Friday, December 21, 2007

Writing Prompt 31

Write about a signficant birth in your life--whether it be a baby, a career, an insight. How was or wasn't this birth what you expected?

A Christmas Blessing

Our Child is Born

For unto us this love is born
Unto us this grace is given
This infant head will rest
upon our shoulders
And we will call this child
Wonderful, Darling One
Light of God
Everlasting Joy
This precious life

Based on Isaiah 9:6-7

In the midst of darkness, in the midst of winter, in the midst of failing health and personal struggles, love is waiting to be born into our lives. God issues the invitation moment by moment. May we all have the courage to let go of the savior we expected and embrace the unexpected unlikely gift God offers us instead.

Unto us love is born!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Writing Prompt 30

Write your own version of The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56).
Or write why your soul sings.

My Soul Sings

A Contemporary Magnificat
based on Luke 1:46-56

From deep inside my soul I sing
praise to my maker.
God is amazing beyond belief
the Heart of Being has held
my heart in hand.
I’m just a girl trying to live
a God worthy life
and from the crowd
I was noticed, chosen, claimed.

When people look back on my life
they won’t be able to help seeing
blessing and the great things
the Mighty One has done.
I hold up God’s name, wave
it like a flag and walk
under the banner of the Holy
in a parade of wondrous works.

God rains compassion
quenching the thirst of those who follow
as far back as our earliest kin.
I-Am-Who-I-Am was there
flexing divine muscle
humbling the proud who thought
they had it all.

God knocks the powerful off their thrones
drives them to their knees
and lifts the trampled to their feet.
The Almighty fills the baskets
of the hungry with delights
and says to those already satiated
“You have enough.”

God is faithful never veering from the promise
made to our father Abraham
and all who sprung from him.
God is with us forever.

My Soul Sings

Perhaps this is what it means to say my soul sings. Saying yes to God, saying yes to the creative spirit that longs to dwell within us and birth something new into our lives. Like Mary, we can sing out a love song to God recognizing God’s wondrous work and our hope for a world open and attuned to divine power that topples traditional power structures and set all of us free to experience new life in unconditional love.

My soul sings with the privilege of being called by name by the Holy One. My soul sings because I, who was an atheist, a Christian hater, a scoffer and skeptic, have been claimed and loved by God.

If God can do that, if God can turn my life around, fill me with hope from the inside out and let me work out the details of my faith, beliefs and salvation later, then what else is God capable of?

My souls sings. I believe in the power of God’s love to work miracles. My soul sings and I want to turn my life and this world into a never-ending refrain of praise. My soul sings. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I believe in all encompassing unfathomable love.

That love is God and Love will save us. Love will bring about the fervent desires of our hearts for justice and for peace. Some day, some way, it will happen. This is the hope we have inherited. This is the hope that set Mary’s soul to singing. This is the hope we proclaim now and forevermore.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Writing Prompt 29

Do you know someone who is preparing the way of the Lord? It could even be you.
Write your own version of Isaiah's words (Isaiah 40:40:3-5), or those of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12) about this servant.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

This poem was originally written for Rev. Victoria Schlintz. She began her ministry at Atwater United Methodist Church just as she was diagnosed with ALS. Under her leadership, the church is thriving. Equipped this year with a special van, nothing is stopping Victoria in preparing the way of the Lord.

May each of us be as brave and faithful in saying, "Here I am, Lord, send me."

Prepare the Way of the Lord

There’s a voice in the valley
calling through the wilderness
“Prepare the Way of the Lord”
and the people are listening.

She says, “I am not the one
you are seeking but I know him.”
And they see in her life and suffering
that God’s grace is always present
is always enough that they too
can be blessed no matter what.

“Prepare the Way of the Lord.”
It is the voice of our sister
calling in the wilderness
and we heed her words.

Prepare the Way of the Lord’s servant
Make her paths straight
and her rough ways smooth
Fill the valleys and level her mountains
And together we will see
the salvation of our God.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Writing Prompt 28

What are you bearing this Advent season?
What are you giving birth to?

Holy and Ordinary

We move from ordinary time into the season of Advent this Sunday. A time of waiting, of anticipation of Christ's birth again in our lives and into the world. Lights-- thousands in our case--illuminate the dark--and our neighborhood, drive by if you live in the area--Those who walk in the darkness have seen a great light. And those who allow themselves to enter deeply into the season, can still find expectation amid holiday parties, gift shopping, and more. We enter into a holy season, but the ordinary is always with us.

Holy and Ordinary

Holy and ordinary
this time given
for breath and blood
for calling forth into life
the creatures in ourselves
the tiger the lamb
the colt who bears
mothers and saviors
on its back

O Maker what can I bear
what can I birth
and nourish and raise
an offering
full and ripe
the essence of abundance
that rains on me
not gently
but fat thick drops
that sting my skin
pelt me into awareness
force me to look
utter my thanks
hand over my life

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Writing Prompt 27

Write a top ten "I am thankful for" list, or adopt the practice of writing 5 things you are thankful for each day in a Gratitude Journal.

Giving Thanks

Give thanks in all things. It's a tall order to be thankful sometimes, when we're struggling with health, finances, relationships, employment and more. Somewhere, recently, I either read or was told (yes, the middle aged memory loss is here) about/by a woman who begins each day thinking of five things she is thankful for before she even gets out of bed. What a gratitude attitude.

It seems to me this sort of thinking on a daily basis requires one to look at the details of life, rather than just the big things. What would your list look like? Today, the day before Thanksgiving, mine went something like this

I am thankful for:

1. being able to breathe all night through my nose (I have a cold).

2. that the dog didn't poop on the bedroom floor (he lacks bowel control, so a common occurrence).

3. my family visiting for the holiday weekend, and the twelve of us celebrating together at our home tomorrow.

4. my sister volunteering to cook turkey and gravy for our feast, leaving me free to decorate the table, my favorite activity.

5. my new Kitchen-Aid mixer. I made my first loaf of gluten-free bread with it last night, and pizza crust, too. Real bread, real pizza. This is heaven.

Well, let's go ahead and make it a top ten I-am-thankful-for list for good measure, since this is my Thanksgiving post:

6. the crew of Professional Cleaning Services who cleaned my house this morning.
7. the m.d. who is helping heal my daughter's scar tissue from previous ankle surgery.

8. my husband, family, friends, writing community and church family, who all support and encourage me in my journey, as I attempt to follow my calls to writing and ministry.

9. the privilege of being invited into the lives and stories of others.

10. God, waiting for each of us to Wake Up and be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Writing Prompt 26

Find a picture or postcard that intrigues you. Write what you imagine the story behind the image to be.

How to Party When You're Norman Mailer

This entry is a writing exercise from my Asilomar workshop inspired by this photo of Norman Mailer at a Poets & Writers party in 1980. Photo credit: Nancy Crampton

How to Party When You're Norman Mailer:

First wear your sweatshirt and tennis shoes. You’re comfortable in your skin. You know who you are, no need to dress to impress.

Second, prepare to dazzle the guests with a hidden talent––a hobby you’ve had since childhood for instance. Something you’ve kept up casually, encouraged by nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren who want you to show off your old tricks at family functions.

Third, grab a microphone, cordless if you can, in order to narrate, as is your bent, even this absurd display of diminishing prowess. You are a writer, after all, your body of work characterized by an unflinching look at all of life, even or especially, yours, fully fleshed out details in Technicolor.

Fourth, as you balance on the edge of adolescent delights and the precipice of obscurity—will anyone remember you or your work twenty years from now? Ten years? Tomorrow? Don’t ask those questions.––Throw yourself completely into the moment. Feel the exhilaration of the zone. You are snatched from time and space. In a millisecond you are ten and sixty-five, skinned kneed and potbellied, waiting for your twelve year molars and white haired all at the same time. That’s creativity, baby.

Lastly, tell us, the other guests at God’s gathering about the ultimate death defying party trick. Tell us how we too, can conquer time and space. Introduce us to Jesus*.

*Mailer wrote The Gospel According to the Son in 1999. He died on November 10, just days after I wrote this.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Writing Prompt 25

What does/did "the evil eye" mean to you?
Is there a look you give or get that scares you?

The Evil Eye

Here is the thing about the Evil Eye––it’s not evil at all. So much for giving someone “the evil eye.”

I’ve mastered a glare that lets the transgressor know that I completely disapprove of his or her behavior and that the steely glint of my gaze is a ticket straight to hell. It doesn’t matter whether the trespasser is talking too loud in a movie theater, queue jumping, or infidelity. If I get wind of it, my evil eye indicts, judges and sentences guilty in a blink.

But the real evil eye, a cross between a teardrop and marble, bought as a gift from my husband on his recent trip from Istanbul came to me as the ornament atop a pill case along with the news that the eye is meant to provide divine protection. God is there, looking out for us, for you and for me, seeing all, staring down the evil spirits and evildoers, withering them the slightest glimpse in the name of Love.

