Wednesday, May 31, 2017

One More Mary Oliver Poem

The flowers in the picture are not roses of which Mary Oliver sings, but the blossoms of what I call my "Pentecost cactus." Three or four years ago, a week before Pentecost, I bought it from a sidewalk vendor in Oakland.  It was in full bloom, and I watched the vendor's father strategically place it in the sun in front of her cart. It shone like a beacon, and I crossed the street to buy it. It blooms every year around this time, and because the flowers last for a couple of weeks, it has always managed to be in bloom on or close to Pentecost Sunday. The rest of the year it looks kind of scraggly, and every year, I think it will bloom no more. I am sure it is root bound, and this year, after it finishes its blooming, I will re-pot it. We both have had enough of this living in doubt.
When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention  
"As long as we are able to 
be extravagant we will be 
hugely and damply 
extravagant. Then we will drop 
foil by foil to the ground. This 
is our unalterable task, and we do it
And they went on. "Listen, 
the heart-shackles are not, as you think, 
death, illness, pain,  
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but 
lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety, 
Their fragrance all the while rising 
from their blind bodies, making me 
spin with joy.     
Mary Oliver   

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Monday morning was overcast, so Tyler and I decided to go for a hike in Tilden Park on the Berkeley/Orinda border. Our hope was that because of the weather, fewer people might be on the trails, and we were right. Yet, we were surprised by the density of the fog. At times the trees dripped precipitation on the trail.  In those moments, we knew no season.   
Lord, I will learn also to kneel down 
into the world of the invisible, 
the inscrutable and the everlasting.
Then I will move no more than the leaves of a tree
on a day of no wind, 
bathed in light, 
like the wanderer who has come home at last
and kneels in peace, done with all unnecessary things; 
every motion, even words.  
Mary Oliver, from "Coming to God: First Days"   

Monday, May 29, 2017


My morning meditation is rooted in reading, sitting meditation, some writing, and often a walk. My afternoon meditation is working in my chaotic garden. I get a little exercise and sun; I tend to living things, and in the pruning, raking, and sweeping, I believe the same might be happening in my mind and spirit.  Making room for God and life. Earlier this week, I went to a nursery to talk about the possibility of growing a ceanothus in a container. The woman who was assisting me thought it could be done.  When I asked her how much water this CA native plant should receive, she responded, "Your plant will let you know."  A frustrating answer for this uncertain gardener, but probably true. Much about gardening is about learning to see, and taking what we see to heart.   
"Meditation is a discipline of simplicity. Our world needs to learn it urgently. It is a discipline whereby you direct all your powers of consciousness to God. Instead of being at the mercy of your mind with its myriad thoughts and imaginations you bring your mind, your consciousness, to silence. In that silence you quite naturally become open to God and God's power. It is an utterly benevolent power which we can only describe with the word love."  
John Main, Word Made Flesh   


During a break yesterday afternoon, I began reading the book, A Life Giving Way, a Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict by Ester de Waal.  Here she writes, "The Christ who has appeared in different roles in the prologue now asks of me that I too play differing roles: that I am pupil, discipulus, the one who learns, as well as son and daughter, soldier, member of the household, one who follows the way."   
Jesus, of course, spoke Aramaic, not Latin, but de Waal's parsing of the word disciple as "one who learns" surprised me. I always have thought of disciple as one who follows, and certainly following (obedience) is an important aspect of the call, and obedience is one of the vows of the Benedictine life.  However, to follow without learning can create imbalance.  Without balance, there can be no stability. Without stability (also one of the vows), learning becomes difficult and our lives, both individual and communal, become stifled. We do need to remain open, learning as we go. Learning implies not only study, but also incorporating what we are learning into our lives as we move forward (conversatio morum or ongoing conversation). 
Benedict's intention was to "create a school for the Lord's service (Prologue 45)." In order to follow Christ, one must learn Christ.  However, Christ is just not to be studied, but lived.    

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Inching Along

This came to me this morning via email so thought I would pass it on. There are days when the journey just seems too long, and some days the journey seems far too small.  Yet, it is in this life, just as it is,  where we meet God.  Our lives are our monasteries, our altars, and our movable feasts. 

