Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christ's Generous Fullness

From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace
                                                                                                                John 1:16

 Fullness. In the midst of Christmas celebrations, many of us know about fullness. Full schedules, full houses, full stomachs, even full trash cans as boxes and wrapping paper are discarded.

Yet all these are temporary, fleeting expressions of fullness. In fact, they distract us from the Source of true fullness, the Word who became flesh and made his home among us. What our hearts hunger for is not another piece of pie, or more activities or the latest gadget, but this grace upon grace that John can hardly describe. Words are inadequate to capture the utter richness of who Jesus is and what he longs to give to us.

I recall a prayer I heard once, offered by Sister Kathleen Flood at a 5-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation. She prayed, asking God to forgive us for being content with crumbs when God wants to give us the entire loaf. And this is what we do far too often—we grab crumbs, holding onto moldy, dry crumbs when a warm, fragrant, freshly baked loaf is offered to us. Whether we think we are unworthy for such a gift, cannot be vulnerable enough to be a recipient rather than a giver, or simply cannot trust that God loves us so generously, we turn down treasure and hold onto trash.

We choose crumbs whenever we choose fear over love, when we are more concerned with security than with generosity, when we struggle to meet expectations rather than relaxing into freedom to be who God created us to be. We especially do it at Christmas when we substitute shopping, food and materialism—dry crumbs—for the freshness that comes with realizing that we are sons and daughters of God, uniquely loved by our Creator.

Only a few recognized or understood Jesus when he lived among us in skin. Even today, many do not understand that Jesus came to set us free from fear, from imprisoning rules and expectations. Jesus came to show us what love is, in all its warmth, freshness and fragrant goodness. There is no end to his grace and love. It is we who choose to live in scarcity, to eat crumbs.

St. Catherine of Siena expresses the abundance, the fullness of grace in this short poem:

We know nothing until we know everything.

I have no object to defend
for all is of equal value
to me.

I cannot lose anything in this
place of abundance
I found.

If something my heart cherishes
is taken away,

I just say, “Lord, what

And a hundred more

Living in the fullness of grace upon grace, we don’t have to subsist on crumbs, living as if love is a scarce possession. Love begets love, generosity begets generosity and grace is unending and abundant, a fragrant, limitless loaf!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Advent Words

More than any year I can recall, this year I have resonated deeply with the words of Advent. The lectionary texts have inspired me, particularly those that speak of one who will come and make things right, who will overcome evil and bring rest to the weary, who will upend the world’s values of power and influence and bring a kingdom where gentleness and goodness prevail. The recurring encouragement to not be afraid has been what I needed to hear.

Each week as I’ve reflected on the words accompanying the Advent candle for that week—hope, peace, joy and love—the themes have worked their way into my spirit. Daily I’ve considered what they mean for me, particularly with regard to the unsettledness in my life and in the world this year.

And the words of two Advent hymns have been on almost continuous loop in my head: Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus and People, Look East. The first speaks to my own desire to be freed from the fears that arise in difficult times as well as my longing for Christ. The second hymn, People, Look East has been a recent find for me, and, probably because I like birds so much, the third verse has been a favorite:

                Birds, though you long have ceased to build, guard the nest that must be filled.
                Even the hour when wings are frozen, God for fledging time has chosen.
                People, look east and sing today. Love, the bird, is on the way.

The reminder that God comes in unlikely times and seasons encourages me to remain hopeful and watchful, because God doesn’t work in predictable or even reasonable (as we think of reasonable) ways. After all, it was an unwed young woman that God chose to be the mother of Jesus, and an elderly woman was chosen to be the mother of John the Baptist.

When life is difficult, when we earnestly try to live a faithful life only to be misunderstood, criticized or bullied, we truly cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” When illness, vocational uncertainty, death or broken relationships weigh heavily on us, we long for the coming of a savior to guide us, heal us and comfort us in our sorrow. And even if things are good for us now, we hear the message of Advent for those who are not in an easy stage of life. Savoring the words of Advent prepares us to celebrate Christmas with deep joy and faith, to know that God’s inbreaking in the world changes everything.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mary's Courage

A while back I saw an advertisement for a sermon series about significant Bible stories and people. Most of the characters featured were people who stood up against an evil force or person seemingly more powerful than themselves. We like such stories about David and Goliath, Elijah defeating the prophets of Baal, and Gideon prevailing against the Midianites. Especially in our culture that values power and strength, we love a story about the underdog whose might and courage overcome difficulty.

Mary doesn’t fit into such a stereotype. In fact, one of Mary’s most quotable lines is, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Hers is an attitude of openness and vulnerability. She is consenting to be the unwed mother of Jesus. To the world she would appear to be promiscuous, engaging in sex before marriage, which would be costly to her. Who would believe her story if she tried to explain her pregnancy?

Mary’s courage is not exhibited through might and aggression, but through her willingness to be misunderstood, wrongfully accused and vulnerable. This was no mighty warrior but a teenager, engaged to be married, who said yes to God without asking permission of her parents or her betrothed, Joseph.

Enuma Okoro, author of Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent, observes that Mary found a supportive friend in her elderly and pregnant relative Elizabeth. Okoro says that we must be discerning in whom we invite to walk alongside us on our spiritual journeys. Mary and Elizabeth shared a similar faith imagination. They both trusted God’s action and love for them, whereas others might have discouraged them from such risky faith.

Had Mary asked her parents if she should consent to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit, they, in an effort to protect her reputation and theirs, likely would have discouraged her. She chose to believe that God would make a way for God’s word to be fulfilled. She was willing to be considered a failure, a disreputable woman because she loved God.

God does not choose to act in ways we consider safe or conventional. God is not bound by moral codes or reputation or our likes, dislikes or fears. God calls us to live lives marked by faith, not fear, by love, not propriety. Mary knew that it wasn’t what others thought of her that mattered, it was her sure knowledge of being beloved by God that sustained her and gave her the courage to say yes to God’s improbable invitation.

Do we know our own belovedness with such certainty that we are willing to say yes to God rather than worry about what others will think of us? Our willingness to trust this unconventional God may be what is needed for Christ to be born in each of us. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Advent Stillness

Stillness does not come easily to most of us. It is hard enough to be still on the outside, but just try to sit still for even five minutes and you’ll likely find that your mind’s activity is making you as tired as if you were actually moving physically.

Our culture devalues stillness, equating it with a lack of productivity. We’ve lost touch with the concept of fallowness, the practice of allowing a field to rest, so that it can be renewed. When a field lies fallow, it is then better able to provide the goodness seeds need for growth. In this season of winter, we see the bare limbs of a tree and know that even though it appears that nothing is happening, the tree is being made ready for spring’s new growth. Nature can teach us about stillness.