This eye appears everywhere, in windows, on taxi dashboards, bedroom hangings, as if God wants to be present in every aspect of life. Nothing is too small to warrant the attention of the evil eye—even a tiny pillbox.

Now, far from wanting to escape the evil eye, I want to stand in front of God waving my hands until I catch notice.

“Hey God,look this way! I’m over here.” I pray I catch the evil eye.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Writing Prompt 24

When you share a meal, what does Jesus call you to remember?

When You Do This, Remember Me

This weekend I had the privilege of leading the program for the annual retreat of the United Methodist Women from Cambrian Park United Methodist Church in San Jose. We spent our time writing, sharing, crying, laughing, singing, eating and enjoying creation at beautiful Asilomar, in Pacific Grove. Thank you ladies. It was an honor.

Here are the words we shared with the cup and the bread Sunday morning, dedicated to these wonderful women:

When You Do This, Remember Me

“This is my body which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”
-Luke 22:19

When you do this, remember me. When you gather together and share the common loaf of your humanity, remember me.

When you tell each other the truth of your lives––mothers and fathers, husbands and children, born and unborn, who came to you and were lost to you in death or divorce, remember me.

When you sip together from the cup of grief and pain, remember me.
Likewise, when you laugh and dance and sing, when you raise your glasses and toast to world travels, the glories of nature, sex and chocolate, remember me.

When you remember me, remember one another. Sit down together and share the source of your hope.

Serve each other words to sustain and nourish your souls. For I have come that your life, your precious singular life, will overflow with my love.

Live abundantly. Do this in memory of me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Writing Prompt 23

Write about a time you made an important decision.
Did you use logic, or follow an inner knowing?
Looking back, where do you see God at work then?

The Spirituality of Insomnia

My brain was invaded on October 25 and the intrusive thought won’t let me go. My psychic energy, when I don’t divert it to the required matters at hand, keeps returning to this idea, particularly when I crawl into bed. I kiss my husband, put in my earplugs, slip on my eye mask, scoot the dog into place, switch off the light and my mind switches on.

It’s either my “stuck cingulate” in brain parlance––admittedly I am a bit obsessive. Or it’s the niggling that won’t let me go that I experience as God. Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit––I’m not sure what the difference is and how I’m supposed to know. What I do know is that something within, but bigger than me, is goading me to thoroughly investigate this idea that feels like mine but not mine, as if it’s part of a grander plan.

I don’t mean to be obtuse––I’m trying to decide if and when the time is right to pursue a graduate degree. I’m only considering one program, a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, a low residency program underpinned in Christian spirituality (the only one in the country) that called to me when it was still in its planning stages.

I’d done the initial research years ago, looked into a couple other programs just for good measure, and set that all aside until some future time when my children were fully educated. My youngest daughter will be heading to college in Florida next fall, and the Seattle Pacific program starts at the end of July with the Glen Workshop in Santa Fe New Mexico, part of the work of Image Journal.

I’ve been looking at flight schedules and tuition costs, downloading application procedures, researching my mind numb. When I’m supposed to be sleeping, I’m composing checklists of responsibilities I’ll need to relinquish and let others assume should I become a student again. I’m tired, and I want to sleep, but it seems that I won’t rest until I’ve made a decision.

My indecisiveness born of my need to make a thoroughly informed decision won’t last long at this rate. Lack of sleep is wearing down my defenses, so that I’m inclined to just say yes now, swallow a Tylenol P.M. and figure out how to make it all work later.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Writing Prompt 22

When have you felt safe and welcome in a church or other setting?
When have you felt threatened and unwelcome in a church or other setting?
Describe the circumstances, pay attention to how your body and mind reacted.

Wrestling with Welcome

My congregation is participating in the Church Vitality Indicator process. We conducted a congregational survey then held a discernment process with our Committee on Lay Leadership that guided us to find out our strengths and places of most potential for vitalizing our ministry. It came as no surprise to those of us gathered yesterday at our local Church Conference and Convergence that our congregation places a high priority on faith sharing and experiential worship, and that focusing on our strengths of welcoming and inviting will have the most positive impact on our common life.

Here’ what our focus area will mean: Boulder Creek United Methodist Church strives for persons to feel welcome and safe. Together we learn and tell the faith story, sharing our own experiences of God as a foundation to include and embrace others. We provide a welcoming space to ask questions, explore differences and learn.

What does it mean to feel welcome and safe? To share our experiences, ask questions and learn without threat or fear?

I’m not sure exactly how to live that out, but I know what it’s not. In my past Political Science life, I participated in activities, campaigns and causes where I had to act, think and believe in a prescribed way. And because I believed my side was right, everyone with differing beliefs was wrong. My interactions with members of the opposing camps were characterized by trying to convince them of the error of their ways, and to convert them to the right way, my way. Conversely, they thought I was wrong, ignorant, and stupid, and took every opportunity, as I did, to point that out. I directed a lot of psychic energy at my opponents.

I soon burned out, wore out and withdrew. I needed a different type of community, one united not by minds sharing the same views on the issues of the day and attempting to convert others to our thinking, but one that made space for the soul and its longing for connection. I left politics and found the church. The church isn’t immune to politics, but my experience in it has been more positive. In my early days at Boulder Creek UMC, no one knew anything bout my education, employment, political leanings or theology. I was absolutely welcome, wrapped into the embrace (literally) of strangers.

In the past twenty years in this congregation, I have laughed, cried, taught, listened, prayed, learned, and changed my beliefs as my faith matured. I’ve been tempted to leave when conflicts rose, but stayed to experience first hand new growth and healing that can take place after painful pruning. I’ve grown from a twenty-something new Christian mother-to-be, to a middle-aged pastoral leader on the verge of an empty nest. I am still human, flawed, and still welcome.

What does it mean to be a safe place? At the minimum, when I preach, I need to share my passion and opinions in ways that help people build their relationships with God, not to force them to agree with me. To be a safe church, all of us need to get out of God’s way, to harness our tongues and to hold our cherished beliefs close and visible without pushing them on others. To be safe, inviting and truly welcoming, we need not only to enlarge our aisles for wheelchair access, but to enlarge our minds, hearts and expectations so that God has room to maneuver in, among and through us.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Writing Prompt 21

Write a prayer for an upcoming event or gathering, in prose or poetry.
Share it with your group, if they're open to it.
If not, spend time in prayer with your prayer before the event.

More on Hospitality

I'm continuing to think about hospitality. My husband and I were treated with extravagant hospitality by the folks at Northwest Navigation on our small ship cruise in the San Juan Islands last weekend. Our Chef, Christine prepared gluten-free breads three times a day, a luxury, since we confine ourselves to rice cakes and store bought rice bread bricks.

Captain Jeffrey asked what we wanted to see. "Orcas" was our answer and he delivered, with extreme cooperation by the whales who leaped out of the water, seemingly just for the fun of it. A lesson to me that in the midst of all our seriousness to survive and make a living, carve out a life, and more, that we are created for joy. More leaping needed all around.

The good people at Northwest, just three of them, have lovingly restored their boat, the David B, a classic from 1929 from dilapidation to new life as a passenger vessel. I can't recommend them or the experience more highly.

And more on the hospitality vein--a week from today my church is holding our annual meeting at a retreat center and will spend a day dreaming together after our business, Communion and lunch. We're calling it a retreat, but it's too full a day for that to be accurate. I've decided it's a Convergence. A coming together in a common vision and purpose.

In that spirit, I offer this pray for all who will be present, and for those of you preparing to lead and/or attend your annual church meetings.

Welcome us O gracious Host
as we come into your presence.
We have answered your invitation
to gather in celebration and striving
to be a people and a church
whose actions and desires
will bring us closer
into relationship with you,
with each other and our larger

May we rest comfortably this day
in this time set apart from the
everyday routines of our lives.
Renew us through your presence
and through the presence
of one another.
Guide our words and thoughts
as we speak to you
and to each other.

Feed us all that we need
to strengthen our bodies and spirits
to nourish our gifts and talents
to encourage our dreams and visions.

Let us share our lives
with you and with this family
gathered today, knowing
that you have created
each of us uniquely.
May we celebrate the diversity
among us, and the unity of purpose
that working in ways
to bring your love and Good News
into this world can inspire.

Transform us this day
as we pray, plan and feast,
as we listen, speak and ponder.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Writing Prompt 20

What does the word Saint mean to you?
Who are the saints in your life?

The Saints Stand Up

The saints––Barbara, Buena Ventura, Fernando, Francisco––stand up straight in the painting outside the door to my room at the retreat center. They appear neat, tidy, benign, as if they never got dirty, never made a mess of things, never got in trouble with the bishop or the neighbors. But, hah, I’ve been studying spiritual formation. I know better! I read a little about the saints and find out they were, “like, real people, totally!” Life was never neat as a pin, pretty as a picture. Underneath the groovy outfits and golden halos painted behind their heads, the saints battled demons and ridicule, sunburn and lice, measles, and diarrhea.

