Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Learning to become our ourselves - our best selves - is the very purpose of being alive. 
Sister Joan Chittister,OSB  
The Radical Christian Life       
Two nights ago, I dreamed that I was given two pairs of shoes.  At one point, I decide to put a pair on.  They are quite comfortable and well made.  They are so comfortable that I do not realize that I had not put on a matching pair.  One of the shoes is striped; the other  is imprinted with circles.  They are both beautiful colors - lime green and pink, and well made.  When I do realize what I had done, I began to wonder why we always wear matching shoes. I find I like this eclectic mismatch.    
Then last night I dreamed that I am on a bicycle (which is about as likely as my going out in mismatched shoes).  The time is late twilight. I am on my way to teach a class, and it seems I have quite a ways to travel.  Suddenly, the traffic gets heavy, and I end up driving into a construction lane closure.  I ride over some orange cones and actually damage my front wheel.  I make my way over to the sidewalk pushing my now wobbly bicycle. The night grows darker and I am in a fairly deserted area. I am worried, but I have my phone. I call the house I had just left. The male who answered the phone says he will come get me; he knows right where I am.  He shows up as promised, but all he does is hand me some white gloves and drives off.  I am not happy.  However, I put the gloves on and in my lovely shoes given to me the night before, I happily begin to dance to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean."

 I believe these dreams have some roots in some Esther de Waal's writing about learning to live in and with contradiction. Yesterday, Tyler and I both had a unscheduled day, and we went for a short hike in the East Bay Regional Park.  It was wonderful to be out. There is a touch of fall in the air now, and the morning was cool. Our dog, Jack, loves to hike and he was so happy to be off leash.  However, I did feel some concern. Trees are showing worrying signs of stress due to the ongoing drought, and some trees have died. Yet, there was some fog present as well, giving us hope for the redwoods.  So I tried to simply trust in the day, and enjoy our walk. That is contradiction. 
The yeast will work.
The seed will germinate. 
The new will emerge from the old. 
For the miracle is that it does happen.
The mystery is that new life does follow death.  
Esther de Waal 
Living with Contradiction (121)  


Monday, August 29, 2016


Happy are those 
who walk hand in hand
with goodness, 
who stand beside virture,
who sit in the seat of truth; 
For their delight is in the Spirit of Love, 
and in Love's heart they dwell 
day and night. 
They are like trees planted  
by streams of water, 
that yield fruit in due season, 
and their leaves flourish; 
And in all that they do, they give life.   
Psalm 1 
Psalms for Praying 
Nan C. Merrill   
Usually when I read this psalm, I envision an idyllic grove of trees on a gentle summer day.  Yet, this tree, which is indeed planted by a stream of water, at least when the rains come and the creek is running, is far from what one might consider perfection to be. She bears the marks of woodpeckers who have paid numerous visits. She stands in Sunol, between the creek that has been reinforced with stones and a paved road. She bears the cuts of having been unceremoniously pruned, probably in the name of safety.  She is, however, a tree that I love. When I gaze at this tree I feel the presence of the Holy Mother.  I sense not power, but a vulnerability that has resulted in a beauty that comes from enduring heat and drought, the not frequent enough gentle spring rains, and turbulent waters. Time has emptied her, yet she continues to provide shelter and even sprouts new growth. 

As I look up, I trust my own life a little more.  
I have seen the sun break through 
to illuminate a small field 
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl 
of great price, the one field that had 
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have 
to possess it. Life is not hurrying 

on to a receding future, 
nor hankering after 
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle 
of the lit bush, to a brightness 
that seemed transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.    
Bright Field 
R.S. Thomas  
The poet's break after the word hurrying is worth pondering. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Psalm 95

Let us come to the Radiant One with thanksgiving, 
with gratitude let us offer our songs of praise.  
Nan C. Merrill 
Psalms for Praying  
This is a life of continuous dialogue with God.
This is a life of total openness with God. 
This means walking with God at every moment of the day. 
Living with Contradiction 
Esther de Waal      
We have the invitation of never turning away from God, no matter what destruction and greed is going on around us.  Yes, that is a contradiction and a challenge.  Mostly, it is a gift freely given, although sometimes it does seem to be quite costly. That is because we try to hold on too tightly.  The bees remind me that there is great vulnerability in this life. They also tell me that whether we are living or we are dying, we are all part of this great whole that is. Our seemingly small part can bring much good.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


From The Radical Christian Life by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB   

"This above all: to thine own self be true 
and it must follow, 
as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to anyone."

