April

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In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.”~Genesis 1:1-2

This past Saturday I was doing my usual errands…grocery shopping, Target run, working out. I was traveling the streets that I do so often, those streets that I move along never expecting to see something that jars me out of my daily sleep walking. Do you travel such streets? As I stopped at a four way intersection, my eyes veered toward the sign at a local Lutheran church. It is an occupational habit to read the signs outside churches. They can tell you a lot about a congregation or, at least, a lot about the person who decides what goes on the outside message sign.

Every April God Rewrites the Book of Genesis”. Those were the bold words that greeted me on an ordinary day. An ordinary day that happened to also be cold and a little bleak. An ordinary April day in Minnesota. But the sign gave me such pleasure. I laughed out loud, turned the corner and came back to take a photo of the sign. As I snapped the picture I silently gave thanks for the clever person who had decided that this was the message this particular church was sending out into the world this week. The message that had stopped my mindless moving in the world and had woken me up.

Though the last days have felt anything but spring-like there are signs of beginning…of Genesis…everywhere. Crocus blooms have thumbed their noses at the colder temperatures and decided to be the first to show up at the party that will become summer. Their cousins, the tulips, are also giving it a go, fanning their green arms in the air while holding back a bit with anything colorful. Yesterday on my evening walk, a forsythia bush screamed for attention saying ” Look at me! I’m yellow!” Indeed, you are.

It is not only our eyes that have the opportunity to know that life is beginning to rise from the sometimes seemingless ‘formless void’ of winter. Have you noticed the sounds of morning these last days? The birds are busy making morning music that says Creation is on the move. There is a calling out to one another or a ‘hey, I’m back, good to see you again’ song that can make walking in the morning as loud as a rock concert. 

April is the month when the book of Genesis gets rewritten. The morning sky paints itself with pinks and oranges with the sheer goodness of light. Not to be outdone the evening heavens seem to want to do the same. Reds and golds accompany the Sun as it ends another day of hard work, work that has coaxed new life out of ground that has lay cold and hard, out of branches that have been stiff and unyielding in the winter winds.

I am of the strong belief that the book of Genesis is being rewritten all the time, every day,every moment, every year, if our heart is open and our minds awake. But April is the month when those of us with words have the opportunity to give fresh eyes and ears to a world that is always reaching toward resurrection. It is an awesome task to give oneself over to noticing and paying attention. And yet that is our calling.

Will you watch with me? Will you look for signs of newness and offer your gratitude? Will you help tell the story of light coming out of darkness, life coming out of death? Will you declare over and over again…it is good? Very, very good.

  

Silence

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I will be silent and hear what God will say in me…”~Meister Eckhart

Mostly, we live in a noisy world, a world gone wild with loudness. There are so many sounds and distractions that pull us in any given moment. Perhaps this is what happens to many people, but I have found that as I grow older I long for more silence. Silence…today’s word for Lent. Silence is often in short supply. This can be true even in church, a place where you might think some quiet might be helpful. But there are words and often too many. There is music which can serve to help sloug away the assault that can be the every day experience of most people. But silence? Not so much. 

Some of my deepest experiences of the Sacred have been sitting in a room with people in silence. It has not happened that often so I can call it to memory quite easily. I am often envious of our Quaker brothers and sisters who, I’ve been told, know how to keep silence with one another. I have never actually worshiped in a Quaker meeting but I have often tried to image the sheer beauty of the silence of people sitting, being present to one another and the More. Yes, envious…that’s me.

The 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart must have known his share of silence. And these words speak to what he sees as one of the gifts of no sound, of being quiet, wordless, for a span of time. “I will be silent and hear what God will say in me.” What does the Holy want to say ‘in’ me? Not to me. Or even through me. But ‘in’ me.

Most days it would be difficult to hear even the Voice of God within with all the sounds that make up our daily living. Car motors. Radios. Television. Airplanes overhead. Traffic and all its accompanying sounds…blaring horns, screeching brakes,revving engines, speed. Voices elevated in anger or frustration. Voices trying to sell us things they are convinced we need. Wind. Storms. Thunder. Rain. And on and on. For those with ears to hear, there can be a continuous flow of sound. It keeps us company and can keep us from being present to ourselves and our very soul.