I try to remember that when I wade through the muck of introspection, carting my old garbage and recycling, smacking into people and things while carrying my cross. Listening to God is messy business. Open the door to my room at the retreat house and you’ll see ear plugs to block out the noise, an eye mask to block out the porch lights, a heating pad for my backache, a special pillow for my neck, a travel clock and cell phone both with alarms set. I want to be prepared for everything, but I’m never really prepared for life, annoying the Girl Scout in me. There are jumper cables, Powerbars and bottled water in my car. But maybe I need an apron, rubber gloves, waders or Lysol?

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just stayed home. After all, there are 187 channels on cable, a zillion shows I’ve never watched, which could be informative, educational, food for thought. But I’d have to learn to work the remote.

So, I get up off the couch and remind myself that life is chaotic and disease-ridden. Life chooses its course, and it comes, tidal wave or puddle, or something in between. Either way, life floods across my path and when the time comes to decide, I step in. I might as well have company on the journey. I might as well try to walk with God.

If you’re anything like the saints I know, you don’t really have a choice. It’s a no-brainer, reflex kind of thing, this standing up, this stroll with the divine, even without a groovy robe and golden halo. Just ask some of my recent companions on the journey––Saints Erika, Diane, Chris and Jim; Saints Nancy, Nan, and Monika––why they do it. What makes them pull on their slickers and wellies and venture out in the storm, looking for Jesus in the rain, offering umbrellas and towels to those caught in the down pour?

At home now, I stand in my garden in the dusk after the first rain, looking at the poppies I didn’t plant, the larkspur that has volunteered to grow with the strawberries, several boxes away from the flowerbed where I planted it. I remember a friend’s hearty volunteer peach tree, and my mother-in-law’s volunteer tomatoes. I think of the birds that spread the seed and our surprised delight in the gifts we didn’t know they brought us. The saints I know sow the gospel the way birds spread seed, mostly unaware. God’s good news springs up in unexpected places.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Writing Prompt 19

Meet the Parents. Write about a time you went to meet the parents of a boy/girlfriend. Were you terrified, embarrassed, at ease?

Or, write about the first time a child of yours brought home a boy/girlfriend. How did it go? Did it bring back memories?

In either case, feel free to re-write the meeting the way you wished it had gone.

Hospitality Management

My daughter was my dinner guest last night. Jennifer lives in an apartment now, half a state away and I hadn’t seen her since we moved her in at the beginning of August. She was in our area not to come home for the weekend, but to spend it with her boyfriend, a young man I hadn’t met until last night.

I’m happy to say that my daughter didn’t knock on the front door, but walked right in as if she lived here, which she did until all too recently. I’m also happy to say that although my husband, younger daughter and I learned a lot about Ryan, that “grilled boyfriend” was not on our dinner menu.

I’ve been thinking a lot about hospitality lately.

My husband and I are sailing on a small cruise ship with four other passengers and three crewmembers next weekend. I felt like a giant pain presenting the chef with my page of dietary restrictions: no eggs, wheat/gluten, soy, milk, cranberry, sesame, asparagus, and then for my husband, no fish, walnuts, mushrooms. I thought Christine might kindly suggest we sail on a large cruise line with a buffet. Instead, she borrowed a gluten-free cookbook and is excited about trying new recipes. “I’ve been preparing the same menu all summer,” she said, “I’m ready for something new."

I’m not being accommodated or tolerated. I’m being generously and enthusiastically welcomed, and I haven’t even arrived. I’d like to be as generous and welcoming as Christine.

Jennifer and Ryan left after a three-hour visit, like real guests, and it was a strange feeling to hug her in the driveway and send her off. I got a glimpse of what my mother and grandparents have been through, saying hello and goodbye to me and all the friends and boyfriends I brought into their lives and homes, some for a single visit, some for a lifetime association.

When my children were toddlers and preschoolers, I made the decisions about which friends were invited over to our house, for how long and for what activities. Later in elementary school and on, they made the decisions, and I listened to their frustrations when activities didn’t go well. The last few years, my role has been to provide a big room, privacy and a freezer stocked with gnocchi and pizza for movie nights that materialized at the last minute.

It used to matter to me that I liked my children’s friends. I wanted them to have nice friends who would be nice to them. But, even friends I liked have hurt my daughters. Sometimes the relationships have been repaired; sometimes they have been over for reasons that seem ridiculous to me. The truth is, we never know how long a relationship of any sort is going to last, or how it is going to end.

For the record, I like my daughter’s boyfriend. In our evening together, it was clear that his 21 years have been full of adversity as well as adventure, and he’s made the most of it. And of course I like Ryan because he likes Jennifer and treats her with kindness and respect. But, last night, after they left and the rest of the family was asleep, and the house was quiet, I realized that it doesn’t matter what I think of him.

I am simply asked to make welcome in my life and home the people that my children have already made welcome in their lives. I think about that in the church as well. My congregation has a commitment to being welcoming. It doesn’t matter if we like the people who show up, or if their needs aren’t what we’re used to providing. Like Christine, welcoming me with all my food challenges onto her boat, the church’s job is to make welcome those whom God has already made welcome, and that is everyone. It’s easy with Jennifer’s boyfriend, but it’s not always going to be easy in my family or my church, in my neighborhood, and my community, which when I think about it, extends to everyone, even the people who push my buttons.

My youngest daughter, Chrissy, will head off to college next fall to major in Hospitality Management and take her place in the industry of welcoming people. Perhaps I should join her.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Writing Prompt 18

Do you have a memorable encounter with stinging/biting insects or poisonous plants?
Write about it--feel free to visit any period in history.

Encounter with Urushiol

Lo, it came to pass on the afternoon of the Sabbath last, that I encountered a tribe of yellowjackets, one of whom impaled his sword like teeth into the back of my knee when I crouched among the ferns removing remnants of my felines’ feces. Little did I know that I had wandered into the land of King Urushiol, a distant descendant of King Uzzaih, whose pleasure it was to anoint me with oil, an oil known (and despised) among the people of my region as Poison Oak.

Verily I say unto you, “Woe to those consort with Urushiol, for you will roil with pain, itching, swollen diseased skin, and general misery.” Akin to the rich man burning in Hell (Gospel of Luke, chapter 16), who wished for nothing more than one cool drop of water and that he had been warned of the consequences of ignoring the sore-ridden Lazarus sleeping in the urushiol bush outside his gate, I too prayed for relief.

When after the sun had set and rose for the second time and Ben of Adryl and more than a dozen of his brothers had done nothing to alleviate my suffering, I was willing to do anything, even prostrate myself before the Court of Corticosteroids. Yet, as I was waiting for the local apothecary to compound the proper chemicals, the wife of Pharma Cist came upon me and pressed into my hand a bar (tube really) of a special scrub, to be applied with a small amount of water from the Jordan River and rubbed into my afflicted leg for a period of three minutes. And lo, after I soaked in the waters of Domebro and upon application of the most high Zanfel, the pain and itching receded for several hours. This treatment I combined with a regimen of Lian Qiao Bai Du, trusted herb from the far reaches of China, whose medicines have only recently become available to the denizens of my country. I did upon retiring each night consume two capsules of Vistaril and received the benefit of their sedative and antihistamine properties.

Unlike Lazarus who only found relief from his life of woe and pain after death, I have been spared such a fate and am once again counted among the clean and participating in the general society of which I am accustomed. If the telling of my tragic tale of woe eases one’s person affliction, I will consider that I have done the Lord’s work.

My apologies for the many historical inaccuracies contained above. The meds however are all real.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Writing Prompt 17

What words do you have, a poem, a prayer, an essay
to send into the world for it's healing?

Still Hoping for an End to the Madness

I wrote this poem in September 2001.
Six years later are we any closer to peace? I still hold out hope.

After Words

A response to September 11, 2001

It was a time of uncertainty, doubt and fear
a time of mourning, weeping and crying out
a cacophony demanding
Revenge, Justice, an End to the Madness

A time when we perched at the brink
looked into blackness
and rock crumbled underneath our feet.
A time when we held our collective breath
and braced ourselves for the hand
that would push
us into the abyss.
We clamped our eyes shut
images of destruction replaying
in the darkness behind our eyelids.

Then we felt it.
We were not standing alone.
Shoulders pressed against ours.
Fingers found their way
into our clenched fists.
We offered our hands, opened our eyes
stepped back from the precipice
into a sea of tear-streaked faces.
Voices swelled like waves
our grief, our lament, washing us clean.
Stripping us bare.

And we knew that to heal
We needed a new vocabulary
with the power to break divisions we’d invented
to keep us “us” and others “them”.
Words to topple fences
that kept neighbors apart.
Words to weave humanity together
across the span of continents.
Words to reveal what it means to be human
in all our brokenness and beauty.

At the edge of the pit
we held the hands of strangers
we called them brother and sister.
We sang of hope, of love, of a presence bigger
than our constructions and our understanding.
We spoke of the power that embraces us all.
We became the river of life
carving a new path to a place
we’d been longing to discover all of our lives.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Writing Prompt 16

Is there a sport you've been involved in that serves as a metaphor for your spiritual life? What lessons did you learn from the sport that apply to your life of faith?
Write about them.


