Christmas Eve 2021

And so it goes: The pup and I ended up leaving a half-day early for our Christmas sojourn to the east. In a journey mirroring the Wise Ones’ trip from the East, Maggie and I found the inn under garishly bright blue lights, its sign advertising a low rate surely impossible to sustain life.

The halls reek of cigarette and pot smoke. Maggie is so anxious she paces our room, alert to every door opening and shutting and every footfall outside our door. The door to my room barely closes; each time I go in and out, I have to lift up, using my whole body weight to get the heavy door to open on its hinges. The floor is littered with an assortment of debris, and there is a used bath towel hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Atop the bed is a blanket so threadbare that I will later sleep under my coat. Just outside, vehicles on the interstate race by, pilgrims seeking a different inn for this night.

And yet it is Christmas Eve.

Settling into my room, I take a homemade muffin made for this journey and bite into it: this is the body of Life.  And I open my water bottle, pour some of the fresh coolness into Maggie’s dish and then some into my mouth: this is the cup of Love. 

It could not be more real than this—the strange alone-ness of this night, in a place far from home, with smells and sounds that are foreign to my body. 

I retrieve a little candle and matches from my bag, ready to welcome the Christ-child into this holy night.

Ignatian Imagination Prayer: Luke 1:39-55

The Ignatian Imagination Prayer is a sensory, engaging spiritual practice that encourages one’s imagination to run free with the Spirit through scripture. Teresa A. Blythe writes in her book, 50 Ways to Pray, that the intent of this practice is “to imagine that you are physically present” in a particular scripture, “and to allow that scene to become a prayer for you.” (p 100)

Especially for passages that we know (or think we know) well, this spiritual exercise invites us to look, listen, and feel again. To be open to an awareness of words and emotions we hadn’t noticed before. To let the scripture speak to us in our present experience.

This practice can be used by individuals or in a group. To use it on your own, simply read slowly through the passage and the questions, taking the time you want to enter into each portion. Allow about twenty minutes to go through the following scripture. Jot down your experience in a journal, if you like, and any insights that dwelling in the word brought you.

For use in a group, read through the passage and questions, allowing more time than you think might be necessary. (As one who has received guided meditation before, I often feel rushed in my imaginings!) You may want to invite shared reflection at the end. A pdf version of this reflection is available here.

Prayer of preparation

Spirit of New Life, I/we ask for grace:
that all my/our intentions, my/our actions, and my/our imaginings
will be used for the service and praise of the Divine. Amen. 

Ignatian Imagination Prayer

Within a few days [of the angel Gabriel’s visit to her], Mary set out and hurried to the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.

  • Take a moment to imagine yourself in this scene, not necessarily taking on the character of Mary or Elizabeth (or Zechariah). Simply be an observer for now. 
  • What do you notice about Mary as she hurries down the roads of Judah? Does her face tell you anything about how she’s feeling? 
  • What time of year is it in in Judah? What do you smell?
  • What does Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house look like? As Mary nears the house, when does she call out to Elizabeth? What does she say? Where is Elizabeth when she hears Mary call her name?

As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 

  • In your mind’s eye, notice how Mary and Elizabeth meet face-to-face.
  • What does it look like as the Holy Spirit settles on Elizabeth? Is there a visible change, or do you feel a shift in your surroundings? 
  • Imagine Mary notices you, and calls out to you, too, to join their delighted embrace. Does anything move in you—does your heart beat quicker or your stomach do little flip flops? Stay there, in the scene, as a full participant in the story.

In a loud voice, Elizabeth exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why am I so favored, that the mother of the Messiah should come to me? The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who believed that what our God said to her would be accomplished.”

  • What is the energy like in the room as Elizabeth shouts this blessing? After her long journey, how does Mary react to Elizabeth’s words? Does anyone or anything else in the area also join the scene, drawn in by Elizabeth’s excitement?
  • Do you eagerly join in the blessing, or do you hold back? 

Mary said:
“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
For you have looked with favor
upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward
all generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me
and holy is your Name.

