, ,


TONIC: a substance taken to give a feeling of vigor or well-being!

In these days in the turning of the season, when so much is raging and swirling–from the weather to the headlines to the principalities and powers, I often wonder where my energy will be replenished, refilled, kept alive. Much come comes from many of my spiritual practices, all being reformed, in my life. However, I am am increasingly aware of how much tonic –energy, renewal, healing–comes from my encounters–face to face, phone to phone, e-mail to e-mail–with people whom I have been given.

Having lived through a cascade of sorrows among my family, friends and the world in this past season, I am buoyed up by these tastes of tonic through the duration:

  • a piano concert by a friend celebrating her jubilee year
  • a recommendation of a book I haven’t read or a series on Netflix
  • a memory shared about my high school or college days
  • a phone call out of the blue
  • laughing out loud with someone whose sense of humor is as off-center as mine
  • an insight into ways to carry the Light in the midst of a darkness
  • an honest reflection about how things are from another point of view
  • an adventure trying something that seemed a little scary
  • prompts from recollections of things past that gave nourishment and hope–old hymns, former spiritual practices

These sips of tonic bring grace and beauty to the living of days that are so easily cluttered with deeds of greed, dishonesty and stories of pain. They bring hope–“Tis Grace that brought me safe this far, and Grace will lead me home.” They are concrete reminders that the Holy One that I follow and trust never slumbers and never sleeps. and that there are no final defeats.

And so I  take a turn into a new year of life for me in a week, my intention will be to seek tonic wherever it appears, and to savor it, swirl it around in my mouth before I swallow it, and continue to discover the many ways the God is me, to those I love, and to the worlds God created!


Lying Fallow



FirstMushroom“I like projects!” declares my granddaughter. But in this past season for me, I had no compelling projects ahead–no big birthdays or anniversaries coming up, no peak events for which I was responsible, no anticipated shifts in my universe for which to get ready. And August, a time in my personal calendar, it was a time to lie fallow.

What happens in the fallow times? The earth rests. My spirit wander without destination. I can observe what is going by, what is coming in, without needing to leap up and engage it. I have learned, however, that the appearance of inactivity in the earth, and in me, does not mean that there is nothing going on. Underneath all kinds of things are being absorbed, processed, re-imagined and integrated. And so it is with me! In lying fallow I have been aware of the changes in the world that keep swirling, some affecting me directly, others seemingly far away, yet in the web of life still touching me.  While I felt stuck in amber some days, there still have been words, music, images, sensations that have dropped down into my being, beyond consciousness even, that have continued to shape and nourish me.

The fallow season for me is over–all grand-kids are back in school, the church has its homecoming, the scorching heat has abated somewhat, and the regular gathering of my soul friends resumes. It’s time to assess “projects,” to plan holidays. to reconsider commitments for the year ahead. What I am discovering is that from  the fallowness, things are popping up, like the mushroom, unexpected, unplanned, unimagined. New perspectives, new energies, new visions are latent or explicit as the projects of this next season unfold.

I rely on two things from my spiritual journey that sustain me and help me understand this season I have just lived through. One is that in the Providence of the Holy, nothing is wasted. When it looked to me like nothing was going on, the Heart-knower was at work in a subterranean way, creating me energy, imagination and love. Beyond that is my trust that the Holy One never slumbers or sleeps, even in my states of amber or my seasons of lying fallow. For these truth, I am deeply grateful! I am ready to begin my “projects” again!

Weeping With Those who Weep



images-1During these hot, hot days of summer, I am needing to listen to the sacred words that call me to “Weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15 ) It’s always been easy to “Rejoice with those who rejoice;” everyone likes a celebration. But in my life this is not a festival moment; it is a time of mourning:

  • yesterday the husband of a friend died after struggling for months
  • another friend was diagnosed with an aggressive and rapid disease
  • others are in treatment over a long haul to stem the progression of invasive illnesses
  • two long-time partners have hurt each other and their connection is in peril
  • families across borders have been torn asunder by political and economic forces that are tone deaf to human spirit and blind to the image of God in each living person
  • communities around the world, so many in my state, are trying to dig out, rebuild, re-imagine life after disaster–fire and flood, seeking to discern what is irretrievably lost and what can be held on to
  • faith communities are redesigning themselves, morphing into new modes and mediums which seem to promise new life, yet, of necessity leave some faithful people as collateral damage in their wake

All of these particularities are unfolding in a landscape which for some seem like a strange land at best, a place where the call is to sit down by the river and weep.

