Many Colored Tree

There is a tree I am watching these days. It sits in the yard near the church where I work. Unlike some of the trees in the neighborhood, trees that have had long lives watching the changing face of this urban area, this tree is newer, younger. It was planted to replace some others that were taken down in the sweep of progress and renovation. It is a maple tree and so it also has the gift of showing us the pace of the changing seasons. However, this tree seems to be trying to hold two worlds within its limbs. One side clearly shows forth the green, vibrant colors of summer. The other side is a rich, red, shining brilliant into the crisp and cooler days we have been experiencing. Like the Janus face of comedy and tragedy, this tree is holding two seasons.

As I have been watching its leaves theses last days, I seem to remember that this was its behavior last year. I have no idea what chemistry or ecology or botany is at work. I only know that it makes for a fascinating show of color and an equally fascinating thing to reflect upon. Like the tree, most of us are feeling a little melancholy at letting go of this beautiful summer. It has been filled with all the goodness these warmer months hold out to us…..bright blue skies, a more leisurely pace of living, time spent outside with friends and family, an opportunity to soak up sun and bask in the color and beauty that gives way to gratitude. All these to be stored up for the winter, like the ever-fattening squirrels that also are running frantically around our green spaces. Like this two-toned tree, most of us are not anxious to let go of this lovely season.

And yet there is also beauty in the red and orange the tree holds on its other side. Its colors invite us to the coolness of autumn with its new wave of foods and tastes…apples…pumpkins…squash….all mirroring the colors of the very landscape around us. It is as if the landscape dips down onto our plates and paints a picture of itself. Plus there is the letting go that fall demands and the trees teach us this important life lesson we can never fully embrace. And so each autumn we get another chance. As the trees let go their leaves, we are invited to let go of those things which may have been born in the warmth of summer but must be let go for our growth, our healing, our own good. I have a few that might fit this description. Do you?

Over the next weeks, the maple tree which seems to be in a battle with itself will eventually let go all its leaves. Both red and green leaves will have reached their fullness and will fall to the earth below. If workers are not too quick in raking them up, these leaves will have the opportunity to nourish the ground and the roots of the tree that has been their home. Thinking of this I am reminded of a poem by Nancy Wood that I often read at memorial services which speaks of this amazing cycle of which we are all a part:

You shall ask
What good are dead leaves
And I will tell you
They nourish the sore earth.
You shall ask
What reason is there for winter
And I will tell you
To bring about new leaves
You shall ask
Why are the leaves so green
And I will tell you
Because they are rich with life
You shall ask
Why must summer end
And I will tell you
So that the leaves can die.

I will continue to watch this tree of many colors allowing its wisdom to bless me. I will continue to marvel at its beauty and to look for the lessons it might teach me. Like the tree, each of us in always involved in a summer,an autumn, a spring and a winter. Sometimes those seasons are more visible to us than others.

Whichever season is most visible in you this day……blessings, blessings, blessings.

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Gospel Clouds

“God writes the Gospels not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
~Martin Luther

Our teachers come to us in many forms. It is that time of year when new student-teacher relationships are being formed. One of the gifts of social media is seeing all the first day of school pictures that arrive in my Facebook feed. There are the sweet faces of those headed off to the first day of kindergarten. There are also those less than happy to be photographed photos of students headed out for the first day of junior high. There are even a few photos of patient high schoolers indulging their parents in this yearly tradition. If you look closely you can see the spirit of the kindergartner still present in that young adult face and petulance of the adolescent. Each one, no matter the age, is headed off to form relationships with those people who will become teacher. And any good awaiting teacher knows that among those students who arrive in their classroom will be one or two who will also be a teacher to them.

Most often we think of other people as teachers. I know I can name a long list of those human ones who have been the wisdom holders, those who have made the journey of life full and rich and filled with purpose. Some of these folks have been in the profession of being a teacher. But many, perhaps even most, have not been. They have been the people who have shown up in my life at just the right time, said or done an often simple thing that has made all the difference. Many times it has not been words that have provided the lesson but their very presence that has been the gift.

