Summer Rhythms

” A messenger you can trust is just as refreshing as cool water in summer.”
~Proverbs 25:13

There are many rhythms of summer. Here in the Midwest we can tend to fill our summer days with more activities than people may in other parts of the country. We know what is to come and so we can act like a desperate people. Desperate to wring out of each sunny, splendid day all the life it can hold. This is not a judgment. It is simply a fact. The act of soaking up good weather, of taking in all the color and greenness, the experience of a festival here and there, can take its toll. But mostly it is a joyous nod to the fullness that life can dish up.

Last week we were on vacation at a friend’s cabin in Canada. It held the rhythm of a by-gone time. Without electricity, the lights were powered by the Sun. A system created by black tubing and other contraptions I don’t know the names for provided our water. There was no indoor plumbing but, again, the compostable toilets did the work they needed to do. No television. No internet. No cell phone service. By the end of the week when the landline phone rang from its ancient looking black cradle, it jarred the senses. What was this interruption?

At first this daily rhythm, stripped of the urgency that usually fills my days, was unsettling. Like an animal trying to find a good place to rest or hide or die, I wandered from place to place, picking up one thing and then another. But before I knew it I had allowed the pure, gentle rolling of waves on the lake and the wind in the trees to relax the muscles in my body, calm my mind, settle my spirit. Making my way to the hammock that hung between two trees, I settled in to the act of doing nothing. The only need to get up from that place was the occasional requirement of preparing meals or replacing my reading material, or reapplying sunscreen.

A few weeks ago I read a line in a book by Barbara Brown Taylor. In it she talked about the months after she left her work as a minister in a small, Georgia church. In those months she recognized that she had been ‘addicted to adrenaline’. This was something I had never thought of before. The rush we get from filling our calendars to the brim can create an illusion that our work is more important, more vital, than is really true. It is a good thing to ponder in these days when we can alter the normal rhythms that guide us and perhaps add some needed perspective to our lives.

Last week I allowed any addiction to adrenaline I had to fall away….cold turkey style. Instead I spent whole hours watching an enormous bald eagle watch me from across the bay. We kept watch over one another and every now and then one of us would take wing. I watched the play of light on the water from the misty morning rising of the sun to the brilliant golds, pinks and blues of the sunset. When it was necessary I spoke words with friends. I savored the simple, slow meals this kind of life allows. The experience seemed to shed a light of truth on everything.

Coming back into the city and into my ‘regular’ life, I was aware of how everything had continued on without my input. The flowers in our garden had grown and blossomed without any help from me. They stand now in their summer splendor. So, too, the vegetables we are watching over in a neighbor’s garden while they are on vacation. The cucumbers and tomatoes, the dill and basil have flourished and are bursting out of their beds. It would be easy to slip into the adrenaline rush of thinking I have to do something to help them along, spur on their natural growth. But that would be wrong and would undo the lessons I learned from the hammock.

Summer may be the time to fill our days with the unusual and full rhythm of summer fun. But it is also the time to let go of the daily grind, to relish the sweetness of doing nothing, ‘dolce far neinte’ as the Italians say. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

May your day hold enough adrenaline to get accomplished what truly needs doing and may it also hold a bit of the sweetness of summer….the art of doing nothing.

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Change

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the different.”
~Reinhold Niebuhr

A few months ago I wrote about the oak tree outside my office window. I was waiting, somewhat impatiently, for the tree to change. For it to pull forth its green leaves and create shade for the ground below. Fr it to show its summer-self. My impatience was driven by the sameness of a long, cold winter and my spirit needed the hope of change.

As humans, I think, we tend to long for change while at the same time fearing its impact on the tidy lives we seek to create. As parents or teachers, too often we long for the children in our care to grow, to change toward what we believe will be an easier time,less demanding on us and out time. Those who have walked this path know the folly of such belief. In some respects, the same longing for change takes place in our own lives. We hope for the changes a new job will bring….or a new relationship….or a new city or different house. Perhaps this is all a part of our evolutionary DNA. There is, of course, the change we create by our own intention and also the change over which we had no power. Those same jobs can be pulled out from under us. A relationship fails or another materializes. A transfer to another city, one we hadn’t ever planned to explore, becomes the new address. This kind of change can be seen as gift or curse depending on the lens we wear any given day.