I struggle to be still. I know the value of stillness, but the mindset that activity equates to productivity is so culturally ingrained that it takes great discipline to overcome it and invite stillness. Last Sunday afternoon I chose to sit outside in the yard rather than take a walk. Walking feels more productive to me than sitting, but my spirit was renewed as I felt the gentle breeze on my skin, listened to the birds sing and watched the lengthening shadows fall across the yard.

Waiting and watching—Advent words that we are often too harried to embody—speak to me of fallowness, a stillness pregnant with meaning. In this stillness I let go of the false notion that what God wants most is my activity and realize that it is my heart that God longs for, a heart softened by stillness, a heart prepared to be the birthplace of Christ.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”   Luke 21:25-36

The lectionary gospel text for the first Sunday of Advent, Luke 21:25-36, is Jesus foretelling the end of the world. As I listened to the passage read at a contemplative Eucharist service, it wasn’t the descriptions of terrifying events that got my attention. It wasn’t the warnings to be on guard, to not have a heart weighed down with worries of this life. It was a simple word, a small word, easily overlooked yet full of meaning. The word was “near.”

Jesus says that when all these events take place, “you know that the kingdom of God is near.” To think of the nearness of God turns this apocalyptic passage into one of promise for me because the God who is near at the end of the world is also near now, regardless of the circumstances in the world around us.

Advent is that season when we prepare for God’s nearness, God’s in-breaking into the world. God is not some distant deity but a God who came to us wearing skin, as a helpless baby. We romanticize this event, but the notion that God chose to come among us not with might and power but in the most powerless form of all, should be as alarming as Jesus’ description of the end of time.

The paradox of God is that God comes near both in power and in weakness. We do not have to fear the in-breaking of God into the world, either as a baby or as the one who shakes the world. Advent urges us to make space within our hearts for this God who comes near. We can sweep out the worries of this life out of our hearts and instead invite the Prince of Peace to dwell therein.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Power of Silence

Because my office is in a downtown church, various groups use the building during the week. On several occasions, space has been rented to a group that is training people to be mediators. Someone asked me the other day if I was leading that group. This person had misread the sign and thought it was meditation training, not mediation training! I half-jokingly said that maybe if more people meditated, there would be less need for mediation!

The discipline of silence is both underappreciated and transformative. Most people want to do something for a spiritual discipline. They would rather fast, serve or study than to be silent. Silence and stillness doesn’t feel like anything, until you actually try to be still and silent. Then you realize that outward movement and quiet may happen, but inward silence and stillness is a whole different story!

I am facilitating a study of a book by Esther de Waal entitled Lost in Wonder. In the chapter on silence, she says, “Listen to the silence, let it enfold you, like a piece of music, like bird-watching.” I like the idea of letting silence enfold me. It sounds more like submitting to what is already present rather than exerting my effort to be silent and still.

Like weeds, the noise around us crowds out the silence that has been present in the world since the world was created. It takes practice for us to uncrowd our hearts enough to let the enfolding silence soak deeply into us. Constant noise and chatter, both outward and inward, stunts our spiritual growth. We may think out noisy minds are thinking, but deep thinking does not happen in chatter but in quiet.

Most of what goes through our minds is not thinking at all but is unthinking. It is why we react emotionally, saying and doing things without consideration. A noisy mind is the birthplace of hurtful words, judgment, wrongheaded assumptions and emotionally charged reactions—all symptoms of violence. This happens because we substitute unthinking for true reality, which is God.

Those who regularly practice silence are able to detach from the noise of unthinking, detach from the emotionally charged assumptions and judgments. Detachment doesn’t denote uncaring. Rather, detachment allows one to view situations from a place of quiet and calm, cultivated by a regular discipline of silence and stillness. Silence and stillness may be the most powerful force for change in the world, because real change begins within each one of us.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


As children most of us have to be taught the importance of sharing. A sense of possessiveness seems ingrained in our human nature. I remember reading, when my children were small, of a parent who claimed her child’s first words were “dat mine.” Sometimes we force our children to share by prying their tiny hands open to extract the object they won’t willing share with their friend.

Even as adults, me, my and mine are often used words in our vocabulary. We may still find it hard to share possessions. Many I know operate out of a fearful sense of scarcity, feeling that if their grip on something they value is loosened, it will be gone forever. They exhaust themselves protecting, defending and justifying not only their possessions but also their image and actions.

Freedom, however, is not found in possessiveness but in generosity. Those who are happiest are not those who cling tightly but those who live with an attitude of openness and abundance. They have learned that sharing is life-giving, not only for those with whom they share but also for themselves.

I read a quote recently from Andre’ Louf about prayer that teaches me something new about sharing:

Prayer is a heart that overflows with joy, thanksgiving, gratitude and praise. It is the abundance of a heart that is truly awake.

When we share, we pray. When we live from a stance of abundance, we are truly awake. And when we are truly awake, we are able to share not only our possessions, but love, life and presence with others. To be present with others we have to be awake, aware and open. We let go of the need to be right, the need to protect ourselves, the need to maintain a certain image and even the need to be understood. A posture of abundance frees us to joyfully offer ourselves to others, to receive joyfully from others, and to live prayer as we share life with each other. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Goodness vs Wholeness

It is better to be whole than to be good.
                                                                                Parker Palmer

This observation, from Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak, may surprise you. It certainly makes me reflect on what my life’s goal should be. I suspect many of us have lived our lives trying to be good—fitting our behavior into norms established by some external authority. We follow the law, the Ten Commandments, the expectations of family and friends, the church. Even our consciences are shaped by external influences.

We may can answer the question, “What is it that makes me good?” but can we answer as easily the question, “What is it that makes me whole?” Many people live their entire lives without considering what is needed for their wholeness. We may use addictions to fill the emptiness, and I’m not simply talking about addictions to substances like drugs or alcohol. We can be addicted to the need for approval from others, to material possessions, to status, to exercise, to busyness. Anything we use to try and fill the yearning inside us is subject to becoming an addiction.

Being good can keep us from being whole. Being good can keep us from being who God created us to be. When we are focused on being good, we respond from a place of fear and insecurity instead of from love and freedom. A focus on being good holds us captive, causes us to try to be in control of our image, and thus, to try to control those around us who may reflect on our image.

Wholeness and freedom are two sides of the same coin. We move toward wholeness when we look to Christ dwelling within us, when we begin to recognize that the things we label as “good” may actually be masks, false images that constrict us and, if we can be still and silent long enough to recognize it, are burdens we are not even asked to carry. I think Jesus had this in mind when he invited the weary and burdened to find rest in him.

Yoked to Christ, instead of to the expectations of goodness, we can learn who we really are. We can learn to listen to the Godseed planted within each one of us that yearns for light and freedom and grace and space to grow.

