Darkness All Around

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”
~Isaiah 9:2

The people who walked in darkness….that would be us. There has not been an Advent in memory that has been as dark as this one. Has there? The warm days and dark mornings and early evenings have been what I imagine it is like to live in Alaska in December. The fog that has accompanied these sunless, damp days is reminiscent of Scotland. Today as I drove around Lake Calhoun, the lake itself was invisible through the fog. I could nearly hear the bagpipes ringing off the distant moors!

I am glad for the darkness. This Advent has been difficult to connect with for me. Sometimes it is just this way. The calendar says one thing. The music sounds right. The words are familiar. But the feeling just isn’t there. That is how this Advent has been for me. I feel as if I keep reaching out, trying to pull a cord that is just outside my reach. The pull of waiting, watching, preparation just won’t come.

But the darkness is ever present. There is even darkness in the ways of the world. We know this from the morning paper, from the news report punctuated by snappy, Christmas tunes offering the joy that can be bought for a price. But the weight of the world seems to walk hand in hand with the darkness. So many people I know are holding more than their share of hurt, pain, grief, despair. My prayers surround them. This Advent, I have come to realize, is just different.So I am holding all things gently and trying to breathe deeply in each precious moment.

Last week during worship the amazing Sara Thomsen sang her song of these dark days: “Darkness cover me like a blanket of night, oh, cover me lightly…..Hidden seed, deep in the dark soil of the earth, fertile ground, womb of the night, bring us new birth.” Her rich alto took us all to the place where darkness is not frightening but is gift, the place where what is to be born is waiting. Gentle, deep breaths seemed to become present all around.

Perhaps this Advent is its own learning. The waiting and the watching is its own invitation to stay awake even in the darkness, particularly in the darkness. Like the womb, like the winter, like the night sky, light and birth are always present yet often hidden, even doing their own waiting.

And so I wait. In the days that are short and the nights that are long. Through the fog and the invisible horizon. Where darkness is the blanket that shrouds the very air we inhale. I wait.

Something is coming to birth.


Who Knows?

Do you know what you are?
You are a manuscript of a divine letter.
You are a mirror reflecting a noble face.
This universe is not outside of you.
Look inside yourself;
everything that you want,
you are already that.
— Rumi

This Advent I have once again been participating in an online retreat with the amazing artist, poet and author Jan L. Richardson. Five days a week an email arrives at some point of the wee hours of the night with an image and words of her creation. Of all the writers I read, Jan expresses Advent better than anyone. Her ability to weave the hopes and dreams of darkness and light always astound me and have me shaking my head “Yes!”…..that is what I felt and was searching for words to say.

One particular phrase in today’s reading struck with a thud to the solar plexus…..”cultivate a mindfulness of mystery.” Lovely, isn’t it? So often and with loud insistence we are urged to cultivate a mindfulness of certainty. But not mystery. Mystery is often shunned for what we can point to as fact, as documentation, as a way of creating an often false sense of order that brings a momentary peace but rarely lasts. There always seems to be the next urgent thing that requires the same Xcel spread sheet approach to life.

But cultivating a mindfulness of mystery, in my opinion, gets us to the heart of what it means to be human. Mystery is at the center of all that really matters. Life. Love. Compassion. Hope. Death. Eternity. The list goes on. Mystery is also at the heart of those places on which we hang our hats of faith. While we may want to twist and turn the ‘facts’ to fit our ordering of faith, Mystery always has the final word.

Which brings me to the words above of Rumi, blessed Rumi. In Advent we speak so often of waiting and watching. We say it as if there is something that is outside that will arrive to make all things, what? Better? Fulfilled? Enlightened? Perfect? Rumi and other wise ones from all the households of faith, impress that everything we need is already present in us. It is a matter of waking up to it, of noticing its nudging presence, its patient warmth, its ability to wait out our human flailing.