There is a saying that ‘the only constant is change.’ Certainly, there is truth in this. Days move into months and into years….change. Seasons roll round their circle…..spring, summer, autumn, winter…change. Even our bodies in their very make up, skin cells giving over to new ones even in the course of one day…change. Lines appear around eyes that have known laughter in abundance marking the changes of years. We gain a skill one day only to lose it as years progress. All these require a certain response to change.

I, like many people, find myself in the midst of significant change these days. Most of it is not change I instigated but instead is the gift of what it means to hang your star in the sky with a community of other people. In this experience, I am trying to be present to the wisdom of my oak tree companion in my response to changing times. Looking out my window, I am aware of the ways in which this mighty tree bends and pitches with the winds and rain that have been gracing our summer days. Its roots seem to be digging even deeper as it stands tall in a summer that has blown hot and cold, literally. The trunk of this old tree continues to be home to birds and squirrels, a stray chipmunk now and then. It offers itself with such grace and ease while still standing strong, sure of itself. There is such compassion in the way it stands there. As its limbs reach toward heaven and out over the children’s playground, this beautiful source of greenness and oxygen never wavers in it identity, its ‘tree-ness’. It seems to know its purpose, its work, its reason for being in the world. I have no idea how old the tree is but I am sure it has been around long enough to have been witness to all kinds of change. Change in a neighborhood, a city, a people, a place. It has become a model to me of sheer groundedness.

In just a few short weeks, this oak tree will begin the change of letting go…..an ever present requirement of change. But before it begins the slow, slide into winter, its leaves will turn brilliant colors and create a beauty that can only be brought about by change, by leave-taking, of all that has gone before. It will open itself to wind and colder temperatures and will become something new, its autumn self. I will stand witness to its change just as it does to mine. Peaking through the window, tree and woman will watch one another in the change that is always present. In that peaking, may we also see the beauty and the wonder in it all and in our own separate ways, may we give thanks…..for change.

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Celebration

The celebration of beauty is an invitation to ask your soul every day, ‘mind if I join you?’
~Anonymous

They say it is good to alter the patterns of your daily movements. Take different roads to work now and then. Change up the loops you use to walk or run for daily exercise. Choose different foods. Add variety. Even use your non dominant hand now and then to get the other side of your brain working its way out of its sluggish homeland. Doing all these things help balance out the ways in which we are hard wired and can lead to creativity, new ideas, solutions to problems and a sense of possibility.

I try to do this with some regularity particularly on my daily walks in our neighborhood. It is easy to always follow the river making my way along the bluffs of St. Paul waiting for the glimpse of the skyline that always takes my breath away. The silhouette of the St. Paul Cathedral rising up out of the hillside making its mark of faithfulness over the city and its neighbor the State Capital are sites I never tire of seeing. It always causes me to remind myself that this beauty, this city is my home.

On a day when I want to shake my brain up, I walk away from the river and into what is called the Westside of St. Paul. This walk takes me by a home that is in an old firehouse, a home whose owner is a boat builder. If I am lucky, the large door that once was the exit for a red fire engine is open and I can catch a peek of a boat being created with all the sounds and tools of an ancient craft. Sometimes the sweet smell of wood being planed and shaved fills the air.

But it is not this house that has been capturing my imagination these days. Instead it is a small, stucco bungalow tucked under two large evergreens that has been making me laugh and filling me with wonder. Several weeks ago I walked by this house with my mind going a mile a minute, my body present in its motion on the sidewalk but the spirit of presence a million miles away until……Until my eyes saw the three,clear wine glasses sitting neatly in a trio on the lawn. Nestled in the green, summer grass they seemed a monument to celebration. It was as if the hands that had toasted and clinked had been placed them there to remind passersby to celebrate the goodness of these glorious days. I smiled as I moved on thinking about all the things I have the privilege to celebrate.

