Entering the Season of Darkness

It is that time of year  . . . . Indian Diwali, Celtic Samhain, Halloween, Christian All Saints, even the time change. All these holidays mark the change of season and the moving into a time when the trees are bare, the days are shorter, and the wind is colder.  Having grown up many of my childhood years in Florida, I am not exactly a fan of Winter.  I love the warmth, the sunshine, and the abundant green growth. But whether I like it or not, a new season is on the threshold.

With the help of the Celts and Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel, however, I beginning to appreciate this season in a new way.  There are two understandings that both these ancient traditions share. First, they believe that day begins at sundown.  It is the night when we rest, when we give up control of our actions and thoughts in sleep, and God works spinning the world on our behalf. I live this. I never go to bed wondering if the world will exists tomorrow; I trust that the sun will continue to rise and the world will be much as I left it when my eyes open. At night, God is in control. Day begins not with my “to do” lists or accomplishments, but in letting go and trusting in God’s sovereignty and love that keeps all on an even keel while I am not in control. Further, both traditions consider night or the dark season to be a “thin time,” a time when the veil between heaven and earth is not quite so vast and we humans have the opportunity to come just a bit closer to God. “Thin times” call us to listen to the wisdom God implanted in us at creation and the wisdom God is pouring into us, his beloved children.

So, this new season, while it may be a season of darkness, is also a season to be still, reflect, listen, and dwell with God. I hope this season I will pause when I am thinking I just need to hold on through this season of death and bareness until Spring arrives and instead embrace this season of listening and try to snuggle a little closer to the God of love.


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Tragedy’s Response

My facebook feed, inbox, and text messages have said quite a bit today and the past few days and weeks about violence and racism.  Now, as you might imagine, I have connections with quite a few “churchy” people—members, pastors, hierarchy, institutions, organizations—and many of the responses I have been reading come from a Christian perspective, but not all.

I have “heard” that Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter and that All Lives Matter.  I have been invited to join in prayer services, protests and other public gatherings. I have been asked to contemplate my role, influence, and responsibility as the parent of brown-skinned children, one of whom is male.  I have been urged to wake up, have conversations, join with those who are different than me, donate my money and use what leadership I may have as a member of a community and pastor to work for peace, justice, mercy, solidarity, and love.  Mostly I have been urged to do something and choose that “something” wisely because there are so many wrong “somethings,” at least according to my digital world.

I am reminded of the summer after my junior year of college.  I participated in an internship in which I worked in two nonprofits–one which helped to create affordable housing in Charlotte and the other which provided a safe haven and support for inner city children–and in which I joined with other interns to read and discuss theology.  I had visited and volunteered my time in severely impoverished communities of people who were white, brown, and black prior to this internship and had spent plenty of time in theological query; this setting was not new.  But what has remained with me from that summer’s experiences is that fear motivates.

I do not have an answer; I do not have a rally-ing cry; I do not have an eloquent prayer; I do not have a plan.

Yet, the answer is safety for each of God’s children; “There is no such thing as someone else’s child” is a pretty good rallying cry; I do pray for us all; and I beg God for the clarity and courage to recognize the moments when I/we can be part of God’s plan for wholeness and the patience and love to act.

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Word of the year . . .

(After a nine month hiatus, I am back on the blogging trail.  Nope, not a new year’s resolution.  Just getting back to this opportunity.)

You know that process that some folks relish and others don’t of choosing a word for the new year?  It is not really a resolution for the upcoming year, but more of choosing a guiding force or letting it choose you?  It’s that “word of the year” thing.  (Here is a great resource that explains the “word of the year” through the tradition of the Christian desert mothers and fathers HERE . This organization will also send you a free 12-day online mini retreat to help you to find 2016’s word.)  Well, I haven’t been a big “word of the year” fan.  It just didn’t resonate with me.  But this morning, I received a word whether I wanted it or not. I woke up and I knew it.  I’ve learned over the years that those moments of deep clarity are usually gifts from God and it is best not to spend too much time analyzing then. I just know I was given a word on which to ponder for the coming year, something to nourish, guide, and challenge me.


