Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Yesterday, I saw John and Sara. I am delighted to see John's happiness continuing  to grow. Sara, his wife, is shy, but I think she, too, is settling in. I still wonder if they belong in a home dedicated to dementia, but they seem to be the sort of couple who, even if they had to live on a rock, they would be content as long as they had one another.    
Lynn joined us in her usual flurry. She needs no wheelchair. She is exuberant and loving, and always greets us with a hug and a smile. Her words are quite garbled, but that does not deter her zeal. I can usually pick out a word or two and use them to enter the conversation. However, yesterday as she enthusiastically greeted me, I could not decipher a single word. Fortunately, her hair caught my attention. It is a thick and striking mixture of black, grey, and white. It is somewhat tamed by a poor haircut, but in keeping with her personality, her hair does not simply grow, it springs from her head. I told her her hair was beautiful. Her response was a large smile and a clearly spoken thank you. She then sat down to listen.   
As I was beginning to say my good-byes, John told me that he and Sara pray every day for the caregivers, their families, and the residents. I sense their quiet devotion is an oasis for many, even if they are not completely aware of it, and I thanked them and said I would add my prayers to theirs. Lynn held out both hands, and I placed mine in hers. In the tumbling words that followed what I heard was, "It is good that we are here." I responded that yes, it was very good indeed. In that whirlwind, I sensed God's calm reassurance that at all is in good order.    
Today is the last day of February and tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. As we prepare to begin our Lenten journey, this year it seems important to remember that an aspect of this journey is alms giving - as we simplify our lives, we hopefully can share more with others.  Unfortunately, when there is a decree from the top that there must be "belt tightening," it seldom bodes well for those whose belts are already on the last notch and wearing thin. Yet, this morning I again hear the reminder that being with one another is good, and I am encouraged.  I leave you with a blessing from Blessings of the Daily   
May love be the gardener of your years bringing forth from you your grounding in God, a harvest of wholeness and peace, a bounty of courage and compassion. May your soul tower with the strength of the cedars, your heart pound with the power of the sea. May joy rise in you like the mountains and may it be the blessing you share with all those you love who this day make merry that in you the great love of God has found a home on earth. Amen.   

Monday, February 27, 2017


This morning on Facebook I spotted a photograph one woman took on what seems to be a beautiful vacation. She wrote that her life was blessed. Moments later, I read of another holiday that a couple are taking. He has been diagnosed with a serious disease that is progressive.  The struggles they will face after this trip will be substantial, and they know it. 
We must be wary of calling ourselves blessed just because our lives seem to be going well. It is not that I am such a curmudgeon that I do not want others to be happy.  That is certainly not the case, but as I move among the frail and the ill, I am constantly reminded that God's blessings show up in surprising ways and circumstances. That is true even even when this lingering cold left me surprisingly tired Sunday afternoon. Tyler and I were able to spend some pleasant time together simply watching tv and talking. I was reminded of the words carved on the pulpit in the chapel of a county run hospital:  "There is always, always a blessing." To sit there among the gurneys and the wheelchairs, singing with those so impacted by poverty and serious health issues, I found could only respond, "Yes." I felt that to do otherwise would be an affront to them and to God.    

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.
1 John 3:18
​ The Message​    
This photograph is from spring of last year.  ​  

Saturday, February 25, 2017


Pauline, who lives in a community dedicated to those with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, reminded me that she is Jewish. I was grateful that she did because I had indeed forgotten. She then asked if Jesus was Jewish, and over the next half hour, she repeated the question four or five times. Last month she asked that question only once, so it does appear that her short-term memory is beginning to fail. Regardless, she does find comfort in knowing that she and Jesus come from the same tradition. "After all," she often asks, "who doesn't like Jesus?" I enjoy our conversations very much. This week, she added something very wise: "Maybe it is not our particular faith that matters, but rather how we practice it." 

I think Jesus would agree. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Threesome of Today

Thanks to Brother Victor (Blessings of the Daily), I have learned a Latin word, "hodie" which means today. I am grateful that I live in a time when I can go online and learn the meaning of Latin words, and even how to pronounce them.  Hodie is pronounced in three syllables, and is very satisfying to say out loud.  Brother Victor writes, "I only know today, the present. Of course, I am aware of yesterday and mindful of tomorrow. I know of its coming: in a strange way, it is already in the making..it is important to act in the present, to dwell in the 'hodie,' the today of God." 
We are part past, part present, and part future.  The challenge is to find the balance in this three part harmony. If we honor each voice, and not let one overshadow the other, we will not lose the wonder of today.    