A week or so later I walked by again and expected to see the triad of glasses sitting in their spot. But no. Instead, there stood two champagne flutes with red stems flanking the sidewalk that leads to the front door. There they were, signs of the urging to celebrate the going out and the coming in of those who made their way to the door. A part of me wanted to simply sit down and wait to see who the people were who were so free in lifting their glasses to the world.

Once again the sight of these two glasses caused me to think of all there is to celebrate. In my life. In the lives of those I know. In the life of the world. So often we focus on all that can pull us down, all there is to lament and we forget to celebrate. Each week in the worshipping community of which I am a part, we take time for celebrations….birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, new houses, a child’s lost tooth, graduations…..so much to celebrate. It is important to remember, isn’t it? In the midst of all the news that can overwhelm and send us to our knees, there are still so many, many things to lift a glass to, so many things to celebrate with our full hearts.

So today I celebrate….the taste of red raspberries that are fresh from gardens….the laughter of children wafting over the backyard fence…..the big brown eyes of the curious dog that passes by on the sidewalk…..music that makes my heart sing and brings tears to me eyes…..the compassionate words of a friend…..a card that arrives in the mail with just the right words….the cool evening breeze that carries a hint of a far off campfire…..the sound of a train whistle making its way to an unknown place…..the gift of a day…and another.

And you. What is it you celebrate today? Let us all lift our glasses in celebration.

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Creation Stories

Do you imagine the universe is agitated? Go into the desert at night and look at the stars. This practice should answer the question.”
? Lao Tzu

Over the summer months our faith community is living into the theme of ‘The Earth Delights’. The particular worshiping community that I most often find myself in is walking slowly with the Creation story from Genesis. Day by day. It has been an amazing thing to methodically pay attention to only a few verses of scripture particularly one that you think you know so well. All kinds of little hidden gems, insights and surprises lurk where you least expect them. I have found myself loving each word and turn of phrase in a new way. It has been pure blessing.

This week we are on Day Four….sun, moon, stars. Did you ever notice that plant life came on Day Three? Before the Sun which we know plays such an important part in anything that grows! What to make of that……But these few lines that make up Day Four have fallen on my real-life days and nights when we are making our way toward July’s full moon. Depending on where you do research this moon can be called Full Buck Moon……because it is during this time that buck’s antlers begin to poke their way out of the majestic heads of the deer. It can also be called Full Thunder Moon because this is the month that seems to have a number of thunderstorms.

But most places refer to it as the Super Moon. I like that. Last night I stood outside looking up at the night sky and squinting, allowing my eyes to see the shadow of the full white globe that is yet to be revealed. It seemed pretty Super to me! It is will come into its fullness on Saturday and, if the skies are clear enough, I will carry the memory of seeing this Super Moon into worship on Sunday morning. Its beams will break on the reading of the Fourth Day and we will once again grapple with ancient words, trying to find their wisdom for our 21st century lives.

As I have lived with these words held poem,metaphor and beautiful tale by some and literal truth by others, I think of those ancient tellers of this story. Their flat world, their lens was so drastically different from my own. I have the benefit, in my opinion and experience, of science and astronomy, of evolution and intellect, of a knowledge of our round Earth and expanding Universe. I have a limited but informed understanding of how plants need sun and water to grow and how humans and animals are inextricably linked through time. I see the movement of the Holy in all this and it forms the basis of what I might define as my theology…..my understanding of God and a Source of something larger than myself in the world.

What I am finding in the rhythm of this story this slow go-round is the inherent comfort and wisdom of this created Universe. This rhythm has brought a leveling to the anxiety and distress of a culture that can often seem out of whack, in a non-productive place of chaos. The poetry of the words once again instill that sense of awe and mystery that holds us all and provides a reminder of both our responsibility and our limitedness. “Do you imagine the universe is agitated?” Do I allow the circumstances in my life to agitate? If your answer is yes as mine is, take a moment to look at the stars from desert or lakeside or street corner and allow them, in their infinite wisdom, to wash over you, to provide perspective.