Yep, “restore.”  I googled it and got hits of Habitat’s “Re Store” and pages about health.  According to Webster, restore means to bring back, as in a previous right, practice, custom or situation, as well as to repair.  There is also the connotation of giving something which was taken or stolen or lost.  It is not “reclaim,” but “restore.” I think of my paternal grandmother’s cedar chest which my mother restored for me.  It wasn’t broken and neither am I.  It had that beauty and strength within it all along, it was just buried.

Hmm.  Wonder what God is up to?

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The word is unfamiliar to most.  It is the season from Easter to Pentecost, lasting 7 weeks, longer than both the more familiar seasons of Advent and Lent.  It is a time to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s resurrection in our lives, a time of breathing deeply into new life.  While Spring buds and blooms all around us, the Spirit calls us to wonder and drink in deeply.


So, how do we sit with this mystery of resurrection, a resurrection acted by God, out of the bounds of natural order and history, by the incarnate, one-with-us God for the purpose of reconciling me, us, all humanity to relationship with God?

Heck, I can hardly wrap my mind around the words I just wrote, much less fully grasp their meaning!  No wonder the church has avoided this season!

But maybe that is the point.  Perhaps Eastertide is more heart than head.  Not to be taken lightly, but not to be figured out either.  It is an invitation to notice what is blooming, to reach up towards the warm glowing light, to trust your soul know how to put roots down and shoots up.  It is a time not to expect that you know the outcome, but to open to surprises and the timetable of the wind.

So how do we “do” Eastertide?

Take a walk and be present–not to what you need to do next or what your spouse said to you yesterday.  Be present to the ground beneath your feet and the trees above your head.  Ask God to be with you and listen.

Or try visio divina. (http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Praying-with-Art-Visio-Divina.html)  Go to Google and search for Spring photos; find one that you like; and pray.

Or learn to Zentangle (https://www.zentangle.com). Or color in an adult coloring book (try Johanna Basford’s books). Or take a photograph, but instead of “taking” it “receive” the image that captures your attention. Or try centering prayer (http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/category/category/centering-prayer); or silent meditation or just sitting with God for a few minutes.

Like all of life, Jesus’ resurrection is a gift, and so is Eastertide.  Unwrap what is offered.  Risk being vulnerable with God.  Receive what is blooming.  I am going to try!


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Happy New Year . . . again and again

Last year I marked the start of a new year and a sabbatical on a 1.2 acre beautiful island in Belize with some beautiful people–two whom I parent; two who have such good hearts I wish they had moved to Atlanta instead of Montana; and several who so graciously welcomed us into their lives and homes for a few days of bliss.  The year ahead opened up like a flower blooming. I was given the opportunities to live being, not doing and to trust my own belovedness of God, not any measuring stick of the world.

This year I marked the start of a new year in a the cardiac step down unit of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta with my 14 year old son who had just received the implant of a cardiac defibrillator and pacer.  There were beautiful people there too–Tina who was so kind, Maribeth who made us laugh, Jamie who had a new parental compassion, Faith who “got” teens and teen parents, Pete who assured us with his confidence and UGA hat, and Aarti who explain, listen, thought deeply, and encouraged.  But there was also a puking kid who could still make a joke; a compassionate and patient sister; parents who worried and loved; a chocolate-bearer;  and so, so many who covered us in love as a great cloud of witnesses from facebook and beyond.  2015 will again open up like a new blooming flower; I can just feel it.  I have already been given the opportunity to let go and receive. It is not a gift I always am good about opening, but such an amazing gift and I am truly grateful I untied that bow.  I understand God’s gift of community in renewed and new ways and have a heart more full.

You know who you are . . . thank you!