But even in this noisy world there are places that can cut through the sound and create a sanctuary of rest from it all. If we can get ourselves to most bodies of water and allow our eyes to focus on the shimmering water, we can begin to touch the silence. Sometimes even the frozen, glistening surface of a lake can do the same especially if it is illuminated by a bit of brilliant, winter sunshine. Staring out from a high point…a mountain or hill…can serve to provide perspective of how small we really are and how vast the Universe is in comparison. This usually brings about awe which always gives birth to silence. Holding a new born can do the trick as well as cradling any animal new to the world or watching a bird in flight. Beholding the first blossoms of spring, looking deep into the faces of flowers that have worked so hard to show up can bring about the silence of wonder…and mystery…and miracle. 

It seems to me any one of these experiences, held in silence, might help us glimpse what God might be trying to say in any one of us. Words like ‘praise‘ come to mind. Or ‘gratitude‘. Or ‘humility‘. Or even ‘love‘. But right now, I don’t want to muddy up the silence with even the hint of words. Instead, I simply want to be quiet. Silent. And listen deeply, fully, wholly. 

What will God say in me? What will God say in you? Shhhhhhh………..
  

Lent Mash-Up

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There is a musical technique of taking two or more songs and digitally creating one song. It is called a mash-up. You may have heard these when you are walking through a store or listening to the radio. You can identify the tune from some by-gone pop song you once knew well. As a whole it sounds like it kind of got thrown into a blender with another song that you might know but realize it has now jumped into yet another tune and then the three tunes are weaving in and out with an affect that makes you shake your head trying to make some sense of it.
A mash-up. That’s what I am about to do with the Word-a-day-in-Lent practice. My life got pulled in several directions over the last days, all of them good, and I did not get to the words…endure…celebrate…spirit. I am considering it one of the experiences like when you have not exercised in a few days and you try to make up for it by going to the gym for twice as long. Let’s see how it goes.

Yesterday was Sunday which, if you have been reading these word-a-day writings, you will remember that Sunday always has the same word…celebrate. And yesterday was a day when ‘celebrate’ was front and center as we celebrated communion in our traditional worship service. As I stood there offering the bread to the outstretched hands of each person that approached, I thought of how this meal is the great leveler. Always has been. Rich or poor, young or old, educated or not, everyone comes to the table with the same status…beloved. So in a sense it is something that endures. 

As people share in this meal each person comes with their own understanding of what is happening. This understanding is fueled by their childhood, what stories they were told, how the adults around them made meaning of the meal, and their own reflection and longing. For some it is a rote exercise. For others it is the meal that will make all the difference. For most it is someplace in-between. The Christian household has held this meal at its center for more than two thousand years. The words may change somewhat but for the most part they are unchanged, enduring. What is on the table may be altered for place or time but the bread and cup are always the main thing. Fancy or simple, ornate or plain, the food may be presented in a variety of ways but the meal itself never loses its simplicity, its humility.

What does change is the ‘spirit‘ by which we approach the celebration. While the Spirit is ever present, the spirit in which the words are spoken matters and can be help or hindrance for those who come to the meal. That Spirit which blows through any gathered community can not be silenced but it is possible not to hear, to not experience its movement, its urgency, it’s invitation. It is something both simple and complex like most things that are eternally important. 

As we celebrate this meal together, I am always aware of people’s hands, their various shapes and sizes. Those that have seen much work and those that have lived pampered lives. Those that are gnarled with arthritis and those that are as elegant as a swan. The polished, manicured nails, the chipped nails, the broken nails. They are cupped to receive the bread or reach out to pinch its goodness with two fingers. Take. Eat. Take. Drink.

It may take a lifetime for me to understand this meal, to really understand it. Or maybe I just need to embrace it is as simply a celebration. An enduring celebration. An enduring celebration of Spirit.