If you haven’t read the Genesis story in a while, I commend it to you. Or better yet look for other stories of creation that come from places around the world, cultures different than our own. What are the truths that ring out? What are the similarities and differences in those stories and this one we hold out from the Christian household? There might be amazing surprises in what we find.

There is a wisdom that resides in the telling of our Creation stories. It can be a challenge and a balm. When held alongside a watchful eye and a curious spirit, we can be rocked gently in both story and observance finding new words for a telling that never ends. A Super Moon awaits us. It is good, very, very good.

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Place at the Table

Most people will not cry while reading a cookbook, I am pretty sure of that, unless of course they are doing so while also slicing onions. But that is exactly what I did a couple of days ago while leafing through the gorgeous pages of The Midwestern Table by Amy Thielen. Since context is everything, I should point out that this weeping was done while I was also riding through the same Minnesota and Wisconsin farmland I have honored in these pages at other times, a landscape that often leaves me bereft with gratitude and awe. Green fields ripe with grains and produce. Red barns and white farm houses. Cattle, sheep, horses. The stuff of grounded, solid, fragile lives that depend on the blessing of sun, rain, and seasons. Something about the stories that accompany the recipes and the hope of passing on tried and true foods held in the beauty of the unfolding scenery just grabbed my heart and wrung it out. Reading it I was transported to all the tables that have fed me……my family table, those of friends whose love of cooking is legend, my Aunt Enie’s farm table where food was simple and plentiful, and more church potlucks and dinners than I can even count.

We are people fueled by food. Over the years we have made healthy and unhealthy choices about what we put in our mouths to produce energy, have tried to make things in boxes and bags replace the stuff that comes from the Earth, but we have rarely succeeded. Food is plentiful and it is scarce depending on economic status and where we live. In the last years we have realized the terrible fact that some of our poorest city areas, those in great need of affordable, healthy food, have no grocery stores except quick stop markets. These tables are very different from the ones I have been blessed to sit at.

The food we eat around our family tables is an extension of where we come from, where our ancestors traveled from and what we value. I have friends who are vegetarians and vegans, some who eat no gluten or dairy products. This is driven by attention to how they feel and also the footprint they want to make in the world. Depending on the family traditions, there might be bratwurst, pasta, enchiladas, pierogis, dumplings, rice and beans, fried chicken, or pot stickers. In my family there will almost always be pie. Our tables say much about us.

In the faith tradition in which I have traveled, the United Methodist Church, we refer to ourselves as being ‘people of the table’. This, of course, refers to the communion table in which we welcome everyone without a need to profess any specific creed or doctrine. All people of faith are welcome to receive the bread…..that gift of sun, soil, rain and hope….and the cup……the gift of vine and years of tending. While we may argue and disagree over theological issues, this is one place where that all falls away. Hands are cupped to receive. Eyes meet eyes. Blessings are pronounced. The table becomes the great leveler.

For me, there is an invisible line of sacred connection that happens when we gather around the table, nearly any table. As bowls are passed and plates are filled we are silently remembering that we are beholden to the people who did work on our behalf…..the farmers, those that planted and harvested, those that loaded and drove trucks, those that stocked shelves and bagged groceries. We pick up a fork with the dust of those who ground wheat into flour, those that bottled beverages, those that tended animals, falling all around us. Their sacrifices, their hours, days, weeks, years,their very lives become a part of the food we take in to fuel our living. We carry that sacrifice with us as we leave the table. It is something not to be taken lightly.

Living in this slice of the country that holds the two coasts together, we are blessed with foods that know their season. We relish the first tastes of asparagus in spring and look forward to the squash that will arrive when the days turn their faces toward winter. Last Friday I spent the morning crouching in strawberry fields with a friend picking this sweet, red fruit that stained my fingers all week, a gift of early summer. Soon the blueberries and raspberries will pull at their branches and we will fill buckets and freezers and jars to try to extend the table of summer into the winter. “With winters this long, keeping some proof of summer in your pantry becomes essential.”, writes Thielen. And so it is.

