Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dear Pamela,
Do you remember this pathway?  Do you remember when you first led me up this grassy trail to the Abbey Church? It looked a bit different then because the leaves were changing, falling from the trees even.  But don't you remember when we silently strode up this incline to sit with the monks for terse, vespers and compline?  As I walked this path this past week without you, I could feel your presence there- yours and the Holy Spirit's.  Your kind and encouraging words rang in my ears, "You are never alone.  God is always with you. Nothing can harm you, do not be afraid." I know you were praying for me this week, I could feel it. . . I managed to "just be" which is what I said I wanted to do this summer the last time I spoke to you.  Do you remember that conversation?  It's kind of a new thing for me. . . to just be.  I cannot say it is any easy endeavor for one such as me who has to be occupied all the time, who fights the inner voices that say that if I am not busy then I must be lazy, worthless, uninteresting.  I am learning to not listen to those voices. . . and to be intentional about my time fully immersed in the presence of God no matter if I am away or at home. 


Dear Amy, 
I do remember!  
I have always been grateful for its meandering welcome.  I have walked it at various tempos, but my favorite is the lingering tempo when I can pause as the Spirit invites.  Sometimes it is a sight.  Sometimes a subtle movement of a warbler--or it could be the leap of a deer.  Sometimes it is a sound.  The bell from the Abbey or the song of a meadowlark.  Still other times there is a fragrance -- the sweetness of honeysuckle, the spice of hay, or the heavy breath of the bread floating from the monastery bakery.

The walk is significant.  Step by step toward the heart.  Settle the mind.  Turn away from the voices of others.  Allow your pulse to calm until it is moving in sync with the pulse of God's love extended to you in Christ.  

It seems significant that this time you journeyed to the Abbey without me.  It seems that is a powerful integration that the desire to "be with God" has taken root in the life of Amy.  Oh, of course you will continue to face the temptation to be occupied with matters of busy-ness or worry.  You may even fool yourself for a time, thinking that your day will matter more if you can "do" something that this or that person will deem important. 

The critical thing though, is that you have discovered the path to the One who knows you better than you know yourself.  You have walked the twists and turns.  You have settled on the benches of contemplation.  You have come home.  

Peace be with you! 


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It is dangerous out there.

Dear Amy,

CS Lewis, (in Mere Christianity) said "We live in enemy occupied territory." How true!

I want to encourage you and others in pastoral leadership these days. Already the forces of darkness are assembling to threaten the bold confidence unleashed just a week ago. Already the marketers are singing the siren song that says that all that was given in Christ is not enough -- that there are more effective ways to meet our needs than the simplicity (and eloquence) of God's word.

As we move through these last days of Christmas, let's continue to proclaim clearly and boldly that Christ IS the light of the world. Always was, always will be -- words that speak of the timelessness of God's love. But it is the "IS" that folks these days need to hear, I think.

Please, please remember that. It is far too tempting to incline our ear towards the amplifying voices that this or that resolution, this or that new and improved for 2012 methodology will make us more contented or complete.

Tell me, friend, what are you seeing as the predominant force these days? Where do you see darkness? Where do you see light?

In Christ's love and light I hold you...


Dear Pamela,

Thank you for that important reminder that Christ IS the light of this world.  The one who WAS, IS and IS TO COME.  

Dear friend, if I am honest with you and with myself, I always seem to wrestle with darkness around this time of year.  Even though each day is getting incrementally longer as we move toward Spring, the darkness often seeks to envelop me in its death grip.  I struggle with my thoughts, desires, and ennui.  Normally I'm a happy person who laughs easily, but the laughter doesn't always come so quickly in these dark days.  That in and of itself generally causes me some disturbance.  Not only that, but I am expected to be upbeat and joyful so a darker facade often is disconcerting to others.  It may even create anxiety in others who aren't sure "how to handle" me.  It can be a dangerous time for me I suppose.  So your reminder to cling to Christ does not fall on deaf ears.

