Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:3

Yesterday we waved our palms in worship as we began this week those in the Christian household call Holy Week. During this week we will once again tell the stories of Jesus’ last days and we will try to make sense of them once again. Over coffee and donuts after worship, I listened to a full-of-life teenager tell us that she loves the Good Friday service but she doesn’t like the music because it is too sad. In some ways it was a throw-away comment between bites and other trivial conversation. But later I thought that this is one of the central lessons we encounter if we pay attention to this season of Lent. The grief and sadness of life holds hands with the hope and promise of it. And if we are engaged in reflecting on this we have the opportunity for some kind of movement in our spiritual walk.

This particular Lent has been full of this hand holding. There are many in our community who are walking the grief road. Loved ones have passed from this life into eternity and they are grappling with how grief and hope dance together. Others are trying to absorb the shock of illness and the fragility of these earth homes we call bodies. Fear and uncertainty thread through the ordinary moments, the metered breaths of their days. The world news doesn’t help, holding us in a suspended state….planes lost, fathers and children missing, yet more violence by guns wielded in places we have called sanctuaries….supposed safe places.

All this had a particular scripture streaming in and out of my thoughts this last week. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…..for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” These words we often recite for the sweetness they sprinkle into a room have a greater power than we often admit. Placed on the lips of Jesus as he taught a gathered crowd, they can be a balm. This seemingly random thought that flowed through the stream of all the other things that filled up my brain became just that. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…..blessed are the poor in spirit……”

To be honest I don’t know that I have ever given much thought to what these words really mean. But this Lent, these forty days, have provided a canvas on which ‘poor in spirit’ has been painted. Being one who has what in one personality evaluative tool is called the ‘strength of empathy’, I have found myself knowing in a real way what it means to be ‘poor in spirit’. Being present to those whose grief and sadness is so real, I have found it taking up residence in my own life. The richness of spirit has become wanting.

And so, like those who love the ritual of darkness and light of Good Friday, I am also in full recognition of the sadness. But this blessing of Jesus….blessed are the poor in spirit….is not finished. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven….completes this phrase we can find so healing. This poverty of spirit comes to us all and at different times for different reasons. Perhaps the gift of this blessing is that we are provided the opening for heaven….how ever we imagine it….to shine in.

This has certainly been my experience. As the lives of those who have passed were celebrated and witness was made to their living, the light of the Holy shone all around. As illness made itself known, friends and family have circled the wagons and prayer has begun, meals have been prepared, people have been reminded once again, as we all must be, that this living is precious beyond knowing. Each time something is lost, something is also found. And slowly, over time, and with attention, the impoverished spirit is renewed.

Perhaps that is as good a way as any to begin this week we call holy. Over the weekend, my heart was full with much. Driving near our house with the window down I came near a small pond of water. The spring peepers were singing their song of newness. My spirit was lifted.
Heaven.

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Weeping Willow

Willow weep for me
Willow weep for me
Bent your branches down along the ground and cover me
Listen to my plea
Hear me willow and weep for me……”
~Jerome Kern & Otto Harbach

There is something about the weeping willow tree that has always drawn me in, tugged at my heart. Earlier in the week I was walking around one of the many Twin Cities’ lakes and found myself awestruck at the beauty of this tree in its springtime form. Not yet visible are the chartreuse leaves dangling on thin, whip-like branches. Instead the strong trunks hold golden ribbons that waved in the still cool breeze coming off the icy-patched water. They shimmered with possibility in the light. Possibility of their summer weeping form that was hidden in the now golden branches. I was stopped in my aerobic tracks to simply gaze at them.

It would not be safe to say the weeping willow is my favorite tree. There are too many trees that share that space. But I once remember my father telling me it was his favorite tree so I am sure that sunk in someplace and found a home in me. He was a man of few words and to have said such a thing seemed important. Not long ago in some of my reading about the Celtic world, I learned of the great importance the willow has for this bloodline from which I have sprung. The tree is seen to contain the energy of intuition, dreams and vision. Watching its branches flow in the wind it is certainly easy to understand how those whose lives are more given to such ideas could derive this notion.