This extending the table crosses seasons and traditions, family lines and political leanings,lifestyles and education. At our tables we are invited, commanded even, to remember the deep,holy ways we travel this life’s path together. One meal at a time.

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One Walk

There are many things that have kept me from writing in this space over the last days. There is the different rhythm that is summer. That rhythm that catches you up from one place and deposits you in a completely different landscape, both literal or imagined. There are the many activities that come with summer that joyfully fit into a day, acts that cannot be done at any other time……like picking strawberries for instance or staring at the garden growing right before your eyes. Then there is also the fact that I have been working on a book which will be published soon and I have spent the writing time I have making edits, rereading sentences that formed in me months, even years ago, to see if they still fit and are spelled correctly. More on that as the days unfold.

But last week I had an encounter that bears telling. It was a unique experience that happened on what was an ordinary morning. Heading out as I so often do to walk a bit before beginning my work day, I made my way down our street my mind full of the cobwebs of dreams and sleep that still hung on. I was just a couple blocks away from home and had not yet spoken to a person. My voice was still in its nighttime phase, groggy, unpracticed. Coming toward me on the sidewalk a woman and her dog were moving with purpose. My plan was to move past her and continue on my way. But she clearly had other intentions. “Excuse me. There is an animal down here. On the ground. I don’t know what it is but I think it must be dying. At least hurt. What should I do?”

Yikes! I was awake now. We walked together to the edge of the next block. I had no idea what I would find but also knew that I am not an expert in any way when it comes to dying animals. We came upon a small, gray, body nestled among green grass on the boulevard. Was it a squirrel? A rabbit? A mole? A vole? I don’t know. But it was definitely struggling and was abandoned. We discussed what it might be as the dog remained, I thought, quite well behaved about this small food possibility. I looked overhead to see if there was a squirrel nest in the tree nearby but saw nothing. We both bent down now, closer, to see if we could see its breathing. I didn’t see movement but my new companion did. As she pointed I then saw a tiny, ever so minute movement of its gray, fury belly. We, the human ones, stood watch over what were probably this mysterious animal’s last breaths.

After agreeing that we could really do nothing, that taking it to a veterinarian would probably have us looking silly, we looked at one another and made our way on into our respective days. But not before one last look of hopeful blessing. As I walked on I wondered at what had just happened. It seemed that I had been witness to a compassionate heart and invited into its presence. As two beings who walk upright, who have power and choices of some of the ways our lives unfold, we had chosen to stand over an unnameable creature and watch its passing. We could do nothing. We could not change the outcome but we could offer the kindness of our hearts. It seemed a blessing all around.

Later on that same walk, I noticed a flock of pigeons circling a house. There must have been 20 or 30 of them. They took a circle round and as they did so, a few would peel off and head off leaving the circle smaller and smaller. I stopped walking and allowed this action, this ritual I could not understand to swoop over me. I could not only hear the flapping of wings but I also could nearly feel the energy they were sending out into the Universe, over me.I stood there until the final circling and the last bird made its way to wherever it was going.

One walk. Two encounters with animals. One,a moment of life letting go. Another, a moment of life taking flight. Both a reminder to stay awake to the rhythms of these summer days that can wake us up from sleep.

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Glorious Green

In high school I had the most beautiful green,velvet dress. It was a rich, dark green and as you ran your hand across the fabric, the luscious color would change ever so slightly as if the very threads themselves held a variety of hues. It had been purchased for a dance and so had special sewn right into it. When I wore this dress, I was immediately lifted above my normal, ordinary, every day teen-aged self. Instead I felt beautiful, elegant, regal. Green velvet can do that.