I see darkness in other places around me, not just inside of me.  With being sequestered indoors I see my own children relying on "screens" to entertain them.  This seems to create a lack of sharpness in their thinking and a laziness in their moving.  So I follow them around and insist that they read books, practice piano, study for the spelling bee etc.  Is it any different for us adults?  Too much screen time leads to lazy-brain, and restlessness with a side of angst.  

I see light occasionally trying to stream through into human life these days.  It is fleeting however and seems to be way off in the distance.  It is a sign of hope, however, and a little bit of hope is often all we need to keep going.  An awareness of the dangers out there can serve to keep us on our toes. . . seeking refuge in the light of Christ.  

Thank you for holding me in your prayers and I promise to do the same,


Friday, December 30, 2011

The Gift of Light

Dear Pamela,

I awoke this morning at about 3am, the time when the monks at the Abbey would likely be finishing lauds.  As I normally do when I awake so early, I simply lay in bed and pray.  I prayed for you, I prayed for my other friends and colleagues, I prayed for my family and for the church of Christ.  I must have fallen back asleep because the next thing I knew it 6am.  I got up and started the coffee, filled with a sense of the Holy Spirit.  Pure Joy, that’s what it was.  

Was the source of joy my new washer and dryer?  I am quite thrilled not to have to hang all of my wet laundry everywhere in the house now like I have been for the past week and a half since my dryer quit on me!  But, that’s not where the joy came from, of that I am sure.  I think what happened is that I slowed down long enough in the past 24 hours to allow God to speak to my heart.  I, like many of my pastor colleagues, have a hard time during Advent and Christmas- there is so much going on!  Six baptisms, a handful of new members, Sunday School Christmas program, Live Nativity, home communions, two services on Christmas Eve and one on Christmas, and then all of the duties required of me at home to get ready for the “big day.”  It can be exhausting, which I know you know.  But yesterday I only worked for three hours and then spent the rest of the day reading, cleaning, meandering around a clean house.  Nice!  This morning I woke up refreshed and ready for God to give me whatever it was that I needed.

As Martin and I headed out to the biketrail it was still dark, but when we turned around at the half way point and started for home the sun was peeking out over the trees in the distance.  I heard God say to me, “Amy, let go of all of the anxiety, all the worry about others, all the tasks and busyness, let it go.  Because the Son will Rise!”  I realized, once again that which I have to be constantly reminded of, that it is God who is in charge of things. God who sent his only Son into the world to rescue us from sin and death is ever-present, loving us, forgiving us, protecting us, walking with us.  As I ponder the nativity of the King of kings, I am reminded of how the story ends (and where it begins for me and for you)!  The Son will RISE!  

With Christ in our lives, what on earth do we lack?  

May the light of the world bless you and keep you always my dear friend.  

In Christ’s love,


Early morning in Norwalk, Ohio from Firelands Rails to Trails

Dear Amy,

So a week has gone by.  As the marketing world invites us to return or exchange or even buy ahead for next Christmas, we are invited to savor the time at hand -- the days of Christmas.  Time has passed with a delightful blend of light and dark, sheer delight and tender grief.  

The time between Christmas and Epiphany is characterized by potential, particularly for the children of God.  We open the most precious gift of Christmas, the Christ which has been born again and again in the darkness of our world and in our hearts.

It seems that part of the mission we share is to remain in this gift, this Christ is a gift that is a perfect fit for us right where we are.  But there is so much more than the way that this present suits us now.  As we "put on" Christ we are transformed, reformed, and shaped in new ways for the glory of God and the good of others. There is no way we can predict how this gift will unfold.   If we are willing, there is no limit to its capacity to radiate the brilliant beam of truth and love, and, ultimately, PEACE, in the regions of our being and our relationships which are still in darkness.  There is no way we can predict where the gift will lead.  

Every day we have the opportuity to begin another day of cherishing this gift.  As we pray, we are drawn into a conversation with God, who reveals His complete knowledge of us and His unconditional love for us through Christ.  

