Saturday, October 29, 2016

Crowded Places

During worship this week, a beautiful young woman and her two young children came to visit her grandfather.  The room in the skilled nursing community was crowded as always, but the family proved to be remarkably fluid and they settled in.  She helped her grandfather with our song sheet and provided the children with some pages to color.  I wish I would have asked where her grandfather was from, but I guess he was from Central or South America.  His fingers were square as was his body. There was something both earthy and noble about both him and his granddaughter.   
I told those who gathered with me if they were having trouble understanding communion, they should simply envision a mother tending to her family.  I know I risk sounding like a heretic, but I sometimes think that at the communion table, we should offer communion to one another by saying, "This is my body given to you. This is the cup that overflows with my love for you."  Surely both community and communion (the root words are identical) should inspire us to such generosity.     

That day, just as I was about to pray over the communion elements, the mother gave her children some apple slices. The sweet scent of apple seemed to fill the room and suddenly I found myself yearning to be fed at a loving mother's makeshift table in a crowded room.  I know Jesus talked a lot about the one he called Abba, but he also knew this hunger, and this Martha knew. May we remember.          
Holy One, you who are both father and mother, sister and brother, forgive us when we overlook and underfeed. Thank you for sending us messengers who remind us that your eternal love is always on the move but that it will settle in surprising places.  Help us to stay vigilant.  We do not want to miss taking part in your great love.      

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sitting and Standing

A friend recently recommended a very fine book to me: God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet, a physician at Laguna Honda Hospital.   Dr. Sweet's reflections on medicine, the love of a hospital that serves the very poor, the ironies of 
dealing with ​
government bureaucracy, and 
much ​
more make for compelling reading.  Anyone who has come within two feet of me has received a verbal recommendation for this book
 and now I am resorting to writing.  I am grateful that I was already ordained when I read this book.  This is the sort of book that could make one dedicate one's life to becoming either a doctor or a minister. Fortunately, that ground work has already been laid for me; I will leave the pursuit of a medical degree to those who have gifts in that area.  However, I gratefully accept the encouragement to continue to try
​ ​
to serve those living in long-term care communities
​ while keeping in mind that one day I,too, may be living in one​
​  ​
I often think that how we wait reflects more about our faith than many of our so-called good deeds, and I appreciate Dr. Sweet's ability to diagnose by utilizing not only her training, but also her gifts of patient observation that matured over time.  She writes that she learned to "just sit"  with a patient.  If the patient wanted to talk, she would talk.  If not, she would take a few minutes and simply sit with her patient.  She describes it:  
Just sitting was not the same thing as sitting, however.  It's a little hard to explain. It was sitting, but not sitting and doing something... it was most like waiting for a train in Switzerland. I remembered that well. Sitting on a bench, with ticket purchased and in your pocket, knowing that the train will arrive on time; there is nothing to worry about and nothing more to do. The activity of the train station flows around you, and you observe, but not intently; you are aware, but not focused. People come and go; there is a hustle and bustle; but it is not your hustle and bustle (327).   
In those sitting moments, Dr. Sweet often experienced a deepening connection and understanding of a patient and his or her condition. It is a beautiful image - this simply being with another person.  The aged, ill,  and frail often end up in communities that are full of activity and noise.  The focus, either spoken or unspoken is, "Do this (or take this); it is good for you."  Yes, sometimes medication is needed.  Sometimes an activity can be quite enjoyable.  Yet, we also need to let people simply have the time to be who they are.  Otherwise, we risk giving them the sense that somehow, in all this hustle and bustle, they must have missed the train.    
I believe I entered seminary with only one question: "What does it mean it to be an elder in this society?" In my last semester, I took the one aging and spirituality class that was offered. In that class, I was introduced to Laguna Honda.  In that morning field trip, something stirred, and I think what stirred was God's encouragement to seek not just an answer to my question, but rather to experience that question in community. Many elders end up living in community, and few of us are prepared for that move. We spend much of our lives living under the illusion that individual strength and gusto will get us to where we need to be, and will keep us there indefinitely. Alas, that model works only for so long.  The truth is, we need one another.  In another interesting book, The Art of Aging, Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland, who died at the age of 83,  wrote that aging can actually be a process of "attuning," of finding "new receptiveness to the possibilities conveyed in wavelengths perceptible only to those no longer young (8)"  Our goal, despite what cosmetic companies would like us to believe, is not to stay forever young, but rather to use all our years to grow into our lives. This is what I call growing into God. I cannot help but think of trees. Research is showing that trees growing in forests actually communicate (i.e. attune) with one another, and some of this function is to help protect one another in times of stress and danger.  Let us garner this wisdom and tend to one another. This surely is the ticket in our pocket. I am confident we are right on time.  
They are like trees 
planted by streams of water, 
which yield their fruit in season, 
and their leaves do not wither 
in all that they do, they prosper. 
Psalm 1: 3​

