Saturday, June 3, 2017

Present Over Perfect, a study with Shauna Niequist

On Facebook, I saw a link to a free study called "Present Over Perfect" given by Shauna Niequist. Since I am familiar with some of her writing and I like it, I checked it out. I signed up and downloaded the material it had. Now I receive weekly emails for the study that contain a link to a video Shauna created for each week.

I listened the first two weeks and liked it all right, but I started thinking maybe it wasn't such a good fit for me. Shauna was talking about her realization that she was trying to do too much, and feeling as if she was not doing everything good enough, not measuring up. I have been feeling like I'm already on that journey, and already learning different ways to "be still and know" that he is God.

I missed the third week's video (it'll be offered as make-up after June 11), but just watched Week 4. Guess what she talked about? Spiritual practices. Even more specifically Jesuit spiritual practices. The very thing I'm fascinated with and trying to learn more about. Maybe it's a good fit after all.

Shauna said that her husband Aaron was reading a lot about ancient, contemplative practices and decided to start a group of people who wanted to learn about those, and practice them together, learning to live a contemplative life. She said their church thought that was a great idea and asked him to do that within the church.

That's an intriguing idea. I'd like to find out what he did and does. Shauna talks about having speakers, especially a Jesuit priest but also a rabbi and others. She then went on to describe several spiritual practices she has learned and is practicing, and how they have changed her. I found myself kind of chuckling and nodding. Yep, me, too.

So I'll keep listening and thinking and praying about this.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I Woke Up Crying Again

I woke up crying again.
It's the second time now.
The first time it was my dad. Tonight it was my mom.
I can't remember the dream from the first time.
I think there was an empty chair and we all knew it was Dad's,
but he'd never fill it because he was gone.
Seeing that empty chair made me cry.
This time I dreamt that I found a note written by my mom.
It was written in her pretty cursive writing,
before Parkinson's made it shaky and spidery.
It had a cartoon drawn on it,
which she never did,
but it said, "ALL MY SWEETHEARTS,"
which she tended to call us, especially as her old age made her more sentimental.
Sometimes it annoyed us when she was living.
Seeing that writing, that note, the "sweethearts"
made me cry, too.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Inheritance:A Poem by Siri Liv Myhrom

I found this poem on the On Being site: I love it. I will paste it below, then tell you why I love it.