Other times our teachers are not humans at all. How many times have you spoken to a dog or cat owner who tells of the lessons they learn from these four-leggeds? I am certain that those who work and live with other kinds of animals can also tell stories of what it is they learn from these beings without words yet holders of wisdom. I know bird-watchers who can talk for hours of the lessons of the winged ones. As they speak their faces light up with something just shy of conversion.

Over the past days it has not been human or animal or fowl that has been a teacher to me. Instead it has been the clouds. There are certain times of the year when clouds seem to be more brilliant, more vivid than other times. These September days are one. Perhaps it is the interplay, the relationship, of the color of the sky and the clouds that makes it so. I don’t know. I just know that, if you have been paying attention, you will also have noticed the clouds…their formations, their shapes, the colors that they seem to pour forth into the blueness.

On Tuesday, I lay on my back in a boat looking up at the clouds dancing in a clear, azure sky. Big puffs of white that seemed set, painted in one place, surprisingly moved slowly, slowly into new shapes more fascinating and beautiful than before. Every now and then a small piece of the cloud would slip away and float all on its own, its feathery shape undulating with its own purpose, now unleashed from the larger form. Other times a small slip of a cloud would remove itself from a larger cloud and dance and move across the sky until it disappeared altogether. Gone.

Yesterday, on an evening walk, I turned the corner and walked onto the High Bridge that connects St. Paul and West St. Paul and suspends itself above the mighty Mississippi River. The Cathedral rose out of the horizon with its sister architecture, the Capital, in all their showy splendor. But last night, last night, they were upstaged by the clouds. The nearly setting sun was shining through clouds that turned pink and lavender and purple and orange. They seemed to want to draw all Creation into their beauty. Standing suspended above the earth as I was, I gave thanks for the Gospel not written in words but offered to me in that moment. A Gospel….the good news…that the Holy is an ever-working Artist whose work is the stuff of the ever day. Some place in that wisdom was the the lesson that I am….you are….also a part of that beauty, that good news.

It was a good lesson to learn.

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Ordinary Time

On Sunday morning I was deeply into what has become a pre-church and all-that-Sunday- morning-can-hold ritual. From 6:00-7:00 a.m as I get dressed and eat breakfast before departing for church, I listen to Krista Tippett’s radio show ‘On Being’. This week her guest was poet Marie Howe, a poet that was new to me. I listened with one ear on the radio and one eye on the mirror. I was drawn in by her jovial spirit and easy going conversational way, something not always found in those whose lives are given to an efficiency of words. She told wonderful stories of how she coaxed poems out of surprised students who never thought of themselves as ‘that kind of writer’. I listened with interest at her unabashed love of her Roman Catholic upbringing and all the layers of liturgy and tradition that came with it. But what brought me up short was the title of one of her collections of poetry: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time.

The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. I sighed with understanding. I thought of this church season in which we travel these days…..Ordinary Time….the longest season of all. It does not hold the mystery and introspection of the days of a Advent. It isn’t the full-bodied ‘Alleluia’ of Christmas. It does not demand of us what Lent and Easter ask. It is not flashy or colorful like Pentecost. Ordinary Time is where we spend the majority of our time, the fullness of our days. With its prescribed color of green, Ordinary Time presupposes growth, that something will bloom out of us. Something that may have been born out of Advent, refined in Lent, transformed by Easter and even inspired by Pentecost.

For those of you who don’t walk around in the church world the way I do, this might sound like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. But for those of us who have made a home and struggled in the Christian household, these words name the seasons of the church year. And if you stick around in this beautiful and messy house you soon begin to measure the passing of days not only with January through December but also Advent through Ordinary Time.

When I heard Marie Howe refer to this book of poetry, I scribbled the title down on a scrap of paper and tucked it inside a book,as is my practice. Later in the day I ordered the book and now await its arrival. I look forward to seeing what this poet laureate of New York does with her ordinary times. I wonder how she sees the ‘kingdom’…..the inbreaking of the Holy….in the tasks of washing dishes and driving the car. I am excited to read how she stacks words one on top of the other to spell out the holiness of riding the elevator or passing the person whose sign reads:” Help. Homeless. God bless.” I am anxious to read the ways in which her living in the every day is threaded with green and growing moments that light up her spiritual path.

