Saturday, September 30, 2017

Psalm 62

While it seems the impact of humans weighs far too heavy on this earth, the psalmist tells us that those of "low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion: in the balances they go up; they are lighter than a breath."  Let us  embrace our insignificance, and work for good, not for fear of judgement, but so love can reign. 
"For God alone my soul waits in silence; 
for my hope is from God. 
God alone is my rock 
and my salvation, 
my fortress; 
I shall not be shaken.  
Once God has spoken:
twice have I heard this: 
that power belongs to God, 
and steadfast love belongs to you, 
O Lord.  
For you repay to all 
according to their work." 
Psalm 62:1-2, 11-12 NRSV 

Friday, September 29, 2017


The poem of the day from Panhala. I pray this child, even if this poem was written a long time ago, continues to listen.  I pray this for the world.  

Waiting in Line
When you listen you reach
into dark corners and
pull out your wonders.
When you listen your
ideas come in and out
like they were waiting in line.
Your ears don’t always listen.
It can be your brain, your
fingers, your toes.
You can listen anywhere.
Your mind might not want to go.
If you can listen you can find
answers to questions you didn’t know.
If you have listened, truly
listened, you don’t find your
self alone.

~ Nick Penna, fifth grade ~
(In Poetic Medicine by John Fox)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

My Brother's Home

In the assisted living community I visited today, there lives a retired pastor whom I like a great deal.  Even though he sleeps through my homilies more often now, he gratefully accepts Communion and he is always an encouraging presence. Today, as I was packing my things after worship, a tall thin woman came in. She wore a long black and white dress, a lace jacket, and a small cap.  She moved silently, while softly greeting some of the residents as she made her way towards Pastor.  When she reached him, a resident  whispered, "That is his sister."  I first introduced myself to the young woman (her great niece) who escorted her through the door, and then to the elder as she silently glided back towards us after her brief conversation with her brother. 

 She extended a long, thin hand to me and said, "I am so happy to meet you. This is my brother's home. They take good care of him." She spoke and moved so quietly and elegantly that it seemed she might not be real. While she stayed less than ten minutes, I could tell by the smiles that those of us whom she touched, felt really touched. I think she has been greeting people that way for a very long time.
What would it be like if we thought of our world in such terms?  "This is my sister's ocean. This is my father's river. This is my mother's forest.  This is my children's valley, or my brother's mountain. They are well taken care of in this home." Perhaps then we, too, could extend a hand of friendship as we gently passed through. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Psalm 61

This morning I found myself yearning to return to the psalms.  I looked at a couple of on-line dictionaries about "fear of God."  The phrase is generally described as archaic - to regard God with reverence and awe.  Sometimes our words, as well as the adherence to our vows, do fall short.  Yet, day by day we continue the journey with and to God. I am so grateful to tend to this archaic practice of reading and singing the psalms and pondering their meaning.     
Resting in the shelter of God's mighty wings is a beautiful image - especially when coupled with the image of standing on a rock so high that we cannot get there without God's help.  
May you feel God's sheltering presence today, and always.    
"Listen, O God to my cry. 
Attend to my prayer. 
From the end of the earth I call you, 
my heart is faint. 
Set me high upon the rock 
too high for me to reach, 
you, my refuge and mighty tower 
against the foe.
Then will I dwell in your tent forever, 
and hide in the shelter of your wings. 
For you, O God, have heard my vows; 
you have have given me the heritage 
of those who fear your name. 
So I will sing to your name forever, 
and day after day fulfill my vows."   
Psalm 61:2-6,9
The Ecumenical Grail Psalter  

Friday, September 22, 2017

How Do You Pray?