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Given my deep concern  that our nation is currently in the grasp of a hungry ego that can never be satiated, I have decided to commit some of my energy to actually reading, from cover to cover, Gerald May’s book, Will and Spirit, a Contemplative Psychology. I have had this book for over ten years, and while I do periodically peruse it, I think it is time for a more concentrated study of May’s exploration of the difference between willfulness and willingness.   

May stresses that willingness and willfulness do not apply to specific situations, but rather reflect the “underlying attitude one has toward the wonder of life itself. Willingness notices this wonder and bows in some kind of reverence to it. Willfulness forgets it, ignores it, or at worst, actively tries to destroy it.”   Yes, I do believe we are in perilous times.  However, this is not the first time, and probably will not be the last. Therefore, we call to one another to stay alert and remember that there are those in power whose intentions are not benign. Fortunately, together, we can find a balance between attempting to see as clearly as possible, but not succumbing to fear, ambivalence, or despair.  We turn to those artists, visionaries, and spokespeople for freedom who have come before us:  Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, St. Benedict, Dr. Martin Luther King, Gerald May (May died in 2005),  and whomever else who may have left us with the message that holding on to courage, keeping faith, and continuing to love are worthwhile endeavors.

May concludes his book with a chapter entitled “On Being a Pilgrim and a Helper,” and his conclusion has left me pondering for years now the possibility that if indeed God is eternal and unchanging, then perhaps Jesus and I both walk and sit in the same silence.  Such an idea does indeed give me strength for the journey, so I share this rich paragraph with you.   
My firm belief is that we are all together in this. Though political and economic conflicts may separate us and even make us adversaries; though we may not appreciate or understand each other; though our individual and societal attachments may cause us to harm and even kill one another, still we are irrevocably, irreversibly, together. This universal connectedness goes far deeper than idea. It transcends even the concept that we are all children of God. For in the realm of contemplative quiet, beyond all ideas, beyond our rainbowed images of God and self, beyond belief, we share the same silence. We are rooted all together in the ground of consciousness that is God’s gift to us all. We are all brought to life through that One Spirit that is unfathomable loving energy.  In this field-beyond-image, our joining is absolute. There is nothing we can do to change it. When the Islamic mullah prays with true and quiet heart, I believe the souls of the Iowa farmer and the Welsh miner are touched. When the gong sounds in the Japanese monastery and the monks enter the timeless silence of Zazen, their quiet nourishes the hearts of the Brazilian Indian and the Manhattan executive.  When Jews and Christians pray with true willingness, the Hindu scientist and the Russian policeman are enriched. Thus when you struggle with your own mind, seeking that quiet, open beyond-ness that may or may not be given, you do this as much for others as for yourself, and you are helped by the struggles of others in ways beyond all understanding. Even in the activities of daily life, any act of compassion, however small, somehow touches everyone if it is done with true spirit of willingness. Every particle of love, every fleeting moment of willingness, is like another drop of rain on a dry earth. It is well, I think, to keep this in mind.
Will and Spirit, A Contemplative Psychology, Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1982, page 6 and pages 319-320

Monday, February 20, 2017


I always appreciate the timing of Lent.  Invariably there are struggles in January and February that I never seem to handle gracefully, and this year has proven to be no different. Lent gives me a chance to pause and regain my balance before continuing on.  
I seldom do a big fast during Lent, but I do try to simplify my life. This year, as I have for several years, I will reread The Way of the Pilgrim by Dennis J. Billy, the story of a pilgrim learning to pray. In addition, I will commit my energies to meditating regularly, but if God has something else in mind, I will do my best to be open to that as well.  I try to not begin too many new projects during Lent, but as often as I can, I will attempt to cultivate a sense of God's presence in what I am doing now.  That includes the work on my small rock garden; this meditation has been interrupted by our cold viruses and heavy rains.  