Perhaps that is one gift of these darkest of days…..to hold gently and with reverence what is yet unborn in us. Present yet unborn. Everything we want, we are already that. It may be covered over with years of hurt and pain and despair. It may be buried in messages we have harbored, handed out by people who carried their own hurts. The seeds may have been lying dormant until now. Until now.

Today is a good day, a day that has never been before and will never be again. It is a perfect day to cultivate a mindfulness of mystery. Who knows what could happen? Who knows what might be born that only you can offer to the world?

Who knows?


Face to Face

Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor.”
~Genesis 33:10

There are faces that draw us in. And there are faces that disturb us. There are faces that make us smile. And there are those that break our hearts. Faces are fascinating creations made up of common elements…..eyes, nose, mouth, eyebrows, eyelashes….whose coming together forms something unique and never repeated. I suppose identical twins make that statement not quite true. But even those rare identical faces must be able to twist and contort the common elements into expressions that shine forth unique characteristics of personality. Even identical twins must be able to be known as individual faces by those who know them best.

Since our Advent theme of Face to Face invites me to be awake to the faces who pass through my day, I have chosen to take these words literally when possible. I have been trying to really look into the faces of those I work with, those who bag my groceries, those who pass me on the street. It has made me realize how the majority of our time is spent avoiding being face to face in any real way. We keep our eyes down as we walk. We allow the distractions of any given moment to prevail when a face to face encounter is happening. We look at our hands, our feet, our phone. What we miss is the opportunity to look into the eyes of another human being. Someone with a life as rich and full as our own. Someone who may be struggling with life in ways that would startle us. Someone who may be ready with the one word we need to turn a day around and move us to hope.

Have you studied your own face in a mirror recently? What do you notice? Many of us are surprised by lines that didn’t seem to be there this time last year. Others wonder at the two, deep creases that make dual rivers between our eyes…..worry lines, they are called. What is the worry? Some faces I have seen have lovely, playful lines that seem to spring from the corners of their eyes, a sure sign of a life filled with laughter and joy. I am always drawn to these people.

The days of Advent invite us to see the light that shines in the darkest corners of our world. This seeing is an experience that requires some watching, some waiting, some preparation, some seeing that leads to deep knowing. This can all be done by opening ourselves to the vulnerability of being face to face. With our dearest ones and with those with whom we struggle.

Those of us who have ever held a small baby know the intensity with which these who are new to world can look at a face. Their small features seem to dig deep, search for meaning or affirmation of safety. Their young eyes burrow into the eyes of the one who is holding and a connection is made that goes to some eternal place. Perhaps this is one of the practices we might adopt in these darkest of days. Perhaps the soul deep looking into the face of another can lead us to a fuller experience of this Christmas toward which we travel.

I think it might be worth a try……



Advent……and so it begins. These days, this season when we walk through darkness toward a light that glimmers in the distance. Eight years ago, I began writing this blog to mark the days of Advent. It was intended to provide a ‘pause’ in the days of those who read it in what can be a season filled with, if not too much, then more than enough to occupy one’s time. The hope was that the act of stopping whatever the urgent was, hitting pause and reflecting, would bring me and any others who connected to it to a place to really receive the gifts of these December days.

In the northern hemisphere these are the days which move more slowly if we let them. The days are short and nights long. They are made for building fires, settling in with a good book, the act of staring into the middle distance. Even with the sparkle of lights from decorations, the darkness is never a far-off companion. Those of us who make our home in the Christian household have used these images, these experiences, for two millennia to speak of the coming of the Light, the Christ Child. Others light candles in menorahs and in windows, along pathways and sidewalks, all to signal the light that is present even in the darkest of times.

The darkest of times. This is a descriptor that can be both personal and universal. We need only enter conversation with a stranger or friend to get an opinion of whether or not we are, indeed, living in some of the darkest of times. The unrest that flows through our country right now might point to this truth. The ways in which racism is an ever present yet often ignored member of our common family has been present at our national table. What to do? How to respond? How to make our way in a world that seems shattered beyond mending? How to hold our deep differences and our common hopes in the same space? These were elements of the conversation that was present at our Thanksgiving table and the one that carries me into Advent.