I am reading Henri Nouwen's book, The Road to Daybreak, a compilation of his journal entries from the time when he had decided to leave academic life and eventually move to Daybreak, the L'Arche community in Toronto.  The writings of L'Arche's founder, Jean Vanier, as well as those of Nouwen  have guided my journey in ministry, and I think these voices have returned to my life at a pivotal time.  I am grateful.    
Earlier this week, I left a particular community wondering how I can serve a resident who has absolutely nothing pleasant to say about anyone or anything. He is very frustrated about his health, the people who are trying to care for him, everything. I think to compound his troubles, his negativity probably isolates him.  Yet, he is often in the activity room when I am there, and while I cannot say he takes part in our worship services, perhaps he finds something in those gatherings that helps. My attempts at conversing with him have fallen quite flat. 
However, in a story that Nouwen refers to as simply "the three monks in the Tolstoy story," I see a glimmer of where I might be going astray.  In this beautiful tale, a bishop decides to visit three monks who live on an isolated island. He soon learned that these three monks did not know the Lord's Prayer, so he proceeded to spend the afternoon teaching them this prayer.  He left feeling satisfied that he had done his pastoral duty.    
As his ship was sailing away, he suddenly realized that the three were running on the water to catch up to them. They told the bishop they were distressed because they could not remember the prayer he had worked so hard to teach them.  "The bishop, overwhelmed by what he was seeing and hearing, said, 'But dear brothers, how then do you pray?'" Their lovely reply was "Well, we just say, 'Dear God, there are three of us and there are three of you, have mercy on us!" The bishop told them to go back to the island and be at peace.  I think this bishop and I have something in common; we both should be asking  "How do you pray?" earlier in the conversation.  I have no idea whether this particularly patient is interested in conversing about prayer, but it is certainly worth exploring.     
We all pray, even if we are convinced there is no God, and it seems there is no reason for us to even live. However, in our frustrations, we can loose awareness of what is churning in our heads and hearts.  It is wise to periodically ask this question of ourselves and one another. It can be very helpful if someone reveals to us that our prayers are nurturing animosity, rather than the ongoing opening to the journey to and with God and one another.     
Why should I spend an hour in prayer when I do nothing during that time but think about people I am angry with, people who are angry with me, books I should read and books I should write, and thousands of other silly things that happen to grab my mind for a moment?  
The answer is because God is greater that my mind and my heart, and what is really happening in the house of prayer is not measurable in terms of human success and failure...I might think that each hour is useless, but after thirty or sixty or ninety such useless hours, I gradually realize that I was not alone as I thought: a very small, gentle voice has been speaking to me far beyond my noisy place.    
Henri Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak      

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Psalm 60

Today was declared a mental health day.  That was not my original intention. However, close to half an hour into my commute, I realized I had traveled less than 20 miles and was not moving.  I simply could not go further, not physically, not mentally.  As I slowly made my way to the next exit, I called the volunteers and the communities and rescheduled.  Because there was a wreck on the reverse commute as well, I took side streets. It still took me about an hour to travel those less than twenty miles to get back  home.  
So what have I done on this mental health day?  (By the way, I think every day should be dedicated to mental health, but I probably digress.)  Started some laundry. Cleaned the kitchen and talked to the dog. Pickled some eggs - yes, some of you are wrinkling your noses, but others are thinking, "Maybe I should drop by their house in a couple of weeks."  I ask, "What else do you do with leftover pickle brine?"  I am also pondering Estelle.  
Estelle came in just a little late to the worship service this week, and I really did not give that much thought because people come and go for a variety of reasons.  Afterwards, she told me she was late because she had been listening to the president speak to the United Nations.  I must have wrinkled my nose because she said, "I like him and I voted for him."  I asked her if she still liked him, and she assured me that she did.  I simply nodded my head.
I show up in skilled nursing not to convince anyone to believe differently than they believe, unless they are convinced that God has abandoned them, or that the One they call Jesus does not hold them dear, or that healing is for anyone other than them.  I love Estelle and I have tremendous respect for her and the battles she continues to face. I think by now you all know I really do not care for the policies of the one who was elected. Yet it is my prayer that we will all continue to try to find the common ground of what it is to be human in these times. Perhaps I am cowardly in this, but then again I do not know if I have ever been known for having great courage.   
So, Estelle and I hugged and we talked of her family. I am grateful to have met them a few months ago when they were taking her out to celebrate a birthday. She looked so happy that day, and I think that is how I will always remember her: laughing and walking upright, moving steadily towards the door with those she loved. This is where I cast my vote.   
"O Beloved, why do I believe that 
I can separate myself from You, 
as an alien in a foreign land?
O that I might return to your Heart. 
You know how I tremble with fear; 
help me to break down the walls, 
to let go of illusions, so that 
I stand tall. 
You have allowed me to suffer 
hard things; 
You have not prevented 
my downfall. 
You, who are Love, gave me leeway
to choose, 
to wander far from home. 
O my Beloved, be gracious to me, 
welcome me back into new life, 
hear my prayer.
Who dares to face their fears,
to break down the prison walls, 
to walk with Love? 
O grant us help to answer the call, 
strengthen us with pure resolve. 
With the Beloved we shall triumph; 
with Love we shall be free."  
Psalm 60, abridged 
Psalms for Praying, Nan C. Merrill 