Power

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Power…today’s word…is one of the most misunderstood in our language. This is my opinion and perhaps no one else’s. Many people seek after power with a thirst that is death-defying. Others have power and don’t know it. I know that I can only reflect on and write about power from my place of privilege, white, educated, middle-class privilege. And this view will be skewed at best, perhaps even naive and certainly untrue for a vast majority of people. A truth is that I have a power in our culture, in our nation, in the world, that often is unrecognized to me because I have never really known its lack.
To be powerful is complicated. Power can often be assigned to the loudest person in the room. Many people are willing to assume that the one who speaks most stridently, most forcefully is the most powerful. Those same people can grab the baton of power in the moment and seek to make it their own. Sometimes we allow this to happen out of fear, uncertainty, lack of confidence, or exhaustion. You may have seen this happen in meetings, in organizations, in the our communities, and in the wider world. I know I have.

When I think of the word power, I am reminded of the scripture story of Elijah’s encounter with God on Mount Horeb. ‘The Holy One spoke to Elijah: ” Go out and stand on the mountain for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces, but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.’ Elijah knew the presence of the Sacred is the sound of sheer silence.

Power and silence are rarely seen as partners in our modern context, are they? And yet, these days I am experiencing power in the seemingly barren oak tree outside my office window. Its strength and wisdom holds the promise of Earth’s ever-regenerating life and is a teacher to me every day. I am experiencing power while watching a tiny bulb garden, a Valentine’s Day present, as it pushes colorful blooms up through yellow-green moss. What a beacon of power in these drab March days. I am experiencing power as I am witness(there’s that word again!) to several in our community as they harness energy and healing after surgeries or illness. I am experiencing power in the creativity that seems to bubble up all around me as people find their voice in the art that is rooted deep within. I am experiencing power each day as I drive across the river and see the ice giving way to moving water once again. 

No wild winds. No earthquakes. No raging fires. No loud voices or harsh words. Simply the sounds of silence reaching toward the beauty and the richness of life that is at the core of the Universe. I want to believe it is a life and power available to us all. If we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear and the heart to be still enough to deeply know its presence. I pray it will someday be so.

Found

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Last night my husband said to me, “I found a dime today…and a hat.” We have a small thing in one part of my family about finding dimes. My brother and sister-in-law are often finding dimes. It has become a little sign that there is always good lurking around if we have the eyes to see. So when my husband found the dime he remarked that he should call our other dime-finding family members. It could be something evolving in the family DNA.
Today’s Word-a-day-for-Lent is ‘found’. Found is one of those words that almost immediately conjures up an opposite…lost. We have places in most buildings, a place of ‘lost and found’, in which you can search for that one glove left behind, dropped in the hallway or the snow. In order for something to be found, it often needs to be lost first. It happens with objects and with people, with our dreams and our hopes, our intentions and our desires. 

I have to confess to feeling a little lost in the political climate of our culture these days. I feel a bit bumped between pillar and post unable to find a place to rest and allow my heart and mind to find their wisdom, their True North. Perhaps this is just me but maybe you are in the same place. Last night when we were driving to our local high school for caucusing, we came to an almost complete standstill in a line of traffic that stretched as far as the eye could see. The school sits at a crossroads and we could see that the headlights of the cars were forming perfect right angles as lines of cars inched toward the school, east & west, north & south, converging. The clock was ticking and it became clear that the parking lot would already likely be full and so people began pulling over, parking safely along the roads that led to the school. We got out and began walking with determination and a lightness of being toward a place of lost and found.

As we arrived at the school, the lines were long and made up of people of all ages. Babies rested in backpacks and front packs. Toddlers and young children held the hands of their parents. Young adults and older adults stood side by side. There was a climate of graciousness and hope that enveloped us all. Though we might eventually write the name of different people on our ballot, there was a sense that we were all in this together. 

We had been found…found by a spirit of hope, of opportunity, of love for a country that has shaped us and made us who we are. The individual, lifetime losses may have been great among those who waited patiently while volunteers improvised what was clearly a system that had been overwhelmed with people and with promise. But in that place and time we were all a people who had found our commitment and our voice and were determined to be heard. 