Of course, I am still living into this Lenten theme our community has embraced of “Holy Way” and so many things that might seem ordinary get illuminated in the light of these words, this concept. Later in doing a little research on the weeping willow, I learned that the willow tree is flexible and can bend, unlike other trees, without breaking. It has the ability to adjust and adapt to life rather than fight it. The willow grows very large and can grow from a solitary branch that has fallen into a watery area. It not only lives in less than optimal conditions but thrives. Sounds pretty holy to me.

This Sunday we will once again hear the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the day we have named Palm Sunday. Those of us who have hung around in the church for a long time know where this story leads. As he continues to be true to his understanding of God’s call on his life, Jesus will stand his ground in less than optimal conditions. Though the world around him may cause him to bend and adjust and adapt to a system that lacks understanding and grace, he does not break in his deep knowing of the way of love. For those of us looking on, it often seems an impossible task, even a senseless one. But he continues to walk the Holy Way he not only imagines but understands to be the way of God’s movement in and through him. A way that could transform the whole world.

Others will not make the connection, will not see this same unfolding when they notice the weeping willow in its spring form. But this year that is what I saw and so, like the Celts, the tree offered me a glimpse of intuition, dreams and vision. These trees planted so close to the lake they seem to be nearly floating have their roots going deep and hanging on for dear life. A life that will give birth to green out of gold, and soon will blow in the wind and show us the movement of summer breezes. They will become a living testament of the wisdom of blooming where you are planted, of standing your ground, of thriving in less than optimal conditions, of spreading beauty and love into the world.

And this year they will offer me one more vision of the Holy Way.

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Precious,Precious Life

On Friday evening I saw Thornton Wilder’s classic story “Our Town”. It was a lovely, simple yet innovative take on this tale of the ordinariness and extraordinary nature of life. While it has been staged by high school,college and professional actors for decades, its essential wisdom continues to sneak up on those who watch its unfolding. The home town of Grover’s Corners lives in each of us and though the small town, turn of the 20th century touch points might seem sweet and from a far-gone day, the truth that lies at the heart of the story does not. In three acts, Wilder brilliantly reminds us that our life’s journeys are pure gift not to be taken lightly.

It is the young girl Emily whose final monologue ends the play that takes all we have seen in the hour or more before and sums up the play’s message. She finds herself in the cemetery fallen victim to the glorious and dangerous act of childbirth. Looking back on the life now yanked from her she speaks to her mother, also dead, whose grave is near hers. “Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Let’s really look at one another! It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?”

These words never fail to reach out and grab me and like a new convert at a revival, I pledge to be awake, aware, attentive to the details and beauty of my every day living once again. Have you had such experiences? Perhaps it was a brush with illness or death. Perhaps it was an overwhelming experience of beauty or love. Perhaps it was seeing a newborn placed in your arms, one you promised to watch so closely, so intently that you wouldn’t miss a day or moment of their growing, their living.

But life has a way of tripping us up, doesn’t it? Of placing things like laundry and cleaning out gutters and washing up dishes in our path. There becomes the minutiae of the every day that can numb us into sleepwalking. We can make these acts, which could also be holy moments if executed with intention, into the things that must be done before we have the time, or the inclination or the spirit to get around to ‘really’ living.

This week as we in the Christian household begin our slow walk toward Palm Sunday,then Holy Week and finally Easter,we will once again hear the familiar telling of Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem. I wonder about how he felt as he made his way with this wayward bunch of friends into what would become the final days of his life. Did he try to urge them to be awake to the preciousness of life? Was he aware of how each moment with them was a gift? Did the bread and wine they shared taste better than it ever had before? Did he notice the color of their eyes, the lines in their faces, the fear in their eyes? Did they notice his? I wonder.

Lately, I have been in the presence of many families who are engaged in the acts of final goodbyes. It is holy and sacred time. As these loved ones share the stories of their beloved who has passed from this living, the telling is rarely of profound or momentous accomplishments. The stories I hear with greater regularity are those of times around kitchen tables or on cabin decks. They are the stories of favorite foods or silly songs shared while fire danced on faces, illuminating the beauty of the simple. They are tales of kindness to a child, compassion to an elder, gentleness across a neighbor’s fence. This is the stuff of life and in the end what we cherish most.

“Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?” May we all treasure something small, something simple today. If only for a moment.