For both the seasons Advent and Lent, our church establishes a theme that will carry us through the days and give shape to our words, our music and our time together. This year’s theme for Advent is “Face to Face”. Throughout the next days and weeks, we will be blessed by faces….of those we know, those we meet in our neighborhood, those who give rise to the way in which we choose to be faith-filled people together at this time in the history of the world. The words come from scripture and are reflected in those we will hear on a Sunday mornings.

Face to Face. The hope of Advent is that we will come face to face with the Holy. This was not a one time historical experience but a call to the daily living of our lives and has been so throughout time…..if we have the eyes to see. This is another call of Advent: “Stay awake!” The words ring through the first scriptures we hear in this season and reverberate over the sound of carols sung, bells rung and the din of shopping. Stay awake because the Sacred is showing up all the time, hoping to meet us face to face. Stay awake because the Holy is present in each face we meet. The wary stranger. The child whose far-off look makes us wonder. The elder, wise one whose smile draws us in. The person who shares our breakfast table, whose face we have memorized over and over again. The seeming enemy whose face flashes at us from the television screen.

My sense is that each generation believes at some level that they are living in the darkest of times. And because life is both beauty and tragedy there is an element of truth to that belief. Perhaps this Advent can find us reaching toward a light that continues to flicker in both the real and perceived dark times. Perhaps that light will be found in the faces that pass us each day and make up the story we continue to tell with our life. It is a short season, Advent. But an important one for the reminder it offers up……….

Stay awake!


Encircling Wind

Wind. Over the years I have had some powerful experiences of wind. The past few days have been ones where wind has been a nearly constant companion. For the Thanksgiving holiday we are staying in a house on Whidbey Island, Washington as we gather our now far-flung sons together in a family gathering. The waters of Puget Sound are steps away from our view of the world dotted with boats and wood and rock. We find ourselves situated on a peninsula with water on each side of the road and houses. Perhaps it is because of this configuration that the experience of wind has been so profound.

On our first night here I was awakened by the rush of the wind as it made circles around the house. Safe under the covers, I listened as the wind’s voice spoke its words first to the tip of my head and then made its way along walls and the length of my body, growing softer as it moved its circuitous path around and around the house, arriving again at the top of my head. Whoosh…..whoosh…whoosh….the wind became visible to me. The sound was so powerful and strong I got up and went into the living room where I could keep my eye on the crashing waves spewing water and anything else that found itself housed in the salty brine onto the beach.

Sitting quietly in a chair, I began to remember the other places where wind had been such a full bodied experience. While I have known the force of wind on the North Shores of Minnesota and the rocky paths of the Irish coast, my fullest experience of the circling of wind was in the Abbey Church on the island of Iona, Scotland. Having arrived late in the day on this holy island that has welcomed pilgrims for hundreds of years, we made our way in the dark to the 9:00 p.m. service of prayer. Sitting in pews with people from all over the world, we sang and read and prayed beautiful words created by gifted writers and liturgists. But it was the wind that brought the real message of the evening. Round and round the building it rushed. You could hear the very pattern of its flight. Eyes met eyes and we all knew in some unspoken way that the movement of the Spirit was present.

This circling presence is what has been holding me and reminding me of that powerful night that still niggles at my heart. I would like to believe that one does not need to be on an island to have such a fullness. But as is almost always true in the spiritual life, our experiences are both real and metaphor for something larger, something wiser. Sometimes when we feel most an island, alone and cut off, the Spirit shows up to whirl around and remind us of its eternal presence. When that island of self feels most unmoored, the power of Spirit creates a nest of wind so powerful that we cannot ignore its place in our lives. Round and round it moves carrying its wisdom and strength. Round and round its force becomes a connection that will not let go. Round and round this Breath which breathed us all into being speaks.