  • What does Mary’s song sound like? Is it in a major key or minor key; a rapid tempo or meandering pace? Does she start out tentatively or boldly? How is she moving her body? 
  • Do you feel an impulse to sing or sway along? What is Elizabeth doing?

You have shown strength with your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit;
you have deposed the mighty from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.

  • What emotions cross Mary’s face as she describes God’s actions? Are there hints of rage, hope, frustration, or joy? How does the tune and volume of her singing shift in these stanzas?
  • As you hear her revolutionary words, sung there in your presence, do you feel nervous…or comforted?  

You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
mindful of your mercy—
the promise you made to our ancestors—
to Sarah and Abraham
and their descendants forever.”

  • As Mary’s song ends, survey the scene again. Look all around you. What do you notice? Has anything changed between Mary’s arrival and now? 
  • Notice your body in the scene—emotions, sensations, tension.
  • What do Elizabeth and Mary do following this greeting, blessing, and song?
  • Let your full imagination run free now. Allow the scene to change in any way you feel inspired. Linger and interact with the characters there.  What are you doing? Do you go off to tell someone about your experience? How do you describe what happened?

Either in a journal or in a group discussion, take time to reflect on the experience. What does it mean to make ready for the birth of the Divine within us? Consider how Mary and Elizabeth prepared.

What does this mean to you? What part of the story helps you lean into a welcoming spirit? What part of the story disturbs you most? What insight does this imaginative exercise provide?

Close by offering a prayer of thanksgiving to God or pray a version of the Prayer Jesus Taught.


Scripture from The Inclusive Bible translation.

Image: Everett, Trey. Blessed Is She, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57818 [retrieved December 20, 2021]. Original source: www.treyeverettcreates.com.

Call to Worship: All Saints & All Souls

A call to worship for All Saints / All Souls 2021. Inspired, in part, by lectionary texts of Psalm 24 and Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9.

The earth and everything on it—
the world and all who live in it—
belong to the Ancient One.

Fellow pilgrims and beloved friends—
new neighbors and old foes—
here are held in the hand of God.

All saints and all souls and all sinners—
their stories and their lives, our memories and our grief—
are pieced together by the Quilter of Life.

Ones who belong,
Ones who are held,
Ones who pieced together,
We enter with hope this holy place of worship.

The Great Reset

I don’t often post my sermons here, for a variety of theological and practical reasons. Yesterday’s sermon on jubilee economics felt a bit of a mix of personal story, exegesis, and community-informed–perhaps how all sermons should be–and “translates” a bit better into this space.

Two years ago, Justin and I were negotiating a contract on our soon-to-be new-to-us house on Berwyn Drive in Madison. When we were here in Sept. ’19 for my candidating weekend, we spent several days touring houses and settled on one property in particular with its “blank canvas” of a front yard, the gorgeous oak tree out back, and with ideas that we could do some remodeling inside to achieve what we were looking for in a home…namely, a space that could hold lots of people for extended evenings and dinner parties and committee meetings where we would plot out paths of justice and agendas of peace. 

Even at our closing, we never met the previous owners. We heard snippets about them from their realtor and a few neighbors. We occasionally still get mail for “Laura” and “Brian”. They weren’t the original owners—they had only lived there for a couple years. Our neighbor, Kelly, who has lived in her house for nearly 30 years, mentioned that we were probably the 5th or 6th owners since she’s lived next door.

Of course, we also know that this land hasn’t always been “owned” but is a 112′ x 83′ portion of a much larger story of colonization and imperialist expansion.

In late October of 2019, Justin, Maggie, and I moved into that larger story—aware of the Doctrine of Discovery and European colonization of this “nation”, but in some ways, too excited or distracted to reckon with that history. 

And, of course, it wasn’t the first time that as a white, European woman, I found a home in a place once—and still—inhabited by people who have lived here much longer than my people. But Wisconsin was foreign territory to me, a land I had no connection to prior to summer of 2019; I didn’t know this land’s story. I hadn’t needed to. But there was something good here that I wanted to be a part of. And so we landed and put down roots.