Weeping is a holy spiritual practice, I believe. I observe it more internally than with actual salt tears. Yet my heart is attuned to those in real time tears. I have pondered how to weep with them. Many are far away, many need to focus on their task of getting through each day. How can I express my care, concern and solidarity?

I am musing on a few practices that I can use to “weep” as other weep:

  • I can express my sorrow in a way that recognizes that the grief belongs to them, not to me, and express it sparely, authentically, not in a way that leaves them needing to care for me grief.
  • I can send messages of affirmations and support–texts, e-mails, cards, phone messages–all saying that I care for them, and am holding them to the Light.
  • I can visit–face to face or electronically–if that is welcome.
  • I can pray that the Holy One would bring wholeness and healing, and ask that others who pray do the same.
  • For the wounds of the world, I can do what I can to send money to agencies who have the resources to heal, rebuild and change hearts and minds. I can let my own voice be heard in petition and voting booth.

In whatever I do, I need to remain clear that sorrow is not the only word or the last word for us. The Psalmist tells us “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b). I often notice that a time for weeping and a time for rejoicing appear together, and I want to give each one its due. But for me, for those I love, for the world, I want to practice weeping as a passage for while, in order to clear the way for the hope of life and healing on the other side.



Seasons of Love


, ,

hydroponicgarden“Tis the season…” June begins a plethora of seasons for me. As one whose days were at one time calibrated to the academic year, I am now am witness to and living into seasons determined by other factors–age, mobility, family evolution and political whimsy. Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a season for everything, a time for everything under heaven. But I wonder if the writer could have imagined the kinds of seasons that I am encountering as a person, a woman, a mother and grandmother, a church member and a citizen.

For a decade or more June for me began the season of the General Assembly of the larger church to which I belong. I went to each gathering, either to participate in deliberations or to teach seminary students about both the Spirit and the instrumental working of the larger church. Hope and feelings ran high and love, every spare minute was booked and accounted for, perspectives were shared and challenged. It was a time of high adrenaline and intensity with a steep learning curve with people to whom you belonged but had never met. I have enjoyed observing from home how GA continues to change and adapt and become the next thing, with new players, new sensibilities, new energy this year. But my season at GA is over. I now take the role of the Prayerful Observer, trusting that the same Spirit that brought energy, imagination and love to the gatherings I attended does so still.

While in academia June began the season of travel–faraway places like Spain, France, Germany, and The British Isles or parts of our own country like New Orleans, New England or New Mexico. Airplane, train and car were all at our disposal, and I loved the exploration, the introduction to new things, and the unfailing beauty of the unknown. I am fascinated as I follow the peregrinations of beloved ones around the world this year–Bhutan, Amsterdam, Nairobi, the Holy Land, France and Iceland. Yet for the time being this is not a season of travel for me. Surgeries, illness, needs of those for whom I care and my awareness of my aging body have kept me tethered to my home space. For now I am an Armchair Traveler, squealing with delight at picture of glaciers and waterfalls, opening wide eyes at beauty in museums and mountain ranges, laughing aloud at happy faces mugging and clowning in exotic lands. And I pray for open eyes and hearts for each one along with safety and protection.

What season is it for me this June? I am discovering day by day what it might mean to be a Prayerful Observer and an Armchair Traveler. I am centered in praying without ceasing: I can’t march downtown, but I can send contributions from my computer, along with my thoughts and prayers. I can’t attend the rallying meetings around the neighborhood, but I can mail in my ballot, and encourage others to do the same. I can’t bring a casserole over, but I can offer words of encouragement and send cards of joy to “encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, and be patient with all of them,” (I Thess. 4:14). And to bring the patience home: to be a peaceful, non-anxious presence in my own immediate sphere, stretching to the elastic and episodic needs of those in recovery, in waiting, in moving through change.