It is a journey that many of us never begin, or if we begin, it is only after recognizing the frustration and futility of being good. The great gift of seeking wholeness is that when we seek it for ourselves, we invite others to seek it also. We stop imposing our standards of goodness on others, and allow them to live in love and freedom. No is replaced with yes. Rules are replaced with grace. Judgment is replaced with love. It’s a much more refreshing way to live!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Accessing Inner Wisdom

Sometimes, if you are paying attention, you know the truth of the phrase from Psalm 42: deep calls to deep.  I had one of those experiences yesterday evening at Taize worship. As we sang “Jesus, Remember Me,” the words I sang came from deep within my soul. It was my prayer, my longing, my heart’s desire, not merely lyrics sung as a participant in a service. My chest ached and tears filled my eyes. I thought of the first one to utter these words, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and I was grateful that he spoke those words and that, set to a simple tune, they worked their way so deeply into my spirit that I sang them as an expression of my own longing to be remembered by Jesus.

Recently I read Sue Monk Kidd’s book, When the Heart Waits. It contains much wisdom, but one thing she wrote has probably had more impact on me than anything else in the book. She speaks of looking within, of accessing and trusting the Spirit within me, my inner wisdom. Thomas Merton said of the Spirt as our Inward Guide, “We don’t have to rush after it. It was there all the time and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.”

Moments such as I had at Taize remind me that even my longing for God is a gift given to me by God, by the Spirit dwelling within. This Spirit lives in all of us, but for us to begin to hear its wisdom without the filter of our own egos, we have to practice regular silence and stillness. I’m not talking once a month regular, but daily. Like muscles subjected to exercise, our ability to hear with the ear of our heart is strengthened by showing up to silence and stillness daily and with an investment in time.

Conscience is not the same as our Inward Guide. Conscience is a good and necessary starting point, but our consciences are influenced by our egos, our biases and life experience. The difference between conscience and inner wisdom is found in letting go of control. The way to learn to let go of control is through regular periods of silence and stillness, practiced without any expectation of receiving anything. And this is why few will choose this discipline. We are results oriented. If nothing is happening, we move on to something where we can see results. It keeps us in control and, in our spiritual lives, keeps us from accessing the wisdom of God.

The way of silence and stillness is narrow, and few will choose it. But, as Merton notes, for those who will take the slow, steady steps of silence and stillness, not rushing after it, giving it time, the inner wisdom of the Spirit will make itself known to us. It will catch us by surprise the first few times it happens, but eventually we come to trust it, knowing its Source is trustworthy.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Efficiency vs Presence

Normally we think of absence as the antonym of presence. I wonder, though, if efficiency is likewise an antonym for presence. It is difficult, if not impossible to be both efficient and fully present in the present moment.

This morning was quite foggy. As I drove into town, I began to notice spider web after spider web, orb webs strung between power lines. The fog made the lighting just right for viewing these normally invisible works of art and the drive became a treasure hunt as I admired each web.

To see them required that I become less efficient. I was still attentive to my driving, but instead of rushing along above the speed limit, I moved a little slower and savored the journey. I recalled a homily I heard several years ago when I was part of the Two-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation. It was about “marveling.” Marveling is paying attention, seeing the world around us with a sense of awe and wonder, even if what we are seeing is something as ordinary as a spider web.

What I discovered was that as I marveled at the webs, I began to see trees, flowers, and other things along my route with fresh eyes. Instead of thoughts about the day ahead, instead of worries about the future or past, I was fully aware of the present moment.

Such awareness is something I long to practice more regularly. I want to be one who appreciates the present, who can see with freshness even the ordinary things of life.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Friends the Trees

Along the route I walk in the mornings are some small trees, part of the landscaping at an office park near my house. Three years ago, I watched as two trees planted there fell ill and died. They were replaced, and because all the other trees had several years’ growth on these two “newbies,” I grew interested in watching to see if they would catch up with the others.

I silently cheered them on, regularly encouraging them to grow as I walked by them. When winter came and their branches were bare, I waited for spring to see if they had survived. I was happy to see their new leaves and to watch them live through hot, dry stretches of summertime. They are now well-established, but I still keep an eye out for them, to see how they are progressing.

Going through a disorienting season of life, my morning walks have been a time for me to sort through the myriad of emotions, events and questions that arise in me. I take to heart Augustine’s quote that “it is solved by walking.” I sometimes get so lost in my thoughts that I forget to check on my two tree buddies.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking and thinking, I had this strong sense of companionship, of others being present with me. No people were around and I realized what I sensed was the presence of the trees, encouraging me as I had encouraged them. It seemed to me that they were praying for me.

Because God created those trees, as well as me, we are bound together as creatures, alive an indwelt with the presence of God. We embody God differently, but the Creator’s mark is on and in us all. So should it be so far-fetched to sense the trees praying for me?

Shortly after I had this experience, I discovered this poem by Rabindranath Tagore in a daily email I get from Father Richard Rohr, which assured me that what I experienced was not so improbable:

Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.
I asked the tree, "Tell me about God";
then it blossomed.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pain and Pearl

Each of us needs an opportunity to be alone, and silent, to find space within the day or in the week, just to reflect and to listen to the voice of God that speaks deep with us.
                                                                                --Cardinal Basil Hume

That phrase—speaks deep with us—I first overlooked because this quote is part of a larger quote I read, and then upon rereading it, I misread it. Finally, I saw it for the treasure that it is. Here’s my reflection around it, out of what I’ve been experiencing in my life in recent months:

Be still, still enough to get past the surface junk, the masks that fool even me. Get past the ego, the place at which it all gets quite painful and ugly, the place where I understand deeply and humbly that I am the vilest offender, the chief of sinners, broken beyond repair by my own hand. It is then, at that moment, that God can come and begin to speak deep with me, picking up the shards of my shattered image of myself. Instead of gluing them back together to make a rough, bumpy replica of what I was before, God tosses those aside and instead picks up what I could not see, blinded as I was by the brokenness. God picks up the pearl lying amid the broken pieces, breathes life into it, and holds it close to God’s heart.

The pearl, born of suffering and love, is the seed of God in me, there all along, but not visible to me until I was still and silent and alone for long enough that all that blinded me to it was seen by me for the falseness that it is.

God has been speaking deep with me in this season, in the desert, both words of challenge and words of affirmation, all of it truth, deep calling to deep. I can’t prove it’s God, yet I know for certain it is. The pearl is love, my true self. Even when it is trampled by swine, cast aside for shinier baubles, or abused by those who would try to selfishly hoard it, it lasts. It was created in suffering, so it can withstand suffering. It is divine, so it cannot be possessed by manipulation or force.

I am learning of this pearl within me. It is in all of us, but it is hard work to find it, and most of us will not choose the work; it must be forced upon us, unbidden and unwanted. Even then, we can choose to mask the pain of it with distraction and denial, rather than live with the pain of being stripped, broken and exposed in all our filth and ugliness.