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Wisdom of Seasons

For the most part, I am a creature of season. Whatever the current season in which I find myself is my favorite. In summer I love the long days, green and colorful landscapes, foods fresh from the garden. In fall, the colors draw me in….orange, red, gold….all fall in my color palette and I love being surrounded by the vibrant, warm shades that also fill my closet. Spring breaks my heart with its promise. Mud turning to grass. Buds working overtime to reach for the Sun, to open to beauty and color and hope. And when winter arrives, the snow falling and temperatures inviting a slower rhythm, the gift of going inside both literally and spiritually, always draws me in and helps me to find that still, quiet center that holds me through all the seasons. This full display of birth, life, death and rebirth is a gift I treasure living in the Midwest.

No one needs to go too far these days before the conversation turns to weather. It is a signature of Minnesota-speak any time of year but it has been particularly present these last weeks. I have not yet spoken to another human yet this morning but I know when I do that the majority of the conversation with be about the weather. When snow falls in April,more than ten inches in some places, it is guaranteed to be the main thrust of nearly every verbal encounter that happens today. This large dumping of snow combined with the slate of freezing temperatures we’ve endured the last months has many people weary, woeful and down right angry.

But really, what is there to do? It is a lesson in letting go, isn’t it? There really is not a single thing we can do about the weather. It is one of those amazing life lessons of knowing what we can control and what we can’t and as our recovery friends will tell us ‘the wisdom to know the difference’. So even in this winter that will not end the rhythm of it all has something to offer.

That said many of us have been practicing acts of hope that allow us to thumb our noses at the snow and cold that has taken up residence outside our doors and also in our bones. Of course there are those who have escaped to warmer climates. They have wriggled their toes in the sand and allowed the reflection of the sun off water to bring color to their faces. But others, like those in my household, have brought promise to their lives by bringing home cut flowers all winter to break up the portrait of whiteness. And even better is the practice of forcing bulbs to connect us with the unseen work that is being done far below the snow and frozen ground outside our windows. For the last few weeks we have had daffodils pour forth yellow into the frigid air we are breathing. Purple hyacinths have emerged from their bulbous form sending not only color but a sweet scent into our nostrils. Tulips have also sprung up from pots, red and white with green coats shielding their blooms unfolding slowly, slowly until they form their sunburst that brings a smile to even the dourest face.

Just inside the doors that lead to our deck, the same opening that will soon be our entrance to spring and summer fresh air, sits a huge pot of tulips. This gift from friends came home with us as an offering of love and affection over the loss of my mother-in-law. At their arrival they stood stick straight, green shoots at attention like soldiers whose feet had been planted in black quick sand. No sign of bloom or blossom could be seen. But even in the darkest, coldest of winters the Sun continued its work of life-bringing through the glass of the door. Warm rays pierced that same door that shelters us from wind, rain and snow, pulling, pulling the very promise out of the bulbs which began their work in the darkness of basement walls.

In the last week this transformation came to completion. Each morning we noticed first one and then another opening its face to the light. What a welcome gift! Like parents watching a child grow and become itself, we watched as the tulips made their way into the world. In doing so they have given us such joy and hope for the next season while we remain fully inside these wintry days.

The snow will melt. The cold will disappear. The ground outside will soften and life will once again pulse. Another season will evolve carrying its own lessons, its unique gifts. For now we are invited to remember the rhythm, the sacred movement, that exists in each. To remember and harvest the wisdom of holding on,of letting go,of all we can control and all we can’t.

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Holding Hands

We are built for relationship, we humans. We gather ourselves in couples, in families, in tribes, in working groups, in nations. Someplace deep within we know that the ability to reach out and hold onto another hand gives us security to cross the street….to face a fear….to celebrate….to mourn….to show our love. Feeling our unique, God-shaped fingerprints pressing against those of another stirs something deep and real and true in us. We can breathe more fully, feel more whole.

These groupings of relationships help us to share a history and to build a common story. Anyone who has ever attended a high school reunion sees this phenomenon come to life as people, now often far-flung, come together to be reminded of the genesis of their story. You can see people slip easily into the place they once held in the common story being played out. While everyone may have changed in countless ways, may have experienced things uniquely their own, when we return to one of our first tribes, we take up the role we once were given or chose. The class clown…..still funny. The shy, quiet kid who always waited to say just the one sentence that made everyone stop and listen…..still on the edges waiting their turn. Something about being together around the fire that once warmed us not only reflects who we have become but also who we once were. There is generality in this description but my experience tells me it also holds truth.