It is a quieter June than past ones, but I am seeking to welcome it, invite it one, and savor the way the Spirit comes to heal, to bless and to give joy!


May Gray




We are accustomed to June gloom in Southern California, but this year we also have had May Gray! The skies are overcast from the time we wake up until midday or beyond. We get an inkling of the intimations of mood that those who live in more northern climes experience, and how it can affect their dispositions with seasonal affective disorder syndrome. It seems symbolic of the times in which we are living as well.

The news is full of doom for the vulnerable and gloom for the faithful who are wounded by the insensitivity and cruelty of others. Headlines are made daily about the disappearance of of familiar places and institutions, and the imagined replacements with something more new and shiny. Lovely, friendly people are stricken with accidents and ailments that are game changers in their daily sojourn. The outlook is not rosy.

One of my favorite children’s books is by Arnold Lobel called The Great Blueness. A wizard lives in a town in which all is gray, covered with the Great Grayness. He is sure that this is a sign that something is wrong, so he descends to his gray cellar to see if he can concoct something that will remedy this. By mixing, probing and experimenting with what he already knows and has, he discovers first blue, then yellow, the red, one at a time, all of which he shares with the town to their amazement and delight. They discover shade and hue, brightness, passion and energy with the diversity of colors. They even find that they can take the colors to mix and discover new colors and shades and tints, bringing variety and contrast. all parts of life that they can experience.

That story has prompted me to dig and delve in my own cellar of provenance, words and images which have been life-saving to me in the past–from sacred texts, from mentors and companions, from practices which I have put aside for awhile. What can I recover and put to use in the Grayness that surrounds me and our world? What mixture of resources can i call on to give me imagination, energy and love to brighten the Grayness in others? I am dusting off my gratitude journal to begin with, prompting me to pay attention every day to the gifts that surround me. I am perusing the Psalms yet another time, finding both voices that articulate the Grayness and voices that bring color to the  Hope that in in process of coming true.

And I learn from the wizard in that Gray Town that color is not mine to hoard and keep for myself alone, but it is to be shared with others, so that they can find their own combination of colors that lightens their Grayness and keeps them going when the gloom seems to be winning. I am so grateful to live in the ages of rapid connection through phone, internet, social media, that allows me to respond to and share with those given to me the colors that have brightness and glory and beauty.

Today turned to June, and I expect we can see some June Gloom on some days. But I feel more hopeful that I can wend my way thought that gloom and the other days with the colorful practices that keep me tethered to the Holy One and keep me energized by the Spirit to share hope and love with others. The Grayness cannot overcome the light ultimately! Thanks be to God!





Mothering Spirit



Betsysrainbowquilt                  Betsysmourningquilt

I am right between Mother’s Day and Pentecost. Our pastor gave a trenchant sermon last week on the “mothering” aspects of the Holy, taken from the first story of the creation, allowing that to neglect the feminine force of God means we are missing out on part Hebrew word, Ruach, Spirit, present at the creation. This week we are anticipating celebrating Ruach once again, this time when She came visibly and audibly on the gathered ones to create a community called Church.

I am wondering what is particular about the Mothering Spirit this week. Our new-ish hymnal gives many choices:

  • Mothering Spirit, nurturing one/in arms of patience hold me close. (Jean Janzen, 1991)
  • Womb of life and source of being, home of every restless heart,/ in your arms the world’s awakened, you have loved us from the start. (Ruth Duck, 1986)
  • Like a mother you enfold me, hold my life within your own…(Shirley Erena Murray, 1986)

As a daughter and as a mother and grandmother, I recognize what it is like both to give and receive that kind of care. However, I must say in honesty that that kind of care was not only offered by  women, or by mothers. I have been graced to receive it from surprising places, from unpredictable places.