A Spiritual Journey
And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, 
no matter how long, 
but only by a spiritual journey, 
a journey of one inch, 
very arduous and humbling and joyful, 
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, 
and learn to be at home.
~ Wendell Berry ~

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Movable Pilgrimage

"Until we are rooted in the moving pilgrimage, until we have fully stepped through the door which begins the spiritual journey, then the universe will always seem threatening. The particular will respond as if it is going to be swamped or overwhelmed. But once we have stepped across the threshold of the survival instinct - that is the work of faith expressed in commitment and daily perseverance to the spiritual path - then the universal and the particular are no longer felt to be a threat or tension, but are united in a relationship of love."   
The Selfless Self, Laurence Freeman OSB     
Yesterday, I sat in meditation with a resident who has Parkinson's. After our meditation time, she quietly said, "I feel we are sitting in friendship."  I agreed. The time is a gift to both of us and I am going to try to schedule some additional meditation time with her. She considers herself to be Buddhist. I consider myself to be Christian. Together, we experience only love.  Yesterday, in one of my worship services in a rehab hospital, a patient told me she was Muslim. I introduced myself and welcomed her. She seemed intrigued by the service, and afterwards thanked me, and I thanked her for being with us. I have a sense that God does not get wrapped up in what we call ourselves but rather simply asks that we love one another, and this world.   
The beautiful plant in the picture is a native plant, the California lilac, or Ceanothus. I have read that they can be grown in a container as long as they do get too root bound.  I am going to try, as I think the only spot that gets enough sun in our garden is by the driveway so it will need to be in a pot.  I am going to need some professional advice, as I know California natives do not like a lot of water.  However, I believe this endeavor is worth trying for the sake of both our honey bees and our California native bees. Indeed, I spotted a bumblebee visiting this plant, but (as usual) my photograph turned out very poor. They are wily creatures!  
Let us trust our journeys for they have been started in love. Particulars may not matter quite as much as we think. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Daily Tasks

"Wherever there is love, there is only prayer."    
David Steindl-Rast

A Vigil in Pink

In today's entry from Blessings of the Daily, Brother Victor writes of finding a yellow iris blooming in the corner of the garden.  "I am usually reluctant to remove such a beauty from the garden, but tomorrow is Ascension day, and all that is best in our gardens shall be offered to the Lord."   Although I do not often hear of Protestants speaking of Ascension, I find this devotion touching.  I am grateful for these gentle teachings.   
In this spirit I offer you this threesome. I usually do not group pictures together in one post, but this morning I feel the need to celebrate God's extravagant love.  Let us remember that love will always endure and it can be found right here among us. Yes, even today love overflows. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Central Place

So much of what is happening in our national setting is not about liberation of the human spirit, but rather constriction. Without a sense of  common good, we turn into a nation of marauders, grabbing what we can, leaving desperation and despair in our wake.  Let us not succumb to this ploy.  Fortunately, our human journey continues, and there is more to be revealed.  God is not done with us yet, and if we do not give up, love will prevail.      

"Past experience and future evolution are in harmony when the present moment of God, entered into prayer, is given central place; and the monastic life, like the whole Christian life, is not about restricting but liberating the potential of each human being." 
Laurence Freeman OSB  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Singing Over You

If one peruses my traveling Bible, it is pretty easy to see where I must often turn to.  Pages are marked and earmarked in a variety of ways, including colored paperclips. However, there is a section that is remarkably pristine: The Hebrew prophets. I feel too many of their messages are too stern to read to those who are frail and ill.  Therefore, when I received the May 16 Bible verse of the day, I was surprised.  It comes from Zephaniah 3:17-18. We read of God singing over us!  
Last Sunday I read from Deuteronomy 32:10 which is from the Song of Moses.  I think it is worth pondering what song God is giving us. What is God singing over you as she spreads her eagle wings and hovers over your nest, guarding you and those you love as the apple of her eye? I baptized a beautiful baby boy that morning.  As I held him in my arms, I did not think to sing, but I did whisper to him that he would be loved forever and that no one could ever take his baptism away; he belonged. Perhaps he did indeed hear a gentle reassuring song of joy because yes, he smiled. Maybe God did as well.  I shall keep listening. I know I felt those wings.    
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory; 
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love; 
he will exult over you with loud singing 
as on a day of festival.     
Zephaniah 3:17-18  