This morning the wind is much calmer and the waters out the window are flowing with a greater gentleness. The sea birds are flying in a lazier, easier fashion as they search for breakfast. Logs swim along, guests from the north that will arrive on the beach to offer the makings of forts and caves for creative souls. The horizon is open except for the far off glimpse of mountains. Of course, the wind is still moving, the Spirit’s presence still flows but its voice, circling is less visible, subtler. And so it goes and always will.

But sometimes, sometimes, we need a wake up call…..like the rushing winds of Pentecost. Circling. Circling. Circling. And may we each find those moments whether on island or street corner, whether in the solace of sanctuary or the details of the every day.

So be it.


Compassion Cost

Is there a price tag for compassion? Those were the words that jumped off the page yesterday as I read the morning newspaper. The question came from an article that would have been easily overlooked tucked as it was amidst the usual murder and mayhem that makes black marks on white paper. The report was of a wayward bird. A rufous hummingbird to be exact. A bird that was observed at a nectar feeder in St. Paul by a woman who knew her birds. Good for her and good for this bird.

Terri Walls noticed the colorful yet miniature winged one, perhaps, even more visible with our blanket of white snow that came as an early gift this week. I don’t now if Terri has a bird book by the windows looking out to her feeders like we do, but she clearly knew something was unusual about this bird. You see the rufous hummingbird’s homeland is the Pacific Northwest in summer and Mexico in winter. She had the wisdom to contact the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and spoke with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator named Jessika Madison-Kennedy. Through the kindness and compassion of these two women the bird was captured and taken to the Center where it is awaiting a trip on the wings of another kind of bird…..a metal bird….to get it back on course. In Arizona.

Madison-Kennedy spoke of the bird “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The thought is that it had been blown off course by weather disturbances in the Pacific Ocean. And so it found itself here, in Minnesota, in some of the coldest days we’ve known in November in some time. While it was described as a “healthy adult male of typical size, a few inches long and a penny’s worth of weight”,this fragile creature needed to rely on the kindness of strangers. And now it is about to get the ride of its life so it can see familiar landscapes and join up with wings and beaks it knows.

Reading this article yesterday I couldn’t help but think of the many two-leggeds I know who must feel similar feelings to this rufous hummingbird. Blown off course. In unfamiliar landscape. Looking out for others that seem like faced, like winged, like feathered. We have all been there. We find ourselves in a place that doesn’t seem like a place we know and we wonder how in the world we got there. Sometimes this comes abruptly, out of the blue, with a choice or a decision that rocks our world. For many this is a constant, every day experience they’ve know their whole lives. Various circumstances bring on such a state…..slips in mental health……addiction….illness….loss…..grief….anxiety….depression……whatever the trigger….the result is being blown off course with what feels like a disturbance from some distant place.

Enter compassion. The question: “Is there a price tag on compassion?” came from the person organizing the conversation and compromise between Minnesota and Arizona to send and receive this tiny bird. Will it cost money? Yes. Lots, I would imagine. I don’t know how that will work out. I am confident that there are those who would scoff at the expense.

But as one who has taken the lead in life from one who believes in the care of the least and the lost, this seems a no brainer. Is there a price tag for compassion? I don’t think so. Compassion flows from the goodness of heart, the kindness of strangers, the blessings of beloved ones.

Today, I am imagining a tiny bird wondering what it in the world happened to its simple, flying, eating-sweet-things life. I am imagining this flash of color inside a flying plane headed south just like the human ones we call ‘snow birds’. I am imagining the moment at which the plane lands, the cage is opened and this fragile being lifts its body into warm, familiar sky and breathes home.
Is there a price tag on compassion? Yes. It takes all we have.