So what is it? In conversation with a friend this week, we tried to identify one who embodied a mothering Spirit in our faith journeys. Our attention fell naturally and the easily on the woman who had been our spiritual director for many years, Betsy, whose “Rainbow Quilt” and “Mourning Quilt” are attached. Words like Grace, hospitality, welcome, wisdom, joy, creativity, bubbled up between us. But more than anything else was the sense that she saw us and knew us for who and what we are and loved with unconditional graceful regard, without judgement, categorization or label. That was evident in many ways, and led me to recall others who have “mothered” me along the way.

In the days that followed I am thinking of other persons of mothering spirit:

  • a college counselor who took delight in me and imagined my future accomplishments
  • a pastor who was not threatened by my questioning struggle, but challenged me to pursue being all I was meant to be
  • a couple in my church who subsidized a trip to my first Christian feminist conference when I was a new mother of two small children
  • that one who sat with me as I wept over a deep, deep loss
  • that one who saw my mistake and helped me try over again
  • the one who taught me certain kinds of knowledge and skills with patience, always believing I could do it
  • the ones who listened without censoring to my stories, sometimes over and over again

So as I prepare to celebrate the Holy Spirit tomorrow, who gave birth to the Church and to all people, I am grateful for all the “mothering” I have had, whether it came from a man or a woman, an elder or child or peer, from a source I had hoped for or a complete surprise. All of them were holy. All in that moment saw me for who I was right then, and all were cheering me forward. I am blessed by that Mothering, and I want continue to keep Mothering, in Spirit and in Truth!


Valleys of Shadow




I have stumbled through valleys of shadow this past year. The Psalmist talks about the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but I have encountered other valleys, internal ones in my “one wild and precious life.” I have wandered in the valley of old wounds, hurts and slights, things that happened years or months ago, which when I remember them still sting and hurt. I have roved in the valley of missteps, misdeeds and mistakes, which may or may not have been redeemed, nor may they be able to be. I have bumped along in the valley of a garbled sense of self, with roots in my tales of a journey of becoming.

Falling in to these valleys, I don’t lose my ability to function, to contribute or to enjoy. But in the solitary and dark moments, I lose perspective, direction and hope. So I have wrestled with how to navigate these turns in the road, how to live with them; I am not sure that I will ever “overcome” them. I have reached back in my own story to find out what has provided a container for me when I find myself in one of those valleys, yet again.

I begin with music. One great gift of my life from its beginnings was the sense-around sound of music: church music–choral and congregational; spiritual music; old folk songs, before there was a folk music movement. Everyone in my family–nuclear and extended–sang. We sang together in family prayers; we sang grace at holiday table. As I developed my own voice and skill, my repertoire of rock music, classical music, and camp songs expanded. Those melodies, harmonies, and rhythms, and most of the words, are embedded in my heart and awareness, and I can call them up at a dark moment’s notice. “Kindle a flame to lighten the dark, and take all fear away,” “Safe am I in the shelter of God’s hand.” Even, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when clouds are gray.” The multi-sensory memories sooth my body, comfort my soul.

I also call up words that bless–words from sacred text, words from poetry, and words from wise and compassionate companions over the parts of the trail I have traversed already. Even if I don’t sense their truth in this immediate valley of the shadows, they are touchstones for me. Knowing they are there reminds me that this valley isn’t the only terrain I am crossing; there will be other, more open and clear well-lighted spaces in which to live and move and have my being. “Even my darkness is not dark to you.” “There is joy in all…” “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom!” Sacred or silly, these words are markers of hope.

And of late, I have come to value the practice of attending curiously to the valley of my shadow itself before rushing through it: what are its contours of feeling for me? how did I happen on this particular one? what are the names of the features of this landscape? are they familiar, ancient, new? Before I race to deny or get out of this place, can I , as they say in Buddhist tradition, “..sit still until the mud settles”? What does this valley of the shadow have to teach me…about the world, about the Self that God gave me, and about the Holy One who is here with me?