For those of us in Northeastern Ohio where the mists and fogs of Lake Erie often blanket the sun at this time of year, this is very, very good news.  In Christ we have all of the Light we need.  Praying with this truth may be one of our most effective ways to meet Seasonal Affective Disorder toe to toe!  
Surely this is a gift that provides all of the Light we need.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wanting What We Cannot Have

Dear Pamela,

Why do we always want what we cannot have?

It seems to be our sinful nature that leads us down paths that we be would be prudent to avoid:    food, drink, consumerism, and other carnal desires.  

What do all of these things have in common for us?  We think they will satisfy some deep need inside of us.  

A fleeting thought creates an impulse that a new gadget will keep us occupied for a little while so we can escape the boredom and mundane existence we are trudging through.  But it doesn’t deliver, we simply get sick of being plugged in, exposed to the world.  One more drink, we think, might numb the pain but all we end up with is a rotten headache and a night of fitful sleep.  One more donut might make the hurt disappear for a second, but not so. . . we end up feeling guilty and our blood sugar skyrockets (and then crashes!).  What about all the other temptations that we succumb to that really cause havoc and destruction?  We try to justify our behavior but at the heart of it is a simple issue: we are broken and in need.  Things, substances, people. . . they cannot fill the hole inside of our hearts.  Only our great companion, Jesus, can fill the gap inside of us.  When we reach that point in the trail where it says, “Closed,” what then shall we do?  Push through as if we don’t see the sign?  Go around it and ignore the warning?  Obviously there is danger ahead and if we would take time to trust our instincts, our friends’ advice and admonition, our prayer life. . . perhaps we could save ourselves from falling into the chasm that lies ahead.  

It’s easier said than I done, I think.  We are stubborn human creatures who don’t like to listen all that much!  I guess they call that “original sin.”



Dear Amy...  

Ah!  Why do we want what we cannot have?  That is the question that is at the core of much of humanity’s angst!  And in many ways capitalistic society depends upon it!  It is a question that helps us understand the tension in much of the holiday season!

The world has always (and increasingly so) been in the business of stimulating desires for everything that is not “of” God.  Think about marketing techniques.  Advertisers are in the business of making us yearn for something we didn’t even know that we wanted!  Junk food is made with ingredients that make us want more of the same junk.  Marketing tempts us, and the victory of temptation rests in its power to claim our attention.  That is, we pay more attention to what we don’t have than to what we have been given so freely by God.  

I have been told by folks much wiser than me that our best defense against sin is focusing upon Christ -- not trying to resist the temptation with our will.  In our resistance we are still focusing upon the temptation, not Christ.  

The great news is that God has placed within each of us God’s fervent desire for us.  This desire, which is of God, stimulates our hunger for God!  M.Scott Peck refers to a “God Shaped Vacuum” that is satisfied only by the presence of God.  It is a void...a hunger...a “hole in the soul.”  Since it is a vacuum, it draws in whatever we are seeing as our “comfort.”  Yet since it is God-shaped, nothing but God completely fills it.  

So... in simplest terms... perhaps we want what we think we can’t have because God made us to want God, who says to us:  In Christ, you have me!  St. Augustine says it best: Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find themselves in thee.    



Friday, December 2, 2011

Life's Roadblocks

Dear Pamela,
As I was walking the trail this morning, this is what I found. . . the wind had taken down this tree overnight. It deposited it right in the path where bikers, joggers and walkers traverse. Since it’s so cold there was no traffic, but it got me to thinking about how seemingly out of nowhere, roadblocks pop up and are planted right in our path.