Sister Joan writes that she memorized this quotation from Shakespeare at an early age but "only understood its real meaning stages and stages later." She adds, " It cost me when I didn't understand it - and it cost me when did. Which price would you rather pay?"    
It is not a question of whether or we surface as victors. Surely by now we know, even if we cannot fully accept, that any victory is short-lived.  What we should be asking is are we living as fully as we can into who we are as a child of God?  How are we serving this life and one another?  Can we find contentment in the answers that surface?   
I bought Sister Joan's book years ago, but put it aside. I just did not care much for it then.  As I return to it now, I am finding the short daily passages thought provoking, and more complex than I first realized.  

Christianity is about radical love, regardless of what stage of life we are in.  Like this book, such love seems seemingly simple, but actually is surprisingly complex.  Yes, one of the paradoxes we hold and live. 

Friday, August 26, 2016


It is not what we are that counts. It is what we are meant to become that matters.  
Radical Christianity 
Sister Joan Chittister, OSB  

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Last week, I stopped by the Our Lady of Peace Shrine in Santa Clara.  She stands 32 feet tall.  At her feet are steps and a modest green lawn. Around the lawn's circumference are the stations of the cross.  That afternoon I walked the stations, and found them quite well done.  I am sorry that the picture that is attached does not reflect the quality.  There was just too much sun that afternoon. 
This station is of Christ being bound.  In this depiction, he appears to be calmly accepting this fate.   My first thought when I viewed this station was that we are still binding up Christ. We just can't seem to let that love and acceptance be free in this world.  If Christians truly believe that we are part of the living body of Christ in this world, we would treat our fellow human beings with deep respect.  For some reason, we just can't seem to muster up that much love.  
In her book, Living with Contradiction, Esther de Waal writes, "It is the humble and honest acceptance of my frailty that frees me from pretense, from the effort to impress, from the attempt to justify, from the determination to succeed (46)." Ironically, in the moment portrayed at this station, Jesus is the one who is most free.  Everyone else has a prescribed role, or what de Waal calls the "mask."   I liken it to those times when I am tempted to show up as "the" pastor, rather than simply as "a" pastor. I wear a collar, but I cannot hide behind it.  Some of my most seemingly most vulnerable moments happen when I am wearing one, because regardless of it, I can only be who I am.  I must rely on Christ.  When I do not, I am trapped by my own ego.   
In my walk among the ill and the frail, I have met many who were completely vulnerable, but also absolutely enlightened.  They have shared this inner light with me without even knowing it.  They have guided me with that light, and I am grateful.  That light is eternal.  We do not ignite it, but rather reveal it. And to do that, we must let go of pretense and posturing. I think this letting go is also experienced in times of that refiner's fire known as great sorrow.  In deep sorrow, there can be no pretense.  Many emotions, yes, but there is no energy left for donning a mask.   
Cultivate humility. 
To be exalted is to be in danger. 

 Pride is considered a sin because  
it warps our existence. 
It establishes our lives on a false foundation.    
No one can win all the time. 
Therefore, a life based on bettering others 
will always be unfulfilled. 
The way to affiliation with the sublime 
is not to add, 
but to take away more each day 
until we have been freed, 
even from desire for perfection.      
John McQuiston II 
Always We Begin Again 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Seeking Shelter