I don’t remember who said it, but one of my faculty in the Academy for Spiritual Formation said we are better off choosing one religion (or even one denomination) and going deep with it rather than experimenting or dabbling in many faith forms and practices if we want to grow.

I set down my knitting needles and breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that. I found Methodism right out of the shower––where God became real to me for the first time––and I haven’t been anywhere else since I toweled dry and got dressed. Well, that’s not completely true. I’ve been to Catholic weddings and a Bat Mitzvah. A rabbi and a few Catholic nuns spent a week with us at Academy. I’ve read Natalie Goldberg, listened to Holy Cow on audio and watched Bollywood’s Bride and Prejudice, my appetite for Buddhism and Hinduism piqued. Devouring those morsels, I was tempted to load up on the whole smorgasbord, piling my plate high, gorging on the many manifestations of God.

I haven’t though, and it’s not out of self-restraint, or even laziness, it’s because I dove headfirst into my mainstream branch of Christianity and I’ve always been a better diver than swimmer.

I took swimming lessons all summer, every summer starting the summer before Kindergarten with Introduction to Water. By the summer after fifth grade, when I turned eleven, I had finally completed the entire Red Cross program–– Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Intermediate, and, at long last after a test that included sixteen grueling laps of freestyle, Swimmer.

I could do the Dead man’s float until the seagulls roosted, I could tread water decently, and I had good form on the strokes—freestyle, back, breast, side, but I never had endurance or speed, anything over four laps was torture. After passing the Swimmer class, I was free to pursue my dream. Springboard diving with the heartthrob of all lifeguards––Jeff, tan in his red trunks. His white teeth, zinc-oxided nose and mirrored sunglasses gleamed and made us preteens woozy.

Jeff taught us one approach for forward dives––front, reverse and twist, and a takeoff for the back and inward dives. We began every practice with hurdler stretches on the scratchy pool deck, and then drilled our approaches on the cement while we waited our turn to use the board. On practice approaches, we counted steps, marking our place against the marks on the board’s edge. Four steps, a hurdle, a bounce, a push of the feet, a rising of the arms and then we flew, or felt like it at least, and executed our dives.

You might have watched platform or springboard diving on the Olympics and you might have noticed how, once they are completely underwater, the divers often roll into a somersault and cut their descent short by pulling back toward the surface. That is completely the opposite of what Jeff taught us. He taught us to stretch for the bottom, a way to help us novice divers enter at a ninety-degree angle.

The school’s pool was twelve feet deep. If I stood on the deck and dove in, I had to swim down, kicking and straining, and still couldn’t hit bottom. But, when I pierced the water from the one-meter board on a good front dive pike or inward, I could slice through down, rocket to the bottom, feel the stucco on my palms, plant my feet, push off, and pull my way through the water in two or three long strokes, break the surface and gasp heartily for air.

It was this submersion, this going deep, this rush that I loved best about diving. In my mind, I’m still capable of throwing front one and a half somersaults with perfect bottom touching entries. In real life, I broke blood vessels in my eye several years ago when I threw one for fun on a hot August day in a public pool and face planted.

No matter. I dive in my dreams. My subconscious has adopted diving as some sort of symbol, and periodically I am flipping off platforms (which I never did) and three-meter boards (which I hated), overcoming obstacles like nets, faulty fulcrums and other divers spinning through my airspace. Sometimes I’m executing brilliant dives and retrieving pearls from the bottom of the pool.

So there we have it, a metaphor for the spiritual journey that I can relate to on a physical, mental and emotional level. I know what it feels like to skim the surface, trying to swim distances I’m not cut out for. I remember the bargaining, just one more lap, one more lap, two more strokes, one more breath and the way I wanted to give up at a wall instead of push off and keep going. But, oh the joy of diving. The soaring, the spinning, the opportunity to go deep, the utter satisfaction of reaching the fabled bottom, of holding my breath beyond my limits, of experiencing more than I thought I was capable of. That is what I loved.

Diving. I’ll never touch the bottom of all that is God. I won’t even reach twelve-feet down in my understanding of Jesus. I might crack the surface of United Methodism if I study my Book of Discipline. But it doesn’t matter. I love the sport. I relish the approaches, the flips, the twists, reverses, inwards, the many ways to enter the water of life. I want to dive under, again and again. It is something I can practice the rest of my life.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


I have a new story in the Fall 2007 Apple Valley Review titled "Hopscotch." You can read it by clicking on my name in the table of contents (scroll way down!).

Writing prompt: Write about playing a game that figured prominently in your childhood.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Writing Prompt 15

Write about a tree you have known, maybe even loved.
Or let a tree tell its story.

Up a Tree

The thing is––if you want to climb a tree––you have to be willing to put your whole body into it. When I was a child my best friend, Katy, and I had to kick our bodies into pullovers, hips settling on the branches of her backyard tree, before we could straddle them and scramble to our “rooms” on the branches. My pullover days are long gone, but to climb, even an old oak with branches low, flat and welcoming as doormats, you—I––have to be willing to get sap on the soles of our Tevas.

Katy and I were arboreal the summer of 1970. She’d pullover first. I’d hand her our essentials––Fresca, Archie comic books, and a bag of Jolly Rancher candies. Firesticks were our favorite. Occasionally Katy’s mother would bring dinner, hot dogs and individual bags of Lay’s potato chips and hold them up for us to grab. We’d eat on the Living Room branch, then return to our individual bedroom branches, bark biting into our backs.

We loved that tree, but after awhile we stopped living in it. Not because we were afraid of heights, or afraid of being tomboys, or unwilling to suffer bark abrasions, but because eventually our world became wider than backyards and the tree wasn’t on the way to anywhere we wanted to go—the lifeguards’ softball games at Zoeter school, the beach, a bike ride to Taco Bell or Tastee Freeze. Our activities began to require purpose, and climbing Katy’s tree, tucked out of the way in her backyard, served no purpose as we grew.

And so I spent 35 years on the ground, thinking like many adults, that I had no business in tree branches. I enjoy trees. I like to picnic under them, escape into their shade on a hot summer day. I live among the redwoods, their branches a hundred feet above ground sway in the wind and hurtle down like Zeus-launched spears in winter storms. Only arborists and loggers equipped with safety harnesses climb them.

Two weeks ago I was at the Mercy Center in Burlingame completing two years of quarterly weeklong residencies in spiritual formation. The grounds are beautiful and I walked them during silent reflection, wondering when––even if––I’d come back again on my own. I wandered toward the massive oaks that had inspired me two years before, not to climb, but to reflect on how a massive gnarled trunk, twiggy fingerling branches, sharp edged leaves and acorns could all look so different, and all be rightly called Oak. A living example of diversity in a single body that made me think of faith traditions, including Christianity, and my wish that all religions could look at our small parts of the body and rightly say God.

This time, however, the trees wanted me to climb. Why not, I thought? At five-foot-four, I can relate to Zaccheus, the famous biblical tree-climber. I could use a glimpse of Jesus from a new, higher perspective. I chose an oak particularly accommodating to middle age, its low crotch requiring just one big step. Another step and I was lodged on another branch and sat as if in a recliner, leaning against one branch, legs extended along another. I gazed up to find an empty bird nest tucked among leafy tufts. Was it a sign? Time to fly from the nest of this Academy?

I leaned forward to change vantage point and patted another branch, brushing the dried green moss under my fingers as if it were brittle fur on the neck of a great beast willing to carry me someplace I needed to go. There we sat, ancient creature and rider astride its back, the two of us one. I breathed in and out the way Melanie taught us in her sermon the night before, repeating Jesus is our peace. A little later, I heard a leaf blower in the distance, then a squirrel chattered nearby. In those quiet moments when I’d lost awareness of the outside world had Jesus been my peace? Had the tree been my peace? Had the tree been Jesus?

I’ve never been good at unraveling divine mysteries, so I let it go and thought, “Gee, a Fresca and Archie would be nice. It’s been a long time.”

Friday, August 24, 2007

Writing Prompt 14

Write about an important experience in your life using solely or mostly verbs.

Two Years of Spiritual Formation

Today marks the culmination of my experience with the Two Year Academy for Spiritual Formation. An honor and privilege to share the journey with an amazing group of people who have enriched my life greatly--faculty, leadership team, covenant group, and all the participants. Are you longing for an intentional community, an opportunity to experience new spiritual practices, and the silence to encounter yourself deeply? Try the Academy!