In ministry, it has occurred to me many times, that once we get some real momentum going in our parishes, when we are moving to the rhythm of the Holy Spirit, when we are growing spiritually and numerically, then something comes along to steal that peace. Some issue, real or perceived, rears its snarly head and seeks to disrupt the flow of things. It’s easy to get anxious and upset about these roadblocks. It’s human nature to try to squash them, to keep them from taking control. It’s less easy to see options available to us in these times.
That tree on the ground did not prevent my dog and me from continuing down the trail we tread each day. We certainly had options. We could over it. We could go into the woods and around it. We could turn back and head home if we wanted to; we had choices we could make. We didn’t just stop there and look at it, at a loss as to what we might do now that something had changed in our normal routine.
Perhaps roadblocks are blown into our lives to see how creative and resilient we can be. They test our fortitude and our vision. They force us to decide.
There is one more option that I could have taken with that tree branch. I could have picked it up and moved it off to the side, without violence, without malice, without anger. Then the path would be clear again for the next travelers, but you know- in the moment I didn’t think of that. I was too busy looking at it and taking a picture of it.
Dear Amy,
That tree was a gift for you. It stimulated thoughts that would not have been given if your walk had been ordinary, unfolding according to your assumptions or expectations. As a loner you and your dog were able to let the barrier walk with you in your thoughts (the end result was a fresh pool of ideas about roadblocks or obstacles).
I think of how you would have responded differently if you had been trekking with a group. The possibilities would have been varied, depending upon the temperaments of the followers. What if there had been discord and debate about what to do next? What if everybody was physically able to simply leap over the barrier? What if some people were differently abled with walkers or wheel chairs?
Think also about the surrounding atmosphere and how that affects our response to barriers. As it was, it was chilly, but generally a benign situation. But, what if a storm was brewing and other trees were on the verge of falling? What if you were being chased by a coyote?
It is interesting how anxiety alters our perception of a barrier. When we are calm and collected we perceive roadblocks as opportunities to pause and figure out how to proceed or what detour might be equally interesting (and might actually be a delightful byway). In many ways the barrier becomes a friend!
But (oh my!) when our emotions are ratcheted up or incited by communal worry or frustration, the size and scope of the barrier grows far beyond its reality. It becomes a gargantuan adversary.
Perhaps in congregational settings it would be helpful to gather together our team of leaders and practice some trekking in different situations. Maybe the leader could even go out beforehand and “prepare the trail,” including providing some roadblocks and barriers, just to see how the group responds to them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Kindness Rating

Dear Pamela,

It is very interesting to me to think about how varied the responses have been to my congregation’s (and my) departure from the ELCA.  As you know, it has been a very painful process, but one that was steeped in prayer, reflection and constant discernment.  It was a matter of pastoral care for the congregation I serve as many of the disciples there were questioning/struggling/wrestling mightily with the actions of the church and the emerging issues with scripture/naming of God etc.  The responses have ranged from viciousness to gentle admonishing (because they couldn’t understand) to acceptance that we had done our “homework” in prayer and study.  All in all I think it was about a 50% approval rating (really it’s a kindness rating not an approval rating).  I received emails that were not so nice, Facebook messages that questioned my apparent sanity, and phone calls questioning my motives.  However, I also received kindness from people who disagree with my position, well wishes for the future, and even encouragement from those who agree but who are not ready to take any next steps for various reasons.  There has been cutoff in the classic Bowenian sense, distancing but also walking toward in order to hear and understand.  A full range of responses has occurred.

We always have a choice as to how we will respond to another’s words and actions.  Our own differentiation of self is exhibited in our response.  There is no need for name-calling, vilifying or scapegoating.  .  . but it happens.  My task has been to be self-reflective through it all and continue asking, “Where are my buttons getting pushed?” and “How am I defining self amidst the conflict and pressure that others seek to put on me?”  and most importantly “How am I taking responsibility for what is mine and not taking responsibility for what is not mine?”  

I continue to pray for God to reveal whatever he is up to in all of this.  I continue to try to not lose faith in “church” but this process has served to further focus my faith on Christ rather than on any institution.  Might we try through all the trials of the holy catholic and apostolic church of Christ to have a better kindness rating than 50%?  

Your sister in Christ,


Dear Sister and young friend...

Whenever a colleague, friend or lover goes separate ways there is loss.  Loss can generate raw emotions of pain or fear, (gut and heart).  There may be tears, sighs, or flushed faces...even some degree of clenched jaw or fist.  