Earlier this week I walked into the activity room of a home dedicated to the care of Alzheimer's patients.  I greeted Beth, the normally very friendly assistant.  She looked at me for a couple of seconds, and then asked, "It is not today, is it?"  I smiled and confirmed that yes, it is indeed today.  She rushed to apologize saying she had simply forgotten. While that is not like her, we  made a few adjustments, and worship commenced.  I tried to assure her no harm was done. I did not realize that while I thought that what happened was no big deal, to her it was yet another sign of things crumbling around her. 
As I was leaving, she joined me at the front door and said, "I am sorry. My stress is showing." She went on to tell me that she and her two teenage children, one in high school and one in community college, just learned they have to be out of their apartment next month.  The landlord wants to do some upgrades.  She is a single mother who does not drive, and finances are tight.  I hugged her and we talked a bit more.  I told her I would be praying for her.  She breathed a little easier and thanked me. However, I know that does not alleviate her challenges.   
As the economic disparity continues to grow in the Bay Area, people like Beth are really struggling to make ends meet. People who want to do a good job.  Who want to take care of their families.  Who often deeply love those they tend to, despite the fact that the work can be difficult and isolating.  The ministry that we do in these communities is not just for the residents. Because we show up as friends, many of the staff find encouragement when we are present.  They hear, time and time again, that God's love is for all, and this is true regardless of whether their faith runs deep, is just beginning, or just seems impossible in the face of life's concerns.  No matter what, love keeps showing up, and I am convinced love will ultimately show us the way.  
They drink from the river of your low places. 
You are the fountain of life 
and the source of enlightenment 
by which we know things. 
Hold close to those who are your own. 
Shelter them with honest hearts. 
Let them experience victory.  
Psalm 36:8-9 
Rejoice, Beloved Woman


Tuesday, August 23, 2016


On Sunday, those who had gathered for worship were invited to view a body that was lying in state at home. I did not know the family, but I did know the man who had passed for he was a member of a church where I occasionally  lead worship, and that was where I was that day.  I was reluctant; I was not sure I could find the house. Would I be imposing because I did not know the family?  Fortunately, another woman knew the way, but was hesitant to go alone. Together, we traveled what was actually a short distance. Others joined us. As we gathered around the body, grandchildren casually came and went.  The room became a  weaving of stillness and movement, peace and sorrow, tears and laughter.   A cool breeze blew through the opened windows encircling us all.  Stories of the past surfaced, as did the inevitable silence of the present. A prayer was spoken.  The venerable oak trees continued to grow. The children decided to go swimming.   
I asked permission to photograph the cremation box.  Friends and family had adorned that plain cardboard box with love notes and drawings. We added ours.  Ashes to art to ashes once more. I think I will always remember that gentle breeze and that gentle man who graced this life with love and encouragement, and then moved on. Because of him, our own journeys have a little more meaning.      
In some long-term care communities, the word death is never spoken.  Fortunately, there are those of us who come, daring to say the word right out loud. Not to cause fear, but to help us all remember our shared destiny.  In one of his early books about death and dying, Stephen Levine wrote that  learning to accept the small deaths in our lives can help us prepare us for the final surrender of our physical bodies. "We are members of the community of impermanence."* 

Let's learn to die into this life together. The distance is shorter than we realize, and we have love notes and invitations to help guide our way. Deciphering them is easier when we do not try to go it alone.
Thought 22 - Paradoxes
The Art of Pastoring
William Martin

If you want to bring healing to your people, 
show that you are wounded. 
If you want them to do what is right, 
show that you have done wrong. 
If you want them to be filled with God, 
show that you are empty. 
If you want them to have life abundant, 
show them how to die. 
If you want everything good for them, 
show them how to give everything up. 
When Jesus said, "You must die in order to live,"
he spoke a basic truth. 
There is no other road to life.  
* Unattended Sorrow, Stephen Levine, page 33

Sunday, August 21, 2016

To Follow

All this I remember, 
as I pour out my soul: 
How I knew your Presence  
within me
as I went out among the throng, 
proceeding to the House of Prayer.  
By day You lead me in steadfast love; 
at night your song is with me,  
prayer from the Heart of my heart.  
Psalm 42 
Nan C. Merrill    
detail from a tapestry at First Presbyterian Church, Burlingame     
I took two pictures of this tapestry.  My phone locates one of them as Burlingame Presbyterian. The second is  located as Burlingame Gate.   

 The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one I hold and trust. Sister Joan Chittister writes of community life, "We are all guides for one another."  The gate is open; let us go in love.     