Which is not too far off from the experience of the Hebrew people in Leviticus 25, as they lingered on the borders of the promised land.

As I read through the passage from Leviticus, I was struck by a common thread that runs through our scriptures these past three weeks. Yes, of course, they all revolve around Sabbath and why and how Sabbath is celebrated. Meanwhile, there’s another thread connecting these passages.

The early verses of Leviticus 25 offer their hint, “When you enter the land that I am giving you, …” “When you enter” implies that the Israelites are still wandering in the desert. The instructions from God about Sabbath, about Jubilee, are all given prior to entering the promised land. On this side of the story, the ordinances sound like a blueprint for living in the way of God. A blueprint which is intended for the Israelites’ flourishing, beginning with a 7-day cycle that culminates in rest and expanding to a 7-year cycle of renewal and finally, Jubilee, following the 49th year.

When we read the story from the vantage point of the Hebrew people, or how the authors of the text “imagined” that part of their history, Sabbath is a gift, clearly meant for a people who don’t have it all together. A people who have not yet arrived. And the concept of a Jubilee—for the land and for Israelites—beautifully imagines how good things will be and will stay in the promised land. 

But what happens when that promised land is already inhabited? How does Jubilee work then?

Sarah Augustine, a Tewa descendant and Mennonite, writes in her book, The Land Is Not Empty, of her perspective of the Hebrew exodus story of the Old Testament. When she hears the 10 commandments of Deuteronomy 5 that we heard two weeks ago, she cannot help but remember that the land that the Israelites were “promised” was already inhabited. And the instructions God gives in Deut. 7 and beyond are for the elimination of the original inhabitants.  

“The exodus story” Augustine writes, continues a cycle of “genocide” (124). She goes on, “[I]n my cosmology as a woman indigenous to North America, I am one of them invaded by the people presumed to be chosen of God.” (119-120) As an Indigenous Person, Augustine identifies most closely with the Canaanites. Her interpretation of these pre-promise land Sabbath texts is sobering to a white woman like me.

The challenge is holding both my story and Sarah Augustine’s story. For here I am, already settled in a promised land, and could easily live oblivious to the impact my presence has here. And as there is no evidence that Jubilee was ever truly practiced by our Israelite ancestors, it seems possible to imagine that those of the dominant society—of any dominant society—could live oblivious to the deeper truth and justice that Leviticus 25 so clearly outlines.

For starters, we today might question applying anything that comes out of Leviticus. That makes sense—there are significant portions of Leviticus that, when held in the light of the biblical story and the life of Jesus, fall far outside of the cosmic arc, or the “grain of the universe”, as Denny would say.

Leviticus 25 is a curious chapter and dips its toes into themes that permeate the New Testament — themes of healing, redemption, salvation (communal/cosmic sense), liberation, renewal, right relationship. In a nutshell, Leviticus 25 precedes and reflects the Gospel idea we’re so familiar with: the kin[g]dom of God being realized on earth. Granted, Leviticus 25 accounts for that realization in full every 50 years…a little less frequently than we believe is possible in Christ.

The portion of the chapter we heard focuses largely on land and land as property; the rest of the chapter expands into relationships between humans — debts canceled, manumission for those enslaved. Jubilee, that 50th year of extended Sabbath, is intended as a system that embeds economic justice into a society’s rhythms. Jubilee makes inequality temporary. This Great Reset is integral to the heart of Sabbath-keeping.

In the Jubilee system, land is not owned by any one person or household in perpetuity; rather, the setup more closely resembles a lease, where, during the Jubilee year, the land is returned to the “original” inhabitant (though “original” here is always assumed to mean the original Israelite). It’s a radical idea that, I imagine, would shape a community’s sense of mutuality—with one another, surely, and also with the generations that would come after, as well as the land itself.  The Year of Jubilee, the Great Reset, is the reign of God experienced on earth.

But Sarah Augustine’s interpretation remains: The reign of God for whom? What of those displaced? Will the land ever return to them? Does economic justice have limits?