Inheritance: A Poem
By Siri Liv Myhrom

My mother had a mantra
that connected dots through every year,
every difficult event:
Life is hard.
It was always said gently and meant tenderly, often preceded by Uff-da
or whispered as a quiet descant
with the bruised and urgent love of a mother
as she held me:
Oh, honey. Life is hard. Oh, honey.
For 37 years, it was the sympathetic balm applied
to scraped knees and mean words
failed attempts and broken hearts
bad colds and depressive breakdowns.
Any pain was wrapped up in her arms
and the immutable fact
of the enduring un-easy-ness
of our days.
And she knew something of how hard it could be,
my Midwestern mother, born on a prairie farm,
broken by polio at eight,
paralyzed for a year, taught herself to walk again
by holding on to the bed mattress or her mother’s coaxing hands.
But her body was never whole again,
always faltering and bent, always tired, always aflame
with relentless twisting pain.
The winter before polio visited,
she had just learned how to skate a figure-8
on the frozen pond by the house,
and she spent hours and hours and hours
circling, spinning, heart-pounding joy in that open icy wind.
She wrote later:
Could I have been good? Or strong? Or athletic?
Though eventually well enough to return to farm work,
she never skated again.
That is its own unique kind of cruel grief, I think:
to be just old enough to remember what you might have been
what it felt like to occupy something unbroken.
Yes, she knew it:
Life is hard.
hard like a kick from a milking cow,
hard like hauled wood and cast iron stoves
and cold pine floors and stillborn baby siblings you never knew,
hard like the unwanted hands of your oldest brother on you,
hard like January ground that the dark wind pounds down.
Life is hard.
I felt the inheritance of that fierce story
passed down to me like a burning coal —
the kind that can soothe the ache of winter nights
if placed in the right container
but that will take the flesh right off you if you hold it.
Sometimes I leaned in too close to it
because the empathetic warmth could be comforting,
could dull the steely edge of grief or despair for a while —
but I recognized its scar and weight, too,
how it asked me to take on
something that branded
and marked me for a kind of weary defeat.
It wasn’t the incantation
I wanted my spirit reciting
if I was seeking something whole from my days.
So I resisted, tried to get her to change her story,
for her sake I told myself, but really for mine.
Hurtful to her, I know now,
in the way that willful unhearing is to someone
who longs to be believed, like we all do —
it took me years to realize
that what belonged to her was not mine to rewrite.
I saw this:
that while we cannot rip away the verses
that burn in the palms of others,
once they are handed to us and become our inheritance,
we are given some holy choices:
embrace and recite
revise and restore
toss into the flame
take up a blank page and create new.
When I hold my daughters and sing this new song,
Does life feel hard right now? Sweet girl,
I’m so sorry it feels hard right now —
and we talk later of what beauty can rise
from that rough and nourished ground —
I sense a harmony with my mother’s refrain that hangs
like sweet strung music in the background:
the hard places make a good foundation
for rest
for rebuilding
for steadying yourself again,
for dancing
for practicing over and over
the patient strides and daring loops of staying upright
while in uncertain motion.
All winter long, no matter how ferocious the cold,
the roots are cradled: frozen darkness, too,
can be a still, quiet kind of love.
And I know this intensely —
when I hold my girls and the moment of their earnest pain,
their small hot hands clinging to me,
remembering and blessing my mother,
I can do what she did so well:
I can make myself a soft place for them
in this hard, beautiful world.

I know. It's long. It's "dark." Those are things I've heard when I've proposed reading it in a worship service. Not easy to explain or share in a worship service setting. OK. I can accept that. But here's why I love it.

It reminds me of my mom, and also of myself, when growing up and dealing with me and my kids growing up. My mom said often, and so did I, that life is difficult, life is hard. I am grateful still that I approach life knowing it is difficult, and when it's not, that's a bonus. something to notice and be grateful to God about. I'm not talking about pessimism, and of course I always know that life is in God's hands, but I also know that life is hard, bad things happen, there's evil in the world. We have a family joke. One time a family friend said, "All I want is a life with no hassles. Is that too much to ask?" It made us all laugh when we heard it. Yes, that IS too much to ask. Life is full of hassles.

A book I really appreciate is The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. It begins: "Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters." That's what I mean -- if you know life is difficult, then when it's not, bonus. And when it is, well, that's life.

My mom, me, and my siblings in Anchorage,
Alaska, beside the vehicle we used for all our
Air Force moves. 4 kids and a dog in a
Volkswagen camper criss-crossing the USA.
I like the poem for Mother's Day because I am grateful to my mother for bringing me up to approach life in this way, and for doing what the poem says, making herself a soft place for me in this "hard, beautiful world." I think that this poem speaks about traits of a loving mother that we can relate to God, who we often think of as our loving father. But we even use the word "he" for God out of convenience. God isn't a he or a she, a male or a female. God is God, three in one, and he has traits like a loving mother, like an eagle, like a father, like a shepherd, and so on and so on. I like this image of God as a mother in Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

Besides that, don't you love this line: "Oh, honey. Life is hard. Oh, honey."

And this one: "It was always said gently and meant tenderly, often preceded by Uff-da." My mom never said "Uff-da," but I love it. Uff-da.

What do you think?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

I Cry

I cry,
For Zeke, who sits in a doctor's office,
and wonders, "How much of this can I handle?"
For Peter, who feels misery and pain,
and prepares for heaven
For Karla, who sits beside Matt,
and looks ahead to a life without him.
For Matt, who studied and reached a life's goal,
and now is facing death.
For Mom, who asks, "Where is he?" "Who?" "Lou"
and has to remember he's not here.
For me, for Jan, for Joel, for Kathy, who love Dad
and cannot be with him anymore.