When the mind or the ego kick in (as they usually will) they offer their thoughts about what has happened.  Since mind and ego are the voice of “self” they are often reflective of the struggle to answer the question:  “What does this mean?”  “ What does this say about me (or us)?”  “What am I going to do now?”  The more we focus upon what the “other” has decided to do or say, the more we run the risk of judgment, blame or the attempt at countering their decision.  

I could be wrong (it has happened at least a few times), but I think an unkind response is an indication of a lack of faith or trust.  Perhaps unkindness is a manifestation of sin’s power to divert our focus from God’s presence in all matters, calling forth new life and new possibilities, even when there is a “death” of relationship or affiliation.

God calls us to mercy, gentleness, kindness, especially when the people of God are suffering (and we are, aren’t we?).  

The whole church -- in all of its expressions -- is groaning with the pain of trying to sort out the confusion generated when we strive to “know” what is God’s truth about any issue that has MULTIPLE facets.  

I encourage us to lean towards the Cross, where even the most intense suffering does not have the last say.   It may not happen in our lifetime, but in the end all of these matters will come to an end.  All of our questions and debates will fall into silence.  

In the mean time, if we are not kind and gentle towards one another, and if we fail to care for the burdens we all share, then, quite honestly, we (the church) are giving the others who do not know Christ absolutely no reason to believe that we DO!!!!!  

Peace to you,


Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Unity, Energy, Diverging and Emerging Paths

Dear Amy,

I think it is time to look at oneness in Christ.  Clearly there are ways that the people of God are not of one mind, but it is the hope Christ prayed just before Gethsemane:  That we will be one!   (John 17)

After all, as time goes by, Christian denominations are increasingly dividing (including Lutherans) rather than showing that they are being drawn into Oneness.  On the other hand, there are those situations where oneness of heart and mind eclipse any differences.  Those situations tend to be when we are in touch with suffering and death:  the Cross.  When we stay there and open ourselves to the inbreaking of God’s power for resurrection, we move forward in oneness.  

Perhaps that helps to put words around the energy that is underlying this offering of Ventures Unknown.  

What are your thoughts?  


Dear Pamela,

When I was a child there was a trail that we used to walk on weekends that led to “BIg Lion’s Falls.”  There are points on the path where one trail goes up and another goes down but then they converge once more on the main path.  It just takes a bit of walking to catch up with one another as we would go our separate ways.  The goal was still the same, the end point was in common, but there were decisions to be made along the way.  For us as children the criteria of the choice had to do with “adventure” rather than any sort of principle, but it was a decision nonetheless.

We have talked at length over the years about the concept of differentiation of self in Bowen Family Systems Theory.  How do we exist together while being separate entities, separate people with separate identities, values, core beliefs, understandings and self-understandings.  For me, choosing to go another path in terms of “church” has been an ongoing process of discernment as well as differentiation of self.  It has not been fun or easy.  But it has deepened my relationship with the One who formed me and adopted me as his own.  I know this to be true for you as well as you stay the course in your denomination.  We may now have different affiliations which means we go to different meetings with a different set of disciples, but our Oneness is and remains in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Our Oneness exists in the holy catholic and apostolic church rather than in a particular branch of Lutheranism.  Our Oneness is grounded in our love for Jesus and more importantly his love for us.  My understanding of “church” has expanded immensely throughout this process as certain idols have crashed down around my feet.  What I was left with, amidst those shards of stained glass and steeples, was nothing less than my/our Savior.  We are still sisters in Christ, nothing, not even death can alter that relationship.  


I give thanks and praise for that Oneness.  It has moved us toward this untrodden and (so I am told) unheard of path as fellow Lutherans.   In different ways, we have each experienced God’s nudge drawing us together in this shared interest/mission/passion for Spiritual Formation.  
The words “I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way” keep returning to me.  All I know for sure is that God is leading and supporting in Christ.  

It reminds me of the way hairpin turns work on some of the Forest Trails that I hike.  They wander about with a snake-like configuration.  Often there is another hiker who is at a different point on the trail, just over the rise.  The “other” is visible only when the foliage is down and is accessible only if I “bushwack” across the rise.  

Sometimes oneness in Christ requires that we do some bushwacking, don’t you think? 
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