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Less is More . . . Maybe

I come from a long line of uppity women. My paternal grandmother was a nurse. She worked in the day and age when women with children and gainfully employed husbands did not do such a thing. But it is my maternal great aunts who were the true independent women. Aunt Mamie owned a butcher shop; she butchered her own meat and was in competition with the butcher shop down the road owned by her husband. Aunt Flora was widowed in 1934 at the age of 35 with 3 children ages 9 and 8 (twins), but did not remarry for 14 years. Instead started a successful beauty shop business and supported her family solo. Aunt Nettie, when the phone lines first came to Oklahoma, carried the poles and linemen in her car, literally; she had to drive because no one else in town could! I could go on, but you get the idea.

So with this family tree, it is no wonder that I sometimes march to my own tune. My latest tune is the “less is more” tune. I am fascinated with the tiny house movement and have spent quite a bit of time over the last 9 months researching, thinking, and dreaming about living and perhaps even building a tiny house of my own. I LOVE the simplicity of small and the idea of having a home that goes with you. I already live in a home 1/2 the size of the average American and lament the STUFF we have. (Even though I still splurge shop from time to time.)

So, I tried an experiment this week. (And yes, I made the teenagers join in.) I pulled out one place serving of dishes, plus an extra glass for each of us and then taped the other cabinets shut. For 4 days, we used only those items.

What did I learn? Nothing piled up and I had plenty. Actually, it felt like I had more . . . more time (no standing at the sink and doing a bunch of dishes) and more space (empty cabinets).

So, now I could quote something about the lilies of the field or God being the true provider of what we really need . . . but I won’t. I’ll just note that, for me, there is something sacred in this tune and perhaps I am just “uppity” enough to keep letting it play and see where this goes.

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God’s Plan

When children are little, we ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Starting around middle school, the question morphs into, “What professions do you have natural ability for?” By high school, it is “What college major are you considering?”

At least those were the questions asked of me. As a child, I wanted to be a ballet dancer. As a middle schooler, my aptitude testing suggested a pilot. In high school, I was to be a pre-med major. But even by my junior year college (pre-med abandoned), I wasn’t sure where my life was headed.  A doctor suggested a CIA agent; a professor tried to mentor me towards a research scientist; my stepfather envisioned a professor; leaders at my church encouraged a church profession; parents of friends saw me as an elementary school teacher. By the beginning of my senior year of college, I was no longer was considering what I wanted, my aptitudes or my educational plan, but instead, what was God calling me to do. I did not care what I did professionally, but I did care if I was following God’s plan. While it sounds overly pious, particularly for a college student, it was far more about finding the “right” measuring stick for my life. I didn’t feel the need to please parents, professors, or any others in my vocational choice, and doing something I love, felt a self-centered goal.  So, I began to use the standard of “God’s plan,” and asked “What is God calling me to do?”

Now 30 years since, I think I had the yardstick wrong. It is not so much, “What is God calling me to do?” as it is “Can I be faithful to God doing this?”

I have come to believe that God calls us not necessarily to this or that vocation, but to faithfulness. Perhaps for some, being faithful means being a doctor or lawyer or teacher or entrepreneur or plumber. And of course, God wants us to use the gifts we have been so graciously given. But it seems right to the nature of God, that the specific profession is less important than how that profession, that life is lived. God calls us to be part of the holy in-breaking of the kingdom, working for justice, mercy and love–here and now, imperfect as it may be.

Right now, I find I am most likely to be faithful to God when I am teaching a class, helping others find their leadership skills, articulating why it matters that we get involved to help those out of poverty, living the hospitality I preach, comforting the grieving, untangling an administrative misunderstanding, praying and worshipping.  So, I am a pastor.

But I also find I am more open to God when I am in the natural world–hiking, walking the dog, or just sitting by the Chattahoochee.  So I make time to be outdoors because being close to God, leads me to faithful actions (at least more often than driving in Atlanta traffic!).

What do you think?  Does God care more about what we do or how we do it?

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