In the May 2021 issue of The Atlantic magazine, Dan Treuer wrote an article titled, “Return the National Parks to the Tribes” in which Treuer argues that land stolen from Indigenous Peoples of North America —now national park property—should be returned to Indigenous Peoples as restitution. He proposes,

”All 85 million acres of national-park sites should be turned over to a consortium of federally recognized tribes in the United States. … The total acreage would not quite make up for the General Allotment Act, which robbed us of 90 million acres, but it would ensure that we have unfettered access to our tribal homelands. And it would restore dignity that was rightfully ours. To be entrusted with the stewardship of America’s most precious landscapes would be a deeply meaningful form of restitution.”

Treuer is proposing a year of Jubilee.

Reparations of this scale have been successful in some places, including Australia, New Zealand, and between the US and Panama. Yet they are infrequent, often partial and tenuous. 

Like buying our home on Berwyn Drive, the idea of reparations asks a lot of those in the dominant society who tend to feel entitled to what one privately owns.

It’s been longer than 50 years since white colonizers stole the land through trickery, manipulation, and military aggression. That could be an excuse to let Jubilee principles recede into myth.  But when, in Luke 4, Jesus enters the synagogue in Nazareth, it’s clear that it doesn’t matter to him if it’s been 500 years or 5 minutes. Oppression, slavery, captivity are called out for what they are and sent packing. 

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” …which is to say, for those who walk in the way of Jesus, to participate in Jubilee economics is an everyday action. Through Christ, Jubilee is a communal action that embeds economic justice into a society’s rhythms. Into a church’s rhythms.

In the Jewish calendar and according to Leviticus 25, Jubilee was to begin on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Friends, a year and one day from today—Oct. 4, 2022—is Yom Kippur. Over the next 366 days, I want to imagine with you, with this community, how we participate in the Great Reset. I want to imagine how we hold our diverse stories and stories like Sarah Augustine’s together: dismantling systems of oppression and fostering systems of economic justice. Will you join me? Will you let me join you?

Autumn Equinox

In our backyard, a gorgeous, expansive oak hovers with a regal grandeur, providing shade and scurrying space for the squirrels, chipmunks, blue jays, and goldfinches. The last few weeks, the oak has been dropping thousands of acorns, which plummet to the earth with a powerful velocity. (One does not want to be sitting under her branches when there is any wind, lest an acorn drops with forceful precision on an exposed head…) It’s clear that autumn is arriving as the boughs sigh with relief as they lighten with each released acorn.

Tomorrow marks the autumn equinox here in the northern hemisphere of Planet Earth. In Madison, the weather has subtly shifted with the days still (mostly) bright and warm, and the nights cool and breezy. In this threshold between seasons, the earth reminds me to prepare for the winter ahead. The annuals and perennials alike are shifting their focus, nudging me, too, to let go of those things that were wonderful for a season, but now need to be put to rest…perhaps until next spring, or perhaps for good.

O Spirit of Change,
prepare my heart for the winter ahead,
but not before I have celebrated the fruit of summer.
In this Great Transition Time,
as the earth continues in its path,
may I sense, like the Mother Oak,
a lightening in my body,
as the gifts of the long summer days
drop to their earthen womb below.
Amen.

Home

At times I miss the wild spaces:
     the cacophony and chaos
     of bird songs, brambles, and entangled pines.
In the racket of ravens
     and the inquisitive gaze of the fawn,
     I find my spirit’s home–
         home, a quiet heart
         clear vision
         renewed hope–
home is where the heron lands.

Image by Roy Buri from Pixabay

To Read or Not To Read (the Bible)

How do we “teach” the Bible to 8-year-olds when we’re not even sure what we think about it ourselves?

A family member with young children recently shared that their children had asked why they, as a family, don’t read the Bible. A recent experience at a church summer camp seemed to spur the children’s question, and the adult family member wasn’t sure how to respond. The family actively attends a faith community, participating in a wide variety of church activities and weekly worship.  Yet, the children perceived a gap between themselves and others and were curious about it.