Attachments area

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Room for a View

Yesterday was a short day on the peninsula for me.  The trip over was crowded with the usual densely packed cars and trucks, but much less so on the way back.  As I traveled north on 280 and then turned to head east on 92, I found myself pondering a beautiful blue sky and various clouds in shades of white and grey. At one point, I could briefly take in the sight of the turquoise blue bay, and I could see as far as the Bay Bridge. Despite the presence of high clouds, the air seemed crystal clear. I could not help but give thanks for the expanse of the bay and that elegant sparkling white bridge that truly seems to be to have been created with a fine sense of beauty and design. 
Such moments of contentment are becoming rarer as I drive. The traffic is just to heavy to allow such savoring and it seems the entire bay area is under construction.  Yet, even brief moments of gratitude can carry us a long way. As I drove across San Mateo Bridge, I reflected on the service in the memory care home that morning. I am always touched by the generosity of the volunteers who join me there, and I also appreciate Margie's exuberance when we arrive. I think she does have a sense that we come in friendship, and her frequent invitations to go to lunch and "hang out" tells me that before her illness she enjoyed spending time with friends. While I do not know that for certain, I can tell you that more than once she has concluded our prayer time with not just an amen, but an enthusiastic  "Amen, Babe!"  Yesterday, as I handed her a song sheet, she announced confidently, "I will help you sing!" There is much truth in that.  All of those I serve and serve with do keep me singing and I am grateful.  This morning I woke with the thought that really what God wants of us is to simply take care of things and one another. This can happen in the creation of visionary large scale works, but also in the small moments of appreciation and connection. In other words, we are all capable of taking part.    
May you have moments of deep connection and appreciation today and always. Look around when you can. We can tend to God's good creation, but first we do need to notice it.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Psalm 59

The opening verse in Lynn C. Bauman's translation of  Psalm 59 is poignant: "This is a warrior's song sung to God, a holy warrior bowed in prayer."   I have been reluctant to ponder this psalm, claiming I am busy. It is true; I am busy, and I have been wondering if taking the psalms in order is really the way to go. However, this morning's news reminds me yet again that there is violence and evil in this world, and the psalms gives me a way of acknowledging that, and surrendering, not to denial or fear, but to God. The option for fight or flight has always been with us, and both are appropriate at various times. Yet, we do have a third way available to us that we continually underuse: praying our way to belief once more.     
"Yes, evil runs about like a pack of dogs through city streets, 
they scavenge, ravening through the night. 
Not satisfied and roaring always to be fed 
they devour us all. 
But in counterpoint, I sing this song 
and celebrate your love by mourning's light. 
For you have been our potency and might, 
our safety in these troubled times. 
To you, yes, you my gracious God, I sing, 
Your mercy and compassion fill my song
and I shall never cease my praise, forever, 
Psalm 59:16-20, Ancient Songs Sung Anew 
Lynn C. Bauman 

Monday, September 11, 2017


I am re-posting an email I originally sent in May, 2015.  I cannot remember the source, and I still know very little about this prayer which is claimed to be a 16th century prayer. However, a search this morning revealed that the prayer is included in a book of prayers entitled "A Little Book of Healing Prayers" by Angela Ashwin.  The prayer resurfaced for me this morning as I was cleaning out my traveling Bible. The prayer is definitely worth rereading more often than every two years.     


The email I received today said the prayer below is a 16th century prayer entitled "The Frankfurt Prayer."  I  have never heard of it, and a quick search did not turn up anything. Nonetheless, this is a beautiful reminder that even with our prayers, our songs, our fellowship, and our proclamations, faith is ultimately a silent leap.   

Savior, teach me the silence of humility, the silence of wisdom,
 the silence of love, the silence of perfection, the silence
 that speaks without words, the silence of faith.

Lord, teach me to silence my own heart
that I may listen to the gentle movement of the Holy Spirit within me
and sense the depths which are of God.    

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Psalm 58

One of the gifts of being in a ministry that reaches out to those in long term care is that it has given me the courage to sing regardless of wherever I am called to be. That is the joy of having an ordinary voice; I do not need to go off in search of a symphony hall.  So wherever I am, I sing with others, even when their voices cannot be heard. Together, even when they appear to be silent, we sing a song of God's love, and learn to trust that it is for us.  A friend of mine, who was a wonderful support in the ministry, once said that she hoped that if she was ever too ill to sing that someone would come and sing some hymns. Although she has passed, I still hear her lovely alto voice, adding richness and substance; living proof that harmony can exist. I still hear her daughters singing to her, and I am grateful.       
Psalm 58 is a song that lashes out against tyranny.  Certainly much injustice exists in our nation and our world, and we must continue to speak to that.  However, today, let us sing for those who are facing fear and devastation.  May our messages of love be heard on the wind.   
"Then all the broken ones who carried such heavy burdens on their backs, 
will finally cry, 'Yes, there is a God who governs us and earth with deep integrity. Here at last is fair reward for an honest life and justice done." 
Psalm 58:11
Ancient Songs Sung Anew, Lynn C. Bauman    