Friday, August 19, 2016

Patience at the Gate

A few days ago I visited someone in a skilled nursing community that I had not visited since the beginning of my time with SpiritCare. I had hoped to start the ministry there,  but the director at that time just was not interested in a worship service.  
 I don't think the home has changed much at all in ten years, except that now the front door is locked.  As I approached the threshold, a caregiver said, "Sweetie, please wait here." In addition to being the greeter, she was maneuvering one of the residents off a bus and into the home.  The resident looked at me and let out a stream of expletives that was surprising.  The caregiver stopped, ask the resident to apologize, and she grumpily complied.  Truthfully, I was more miffed at being called "Sweetie" than by the unfiltered language.  However, I also realized we were all doing the best we could. Wearing a collar continues to teach me patience, and I am grateful.    
Eventually, I found the person I was trying to visit, and her laughter brought back many warm memories of our time together in choir years ago.  As we got caught up on some of our comings and goings, she mentioned the resident who is always cursing.  "I finally turned to her one day and told her that it was time for her to learn a new song."  She laughed her delightful laugh and said since then the woman had not said anything at all to her. She is fine with that silence.  
Even when dementia is not present, all of us run the risk of repeating the same statements over and over, and too often our thoughts are not positive.  Today, let us follow the psalmist's encouragement to enter the gates of today with songs of thanksgiving and joy (Psalm 100).  Let us try singing a new song.   
Live this life 
and do whatever is done, 
in a spirit of Thanksgiving. 
Abandon attempts to achieve security; 
they are futile.    
Give up the search for wealth;
it is demeaning. 
Quit the search for salvation;
it is selfish. 
Come to comfortable rest 
in the certainty that those 
who participate in this life
with an attitude of Thanksgiving
will receive its full promise. 
John McQuiston II  

Attachments area

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Starting the Journey

Yesterday in a skilled nursing community, I read from Matthew 4:18 where Jesus called some fishermen, soon to be the first disciples, to put down their nets and follow him.  According to the text, they heard; they dropped what they were doing, and they followed. That, of course, was only the beginning. They  continually had to begin again. Jesus was always leading them into a new way of thinking and being. I believe this is a key to aging well.  We must be willing to set aside how we have always led our lives.  We are being called into a new way of being.  The further we journey, the deeper the metamorphosis.   
Last night in a tumble of dreams, the phrase, "Turn green," kept surfacing.  Those words may have something to do with the idea of beginning each day anew.   Even as we age, we start afresh each day. We are tempted to think of aging as turning dry and brittle. Yet, if we look through the eyes of the heart, we may see that there are moments in each day that are as tender and green as new grass.  
It is for us 
to train our hearts 
to live in grace, 
to sacrifice our 
self-centered desires 
to find the peace
without want
without seeking it 
for ourselves, 
and when we fail, 
to begin again 
each day. 
John McQuiston II         
Everyone has to be open to being formed again. The only thing that can possibly deter the new formation is if we ourselves refuse to let go of what was. If we cling to the past, the future is closed to us.   

The Rule of Benedict, Joan Chittister, O.S.B.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

We Together

"We must learn to complete in faith what we began in enthusiasm; we must learn to be true to ourselves; we must continue to become what we said we would be, even when accommodation to the immediate seems so much more sensible, so much more reasonable, so much easier." Sister Joan Chittister. 

We know compromise is often needed. That is why discernment is so important. Who am I in this? Who are we? Are we being "we" together?      


Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Shape of Things that Are

Over the course of a couple of weeks, I have come across this prayer three times.  I think it is time to surrender.   
It is not you who shape God; 
it is God who shapes you. 
If then you are the work of God, 
await the hand of the Artist 
who does all things in due season. 
Offer the potter your heart, 
soft and tractable,
and keep the form 
in which the Artist has 
fashioned for you. 
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard and lose 
the imprint of the Potter's fingers.  
Irenaeus  (ca. 125-202) 

Friday, August 12, 2016


This morning as I pondered my rule, I realized there is an omission. There is at least one missing element, and that is laughter.  Without it, we would be sunk, brothers and sisters.   Therefore, I pass this friendly fellow on to you.  I wanted to get a picture of him without the fence, but to do that I would have had to walk up the front steps of the house where he resides.  The front door was open and I could hear the tv. I really try to not startle the neighbors.  On the other hand, the fence does seem to fit.  One of the things I have come to embrace about the practice of "eye phone" photography is working with limitations.      
Tyler was just telling me about a dog he met named Boris.  I think the name has stuck for this fellow.  
May you find beauty and laughter today.  If you cannot, remember to trust your tomorrows. Please believe that easier days are ahead.    

