Advent 4: Joy…Now and Then!



Basilica of St. Anne De Beaupres. Quebec, Canada (personal photo)

I gasped in delight when I visited this sanctuary last year! I had never entered a worship space that was so explicitly intended for Joy! As I wandered among all the works of art, I sensed they were pointing toward two things: the healing of body and soul and the recognition of joy in the heart, all the time, not just in festival season, but a through note in all of a life seeking and living the sacred.

And now we are about to be stunned and amazed by the celebration of that Joy, a time we call Christmastide. I love the many ways that Joy keeps revealing itself in these last days of Advent: children dressed in red and green, singing their hearts out; cookie bakers with the objects of love in their hearts creating new and familiar recipes to console and thrill the recipients; generosity poured out, both in contributions for the broken places of the world and in random acts of kindness; homes and hearts opening wide to those who can use some solace, shelter and energizing!

Then we reflect all that Joy that comes from the Holy One in our observances.We sing loudly “Joy to the World!” We remember the sacred stories from Genesis to Revelation, reminding us that we have Joy as a constant companion–through disasters, through trauma, through tragedy, through grief. We don’t always sense it, know it, feel it, but we have been and are given it by the One who came to make our Joy complete.

I have been collecting quotations and poems and anecdotes about Joy in these past months, when there are moments when Joy seems to have vanished from the vocabulary and actions of the culture. I find Joy is the wisdom of saints from John Calvin to Maya Angelou who recognize that Joy is part of the way that we know that the Holy One is operative and lively and powerful in the world. I am choosing one that invites my attention and my action this Christmas from Henri Nouwen:

Joy does not simply happen to use…We must choose Joy and keep choosing it every day!

That’s what I am choosing this Christmastide and for the year to come!



Advent 3: Love Evolving



My reflection on Mary, the mother of Jesus prompts this prayer on the third Sunday of Advent. which by some calendars is about Love:

O Holy One of Love,

I long to be as loving as Mary, when she first said yes to Gabriel, to be the bearer of the Light, persistent despite her anxiety, reaching out for friendship when she felt so alone, bursting forth with praise and gladness for the Light she knows in her body and spirit.

I would want to be as flexible as she was in adapting to her circumstances–long journey in discomfort, doing what was required amid fearful politics, reflective of all that kept coming her way.

I celebrate and would learn from her caregiving to her child, no matter how old he was, and her celebration of his emerging person, meanwhile speaking her truth to him as she understood it.

I pray for the tenacity and courage to stay with each of my beloved ones, as long as I live, even if means walking with them through heavy sorrow and broken-heartedness.

I pray that I will be supportive of the vision and journey of each one, even as they go on paths that are alien to me, even unimaginable.

In this Advent season I look back and give thanks for the Love that has brought me safely thus far, however imperfect, love that was patient, faithful, elastic, welcoming and celebrating. Keep teaching me by your Spirit to keep learning to Love as many days as I have been given to Love!

In the name of the One who is Love in Person, Amen

Advent II: More Light Appearing


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Right after I posted my blog last week, I opened my Facebook to behold one vista after another of sunrises in the east–one Tiepolo sky, one giant swath of golden and peach rays as far as the eye could see, one bright ball of color arising out of a nest of dark and formidable twigs and trees. Light is coming, slowly but surely, sometimes in ways we can’t miss it, other ways in which it suddenly dawns on us. Yet the Light keeps shining, even if I can see it only a little at a time.

As I light my second Advent candle this week, I acknowledge that there is growing Light in my and the world around me. I am amazed at the way the Light kept shining through the ugly dark patches in the world headlines. For almost every reported incident of meanness or narcissism or selfishness, there was another tale of generosity or sacrifice or kindness. Between the notes of honking and shouting and grinding of gears, came the harmonies of Advent and Christmas hymns and parents adoring and protecting their little and big ones! After the blinding cold rains came the double rainbows across the sky! And in these moments of illumination comes Peace.

The One for whom we are waiting is about Peace.That truth challenges me to imagine how I am to be a Maker of Peace in this season, as I get each dollop of Peaceful Light around me. I see that I can bring a peaceful face to a a contentious criticism. I can listen to my tone of voice as I participate in conversations that are querulous or despairing. I can change my posture to one of open-heartedness, arms uncrossed, when I am in a place where aggressiveness and rigidity seems to be the chosen affect of the day. I remember that sacred text which tells me that “the peace of God which surpasses  all understanding will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” With the Light I have been given, I am to be Peace in this season, which gets so captivated by un-Peace, and in this world which is so chaotic as it flings itself around in the dark.