Typically, Lent begins with ashes (Ash Wednesday this year is March 1), and most of us in a Protestant church will hear some version of the words, "Remember you are from dust, and to dust you will return."   However, Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette in the Blessing of the Daily reminds me that others will hear the beautiful encouragement, "Repent and believe in the Gospel," a reminder that Lent is a journey and that the Gospel is not for just a one time reading. It is something we can dedicate and re-dedicate ourselves to learning and living. Lent gives us a chance to drop off some baggage before going further in this journey.   
Repentance is a word I do not often hear.  In a competitive society, there is little room for repentance.   For some, the word might bring to mind the image of a caricature of a solitary man standing on a street corner with a sign that reads, "Repent for the end is near!"  We think of ourselves as far too sophisticated to heed that instruction, although by now most of us have experienced at least one great loss in our lives. Despite our efforts, endings and beginnings are ongoing, and bewilder us more often that we care to admit.   
Yet, it is the rare life that would not be enhanced with repentance: the coming to God and/or a fellow human being, and saying, "I must ask your forgiveness. I have made a mistake." Truthfully, I know of no other way of finding our common ground, and until we commit ourselves to that exploration, I do not see how our world can ever be at peace. We are not a lone voice on a street corner. Repentance is about reclaiming our belonging to one another. Otherwise, we simply continue to collect and hoard and build barriers, while others languish in need.  Lent gives us a chance to ask, "May I give you this? I think it belongs to you."        
I know I am a bit early, but blessings on your Lenten journey. May God surprise you as you travel with the radical notions of giving up, and giving away. Yes, just like Jesus.  
The Lenten pilgrimage is all about time, a time to renew our relationship with God...This effort may entail reprioritizing of our values and readjusting our schedules to make room for those practices which nurture the life of the spirit - practices such as prayer, holy reading (as Saint Benedict calls it), and performance of corporal works of mercy...Lent is one season which allows no room for the wasting of time.  
Brother Victor     

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Thank you, Love

My voice gave out today.  I am always tempted to think that I can force it, trick it, or work around it, but of course, I cannot.  So, with a croak, I asked the eclectic group that had been gathered, "Please tell me about Jesus." Johnnie, who continues to struggle with what she calls "the darkness", spoke first:  "The warm feeling that comes over me."  Pamela added, "He is with me when I am feeling good; he is there when I am in the valley. He tells me to rest."  Alex, whose body is never still, said, "The voice that got me off the street and helps me get through my alcoholism."  A few answers I could not decipher, but regardless I thanked everyone for their answers. I know they have not had easy lives. Poverty, addiction, mental illness, and homelessness have laid rocky paths, and I could not tell you how old, or how young these residents are. I do not think I have ever heard any of them actually say the word love. However, I can tell you we are always greeted with exuberance when we arrive.

After the service, the three of us waited in the hall for the door to the reception area to be unlocked.  One of the volunteers said, "It seems a shame to lock all this love away."  I agree. So, I share with you their love.  The love they call Jesus.     

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sprit of Place, Continued

Our household is at a curious crossroads. My husband's cold grows worse; mine, I believe, has turned the corner and is headed in the other direction. The place is a bit messy, and certainly a little noisy. Colds come with a cacophony of sounds, and most of them render us unfit to be among the rest of society.    
Today, I was able to read a bit from Kathleen Norris' book, Dakota, and I was also was also able to take a short walk in the warm mid-day sun.  I leave you with glad tidings from both.  The Dakota reading reminds me of the ranching families I grew up with. I take comfort in the memory as the sunlight and my energy begin to wane once more.    
[One former minister who had come from the urban East] also told me that she couldn't imagine what was happening at the first funeral service she conducted for a member of Hope Church when, as people gathered for the graveside service, the men, some kneeling, began studying the open grave. It was early November, and someone explained that they were checking the frost and moisture levels in the ground. They were farmers and ranchers worried about a drought. There were mourners giving a good friend back to the earth. They were people of earth, looking for a sign of hope.   
I am reminded of one of my seminary preaching professors who told the story of her internship in a rural community. As she listened to a young boy ask for prayers for the health of pig, she wondered why they were being called to pray for a pig.  It took her awhile to realize that prayer was for the whole family.   
I have no doubt that my father called God, "Moisture." 

Friday, February 10, 2017


"The beauty of it is that since every human soul is unique the light that it does see and the light that it shines have never been seen or shone before."  
Philip Toynbee, quoted in Lost in Wonder, 
Esther de Waal  


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Redemption in the Spirit of Place