Sometimes it simply takes longer to make your way back into your regular life. Sometimes, after a walk to the mountain top, setting the alarm or doing the laundry seems odd, unnecessary. This is what my experience has been after ten days in Italy with an amazing group of spiritual pilgrims. Traveling as we did with an eye to the Holy, the beauty of each day staggered us. The privilege of another week’s travel through the beautiful landscape of France had me arriving home full to overflowing. Team that with jet lag and you can get a little loopy! Which is why I have not visited this space for awhile.

The truth of the matter is that the experience of this pilgrimage has left me somewhat wanting for words. Which is probably as it should be. The sheer magnitude of art, sacred space, beauty, language, food, and the hospitality that was showered upon me should be something that leaves one speechless. In might be enough to walk around the world stunned for awhile waiting for my body to catch up to my spirit, rather than the usual other way around. I find myself staring off in the middle distance remembering the way the fog rose off a Tuscan hillside. I can hear the sounds of Gregorian Chant from mass at St. Altimo Monastery ringing in the far reaches of my heart. The sight of bread….any bread….reminds me of the snap of crusty baguettes or flaky croissants. The gentle pace of a daily life that doesn’t include rush hour tugs at my sleeve.

I know. These are the delusions of the privileged and pampered. I know it and yet can’t make an apology because I learned things in all these experiences, things that in some way connect me in a deeper way to the One who breathed all that beauty into being, or was at the very least the object of its creation. This is what has me so baffled and unable to come fully again into the dailiness of my life.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of travel is that it offers the opportunity to see the world with another lens, to realize that all the nitty-gritty details of my life, those that can nag or worry me, have no bearing on the lives of others. It is a humbling, yet important thing, to realize that whole cultures are living full, beautiful, rich lives without much of the minutiae that can set my nerves on edge. What a gift! My world, my culture, my way of seeing the world is only one, tiny glimpse of what life can be like. Immersing one’s self in another place is the only way to really know this.

Another gift might be the ability to take a small dose of this and that and incorporate a new value into our own lives. Perhaps taking an evening stroll around the block as a family, as they do in Italy, is something that might draw people closer together, calm them down for the evening ahead. Maybe sitting facing the street, watching the ‘show’ of people and traffic, as they do in Paris, might be a good way to understand our neighborhoods and neighbors better, helping us to feel more connected to those around us. Or maybe the act of lighting a candle, remembering the saints in our lives, has a way of connecting us with those who have gone before who have shared their wisdom. Simple things, simple values that have traveled the miles with me and planted a seed.

Eventually, I will return to my regular life. My sleeping patterns will once again be on Minnesota time and my stomach will growl at the appropriate times of the day. No 3:00 a.m. granola! But for now I am content to still be in the weeds of travel. I will spend the next weeks or months reflecting on all that has passed before my eyes, all the rare sounds of languages not understood but beautiful still, the variety of life’s rhythms I have experienced,the tastes and smells of food not known in my common daily round.

My prayer is that I can come to some new understanding of what I value and what no longer serves me. The result of a true pilgrimage is that one walks the path in a new way having left behind what needed to be shed while carrying forward a new heart. No one need leave home to come to this. It is the gift of the pilgrim of the every day.

Blessings on all our paths…….


Peace and Tranquility

There are some characters in history with whom we feel a particular kinship. When many of us were adolescents we read the story of a young girl whose words rang true with the longings, the questions, the frustrations and the hope we felt in this often turbulent life season. In whichever English class we were required to read The Diary of Anne Frank, most of us became intrigued with the ways in which she wrote of her life held captive in the attic of an Amsterdam building. Whether male or female, our classrooms buzzed with her telling of a time that was not far from the memories of parents. If we were paying attention we made this connection and, what may have been lost on us in history class about war and the profiling of certain groups of people, awakened in a literature class. Anne’s arguments with parents and other adults and her love interest in Peter who shared her captivity was something we understood. Her tragic death sealed her life story forever in our memory.