Over the next weeks and months there will be many things lost, no doubt. And words will fly fast and furious that will seek to divide us. But at least for last night and in the flow of this morning after, I have ‘found’ a renewed sense of optimism and hope. I found it sitting in a long line of cars re-creating a scene from the movie Field of Dreams…”if you build it, they will come.” And we did. And we will. 

Last night, what was found was worth more than a dime and for that I have a full and grateful heart.

Witness

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Witness. Today’s word. Of all the words for each day of Lent, this one is most powerful for me. To be witness is a sacred and deep act of being present to a person, a situation, an experience. It is a holy act in which, if we are wise, we see the Holy One breathing and taking form. To witness is to not only see, hear, feel but also a recognition that we are, each of us, a part of an ever-unfolding story. A sacred story in which we play a small but very important part. 
There are many places in which we say we need witnesses. When a couple comes to commit their lives in the covenant of marriage, there needs to be a witness…one other person showing up to say, “I saw this. I was here. This really happened.” At the scene of any accident or when rules have been broken, offenses made, we hope for witnesses. Those who will paint a fuller picture of the story than those who are too intimately involved and perhaps unable to see with clarity. We hope that these witnesses have pure hearts and honest intentions.

In some faith communities, witnessing is an integral part of worship. Someone may stand and tell the good news of God’s movement in their life. It can be an inspiring and emotional experience to also be a witness to their ‘witness’. In those same faith communities a preacher, in the midst of a sermon,may call out from the pulpit, “Can I get a witness?” Heads will bob in agreement with the preacher’s words and an “Amen!” or two will ring out. In that moment the preacher knows they are seen, heard and understood.

I believe each and every day can be a practice of being witness if we are awake to it. Already this morning I have witnessed the kindness of a mother toward her three small boys. Words of affirmation and love poured forth from her as she shepherded them out the door of our local coffee shop. I have witnessed the problem solving of a man carrying two chairs trying to maneuver through doors while working to keep the heat in and the cold out. I was witness to his tenacity and sensitivity.

Today I know I will be witness to the many who stand at our crossroads with signs. Their lives have taken turn after turn that has left them with a despair unknown to me. While I may be powerless to do anything about it in that moment, I am still witness to the ways we are traveling this life together. My prayers and my money and my votes can become a way of honoring how I am witness to these lives and the lives of so many others.

To what will you be witness today? How will you be fully present to the unfolding life of another? I think of my friends and colleagues who work in hospice settings. Each and every day their largest task is to be witness. To be fully present to the needs, the care and the very breath of another human being. It is witness on the highest plane. Sometimes that standing witness erupts in song to bring beauty into the room. Sometimes this standing witness requires words and a cool cloth to a fevered brow. Most often this form of standing witness requires silence…and breathing…deep, deep breathing.

Which may be what ‘witness’ is at its very core. The act of breathing deeply with another…with or without their knowledge… until stories co-mingle and it is difficult to tell whose breathing is whose. On this first day of spring, may we be about the work of being a witness. Amen!

Celebrate…Thirst

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Well, I am kind of behind on my Lent ‘word-a-day’ practice but that is often the nature of any spiritual practice. Some days, weeks, years, a person can be so faithful to the process and then…boom…said person is not. Most often there are very good reasons for falling of the wagon, so to speak, and I am going to claim that my own fall was driven by important and good tasks that kept me from sitting down to wrestle with the daily word offered to me by RethinkChurch.org. Mostly it was the distractions of daily life which is most often the case, isn’t it?
Today I am going to combine yesterday’s word ‘celebrate’ with today’s word ‘thirst’ because, for me, they are lining up together nicely. ‘Celebrate’ has been the consistent word offered up for Sundays in this practice and serves as a reminder that the days of worship in Lent are meant to be a kind of oasis from what has traditionally been a time of sacrifice and penitence. That is the thought though maybe not the reality.