Over the years I haven’t held much with the term ‘kingdom’ as it shows up in the scriptures. In the community in which I travel we often change the word to ‘kindom’, making note that we understand more of what it means to be kin than what it means to reside in a kingdom. But in hearing this title, I have to admit I was drawn to its use and its meaning. How often I like to believe that the daily work of my ordinary life is pulling me into a place of beauty, a place that rises to some status close to royal. Do you share this belief? I want to believe that as I go through the mundane and miraculous movements of my every day, that some of the acts really are sacred. Setting my feet on the blessed ground. The fact that my two legs hold me up and gravity prevails. The way the coffee pours so elegantly and tastes so delicious. The slant of the sun onto the kitchen table illuminating the fruits and vegetables that reside in the wooden bowl, red, yellow, green, orange. The looks on the faces of those I meet, the way their eyes light up and the smiles form on their faces. The kindness of words and the missed opportunities for connection. The blessing of sun and moon and water and sky…..again and again and again.

All these small yet significant acts of any day lead me further toward The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. And you, what are the acts that are leading you toward this blessed place where the Sacred brushes your shoulder and reminds you of its Presence?

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Christmas All Summer

When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree.
~Vietnamese Proverb

Christmas has come every Wednesday this summer. By that I mean that gifts, both surprising and amazing, have arrived every Wednesday when the share of our CSA(Community Supported Agriculture) box was delivered by a gentle, German Baptist man named Karl. Though he may look Amish to the untrained eye, his van keys and his place behind the steering wheel of the delivery vehicle is a dead give-away. Karl arrives every Wednesday morning with boxes of produce grown by Amish farmers in southern Minnesota and Wisconsin. In the dead of winter when it didn’t seem it could get any colder, we purchased a share in the hope and promise of summer. In doing so, we agreed to be in a relationship with those who not only plant fruits and vegetables but do so out of an understanding of their faith. And with that purchase and in that relationship, Christmas has arrived every Wednesday.

The calendar I consult every day has the Vietnamese proverb above printed in lovely letters for the month of August. It is a robust month filled with all the goodness, and often abundance, of summer foods. This week, in addition to our weekly box of fresh produce, Karl also delivered an open box of beautiful, large, heirloom tomatoes….brilliant red, sunny yellow and lime green with stripes. “There are extra tomatoes this week! Give them to everyone!” And so all those who purchased shares got extra tomatoes along with some of the staff at the church who lovingly work their jobs every day and have marveled at the comings and goings of the boxes of produce.

So many times over these weeks of summer I have “thought of the person who planted the tree”. I have wondered at their lives and how I now feel a kinship with them in a way that I don’t often with my produce purchased at the grocery store. This is a shame, of course, because the vegetables and fruit purchased there also represents lives and the hard work of growing and tending. However, unlike the produce purchased at the store, our box of goodies also contains a letter written by someone on one of the farms. Sometime this letter is written by a child…..always a treat. Other times the writing reflects an older person or at least one whose life is reflective in a way that dazzles me. Often these reflections center on what life has been like on the farm that week or a particular favorite activity that is enjoyed in the community.

The early morning is a special time of day. Dawn starts to creep across the land and darkness of night slips silently into the shadows. One by one the stars fade and are lost from view. An expectant hush shrouds the farm soon to be replaced by many sounds and activities. What will the new day hold? A veil of fog hangs low over the fields. Everything has been refreshed by a sip of dew during the coolness of night.”

These words are plucked from the letter tucked into this week’s box. Clearly, there are poets among the farmers as well. This attention to the movement of Creation and our two-leggeds connection to it all is the work of the psalmist. This reminder is nutrition for body, mind and spirit and fills me with a joy that is so much more than the calories needed to keep my body moving in a whole and healthy way in the world.