Sunday, October 16, 2016


The opposite of sin can only be faith, and never virtue.
Anglican theologian, H.A. Williams as quoted in Walking on Water, Madeleine L'Engle 


Friday, October 14, 2016


The love of a friend always comes with a lantern in hand.  
Joan Chittister 
October 15 marks my ninth year in the ministry.  I think because of this milestone, I have been thinking of Mitra, one of the first people I met in this journey. In response to my invitation to come join us for worship, she told me that she had absolutely no trust in anyone who has anything to do with church, and pretty much dismissed us all as liars. While I have some sympathy with that thinking, I could not let that be the last word.  I replied that while I could not promise her that everything that came out of my mouth would be correct, I could promise her that she would not hear me say anything that I did not believe.  For whatever reason, that promise was enough for her, and for the next couple of years, she would often join me, and eventually began taking communion. When she could not face getting out of bed, I would visit her in her room. Her mental illness was profound, but so were her moments of clarity.  Her challenge for honesty is something I will always be grateful for. 
March 8, 2008
Cross Roads  

A couple of weeks ago, Mitra surprised me by not only staying in worship, but taking communion as well.   Afterwards, I went up to her to say hello.  She said, “Jesus still hangs on the cross and I am still insane.”  I know she is Catholic, so no doubt she has seen many crucifixes in her life.  She has also mentioned before that she struggles with mental illness, so the combination made me unsure how to respond.  I opted for silence, and then she spoke again.  “I am at the end of my life.”  I asked her to tell me about her life.  She looked away and replied, “I think it has been an unmitigated tragedy.  I had a complete breakdown at the age of 15, and since then, I have never known a day without fear.”  I replied, “Then you are probably one of the bravest people in the world.”  She looked at me in the wide – blue eyed way that only Mitra can, paused a few moments, and then said, “Well, then, perhaps you would not mind getting me a drink of water.”   

I had the good fortune to spend a couple of days this week at the San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville.  While I was there, I found myself meditating on the cross of San Damiano.  This is the cross that so influenced St. Francis, and I can see why.  It is very beautiful and very unusual.  Yes, there is Christ on the cross, but in the background there are other beings there as well:  angels and saints, a centurion, Mary and John, about 33 in all.  The figure of Christ is alive, and simply seems to be waiting in the foreground.  As I pondered this cross, I thought of Mitra.  She may be right.  It probably is easier to tuck Christ away some where, rather than to lift Christ from the cross and into our hearts.    

Mitra, and a host of others who have been tucked away, wait, sometimes fearfully, sometimes patiently, but with more courage than perhaps we realize.   Let us at least to try to wait with them, bringing a drink of water when we can.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Set the clock of your heart for dawn's arrival. 
Taste the joy of being awake.  
Macrina Wiederkehr


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Not One, Not Two, but Peace

Some mornings, our dog likes to play a game.  After eating his breakfast on the back porch, and then spending a few more minutes in the backyard, either Tyler or I will go to the door, open it, and call his name.  Often, he comes bounding up the stairs and saunters in.  Sometimes he is already quietly sitting by the door, waiting for us to open it. Sometimes, however, he bounds up the stairs, spins around, and bounds back down.  While dogs do not actually laugh, he does seem to find the game hysterically funny.  He played the game this morning, but is now curled up beside me on the couch and is drifting off to sleep. I sense he is at peace.   
I have been sitting in group meditation for about a month.  I go at different times of the week, so I do not always meditate with the same group of people.  Yesterday, the woman sitting next to me was at the end of a cold.  Her breathing was slightly labored.  Another woman's phone quietly vibrated. Both sounds, of course, sent my mind back up the stairs.  Yet, I know that what really sent my mind bounding was simply my own mind. Fortunately, the meditation simply continued. My mind settled, and the distinctions of "me" and even "us" began to blur once more. When that happens, I begin to cross into "not one, not two," (see post dated October 6, 2016). There I begin to understand that in Christ there is no separation.  Any message that tells us otherwise will never usher us into that state that is described in Philippians 4:7, "the peace that surpasses all understanding." Without such peace, we can never know love.       
Abide in me as I abide in you.  
John 15:4  

