Tuesday, July 31, 2018


For about a week, I have been experiencing some curious interruptions such as having my thumb caught in a heavy gate latch. Astoundingly painful, but nothing was broken. However, there for a couple of days I could not grasp anything with my dominate hand. I think that set off a chain of small events as I had to alter some plans, and generally slow down. Then last week, I arrived at a community all set to hold a Bible study and discussion only to discover an exercise class going on.  While scheduling snafus do happen, this one surprised me because  the receptionist called me the day before to confirm my time. She was on the phone, but paused a moment to confirm that the class was indeed going on (yes, that made me smile) and then went back to her conversation.  I knew the Activity Director was out of the country, so I decided to simply wait a few minutes and read my emails. About 20 minutes later, she came over to me and asked if I could wait about a half hour more. I declined that invitation saying I had another a service to lead and that I would see them next month.   
As I was walking to the second service, I mulled all this over, and asked God what was going on. No clear answer emerged at that moment, but as I placed my hand on the door to the memory care activity room, a question arose. What if every twist, turn, and delay was simply leading up to this moment? I opened the door to discover one of my favorite families in attendance. The mother lives in the care community. She is quiet and withdrawn, until it is time for her to take Communion. Then, her inner light begins to shine once more. She will always take my hand and give me a blessing. The daughter not only visits her mother regularly, she tends to her husband who was in a serious car wreck. He lives at home. He must use a wheelchair, and can speak very little. Yet, he is very engaged and so yearns for conversation. I can sometimes decipher what he is trying to say, but often I need Sarah to help interpret. That day, her two brothers were there as well, and they always add another level of liveliness.  They sing. They thank Jesus loud and often. The whole family takes delight in worship because they take delight in the One they call their Lord. I also think they are genuinely grateful for this ministry that simply tries to show up in love. They respond to it because that is the world they inhabit. I told them the next time they have a family reunion I want an invitation.  I am not so much envisioning a reunion but rather a white tent revival.  
The interruptions and delays that I have been experiencing are nothing compared to what is going on as the fires burn north of here.  Yet, learning to accept and live into whatever interruptions are before us is a spiritual practice. It is those moments that nourish patience, resilience, and faith. We learn that no matter what, God is with us. This is the world we really inhabit, whether we find ourselves in the midst of destruction and despair, or just simply needing to pause and let that presence be known once more.
Trust in the Lord and do good; 
then you will dwell in the land 
and find safe pasture. 
Find your delight in the Lord, 
who grants your heart's desire.  
Commit your way to the Lord;
if you trust, then God will act, 
and make your righteousness 
shine like the light, 
your justice like the noonday sun.   
Psalm 37:3-6
The Ecumenical Grail Psalter 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


When I first met Paul, I was fairly certain that he would not be taking Communion. He sits very still in his wheelchair with his head slightly bent, never looking up. His skin is pale; not a sickly pale, but the paleness of one who seldom spent time in the sun. His hair is white, and while he does not seem to be one of the old old, he is clearly not robust. Yet, he always has a slight smile on his face. 
 Regardless of whatever assumptions I may hastily make, I do always ask if one would like Communion.  Here is where Paul continues to surprise me. He still does not look up, and the smile stays on his face. He nods a yes, and then quietly speaks the only words I have ever heard him utter: "Thank you, Jesus."   
Those words linger. Even when our lives seemingly become small, those three words of gratitude can keep our hearts ever expanding.  I recently came across some writing of Teresa de Cartagena, a 15th century Cistercian nun who in her work, "On Eternal Health," wrote of the "convent of the infirm."  She knew that convent well because she eventually became deaf, and was often dismissed as being inconsequential by the church leaders of her day. I believe many of those who are frail would benefit from a Christ (or whatever their faith tradition) centered place of healing and being.  In too many communities, attention is pulled away from any spiritual needs with continual coaxings to be happy and to take part in various activities and distractions. Of course, none of that is without merit, but there needs to be a balance.  Bingo has its place, but spiritual hunger cannot be fed by anything but a deepening sense of God in our lives. Most of us need to experience this deepening with others.  We have a responsibility to those in long-term care to try to see that those needs are met.         