Even if we stay with the work, the painful work, long enough to hear God speak deep with us, long enough to discover the pearl, it remains elusive, unpredictable and undomesticatable, because it is enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The pearl’s discovery is not an arrival, but a threshold, a place of beginning again, not without its own pain, but with a wisdom that can only happen through the hard work of being broken.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


What will be I do not know,
only now, only what is.
The candle’s flame,
a quiet space,
a broken heart,
breath moving in and out,
witnesses to this moment.
Worship now.
Shed tears.
Live. This is life.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Violence of Busyness

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
                                                                ---Thomas Merton

I come back to the quote time and again as a touchstone to remind me not to get caught up in the frenzy of busyness, which occurs as much in the church as it does in life outside the church.

If the Kingdom of God is characterized by peace and love, a church that gets carried away by our culture’s fast pace is a violent church, not a representation of the Kingdom of God.

When the church fails to model a rhythm of work and rest, service and Sabbath, community breaks down. Wayne Muller, in his book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Lives, says that our lack of rest and reflection means that when we solve problems, “we do so frantically, desperately, reactively, and badly. . . In the soil of a quick fix is the seed of a new problem, because our quiet wisdom is unavailable. . . When we are moving faster and faster, every encounter, every detail inflates in importance, everything seems more urgent than it really is, and we react with sloppy desperation.”

I have seen the destruction that happens when people try to do too much too fast. People are hurt, and as Muller says, the quick fix mentality breeds new, and often worse, problems. Living with a frantic urgency is not the way Jesus lived. Jesus looked at and listened to people. Even when he was beckoned to save the life of a child, he was so in tune with his inner wisdom that he could feel someone touch his robe for healing (Luke 8:40-56). He did not get in a hurry.

Wisdom does not come from consuming more knowledge and experiences. Wisdom is born and grows in silence, solitude and Sabbath. When we honor our need for rest, we allow God to be God for us. When we act as though we cannot rest, that we must be always involved in frantic activity, we say by our busyness that we do not trust God to act. And when we have, even implicitly, decided that we must act for God, it is only a small step to the violence that leads to decisions and actions that hurt instead of heal others.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Morning Moment

Head down, walking
in darkness, inside and out
I didn’t see her. Close she stood,
graceful, but strong
and wise with nature’s wisdom.
She did not run—why?
Sensing little threat from
this wounded creature, maybe,
her eyes penetrating my darkness.
Then instinct, as I neared,
took over and she silently leapt
into cover, leaving questions, lessons.
If I live by instinct might I see
another’s pain? If my life is silent
might I hear a crying heart?
If I move slowly might I become wise?
If I trust my creatureliness might I
know my Creator?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Empty Fullness

Sliver of moon, like a bowl
appears empty, full of darkness.
I know, but cannot see
its wholeness
its roundness
its completeness.
Earth’s enormous shadow
obscures the truth.
No empty bowl, but whole,
filled with God, hidden,
icon for my empty soul—
wholeness I cannot see
but real. Presence not felt
but known.

Monday, August 3, 2015

States of Heart

In When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd writes about how Mary, Martha’s sister, defied social taboos by entering the circle of men gathered around Jesus. Jesus doesn’t run her off but holds her up as an example of right devotion and focus. He recognizes the state of her heart.

A whole village in Samaria comes to know Jesus because Jesus defied taboos by being alone with a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that, shocking the disciples upon their return. Among many other instances that rile the Pharisees, Jesus eats at Matthew’s house with a whole gang of riff-raff. He’s right there in the midst of their raucous dinner, interacting and I’m sure, enjoying himself.

It was not only after Jesus’ resurrection that he walked through locked doors and broke open the gates of hell. He lived a life of freedom, challenging structures that choked out life and love and growth during his ministry on earth.

When we get caught up in appearances and propriety, I wonder if we put the gospel on lockdown. We substitute rules for grace, laws for love, fear for freedom, and caution for trust. We don’t allow people to risk and dream bold dreams for Christ because we’ve locked them into a prison of rules to keep them safe. We disregard mercy because it’s messy. It takes time to learn the state of someone’s heart, and most of us are so busy being good people that we don’t have time to look into another’s eyes and hear the cry of their heart.

Because Mary was bold enough to follow her heart, we have an example that shows us what Jesus desires from us—our still, listening selves, not people so busy doing for Jesus that they don’t know Jesus. We would do well to be as attentive as Mary, both to Jesus and to one another. You do not learn the state of another’s heart by their conformity to rules. The story of the rich young man, who followed all the rules but could not follow Jesus, shows us that. When a person desires to be with Christ at any cost, they will leave appearances and propriety in the dust in order to be with the One they desire most of all.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Biting Scriptural Sound Bites

Too often Christians throw Bible verses around like they are pieces of candy tossed from a parade float. We can probably name many that have been lobbed our way, as well as ones we’ve been guilty of flinging toward another.

It’s easier to shoot a scripture toward another than it is to come close enough to a person to hear the need of their heart. We are busy people, and quite frankly, often too busy to listen to one another. Our need for speed means that the verses or phrases we toss toward another often hit the person with such force that they feel more like an arrow inflicting a wound than a treat to encourage.

A person who suffered much damage due to the jealousy of another told me of the arrow shot his way when he sought to convey the depth of his hurt to another. Already suffering significant loss, he was given this “encouraging” word: You know, God is a jealous God.

Ask anyone who’s suffered the death of a loved one and you’ll likely hear an equally hollow “encouraging” word: They are in a better place; Time will heal your wounds; God is with you.

Maybe we need to learn to be silent, and simply be with one another. Our discomfort with silence and stillness causes us to wound others with our shallow sound bites. In fact, “shallow” is a good description of a faith that depends on scriptural candy instead of digging deeply into the meaning of God’s living Word in the person of Jesus, who is body and blood of God, not some irrelevant piece of sugar.

Reading scripture using Lectio Divina strips away the shallow interpretation and use of scripture. Lectio Divina is a prayerful sitting with scripture, allowing it to seep into us, challenge us and change us. Through the regular practice of Lectio Divina, we learn a reverence for the depth of God’s word to us that weans us from using it in trivial ways.

As we learn to be still with God’s word, we also learn to be still with God’s creation, with the hurting and confused who need our presence and love, not a scriptural sound bite. Instead of offering words, we offer ourselves, a living and holy sacrifice, flesh and blood, not the empty calories of scriptural candy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Showing Up

As a participant in the Two-Year Academy for SpiritualFormation, I became acquainted with the ancient concept of praying the hours, also known as the Daily Office or fixed hour prayer. Rooted in scripture, and not unique to our Judeo-Christian tradition, the Office is the act of setting aside specific times of day for corporate prayer. Psalm 119:164 says: I praise you seven times a day for your righteous rules.

Many monastic communities set aside seven times a day for the entire community to pray, with a set order of worship for each Office. In my Academy, we gathered for morning, evening and night prayer each day. By the end of my two years, this rhythm of corporate prayer had worked its way into my spirit, so that even when I did not have a community to gather with for these times of prayer, I added my own voice to voices all around the world who pray the prayers that have been part of our history for centuries.