Yesterday, I was in a mood to celebrate given the fabulous stroke of weather we had had on Saturday. Nearly 60 degrees in Minnesota in February! But my heart of celebration came from the fact that I was still basking in the afterglow of having attended a program with author Parker Palmer and singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer on Saturday afternoon. I was still wearing their wisdom, creativity and good spirit like a colorful Easter bonnet. It was such a relief to hear gentle, kind and gracious words flowing from their mouths, words that sought to bind the audience together in hope and a pursuit of the common good. Words like: ” Democracy is a non-stop experiment in the strengths and weaknesses of our political institutions, local communities, and the human heart — and its outcome can never be taken for granted. The experiment is endless, unless we blow up the lab, and the explosives to do the job are found within us. But so also is the heart’s alchemy that can turn suffering into compassion, conflict into community, and tension into energy for creativity amid democracy’s demands.”

I had a great ‘thirst’ that had grown within me for this kind of wisdom, for this kind of creative, thoughtful thinking that opens the heart to what is best within us rather than picking at the scab of a real or fabricated wound that serves to frighten and divide. Palmer’s words caused my heart to celebrate the goodness and the power of what it means to be human, made in the image of all that is Holy, and gifted with possibility beyond imagining. His fine words woven together with Newcomer’s sweet and yet fierce lyrics made for a thirst-quenching for the soul. If you do not know either of their writing, I commend them both to you as a balm for these times in which we live.

Celebrations are often relegated to special days…birthdays, anniversaries. But there is much to be celebrated in the sheer kindness of a word well chosen and the sweet sound of a song offered with a full and grateful heart. In a song Newcomer has written about a local diner, she sings: “Here we are all in one place…The wants and wounds of the human race…Despair and hope sit face to face…When you come in from the cold.” And isn’t it so? Most of us hold despair and hope in our outstretched hands simultaneously. We long for someone to come along who will help tip the balance toward the hopeful hand.

On Saturday that happened for me. In the presence of these two fine people and the others around me who were caught up in the great spirit of their words and music, we loosened our grip on despair and allowed hope to be our loving companion. Our thirsty hearts and souls were refreshed and there was a renewal of spirit once again.

It was…and is…a cause to celebrate.

  

Joy

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When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”~Rumi

I know people who are filled with joy. They seem to have joy bubbling up in a never-ending supply that, if you are wise and fully present, you can allow it to was over you in a baptismy kind of way. Just stand near enough and before you know it, their joy has become your joy. It is a ‘joy’ to be in their presence and I always leave better for the encounter.

Have these people known no hardship or not been whacked by all the many thuds and thumps life can dish up? Are they oblivious to the world’s troubles? Have these people been spared the every day pain and the sorrow of loss? No. In fact, when I think of these people I can also begin to name the illnesses, the deaths, the losses and the meanness that has seemed to follow them. Their lives, like all of ours, has seen its share of sadness and despair.

The difference is that these people have not waited for joy to come knocking at their door. They chose it. They have chosen joy as a lifestyle and a way of walking in the world. It is a creative act, choosing joy. It is something that takes a certain lens for seeing the world full of possibility even when the calendar or the bank account or the morning newspaper would say otherwise.

Choosing joy, for me, is saying I am connected to something larger, something more, Mystery itself and therefore I will always have an anchor even in the most unmoored place. Those who chose joy see beauty and live in awe that they are alive at all. That they get to see the sun rise and set once again and declare that miracle enough. 

I don’t believe that joy is the same thing as happiness. Being happy has so many variables. So many things can happen in any given day that can threaten my happiness…the weather, a bad lunch, a mean word spoken in my direction, a sense of failure…too many to mention. The Buddha said: “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” 

The shadow of joy is one I want to stand in. How about you? There will always be worries and hardship. It is the way of the world. But to choose joy…now there’s a life I can commit to. Today’s word for Lent is ‘joy’ and I choose it.

Shelter

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Shelter me, O God…hide me in the shadow of your wings…Psalm 16
There are places in which we feel a protecting arm that goes well beyond the structure itself. There are places that create such a sense of safety and connection that they seem to radiate from some warm and beating center out into the fullness of all the times that can threaten to overwhelm. These are places we find ‘shelter’. Today’s word for the season of Lent is ‘shelter’. Just saying or writing the word seems to bring a certain sense of peace…a calming to any racing of heart…an allowing of breath to go deeper and to lengthen in its inhale and exhale.