One evening a few weeks later, the adults of the family were sitting in our living room and raised this question: How do we “teach” the Bible to 8-year-olds when we’re not even sure what we think about it ourselves?

After talking around this for a while, I turned the question back to the parent. I asked, “Why would you read the Bible?” — asked not in a rhetorical way, but with an intent to draw out a positive Bible-reading ethic, if they felt they could.

In the progressive-leaning faith communities I’ve been a part of, attitudes toward the Bible have been mixed. There’s a desire that our children are exposed to the Bible, but we don’t want to gloss over that scripture is complex. We’re not interested in passing on the old legalism we were raised with, but we also think there’s a fair amount of wisdom in Jesus’ teachings.  We’ve lost our naïveté that God’s a big guy up in the sky, but we’re captivated by a sense that there’s Something More.

And each time we do crack the book to begin reading, we come with an awareness that these texts weren’t written for us 21st-century readers. The Bible was written in many times and places, by many people shaped by their particular cultures. It spans multiple genres, is written in multiple languages (not English!), and includes no extended information on the authors or their motivations.

It’s a lot to hold. 

Teaching the Bible from a place of uncertainty is really hard, especially when we’re trying to teach it to children. So, what is our responsibility, as adults in a faith tradition that values voluntary membership? (Here “adults” includes both a child’s parents and other adults in the faith community.)

I offer three main suggestions:

First, let children direct you. Follow what they’re interested in learning about. Equip them to ask questions and create a safe environment for them to ask. Ask other adults to help. Help other adults when they ask. Exploring the Bible can be playful, imaginative, and mysterious.

And second, following the wisdom of Celtic Christianity, allow the natural world — the “big book of scripture” — to shape your understanding of the Divine, of justice, of compassion. An awareness of the natural world is vital to understanding the written word of scripture, regardless of one’s age.

Meanwhile, within the Anabaptist tradition, rigid indoctrination of the young actually violates our core value of being a believers’ church.* That’s not to say that we should shield our faith from the next generations; rather, it is an invitation to live with integrity. Children (and youth especially) can sense when we find something is important, often through the way our words and actions align

So, how do we “teach” the Bible to 8-year-olds when we’re not even sure what we think about it ourselves? We can allow—or even encourage—our children to explore sacred texts they’re interested in and to provide the tools they need to do so. We can notice and point out the ways that our everyday lives are deeply spiritual, as even some of our most mundane decisions are informed by faith, ethics, and/or our understanding of the Divine. And we can foster a sense of wonder about the good news we encounter in the very world around us.

All of this is centered in trust. Our relationship with a sacred text, like any relationship, is marked by seasons of distance and intimacy, of discernment and questioning…and we trust that the text can handle this. We also find trust in the Anabaptist practice of reading and interpreting the Bible in community, in which there is safety, accountability, and support. And perhaps it’s an opportunity to trust that our children will discover and discern on their own why they might (or might not) want to read the Bible.


*This is why I’m generally wary of things like Sunday School, especially for children.

The Aches and Pains of New Growth

A midsummer Monday morning has dawned. My muscles are a little achy today and my bones feel heavy. My mind and body show signs of hard labor as sweat gathers on my forehead. But I stoop again, to gently lift up the pea bush, eyes scanning for plump pods to snap off the vine.

My thoughts still in the garden, and it’s okay if I move a little more slowly here, listening to my body’s preferences for more comfortable positions. I find amidst the peas and tomatoes and basil a respite. A presence.

As I pinch off the tomato suckers, growing at a 45-degree angle from the main stem, I smile as I realize that now my hands will invariably smell like tomato all day: a pungent fragrance born of the plant’s hard labor.

image courtesy of pixabay.com

An Unpredicatable Office: Pastoring in COVID

Pastoring during COVID has been a mix of joys and sorrows: from the explosion of creativity, learning new skills, finding unique ways to connect, and the deepening of ‘wilderness’ wisdom … to managing disparate expectations and needs, the loss of touch, knowing people are slipping through the cracks.