Friday, May 12, 2017


After my first service yesterday, I took a few minutes to enjoy a pollinator friendly garden close to where I parked. It is actually the front garden of an apartment building, and I have enjoyed watching the transformation of this space. These plants are quite large; I am sure they are over six feet tall, and almost just as wide, and yesterday they were in full bloom with pollen in abundance. It was a little chilly and breezy, so I did not see any pollinators, but I reveled in the beauty and the exuberant number of  blossoms. As I stepped away, I noticed I had pollen on my shirt and pants.  As I brushed off my clothes, I thought, "Well, I guess that makes me the pollinator!" I am a poor substitute, but it was a joyful reminder of this ancient, life giving process.  
Brother Victor in his Blessings of the Daily writes lovingly of gardening and the importance of tending to the garden so that the monks and guests of the monastery can be fed throughout the year. I have learned that the patron saint of gardening is St. Fiacre. As a Protestant, I know far too little about the saints, but was delighted to discover some photographs of statues where he is depicted holding a shovel and sometimes a basket of flowers and herbs.     
Blessings on your day. As you can tell, I am feeling better, but today, I shall forego trying to sing.  Even for we very ordinary singers, returning to full voice is a process that simply refuses to be rushed. Yes, I will one day learn this lesson. 

Thank you for all you good wishes and prayers.    

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


I have started meditating with a woman who has Parkinson's. She mentioned to me that she had meditated in the past and was missing it so we decided to start our own meditation group. We have known each other for several years. She lives in a community that struggles with staff turnover, and this takes a toll on everyone, including me. She recently told me, "I feel like you and I have been through a lot together." Meditation gives her a chance to be with others, but she does not have to worry about talking. I think she is finding her freedom. So am I.
"Whether this process takes you two weeks, two years or 20 years to learn doesn't matter. All that matters is that you are on the way. You are on the pilgrimage to perfect freedom...This freedom means that you are not trapped within yourself. The way ahead is always oneness with God, in Jesus, through the Spirit."
John Main, Door to Silence

Monday, May 8, 2017

Give It a Rest

Due to some form of cold/flu/bronchitis that Tyler and I both have at the moment, we are having to do some rescheduling. ​When I think of these delays as an interruption to my plans, it can get frustrating. Suddenly, I fear that I am not efficient, that somehow I am not living life to the fullest. How we think we should be living will always be a trap, and I think I know this in my heart of hearts, or in the mind under the mind. Fortunately, we have been given the gift of prayer. When the mind quiets, we can again know that we are more than our plans and worries, and that we can simply reside in the nowness of God.  It is estimated that the average mind will think about 50,000 thoughts a day, many of them a repeat from the day before. I get tired just thinking about that. The brain is powerful, more than we know, but sometimes we need to give it a rest. Of these 50,000 thoughts, how many of them are truly useful, loving, and life giving? 

It often seems as if we rush through life at such high speed while in our heart there is the essential interior flame of being. Our rushing often brings it to the point of extinction. But when we sit down to meditate, in stillness and simplicity, the flame begins to burn brightly and steadily. As we abandon thinking in terms of success and self-importance, the light of the flame helps us to understand ourselves and others in terms of light, warmth and love.


John Main, Word Made Flesh 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Borrowed Time

When I arrived at the small skilled nursing community, I was greeted by a young woman who cheerfully introduced herself as the new activity assistant. My response was an automatic "Welcome!"  We both laughed. That response comes from years of walking into a variety of spaces with the intention of creating a welcoming space for those who join me for worship.  While I am not fond of running on automatic, at least I was moving forward in a friendly gear.
Ruth was slow to wake. Her sleep becomes deeper and she is slower to recognize me. I have known her almost ten years.  She is a no nonsense Arkansan with a deep, no nonsense trust in God. Her beloved niece is scheduled to visit at the end of the month. My sense is that the anticipation of this visit is just about all that is keeping Ruth going, and I pray that her niece will not have to change her plans.    
This close to ten year mark does feel a little different - perhaps the number makes the inevitable changes more tangible. One of the activity assistants I also have known for almost the entire time in ministry told me last week that she was retiring.  I shall miss her, and I know the residents she served most certainly will.  In a world of numbing high staff turnover, her loyalty and love are remarkable. While part of me understands that these transitions are simply a part of this life, I also must recognize my reluctance to let these beautiful souls go on without me. Yet, I,too, must journey on. We are all called ever forward into God's love. 

Sister Joan Chittister, quoting a Jewish proverb, writes in her book on the Rule of St. Benedict, "Life is only lent to us." We can and should hold on to one another, but sooner or later, we will need to surrender that love back to God, trusting that it is winging its way home.   
"A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me."  
John 16:16   


"Prayer is not just quiet time; it is an invitation to grow."
Sister Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict   
I have a challenge I must face today.  Sometimes we fear challenges because we think that somehow we will be diminished. Yet, challenges, if approached prayerfully, can lead us closer to God.    


Monday, May 1, 2017


"Nobody’s stronger than forgiveness.
from  "Did This Ever Happen to You?" by Franz Wright