Shelter is one of the core needs of every human. From our earliest days as cave dwellers to the castles and houses we came to build, a shelter from the elements, from all the storms of life, is something we work mightily to build and protect. When people lose this shelter for whatever reason, all can seem lost and the world shifts on its axis. We see the results of this at nearly every street corner in nearly every city. People denied shelter can take on a haunted and hunted look, reminding those of us on our way to the safety of our own shelters what it means to have none. It is sobering, humbling.

The psalmists of the Hebrew Scriptures speak often about shelter: “Let me abide in your tent forever, find refuge under the shelter of your wings.” “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” ” I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest.” ” For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent.” These writers of the real life experiences of the ancient faithful put the need for shelter and its pursuit front and center. The ways in which those who sought shelter and then found it always brought the people closer to an experience of the Holy.

Shelter can be a literal place. But I have also known shelter in the presence of another person. Have you? There are people in my life whose very being becomes shelter to me from all the storms of my ordinary, simple life. They are the people who welcome no matter what I’ve said or done, what I have failed to do or how much I have messed up. Their very skin and breath becomes the kind of shelter that speaks of God’s presence in flesh and blood. For this I am grateful.

It is impossible to entertain the notion of shelter without saying a deep and fervent prayer for all the refugees fleeing places where shelter became impossible…people fueled by courage and fear and an immense hope that shelter was not only possible but something they became willing to stake their lives on. Crammed in boats and floating on treacherous waters they have sailed…are indeed sailing at this very moment…toward a place of shelter.

May God grant them safe passage and a welcome that heals what has gone before. And may that blessing radiate out through the Universe, our first shelter, offering us all a sense of peace.

 
 

  

Vision

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Where there is no vision, the people perish.~ Proverbs 29:18

Vision. In many organizations there is often much talk about vision. Groups create ‘vision statements’ that will hopefully guide their work for the future in some intentional way. Some look for a certain individual to ‘cast a vision’ that can then be adopted by others and acted upon. We often want to surround ourselves with ‘visionaries’, those people who can help us better move into some unseen future.Vision…”the ability to think about the future with imagination and wisdom”…”a mental image of what the future could or will be like.”

Today’s word for Lent is ‘vision’. I find it to be a complicated word and a challenging one. Perhaps we all want to possess a vision of what to do, how to live, what plans to make, who we would hope be become. Others may prefer to allow others to make those plans and simply go along for the ride. Often it is a little bit of both. We each want to be able to imagine what may lie ahead in our lives and we also want to execute that imaginative plan with wisdom and not go willy-nilly along the way. The specifics of casting a vision can often be tricky. Just when you think you have a fool-proof, iron-clad plan for the future something comes along to rock your world. An illness…a misstep…a force that had not been spinning in your circle before, arrives uninvited…and the vision, the plan, gets knocked off kilter. 

It has been my experience that holding a vision lightly might be the best practice. Even as the writer of the Wisdom book of Proverbs states: “Without a vision, the people perish.”, it might also be true that a vision held too tightly, too rigidly might be as challenging as having no vision at all. I imagine any vision statement worth its salt has wiggle room to move, to breathe, to evolve, to respond to the unforeseen experiences of life. 

I think of all the characters in the scriptures who had a vision for their future, a vision most believed was a God-given plan. Moses. Ruth. Abraham. Sarah. Mary. Paul. Jesus. The vision they each had for how the future would unfold was different than what eventually played out. But the vision of faithfulness was what really catapulted these characters into their respective futures. And perhaps that is the biggest difference. A vision of faithfulness to compassion, justice, kindness, inclusion, and eventually love will never fail. Though the details of the vision may get muddled and mangled, the end result is true and perhaps part of an even larger, cosmic plan that is often difficult for us to see. 

What is your vision for this day? This week? This season of life? This year? Are your hands gripped around it or are they gently open to the imagination and wisdom woven into its texture. May the Holy One be companion to the vision and to it eventual unfolding and may the vision always find us faithful