And when families gather, especially if they have found new homes away from their original circle, the same thing can be true. It always amazes me how at some point of a visit with my own family of origin I begin to feel once again my place in the make up of who we are. I go in carrying all the baggage of the life I have created away from them but soon I have slid right back into my first-born, only daughter role. I don’t mind it. I just find it interesting.

This week I had the gift of being present as family gathered to celebrate the life of my mother-in-law. Cousins who hadn’t seen one another for some time circled round to remember, to grieve and to share in the witness to a long and beautiful life. Stories were told. Memories were shared. Tears were shed. Laughter rang out. I watched from the edges as the stories gave birth to other tales, memories of childhood experiences shared around tables and in backyards, over birthday cakes and cookies created from family recipes, sugary treats that now sat on a platter at the center of this circle, minus one. Manna for a tribe that had wandered in the wilderness until finding their way to one another yet again.

It reminded me that for those of us who find ourselves in the Christian household that this is what we do each Sunday when we gather. We circle the wagons of the tribe we have chosen or that chose us and we once again tell the stories, share the memories and re-member who we are. During this season of Lent we have been walking around in the stories that shaped not only the early followers of the Way but also those that had shaped Jesus in his growing years as a Jewish boy. Circling. Telling. Re-membering.

This Sunday we will once again hear the graphic and fabulous story of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones. This early resurrection tale reminds us that we are often pulled apart, separated, dying of thirst, dead. Until….until the Spirit breathes over us and through us and in us and then things begin to happen. Bone and muscle and sinew come together and we are animated for life. We come together and find the hand of the newly resuscitated just within our reach and we hang on for dear life.

And maybe this hanging on for dear life is really what it is all about any way. These relationships we form help us to hang on for all we are worth to the preciousness of this life. Sometimes we may resent the role we have been given but the hand, the warm hand that holds ours, always brings us comfort, a sense of belonging and a reminder of what it means to be human.

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All Shall Be Well

There are those tunes that get stuck in your head, you know, the ones you are humming just under your breath even when you don’t realize it. They become little soundtracks that follow you around all day as if your life is a movie and this music is the theme. Often these songs are inane, even irritating jingles that make you want to shake your head until the notes jar loose and fall on the pavement as you walk. They can become mind numbing or make you feel like you might be going over the deep end. Ever had this kind of experience? Of course the fact that these tunes are called ‘ear worms’ doesn’t conjure up pleasant images.

Yesterday I woke up and soon after my feet found their grounding, I realized that I already had a song going through my head. As I walked down the stairs and into the kitchen for the first cup of coffee of the day, I began humming. Now, starting your day with a song is not a bad thing but I wondered, had I dreamed about this song? I didn’t remember any music themed dreams. In fact I couldn’t remember any of the stories that had played their way out while I had attempted to get my nightly rest.

My husband was moving about the kitchen by this time and then he remarked to me that he had a tune in his head and he told me what it was. I was astonished to learn that we had both awakened to the day with the same tune flitting through our subconscious! We admitted that we did not know the fullness of the words to this song, only snippets. We recognized that we had sung the song earlier in the week at the pub sing we attend sometimes and laughed that we both had it weaving little tunnels in our brains.

The ear worm that had been our night time gift? It is a lovely little folk song called ‘The Bells of Norwich.’ It is based on words attributed to the 14th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich. This gentle woman who made her home in the eastern English city is recognized by the Anglican and Lutheran churches for her devotion and writings in the Revelations of Divine Love. Somehow I think she would love the tune and the intent of the words written by Sydney Carter.

Loud are the bells of Norwich and the people come and go.
Here by the tower of Julian, I tell them what I know.
Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go
All shall be well again, I know.
Love, like the yellow daffodil, is coming through the snow.
Love, like the yellow daffodil, is Lord of all I know.
Ring for the yellow daffodil, the flower in the snow.
Ring for the yellow daffodil, and tell them
what I know.
All shall be well again, I know.”