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Psalm 56

Yes, I am slightly out of order today!  
"My vows to You I must uphold, 
O Beloved; 
I give You thanks; my heart 
overflows with gratitude. 
For You deliver me from the depths
of despair. 
Yes, my fears you help me to face;
they are put to rest, 
That I may walk with You, 
O Beloved, 
into the light of a new dawn."    
Psalm 56, abridged 
Psalms for Praying 
Nan C. Merrill   

Psalm 57

For those in the path of a storm, be it fire, wind and rain, or political.   
"Be merciful to me, O God, 
be merciful to me, 
for in you my soul takes refuge, 
until the destroying storms pass by. 
My heart is steadfast, O God, 
my heart is steadfast. I will sing 
and make melody.    
Awake, my soul!
Awake, O harp and lyre! 
I will awake the dawn.
I will give thanks to you, O God, 
among the peoples; 
I will sing praises to you among nations. 
For your steadfast love is 
as high as the heavens; 
your faithfulness extends to the clouds. 
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, 
and let your glory be over all the earth."     
New Century Psalter 
Psalm 57:1,7-11 


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Psalm 55

If you are feeling that all is right in the world, Psalm 55 may not speak to you.  This psalm speaks of evil; not just the evil ever presence in the world, but the betrayal of someone close.  "Had it only been an enemy who was vexing me, I could have borne this heavy burden, Lord, but it was not, it was a friend, another 'self' of mine, a neighbor dear. And we had known such fellowship, as we walked together on your path, my God."   
As I sat with this psalm last night, images of those I am blessed to call friend came to mind. I was grateful for their company, and the chance to say a short prayer for each.  I thought of those I serve, and I am grateful that to try to walk the path of Christ means I must try as best I can to show up as a friend. I am a slightly better person for this long spiritual practice.    
If you are carrying a sense of betrayal, sit with Psalm 55, and know you are not alone.  Humans are fallible, but God is not. If you do not have this heavy burden today, give thanks for the gift of love. Please share that love as you move among those you do not know, but who, like all of us, hunger for the gift of friendship, even in the most fleeting interactions of our lives.     
"How often have I cried out, O that I had wings, my God, 
then like a dove would I fly and 
flee this darkness to find some place of rest. 
There I would seek a far off hiding place, 
and live concealed in earth's emptiness. 
Like wind I'd blow quickly from the center of this storm
to the outer edges of your quietness."  
Psalm 55:7-9
Ancient Songs Sung Anew, Lynn C. Bauman  

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Psalm 54

"Apa Pambo, one of the ancient Desert Fathers, was once questioned by a searcher after truth regarding the means of salvation. He replied, 'Find your heart and you will be saved.' He was advising the disciple not to seek external things, but to begin an inner quest. To find one's heart is to penetrate to the deepest level of one's being, unlayering stage by stage all that is unessential. To find one's heart means discovering also that at one's inmost center one is not alone."
Michael Casey, Towards God     
"In honor of your own good name, O God, 
save me by your strength, 
take up my cause and defend it as your own. 
Hear this very human prayer of mine.
As I speak it, listen to my every word.   
Take all the evil that stalks the good 
and crush it, Lord, 
till it is forever gone. 
Then in honor of your name I will offer up to you
whatever by all right is yours, my God, 
For you're the one who rescued me, 
and I myself have seen with my own eyes, 
how the ruthless ones, 
and all the arrogant do fall."

Psalm 54:1,5-7 
Ancient Songs Sung Anew 
Lynn C. Bauman  

Friday, September 1, 2017

Psalm 53

I am reading an engaging book entitled, "Toward God, The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer," written by Michael Casey, an Australian Cistercian monk and prior. I find much reassurance in this comment about prayer: "There is no perfect prayer - except insofar as it corresponds to one's real situation and represents a total turning toward God. The ecstatic prayer of a mystic is in no way superior to the agonized stumbling of a sinner weighed down with guilt and deformed by lifetime of estrangement from God; both are real, both are 'successful.' Both remain imperfect, too, because perfection does not belong in this life; it is to be expected in the next." 
We can and should come to God just as we are.  If God accepts us, and indeed created us, why do we struggle so with simply being ourselves?  It is our honest prayers that will lead us to God's healing presence, and this is one of the lessons of the psalms. Regardless if we pray from our anger, our mourning, a profound sense of failure, or euphoric joy, if our prayers are honest, we will experience God's love because it is always there for us. This is so good to know and take to heart. 
"Those lacking in understanding may say, 
'There is no Divine Presence.'
They have not yet opened their hearts 
to the Blessed One, 
to the Beloved, who dwells within. 
The Holy Spirit seeks out hearts 
that have been broken, 
Ever ready to bless them with 
strength and new life."   
Psalm 53, abridged 
Psalms for Praying
Nan C. Merrill