Living Well

Back on Track

For her 4th birthday, my granddaughter was given a two-wheel bicycle with training wheels. In the pitch of emotion and excitement on her birthday, her attempts to ride the bike did not meet her expectations and her spirit exploded in an outburst of emotion. The day ended in tears and exhaustion.

A couple of days later, after some rest and with her mind hard at work to figure this all out, she got back on the bike and sailed off on the sidewalk loop in front of their house. In her confidence and joy she declared, “I’m back on track!”

Children often show me fundamental truths in the clearest way. These last two-plus years of Covid have generated powerful emotions in me, and I am coming to notice, more and more, how many ways I have shut down – emotionally, relationally, physically, spiritually. While on the outside I have kept going and found ways to accommodate the ups and downs, the limitations, the plans made and canceled, I am discovering the ways I have distanced my mind from my heart.

There is little about the Covid experience that has met my expectations or even hopes; and Covid is still with us. While I have shed some tears here and there, my well-being might have been better served by a momentous explosion in an outburst of emotion – anger, sadness, emptiness, fear, loss, frustration.

Thanks to the wisdom of my granddaughter, I’m going to focus on rest and some time to reflect on my Covid experience. I might even find myself exploding in emotion. Because what I want and need and hope for . . . is to confidently and joyfully declare, “I’m back on track!”


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


545The other night, Roger and I took the opportunity to go see “Wicked”, one of our favorite musicals. It is, in some sense, a prequel to the well-known “Wizard of Oz”; and tells the story of the relationship between Glinda and Elphaba – how Glinda became the ‘good witch’, and Elphaba became the ‘wicked witch of the west.’

The show is dazzling in every way – sets, lighting, special effects, costumes, and the incredible musical score. We had seen the show before; and I know the score very well, having listened to it countless times, and sung one of the songs a few times in performance. So I was ready to experience it all again, looking forward to the special moments I remembered from the first time we saw “Wicked.”

The house lights went down, the orchestra began, and we settled in for a special evening. And while the cast and crew and everyone involved provided a magnificent performance, I found that I was drawn into an element of the story I hadn’t pondered the first time I saw it.

I have been dwelling in a deep soul-place, of late. The swirl of questions have, in part, been about the nature of being human – and my struggles with how I live with my own limitations, sharp and painful emotions, less-than-desirable responses – and how these things measure up against my longings, my prayers, my dreams and hopes. So from this deep place of reflection, I began to experience the story unfolding before me on the stage.

Elphaba was born green and possessed special powers. She wanted nothing more than to meet the Wizard of Oz with hopes that he would “de-greenify” her, and help her to find a place of acceptance among her community and within herself, and a useful purpose for her powers. In the meantime, Glinda – beautiful and self-centered – sought to help Elphaba fit in; not for Elphaba’s sake, but because it helped Glinda to elevate her status and sense of herself as all good.

We know the ending of the story in one sense – Glinda becomes the beautiful and revered ‘Good Witch’; and Elphaba becomes the terrifying ‘Wicked Witch’. But really, who was good and who was wicked? Were Glinda’s beauty tips, her underhanded maneuvers to get rid of a suitor by encouraging him to dance with the girl in the wheelchair to ‘please Glinda’, her willingness to sacrifice what was right with what was expedient and self-serving – were these things good? Was Elphaba’s desire to fit-in, to find a community, to tell the truth even if it meant being ostracized, to ‘defy gravity’ by rejecting the impulse to conform – were these things wicked? Did the community of Oz help to characterize Glinda’s goodness and Elphaba’s wickedness by seeking the easy way – scapegoating Elphaba for all that was happening that was ‘bad’, and assigning all their hopes for restoring order to Glinda?

It is a story told again and again. I came away from the performance energized by the wonderful performances, the energizing and inspiring music, and grateful for a night out with my husband. I also came away with a powerful framework for reflection. How is it that we, as people in community, define one another? How do community’s values, needs, fears, define each of us and our sense of self? What is good? What is wicked? I’m grateful to the ‘art meets life’ moment that watching “Wicked” provided for me. ‘I have been changed . . . for good.’

Living Well

How to Make Peace in the World

jooYears ago, while on vacation, I happened upon a framed quote that captured my attention. I stood and looked at it for a long time, trying to burn the image and the words into my memory. I was at the beginning of my vacation and, hoping to stretch my vacation dollars, decided not to purchase the quote – concerned I might find something else later in my vacation and be out of spending money before I got there. (Yes, yes – I can get controlling about this)

As you might imagine, when I got home from vacation and was thousands of miles away from the store that was selling the framed quote, (and I had some money left over), I realized that it felt important to me to purchase it. So, thanks be to the internet, phone calls, and international mail service (yes, it was in another country), I ordered and received this important treasure.