Sometimes I approach this time of prayer with great anticipation. I have experienced God’s presence in wondrous and affirming ways and it is a joy to say thank you by reciting the canticles, prayers, psalms, and scriptures for the day, the Office and the season. Many of the prayers and canticles I know by heart, a treasure trove of praise and prayer to God.

Other times, when life is hard, or I am tired, it seems that the best I can do is simply to show up, to keep the worldwide cycle of prayer going. On those days, when my heart is heavy, I am grateful for the familiar prayers, because I don’t have the words to pray.

In Ezra 3, when the foundations of the temple are laid, there is both weeping and joyful shouting. Those who remembered the former temple wept but others shouted with joy. Weeping and shouting mingled together. I wonder if that’s what God hears when we participate in the great river of prayer that is the Daily Office. There are the joyful, who are grateful for the privilege to offer their sacrifice of praise, and there are those whose offering is simply showing up, reciting the psalms and prayers from a heart of brokenness, but offering them nonetheless.

This is the communion of saints, weeping and praising together, unending, unbroken throughout the centuries, in times of persecution and times of plenty, in seasons of blessing and seasons of brokenness, in places of war and places of peace, in want or in plenty. We come with what we have to offer. We show up. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Belonging nowhere, I am homeless.
Doors shut, hearts closed,
I lie awake, wondering--
wandering mind
looking for shelter,
an open door,
a familiar heart--
how long this darkness?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Uncertainty as Gift

Uncertainty is not something we generally welcome. Most of us like to know what’s coming next. We want to be in control of our situations. It’s disorienting to be in the dark about the future, or to believe we are out of control.

Deep down we know that nothing is certain, that we really are not in control, but in day to day life, we often act as if we have to have certainty and control. The problem with desiring control and certainty is that they can paralyze us and close us off from spontaneity and growth.

In a daily email I receive, I recently read this contrast between joy and happiness: Happiness is the absence of discord; joy is the welcoming of discord as the basis of higher harmonies. Happiness is finding a system of rules which solves our problems; joy is taking the risk that is necessary to break new frontiers . . . Joy is the experience of possibility, the consciousness of one’s freedom as one confronts one’s destiny. In this sense despair, when it is directly faced, can lead to joy.

While this quote says nothing of control or certainty, the contrast between happiness and joy paints a picture of happiness as a sense of certainty and the ability to be in control of a situation, while joy embraces uncertainty as necessary if one is to experience freedom and growth. Joy can tolerate short-term discomfort because in the long run, hope and joy are connected.

If happiness hinges on our sense of certainty, we swing between happiness and frustration, anxiety and even anger depending on whether or not we feel certain of what is coming next in our lives. If happiness fluctuates like a wet-weather stream, joy has the constancy of an underground aquifer. A joyful person understands that life is uncertain and that control is illusory and thus does not attach his or her well-being to such transient circumstances.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.”

To be patient with stages of instability is not easy, but the joyful person understands that instability is part of life, part of the movement to something new and that God is in the instability, pruning us for new growth. Welcoming uncertainty and instability, with the understanding that they are necessary for the journey, enables us to see them as gifts rather than as something undesirable.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


On a day when insecurity rose,
hooked and reeled to the surface by a simple question—
preventative measures failed
and I was tossed into the box,
gasping for assurance,
caught by my lack of confidence.
All day I flopped there—
feeling strength one minute,
uncertainty the next, until
someone touched me, lifted me up, seeing
what was pure,
setting me free to swim in waters of love.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Inside Out

"How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside they are full of violence and pleasure seeking. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup so that the outside of the cup will be clean too.  Matthew 23:25

What we value is where we spend our energy, time and attention. Jesus' warning to the Pharisees and legal experts is as true today as it was then. If we are focused on how we appear to others, we aren't focused on what is within us. Appearances matter in our culture. The clothes we wear, the cars we drive, our hairstyles, jewelry, homes, where our children attend school or summer camp--these can be all-consuming for people, the focus of most of their attention.

Withing the church we may find this emphasis on appearances acted out in a different fashion. Maybe we agree to certain positions in church leadership because they give us power, or we contribute with the notion that we can influence programs in the church. I've heard people say they stopped giving because they didn't like something the church was or wasn't doing. Life can be choked out of ministries when pride of ownership takes priority over the needs of others, when "our" ministry cannot be expanded to include people from outside the church.

Motives matter. If our concern is how we appear to others, our motive is not love of God. A story from the desert illustrates this: A brother asked Abba John of Gaza, "If I settle an account and afterwards discover that I tricked my brother without wanting to, what should I do?" John replied, "If the amount is large, then return it to him. If it is small, then examine your thought carefully, asking, from the contrary perspective--what you would do if you were tricked by him and were about o receive that amount; if you find that you would indeed want to receive it, then you too should return it. If you would not receive it, then neither should you give it, unless the person was extremely poor: for in this case, a small amount would make a big difference. In that case, you should give him what is fair."

This story warns agains prideful morality and instructs us to be motivated by other-focused love. If we insist on giving the amount when the other would not want it, our concern is on being perceived as honest rather than loving the other whom we short-changes. We are more interested in our own respectability than in valuing the other person.

It's especially significant that John says to examine one's thought carefully. Neglect of such examination keeps us from seeing what is at the root of our motivation. Self-reflection is the vehicle for turning our attention from the outside appearance of our cup to the inside. It's not easy to acknowledge the yucky stuff within us. St. Teresa of Avila, in The Interior Castle, speaks of coming to this realization as seeing all sorts of vile creatures in the lower parts of our inner selves. Most folks see that and shut the door to their interior, becasue admitting that ugliness dwells within us, good Christian folk that we are, is mroe than we want to know.

But denial does not make the ugliness go away. If we want to be rooted and grounded in Christ, in love, we simply have to deal with the junk within us. We have to clean the cup from the inside out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Necessity for Silence

We are a culture that does not value silence. We are bombarded by noise, be it music, television chatter, mechanical sounds or podcasts. It is hard to find silent space in our lives, and for many, silence is uncomfortable. We are so used to constant noise that we don’t know what to do with the rare occasions that there is a void of noise.

I believe one reason we fail to appreciate silence is that it seems unproductive. If we are driving the car and keeping up with the news, or returning phone calls or having our emails read to us by our smart devices, we feel efficient and productive. At the very least, if we aren’t working while driving, we can entertain ourselves with music or podcasts.

The same pattern is repeated in other venues: doctors’ offices, restaurants and airports—even walking down the street. I walk in the early morning and enjoy the songs of birds that signal to me the world is waking up to another day, but many of my neighbors who are walking at the same time don’t hear the birds or other nature sounds because they have their headphones in their ears. I don’t know what they are listening to, but I have to wonder if it is as renewing as the morning sounds of birds, bugs and wind in the trees.