Here's the summary of my two years, dedicated to my Academy companions:

My Two Years at the Academy

light candle-hold space-share-listen-worship-
sing-pray-listen-reflect-hold silence-
give-receive-the cup-empty self-be renewed-
sing-shut up-try to sleep-take Tylenol p.m-
sleep-wake up-stagger in-break silence-
think-hear-really hear-walk-reflect-write-
write-write-notice everything-show up-
pay attention-listen-listen-laugh-cry-
be amazed-sense God-feel the spirit-
screw up knitting-listen-learn-
start over, self and knitting-walk-
sit-listen-write what comes-be challenged-
struggle-illuminate dark places-
gather in community-break silence-
share-laugh-sigh-be awed-enter chapel-
sing-pray-worship-notice the light-
float-soar-sink-go deep-listen-pray-
embrace-love-embrace-take in Christ-
be moved-be changed-be transformed-
sing-eat-covenant-open self-hold holy space-
love-marvel at God in the circle-
experience unconditional love-be truly heard-
be vulnerable-be affirmed-be transparent-
pass the chocolate-love-pray-sing-pray-pray-

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Writing Prompt 13

Water, water everywhere.

Write about your first encounter with the ocean, or learning to swim in a lake or pool. Who taught you? Where and when were you? Was the water cold, warm, clear, salty? Were you scared, excited?

Or write about longing. What do you long for? Does your longing feel as immense or intense as the sea? What isn't it like? What is it like.

Longing For The Sea

"If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

-Antione de Saint-Exupery

I was welcomed back today as I begin a fifth of year serving as lay pastor of my church. No one is more surprised than me that my vague longing for "something more" through my youth and early twenties led me to God and that my longing for God led me to the church.

Wary at six and gripping the Donald Duck floating ring around my waist, I followed my father into the water as he taught me to befriend the ocean in the calm of Alamitos Bay. Later I would body surf with my friends in the small break at Seal Beach. I trusted my body more in the water than I did my father on the few occasions he took us out in the catamaran he was learning to sail. I was afraid the boat would tip over and we'd fall out. Gradually though, I came to like boats, despite the ill-fated sixth grade whale watching trip where everyone threw up, except me, who instead spent the day the color of split pea soup wishing I could puke. All we saw was a seagull.

Last week, my husband and youngest daughter were on the Island Adventurer headed out to Santa Cruz Island, one of the Channel Islands, when a pod of bottlenose dolphins chose to play with the boat, leaping before the bow, skimming just beneath the boat, resurfacing in the wake, racing each other and our captain. It was glorious, the sort of thing that does make one long for the sea, so after we arrive and hiked part of the island, we took off our shoes, rolled up our pants and waded into the lapping Pacific at East Harbor landing.

The water was mild and reminded me of the Southern California beach of my youth, not the numbing ocean of Santa Cruz County nearest to me these past twenty years. Ocean that I have long since given up swimming in. The waves curled and dipped, pulled and formed, steadily and gently in the cove. Knee deep in the water I was taken back in time and glimpsed again why I spent so much time in the water growing up. The rhythm and predictability of the waves, yet each one different, each one to be experienced fresh, either standing in the foam, swimming furiously to catch it, waiting poised for the swell to pick me up and carry me to shore, or being drilled into the sand by a wave too strong for my skills.

I loved the adventure, drawn to it the same way I am drawn now to worship, to a life of wanting to know and experience the Infinite One. A rhythm and predictability to the format of worship, the structure of prayer, yet each worship service, each time of prayer, each encounter unique, each glimpse of the divine as wonderful and frightening as body surfing or sailing.

I long for the sea. I am so privileged to be part of several communities that share the longing. We are joined together in our desire to know God, to become instruments--vessels even. This boat we are building out of the timber of our lives is made seaworthy by our faith. May it serve us and our Captain well.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Writing Prompt 12

Play with time. Some ideas.
-Begin your writing with Time is...
Write about learning to tell time or your first watch.
-Write about a significant time in your life.


Time is Cinderella in a round case fastened to my wrist
with a powder blue leather band.
Time is my father holding his alarm clock in his big hands
with me at his side, Cinderella on my arm, explaining.
Time is when to get up, go to school, take a bath, fall asleep.
Time is hands, circling, circling, in a forever dance.
Time is the big hand, thinking it can tell everyone what to do
but it’s only there for a minute and always always
it has something to say about the little hand.
Time is never the big hand by itself
even when Cinderella drowned
in the bathtub still buckled to my wrist
and even when my father said it was time for him to leave us.
Time is to write Cinderella a brand new fairy tale
one that doesn’t require rescue, a prince or a happily every after.
Time is someone else’s until you learn to tell it.

Time is to lose track of her––her hands, big and little
and even the sweeping fairy wand of the seconds.
Time is to drag around like a pull toy every day every hour
thumping through the house behind you.
Time is as incessant as a baby’s cry.
Time is not to waste, but to ignore
to stop keeping her prisoner fastened to my wrist
when my hands are always underwater, in the sink, in the bath
in the kiddie pool, holding on to mother-daughter time.

Time is to hear my children say remember the time…
and half the time I don’t.
Time is told by bodies—crawling, walking, dancing, graduating.
The hands of time play tricks.
Endless yearlong days later seem like minutes
a pile of sand in the bottom of a timer
I’d like to turn over and live through again
understanding this time that no time lasts for all time.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Writing Prompt 11

Find a scripture you've always thought strange––Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones was my choice––pull on the thread of theme from the scripture and allow it to appear in poetry or prose in an entirely different setting.

Zeke Can't Dance

Zeke borrows a trick from God
Puts on a record
Makes dry bones dance
In my living room

Zeke divines blood
And bone between us
When what exists
Are brittle fragments
Best left unexhumed

He tries to strip us
From love's grave clothes
I want to believe he can

My flesh and bone
Long to dance
In the living room
Sinewy breath
Pulsing blood
Revived by Zeke's bones

The record skips
The beat is off
Zeke's sharp elbows
And bony protrusions

We fall
Flesh away
Revealing the valley
Between us
Prophetless and bone dry

©Cathy Warner

Monday, July 16, 2007

Writing Prompt 10

Listen to a non-human object and write down what it has to say to you.
Taking a lead from Peggy who trained the AWA method with me–––the object can have a secret or confession, e.g., "I burnt the toast on purpose."

Say What?

It's amazing what we can hear when we tune into the noise and input all around us, rather than attempting to tune it out. Do you listen to things? I do and my husband is just a bit worried that non-human objects are speaking to me--my feet, medicines, cats, and more! Really, I don't hear voices, it's definitely a non-verbal communication. If he'd admit it, my husband has it big time too-- we'll call it intuition in his case--just an example, the fan belt on our old V.W. told him it was going to break, but he didn't get a spare in advance. Oh well, we live and learn. Here is some communication from my world:


The jackhammer in the street
pierces, tears, breaks
what was solid
what seemed permanent
to repair the thing that lies
broken underneath
or to rip it away
all together
start over on raw ground
pour a new slab
a foundation built
on something better
something meant to last
this time around

violent this construction
this creating
and recreating
whoever said
the hand of life
would be gentle

Let Go

Let go, let go, let go
is the message of the labyrinth
Not let go and let God
Not let go and trust me
simply let go

Hot purple geranium petals
litter the path beneath my feet
The bush too has let go
as all things must

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Writing Prompt 9

Imagine your suitcase, your baggage if you will. Describe your luggage and what you need to pack and what you need to leave behind--things, thoughts, etc.--in order to be sent into the world to do the work God calls you to. What is your work in life in this time and place?

Sent Out In Jesus’ Name

“Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.”
––Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verse 20 of Eugene Peterson's The Message

What you do for God, you do every day. Every time you step out of your door and into the grocery store, the office, the classroom, the doctor’s office, the employee break room, the teacher’s lounge, the senior center. While you’re waiting in line at the pharmacy, the DMV, the movie theater. When you pick up the phone and call your sister, your mother, your child. When the phone rings and it’s your best friend, a bill collector or some campaign volunteer.

Every minute, every day, you’re on the spot with and for Jesus. Some days, you’re peaceful and punctual, witty and wise, world’s best ad for the Christian life. Other days, you’re snappy and stressed, worn-out and worried, wishing you’d stayed in bed, covers pulled overhead, embarrassed to call yourself Christian.

We can’t avoid being sent out in Jesus’ name. Even hermits have visitors, and the world around us is full of people, full of hurt, full of despair, and full of opportunity for God to appear on doorsteps with more life changing tools than the Fuller brush man.

How then do we venture out? Back then, Jesus sent out seventy using the buddy system. “Be careful, this is hazardous work,” he said. By all means, take a friend, especially when you’re not sure where you’re going, or how you’ll be received. Fill up your gas tank, check your tires and fluid levels, get a GPS if being lost bothers you, but try to leave the baggage behind. Unload some of your suitcases first, examine your past, keep what’s good and toss the worn-out shirts, tapes and attitudes that don’t fit anymore. If you don’t have enough Good News in your own life, it’s hard to share it with others.

When you’re ready, hit the freeway, the frontage roads, the city streets, the suburban subdivisions. Don’t be afraid to be who you are, warts and all, scars and all, quirks and all, opinions and all, with thoughts about God and Jesus, the Holy Spirit and all, that aren’t perfectly formed or expressed.

Spend time with people who are drawn to you, curious about your life, wondering how it is that you have hope and a certain inner peace when the externals of your life are just as mixed up and frightening as anyone else’s. Get to know these people over coffee, over sack lunches, over yoga poses or college classes.