The chorus of “All shall be well again, I know” are the words pulled from Julian’s often quoted phrase ‘All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.’ They are words that have brought comfort to many over these years, myself included. Earlier in the week when we sang this song with a room full of people, there were smiles that crossed faces when we made music of the words ‘let the winter come and go’. It was as if we were saying an official goodbye to this never-ending winter that has had us in its grip. But even bigger smiles erupted as we lifted our voices in praise of the simple, lowly daffodil. We all seemed to collectively sing a resounding ‘Yes!’ as minds imagined those yellow blossoms so full of hope that are on the horizon.

But is was Julian’s words that once again settled on us all. “All shall be well again…..all manner of things shall be well again….I know.” It was a deep affirmation borne on a simple tune that burrowed its way into the places that had been cold and without growth for too long. At least one of the singers mentioned the many losses he had experienced over the last months. I know it is true also in the circles in which I travel. Loss has seemed to fall on so many like a heavy cloak that has weighed down spirits and created a desperation for change, rebirth, new life.

So today I will recognize the ear worm that visited our home as the gift it became, a gift that was still spinning through my mind as a fell asleep last night. Over the years the wisdom of Julian reached out in a visitation and reminded us of the eternal calm and comfort that rests at the heart of the Universe….all shall be well…..all shall be well….all shall be well again.

So be it.

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Wild and Precious

The last days have been full to overflowing. The result of this has been that I have not visited this space in the way I like to do. When I first began blogging ‘Pause’ nearly seven years ago, it was something I had planned to do only for the season of Advent. It was to have been a way for busy people from the faith community I serve, those who spend much of their day in front of a screen and keyboard, to pause for a few minutes and reflect on the season. For most people those days that lead to Christmas can be also filled to overflowing….work, family, shopping, parties, and all the trappings of taking an already full life and layering it with more.

What I found at the end of those days in which I thought I was doing something for other people became a practice that filled some place in me, some deep place that needed to speak, and so this space has been home to my observations, thoughts, ramblings, hopes and ways of seeing the movement of the Holy in the every day for what has become years. It has resulted in one book and soon to be another. The writing has become a practice that has shaped my days and helped me to have a record of my own spiritual journey.

These last days when I have allowed myself to be kept from these pages for all kinds of good reasons has caused me to think about all the things we don’t do as humans,things that when omitted from our lives cause us to feel at loose ends, disconnected, lost, cranky. We all know that some form of physical exercise is important, good, something that adds to our overall health. And yet, when life gets too full, taking a walk, going to the gym, rising from our desk and just walking the halls, falls by the wayside. The same can be said for fueling our bodies with good food, fresh vegetables and fruit rather than the quick grab of something in a box or wrapper when our schedules get piled up.

This thought process led me to think of the people I know who add those life-giving acts to their calendars. They add the things that are truly important to feeding their souls, to fueling their overall health, right in there with meetings and appointments and then they stick to it. 8:00 a.m…..work out……2:00 p.m…..write………. 7:00 p.m………..draw…….whatever it is that feeds their inner, spiritual fire gets added in the mix of all the other activities and responsibilities that can pull at them. These are folks who are less likely to end up in that crispy, crabby place most of us find ourselves in from time to time.

Someplace in the scriptures, in Romans I believe, there are words about ‘ doing those things I should not do and not doing the things I should’. As I recall these words were meant to define sin…..that which separates us from God, that which tricks us into denying that we are images of the Divine. Oftentimes our busy-ness does this. Even if that busy-ness is comprised of good works or even important work. It is easy to lose sight of oneself in even these seemingly noble acts. Has this been your experience?

Another writer of wisdoms’ voice then floats over all this….”Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Poet Mary Oliver’s words cut right to the heart of the matter. What do I, what do you, plan to do with the gift of this day, this life? What will we do to nurture the heart of who we are and who we are called to be in our time, in the place we have been planted? How will we connect with the Spirit within this day?

There is no doubt that much will pull at the edges of today. There will be obligations, responsibilities, tasks, to-do lists galore. May I, may you find the way to weave within all of it the threads of what feeds our inner life, that place where we find a holy connection, and know ourselves. Wild. Precious. Full-lived.