I pray,
For all of us.
For your tender mercy.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Story of the Samaritan Woman - John 4:1-42

Well, I don't know what's going on, but I KEEP seeing and hearing references to this story of Jesus talking with a Samaritan Woman (verses from Bible Gateway below). I decided to write about it.

I read our granddaughters Bible stories using some really cute books that come in a box. It's called God Loves Me Storybooks, the Bible in 52 Storybooks, The story of the Samaritan Woman at the well came up the last time I read one of those! And that was after I had already seen several other references to it. Then the Bible study I'm going to had a lesson on this story last night. And today I was going through my "Feedly" (a collection of blogs I read) and there was another one, a sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

So, after all those "signs," I wondered whether there was something special I should try to glean from it. I've heard the story, of course, and never thought too much about it. I have a friend who suggested I re-read the story of Hagar and Ishmael when they try to escape because there are similarities and perhaps ties to this story, especially around the woman being seen by God. My sister suggested I re-read it and sit quietly receptive to insights that might come to me. Both of those are good ideas.

In the story of Hagar there are these verses, which talk about being seen: "She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me." (Genesis 16:13) And as we studied and read the story of Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman, it was significant that Jesus spoke and associated with a woman, which was unusual in itself, and on top of it a Samaritan. A parallel to Jesus seeing this woman, like Hagar being seen. It is good to reflect on the fact that Jesus/God sees me.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I want to do with the time I have left in life, and it is good to know God knows what is in my heart. He sees my innermost being. To be honest, I wish I could see it! I can't decide what to do with. I figure I don't have to make a decision that necessarily is definitive for the rest of my life, but I'd like to know a direction, a goal to pursue, the next step to take. Right now I'm trying to be patient as I think and pray of various things and wait for something to seem like the direction God wants me to go in. I signed up for a 5-day guided retreat at the Jesuit center that I am hopeful may help me.

Here are some thoughts that go around in my mind:

  • Figure out what parts of my job I'd like to keep doing. Perhaps propose a change in my position that gives me more time on the parts I love, and that gives my co-worker a chance to advance.
  • Do something that involves my fascination with Jesuit spirituality. I think the practices fit in wonderfully with our Reformed beliefs and practices. Could I write about that? Study the Jesuit practices more?
  • Check into the Sierra Leadership initiative that Kevin Adams and Paul Vander Kley have put together. I signed up for attending the monthly session Paul holds, and I have gone to one or two seminars. Figure out a goal of what I want to get through that?
  • Pursue the idea I have of making our church into a center for arts and worship. One issue there is no one else I've talked to about it seems at all enthused. Maybe it's not as good an idea as I think. And then there's the financial side. I can't just do all the work on a volunteer basis. I do have to make a living still.
  • Maybe not worry about it, just continue as is, and pursue my interests on the side.
So there you have a lot of what's on the top of  my mind right now. Does the woman at the well story have any bearing on that? Not so sure. I am also drawn to the references of "Here I am" in the Bible. I have written a little about that before, and just saw it again in a reference to Mary saying it when the angel told her she was going to become the mother of Jesus. I feel like I am in a "Here I am" moment.

I recently started following Paul Vander Kley in social media. I like what he says about his blog being a working space. I was feeling a little bad that my writing on my blog is so informal. I don't edit much at all. It's kind of my "shitty first draft," as Anne Lamott would say, or it's just plain a stream of consciousness. I read a lot about writing and writers all talk about writing being more about editing and re-work than anything else. But I feel better thinking as Paul writes, that my blog is a workspace, not finished work. And, as he says, I don't get much traffic so I don't need to worry about it. 

If anyone who does take the time to read this has any thoughts, I'm open.