Today I was privileged to visit the Anne Frank house and museum in this city ripe with canals and bicycles. The simple and profound way in which this experience has been created is a marvel. Beginning on the lower floor, we were able to see pictures of Anne, her family and those who had risked their lives to hide them full of life. These people looked ordinary and not heroic at all. Snippets of interviews with Anne’s father and others who survived seemed to lure us further and further up the narrow and winding stairs.

At one point I was keenly aware of how the wood on the steps was worn, a little valley of footsteps going upward. I thought of the fact that my feet were now being added to all those who have come to pay homage in this place and also the footsteps of Anne herself. All this walking led us past the bookshelves built to hide the entrance to the secret rooms and into the living quarters, now empty of furniture and decoration save for the pictures of movie stars and postcards Anne had glued to the walls more than seventy years ago. I was reminded of the teenagers rooms I have seen and how this pattern is in many ways universal…..the need to make a space with an imprint, a way of saying ‘this is my space….I am here…..I am alive.’

Finally the curving hallway leads into a room with the actual diaries. Ink on paper, blue and black, words that tell a story of a young girl’s hope of being a famous writer. Red ink is used to edit some of her writing, her own edits, a young writer hoping to be a better one. Without the benefit of a teacher, Anne edited and corrected her own words. Her desire to learn, to stay in touch with a world that was walled off to her fills me with awe. Her sister Margot continued studying Latin through a correspondence course and had one of the women who hid them act as if they were her lessons. This furthers my amazement.

And yet this is the power of hope. With their world as they knew it crumbling around them, they kept up the pursuits of education, intellect and plans for a life of freedom. My amazement comes from their courage and my wondering. Would I, under similar circumstances, do the same? Can you even imagine it? I find it difficult to do so.

As we walked through both the house and museum, there were languages being spoken from all around the world. The visitors were made up of all ages. Young girls looked at photos of someone not far from their own age. Young boys read words much like those of their classmates and sisters. Parents held their children’s hands perhaps a little tighter. Grandparents,many of whom had real memories of this historical time, had faces of a knowing sadness.

On one wall, pencil marks were visible…..the accounting of Anne and her sister Margot’s growth while they lived in these close quarters above a business and behind a fake bookshelf. I thought of all the doorways and closet walls around the world that hold similar marks. In one diary entry Anne said: “I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery and death… I think… peace and tranquillity will return again.”

For all those places in the world where there is no peace today. For all those places where children suffer and are in fear. For all those places where parents and grandparents are frightened for their children. For all the young girls and young boys whose future is uncertain. May the God of mercy bless and keep them all safe from harm this day. And may their future open in tranquility before them.



Allora. This is the Italian word we have heard over and over again in our daily walk. It can mean a myriad of things….so…well…therefore…let’s see….and seems to be tacked on the beginning of a sentence or in conversation to buy time, to wait for the right words to arrive, to hold another’s attention while you figure something out. It is even more charming if you have the ability to roll your ‘r’s’.

Allora. So…it is time to take our leave of this amazing country and this captivating landscape. We have seen mountains and valleys, fields full of olive trees and vineyards, the sun shining on the green and golds creating fully alive works of art. We have traveled to enough churches and cathedrals and basilicas to have us all trying for weeks to sort them out. Many were over the top in gold-gilt, frescoes and paintings with marble statues lining the walls. Others were simple, plain with only the sunlight shining through windows and incense to create an art of a different form. All to make a sacred place where people might encounter the Holy. When you travel with a group, you get to experience those things with which you felt only a small connection through the eyes of another whose world was moved by it. What a gift.

Last night as we gathered on the rooftop garden of our hotel only blocks away from the Vatican, we shared those things which had been blessing, those experiences we would take away from this pilgrimage. Like the art we had seen and the sacred places we had visited, people’s comments represented the fullness of form. Many will take a sense of simplicity while others will be bathed for days to come in the magnificence of the art and its opulence.