Listen to their words and to the hopes and fears behind and below the words. Listen to the things they cannot say aloud or even to themselves, see how they are hungry for something that can satisfy the gnawing in their souls? Invite them into your story, into your faith, into prayer, into the church.

If they decline, accept the no gracefully. God isn’t through with them, or with you. Relax; you didn’t fail a test. The friendship is still worth cultivating. Knowing someone at a deep level is always worth it, even if, or maybe especially if, you can navigate your differences with respect and acceptance.

Don’t waste your time with people who want to quarrel with you, prove you wrong, who seem invested in tearing apart your faith out of their own self-righteousness, fear or past hurts. This isn’t a race to win souls, there’s no blue ribbon, no heavenly trophy for the person who lands the most challenging and cantankerous converts.

You don’t need to drag yourself through the dirt, in fact clap it off your shoes and move on. Take it from Jesus. Being the person God intends you to be is hard enough without being torn down by difficult people or know-it-alls.

And here’s the thing, every time you’re out there in the world, every time you’re brave enough to risk sharing who you really are, and who God is in your life, you’re the one who grows in faith, who comes to know ever more deeply God’s presence in your life and God’s welcome authority over you.

That, as Jesus says, is the agenda for rejoicing. That is the motivation to keep at it, to keep plugging away, to face those fears of being pushy or too Christian, of being ridiculed, or rejected. When we are treated and received well by others, that’s a bonus. When other people’s lives are impacted by our words, actions and lives, that’s a bonus too.

But the real payoff is God, God with us, God in us. That is why we are sent out in Jesus’ name.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Writing Prompt 8

Respond to this quote by Henri Cole:

To become one's self is so exhausting.

Catching Up With Myself

All year I've been looking forward to my fourth of July pancakes. Even though I'm gluten intolerant, even though I have a massive headache now, there's nothing like lining up on the sidewalk in downtown Boulder Creek early in the morning for the volunteer fire department's annual pancake breakfast.

After savoring golden pancakes with syrup and real butter (no wonder they taste better than any I've ever made), my family waddled to a balcony and watched the parade. Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, random people in red, white and blue, local dogs, and the Jazzercise class pushing patriotic shopping carts. I knew I was home.

I need to be home, to catch up with the laundry and myself after two weeks of being filled to the brim with stories of people and churches in ministry, with soul-sparked writing, with ideas for leadership, ministry and bringing hope into this world so in need of Good News.

Tonight I will sit in a parking lot with my husband and watch fireworks explode and cascade from the sky. I never imagined my life would be so vibrant, filled with light and color!

Here is one of the pieces I wrote at last week's Amherst Writers and Artists training, dedicated with gratitude to all of you sharing this life journey with me.

“To become one's self is so exhausting.” --Henri Cole

It’s the best kind of exhaustion, knowing that we are listening to the leanings of the universe, the desires of the creative force that surrounds and sustains us. I call it God because that’s what I do—name things, and in doing so, name and claim myself.

Woman––Wife––Mother––Daughter––until recently, Granddaughter––Writer––Writer––Person in Ministry––Writer––Writer––now, Leader, specifically AWA leader.

There are moments when I ask, “Can’t I take a break from the journey, sit on a rock by the side of a trail, eating gorp?”

The answer is, “Yes.”

But then, because the world conspires for good, someone walks toward me. I rise and begin walking again. This time, I have a companion. We lead. We follow. We learn. We rest. We become who we were born to be.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Blog Break

I'll be on break from blogging while I attend the California-Nevada United Methodist Church Annual Conference and the Amherst Writers and Artists training.

I'll post again in July.
Thanks for reading!

Writing Prompt 7

Write about a time you have felt isolated from others.
Write about a time you have felt part of a community.
Write about a time your sense of community expanded to include others outside your usual circle or awareness.
How did these experiences change you?

I Want to Be Amish

I was an atheist, possibly an agnostic when I saw Witness back in 1985. My husband and I were newcomers in Gilroy, and the Amish community depicted in the movie attracted me powerfully. I wanted to be part of a barn-raising, surrounded by neighbors I knew and who knew me. I wanted to work side by side in community to build something of value.

Years later my family was able to spend a day in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and I still wanted to be Amish. The only two problems as I saw them were that my husband worked for Apple computer, so we couldn’t possibly do without electricity and technology, and the women had to fasten their dresses with straight pins. Had it been safety pins, I would’ve been tempted to find a way to make the whole thing work.

I also find monastic life appealing, an established rhythm for each day that provides balance I can’t duplicate at home, another built-in community, and plenty of time for silence and introspection. As an introvert, I can go days without feeling the need to leave the house or to interact with anyone outside my immediate family; as I writer I feel the value of my personality type. And yet, I need connection with the wider world.

Soon I will have connection big time, with about two thousand people at the Sacramento Convention Center as all the clergy and lay representatives from each United Methodist Church in the California-Nevada Annual Conference gather for our yearly meeting. I was overwhelmed the first time I attended Annual Conference in 1999. We were in prayer, worship and work—discussing and voting on policies for church business and taking stands on social and justice issues—from early morning until late evening. It was exhausting, yet energizing because for the first time since they’d moved on to serve other churches, or I had moved from a community, I re-connected with every pastor I’d ever had, including the one in Woodland when I’d served as a youth janitor in high school.

This reunion reminded me that our connection exists even when we are not present physically. I return each year grateful for these people gathered at the conference joined in faith, and it’s expression through the United Methodist Church. We don’t agree on many things, and yet we are committed to meeting together, talking through our differences, celebrating and supporting the work we share in common to bring Good News in a world inundated with bad news. I have been accepted as an equal in ministry and overwhelmed at the outpouring of love as the Holy Spirit moves among us in the long hours. Yes I get squirrelly, unable to stay in my molded plastic chair for another second, yes it’s too hot outside and too cold in the convention center, yes I usually stay in really dumpy hotels, but I’m not in it alone.

None of us are in this life alone; our actions do impact others. Often, though, I’m so wrapped up in my small life, my small circle, that I forget this. It takes the reminder of Annual Conference for my long-distance vision to kick in. Physically I move out of the mountains with their limited view and into the valley where the vistas are wide. Spiritually I’m reminded of our church partnership with the West Angola United Methodist Church and the work of the fact-finding team in response to killings in the Philippines, and I remember, again that these are brothers and sisters I have never met, part of my community—the human family—the entire planet.

How I wish I could hold the big picture of our connectedness in view for more than the few days of Conference. Maybe if I were Amish.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Writing Prompt 6

Answer one or more of these questions metaphorically or literally:

What seeds are growing in your garden? Are they intentionally planted, or did they find you like a volunteer tomato in an empty pot by the door? Is your garden being choked out by an overabundance of seeds and plants that seem to have showed up while you weren't looking? Should you thin? What will bring you closer to the word, and to being a sower of the word?


An excerpt from The Parable of the Sower:
A sower went out to sow seed...Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold. -Luke 8:5a,8

I have garden boxes my husband built, lined with gopher wire, filled with topsoil and mushroom compost, watered by drip irrigation. In parable terms, I'm loaded with good soil, and the sower of California poppy seed has been busy broadcasting in my garden beds. Of course I can't pull the poppies, they're the state flower, and I don't want to end up in gardener's prison. Plus they're so pretty with their goldenrod heads waving gracefully on long stems. The bumble bees and honeybees love them, and with the bee shortage I've been reading about, I don't want to disturb bee "habitat."

Then there's the mint. The one tiny plant I tapped into the soil two springs ago has spread across the entire bed, obscuring chives, onion and eggplant. It's an herb, not a weed, so I don't dig it up, but there's only so much mint tea a person can brew.

We know Jesus was a carpenter, but I wonder if he had garden chores. He mentions thorns and weeds, but all of that is in the bad soil, not in the garden or field. If Jesus had gardened, wouldn't he have mentioned something in the parable about needing to remove "the volunteers" or even to thin the crops once they started growing?

When my husband and I were newlyweds, we made a vegetable garden in a corner of the backyard. We watered every day after work, delighted in the first green heads poking from the ground, and proudly showed off our 18 baby zucchini plants, only to be told by seasoned gardeners that we didn't want all those plants. Keep one or two they said. We couldn't bear to rip any out until the tiny garden was so crowded that we were forced to relent and took out about half of them. We ate a lot of zucchini that summer.

We were victims of abundance! I have the same problem in life. There is an overabundance of need in this world, an overabundance of opportunities to volunteer time and contribute money to spread the good news of God's love, to try and ease suffering, to share my story, to spread some hope. Worthy seeds, requests and pleas land in my garden beds, and seem to have no end.

But, my little garden, no matter how rich my soil, simply can't nurture and support every seed that ends up in my plot. I have to be selective, even ruthless in committing to the crop(s) I'm trying to grow. In her book Writing Alone and With Others, Pat Schneider writes:
"There is something fundamentally wrong with 'other commitments' if they keep me from my true work. "

She also writes, "I write because I want to bring to myself and perhaps to my reader more light, more grace, more understanding, more delight. I write sometimes out of my anger or my concern to try to make a difference in the world...It is my vocation, and my work is a prayer."