Recently, I walked into a community dedicated to memory care. The home is kept clean and there is much natural light in the activity room that opens to a tidy garden patio. Some of the staff I have known for awhile, but I know there is a struggle with being understaffed (I have expressed concern about this more than once, so on that day I was assured that some new staff members were starting next week). However, for now the activity director is often pulled into other roles. When I walked into the activity room I discovered some residents sitting in front of a tv showing a dvd of Joel Osteen preaching to a packed stadium.  Despite his enormous popularity, the likelihood of his sermon having any meaning for those few gathered in that room was pretty much nil, although I must acknowledge this attempt to create some sort of worship space.  However, when a dementia patient experiences a lack of meaning, such disconnect can have a detrimental effect;  the residents simply disengage and move into even deeper isolation.  Fortunately, the pianist who joins me here is a teacher of music, and she is often effective in bringing at least some of the residents' focus back into the room, often with smiles, clapping, and laughter. Eventually several of us celebrated Communion, including one resident who came into the room just as I was leaving. She came up to me and began earnestly speaking. However, I could not understand her words. Fortunately, Sarah, a resident who is generally alert and articulate (I think of her as the mayor) said, "I think she wants Communion."  This was a little surprising to me as I did not have on my collar so my role was not readily recognizable. However, Sarah was right, and ultimately, Communion is what we all want.  We yearn for that connection with what is sacred and eternally alive within us, regardless of our physical and mental health. There Christ is, and I believe that is the monastery where Paul sits smiling.   
I will close with some of Sister Teresa's writing. While several centuries separate our theological understandings, I agree with her heart.  I love her reminder that God "never resents our crosses," but will always hold us and renew us as we journey.  A valuable message for us all, regardless of our age.        
"So let us forsake what forsakes us, and desire only him who desires us, and love only him who gives us these sufferings, so that we might abandon the world and love him who loves us. And that is, without a doubt, the true Father, the loving Father, the only one who never resents our crosses. It is he who heals our infirmities, who keeps us from stumbling and delivers us from danger, who will crown us with great mercies. He will bring our desires to good ends and will renew our youth like an eagle. So let us who are dying of hunger for bodily health in this foreign land search instead for him with fervent desire, for in him we will find true repose, in which our temporal, human sadness will become eternal, spiritual joy. But in the aforementioned things, patience should reign, for if patience does not rule the convent of the infirm, all our suffering will be fruitless."   
Sister Teresa Cartegena, "On Eternal Health,"  as publishein Plough Weekly, July 19, 2018  

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Everywhere Temple

​"​For a number of reasons it takes time to come to the level of trust and stillness. First, it is just because it is an unfamiliar state to be in. We may feel intuitively drawn to it but also a little scared of it, as we do when we find ourselves in a new country without the local language and without bearings. The Cloud warns us that beginners in meditation easily mistake the spatial metaphors of ‘in’ or ‘up’ or ‘deep’. It insists that the spiritual work is not done in any particular place. “But to this you say, ‘Where then shall I be? By your reckoning I am to be nowhere!’ Exactly. In fact you have expressed it rather well, for I would indeed have you to be nowhere. Why? Because nowhere physically is everywhere spiritually.” (Chapter 68).
​Father Laurence Freeman, OSB​

I ​am always grateful for Father Laurence's accessible meditations of the "The Cloud of Unknowing," written by an anonymous 14th century mystic. I have never been able to find my way into the book. I am also grateful for this post because it reminds me of an experience I had in a grocery store this week.  Tyler and I were anticipating having some friends over for dinner, so I stopped at a supermarket to pick the proverbial few things one always seems to need when cooking.  While there, I spotted some yellow spider mums, and their bright cheeriness found their way into my heart and shopping cart.  When I arrived at the check out counter, the young female cashier picked them up to check their price, but then she simply paused and gazed at them.  She spoke softly: "They are beautiful, aren't they?" She then handed them to another young woman who was kindly bagging my purchases.  She enthusiastically added, "Thank you for bringing these to us!"  We then had a sweet conversation about the color yellow.    
I found this brief interchange both enjoyable and interesting. These two young women work in close proximity to where the cut flowers are kept.  Yet, in the busyness of checking and bagging groceries, their inherently free ranging senses are held captive by the routine and expectations of customers, co-workers, management, and daily living. I wish I could say I never experience this short tether, but I do, and often. Fortunately, we are given these moments when our boundaries suddenly disappear and we are nowhere and everywhere. Color and light break through, and eternity is revealed once more. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Table Manners

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the the endless immensity of the sea." 
Antoine de Saint-Exupery    
I so love this quote that came to me via a curious cookbook entitled, "An Everlasting Meal, Cooking with Economy and Grace'" written by Tamar Adler. A less elegant title might be "How to Look in Your Refrigerator and Pantry and create something Tasty and Nutritious," or even simpler, "Have Courage. You Probably Have Enough."  Many people, of course, do not have enough even though we Americans send billions of dollars worth of food to landfill in any given year.  Therefore, we who do have enough, need to learn to cook and savor that enough.     
I did not have a picture that showed the immensity of the sea, but a sunflower in the wind seems to express this idea just fine.   

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Have a Beautiful Day

Earlier this week I asked one of my longtime volunteers how she planned on spending the 4th of July, which is also her birthday. She replied that she was going to help with a volunteer project in the morning and then attend a parade. Later she will be attending  a family bar-b-que and celebration.  I can never remember how old this intrepid soul is, but she into her 90's. I have known her for a long time, and today I realize she has never brought me anything but encouragement and a smile.  I give thanks.        
Blessings today, and always. May you spend the day with those you love.