In just a few short weeks Karl will no longer pull up to the door in his specially rigged up refrigerated van. The food that makes its way to our table will be chosen from the heaping mounds of produce that has traveled thousands of miles to get to the grocery store shelves. Writing this brings a certain sadness. And yet the ability to “think of the one who planted to tree” can continue. Perhaps this summer’s experience of relationship can extend the table to the countless hands and lives that work every day, seen and unseen, to bring food to all of us. Scratched on this week’s letter was also this scripture from Genesis:”And out of the ground made The Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.”

And so it is. Summer, fall, winter, spring. Our hearts can be full to overflowing for those who plant and tend and toil and harvest. Those who work in the fields and orchards. Those who carry and load. Those who box and sell. This food with sustains us comes through the sacrifice and toil of so many. And the grace of the One who breathed life into all Creation.

Blessed be.

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Birthing

Within us – as a sheer gift of God – is the capacity to bring forth what has never been before, including what has never been imagined before.”
~John Philip Newell, The Rebirthing of God

Here in Minnesota we are five days into what we lovingly call ‘The Great Minnesota Get-Together’….the State Fair. Some people shun this twelve day experience of foods on sticks and carnival atmosphere for the festival of over indulgence it can become. Others love it for the palette of creativity and connection with the Heartland that it preserves. I am the later, a true lover of the State Fair’s daily pull of summer’s ending and herald of autumn. I’d go every day if I could and I know that, even then, I would not see the fullness of it all. Quilts lovingly stitched. Intricate sweaters knitted. Wood-working that seem unimaginable. Art of a multitude of shades and shapes created by city-dweller and country-dweller displayed side by side. Vegetables lined up in their exquisite beauty of color and form. Jars filled with preserved goodness awaiting a winter yet to be. The list goes on and on.

On Friday, however, I stood with countless others in the Miracle of Birth barn. This red structure abuzz with bovine and swine and fowl galore is a magnet for those who marvel at the beginning of life. People crowd around pens holding pigs and chickens, geese and cows, waiting to see another life come into the world. If you are unable to see it up close and personal, the overhead screens give you a bird’s eye view of the action. This is exactly what I did for over an hour Friday morning as I waited and cheered on a mother cow giving birth to a beautiful, black and white calf. Standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers, I rooted on this strong and amazing creature. When she breathed, I breathed. When she pushed, I felt the push within my own body. I watched as she lay down and then stood allowing gravity to work in the way it does moving this birth along.

Perched on a stool behind me was a young man in an official Miracle of Birth shirt watching over my shoulder. It seemed a perfect chance to ask all my questions and so I did. His patience at this non-farmer’s words were patient and matter of fact. But the one statement he made, not driven at all by any question I asked, has stayed with me. “It’s completely amazing. In just a little bit of time, where there was no life, another one will be here in this room, in this world. Amazing….”

It was clear to me from our conversation that this young man was probably a veterinarian or at least a vet student. He was also, from other things he said, a farmer who had grown up on a farm and seen this kind of thing many times. And yet his amazement was present and full and real. He was as filled with awe as those of us first-timers who applauded with gusto as the calf slipped silently and miraculously into the world. When the attending vet mouthed quietly “It’s a boy.” we all nodded our heads and seemed to congratulate one another at being midwives to another life in the room, in the world. Some of us wiped tears of joy from our faces and breathed sighs of relief.

This morning as I read the words above from John Philip Newell’s new book I thought of the birth experience I witnessed on Friday. The birth of this calf was a visible reminder of the life in the world, in all things, that longs to be made known. We see it with each new baby born. We see it with the birds that pecked their way out of eggs over the last months and the seeds that pushed their way out of the earth, now gracing our gardens and yards with summer bounty. The impetus of Creation is to bring about “what has never been before”. It is the work of the artist and the farmer, the factory worker and the chef, the construction worker and the scientist.

So many places in our world right now long for the gift of new birth. The hope of the miracle of imagining something that has never been before is all around us. For places of war…..the birth of peace. For those gripped in the cycles of poverty….the birth of justice for all. For all of us held captive by racism…..the brilliant imagining of a new way forward. For those who sorrow and grieve….the birth of compassion. For the lost and the lonely….the emergence of companionship.