When it was my time to share what came to me was the realization that the majority of the architects and artists began a work they would never live to see competed. One dome in a church we visited took 140 years to complete. Several lifetimes in those days. I thought of how often I want to see results. Now. Not in a week, a day, a year. Now. What does it mean to come fully to the knowledge that what we create, what we work for, what we hope for, may never be seen by our eyes, in our lifetime?

One gift of travel is that your eyes are opened to the longevity of the world, its places, its people. Being surrounded as we have been by the ancient and lasting, I have once again been confronted with how often I make my living small. With the minute details and worries I fashion for myself. With my way of forgetting the vastness of the Universe and the beauty and complexity of its people. With the many ways I pretend as if I am not connected to the fullness of it all. Has this ever been your experience?

Allora. So….then….it is time to move on and take the gifts of being a pilgrim at this time, in these days, in this one particular and precious life with me into the next days. The fullness of it all may not be realized for some time. It may take hours and days of reflection. But each day is a beginning toward something I may or may not see come to fruition. I feel as if I am in good company in that.



Amazing Grace

There are so many things that we can decide divide us as human beings. There are nations and languages. There are different political and theological views. There is certainly economic status which influences the places we live and the kinds of work we do. There are racial and sexuality divides. Over the course of humanity we have built up so many ways to create a divide where perhaps one really does not exist.

But one of the things that can unite us is music. Yesterday as we continued our pilgrim path in Italy, we had a full bodied experience of how music can bring seemingly disparate people,from various countries, speaking several languages together. In a church. What a gift it was!

Several members of our traveling band of pilgrims had the privilege to worship at the Waldensian Church in Sienna. We had made contact with the minister of this church, named Martine, and she knew we were coming for worship. When we arrived at what we thought was a respectable time before the service, the doors were still not open. Soon a young woman arrived, in a hurry, carrying a black robe slung over her arm. She was the minister of the church and she had the keys! She busily unlocked the doors and we entered a simple little sanctuary void of any of the opulence we had seen so far in many of the churches. But its simplicity and sweetness felt like a refuge that could hold us.

We sat down on the hard wooden benches as worship was about to begin. We were told that a young American woman who attends the church would be translating the scripture and the sermon for us. This young woman looked at us with both joy and a bit of apprehension. It is indeed a responsibility to, on the spot, translate the words of the minister. How much to include? What to focus on? What to leave out of the interpretation?

Our group had filled many of the pews. There was only a handful of ‘regulars’ to the church and this group included several from Cameroon, including three small children dressed in their Sunday best. Also in attendance were three people from France. Our minister right away had told us that ‘her English is not so good.’ Her words spoke truth but her face, her very presence, spoke welcome.

We listened to what must have been some kind of call to worship and a prayer. We sang, unaccompanied on any instrument, with Martine leading us in her strong alto. The first three hymns had tunes familiar but whose Italian words had us pulling on any Latin or Italian we had picked up in church or school choir. Our voices filled the room with strength and a certain spartan beauty.

But it was when we all sang together, ‘Amazing Grace’ that everything shifted in the room. It was so clear that Martine had chosen this familiar hymn to be an olive branch of hospitality and connection. And her instinct was a good one. In at least three languages we sang boldly and sure. “Amazing grace….how sweet the sound……”

And indeed it was. At that moment we sang and breathed as a community of faithful, all from different places with different experiences of life and the world. Though our languages were disparate, our hearts were joined as one. All the ways in which we may have come into the room divided fell away. We were a simple group of faithful held together in a simple place by an equally simple tune whose melody and words had, at some point in our living, been carved into our DNA.

As we heard the scripture read in both Italian and English, the story of Abraham and Sarah learning that they will have a child, Sarah’s laughter rang out. The message of God’s willingness to do new things, unimaginable things, was clear in both word and action. Where a community had existed, guests had been welcomed and for this particular Sunday in the course of the world, music had made something new of us all. As we greeted one another after the service, we learned that we are all celebrating similar things and equally struggling over others.

But for one suspended moment in time, we were all one through singing together. It truly was Amazing Grace……