That’s where I am learning to rest in each of these valleys, counting on the Psalm of the Shepherd: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley…of any kind…I fear no evil; for You are with me.” (Psalm 23: 4.) Each day there is evidence of Holy Presence, in my garden, in my dog, in an e-mail, in Bach on the radio, in a reach-out from a long ago friend, in gentleness from loved ones, in a Word–sacred and comforting. I don’t love these valleys of shadows, but I am accompanied with love and compassion through them. And the sacred journey continues.

Ministry and Life in Stages


, ,

PreacherWomanI was invited to assist in the worship service where I attend church this past week. In my muscles and brain I knew what to do, what to look and listen for, and how to behave. I have led worshiping communities in prayers of confession, pastoral prays of thanksgiving and intercession and dedication of the offering for nearly 35 years. This past Sunday morning I remembered  how many stages I have moved through in those years; this particular Sunday I was the Honorably Retired guest, stepping up to meet a need of the present staff.

Years ago I preached my first sermon. I had not yet entered seminary, and I had never heard a woman preach. Later, in two of my three parish calls, I was the first woman on staff. Those were years when little girls in the congregation would draw a picture of me and bring it to me as  a gift. Those also were the years when certain parishioners let it be known that they would not welcome a hospital visit from me, no matter if I were the only pastor available, because I was a woman. Those were years of great delights, deep stresses and tears, and a formidable learning curve for me and for the congregation. I was the new one in the life of the church, on many levels. My days were roller coasters of elation and despair, of joy and grief!

I moved into the middle and most active years of parish ministry where I found my voice as a preacher, where I was invited to design and speak at women’s retreats, where I was often the one called to stand in the gap when life or lives in the church frayed. My church worldview expanded as I encountered people from my denomination whose worship expressions differed from those I knew well, and then again as I moved out to engage people in ecumenical gatherings and interfaith dialogues. I had to learn with more sinews some interior spiritual practices of setting boundaries, of discerning which call was for me, of taking a “long, loving look at the real,” of listening to my own longings through the lenses of therapy and spiritual direction. I served three different churches as part of a parish staff, and became more adept in to “reading” a congregation. I loved so much about those years, and cherished not only most of the work and the people, but loved the sense that I had “come down in the place just right” for me.

My last years before retirement were teaching inquirers and students in seminary those things I had learned both in my D.Min work, and also the churches I served. It was a happy challenge to “pay it forward” to women and men seeking to serve God as pastors and chaplains.

And now I am the Honorably Retired pastor and spiritual director. My contributions are more often private rather than public. My congregation numbers one or 10, usually not too many more. It is satisfying and delightful soul work that I am called and allowed to witness.

But sometimes I am wistful when I see the opportunities offered to women in ministry now. There are congregations who can’t imagine a church staff that doesn’t include a woman pastor. Social media has opened the floodgates to women telling their stories of faithful listening to God’s calling them whether it is in academia, like Melanie Springer Mock, in her book Worthy, or like Kate Bowler in her  Everything Happens for a Reason; or women in the parish like Heidi Neumark or Rachel Srubas; or women who have carved out ministries at large, such as MaryAnn McKibben Dana and Diana Butler Bass. I read each of them with delight and gratitude, grieving with them where they have suffered, rejoicing with them in locating their particular calling, and letting them be beacons for Light for me as I in my present place also serve and wait.

It is a good and gracious thing to be in service to the Holy One, no matter one’s age and stage of life!



Easter Sabbath



HolySaturdayThe gospel of Luke tells us that after all the profound and intense events of the days of Holy Week, those who loved and followed Jesus, “On the sabbath…rested according to the commandments.” I am entering into that rest today, Holy Saturday. I am taking sabbath in my spirit. It’s not as if I don’t know that there are things that need to be done. But I am intending to let my spirit be at rest. Marva Dawn in her important book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, identifies four movements of Sabbath that I am observing inwardly today.

Ceasing: This Easter Saturday I am ceasing from anxiety about tomorrow–whether all the connections will be made, whether the food will suit everybody, whether we will get to church early enough to get a seat, whether or not I have remembered to reach out to everyone. I have done or will do all that can be done, and will no longer worry about what’s undone.