As I drove across the Wisconsin country-side this past week, I thought of that dress. Out my car window the land was unfolding in field after field of green. Some were dark, forest-like. Others seemed to be immense mats of moss, no doubt springy to the touch. Still others were just emerging in their green-ness. They looked like adolescents in their color compared with the grown up fields that stood on each side. Their color varied, of course, depending on what was planted in the fields. It was a mile by mile gift of what is happening in the ‘Earth Kingdom’ right now, in these early days of summer.

The rains have not fallen with abandon in the parts of Wisconsin I traveled through, unlike what we have experienced in southern Minnesota. Only rarely was there standing water in a corn field and this same corn is well on its way to being knee high by the 4th of July. Growth was everywhere and it was very, very green.

At some point of my drive the winds picked up and began to play with the color green that was visible out my windshield. A few times, the wind moved in just such a way as my hand had on my green velvet dress, creating different shades of the same cloth. I watched with awe at its beauty. West…..dark, rich green. East…..lighter, softer green. And so it went for mile after mile.

The experience had me reflecting on color and its varieties, its variance. Here was the same field, planted with the same vegetation and yet the power of wind, the movement of the nap of green could create a visual that was completely different. In the blink of an eye.

I thought of the ways in which not only the plant world but the human world holds variety and variance that can, with the movement of wind or perhaps Spirit,cause this amazing change. We hold within us both compassion and self-righteousness, kindness and neglect, hope and despair, peace and anxiety. With a whoosh one way or the other, a different side of the same being shines forth. One is not necessarily better than the other…..just a shade we had not considered, had not realized was there, had hoped to avoid, wished would appear.

Wearing green velvet is a glorious experience. Seeing the fields dance in their unfolding is glory of a different sort. And yet, on one ride on a particular day, these gifts of green came together.

Blessing. Pure blessing.

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Trickster Spirit

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
~John 3:8

Many times in these pages I have commented on how a particular phrase, image or metaphor has been chosen by a group of people to be used in a worship service or a season and how that same theme starts to show up in my every day life in amazing ways. Call it chance, coincidence or serendipity. Whatever it is, it never fails to bring both wonder and humor to my life.

A few weeks ago I shared the image used for a gathering of United Methodists at our annual days of meetings, worship and celebrations. The dandelion, the humble often misunderstood flower, had been lifted to the place of honor as one example of how the Spirit moves in people’s lives and the life of faith communities. I was touched by so many people’s communications with me about what the dandelion meant to them. Who knew this tenacious, colorful, happy, frivolous, often detested weed could connect with so many people? I was gifted with stories of dandelions being given to mothers, pictures of grandmother’s holding bouquets of the lovely, little blossoms and even a jar of powder made with dandelions that makes a yummy, coffee-like drink. I was amazed at the blessings this little flower brought into my life.

So, why should I have been surprised to have found a Dandelion Farm? The Spirit works in often quirky ways! I was walking along a country road getting my daily exercise. I am sure I had passed the dirt road a number of times but had probably been intent on some thought and had kept my eyes straight ahead not noticing the lovely, white barn and silo visible at the end of the path. That particular day I must have been more in the present moment and upon seeing it, decided to explore to see what was further down the lane. There was no house that I could see, only the barn and silo painted a brilliant white against the Irish green of the trees and grass that surrounded it. It was a scene of pastoral calm that caused me to take a deeper breath, to feel a bit of the stored up tension leave my shoulders.

After drinking in the beauty and as I turned to leave, I noticed a sign on the tidy, white fence:Experimental Dandelion Farm Do Not Disturb Weeds. I looked around to see if there was some kind of Candid Camera thing going on. Was someone playing a joke on me? I read the sign over again. Was this someone’s idea of No Trespassing humor? Well, it worked on me. I laughed and breathed in the presence of the trickster Spirit.

The rest of my walk was given over to the idea of experimental dandelions and those who might give space for them, lovingly nurture them, even protect them with cautionary signs. I was reminded of all the ‘weeds’ I have known……those often ‘misplaced people’ who have been recognized for the beautiful, unique people they are, those people who have bloomed and grown in the most unlikely of places. I also thought of those folks who have been unable to do so, whose growth has been thwarted by the over zealous gardener, teacher, boss, parent, those who nipped too quickly an opportunity to blossom, to plant deep roots.