What seeds are growing in your garden? Are they intentionally planted, or did they find you like a volunteer tomato in an empty pot by the door? Is your garden being choked out by an overabundance of seeds and plants that seem to have showed up while you weren't looking? Should you thin? What will bring you closer to the word, and to being a sower of the word?


Little specks of nothing
nearly naked to the eye
broadcast on snow white wings
scattered from fingers
of the Great Sower

Drenched in living water
who can say exactly
what caused them to burst
from the soil
tender green shoots
reaching straight
for the source
of it all
like arms in prayer

Fierce and fat as wildfire
pollen coated bees deliver the fragrant word
straight to the ear
Be still and you will hear

The flowers the fruit
bright and delicious
they grow and we gather
wrap the abundance in our arms
walk through this ravenous world

Take, Eat and Live
Taste and see
This is the soil and the blood
the body, the great love

Sowers of the word
let the seed fall
where it may

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Writing Prompt 5

Have you ever been afraid of God? Afraid of being in church? Write about your experience.

Dead Bees, God, and Me

The summer I turned fifteen I got a job as one of four youth janitors at the United Methodist Church in the town where I lived. I wasn’t a Methodist, I wasn’t anything, and I knew I didn’t belong in church, but my friends all went to MYF, the youth group, and I went with them on outings. We saw All the President’s Men at the movies. We went to a place called Toad Hall where we played the Ungame when our counselors were awake, and truth or dare when they were asleep.

When the regular janitor, a church member, left her husband and ran off with another woman, and three of my friends applied to split the job, I applied too and was hired.

Luckily, I got secular jobs…watering plants and trimming ivy outside the building, and buffing the huge linoleum floor in the fellowship hall with a machine I could barely tame. It was a little scary, being in that big building alone, running equipment that ran me. At least when I was outside, trimming ivy in the heat, I could watch the cars drive down the street, hear their radios blaring out the open windows, and not feel like God, or the pastor, was looking down on me.

The pastor, a tall thin man in his thirties, with black hair and a big smile, invited me into his air-conditioned office for a Coke one afternoon. I wiped the sweat off the back of my neck and said, “No thank you.” He was a man of God, and I was sure that once he found out I wasn’t a believer, I’d melt into hell right in his presence, become a puddle on the floor, just like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Then came a week where I filled in for my friend. Cleaning the toilets in the Sunday school wing was a job I felt worthy of, just Comet, a scrub brush, a toilet bowl and me. I didn’t need to pretend anything. But, then I had to vacuum the Sanctuary. Even though I didn’t necessarily believe in God, I knew God lived in that room, seeing and judging all. God would see me and know, know that I’d never been in that Sanctuary, not even on a Sunday morning. I pulled open one of the heavy wooden doors, and held it with my hip while I pushed the vacuum cleaner in front of me.

The room was stifling hot and the air was still and stale, with the trapped odor of hot cedar and something old, musty and mysterious. I found a plug near the back of the room, and began vacuuming the worn red carpet that led up the aisle and between the pews. I felt like my chest would burst, holding my breath as long as possible, walking between the pews with their books arranged neatly in racks on the backs.

I felt eyes on me, hundreds of eyes, as if the room were filled with ghosts who tucked their feet politely out of the way as I roared by with the vacuum cleaner. I tried not to look up, at the high ceilings at the big paneled walls and glass windows. If I kept my head down, focused on my job, if I didn’t breathe and swiped the carpet as fast as possible, maybe God wouldn’t see me in there, wouldn’t notice that I’d intruded into this place that should be holy and quiet, with my noisy machine and my unbelief.

I bumped my vacuum up the stairs, up around the lecterns and the choir pews, past the table with the huge Bible and big silver cups, sucking up invisible dirt and lint. I kept vacuuming, straight up to the altar, then into the corners sucking up dust and nothing until my machine rumbled underneath the stained glass window of a cross. There on the floor were three dead bees, bees that’d flown into God’s house on accident, bees that’d slammed their little bodies against the colored glass, thinking they’d find pollen, or a way out, bees that couldn’t escape the presence of God, and so had perished.

I sucked them up. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I thought having seen too many television funerals. I unplugged the vacuum and pushed it out of the sanctuary as fast as I could. Afterward, I breathed hard and deep feeling as though I’d just barely escaped the fate of the bees.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Writing Prompt 4

The divine speaks to each of us in language we can understand and respond to. What language of the Spirit inspires you uniquely? Teaching, preaching, art, music, hospitality, nature, community, silence, conflict resolution, prophecy, peacemaking, political action, environmental protection? Any of these, something else? How are you, or can you be set on fire to share your gifts and passion in this world?

Come, Holy Spirit

On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fired up the disciples, “The crowd was bewildered because each one hard them speaking in the language of each.” The divine speaks to each of us in language we can understand and respond to. In Sara Miles’ case, it is the language of food. Miles, an atheist and former restaurant cook among other things, responded to Jesus alive in her life by feeding Jesus’ sheep––that is everyone who would come––and establishing a food bank ministry in San Francisco.

Reading Mile’s memoir, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, I was struck by the inconvenience and terror, as well as the growth beyond our anticipating and understanding that can come from following Jesus. This was certainly true for me when I knew God was calling me to write. I was busy running my home, raising two children, volunteering in their schools and church, in fact I was embarking on a year of home-schooling my oldest daughter for her fifth grade.

I didn’t think I could do it, but I couldn’t put God off once I recognized God’s lead. Unlike Sara Miles, I’m not providing food to hundreds of people each week. I offer a different sort of food. I believe in the power of writing to feed our hunger to know ourselves and be known and have seen glimpses of that deep connection in the few hours I am privileged to spend with strangers and friends when I lead workshops . And like Sara, I see that saying, “Yes, I will follow,” is a continual process that opens up new challenges and vistas.

For me that new place is writing with troubled youth. Why? My nephew is a violent, mentally ill teenager. As much as I want to, I can’t fix anything in his life. What I can do is pray for him. What I can do is offer writing to other at-risk youth, to give them a safe place, if only for a few hours to explore their lives on the page. At least that’s what I’m sure God told me to do during a worship service at Annual Conference a few years ago.

Once I finished crying and faced my fears in the wake of that experience, I said to God, “I hear you. I intend to do what you ask, but I’m not ready. I’m not equipped.” Through the synchronicity of the spirit, and the generous support of my local church, I will be attending a training from June 27 through July 1 in the East Bay to learn the Amherst Writer’s and Artists method of leading writing workshops . This method is used in many situations that need healing––with women in poverty, cancer patients, at-risk youth and more.

In theory, when I leave the training, I will have the skills to work with troubled youth. It’s another way to feed Jesus’ sheep. I’m still apprehensive about whether I'll have the skills, and how I'll relate to those sheep. Will I, a middle-aged, middle-class white woman who doesn’t like rap music, will be able to offer any of the “food” they so desperately need?

On Pentecost my church choir sang Come, Holy Spirit, an anthem by Mary K. Beall who wrote that the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost wasn’t so much about beginning the church as it was about equipping the church. I pray that I will keep trusting the Spirit to equip me as I attempt to be a faithful follower.

I pray for each of us, wherever we are in age, circumstance or fitness––spiritual or physical––that the Spirit will come to us in the language of Pentecost, a language that we each understand uniquely, to blow wind and set on fire the gifts we can share in this world. May we all be food for Jesus’ sheep.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Forgive the World

On Memorial Day it's fitting to think about Peace.
Check out this video featuring Kim McLean's song
Forgive the World
recorded for the United Methodist Church's
Peace With Justice Sunday coming up on June 3.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Writing Prompt 3

In the tradition of Sei Shonogan's Pillow Book (Japan, 1002), write your list of
"Things That Are Beautiful."

On Beauty

"That which transports us transforms us." -Luther Smith

"Beauty is an essential spiritual practice. Are you attentive to beauty?" Luther Smith asked us at my most recent week at the Academy for Spiritual Formation. Then he quoted Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes -
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

When I reflected on beauty, I was inspired to use a list in the spirit of Sei Shonagon of Japan who wrote The Pillow Book in 1002. I was introduced to Shonagon's lists in the book My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki--reading My Year of Meats will introduce you to the meat industry, DES infertility, documentary filmmaking and spousal abuse, as well as Shonagon's Pillow Book, in an ultimately hopeful book. Reading the lists from The Pillow Book may even inspire you to see your grocery and to do lists as literature!

Here is my list, one that is by no means exhaustive of "Things That Are Beautiful":

The bottomless blue of a glacial pool surrounded by craggy walls of ice.

Crackled frost on fallen leaves plastered to the hood of one’s car.

Twelve pounds of purring tabby cat nestled on one’s lap.

The glistening red nursing blister visible on a baby’s upper lip in sleep.

Wax stalactites formed by candles dripping in a sanctuary on a Sunday morning.

A mile long ribbon of Mexican Free tail bats looping across the San Antonio summer dusk.

