Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Rising Up, Falling Down

When I rise up

let me rise up joyful
like a bird.

When I fall
let me fall without regret
like a leaf.   

I first heard these words sung as a chant at a retreat at Lake Tahoe almost two decades ago. As I pondered this photograph, that memory surfaced. When I looked online, I discovered many variations of this chant/song, but this core quote is attributed to Wendell Berry. I am not sure that brilliant Kentucky farmer, environmental spokesperson, and writer is much of a chanting sort of man, but he is a poet. He would probably approve of our taking his words and breaking out into song.       
Yesterday, I spoke with a resident of an assisted living community who is really struggling with the changes in her life.  So much so, she wonders if God is punishing her. I believe at her core she is an optimistic and faithful person who can eventually accept this stage of her life. When she does that, she will be able to find meaning once more, and she did seem encouraged after our conversation. Most of us struggle with at least some of the ebb and flow that makes up our lives. We like the rising up joyful part (even when we forget to do so), but the falling down? Not so much. We struggle, and that weighs heavily upon us, like an unopened parachute. That burden can result in some pretty rough landings. I recently heard a suggestion that when we find ourselves down, we should not rush getting back up. Rather, we should look around and get our bearings. Take a compass reading.  I believe there is wisdom in this idea. Even a short pause will help us rise, not in frantic fear, but with courage and resolve, and yes, maybe even with some joy.  

As we journey today, let us remember to take a moment to look around and give thanks. Regardless of whether we are up, down, or completely sideways, God is with us. We are loved that much. No wonder we sing.  

Monday, June 27, 2016


For several years, Lois has lived in a home dedicated to the care of Alzheimer's patients. I have never heard her speak, but she has the loveliest smile. It starts slowly, and then widens to cover her entire face and eyes.  I have not seen her the past few months, so I was glad to see her today. I noticed her deepening wrinkles, and her hair is more grey.  I went to give her a blessing and to say hello. She smiled her slow moving smile that washed over me like a wave. Baptism is not just a one time event.  
Nancy was there as well.  She has been ill, but today she looked so much better although her tremors are a little stronger. At one point, she had even stopped singing, but today she sang again in her beautifully sweet, soft voice. When I asked her if she would like communion, she quietly replied, "Yes, I believe I will take communion."  She then asked God to watch over me and bring me back to them. The prayer touched me deeply. Elva was there, cantankerous as usual. Yet, something happens when she takes communion. She becomes grateful. As I offer Marion communion and she accepts, I know she will not be able to take communion much longer. She struggles to stay upright, but her body fails and she slumps.  Yet, in whispers, she continues to sing and pray.     
At least four assistants tell me that there is a gentleman in room 4 who wants communion. I go there afterwards. There, I meet Juan, a gentle soul, on oxygen.  After communion he said, "Please thank her for sending you to me."  I know the assistant to whom he was referring, but his comment made me think about how often in these communities I have a sense of God as Mother, drawing us all in and holding us together, helping each of us to bloom in this time. 
I, too, am grateful. 
The murmur of the prayers are to me like stepping stones, 
the mysteries like wings. 
All things spoken on the beads are now accomplished
and today 
I walk on their slender, incredible strength.     
Catherine De Hueck Doherty (1896-1985)


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Kindred Spirits

This week I spent a few days at a spiritual direction intensive at Villa Maria del Mar in Santa Cruz. This lovely retreat center is run by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. I do not have a private spiritual direction practice, nor do I expect to have one. However, I am having more in depth conversations in my ministry with those in long-term care communities, and it seemed time to re-hone some of my skills learned in the DASD program at San Francisco Seminary. Graciously, I was taken in.  
I was surprised to find myself the lone Protestant among several Catholic men and women. Yet, as we sank deeper into our time together, I came to appreciate their spirituality, gentleness, and presence. I so appreciated attending mass, and hearing the reading of Luke 12:32-34.  I often hear the words at the end of the passage, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also," and I love those words.  Yet, what I heard in this service, really for the first time, was the beginning of the passage: Jesus calling those he loved, "little flock." I felt gathered in and held close. In that moment, I knew only trust. 
Catholic and Protestant traditions differ certainly. Yet, what we discovered was the common ground of those trying to be faithful to God, to the teachings, and to this good creation.  Affection and friendship surfaced, as did tears when it came time to say good-bye. As l look back, it is with gratitude, and with a question. Why can this coming together not happen across the world?    
The images I share seem to express something of my understanding of spiritual direction: the bee that looks to be such an integral part of the flower (it is), and her cleaning her antennae as she prepares to move on.  We are all connected.  Let us tend to our antennae, and learn to listen to one another. We will be hearing ourselves.  More importantly, we will be hearing God. There is where our treasure lies.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

Solstice Blessings

Yesterday, on my way home from a conference, I stopped at what was called an antique store.  Somehow, in the rubble of stuff that I was tempted to dismiss as junk, I found a small book entitled Sea and Foam, by Kahil Gibran.  I thought it a little overpriced at $1, but upon closer inspection, I realized that it was hardbound, published in 1995, and in very nice condition.  It feels good in the hand. It is a book of aphorisms, which always come in handy. I promise to use them sparingly, but when I read, "Thinking is always the stumbling block to poetry," I was hooked.   
Wishing you all a beautiful summer.  Let us remember that we are all connected with a love that knows no bounds.   