John 4:1-42New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

The Disciples Rejoin Jesus

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many Samaritans Believe

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”


  1. John 4:9 Or do not use dishes Samaritans have used

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Prayer is saying hello

This is a lovely episode of  On Being, Padraig O Tuama - Belonging Creates and Undoes us Both.

I loved many things that Krista and Padraig discussed. One that really stuck with me is what he said about prayer. I'll start, though, with a few other nuggets.

There is a pretty long discussion of the concept of "here." It made me think of a short writing I wrote for our church's e-newsletter:

"Here I am."

Our pastor has been leading us in a sermon series of God saying "I AM." There is also a theme in the Bible of God's people saying "Here I am." When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses said, "Here I am." When God called Samuel in the middle of the night, Eli told him to say, "Here I am." When God spoke to Abraham, Abraham said, "Here I am." These words are used by God's people when God calls them and gives them a specific instruction, or mission, or assignment. God told Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. He told Samuel about his plans for Eli and the people of Israel. He told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

Each time God calls and the people answer "Here I am," God gives them a direction for the future. Our church is in a "Here I am" moment. God is calling us and has a mission for our future. As we respond with "Here I am, Lord," let us pray and listen for God's instruction about our church's mission.

(In Hebrew, the phrase "Here I am" is "Hineni" -- pronounced he-nay-nee. Here is an interesting article about Hineni.)

In the podcast, they are discussing the concept of "here" in the context of Ireland and its troubles, Different, but an intriguing connection.

One of his poems which Padraig read on this podcast also struck me.

“Pedagogy of Conflict”

When I was a child,
I learnt to count to five:
one, two, three, four, five.
But these days, I’ve been counting lives, so I count
one life
one life
one life
one life
Because each time is the first time that that life has been taken.
Legitimate Target
has sixteen letters
and one

Devastating. Wow. Those words, "one life   one life    one life". They're like bells that toll for the dead.

About prayer, I want to quote some longer passages from the podcast:

“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I recognize and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day. I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet. / Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast. / Hello.

.“..And I suppose I really think that prayer is also not only naming or asking, but just saying hello to what is and trying to be brave, trying to be courageous in that situation and trying to be generous to your own self, also. To go, “Here’s a day when I feel intimidated,” or “Here’s the day; I’m just waiting for the end of it,” or “Here’s the day when I have huge expectations of delight,” because those can also be troubling.”

Recently, I heard Eugene Peterson saying prayer shouldn't just be about asking -- that we should shut up and listen. I've been thinking a lot about that. As I pray, I try to be still and listen. I try to think of ways to present what I want to say without asking. It's hard when it's intercession -- praying for healing for a loved one, for example.

Thinking about prayer as saying hello is helpful. Padraig says he says hello to "my desire and my trouble." I can extrapolate that to being troubled about those I'm praying for, right?

Hello, God, my mother is getting old and frail. She is often confused, many times she is unable to speak. Hello, sadness. I am sad, Lord, that she is not the vibrant, eloquent, funny, smart-alec, intelligent, inveterate advice-giving, repeating story-telling person we've loved all these years. But hello, gratitude. Thank you that she is, from all we can see, not in pain and is at peace. Hello, God. Here I am. Here is my mom.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Psalm 23 is probably one of the most familiar passages of the Bible. Yet, like all of Scripture, new meaning can come even after hundreds of readings. Recently, the words, "thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" struck me in a way I hadn't thought of before.

I was wearing the necklace pictured above, which my dad bought for me when he served in VietNam. As I sat in church I was thinking about it because someone had just told me, "Nice necklace." I liked that after all these years it was still attractive.

Those words, "thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" came to mind. I realized for the sheep, just seeing their shepherd's rod and staff must have reminded them of their shepherd, and it comforted them -- it made them remember his great love for them.

That necklace, and a favorite shirt of my dad's that I now own, do the same for me. They remind me of my dad, and they comfort me.