Silence for me is more than simply an absence of noise. It is accompanied by an inner stillness that is essential to being fully present where I am. Silence creates pauses in our lives, allowing us to catch our breath, to remember who we are and whose we are, to reclaim the peace for which we are made. But silence is usually not forced on us or encouraged by our surroundings. We have to want to be silent. We have to seek silence. We have to be intentional about carving out time and space for silence.

I read a line in a book recently that contrasted the spiritual life with a life lived without consciousness. To think that the opposite of living a spiritual life is living a life without consciousness shows me the importance of silence. When our lives are filled with noise, we end up living lives without consciousness. Thomas Merton spoke of the mindlessness of Muzak and how, even if we had to be in places filled with noise, recognizing our yearning for silence keeps us open to be renewed. In contrast, if we are numbed to the noise around us, and have no desire for something different, we cannot be renewed.

Like a field that needs to lie fallow so that depleted nutrients can be restored, we need silence for our own spiritual restoration. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Wide Soul

For the past eighteen months I have been slowly working through a book called All Will Be WellThirty Days with Julian of Norwich. The book pulls material from the sixteen showings Julian received from God. Each of the thirty readings has so much in it that I usually spend weeks working through it.

In the reading I’ve been ruminating on most recently, Julian describes one of her showings, in which she saw the soul as wide as if it were an unlimited realm. That sense of wideness has caused me to ask myself: how wide is my own soul? What would I say causes one’s soul to be wide?

Since Julian says that Jesus lives in the center of our soul, and her showings were revelations of God’s love for us, I think that love and grace likely determine the width of our soul. You can probably name people you’ve known whose soul is wide, because their hearts seem to expand with love for others. These are joyful people, and generous. They are too busy loving others to keep account of how they are treated. They love because it’s way more fun to love than to hold onto resentments. They don’t keep score; they don’t make their love conditional.

One of the wide-souled people I’ve known, who died several years ago, was a woman named Betty Sweet Simmons. Her name fit her perfectly, because she was a dear, sweet woman. When my children were young and performing in a Christmas program at church, I was sad because there were no grandparents coming to see them sing. I invited Betty Sweet to sit with us and thanked her for coming, and she said, “I wouldn’t miss this. These are all my grandchildren.” Her soul was wide enough to encompass all the children of the church, not just her own biological family.

I can’t recall off the top of my head the scripture reference, but the phrase “filled with the fullness of Christ” is one that comes to mind when I think of folks with wide souls. It would be impossible to be filled with the fullness of Christ and possess a narrow soul.

Julian says the soul is as wide as an unlimited realm. So a wide soul really has no boundaries. Its ability to grow and expand is limitless, which means all of life is changing and fresh for those who live with ever-widening souls.

I can think of no finer legacy to leave behind than to be known as one whose soul was wide. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Extraordinarily Ordinary

It is graduation season, filled with speeches about making one’s mark on the world. It’s a season where graduates and their families often dream big dreams of the future. It doesn’t take much to fuel the fires of hopes and dreams, for we live in a country that values big—big accomplishments, big cities, big bank accounts, big companies.

We want to be stimulated, excited, informed, experienced, knowledgeable and influential. We like full calendars, full stomachs, full closets and full control of our lives. We write wills so our full closets will continue to be fully controlled by us after we die.

How could we possibly be content with being ordinary, with having fewer items on our calendars or in our closets, with unconcern about what we have or how we are viewed by others? How could we stand ourselves if we were still, quiet and small? Who would we be if we weren’t “making a difference?”

Certainly there is much work to be done in the world, many people to help, many changes needed and fresh new eyes to see entrenched problems in new ways so that they may be solved. Yet we who claim to follow Christ sometimes forget to follow Christ. Instead we follow ego, we follow what the world says makes us valuable, and while we are busy doing good, we are at the same time starving our souls.

I believe that is why we in the West try to simultaneously pursue the values of our culture, which keep us always hungry for more possessions, experiences and influence while claiming to follow Christ. Sometimes churches are tempted to cater to our appetite for experiences. Worship that is big and stimulating and exciting competes with other things that vie for our attention. We want our worship to “do” something for us. We are not content with something ordinary.

Centering prayer is not flashy, big or exciting. Sitting still for twenty or thirty minutes, content with simply being in the presence of God, doesn’t sound very productive in a culture that values action and results. We reject the simple discipline of simply showing up to be with God, preferring instead to do something for God. Have you ever considered that God might just want our company for a little while each day?

The simple act of being present with God helps us to also be present with others and to be present to ourselves. It is so ordinary, so small, so unexciting, which is why being present is so necessary to our growth as followers of Jesus. It is exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t heal every leper, did not raise every dead child, and did not convert every person to his way of thinking. But he was fully present to the people he was with. He felt the hemorrhaging woman touch his robe. He had time to hold children. He found a blind man amid a crowd of people cheering his presence.

Being present strikes back against the ego that says we are only worth what we accomplish in the world. Being present is countercultural in its ordinariness, in its rejection of big, full and stimulating roles and activities. Yet if we really do want to make a difference in the world, we first have to be different from the world ourselves, and still enough to know how to follow where Christ leads.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


I wonder if our primary way of betraying God is by our desire to be self-reliant. The speed at which most of us live leaves no room for reliance on God, nor are we inclined to wait for God’s guidance or provision. At most, we seek God’s rubber stamp of approval for our decisions.

The concept of Sabbath is not one we embrace willingly; at least that has been my experience. Whether discussing the Jubilee year or just one day a week, groups with whom I’ve met are not ambivalent about the notion of taking time off to let God be God for us. I’ve had both millennials and retirees reject the discipline of Sabbath. Sabbath as a spiritual discipline strikes a blow to the ego, teaching us that we are not self-reliant, that God is not subject to our plans, that, as Brother Lawrence said, we cannot go faster than grace.

Self-reliance and grace live in opposition to each other, which is why embracing self- reliance is a denial of God’s power and grace. It’s not an easy word for us to hear, and yet we shudder at the notion of dependence on God’s grace.

Think otherwise? Then ask yourself how willing you are to be seen as irrelevant, unproductive, or powerless by others. Is your worth so rooted in Christ’s love that you can live with these labels in order to be totally dependent on God’s grace and provision?

Both Judas and Peter demonstrated the sin of self-reliance. Judas wanted power and betrayed Jesus. Peter wanted relevance and wouldn’t accept Jesus’ prediction of his death (Matthew 16:22-23).

How do we betray Jesus by our self-reliance? 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Faster than Grace

Flipping through my copy of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a monk who lived in the 1600s, I saw a  couple of sentences I highlighted several years ago when I read the book: She seems to me full of good will, but she would go faster than grace. One does not become holy all at once.