Yesterday, my spiritual director asked me, “Do you regret being a pastor, or does it feel right?”  I paused for a moment and responded, “Depends on the day.”  She laughed, and my face cracked into a grin.

We were talking about the challenges facing the Christian Church, both nationally and locally. Attendance at communal worship is decreasing. White supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism are fighting to maintain dominance. Distrust within our communities festers and threatens unity.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s COVID. 

The odds seem ever not in our favor. Yet here I am, strangely called to pastoring.

Pastoring during COVID has been a mix of joys and sorrows: from the explosion of creativity, learning new skills, finding unique ways to connect, and the deepening of ‘wilderness’ wisdom … to managing disparate expectations and needs, the loss of touch, knowing people are slipping through the cracks. I have witnessed incredible courage and paralyzing fear. I have seen the inspirational strengthening of communal ties and the cunning creep of individualism.

In normal times, pastors are invited into the most vulnerable spaces of human life, where we see the beautiful and the horrific. COVID has been no different in this way, only the beauty is often blinding and the edges of the horrific are razor sharp.

Who would want to be a pastor, given all of this?! In fact, many are leaving parish ministry altogether. The cost of staying is often too high.

I’m not at that point, though I empathize with those who are. Rather, the confidence in my call—at least, the confidence I have most days—keeps me tethered to both relief and hope.  There is relief that the church can actually change, and relatively quickly; the past year proves this. There is hope that pastoring will continue to allow me to witness the Divine in the mundane, in the transitions, in the crises. And, there is hope that our sacred texts will guide us toward loving our neighbors, inspiring selfless acts of collective solidarity.

Amidst the fleeting, if somewhat regular blips of questioning my vocation, there are enough moments where pastoring feels right. And if not today, then perhaps tomorrow.


Image by SvetlanaKv from Pixabay

Morsels – 4.29.21

Choice crumbs of daily living // Seedlings, Current Reads, and New Housemate

Seedlings, or lack thereof, 2021

Our seedlings are mostly a failure this year. Justin hypothesizes that it’s because our potting up mixture’s chemistry was a little off. It’s interesting to me: the more I care about starting things from scratch, the more likely it seems that results are mixed.

So, for the first time in a very long time, I’ll be buying tomato plants for my little garden plot.

One summer in college, I had enormous success with starting tomato seeds. I want to say I ended up planting upward of 90 plants—my dad would remember for certain. In preparation for living as simply/cheaply as possible, I and about ten friends planned to rent a house together and practice college-level intentional living.  Clearly, one needed as many tomatoes as possible to ensure this.


I’m in the middle of five books. I’m not totally sure why I do this to myself.

I checked this book (Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey) out from the library on Tuesday. I’ll be done by tomorrow.  It’s easy reading—kind of like reading through one’s old journal entries. The chapters are both deep and simple, approachable and distinct.

Then there’s this tome (The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler), which I’ve had for a couple months and maxed out the library’s renewal limit. The book was groundbreaking for its time (1988), and in many ways, still is. Eisler presents a more complex review of human history, the ample evidence for a Goddess-based “pre-history,” and the way such a worldview relied on cooperation and equality between genders. In other words, human history has not always been defined by dominance, violence, and war-making. I probably won’t finish the book before it’s really due back at the library, though I am trying.

The other three fall somewhere in-between. I actively read them—a couple pages from one in the morning, a few poems before bed.  And lastly, there’s a draft manuscript from a congregant. I will absolutely finish it; it’s like an asynchronous pastoral visit.


In about a week’s time, we have a new housemate moving in. Justin and I have often lived with others during our married life, so this is nothing new.  In preparation for this addition, however, we’ve really been stretched to get rid of more of our stuff to make room.  We downsized when we moved here a year and a half ago, and yet it’s embarrassing how much crap we still have and how much we’ve accumulated since being in Madison.

It’s been a humbling experience, and I wonder how much is related to the deep-seated insecurity we have as white folks.

Exhibit A: Guest Room Closet