The sheer gift of God is with us…..let the birthing begin…..

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Remember…Gentleness

Remember to be gentle with yourself and others. We are all children of chance and none can say why some fields will blossom while others lay brown beneath the August sun.”
~ Kent Nerburn

This morning I woke to the quiet patter of rain outside the window. It is such a comforting sound, isn’t it? There is the implication that things are being washed clean while at the same time nurtured with the moisture needed for survival. The very sound of the raindrops falling on roof shingles and sidewalks, on deck chairs and the orange cloth of the patio umbrella created a varied music that held the morning’s opening hours. I found myself breathing easier, resting into the day’s beginning. It was a good way to start a Monday.

Checking some of the email that had arrived in my box, I saw this quote of Kent Nerburn creating the banner on a webpage I automatically receive. I have to say I found its presence on this particular website surprising and also heartening. “Remember to be gentle with yourself and others. We are all children of chance and none can say why some fields will blossom while others lay brown beneath the August sun.” This Minnesota author’s writings are filled with both insight and big questions and have room for readers to roll around in. They are a blessing that also can challenge.

It seems to me we are in some days that require gentleness. As the roller coaster of life goes these days and weeks seem to be fuller than usual with the pain and tragedy humans can inflict on one another. Those of us who struggle with this, who try to make sense of it, can do with being gentle with ourselves and our thoughts about what we see happening. Watching the situation unfold in Ferguson, Missouri, seeing the racism and power structures we have created that seem to favor some over others, can send a person into despair. Holding that in one hand and all the on-going turmoil that seems to never be resolved in places like Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Syria and so many other countries in the other hand makes for a some heavy lifting. And then there are the people of Africa and the Ebola outbreak. And the children now housed in shelters in Texas sent like young nomads into a country they had only dreamed about by desperate parents. What is a sensible person to do with all this?

Last week I was grappling with sorting out these big life situations and I thought to myself, “What I need is some Anne Lamott.” Her funny, irreverent yet wise writings never fail to inspire, uplift and often make me laugh out loud. I picked up her book Traveling Mercies and read the chapter by the same name. In it she was describing a similar time in her life when it seemed to her the world was falling apart. She relates a story of someone who worked for the Dalai Lama who said that these faithful who follow in his footsteps believe that when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, the purpose is to protect something amazing and large that is trying to be born. This birth needs us to be distracted so that the birth can happen as perfectly as possible. Well, ok then.

I’ve been walking around with this notion for over a week now. I want to believe it. I want to continue to pray over these things happening in the world and in the lives of real people while knowing that something big and invisible to me is trying to be born. Some moments are more successful than others. But because I do have that deep place within that believes that the Holy is always moving and bringing new things to birth, I am mostly being converted. And sometimes mostly converted is enough.

That and being gentle with oneself and others. As we each go about this day with chance and distractions as our companions, may we blossom in ways that bring peace and kindness to the little sphere of world we travel. And may our prayers be flung far and wide for those who lay brown and without life or hope in the August sun. And if something truly is trying to be born, may we be skilled midwives at this birthing.

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Nearly Anything

Several weeks ago I heard Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things, at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. It was a lively evening of reading and music and delightful questions from the audience. At one point, answering a question about how the act and art of writing helped her overcome some of the trials and tribulations of her life, she made the statement: ” Well, you can write your way through nearly anything you know.”

I scribbled that sentence on the program I had sitting on my lap. You can write your way through nearly anything. I have been letting that sentence roll around in my head and my heart for all these days. I keep coming back to it. I even passed on this declaration to a friend who is taking some time away to sort out some of the stuff in her own life. You can write your way through nearly anything.

Of course, the implication is that if one writes, jots, lists, makes poetry or prose about a situation or problem in life, eventually some clarity appears. There is certainly truth in this or at least I can say that it has been my experience that this is true. The act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard has a way of cutting through some of the underbrush of a day and when I reach the other side, or the end of the page, I am in a different place than I was when I began. I would venture to say that the same could be true for those who paint or take photographs, for those who make music or those who dance. The act of creating something has a way of clearing out the muck and mire and allowing the light to shine on things in new ways.