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Prayer Baskets

In dairy, granary, or in the fields, each worshipped God in his appointed task, and made his toil a sacramental thing….. The secret of the early Celts lay in this, that they linked sacrament with service, altar with hearth, worship with work.”
~F.M. McNeill/Troup, Celtic Daily Prayer:Prayers and Readings of the Northumbria Community

Once again the daily devotional I read in the morning gave me fuel for the day. As I read the words above, I imagined the lives of those who might see their work…..in the barn, in the field,in the kitchen….as sacrament. I imagined the farmer who felt the heat of the dairy cow’s body, its sweet, pungent odor wafting up toward his weathered face while milk pounds loudly in the pail.I imagined all those who worked in fields, planting, tending, harvesting to provide food for their own tables and the tables of others. How might the work be different for the worker if seen through the lens of sacrament…..an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

These days find few farmers using their own hands to do the work described above. Machines and technology carry out these once human tasks. And so it is for most of us. Our work is housed in keyboard and servers and machinations invisible to us. The daily movements of our work depend on things other than earth, water, wind and sun. While we know that the food that makes its way to our tables had its origin in these places, we are most often far removed from its landscape and its sacrament. Is it even possible to think of the work we now do as sacred, as holy? I wonder.

Perhaps it is not the work itself that is sacred but the way in which we do it. This reflection on the life’s work of the early Celts described an act of making prayer baskets. These baskets which no doubt were created to hold harvest and laundry and any number of ordinary things, were woven as people poured prayer into the push and pull of reed. As the single reeds began to be formed into something, not singular but multi-layered, a basket was formed of the prayers of the one who was weaving. Strand upon strand became a container for carrying all the while infused with the prayers of the one who created it. In many ways these baskets must have mirrored the very Creation itself. So many acts coming together held in hope and promise and prayer…..sacrament.

This illustration made me wonder: Is it possible to see the work we do as sacred? Is it possible to take the piece of paper or the cradled phone and hold it in a holy way? Is it possible to fill the ordinary, perhaps even monotonous movements of work, with prayer? Is it possible to make our ‘toil a sacramental thing’?

Certainly some work is easier to see the Holy in than others. Caring for a child, holding the newness of that life close to you, marveling at its possibility seems impossible to not see the holy there. The same could be said for those who care for the elderly and the dying. Offering a cool drink or a warm touch, a kind word or a gentle laugh seems an act of prayer, an extension of God in the moment. Many are beginning to dream of the seeds they will plant, the flowers, vegetables, fruits their toil will bring into the world. Oh, how we long for this sacred growing after such a winter!

But most of us make our days….which is our life….by work that is not so obviously sacred. Screens, printers, engines, dishwashers, vacuums, assembly lines, freeways, the full throttled living of our time can keep us removed from any notion of weaving prayer baskets. My sense is that those early Celts did what they did, created the sacramental life they had, out of choice. And so, in that spirit, can we.

How might this day be different if you thought of your work as holy, as sacred as going to the communion table? Each movement, each interaction, each spoken or written word, all an act of prayer. In this season of Lent, in this particular winter that will not go away, it seems a worthwhile thing to try.

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Blessing of Tears

That I may be filled with them.
That I may be emptied by them.

That they may challenge
my silence.
That they may lead me
to speech.

That I may name each one.
That I may be named by each one.

That they may teach me
of my sorrow.
That they may lead me
to my strength.”
~Jan L. Richardson

These words are titled “Blessing of the Tears”. I went searching for them this morning. Earlier in the week I mentioned that these days are proving to be very ‘Lentish’. As the days have progressed into this season, this reflective heaviness has continued. So many in the circles I travel are walking in the valley of the shadow of death. In our particular faith community, we have celebrated the lives of so many in memorials or funerals in a very compacted time. Over the years of holding this work I do, this can often happen. Months will go by and there are no deaths and then several will happen within the course of a few days, a few weeks. It can provide a certain context for one’s own life. Ordinary acts become more precious. Friends and loved ones seem more beautiful than ever. Perspective for the things we can believe to be so important, fall away, leaving what it truly vital in a bright light.

Those who know me well know me as a crier. Tears come easily to me and sometimes at what, for others, might seem odd times. Sunrises…..tears. Light falling just so on the trunk of a tree….tears. The way a child has of looking so hopefully at a parent’s face….tears. A prayer spoken in vulnerability….tears. People greeting one another at street corners, in airports, on Sunday morning…tears. Some might see this as weakness and I ask their forgiveness. My own belief is that I simply see the world for what it is…..beautiful….fragile….fleeting….to be held in sacred trust.