Thursday, August 11, 2016


A book that I am grateful that I have held on to is Always We Begin Again, The Benedictine Way of Living, by John McQuiston II. McQuiston had been inspired by Esther de Waal's book, Living with Contradiction: Reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict.  During the weekend of his father's funeral, McQuiston had confided to an Episcopalian priest that "going to church" was proving to be less and less meaningful for him. The priest suggested that he read de Waal's book. As her writing "sank into his bones" he began to write his own rule.  
Over the past few weeks, I have been pondering my own rule, and even have outlined a general one.  I think I have come to this because of the realization that my willy-nilly style  of living needs some shoring up in the third part of my life. As I continue to serve those in long-term care communities, particularly those who are close to my age, I know I am not alone in this. I find it interesting that last night I dreamed that I was going to prison, but when I did not know.  I was, of course, concerned about this sentence.  Yet, after a couple of conversations and even dashing up and down a poorly lit street, I had a thought: that no matter where I went, I would go as a chaplain. "Well, if I must go, I will go as their chaplain." In the dream and in this moment, I find comfort in that idea.  It is akin to, "No matter where you go, there you are."  What is added is the belief that  I still have a role to fulfill. Whatever we must face in life, our choice is, do we  turn it into a prison or a monastery?    
I will be exploring McQuiston's rule and my own over the next few weeks.  For those of you who receive my reflections via email, do remember that they are posted on Facebook and my blog. If you prefer to not receive so many emails, just let me know, and I will delete your address.  Some of my rule may seem silly. While it probably is, issues of balance and flexibility are anything but silly.  As I outlined these steps, I realized I am, at heart, a simple person, and it is a waste of time to be anyone other than that.     
My Daily Rule   
Express gratitude
Stand on tip-toe 
Balance on one leg, then the other
Get down on the floor, and get back up
Pray and/or meditate 
Read a devotional
Gaze upon or listen to something beautiful 
Eat, and take delight in something fresh 
Share a meal with someone if possible
Make the bed
Take note of dreams
Honor responsibilities 
See God in all
Tend to another living creature
Forgive others and myself
Get fresh air 
Tidy something up 
Give away, recycle, or re-purpose an item no longer in use
Let someone know I am thinking about them  
Do something just for fun
Trust in tomorrow
Bow and give thanks     
Blessings to each of you as you make your way through this world. You have been given unique gifts. Please share them.  I pray your compass will always bring you back to the Divine Presence that resides within. Know that you are loved and you do not travel alone; look for your fellow travelers and cherish them. Know what you value. Hold lightly, but do hold on.      

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


As I left the skilled nursing community, I noticed three women carrying identical portable  stools.  I saw no instruments but I thought they must surely be musicians. We greeted one another and they confirmed they were singers.  At that moment I realized they were probably with the Threshold Choir, those generous souls who sing at the bedside of those whose physical lives are coming to an end. They confirmed that was their quest today.  We blessed and thanked one another. One of them then said, "We heard you singing."  I laughed and said, "Yes, the pianist who usually joins us is with family today. We keep going, though."  I hold on to a couple of sets of simpler song sheets just for occasions such as these.   

As I walked away, I thought that if I were at the end of my life, I would appreciate someone whispering in my ear, "We heard you singing. We heard your song." I honestly believe that would be enough. Carol, who now sits in the corner attached to  oxygen sang today. The energetic  activity assistant who at the moment was dressed in a grass skirt (getting ready for a luau party the next day) played tambourine and sang today.  Bob and Mary, both quiet, but who always seem to intently read the song sheets just might be singing in their hearts.  Doris, who is often very anxious and fidgety, did not sing, but her body grew still.  I heard them all singing, and every once in awhile, I thought I might have even heard their songs.     
Praise God with trumpet sound; 
praise her with lute and harp. 
Praise her with tambourine and dance...
Let everything that breathes 
praise God.

Psalm 150:3-4,6

A note on the the attached photograph: I took this picture while in a consignment shop in Mountain View.  The figure is painted on supple sheepskin.  I did not buy it because I could not imagine a piece of sheepskin hanging in our house.  Yet, her liveliness makes me smile and I am grateful for her praise.