However I don’t think this ‘making your way through nearly anything’ has to be a particularly creative act. I knew someone once who vacuumed to make her way through whatever the problems of the day dished up. I always knew the state of her life by the visible pathways cut into the carpet by the Hoover. Others I know cook their way through nearly anything. Bread,pies, cookies, meat loafs, big pots of soup. Each can be a way to take yourself from one side of a problem to another. I know my love of canning and pickling is sometimes a way to make my way through situations that seem to have no solution. The very act of boiling water and filling jars has a way of lifting the veil of mystery to what might seem impossible.

You can write your way through anything. Clearly there are times when this statement is not true. I am thinking about the creative genius of Robin Williams whose gifts touched so many and who has died so tragically. Nearly everyone I have met over the last days has had some fond memory of this man who made us laugh and cry and seemed to be able to make his way through anything. But the deep pitfalls of depression are a fearsome enemy and in the end it seems he could not write, act, sing, or laugh his way out of its grip. We are all feeling the loss of his sweet and wild genius.

Perhaps the wisdom in a statement like Gilbert made is to know what it is that helps us get through the confusing and challenging times and to put our whole selves into allowing that act to move us from point A to point B. What is it that helps move you through nearly anything? Have you discovered these acts and made note of them for the life giving energy they bring? Do you have them tucked into your top drawer to pull out when times get tough and you need the repetitive motion that writing, drawing, stirring, running, dancing can bring? Perhaps, as I suspect, in these instances these motions become prayers without words connecting us in some way to the presence of the Holy. It is worth a consideration.

On this day when the world has offered itself to us yet again, we are waiting in wonder to see what it will deliver. The minutes and hours could be as ordinary as folding the laundry. And then again, there could be roadblocks or pile ups no one saw coming. Whatever the day holds, may we be blessed with the wisdom to know what can get us through with grace and an ounce of gratitude. This living is fragile and precious and to be held lightly and taken seriously.

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Puzzle Piece

Last week I was taking an early morning walk to the coffee shop in our neighborhood. There was nothing particularly unusual or special about the morning. It was, instead, one more of the glorious summer days with which we’ve been blessed for the last several weeks. Cool, sunny, bright blue sky. Near to perfection…..whatever perfection means.

Coming out of the coffee shop, my morning jolt in my hand, I began making my way back toward home and the beginning of a work day that would hold some things for which I had planned and others that would unfold with the surprise that might change everything. It happens. We all know its true.I was keeping my eyes to the ground for some reason and that’s how I noticed it. Nestled in the edge of the sidewalk and just balancing on the blades of green grass was one, single puzzle piece. I knelt down and picked it up. Its backside was the gray paper of nearly all puzzle pieces. The other side was rubbed clean of color and whatever hint it held to its place in a larger picture. I tucked this little morning gift into my pocket knowing that I wanted to spend more time with it, with the metaphor it created for me on a glorious summer morning in August.

I love puzzles. I like the act of sitting at a table, moving tiny pieces around until a picture makes itself known. This love of this activity is not shared with those in my family though our Seattle Son was quite the puzzle-maker when he was little. It was something we shared often in total silence with steaming cups of hot chocolate nearby in winter and cool drinks in summer. It is a precious memory for me. And perhaps because I love puzzles, I also very much dislike when, after much effort and time, I come to the end and a piece is missing. The picture cannot be completed!

But such is life. How rare it is to ever have all the pieces of a vision or a solution right at our fingertips, one we can see without too much finagling. I think of the many people I know right now who are struggling with the missing pieces that are causing them strife, confusion, even anger. The picture they are trying to create with the stuff of their daily living seems all a jumble. And just when they think they have it all put together, every thing lined up just so….bam!….a critical piece is missing.