Sadness is just a wall between two gardens. 
 Kahil Gibran     
The purpose of driving is to get out of the car.    
Sue Ann    


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Staying the Course

This morning while leading worship in a small skilled nursing community, I found myself reflecting on the need to stay the course. That is, in our living and our dying, if we are committed as best we can be to living a life of love and service, we need to stay the course.  Yes, even when confronted with terrible sorrow, prejudice, fear, and confusion, we need to continue to try to be present in love.  

I expected to continue this thread of thought in the second community I was scheduled to visit because we always have lively conversations there, but the home was closed due to a virus. I came home and finished this piece. Yes, it is a little crooked, but my disclaimer is that this is folk art. I have been working with it for a few days, and almost threw it out a couple of times, but when I came home with this message in mind, it came together fairly quickly.   
I am grateful for the reminder that Jesus promised his disciples a peace that was not the peace the world promises. That message does indeed give me the courage to embrace crooked paintings.  Do not be concerned; I shall not attempt house building anytime soon.  
Let us stay the course in love.    
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.  
John 14:27    
"Staying the Course" with pastels, pencils, and collage  


Monday, June 13, 2016


This photograph is part of a series I took yesterday, and I will share more images from this garden.  When I took this picture, I was concentrating on the red flower. The yellow flower was not in good shape. Age and a few insects had discovered it before I did. I took the picture with little confidence; red can be difficult to photograph well, and the angle was a little odd.    
Yet, ultimately, none of that mattered.  When I came home and did a quick review of the morning's photographs, I fell in love with the grey wall and the green foliage, and the funny purple boots. As I write this entry, I hear the birds as they, too, begin their day. I glance through the dining room window and notice the almost completely spent flowers.  They have nourished ever journeying bees as long as they possibly could. An admirable life.

I am grateful for these reminders that life beckons us ever on. Yes, there are tasks to complete, mistakes to correct, losses to be endured, and wearying worry always seems to pop up. Yet, there is always more than the dramas that take place in my head. Holy One, I am so grateful.     
I Will Not Die an Unlived Life
 Dawna Markova    
I will not die an unlived life, 
I will not live in fear 
of falling or catching fire. 
I choose to inhabit my days, 
to allow my living to open me, 
to make me less afraid, 
more accessible, 
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing, 
a torch, a promise. 
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which comes to me as seed 
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to blossom, 
goes on as fruit.    
from Finding Jesus, Discovering Self by Caren Goldman and Willaim Dols   


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Here and There

I was pushing Emmett in his wheelchair down the hall when I first saw Donald. I stopped and said hello, and asked him if he would like to join us for Bible study. He shook his head no.  Emmett  and I continued on our journey that included passing by a musician playing a ukulele and singing for a small group.  The activity assistant came over and said, "Oh, sorry, Rev. Sue Ann. The home wants lots of activities now so everything is scheduled back to back. I will bring some residents to you." I assured her that was fine. I told the ukulele player his music was wonderful.  I asked Emmett if wanted to stay and listen to the music, or if he wanted to continue on with me. He is not the easiest person to understand, but I got the sense he wanted to continue on.  We arrived in our gathering place. Other residents did indeed join us, and we gathered in a circle. More residents were brought in and the circle widened.  This increasing happened several times.
I then noticed Donald at the door. At that point I did not know his name.  "Sir, would you like to join us?" Again, he shook his head no. 
Then, Margaret arrived.  She does not speak, but often hums in a very ethereal voice. She also loves to hold hands.  She reached out for Donald, and he slowly escorted her in.  He did not leave, but he also did not sit.