I wonder what Brother Lawrence would have to say about our instant, disposable, microwave culture that doesn’t have time for even a five-year plan. It seems to me that the Church of western culture has jumped on the runaway train of instantaneousness of everything we do. When I talk to church folk in various locations and denominations, I hear the lament of declining numbers, fear of irrelevance, and I see efforts at one-upping activities “competing” for the attention of church members.

We seem to want to go faster than grace, to find the magic pill that grants instant holiness. We forget the gifts we offer souls: the importance of consistency in an inconstant world, of stability in a transient society, of quiet in a world of noise. Heck, we don’t even build churches with sanctuaries anymore; we have “worship spaces” instead.

Maybe we need a sanctuary, a place to find roots and rest, a place that wraps us in healing embrace and asks, in return, that we go and do likewise with one another. A place to slow down and abide is a place of grace, a place where we are given permission to grow gradually, a place where life is about a long obedience rather than a quick fix.

One of the lessons I’ve learned from the labyrinth is that if I am distracted or try to go too fast, I lose sight of the path. Walking a labyrinth is not about efficiency or speed or results. Rather, the labyrinth invites one to move at a slower pace, to pay attention only to the next step, and to simply be present. The labyrinth reminds me that the journey takes time and is filled with changes in direction, but if I stay on the path, I will never go faster than grace. I’ll never be out of the reach of God’s love and goodness.

Brother Lawrence’s observation reminds me that distractions that pull us away from rootedness in God have existed forever. We haven’t changed that much throughout time. The hunger for God can only be filled by God, and we cannot devour it all at once, and declare ourselves done. We become holy over time, with discipline and stability and sanctuary. May we learn to walk with the pace of grace.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Restlessness vs. Persistence

We live in a culture that seeks to keep us in a constant state of excitement. When things stay the same, we lose interest in them. We are not always willing to hang with things for the long haul. Our short attention spans numb us to the sometimes long, slow, seemingly unchanging circumstances of life.

We grow impatient with slow recovery from illness or surgery. We want those who have experienced loss to “get over it” and get on with life. We grow disinterested when asked to pray for people and we see no change in their circumstances.

We bore easily. Familiar prayers are often said without conscious awareness of the words spoken. Do we really want just our daily bread? Most of us are not content with simply enough for today—we want the whole loaf. We want excess, more than what we need. Yet we pray for just enough every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

We see catastrophic events in the media and we are riveted by their unfolding—for a short period of time. Then we lose interest and shift our attention to something newer and fresher and more sensational. When’s the last time you gave a thought to those affected by Hurricane Katrina? And yet, how many people are continuing to struggle with the changes wrought by that storm almost ten years later?

Even names on a prayer list lose our attention. It is easy for us to forget that behind every name, there is a person, a family, a life, an oftentimes long journey of uncertainty and woundedness. Compassionate care for others requires a commitment to attentiveness.

The desert fathers and mothers recognized the danger of acedia, which is a restless boredom. Evagrius Ponticus describes acedia as making “the day seem fifty hours long.” One of the ways to combat acedia is to persistently stick with something. Abba Moses said this, “sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” In other words to fight the temptation for constant variety, be still and stay in one place.

Our hunger for variety and stimulation leads us to a rootless existence. We cannot grow deeper in our relationship with God if we have yielded to the temptation of acedia. What penetrates our hearts is not a constantly changing kaleidoscope of stimulation but the slow, steady, persistent, faithful practice of stillness. This penetrates our hearts the way persistent drops of water will create indentions on stone. When one practices stillness over a period of time the familiar becomes cherished, not despised. Patience replaces boredom and there is room for compassion to grow and flourish.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Suffering and Wholeness

Some who claim to be Christian in our society identify themselves as followers of Christ while denigrating the poor, verbally attacking those who “different” and enthusiastically pursuing material success and excess. How do we justify such behavior since the centerpiece of our faith is Jesus, who owned nothing and was rejected and killed because he didn’t condone religion that put rules before people? Jesus revealed to us that God’s power is made perfect in weakness, that self-emptying love trumps religious rule-following, that the poor, the prisoner and the outcast are the image of Christ in our midst.

Rachel Remen, a physician who counsels those with chronic and terminal illness makes this observation in her book, My Grandfather’s Blessings: We are a culture that values mastery and control, that cultivates self-sufficiency, competence, independence. But in the shadow of these values lies a profound rejection of our human wholeness. As individuals and as a culture we have developed a sort of contempt for anything in ourselves and in others that has needs, and is capable of suffering.

One of the most obvious ways I’ve seen this contempt is in our unwillingness to acknowledge our wounds or the wounds of others. Sometimes it happens through company bereavement policies that offer minimal time off following the death of a close family member. It may happen through our own impatience, because if we are “just” listening to another’s story, we feel unproductive.

This contempt can manifest itself in denial of woundedness. We don’t share our hurts with others, often because doing so makes everyone uncomfortable. And we may use denial to avoid carrying the suffering of others, as when I’ve heard folks say they simply don’t believe that there are hungry children in the United States. If we don’t acknowledge suffering, we can absolve our indifference toward it.

Dr. Remen reminds us that when we deny our wounds and when we refuse to acknowledge the suffering of others we reject wholeness. This challenges our cultural notion of independence—to recognize that in failing to bear the suffering of others, we are diminished in our own humanity, we are less than what God created us to be. We simply are not independent of one another. When another suffers, I too suffer. I either suffer by my indifference, which keeps me from wholeness, or I can choose to suffer in a Christlike way by bearing their pain with them.

Our productivity oriented culture can’t deal with suffering because suffering cannot fit into a neat formula or a particular timetable. Choosing to suffer with others by coming alongside them in their woundedness means rejecting the efficient, productivity driven way of being in the world. Others will not understand if we choose to move more slowly, if we focus more on being with others than on checking off a to-do list. But that’s okay. The One who said “Follow me” shows us that even death can be overcome if we are willing to bear the suffering of others.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Saturday at the Ball Field

Although Lent is over, I've been out of town on retreat so I thought I'd share another of my Lent poems this week, one that speaks of living in the present moment.

The day after the first
day of spring
I am at the baseball fields
where two young friends
are playing.
A beautiful day and memories,
laughter and folding chairs,
snacks and a toddler
keep me fully in the present moment.
No worries,
no to-do list.
What if every day could be lived
like this one?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Looking Up

Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!)     Mark 16:2-3

Three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, arrive at the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. They are busy discussing how to get into the tomb, because when they were last at the tomb, on the Friday of Jesus’ death, they saw the stone put in place and knew it was more than they could move themselves.

I know I am often so busy looking down, limiting my vision to what I know, to what is seen, that I forget to look up, to be open to how God can transcend my limited ways of being and doing. Looking down limits what I can see. When I look up, my vision is expanded greatly.