Sometimes, perhaps most times, we don’t really even have an image of what the missing piece might be. We wrack our brains and twist ourselves into all manner of contortions trying as hard as we can to find that last, little hint at what will solve a problem or mend a heartache or bring some balance where there once was such tranquility. Or other times we know for sure what is missing if we could just lay our hands on it, just reach into the couch cushions and pull it out from where it has been hiding.

Over the last days I have been in more than one conversation with someone about the current state of the world. It seems that the pieces to the whole picture of countries and the people who call them home have been scattered about and are aching to be brought back together, to find the complete picture once more. People’s questions outweigh their answers and it seems as if there are more than a couple of missing pieces to the puzzle….pieces that might stop violence, end wars, bring peace, help bring people back safely to their homes.

That puzzle piece I found? I tucked it so carefully into my stack of books and papers that I took to the office the day of its finding. I had so fully planned to photograph it, to reflect on it, to allow its quirky message to shape something in me. And what did I do? I lost it. I have now searched the floor of my office and cleaned out my book bag looking for a puzzle piece that was lost, then found and now lost again. While my floor and bag are much tidier, the puzzle piece is still missing. I am sure there is something to be gleaned in all this but right now it simply seems like irony to me.

And so for all the places in the world where pieces are missing, I offer prayers of hope and promise. For all the people who need just that one last piece to make it all fit together in the way they hoped, prayers of patience. And for all the missing pieces lingering in unfound places, prayers of peace……and maybe even a sense of humor.

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Charmed Life

Peace where there is war
healing where there is hurt
memory where we have forgotten the other.
Vision where there is violence
light where there is madness
sight where we have blinded each other.
Comfort where there is sorrow
tears where there is hardness
laughter where we have missed life’s joy
laughter when we remember the joy.”
~John Philip Newell

Now and then I am confronted, face to face, with the privileged life I lead. Most days I forget that the path I walk is paved with golden stones that so many others do not even know exist. So busy I am in taking out the trash and filling out forms and sorting the details of my everyday existence that I forget that the gifts which have been showered on my simple life are unknown by much of the world. A safe home. More than enough food. Health and the access to the health care I need to keep it so. Loving family and friends all around. Enough financial resources to be more than comfortable. Work I love and that fulfills some purpose. These are our basic needs lest we forget.

It is a privileged life. And these last three days have thrown this mirror up to remind me. I have been blessed to take a few days to explore and experience the work of art and Spirit. In a retreat I have helped to lead people have gathered to connect with the ways the Spirit urges them to creativity. There has been singing and dancing, storytelling and painting, poetry and writing, photography and prayer. All in abundance. People have tried things that were unfamiliar while others shared skills they had practiced for years. Discoveries were made. Insights gained. Laughter and tears was our food. Privilege.

Several times as we were doing these creative acts, someone would name a place or persons who were outside this circle of privilege. We would send a song, like the prayer it is, toward our human brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine, in Russia and the Ukraine, in the neighborhoods we know where violence is daily. It was a moment of remembering and connection, a moment of recognizing the privilege. Our painting and poetry pulled in the goodness of Creation and the sights of the green and vibrant landscape just outside our windows. This view was often accompanied by the plaintive call of the loon from the nearby lake. Painting and poetry became prayer for all the ways those of us who walk upright continue to harm this planet. With privilege comes responsibility.

Last night as we were about to fall asleep my husband said to me:”We lead a charmed life you know.” Indeed. The luxury, the gift of coming away to do what we have done for these days is the life of a blessed people. And my heart is filled with gratitude for the gift of it. Given the state of many places in the world and the state of lives not so distant from my own, some might say this is frivolous work. But I believe that is not true. The work of creating art has always been the bedrock of what it means to be human. All the stories ever told or written of how the world came to be find their truth in the act of creativity. And, if we allow ourselves the time and presence, I believe all the solutions to the problems and disputes we see around us will come about through the this same power of creativity whose Source we name in different ways.

