long as I have known her. She lives at home and helps her father care for her mother who has been ill for some time. Last month when I asked her how her studies were going, she told me she was about to graduate and then was planning to go on to study Occupational Therapy.

"The baby boomers are starting to show up, and I think OT is a logical step from what I am doing now," she explained.  I know her thinking makes sense, because I, too, am seeing boomers in skilled nursing and rehab. I have said more than once that the ministry for me is becoming for me not a ministry for elders, but a ministry among peers.  However,  I must have had a concerned look on my face because the director, who was also taking part in the conversation laughed robustly, and said, "I know. The only reason I am letting her do this is because she has promised to return to take care of us."     
When I first began in this ministry, I often felt I was on the frontier with the elders I serve.  While yes, I still move among the old and the very old, more and more I realize this frontier is also my own.  In some ways, this knowing makes the ministry even more honest for me. I come, not to do something for others, but rather to simply be with those I love. We are in this together, and the vulnerability I extol every day is very much my own.   
Come, eat of my bread 
and drink of the wine I have mixed. 
Lay aside immaturity and live, 
and walk in the way of insight. 
Proverbs 8:5-6

Friday, January 8, 2016


Today as I walked up to the long term care home, I saw John sitting by the front windows.  Unless he is out for dialysis, that is generally where I can find him.  He waved, and I waved back. We then gathered with others for Bible study and conversation.  Wanda, who seldom speaks and when she does it is just above a whisper, surprised me when she began to sing "Jesus Loves Me," in a beautiful soft gospel style.  Most of us could not resist joining in. A glorious sound emerged with Wanda in the lead. Afterwards, John added, "I have finally come to understand that what really matters is how I think about things. We here are survivors and we need to keep reminding ourselves of that. As it says in Matthew 5:16, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works."
There are days when I worry that maybe I am just not a very good minister.  Today, I was reminded it has never been about me.  Blessed be.

I Worried
 Mary Oliver

I worried a lot.  Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up.  And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Epiphany Blessings

It is still dark. The rains grow heavy.  Our Christmas lights are on, and the candles are lit. The coffee Tyler made is very good.  Jack is curled up beside me as he usually is most mornings.  I hear the traffic and I am grateful I do not have to stir too quickly this morning.  
Revelation. It may not come to us in the form of heavenly hosts.
It may come in a whisper, in a noticing, in a glance. 
It may come in a dream or as we cross a parking lot. 
It may come in the midst of rejoicing, 
but most times, it comes
 in the midst of despair. 
The moment when we realize that life 
can never be grasped or fully understood, 
and vulnerability begins  
all over again. 
At that point, we are given a gift. 
A glorious, wonderful gift. 
We are given love. 

Blessings on your journey today, and always.