Yesterday, as I was driving down a rainy street on my way to the San Mateo Bridge, I became engrossed in Donald Byrd's rendition of "Cristo Redentor." The sky was covered by clouds of several shades of grey. The rain had stopped, but people were still walking hunched over, appearing to be determined to get to their destination as quickly as possible while not getting splashed by the stream of cars driving through standing water. No work was being done at the large construction sites by the bridge, so the projects looked like remnants from a civilization that simply ran out of interest, time, or both. As I listened to the music, I thought of the statue of Christ the Redeemer that stands over Rio, a city of perhaps even starker contrasts. I also thought of Christ among us: the Christ who holds us together even when it seems we are totally adrift and can take no more drenching. I believe in those outstretched arms.  
 I also thought of the beautiful and tall eucalyptus trees that I see every month. Unfortunately, one of these venerable ones did fall in the last storm. The city was busy removing not only it, but some of the others as well. My heart was saddened. Such precautions are probably necessary, but I love those stately trees and I always look forward to standing in their presence.  However, because of the work being done, I needed to park a little further away from the community I was scheduled to visit, and on my walk, I noticed an interesting succulent garden at the end of an apartment house driveway. On my way back to my car, I took a moment to walk down the driveway and get a closer look. There I met a man moving some pots of cacti under an awning. He told me they also had experienced quite enough rain. I told him of the small rock garden I was creating in my backyard, and that I was thinking of planting some succulents there. He wanted to make sure that some shade would be available for them. I assured him there was. It seems succulents do appreciate some shade. "They are like people. Too much sun and we tend to shrink. A little shade helps us all open and relax." He tenderly cupped his hands together and said some of his plants had come to him, small and "half-dead."  Cristo Redentor.   
I attach a picture taken a year or so ago of one of the eucalyptus trees and also of a tree I call "The Grotto." That tree grows along the creek that runs behind the Little Brown Church in Sunol. For me, it contributes to the "spirit of place," much like an apricot orchard in Sunnyvale (now declared a Heritage Park), a row of eucalyptus trees on the peninsula, and the new addition of  a succulent garden growing in a parking lot. I am grateful for these places to rest and pray as I make my monthly rounds.     
Both the drought and the recent storms have taken a toll on trees and people. Yet, hope surfaces. Saturday, February 11 is Tu B'Shavat, a Jewish holiday that is often celebrated by the planting of trees (It is even called a New Year for trees.)  Also, February 11 marks the day that Bernadette first experienced her vision of the Holy Mother in 1858 at Lourdes. I do not think I will plant a tree, but I think I will plant a succulent, ponder how to create a garden grotto, and give thanks for all these intersections where we are reminded that we are held.       

Sunday, February 5, 2017

It Is In Our Bones

In a recent worship service in a memory care home, the pianist continued to play after communion was served. I am grateful for those moments because they allow me some time to simply pause.  As I looked around the room, I realized that some of the people I have known for awhile were growing frail and distant.  Some are still able to surface, but not all, and I was already missing them. Yet, there are still the surprising moments, such as when we began to sing our alleluias, a resident who has never responded to the worship or to my greetings, began to sing that one word softly. Her face had the look of one who was seeing someone or something she loved. I longed to know but knew I would not. That moment was hers; I could only watch from the sidelines. 
I continued to look around and I observed the staff, who come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, tend to the needs of those they serve. Their work is not easy, and can become isolating. That is a large part of why we in SpiritCare continue to show up. Just to let both staff and residents know that we see, and God sees some of their sacrifices and their care. We celebrate the Love that gathers us in.   
It was then that I had the idea to ask those gathered to pray for our nation by singing "America the Beautiful." I was given then the gift of many smiles, and we began to sing. At that moment, America did look beautiful to me because what I was seeing was resilience. As we lifted our imperfect voices and crumpled words, or simply nodded our heads, or even just barely managed a smile, I wanted the world to witness that moment. To live out our frailties, our illnesses, our vulnerabilities in community is humbling. It is seldom easy. Yet, we are not on this planet to pursue slogans that tantalize us with the notion that we can live unfettered by weakness and dependence. Such pursuits can only result in fear, hoarding, and destruction. Christians, that is not our call. Christ is found when we heal together, both the weak and the strong. 
I want to share this longish passage from the introduction to the book, Called to Community, The Life Jesus Wants for His People,edited by Charles E. Moore. Moore writes: 

Dr. Paul Brand, who devoted himself to eliminating leprosy, was once analyzing some five-hundred-year-old skeletons of leprosy victims that had been dug from a monastery. He remembered a lecture he heard given by anthropologist Margaret Mead, who spent much of her life researching prehistoric peoples. She asked her audience, "What is the earliest sign of civilization? A clay pot? Iron? Tools? Agriculture?" No, she claimed, it was a healed leg bone." Brand recalls: 

She explained that such healings were never found in the remains of competitive, savage societies. There, clues of violence abounded: temples pierced by arrows, skulls crushed by clubs. But the healed femur showed that someone must have cared for the injured person - hunted on his behalf, brought him food, and served him at personal sacrifice. Savage societies could not afford such pity. I found similar evidence of healing in the bones from the churchyard. I later learned that an order of monks had worked among the victims: their concern came to light five hundred years later in the thin lines of healing where infected bone had cracked apart or eroded and then grown back together.   
Let us tend to one another.  Surely such care is in our bones.   