Saturday, October 8, 2016


"Each small task of everyday is part of the total harmony of the universe."
St. Therese of Lisieux     
Yesterday, I talked with a Jewish woman whose companion is pretty much blind and silent.  The last two times I have seen them he has never awakened.  "To me," she said as she put her hand gently on his knee, "he is a mensch."  I asked her what that word meant to her.
  She replied, "He is a full human. At one time we thought we would marry, but that is not to be. Yet, I can still be of help to him now."     
This morning, I realize I have witnessed love, the Christ among us; the Christ that simply knows us as we are.  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Not One, Not Two

I arrived for meditation a little early yesterday, partly because I did not stop at home on my way home from the peninsula.  I was tired, and I thought if I stopped at home I might not get back in the car to drive to Oakland.  I decided to take a walk through the Whole Foods that is across the street from where we meet.  The store was full of all sorts of food and products, and the people who were buying.  In the midst of all that movement, abundance, and no doubt some hunger, I found myself pondering God,orchids, and more.    

"How does a person seek union with God?" the seeker asked. 
"The harder you seek," the teacher said, "the more distance you create between God and you." 
"So what does one do about the distance?"
"Understand that it isn't there," the teacher said. 
"Does that mean that God and I are one?" the seeker said. 
"Not one. Not two." 
"How is that possible?" the seeker asked. 
"The sun and its light, the ocean and the wave, the singer and the song. Not one. Not two." 
The Rule of Benedict  by Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B. (64) 

Attachments area

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


In her book, The Way of Simplicity, The Cistercian Tradition, Esther 
de Waal  attributes the following quote to Thomas Merton (73).  However, she wrote that she could not remember the exact source.  I smile.   
There is in all things 
an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, 
a silence that is a fount of action and joy. 
It rises up in wordless gentleness 
and flows out to me 
from the unseen roots of created being,
welcoming me tenderly, 
saluting me with indescribable humility. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Psalm 95 and The Mission

Given what is happening with Dakota Access Pipeline, I decided to repost this today (original date was October 5, 2015).  May we hear the voices.

Psalms for Praying
Nan C. Merrill  
O that today we would harken 
to the Beloved's voice!
Harden not your hearts, 
as in days of old,
that you would not be separated from Love.
Be not like those who hear the Word
and heed it not,
thinking to be above the Most High.
For life is but a breath in the
Eternal Dance,
a gift to be reverenced with trust,
an opportunity to grow
in spirit and truth,
That in passing into new Life,
you enter into the Heavenly City. 

It was close to 100 degrees when we pulled up to Mission San Miguel last week.  We were driving south on 101 on our way to Pismo Beach when I saw the sign for the mission. The California missions had once again surfaced in my consciousness so I decided to stop.  For several days I had been mulling over a statement made by one of the protesters speaking out against the canonization of Father Serra. She said she had to protest because she and all Indians carried the voices of their ancestors within them, and for them they must speak. I knew enough of the impact of the missions on the life and culture of the Indians that I had no doubt that she was speaking a deep truth.   
Although Mission San Miguel is very close to the highway, the area's remoteness also speaks.  The cactus and the heat speak.  The quiet speaks.   As I looked at the adobe and stone work and even the lovely stenciling on the sanctuary walls, I began to get a sense of just how arduous the work of building these missions must have been. I also thought how even more difficult it would have been had you not been particularly willing to take part in the building up of something that was tearing down the lives and culture of those around you.  Mission San Miguel is hardscrabble enough to let these voices be known, and I dedicate this morning's psalm to them.     
May the world know peace.  


Morning's Praise

This is one of the mornings when I woke quickly with no sense of weariness or reluctance.  I came downstairs to make some tea and discovered that it was not yet 4:00 a.m.  Surprised but undaunted, I continued. The tea is delicious, and in the quiet of the morning, I hear the train, a sound I love. One needs silence to hear it, so it is a gift of rising early.   
If you like Facebook, I suggest going to Parker Palmer's page with some regularity.  There you find wisdom and much good poetry.  This morning he shared a poem of a Quaker poet, Jeanne Lohmann.  I was not familiar with her work.  He also mentioned she has just passed at the age of 93. I am grateful to learn of her.  
This morning I ponder beautiful works, passing trains, one sleeping dog, and another cup of tea.  Life is rich.

Praise What Comes

Surprising as unplanned kisses, all you haven't deserved

of days and solitude, your body's immoderate good health
that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise
talk with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books
that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks
before sleep. Praising these for practice, perhaps
you will come at last to praise grief and the wrongs
you never intended. At the end there may be no answers
and only a few very simple questions: did I love,
finish my task in the world? Learn at least one
of the many names of God? At the intersections,
the boundaries where one life began and another
ended, the jumping-off places between fear and
possibility, at the ragged edges of pain,
did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy?