Living Well

susiesunLabor Day for Clergy and Church Leaders

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”—Matthew 11:28-30

As we stand on the cusp of the new church program year, it is not unusual for clergy and church leaders to feel a sense of weightiness, anxiousness, and anticipatory exhaustion. There are so many demands; so many concerns; so many hopes; so many challenges.

Rev. Judy Proctor and I invite you to join us for a 10-week program designed to offer a time to rest, reflect, and engage in spiritual practices and leadership principles to help you listen deeply for God’s invitation for your life and work.

Microsoft Word - Invitation to Soul of Leadership Mini.docx


Living Well

It all started on May 24, 2015, when my pilgrimage trip to Assisi, Italy began. Or maybe it really started on July 18, 1953, when my life began. Either way, the idea of pilgrimage – the experience of travel for the sake of finding God – has been deep in me for the last several months. Active in my thinking and reflecting, alive in my prayer, this idea of pilgrimage is infusing my life experience daily.

This summer, in my daily morning devotional time, I have been reading To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostela, by Kevin A. Codd. I discovered this book on our summer reading bookshelf – a collection of books left here by various family members as a resource for reading while here at our cottage. It’s an eclectic collection – many of them favorites of ours, some of them books that are culturally popular. My eldest has long held a fascination for the camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrimage route from southern France to northwest Spain. She and I have talked about this many times – imagining how we might walk this pilgrimage route together – and Codd’s book is one that she had read and left on the summer reading shelf.

As I continued to reflect on my late Spring pilgrimage trip to Assisi, I was drawn to this book when I arrived at our cottage this summer. Each short chapter is a reflection on a day’s portion of the author’s walk from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, a journey of some 500 miles. I quickly got into a rhythm of reading one chapter as part of my invitation to the day. Each chapter has felt like a deep, rich, very special bite of chocolate – each one lingering on my soul’s tongue for the whole day. I’m almost at the end – so sad (along with the author) that I’m almost finished; and, at the same time, holding a rich resource of images, ideas, invitations, to take with me going forward.

camino shell-2The most enduring and recognizable symbol of the Camino de Santiago is the scallop shell. Many, if not most, of the pilgrims who walk the Camino, have a scallop shell with them along the way. Signposts bear the symbol as well. There are many stories about the significance of the shell; in the midst of the stories is the knowledge that the scallop shell is often found on the shores of Galicia, near Santiago de Compostela.

There are a few symbols that one finds in Assisi, representing St. Francis. One of them is the dove – a sign of peace. The lifeAssisi dove
and ministry of St. Francis were grounded in peace – a longing for peace among people; teaching peace as he traveled; modeling peace as the faithful, if not unlikely, leader of a growing community of followers. Wanting to take home a memento of my trip, of Assisi and St. Francis, and an ongoing reminder to me of my experience, I purchased a small, simple, necklace – a thin, black cord with a small dove made of local olive wood. I leave it out on my dresser so I see it regularly during the day; and I wear it often. I want to remember. I want to see my life, itself, as pilgrimage.

So for today – invitation. While my life pilgrimage has been underway for 62 years, I want to regularly look at it with the heart of a pilgrim. What will my experience of God be today? What signs, experiences, people join me today and how do they help me know myself, and God with me?

Living Well

I Do

imagesOur daughter was married ten days ago. It was a precious and celebratory gathering of friends and family who witnessed, with us, vows of love and commitment made between our daughter and her beloved. As is so often the case, their wedding was preceded by months of planning and preparation, managing details, making decisions, and envisioning what they wanted their day to be. As I reflected on their wedding day this last week, I found myself tearing up regularly, filled to overflowing with a sense of gratitude and deep gladness at all that we experienced.

It seems to me that all of the details and thought and visioning that went into the planning of their wedding made possible the creation of a sacred space; a vessel that safely, lovingly held a Divine welling-up of all that is good. It was a space in which I found myself enveloped in a longing and freedom to commit to my own ‘I do’s’ – with myself, and with those I love.

I do . . . promise to show up

I do . . . want this experience to last

I do . . . see you are standing by me

I do . . . see the Divine spark in you

I do . . . celebrate the joy I see in you

I do . . . want to love with all my heart

I do . . . recognize that we are still growing

I do . . . want to have more of what I’m experiencing here

I do . . . look around and say thank you for each person here

I do . . . see the profoundly moving results of love and forgiveness

I do . . . thank God for our daughter, for her wife, and for all the people who loved them into being

I Do.

Living Well

 Stripping and Adorning 
I have been on a pilgrimage tour in Assisi, Italy for the last week. We have been ‘walking in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare.’ Francis and Clare, born in the late 12th Century, each renounced their families and lives of privilege in order to follow a deep and profound call from within to follow Jesus in a life of poverty and prayer. The sites we have seen have all been, in some way, an expression of devotion to and praise for the lives of Francis and Clare, by those who have come after them

Each day of our tour, the pilgrimage guides have provided a theme, inviting us to reflect on what we see and experience through the lens of the theme. We have seen churches, basilicas, and cathedrals; and each of them, in their own particular ways, have been adorned with paintings, sculptures, frescoes, stained glass, altars – breathtaking, inspiring, overwhelming, inviting. The history and meaning of these places is palpable and powerful.

But today, we walked to the Hermitage of the Carceri; a place where Francis and his brothers in community went to rest and pray away from the activity and demands of their life and ministry in Assisi. Several of us walked on a trail through the woods, climbing higher and higher until we reached the remote place where these men lived in caves, and devoted themselves to prayer and silence.

Though a larger structure has been built in the years since Francis and his brothers retreated there, it is still a place of simplicity and natural beauty. As I walked along the trails leading from the chapel to the caves, I felt as though I was in a primal forest. Beautiful, unspoiled, holy. Everywhere I turned, there was a reminder of God – a simple altar, a gentle bend in the trail, time-worn stones, moss-covered tree trunks. I found that the theme of stripping and adorning kept coming to me.

I began to think about all the ways in which we can get so easily and stubbornly attached to our sacred spaces of place and time – stained glass, original pews, altar cloths, time of worship, structure of liturgy. We can so easily slip into worshiping these sacred – to us – things, and lose sight of worshiping God. We can so easily become devoted to the beauty and history and importance of these things and what they have meant to us as worshiping community, and forget that God is calling us through and beyond these things to a life marked by love and Presence to God in all things and at all times.

So I am wondering what it is I need to strip away. What is distracting me from God? From God in one another? What do I need to let go of in order to receive . . . God?

Living Well

I posted this on my blog 2 years ago. I offer it again today.

May your Good Friday be a day of awe and remembrance and Presence.


Being There

imagesIn the Christian household (to which I belong), it is Holy Week. As happens most years, I enter this week with the desire to experience, as fully as I can, the story of the last days of the life of Jesus. I seek worship opportunities that engage all of my senses–I want to get as close as I can to ‘being there’ . . . with Jesus. What were the sights, the sounds, the smells . . . what if I had been one of the women with him? What if I had talked with him? Walked with him? Been healed by him? What if . . .

I also make it a practice to listen to music that expresses the intensity of this week, this story: waiting, preparation, sadness, grief, loss, anticipation, expectation, joy. For me, music transcends words. There is a passion, an expression, a communication that connects believers not only across language and age barriers, but also across time barriers. Nothing I have ever heard has moved me as deeply as a setting, by Knut Nystedt, of the poem, “O Crux”, by Venantius Fortunatus, 6th century poet, priest and Bishop of Poitiers.

Here is the text:

O Crux                                                           Translation

O crux splendidior cunctis astris                    O Cross, more radiant than the stars,

Mundo celebris hominibus.                            Celebrated throughout the earth,

Multum amabilis sanctior universis.             Beloved of the people. Holier than all things,

Quae sola fuisti                                                   Which alone was found worthy

Digna portare talentum mundi;                      To bear the light of the world;

Dulce lignum,                                                      Blessed Tree,

Dulces clavos,                                                      Blessed Nails,

Dulcia ferens pondera;                                      Blest the weight you bore;

Salva praesentem catervam,                            Save the flock

In tuis hodie,                                                       which today

Laudibus congregatam.                                    Is gathered to praise you.


The piece opens with intense and stark dissonance that is both unsettling and inviting. What could this cross be about? Before the words give answer, there is a section of sudden crying out: “Ah!!!” that weaves between all voice parts, transmitting to one another this anticipation of utter desolation and understanding. The piece continues with a sense of ponderous procession until the music builds to a re-expression of the opening line that foretells the power of the Resurrection.

All of a sudden, beautiful harmony emerges; a change of mood and style, which lifts us to an appreciation of the role of this cross and the weight it bore. “Blessed tree, blessed nails, blest the weight you bore.”

Before we know it, however, the piece ends. And it ends with the women, as if an angelic choir, singing again the words “O Crux” three times. The men respond in deep and resonant harmony, answering with the words “splendidior.”

I have sung this before. I have listened to it countless times. And I am always speechless when it is over. In it, I find myself in the mystery beyond all mysteries . . . and can only be there . . . in awe.


Living Well

IMG_1169Bless You

I have been deep in the heart of Celtic spirituality during these first weeks of Lent. John O’Donohue’s potent little book, To Bless the Space Between Us, has been my morning prayer companion. I have turned to this book to seek blessings and solace so many times over the past few years. My book falls open (actually falls apart) at the Blessing for a New Beginning . . . the Blessing for a Leader . . . the Blessing for Work . . . the Blessing for One Who is Exhausted . . . His blessings are eloquent, poetic, poignant.

He begins each of his chapters with a reflection on the theme – Beginnings, Desires, Thresholds, Homecomings, States of Heart, Callings, Beyond Endings. They are beautiful and thoughtful and invite me to sink into the words that follow. But he ends the book with a longer essay he calls “To Retrieve the Lost Art of Blessing.”

In my world of spiritual companioning and leadership, people often speak of blessings. “Bless you”, someone says. “What a blessing”, another exclaims. I often end my emails with, “many blessings.” Like saying “hi” or “how are you?”, these words can often become so familiar that we/I forget what it is we are invoking; what power we are aligning with; what intention we are committing to; and what a difference this act of love can make in the world. So O’Donohue’s last words about retrieving the lost art of blessing brought me back to the center and ground from which blessings come. I share it here as a reminder . . . and an invitation. And it comes with these words from my heart to yours . . . Bless you.

“The Inestimable Power of Intention”

There is incredible power in the mind when it directs its light toward an object. I heard recently of an ongoing experiment in an American university. There is a sealed-off room; in that room there is a coin-flipping machine. All day and all night it flips coins. The results are usually fifty percent heads and fifty percent tails. Nearby there is another room into which people are invited. Each person is asked to make an intention. Which would they prefer? Heads or tails? Having made their choice, they then write it down on a page that is put in a sealed envelope and addressed to the team who conducts the research. The results are astounding. If a person wishes for heads, the machine ends up flipping up to a seventy-five percent majority of heads and vice versa. They found the distance that the power of the intention to affect the outcome held for up to a hundred-and-fifty-mile radius around the experimentation room. Now, if human intention can substantially affect the outcome of something as cold and neutral as the working of a coin-flipping machine, how much more must our human intentions achieve as they relate to one another?

I have also heard of an experiment in meditation. For a certain number of days, some years ago, a group of people made a circle around the city of Washington and meditated continually. Gathered unknown to itself within this circle of loving kindness, Washington changed. The statistics for that period in the city showed a remarkable and unprecedented decrease in violence and crime. The power of intention to bless is not some utopian fantasy; it can be shown factually to effect concrete and transformative action.

We have no idea the effect we actually have on one another. This is where blessing can achieve so much. Blessing as powerful and positive intention can transform situations and people. The force of blessing must be even more powerful when we consider how the intention of blessing corresponds with the deepest desire of reality (I call this reality God) for creativity, healing, and wholesomeness. Blessing has pure agency because it animates on the deepest threshold between being and becoming; it mines the territories of memory to awaken and draw forth possibilities we cannot even begin to imagine!

Living Well

imagesLet the Body . . .

A couple of weeks ago, during one of this winter’s many snowstorms, I went out snowshoeing with my son and his girlfriend. They are both accomplished athletes, with bodies that are well-coordinated and very fit. While I work to maintain fitness, I have never been well-coordinated. I’m one of those people who can trip over a piece of string on the floor, and have bruises on my body from regularly bumping into things.

We entered the woods behind our house and soon found a trail. Every now and then, we would slow down to take in the incredible beauty of the snowy woods. When it was time to start snowshoeing again, I noticed that they would easily fall into coordinated step with their snowshoes and their poles. I would struggle to think . . . now which pole goes down with which foot, trying to will my body to do what it’s supposed to do.

And then I remembered. Let the body discover itself in the rhythm of snowshoeing. Stop thinking and let go. With ease, my body’s own sense of things would emerge and I’d fall into step.

Years ago, when I first took voice lessons, I was eager to incorporate all of the techniques and ideas I was learning from my wonderful teacher. Breathe this way; articulate that way. Stand like this; warm up like that. Soon my head was swirling with all of these instructions; and the sounds that came out were not pleasing me, or my teacher. In her wisdom, my teacher stopped the vocal part of the lesson, and began the wisdom part.

She told me about an amazing book, entitled Soprano On Her Head. The title comes from an experience the author had with a talented voice student. The student had a beautiful operatic voice; but she, too, got so wrapped up in trying to get her body to do what she wanted to improve her voice, that she felt more and more dissatisfied with the outcome. So the author asked her student to stand on her head, and then sing. What happened? Out came a voice and sound so beautiful they were both surprised. Why? Because by working hard to stand on her head, the student couldn’t think about all the things she thought she should do to sing more beautifully. She let her body, and her voice, discover itself.

Years later, I found a note I wrote to myself after this important conversation with my voice teacher. I had placed the note in my music folder. It says “let the body sing you.” It reminds me to trust that my body has its own wisdom, nurtured and developed through years of practice and experience. When I find that harsh sounds are coming out, or I run out of breath too soon, or I get distracted, I return to that mantra . . . ‘let the body sing you.’

I’ve discovered, through the years, that my body holds great wisdom. If I am fearful or nervous, my body reacts right away. If I am not paying attention to my needs and emotions, my body will generate strong signals to get my attention. If I ignore the signs, my body will respond more strongly – I have a sleepless night; my stomach gets queasy; I have muscle aches.

But if I stop and listen to my body wisdom, and allow my body – instead of my mind – take the lead, I am regularly surprised and delighted at what happens. I am restored to myself. I am able to live with a freedom and aliveness that comes from my very center.

Let the body be your teacher. One step, one song, one morsel, one breath at a time.

Living Well

What do YOU do?

unnamedHave you had the experience of being in a social situation and being asked ‘what do you do?’ It seems to be one of the regular ways we begin to connect with a person; a culturally embedded query – like ‘how are you?’ or ‘how’s it going?’ What is it like to ask the question? What is it like to answer the question?

In some sense, asking the question is a way of saying ‘who are you?’ But we’ve asked it in such a way as to invite – and maybe expect – an answer that describes a role, a position, a job. I’m clergy. I’m VP of sales. I’m a salesman. I’m a teacher. I’m a landscaper. I’m a nurse.

When we ask this question, what happens? As for me, I begin to think about my own experience with someone else I know who holds a similar job. This might prompt additional questions about where someone works. I might even ask something about the specifics of what they do.

But what I really want to know is, Who are you? What is important to you? How do you express yourself in the world? What are your treasured experiences? What values do you hold dear? And I know that asking about someone’s job – what do you do? – does not always answer these questions for me.

I have been re-reading “Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges”, by Pat Enkyo O-Hara. I had become aware that I was feeling disconnected with the reality and truth of my own experience, and this book had – in the past – helped me to return to the practices that free me to re-connect.

This morning, I re-read the chapter on Work, and found myself feeling energized and grateful. She says, “Work can mean our career or simply how we make money; it can be our calling (our life’s work) or simply our function in the world: making the beds, doing the dishes.” O’Hara goes on to say, “I like to think of work as what we do; it is the activity of the life we live. Work is any activity we’re engaged in that requires our energy and focus, whether or not we’re paid for it.”

  1. Does this change the way I want to ask the question of others? What is your work? Or, what keeps you busy day to day? Or, tell me what demands your energy and focus in life? What captures your attention in the world? What fuels your life? How do your work and your values intersect?

Are these questions you want to ask? Are they questions you want to answer? They are for me. So I look forward to gathering with other people who want to think about, talk about, reflect on, these and other questions about what we do and how we do it. Would you like to join us?

What do YOU do?

Soul of Leadership ‘Mini’: Decision Making and Discernment

Beginning Monday, February 16.

A 10-week program drawing people together from a variety of work and vocational backgrounds to learn to apply leadership approaches which are best for their own style, situation, and values; and to experience community support and affirmation as they incorporate and develop new leadership skills.