Called to Community, The Life Jesus Wants for His People, edited by Charles H. Moore, Plough Publishing House, 2016, page xx, xxi.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Meditations, Dorothy Day

I cannot tell you how much I love this.  Let us remember that those who have come before us have also dealt with much.  Keep singing. 
Last night the Liturgical group of Companions sang Vespers and Compline. They sang and sang and could not stop. The truckmen in the garage at the back of the house, the police in the station house across the street, were overwhelmed with plain chant.  
Tina, our Trotskyite friend, came in to say that 'yodeling is an indispensable part of every movement.'  

Thursday, February 2, 2017


When I feel my world getting too saturated with troubling news, I return to the gentle book, Blessings of the Daily, A Monastic Book of Days written by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette.  I bought this book at the seminary bookstore when I was studying at San Francisco Theological Seminary. When weary, I would often retreat to that sanctuary where I could rest among poetry, icons, and books of inspiration that reminded me that there was more to the journey than papers and textbooks.     

Brother Victor is a monk who writes books, cooks for his monastery, and tends to the sheep and gardens.  His entry for February 2 explains Candlemas, the feast that celebrates Jesus being presented to the temple forty days after his birth. There waiting, as always, were the elders Simeon and Anna. They immediately see Jesus' light, and they break out in praise at the sight.  That is the gift of learning to wait. It can improve the inner vision if we wait with belief.  
Candlemas is also a time when faith communities (including, I understand, some Protestant ones) bless the candles that will be used throughout the year. I thought of Candlemas as I talked to Ruth yesterday. She is in her 80s, and she can neither walk nor stand. I do not know how long she has lived in skilled nursing, but I have been worshiping and visiting with her for almost ten years.  She is from the south and has deep Baptist roots. I admire her tenacity, but more than that. I simply like her very much.   
Every once in awhile she despairs at the the lack of faith around her, and yesterday was one of those days. As we talked, I reminded her that regardless, Jesus said we must keep our lamps lit.  This morning, as I light my candles,  I think of her and all of those who need ongoing medical care, but who yearn to be a part of a faith-filled community. True healing runs deeper that just a physical act. It is a spiritual undertaking, regardless of our beliefs. Imagine if skilled nursing communities were really recognized as the sanctuaries they are. What if communal prayer and daily devotions were a part of the daily routine and if medicines were given as a sacrament, not just a pill to be administered once a day? Surely the life of many of the residents would burn brighter.   
I appreciate Brother Victor's reflection on candles so I will close with that on this day of Candlemas. As you go into your world today, remember that your light is very much needed. Know that you will be blessed, and you will bless. May you be recognized as one bearing love.     
Candles are very expressive of the devotional life of monasteries: there are the four candles of the Advent wreath, the Christmas candle lit on Christmas day, and the Easter candle lit during the whole of Paschaltime. Then there are the everyday candles used during the celebration of the Eucharist and the monastic offices, the candle that accompanies the Eucharist taken to a sick monk in his cell, and the candles and oil lamps lit in front of our ikons. The dancing yet steady flames of the candles in our chapel speak to me of the those intangible realities the monk seeks during long hours of prayer. The comforting, ethereal aura springing from their light affirms the reality of a mysterious presence that can be sensed only with the eyes of faith. Candles are, in a way, messengers of him who is both mystery and the Invisible One.    

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

St. Brigid's Day

I think St. Brigid would appreciate and bless the small skilled nursing community that I am scheduled to visit today. I ask that her spirit of generosity, courage, and faith travel with me and help me to see with renewed love and compassion.  I plan on giving the patients who gather with me the following blessing. May you and wherever you find yourself today be blessed with the Spirit of Love. 
May God be the guardian of this place 
and bring peace, 
that fear may find no entry here. 
May Christ be a chosen companion and friend.
May loneliness be banished. 
May the Spirit bring lightness and laughter,
and the be the comforter of tears. 
Courage be at each going out; 
rest be present at each return; 
each day, each night, 
each going out and each returning.  
(adapted from a house blessing found in Celtic Daily Prayer)