Each of us is basically an experiment, aren’t we? We come into the world with a certain combination of DNA, life situations, family, friends, economic means. We are nurtured or neglected, we rise above or conform, we seek to create a path that in great hope allows us to make meaning of our lives. Sometimes we are planted in just the right spot. Other times we find ourselves in the most unlikely of places trying to make sense of it all. Most lives contain a combination of both. If we are lucky, or blessed, we are given the chance throughout our lives to continue to experiment and try new things, new ways of being, until the right combination of soil, sun, and water allows us to flower. Those of us who walk this path with a lens of faith might see the Spirit at work in it all, might see the little wisps of feathery, white dandelion seeds blowing through the ordinary, often mundane, moments of our days. It would be good not to disturb this but to celebrate it for what gifts it might bring.

Perhaps the sign was only a joke meant to make people in the know laugh. All I know is that its message was something that went deeper for me and helped me once again see this simple flower with eyes of wonder and to feel again the Spirit who dances through it all.

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Knee High

It is often difficult to see growth. We can monitor change sometimes but actual growth is often elusive in any visible way. Growth is something we most recognize in retrospect. After the fact we can see how we, or someone we are close to, has matured, evolved, grown into a wiser or more fulfilled being. But the actual growth is often invisible while it is happening. It is as if the hard work, the stretching and pulling, the pushing and bending,happens in some hidden way that can only be seen and noticed after it has happened. Perhaps this is just how growing works.

Over the last week I have been driving on country roads back and forth to our church’s retreat center. Koinonia, as it is named, sits on Lake Sylvia about an hour’s drive west of the Twin Cities. The drive there takes me through field after field of, you guessed it, corn. And what I have been so aware of is how the corn is growing. First it was only about two inches of green, waving arms visible only if you really were looking with all your might. But within just a few days these green, outstretched appendages are visible as the tall beings they will become. Field after field now looks like corn!

This windshield time and the sheer expanse of these fields has me thinking of all the ways we can despair at the lack of growth. In ourselves. In others. In our institutions. In our nations. The patience for growth is so often in short supply. We want to see whatever growth we hope for immediately. Right now. If it is learning something new, we want it to happen in the next moment. If it is change in a system that is cumbersome or no longer useful, we want the growing to follow our own time table, some schedule we have configured most often for our own comfort. But growth rarely happens this way.

This past Sunday the worshiping community I am privileged to be a part of celebrated 20 years of worshiping together. It is a community that sings, prays, laughs, cries and hopes to express the way they see God show up in their lives. It was the Sunday called Pentecost where we hear the scripture of how the Holy Spirit came upon the early church and the people were able to hear one another speak in different languages but yet all were understood. The story is one of seemingly immediate growth. And perhaps it happened that way or perhaps it can happen that way. The immediate cause and effect of Spirit and understanding, Spirit and growth, Spirit and blooming.

But as I listened to the stories people told of how they came searching or broken and found wisdom or healing, this did not happen in the flash of brilliant moment. It took the metered exercise of showing up, of giving in to being cared for, nurtured, of engaging in building relationships that mattered, of seeing the Face of God in the person next to them. This growth first required vulnerability, one of the first steps in growth. The seed first has to go into the soil and open itself to sun, rain, wind and all the elements for growth to happen.

Growth takes time. It is not always visible or certainly not fast enough for our impatient temperaments. Growth has its own way of moving in and offering its wisdom. On Sunday we had the joy, the sheer joy, of seeing two of the young ones who had blessed the circle of worshipers in our beginning life as a community. We had not seen them in some time. What did we notice? How they had grown! What had once been two, sweet little girls who liked to sing and dance and twirl during worship were now tall, beautiful young women, poised and ready to tell us about their amazing, unfolding lives. This growth did not happen over night. It has taken the patience of years in order to become.And that is as it should be.

In a few weeks I will head back out along the fields lined with corn. If the weather is kind and the sun and rain do their work, these fields will be ripe with the gifts of tasseled stalks. Corn. All from tiny seeds nurtured with time and patience and a good bit of luck and faith. It won’t happen over night but if it works as we have come to expect, it will be ‘knee high by the Fourth of July’.

And to that is just as it should be.

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Open Windows

A squirrel flies in,” said Dr. Meescham. “This I did not expect at all. It is what I love about life, that things happen which I do not expect. When I was a girl in Blundermeecen, we left the window open for this very reason, even in the winter. We did it because we believed something wonderful might make its way to us through the open window. Did wonderful things find us? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.”
Kate DiCamillo, Flora and Ulysses:The Illuminated Adventures

We have finally settled into a reasonable weather pattern and since Minnesotans love to talk about the weather, I will. These days represent the short, glorious period between the frigid cold and the time when air conditioning keeps us trapped in a suspended animation of heat. These are the days when windows can be open. All day. All night. The current of spring air turning toward summer is upon us. Heavenly.

This last week the windows in our house have been opened with abandon while we are home. And no time is that more wonderful than at night. While we may be inside doing normal, evening chores and entertainments…..reading, watching television, doing laundry, cleaning up dishes after supper…..the sounds, smells and experiences of the darkness waft into the walls of our house. We can hear the children playing, laughing, a ball bouncing, a Big Wheel gallumping over concrete. The planes landing at the airport, people home after a vacation or business trip. Or those taking off, adventure throbbing through veins of the travelers on board, all these sounds become part of our nightly activity. Cars go quietly or too fast down the street. Someone as far away as the next block is trying to get their lawn mowed before it is too dark to see the lines of before-and-after green. The ordinary lives that surround us, those that have been silenced by snow and cold and windows locked tight against it all, have once again become a part of ours.

This experience is only heightened during the hours when sleep is the work to be done. Just as I am dozing off, a dog begins an anxious bark. Does it sense a stranger or is that a joyous greeting to a master who has stayed away too long? A June bug flies against the screen sounding much bigger and weightier than is actually true. The light or heat or smell of humans attracts it in ways that may well lead to its demise. As sleep takes over, the cool breeze of the wee hours blows gently, pulling up childhood memories of summer nights of freedom, no school, no responsibilities.

Some time around 3:00 in the morning, the people who deliver the morning newspaper begin their way down our street. I can hear their muffler, loud and rusty, and the music they have chosen to be the soundtrack for their work. 70′s rock, loud, the bass beating out its driving rhythm. I wonder about them. Who they are? What makes up their lives? I hear conversation between two people and the sudden ‘thud’ of the news of the world hitting our front steps. With that finality, they make their way on down the street, stopping and starting, pausing, much like many of the stories we will read a few hours later.

These days at 4:30 a.m. the sounds of the night are given over to the music of those with wings. Sleeping or not, I am aware of their music, sweet songs that seem to coax the Sun up, up over the horizon. These tiny beings sing out and wait for their song to be answered someplace on the block over or in a tree down the street. Soon their songs either rock me back to sleep or urge me to get on with the day. Whichever it is, I am given to offering a prayer for the sheer joy of traveling the planet’s rotation with these singers, these harbingers of morning.

Windows. There are times when closing them is the act of keeping out the danger of cold, ice, snow, and frigid weather. Closing them also draws us into a safety net that is both real and imagined. Opening those same windows allows the Breath of Morning, newness, a cool, fresh breeze to be the balm of the night. Opening windows invites us into seeing the world with different eyes. The eyes of imagination, of our other senses, of the promise of a new day.

What windows are closed in your life these days? How might opening a window be the invitation to some new experience of Spirit that longs to lift you toward something just outside your imagination? This Sunday marks the celebration of Pentecost in the Christian household. We will read once again how the Holy Spirit came upon the people and nothing was ever the same again.

Flames danced. People spoke. Windows opened. A new day had arrived.

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