We have been blessed these days to learn some of the techniques and stories used to hold the spirit and art of the aboriginal people of Australia. The art uses simple yet profound symbols to tell the story of the life of a family, a community, a connection with the larger story of which we are all a part. As each of us took up our canvas and began our own painting, our own story, I was struck with the power of the energy in the room. I was held in the spirit of the people to my left and right and those throughout the room. Our abilities and skills varied but our presence together held great promise. And so it is and has always been.

On this day, this privileged day which never has been or will be again, may we each walk in the privilege of creativity. May we walk gently on the Earth and may our prayers be flung far and wide for our fellow travelers whose lives may not be held in the same privilege as ours.

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Full Heart

There are certain things I know to be true. One is that singing creates community, that experience of varied people coming together for any number of reasons,trying, hoping to become something greater than their individual selves. One need not have a trained voice or even a ‘good’ voice. One need only have the desire and willingness to join in, to give that voice over to the greater good. When all the planets align in this kind of experience, many things happen. Music. Connection. Beauty. Laughter. A reminder of the ways we all depend on one another. Compassion. Healing.

Last night I was privileged to be part of such an experience. I am on retreat at Koinonia Retreat Center, a retreat we have called Art & Spirit. Both showed up in the waning hours of a summer’s day, as people of all ages and abilities came together to sing. No written music was visible. Most around the circle could not have read it even if it had been present. Instead, we joined our voices in the oral tradition known by humans for thousands of years. Following a call and response learning, we layered voice upon voice until the magic became visible and audible to us. Faces of those who never would have called themselves singers glowed with what they were producing out of their own mouths, their own souls. And the collective sound filled the room and the woods outside the windows with a sweetness that could only be named holy.

It has been my life-long experience to have been surrounded by the gift of singing. Growing up in a small community settled by the people of Wales, singing was a requirement, it was as common as breakfast in the morning and lunch when the sun was at high noon. We sang in elementary school, in church, in the car as we went for Sunday drives. The expectation was that all people were born singers. I continue to hold to this idea to this day. Song, and our voice’s ability to produce it is, I believe, a given. Most of the time we simply need to be reminded or invited. In joining our voice with another’s, miracles happen.

And yesterday I was in need of an experience of something that reminded me of this goodness that happens when people join their voices in creating beauty. I needed it because the early part of the day was filled with the experience of another thing that brings people together:tragedy. On my way home from church, at noon, my car filled with the boxes of books, papers and resources I would need for this retreat, I was suddenly surrounded by the sounds of sirens. Making my way along the familiar streets I travel every day, I was forced to pull over by the sight and sound of a parade of police cars all traveling at top speed, lights flashing, sirens blasting. It was unnerving to see so many marked and unmarked cars speeding by headed toward the neighborhood I call home. And yet, that was what was happening. They just kept coming and so I pulled off onto a side street making my way home while still seeing, even on the side streets, police cars everywhere, looking intensely at each intersection.

When I got home I turned on the television only to be confronted with the tragedy of the police officer who had been shot just blocks from our house, at an intersection that I travel several times a day. How could this happen in our quiet, unassuming little neighborhood? I asked the question so many have asked before. As the day played out, my husband and I listened to the news all the way to the retreat, our hearts heavy with the news of the officer’s death, knowing the incredible loss this was to those with whom he served, the community, his family. An ordinary day had turned into something that would change lives forever. Like everyone we wondered about the person responsible, what drove their life, how choices could have been made that led to such an act. Our hearts grew heavier by the minute and I couldn’t help but think of all those in other neighborhoods for whom this kind of event has become commonplace. And that thought was heart-breaking.

Last night as I stepped with music into my privileged life, I held the families of the slain officer and the one who had done such damage and all those who know acts of tragedy around the world. In a world that can often leave us feeling helpless, I once again knew the power of singing and how it can lift even the most heavy of hearts toward something of heaven. I sang for all those who grieve, all those who suffer, all those on the margins and those in despair. Joining my one voice with a host of others, I felt the power of community and knew I was not alone. My prayer is that this grieving family who started their ordinary day just as we all did only to have it turn very wrong, can be surrounded by the sure and certain knowledge that they are held by an invisible choir made up of people they will never meet but whose music sends healing comfort their way.