Are humans the only ones who cry? I don’t know the answer to that question. I have certainly been in the presence of dogs and cats who seem to be holding sadness or at least sorrow, a sense of loss. In the early mornings of summer, there is a single mourning dove who calls out a haunting cry that I have convinced myself is for its lost partner. Who knows. I just know that the call connects me with the bird’s perceived sorrow and maybe my own.

Tears have welled up in my eyes over injustices I have witnessed. Those same tears have been loosed by an anger that goes bone deep. When words will not come together to scream to the world, tears pour out what is too important not to be spoken in some form. After all, what brings tears into our lives shapes us and challenges us to move toward action, toward reflection and resolution, toward healing and hope.

As one who makes a home in the Christian household, I think of the act of baptism. That time when we place water on a forehead and remind a child, an adult, a parent that from the very beginning, they have been called ‘Beloved’. Our tears….that water that pours forth from within our humble body….blesses us again with water, with naming, with a reminder of who and whose we are.

Today may we each be blessed, not only with tears, but with the strength they eventually bring. A strength that speaks ‘Beloved’. A strength that remind us of the many ways being alive is holding the joy and sorrow of the other. Each and every amazing day.

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Rivulets

“Through the weeks of deep snow
we walked above the ground
on fallen sky, as though we did
not come of root and leaf, as though
we had only air and weather
for our difficult home.
But now
as March warms, and the rivulets
run like birdsong on the slopes
and the branches of light sing in the hills,
slowly we return to earth.”
~Wendell Berry

Sometimes what is happening can only be spoken by the poet. These days in which we find ourselves, these March days of thawing and rebirth, are just such days. Oh, we can read the weather reports. We can listen to long, drawn out descriptions of what it happening, but it really takes the poet to get to the marrow of the predicament.

A week ago Sunday, I read this poem of Wendell Berry to begin our worship together. We were not yet in a place of melting. People’s faces had that wounded,glazed look of too much winter. And yet they also shone forth their faithfulness, or stubbornness, by being present, by showing up though the easy and warmer thing to do would have been to stay in bed, pull the covers over their heads and go back to sleep. Sleep as a form of escape. We laughed at the word ‘rivulets’ then. Laughed at this beautiful word that flows, as it should, off the tongue. We laughed because it was not yet so and we had no hope yet in sight of when its presence might indeed flow, not only out our mouths, but down our hills, our sidewalks, our streets.

Now the laughter has turned to a kind of giddiness. Though the warmth is still a temperature that would make most of the country shiver, Minnesotans are taking these above freezing temperatures and opening them like gifts at a child’s birthday party. Short sleeves and even short pants can be seen everywhere. The puffy, down coats that we thought we could not face one more day have been abandoned.

And everywhere…..rivulets! Yesterday I sat all day in the round chapel at Koinonia Retreat Center on Lake Sylvia. The windows allow a nearly 360 degree view of forest, lake, and a landing strip for birds at both feeders and trees. All day long water, rivulets of melting snow, dripped down outside the window, baptizing us all with the spring that is arriving. The water was not only visible but audible. A slow sound of water running, splashing, coming out of its frozen form right before our eyes.

Like Wendell Berry, farmer and poet extraordinaire, I was reminded of the months when sky and earth had become one pattern of blue reflecting on white forming a swath of sameness. We walked upon it forgetting the earth that lay beneath, the earth from which we came and to which we will return, as we are reminded on Ash Wednesday. The winter months can keep us isolated from that deep knowing.

But now as the ground thaws and we begin to see the snow make way for the brown, gooey mud that will emerge, ‘slowly’ we return to the earth. The earth that will hold the seeds and the stalk, the footprint and the hope of yet another year of growth and beauty. We would not understand the fullness of this had it not been for the months of ‘walking on fallen sky’. We would not long for it so deeply if we had not known ‘weather as our difficult home’. Personally, I think it is all a part of some grand plan to keep us honest……grounded……grateful…..full of wonder. I know it works for me.

Today, may you be blessed with rivulets. May you say that word and love how it feels rolling off your tongue. May the pure loveliness of its letters making meaning fill you with hope for all that is yet to be as we ‘slowly return to earth’.

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