My prayer for myself and for others in this week of Advent is that I would allow the increasing Light to bring more Peace:

Holy One for whom we are waiting, it is hard to wait, especially with the all the hustle and bustle around us, even more so with the never-ending conflict, injustice and callousness in the world that needs our attention and work. Let me be a bearer of your Light that leads to your Peace–for my sake, for the sake of those I love and you have given to me, and for the sake of the world. Amen.



Advent 1: In the Dark


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It is dark this year! Not just at the beginning of Advent, but it has been thus all year! So I offer a prayer in the Dark:

God, the world is dark at the beginning of this year. I am often anxious in the dark–of noises that frighten, of shapes that threaten, at memories that haunt. This year so much seems so much darker–the grief of the planet, the chaos in nations, the loss of hope in the community of peoples.

The lives of people I love are dark. Illness, loneliness, catastrophic loss,deep sorrow, frustration and boredom all cut hug swaths of attention, intention and aspiration, energy. They, and I, struggle to keep finding the light and the places where it can get in.

As I age I notice more darkness in me–my response to my limitations, with less patience for the change and decay in the world, my feeling less powerful to make a difference, fewer days in which I can persist.

Yet I am sure and I trust that You are in the dark too, with me, and in the world. Along with the psalmist, I know that “my darkness is not dark to you!” When I lift up my head and look around, I see that there are glimmers of Light shining–in communities that gather to rescue, save and preserve; in churches that act on their convictions to care for the poor, widows and children; in generous souls who keep on with their acts of great love and their constant presence to those in pain, whether it is received with grace or not.

So today I light my first candle of Advent to add both my witness to the Light in which I trust, and to signal my commitment to be a bearer of that Light in to the places that I go. I light it to remember that as the gospeller John tells us, You the Light are the Light of God and the darkness cannot put it, or You, out! By Your Spirit I can fan my sparks of hope, despite the “encircling gloom,” despite the ugliness that passes for common discourse in these times, no matter the catastrophe of the hour.

As I write this, the radio begins to play, “Lux Aeterna,” by Morton Lauridsen, Eternal Light. Yes, Light of the Holy, You never are extinguished, even in times of deep darkness.This Advent, while feeling blanketed by darkness, I am joining Your Light for the world, even as we wait for your coming again in the world.






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BeautifulCambriaWe heard the word Ugliness and have been seeing it demonstrated over and over in the last weeks on the national political scene. Even the most experienced and enlightened are nonplussed at best, and most are horrified at the behavior and language choices on display in what is supposed to be the center of reasonable and moral leadership in our country. It is hard to overcome Ugliness–visually and aurally and emotionally–once we have encountered it. But I believe that Beauty is one way we can resist, defy and countermand that ugliness we meet.

Older versions of Hebrew Scripture tell us that God made everything Beautiful in its own time (Eccl. 3:11). So, I am seeking ways, in this time where so much Ugliness abounds, to see Beauty, to celebrate it and to share it. In this week of Thanksgiving I am cataloging Beauty as I find it:

  • the music of Bach sung last night by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, “The Magnificat”
  • the stalks of 12 white bearded iris that greeted me when arrived home from my trip last week
  • the complete absorption in singing “Count You Blessings” by the little girl at the end of the row in the Children’s Choir
  • the elegant and startling prose of Gretel Ehrlich as she invites me into a part of our country that is unfamiliar to me
  • each step of newly minted personhood that each grandchild is taking he and she become who they are meant to be
  • the sunset on Cayucos Beach, as I am wrapped up in sweatshirt and blanket
  • the outpouring of generosity and caring and love that neighbors, friends and strangers are proffering to those devastated by fire and disaster
  • the memories of a high school friend who left us this week–her joie de vivre, her persistence, her luminous laughter
  • the faces of those with whom I sit weekly who are intently listening and looking for Spirit presence in their life
  • the dignity and grace with which some participants in political striving carry out their calling, despite so much opposition

As I write I feel that the list is endless!!! Thanks be to God!

In an unexpected synergy of friendship and celebration, I was able to see the musical “Beautiful,” telling the story of songwriter and singer Carole King through her music. The title anthem has become my marching song in this season of celebration, deep grieving, of resistance, of call to be Light in the world:

You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile in your face,

and show the world all the love in your heart.

Then people gonna treat you better; you’re gonna find (yes, you will)

that you’re beautiful as you feel.

As the Beauty of the Holy One fills me with this invitation, I can be an increasingly potent antidote to the  ugliness that seeps through the waves of of communication and discourse in our world. May I be given the Grace to be Beautiful in this season..and always!







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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


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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!