Resting: In between the things I still need to do to make life livable, I will rest–short respites of listening to Bach, a brief snooze before company arrives, a quick reading of a chapter of mystery, a time to sit and gaze at the beautiful back yard in bloom. For a brief shining moment here and there, I will rest my body as well as my spirit.

Embracing: I am opening my arms and heart to the beauty and gifts that are offered to me–an unexpected warm e-mail from abroad from an old friend, a top of the morning snuggle with my beloved, a granddaughter who is coming to decorate for tomorrow. All are welcome in my heart today, gifts from the One who gives good gifts continually. I also intend to welcome the gifts I don’t yet know about!

Feasting: The feasting on food will happen tomorrow in the main, but today, a Sabbath, I am feasting on sacred music, the new bloom of roses, the aroma of Black-Bottom cupcakes, a nostalgic recipe from my children’s birthday parties, the softness of my throw rug and the dog’s silky ears, and the taste of the extra chocolate chips that don’t quite make it into the batter. I am also feasting of the awareness that for this day there is a Grace in not having to do anything to make thing all right, not at home, not in the Church, not in the world. Jesus is at rest, out of pain; I can be too. Tomorrow all the energy and power of Easter will compel me forward again to celebrate, to rejoice, and to let that energy become action for change in the world. But today I am observing sabbath.

I am resting in anticipation of the good news to come!






Preparing a Welcome


, ,

welcomingfireplace I love to inhabit the place where people come to visit. Each week people come into my living room to sit and reflect on the places here the Holy has been apparent in their lives and what challenges have presented themselves. Each Thursday my granddaughter comes over after school to do homework, to create a new project, to snack on Doritos and catch up on conversation. And every so often, people come from far away to spend a night or two with our home as a base of operations. I am always in need of preparing the space for each visitor.

I have the memory of a bustling mother who hosted many in the homes she inhabited over the years. She with my father were, in their stateside missionary years, hosts for missionaries in transit from their fields of work abroad to their homes for furlough. The dinner table was long and set with many inexpensive dishes that fed a crowd. My father ferried people from train, plane and boat to the home and back again. Besides food and transportation, they were busy with helping find medical resources, shopping and assisting in making connections to the next points on the itinerary. All this was done in between the rhythm of daily prayers and ongoing helpful conversation.

Another icon of hospitality for me was my first spiritual director. Her home in my imagination was a Hobbit House–cozy, warm, and full of icons of Spirit, some classic, some personal signs of her own. More important than the place was her presence. She was always smiling and welcoming, and as we talked, for over 20 years, she brought to me an attentiveness, supported by an accumulated memory of who I was and where I had been. I was not just a generic guest, but I was a particular visitor, in that sacred moment and place, whose journey was worthy of all the time and listening the hour afforded.

As I turn into Holy Week this weekend, I am drawn to the occasions when Jesus was offered hospitality–the supper where his feet are anointed by a woman who did what she could; a Passover meal in an upper room, where he welcomed his beloved one by washing their feet; a sharing of a loaf of bread and a cup of wine, his icons of himself, given to those around the table. On each occasion, someone prepared the material of the meal and the place for eating it in readiness for the welcome. And in each, someone, Jesus, became the host in attending the the deep need of Spirit, for a sacred space and sacred moment in which to experience the Spirit.

In this Holy Week ahead of me, I would like to exercise hospitality of Spirit–by welcoming those who are brought to me, prepared for what they might need–a cold cup of water, a listening ear, a shelter from the storm. And I would like to offer my presence to each one–listening for words or no words, receiving their stories with Grace. I also ask for an awareness of how the Spirit is the container for each visit, and be able to have eyes to see and ears to see how the Spirit is moving and prodding and comforting each one. so that I can join that movement in grounding us in energy, imagination and Love.

The poet Rumi tells us, “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival…Welcome and entertain them all!…Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

I pray for an open door, an open ear and an open heart this Holy Week!