"Welcome! Do you need a chair?" I knew he had a wheelchair with him, but he seemed reluctant to use it.  He waved no, and pointed at it.  He pulled it over and sat next to Margaret who took his hand once more.
At some point, Donald was badly burned.  At some point, Margaret stopped speaking. However, they seem to get along quite well. I am grateful.  There are those who get frustrated by her yearning to hold on. Donald seems to appreciate the anchor.
I also found out that Donald does have a voice, and he wants to use it to ask questions about Jesus.  This group on the whole loves to talk about Jesus. The Jesus who was poor and walked the dusty roads and who was baptized in the desert. The Jesus who ate with whoever happened to be at the table. The Jesus who prayed and loved God, and who taught them the Lord's Prayer which they pray with a touching piety. 
This month, as usual, the assistants had to interrupt us because it is was time for lunch.  I went over to Donald and learned his name. I told him how glad I was that he was with us today and that I hope he joins us in the future. He cautiously replied, "Sometimes I cannot be here. I have therapy." He asked my schedule, paused, and then resolutely said, "I will be here."  

Anita took my hand. "Oh, honey, I hope you will be, too." Wanda, who had already started her wheelchair down the hall, returned and asked for a hug. This is new for her. I tell her, quite sincerely, that she looks beautiful.   

I take Margaret in her wheelchair so she can get to the dining room.  As we go, I join her in her ethereal tender song. 
This morning I awoke, grateful for them, grateful for Jesus. 
Steal away, steal away, 
steal away to Jesus!
Steal away, steal away home
(traditional spiritual)​


Friday, June 10, 2016

The Grotto

I woke this morning thinking of yellow and started a simple pastel.  As a female figure began to emerge, I think that this world is a grotto.  A birthing place and a dreaming place. A listening place where God is met and we are grown.    

I so admire David Whyte's poetry. However, his black and white photography is just too somber for me. I hope he does not mind my tinkering.   

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
will makes plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.
To become human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.
To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance.
Excerpt from ‘What to Remember When Waking’
From RIVER FLOW: New and Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press. ©David Whyte

Saturday, June 4, 2016


After worship in a skilled nursing community this week, one of the patients, Stephen raised his hand and told me he had a question. His physical health is very poor. He and I are probably about the same age - that age of, as two older ones described me this week, of being neither young nor old.  I went over to him, and he asked why I never led the community in a salvation prayer.  I could not even think what that was so I asked him to explain.  He looked surprised and said, "When we ask people to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. There are people here who are not saved." 
I looked around the room. While I certainly saw people in a wide variety of physical, mental, and emotional conditions, I really could not spot one that was not saved. I took a breath and said, "That is because I believe we are all broken and we are all loved. Therefore, we are all saved."  He looked at me with his one good eye, and asked incredulously, "Do you really believe that?". I assured him that I believed it so much that I had dedicated my life and ministry to that belief.  
As we talked further, we actually found a lot of common ground. The need for confession. The need to open our hearts to that love that is always there for us.  Yet, I have a sense of the conversation being incomplete, and for some reason I have not been able to let this sense of incompleteness go.  I would have liked to have taken the conversation a little further, but there were just too many interruptions. I know that while Stephen and I have worshiped together for awhile, there is a good chance I may never see him again.  This conversation and my sense of incompleteness I must lift to God and let it go. However, I think if I had dedicated my spiritual life to making sure I was saved, and then someone comes along and says you and your beleaguered neighbor have been saved all along, I might be troubled.  Yet, as I write this, I remember the wonderful old spiritual, "Wade in the Water." I hear the words, "God's gonna trouble the water."  It is believed that Harriet Tubman would sing this song when she thought escaping slaves needed to get off the path and go into the river to avoid capture. I am reminded that our journeys to freedom, while can be made in a instant, are seldom completed in one day.  We all have a ways to go. 
Holy God, please continue to stir the waters of my soul.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Beautiful View

Please understand that I understand this is not a great photograph.  It is the result of my already having put on my evening pajamas but still needing to go out to my front yard for some fresh thyme for the green bean salad. As I returned to the front door, I glanced at our beloved birch tree, and saw this beautiful butterfly. I rushed inside and grabbed my camera that also makes phone calls, and because the butterfly was not at eye level, I also grabbed the step ladder.  So, there I am, a woman in her 60s, in her pajamas, on a step ladder, aiming her eye phone (ok, that description just happened, but I like it; you will see it again.) at a tree.  And still, despite the chaos as I fiddled and balanced, the butterfly continued to sit there in the evening sun. 
No, I could not take a beautiful photograph of this beautiful creature.  However, every time I can take a picture of a bee, a butterfly, or some other insect, I am filled with hope.  Hope, that even here in the bay area where it seems every inch of land is under construction, I continue to see front yards turned into gardens where flowers, fruits, vegetables, insects, and birds can flourish. That is the beautiful view.  
I believe this butterfly is a Two-tailed Swallowtail, but could be a Western Tiger Swallowtail.  As you all know, I am not the best at identification. Everything just seems to fall into the category of beautiful as I fiddle, balance, and fall in love.