As I thought about the difference that looking up makes, I recalled an experience I witnessed many years ago. It was about this time of year, a time when cedar waxwings migrate back through Georgia toward their summer home. A holly bush beside the parking lot outside my office window was shaking from the number of waxwings filling its branches and eating the red berries. Even with the distance my window was from the bush, I could hear the faint peeping of the birds. I watched a coworker pull up in his car, parking right in front of the bush. He got out of the car, never looking up, and walked into the building. When I asked him later if he had seen the birds, he had no idea what I was talking about!

During Lent, a friend shared a prayer about looking at others with enough attention to notice the color of their eyes. If we are looking down, we may be unable to see the face of God in the faces of those in front of us, we may miss the wonders of nature that our Creator has placed around us, and we may not see that the stone has been rolled away, as the three women only experienced when they looked up.

The stone is rolled away! God made a way when way was not possible for others to see. God is still rolling stones away for those who can see God’s work in the world. The Kingdom of God is among us and beyond us! Are we looking up to see it?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


During Lent, my discipline is to be attentive to both inward and outward circumstances of my life and then to write a poem daily. Here is one of my offerings.

The coolness of stone on bare feet,
   painful steps, slowly taken.
Holy ground is not always smooth.
Way forward is not always clear
   or easy.
Pilgrimage involves separation,
   leaving behind the known,
   the familiar, yet knowing
the way is God.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Oscar Romero and Lives that Become the Gospel

How do we live lives that become the gospel? Today is the 35th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, martyred while celebrating Eucharist in a hospital chapel. Martyred because he spoke out against an oppressive and brutal government.

We don’t live lives that become the gospel by complaining that we are “oppressed” when, financially able to have health care, we seek to deny such coverage for those unable to afford it.

We don’t live lives that become the gospel by the name-calling of those with whom we disagree or by supporting media figures who engage in such behavior.

We don’t live lives that become the gospel by consuming more resources than we need and supporting with our purchasing power the oppression of others who are trapped in unsafe, exploitative jobs.

During Lent, I’ve been part of a study of the book Inhabiting the Cruciform God, by Michael Gorman. The book asserts that Paul’s theology is shaped by the pattern of Jesus’ death on the cross, and that such a pattern not only tells us about Jesus, but also God. Philippians 2:5-11 offers us a picture of Jesus’ faithfulness and a picture of God’s sacrificial love for us.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. (MSG)

What would happen if we thought of ourselves in this self-emptying, self-sacrificial way? How would we treat others, even those who inflict violence on us? If we follow the pattern of Jesus, we would not repay violence with violence. Instead we would absorb the violence of others. As Gorman asserts, the power of God in Christ is power in weakness. It is a nonretaliatory, nonviolent power. It is not the way of name-calling, overconsumption or self-preservation.

We have to be careful in our culture of individualism to not be blinded by cultural values that do not follow the pattern given us in the crucifixion and death of Jesus. We have to exercise caution that we do not rationalize our affluence by saying we can do good for others, while surrounding ourselves with things we don’t need and throwing our crumbs to those who have real needs.

The gospel is good news for all. For that to happen we have to empty ourselves for the sake of others. We are called to pour ourselves out, not cautiously cling to our privilege. Archbishop Romero realized that his outspokenness might result in his death. He spoke out anyway. May his faith and courage inspire us to do likewise, and truly live lives that become the gospel.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


During Lent, my discipline has included writing a poem daily about something I am attentive to either outwardly or inwardly. Almost halfway through the season, I am finding it a practice that is helping me to be more aware of myself, others and the world. It has also caused me to be more reflective about experiences, even those I don’t capture in a poem.

Simone Weil said that absolute attention is prayer. I do believe that this attentiveness I am attempting to practice is connecting me more closely to God, to others and to my own way of being and responding.

I hope it is making me more open-hearted, a term I read in a book of Lent and Easter devotions. In a piece about Thomas, the disciple who wouldn’t believe unless he could put his hands in the wounds of the risen Jesus, Romano Guardini says: And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted. Who seek to cleanse their hearts of all self-righteousness, obstinacy, presumption, inclination to “know better.” Who are quick to hear, humble, free-spirited. Who are able to find God’s message in the gospel for the day, or even from the sermons of preachers with no message in particular, or in phrases from the Law they have heard a thousand times, phrases with no quality of charismatic power about them, or in the happenings of everyday life which always end up the same way: work and rest, anxiety—and then again some kind of success, some joy, an encounter, and a sorrow.

When I look over the poems I’ve written so far, there is nothing particularly momentous recorded. Nothing terribly inspirational on its face. They record the feel of bare feet on stones, the fuzzy bud of a Japanese magnolia, the way new information touches me, tears shared among friends, how bird song cheers me, and recognition of my own pain and the pain of others. As Guardini says, the happenings of everyday life. It is all prayer. It is all God. May I be able to recognize it even after Lent is over.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


During Lent, I am taking on the practice of writing a poem a day. The poem is to grow out of a greater attentiveness to what is inside and outside me. From time to time, I will share these on my blog.


To remain silent before anger,
calm before storm,
in the face of power. . .
. . . to be still,
My desire.
My Lent.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

Bare trees lift their bony fingers to the sky
   no need for calendars.
Lent is a felt season—
   sap drained,
   bare boned, stripped
of the outward markers of beauty:
   color, shapes of leaves.
Beautiful in ashen simplicity,
   rooted in dust
   they reach to God.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Perspectives on Paradise

Recently I was in the Florida Keys for a few days. One day of the trip, we visited Key West. All around I saw signs that said “Welcome to Paradise.” I probably should preface my writing by saying that I’m not so much a beach person as a mountain person, so even if conditions are “perfect” I probably wouldn’t think of Key West as paradise.

During the course of our day’s visit, I did, however, witness things that made me consider how paradise might be imagined by different people. And for my friends who are living with much snow, maybe a mental image of palm trees and ocean breezes does sound like paradise right now!

From conversations I had to things I saw, I offer a few perspectives from this place called Paradise:
  • A cruise ship was in port for the day, and the folks sitting at the next table in the restaurant where we ate lunch were very loud, drinking heavily and were wearing t-shirts with obscenities written on them. They were retirees. I wonder if they see paradise as a suspension of the aging process, an attempt to reclaim youth.
  • A clerk in a store lamented the high cost of living in the Keys. He talked about apartment rents that rivaled those in New York City. I wonder if those whose jobs in Key West serve visiting tourists have a sense that they are living in paradise. What is the income gap between the tourists who visit and the workers whose jobs are dependent on those tourists?
  • As we left Key West, we passed a park and I saw someone who appeared to be homeless asleep on the ground next to his bicycle. I wonder if he feels welcomed in paradise.

We stand on the threshold of the season of Lent, a time that invites us to introspection, to going deeper in our faith by voluntarily giving up superficial ways of living. I offer you an invitation to see beyond the surface this Lent, to glimpse the different perspectives with which we and others see the world around us or the world that is within us.