Living Well

Keep Awake

images-1I begin each day with a pot of tea, settling into my prayer room for a time of quiet and reflection. Many days, while I’m waiting for the tea to brew, I check Facebook; and as you might imagine, I get drawn into all kinds of posts that evoke a wide range of emotions – laughter, delight, sadness, frustration, outrage.

In the last week, I have seen and read and watched posts and videos responding to the grand jury decisions in both Ferguson and NYC. Even before I saw these responses on Facebook, I was stunned when I heard the decisions on the news. What? How is this possible? Who are we as a nation? As a society? What did I miss? What were they/are they thinking? Who am I in the midst of it?

While on many days I wish I hadn’t opened Facebook before my prayer time, I am glad for the ways in which friends and colleagues have challenged me to think and pray deeply about this horrific turn of events. I am inspired by the unique and particular ways each of them has expressed their thoughts and experience. And I am left wondering . . . and praying . . . and pleading with God. What is it you want me to do? I am struggling mightily with God and with myself on this.

I want to rage at the world. I want to hide in fear. I want to shake people. I want to cry. I want to retreat. I want to stand on the street corner and shout.

The questions that arise for me, again and again, are:

What do I need to do for myself? To look deeply in my own soul and see where racism resides in dark corners, and expose those places to the intense and challenging and transforming and loving light of God.

And what can I do for my community? What gift do I have, role can I play, conversation can I have, action can I take, to help move us through and beyond our blindness, our fear, our desire for quick fixes, and develop transforming and life-giving ways to grow into the beloved community where all are known as God’s own?

I’m waiting for a clear answer; but know that the answer may be in the daily living of the Good News of Jesus as I understand it – challenging power, exposing hatred, radically including, seeing God in each soul I meet.

I’m not up to the task alone. I need the community of challenge and insight I often find on Facebook. I need the worshiping community that grounds me in prayer and love. I need my daily time of prayer and reflection to listen for God’s voice.

On the first Sunday in Advent, we heard the lesson from Mark’s Gospel (NRSV):

“Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

I think that’s what I need to do. Keep awake . . . so I am ready to see and hear God’s invitation and direction . . . whenever and however it comes.

Living Well

Christ in Human Form

UnknownTwo weekends ago, I had the joy and privilege of leading a weekend retreat for the women of First Church in Sterling. It was a beautiful weekend of connection, prayer, rest and reflection. We used the film, ‘Chocolat,’ as our guide throughout the retreat. This wonderful film is an allegory, of sorts. In the course of the quirky story, which pits the mysterious owner of the local Chocolaterie against the all-powerful mayor of the village, many questions are raised, including: What is God’s desire for us? Is it pleasure or penance? Is it rules or relationships? Is it joy or hard labor?

At the end of the film, the priest of the village offers his Easter homily. It goes like this:

I’m not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be.

Do I want to speak of the miracle of our Lord’s divine transformation?

Not really, no.

I don’t want to talk about his Divinity.

I’d rather talk about his humanity.

I mean – you know – how he lived his life here on Earth. His kindness. His tolerance.

Listen – here’s what I think. I think we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do; by what we deny ourselves; what we resist; and who we exclude.

I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace; what we create; and who we include.

. . . what we embrace, what we create, who we include . . . In these days of dualistic and divisive public rhetoric; in these times of church decline and the rise of the ‘nones’*; in this world of continuing violence in so many places . . . where is the model, the vision, the inspiration for living a life of kindness and tolerance and love?

As a Christian, my primary model is the life of Jesus. Who did Jesus embrace? All those who came to him with open hearts. What did Jesus create? A following of people who risked their lives to live as he lived – where love, not law, was the guiding force. Who did Jesus include? The lost, the marginalized, the children, the sick, the women, the despised, the least of these.

Through all the violence, and division, and loss, and confusion in the story of ‘Chocolat’, a new life emerges at Easter. Relationships are restored, harmony is created, new life arises out of the ashes of despair. Simplistic? Perhaps. But the power of an allegory is to illuminate what is in our story, in our lives; to teach us what is real and true for us.

St Teresa of Avila, 16th C mystic, puts it in the most direct terms.

“Christ has no body, now, on Earth but yours. Yours are the hands with which he does his work. Yours are the feet with which he goes about the world. Yours are the eyes through which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ has no body, now, on Earth but . . . ours.”—Teresa of Avila

I say ‘yes.’


*religiously unaffiliated Americans, per the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life Project