The top forty song one sings while showering and chopping onions that is secretly a love song to God.

The sound of one’s name whispered in the dark low and soft as a caress.

The exhale—loud and forceful as a hundred tired men—of an orca surfacing off San Juan Island.

Gleaming berries in a clear glass bowl and a cherished friend to savor them with.

One who holds open a door, physical or metaphorical for one who is burdened physically or metaphorically.

The music of the Holy Spirit that trills up one’s spine like fingers on piano keys.

Any flower painted by Georgia O’Keefe that entices one to became a bee, crawl inside and suck out the nectar.

The bruised rice paper skin of the grandparent’s hand one holds.

“The world will be saved by beauty.” -Dostoevsky

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Writing Prompt 2

Are you able to share your faith? Not just the "things" you believe, but the way you experience God? Write a dialogue between yourself and a person--real or imagined, about your faith story. Answer their questions, admit your doubts, account for your hope.

Genuine Hospitality

At the end of April I returned from my seventh week at the two year Academy for Spiritual Formation, mind and heart full of what it means to truly be gathered in, all peoples, on a journey toward God. What struck me over and over again during lectures and reflection is the need for genuine hospitality. Each night at the Academy we gather in covenant group where we’ve worked hard to create safe and sacred space to share who we really are and how we experience God in our lives, without judgment or criticism.

I long for the rest of life to be as welcoming. How many times have our spirits been crushed by “well meaning” people bent on convincing us of the errors of our beliefs? If we are going to do more than simply put up with differing theologies and religions, we have to be both gracious hosts and guests in one another’s physical and spiritual homes, and wherever we gather. Embracing inclusivity asks for generosity of spirit, where we are willing to be companions in meaningful conversation with those whose beliefs are different than our own, within the Christian tradition and outside of it.

The only way I know how to do this is on an individual basis. Befriending “the other” one person at a time changes both me and my friend, expanding our ideas, letting God out of the box that’s comforting to contain God in. In order to do this, though, we need to put away our hammers, and let the accounting of our hope and faith arise from our lives and experience, not as dogma we pound into someone else’s head.

Easier said than done, and as you’ll read in the following poem, I am one who is skittish, having been burned by those who insist they are right. May we let go of our own need to be “right” as we explore ways to recognize that all of us are gathered one to another and to God.

Safety First or Why I Avoid Religious Conversation

Every bush is burning
wildfire on the loose
God emblazoned emboldened
everywhere the trees explode
the branches rain down fireworks
and you’d think that I would notice
covered in ash
choking on dust
eyes stinging with smoke
that God has kindled
and consumed the world.

But it is all too much for me.
I want a campfire
of little twigs
confined to a cement ring
maybe Smokey the Bear
some marshmallows on sticks
and a round of Kumbayah
led be a uniformed ranger
from exactly eight to precisely 9 p.m.
on a Saturday night.

And if by chance a spark
should crackle and leap
from that fire pit onto the ground
at my feet
you know that I will automatically
stub it out with my shoe.

It’s what I was taught early on.
Stay away from matches.
Don’t play with fire.
You might burn down the house.

It is after all a perilous world
and I don’t want to get burned.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Writing Prompt 1

For you writers, those I know and those I don't––I'll now be posting a weekly writing prompt. Feel free to use it as a spring board for your writing, modify and reshape, rearrange and discard as you feel led. Our stories are sacred, our words a gift. Holy Ink!

This week's prompt:
Write about a time you hosted someone you didn't know in your home. How did you feel about the experience before, during, after? What did you talk about it? What did you eat? What did you learn about this stranger? What did you learn about yourself?

Holding Open the Door

Thursday May 10:
I’m hosting a writing workshop in my home on Saturday. I prepared the room today, set up chairs in a big circle and end tables here and there to hold drinks and snacks. I chose 16 different coffee cups that people can use throughout the day, located sharpies to write nametags and names on water bottles and cups. I’ve grocery shopped already. I washed apples and grapes, found bowls for carrots, pretzels and trail mix. I vacuumed, cleaned the bathroom, set out Kleenex. My decks are swept, patio furniture washed, spider webs swept off stair-rails and outdoor tables. The writing exercises are prepared and packets are printed. Directions and reminders have been emailed. I’ve tried to attend to every detail.

As a host, I want everything to be accessible and enjoyable for my guests. Is it strange to pay such attention to preparing the space and the day, and to enjoy the process so much? Maybe hospitality is part of writing. Not too long ago I was reading Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir by Elizabeth J. Andrew. When she came to the part about revision, she spoke about being a good host in one’s writing, helping the reader feel at home, providing directions so the reader can navigate and feel welcome in the landscape of the written word.

I have learned that creating space in life and on the page for others opens doors for sacred and holy encounters smack in the middle of what appears by all accounts ordinary and mundane. I invite people to write for the better part of day, promise snacks and swimming, and they think, “That sounds fun.”

It seems safe enough, just a pen and paper and few hours writing about one’s past and thoughts in a beautiful setting away from home. But hah! Next thing we know, there are tears and exquisite laughter, and deep feelings, joy and pain, bubbling to the surface after ten or twenty or forty years and read to a room of strangers. There is recognition in the stories of others of the ways our stories, lives, and experiences intersect, our commonality amplified, our differences celebrated.

This is what I like best––in reality the workshops have nothing to do with me. I prepare the room, and writing suggestions, provide some guidelines for sharing, and hold open the door. In that space, while no one’s looking God sneaks in and does the things God will do, like removing the scales from our eyes, so that new light is shed on our lives. Talk about subversive behavior!

It is this devious divine that pulls me out of my introvert shell, shows me again the gifts shared and received in community, tells me that this is my work in the world.

Sunday May 13:
Thank you to all those who shared their presence and their words with me and the writing community we created yesterday. God was at work among us.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Wheel Inside a Wheel

Katy and I wore matching terrycloth cover-ups––two-toned pink sculpted bath towels sewn together with an opening for our heads, and two more for our arms. We pushed her mother’s upright Hoover into the middle of the beige shag carpeted living room, not to vacuum, but give her mom a concert. The vacuum handle was the perfect height for me, a nine year old, and Katy, a year older and wiser.

We sang a song, our current favorite that Katy learned at catechism. The lyrics allowed us to perfect our hand motions, furthering our dreams of becoming backup singers for Diana Ross, or even Glenn Campbell, if he had that sort of thing.

So we stood in Katy’s living room, our skinny calves sticking out from the slits in our pink terry sacks, blocking Katy’s mom’s view of the TV from where she sat on the pea green couch, her feet in white Keds kicked up on the coffee table, smoking Virginia Slims.

We rolled our arms barrel style in front of us, then at our sides as we leaned into the Hoover mike and sang––

Ezekiel saw two wheels a rollin, way in the middle of the air.

Never mind that I had no clue who Ezekiel was, here came the part where our hand motions grew even more elaborate.

A wheel inside a wheel a rollin, way in the middle of the air.

I couldn’t help but picture my pet rats’ exercise wheel spinning inside an even larger one, suspended six feet in the air.

The big wheel ran by faith. The little wheel ran by the grace of God.

We swiveled our hips a bit at that part. During rehearsal, before Katy’s mom got home from work, we’d tried singing our song while hula hooping, but with the arm motions and our need for the microphone, it just didn’t work.

As I swung my hips and churned my arms, I simply couldn’t picture faith or grace or God or how those things could possibly make wheels spin in mid-air. But then, I wasn’t Catholic, and I wasn’t in catechism, like Katy, who went to Saint Anne’s on Wednesday’s after school to learn about God.

We performed our one song concert on a Friday night, and when we were through, Katy’s mom turned her attention to the six o’clock news. We traipsed into the kitchen, opened the freezer, pulled out a package of fish sticks and another of tater tots, lined them in neat rows on a baking sheet and slid them into the oven. Any other night of the week, Katy’s family would eat Hamburger Helper or Sloppy Joes, but not on Fridays. Fridays had to be fish.

Katy said it had something to do with Jesus, who was as impossible for me to imagine as a wheel inside a wheel a rollin way in the middle of the air.

Almost 38 years later, Ezekiel is still a mystery to me. An Old Testament prophet, his visions of wheels full of eyes and his eating scrolls before he went to Israel on God’s behalf with words of gloom and doom, make him a difficult figure for me understand.

But, I still remember the song, both melody and words. It comforts me to know that whether or not I understand the ancient prophets, God is there in our lives, in all our attempts to keep our wheels spinning, juggling our lives and our responsibilities. By God’s grace, and by our faith they don’t all come crashing down at once. Even when it seems they have, there is a perspective larger than our own. If we can see beyond the living room and our own little concerts, we can see that we’re offered abundant opportunities to sing, to learn new songs, to stretch our understandings of our own lives, to embrace the unknown, to believe in the impossible.

And in doing so, we open the doors for God, just a crack. While we’re busy rolling our arms, swinging our hips and saying we don’t have all the answers, Jesus just might enter in and offer some answers of his own.