You see, the quote is an old Scottish blessing – and I love things Celtic. But more importantly, the words – for me – simplify the enormous challenge we all live with. How is it that any one of us can have any agency and influence toward bringing peace to the world? I’m not a politician or in the military. I don’t work for an NGO in another country. I’m not a doctor or a member of the UN. But, I learned, I have a daily opportunity to help bring about peace in the world. Here’s what I learned from the wise ones in Scotland:

If there is righteousness in the heart,

there will be beauty in the character.


If there is beauty in the character,

there will be harmony in the home.


If there is harmony in the home,

there will be order in the nation.


If there is order in the nation,

there will be peace in the world.


So let it be.

I have come to learn it is my daily, hourly task to cultivate righteousness in my heart. I will do it differently from anyone else. This is not self-righteousness, mind you. This, to me, is daily tending the garden of Love within, planted by God and nourished by the choices I make to cultivate that Love.

Each of us has this garden of love, of righteousness, within. So go – cultivate your garden – and make peace in the world.

Living Well

“We the people . . . ”

Several times over the past few years, I have had the privilege of speaking at our town’s Memorial Day Parade. Each time, I wonder how I will stand in the intersection between church and state, and speak honestly and respectfully about the sacrifices of those in the military, and my own deep longings to find a way – as a nation – to honor and celebrate non-violent conflict resolution. Here is what I said at today’s parade:

On this day of public remembrance, I want to think and talk about 3 energies: grief, gratitude and growth.

54Since the first time a fallen soldier’s grave was ‘decorated’ in the early 1860’s, our nation has come together each year at this time to remember and honor the men and women who have died in military service on behalf of our country. For many – perhaps most families, this day invites and opens up memories of loved ones. They may be ancestors whose names have been immortalized in the telling and retelling of their heroism; they may be parents or siblings, children or spouses, whose lives have only recently been lost to battle. As we remember them, our hearts bear the marks of grief and loss, and our sadness and pain is comforted by the gathering of the generations on days like this. I think it is no accident that Memorial Day occurs in the fullness of Spring – when we are surrounded by the beauty and abundance of nature and the promise that even in death, there is the possibility for new life. Our public gatherings give us the chance to stand together in grief and remembrance.

As we speak out loud the names of those from our community who have given their lives in military service, as we solemnize their memory with volleys from the Minutemen, as our bands play songs of patriotism, and as speeches are given, we have a chance to express, publicly, our gratitude for the sacrifice of these fallen ones. We have a chance to stop together and give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy, the community we share, and the abundance that is possible – in part – because we are cared for and protected by those who have chosen military service as their vocation. Our public gatherings give us a chance to say thank you.

But, I hope and pray our Memorial Day gatherings and celebrations also give us the opportunity to stop and think deeply about what the sacrifices of our military men and women ask of the rest of us. We are still a world filled with conflict. Single words like terrorism, radicalism, piracy, drones, bombings, attacks stir us deeply and easily generate fear and hatred, rhetoric and media saturation, and often pit neighbor against neighbor in disagreement about how best to respond. I am hoping – and praying – that Memorial Day, this and every year, will also be a call to us as citizens of our country, to grow in new ways. I am hoping and praying that as we gather together as one community, we will look around at one another – let’s take a minute and do just that – and see not people who stand on opposing sides of an issue, not people who come from different backgrounds and traditions, not people whose advantages are our disadvantages . . . I’m hoping we can look at one another and see human beings . . . with hopes and dreams, lives and loves, needs and fears. I’m hoping we can call one another to live and move beyond ‘what’s good for me’ toward ‘what’s good for us.’ I’m hoping we can remember and honor our fallen ones, this day and every day, by learning to live together, and grow together, in ways that honor and promote what our country’s early leaders expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America. It begins . . .  “We the people . . .”

Living Well

Taco Tuesday

I have spent the last couple of days in the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains. Our family cottages are here, and Roger and I have come here to open up, turn on the water, vacuum up dead flies, and clean up the dust and debris of winter as we get ready to welcome family during the summer months.

I have been coming here since I was born. My great-grandfather had a farm nestled into the valley; and over the generations since, our extended family has gathered here in the summer to rest and play and enjoy one another’s company in the midst of these beautiful mountains.

I have had the joy of bringing all three of our children here each summer, and even had a few summers when I stayed for a month with my younger two. And as I have transitioned from parish ministry to community ministry, I have arranged my work life so I can spend a couple of summer months here.

The population of our town up here is just a little over 1000. There is one school, K-12, with one class per grade. There is one road that runs through the town, with a Catholic church at one end and a UCC church at the other. In between, there is a small grocery, a few shops (this is a tourist destination), a few eateries, a fitness center, a small nursing home (The Neighborhood House), a library, a small art museum, and a big field where they have community gardens and the summer Farmer’s Market.

It has been increasingly surprising to me that, through all these years (I’m almost 60!), we stayed to ourselves in the family enclave and did very little to connect with the town residents and activities. While on one hand, we had plenty to do and lots of company on our hillside, it began to feel odd to me that we have been enjoying the fruits of others’ labor to keep the town going, and haven’t made an effort to reach out and get to know our town neighbors and activities.

dfsdfSo for the last few summers, I have been making connections – attending church (the best place to get to know people!), going to concerts, getting to know neighbors, signing up to receive the church newsletter and joining the local on-line social network site. As I’ve begun to develop treasured relationships, I’ve also begun to get a sense of how community happens here in this small town in the mountains. So I was delighted to say ‘yes’ when a friend called last night to invite me to join her at a local eatery for Taco Tuesday.

For the last month or two, this small, casual eatery has put a sign out front inviting people to join them for Taco Tuesday. News travels fast in this small town, so the word gets out quickly. It was a gorgeous warm night, last night, so when I arrived, there were cars lining both sides of the street. The front deck was swarming with people – babies, toddlers, teens, parents and grandparents – all sitting together at picnic tables. Inside, a line had formed at the counter where you could order as many tacos as you wanted – a choice of veggie, beef, or chicken – for $3.85 each. My friend and I ordered and headed for a small table. One our way, another friend invited us to join him and other friends at a big table. I saw the pastor and his wife; the librarian; another neighbor; a summer singing friend. I was introduced to several others who seemed to have all the time in the world to sit together, catch up on news, laugh, eat, greet others, and simply settle into the evening.

I was fed by much more than tacos at Taco Tuesday. I was surrounded by the energy and spirit of community; and even though I am a ‘newcomer’ to their circles, I felt welcomed and included, and swept into the joy of connection.

I will look for Taco Tuesday when I get back up here this summer; and can’t wait to join in the spirit and joy and pleasure of being together. And in the meantime, I’ve begun to wonder how and where Taco Tuesday might happen back home in MA. It seems to me that, more than ever, we need times and places to gather as community – simply to know and appreciate one another.

In the Christian community, we are now in the 40-day period called Lent. This time of reflection and introspection begins with the observance of Ash Wednesday – a service of remembering our earthy humanness; our finiteness (“from dust you have come, and to dust you shall return”); and an invitation to settle in for the season to see how and where we are cutting ourselves off from G-d and from that which helps us come alive.

I was not able to get to Ash Wednesday worship this year, and wondered how I might find source and sustenance for my own ‘settling in’ for the Lenten journey. Thanks to a treasured spiritual friend, I received an Ash Wednesday reading from the pen of Ronald Rolheiser. And in it, I discovered a surprising vision for healing life within community – a way of holding one another in patience and freedom.

“Certain native communities used to live in what they called long-houses. A long-house was the communal building; in effect, the house for the whole community. A long-house was long, rectangular, with large sloping sides, and with the center of the roof open so that this could function as a natural chimney. Fires were kept burning, both for cooking and for warmth, all along the center of the long-house. People gathered there, near the fires, to cook, eat and socialize, but they slept away from the fires, under the roofs that sloped down either side of the open center.

Every so often, someone, a man or a woman, for reasons they didn’t have to explain, would cease adhering to the normal routine. Instead he or she would become silent, sit just off the fire in the ashes, eat very sparingly, not socialize, not go outside, not wash, not go to bed with the others, but simply sit in the cinders. Today we would probably diagnose this as clinical depression and rush that person off for professional help. They, for their part, didn’t panic. They saw this as perfectly normal, something everyone was called upon to do at one time or another, They simply let the person sit there, in the ashes, until one day he or she got up, washed the ashes off, and began again to live a regular live. The belief was that the ashes, that period of silent sitting, had done some important, unseen work inside of the person. You sat in the ashes for healing.”—from Ronald Rolheiser, OMI

This image has stayed with me since I first read it. What might we learn from this community’s open holding and acceptance of one another through dark times? How might we, ourselves, find the space and time for healing ashes? A space where we are held in the life and flow of community, and yet given the freedom to stop and simply sit until the interior work feels done?

I don’t know this place . . . yet. But I will be looking for it . . . and wondering how I can help create it . . . for myself and for my community.