Work

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”
~Studs Terkel, Working

Sometime, either near the end of college or just after I graduated, I read Stud Terkel’s book Working. It was a series of accounts of different people describing their work and the various feelings, thoughts and perspectives of what they believed their work meant in the world. I am sure there were a variety of professions but the ones that drew me in most were those we describe as ‘blue collar’ jobs, jobs that often go unnoticed in our culture. They are not jobs that draw attention or get much play in any media. They are often behind the scenes and invisible yet completely necessary to our existence. These jobs are often filled by people who work hard, long hours and come home physically, mentally and, no doubt, spiritually exhausted. Think about the countless road construction workers standing in the heat of a Minnesota summer repairing and rebuilding our roads. Bring to mind the many pickers and harvesters bringing food to our tables. Imagine the line cooks, the bathroom cleaners, the office maintenance workers who show up in the dark of night to prepare shiny, clean spaces for higher paid workers, all work that goes unseen most of the time.

Since retiring just over a month ago, it probably makes sense that I am thinking about work…what it is…what it means…how we approach it…what meaning it brings to our lives. And yet I have always been fascinated by this daily activity we engage in that pays our bills and creates the life that defines how we live out our days. Studs Terkel’s book may have contributed to this fascination for wondering about people’s work life. I still remember Terkels’s account of the jack hammer operator’s description of coming home at the end of the day, settling into his recliner to watch television and feeling his body vibrating from the tool’s movement still finding a home in his muscles and bones. Since, I have never passed a jack hammer worker on a construction site and not said a silent prayer of awe and thanks for the work they are doing.

Terkel writes: “Most of us have jobs that are too small for our spirits.” There is probably some truth in this. And there are also people who take the job they have landed in and make it somehow enlarge to fit their spirit. I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to be in the presence of just such a person. My husband and I traveled to Milwaukee to do the interment of my father-in-law’s ashes at the cemetery in the town where he had lived out his life. His death in December had been a surprise to us as he was a vital, 92 year old in seemingly good health. We celebrated his life with a memorial service but had yet to have this final moment of closure.

The day of the interment could not have been farther from the weather of winter. Heat in the upper 90’s and sun beating down, we arrived at the cemetery knowing we were to meet someone from the mortuary and, we were told, the gravedigger. Even writing that word conjures up images from a Dicken’s tale. In all the graveside services I have been privileged to attend, I had never seen the gravedigger. They had always been unseen players in the drama that was being played out. But this man, rough around the edges and wearing cutoffs and a ragged, Rolling Stones tshirt…the one with the large red tongue protruding…arrived to stand with us in this humid, hot final act of saying goodbye to one of the finest men I have ever known. We said a prayer and read a poem and then placed the lovely, cherrywood box in the ground.

At that moment, the gravedigger shifted from unseen player to something more. “Wait.”, he said, as he went back to his truck. Coming back he leaned over and placed a woven bit of palm branch on the lid of the box.”I brought this from church.”, he said. In the pounding heat, we may have mumbled some thanks, I don’t remember. I do know that the impact of that moment has traveled with me in the days that have followed.

It seems to me that this man, doing what we might call menial labor, had chosen to enlarge his work and make it big enough to fit his spirit. He had chosen to stand fully in the power of his work, claiming and connecting the movement of his shovel with the movement of the faithful offering the dead back, not only to the Earth, but to the One who breathed them into being. It was a holy moment, one for which I am thankful.

For Dwayne…and for all those who enlarge their work to fill their spirit…may you be blessed beyond measure.

Impossible

Sometimes I am simply stunned by what seems impossible. A newborn baby’s eyelashes, for instance. Or the color of the freshly bloomed irises in the spring. The way a heron lifts its thin legs and heavy body by the force of wings into the air. The sheer stillness of the rabbit in my backyard who can appear a statue while I have to fidget every second. There are seemingly impossible things happening around us all the time and sometimes I have the presence of mind…and heart…to be awake to them.

Last week I was walking near one of city lakes when I rounded a corner and came face to face with what seemed impossible. A whole area of the lake danced with the floating beauty of white water lilies. Stunned. I know I am not the only one who has grappled with their impossibility. Artists have tried to freeze their image in time, watching how the light played hour by hour on their frilly form floating above shimmering water. Poets have shaped words around their wonder.

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds
.”…writes poet Mary Oliver. Yes, unbelievable. From what roots do these circles of magic arise? The way they float with such little effort is a lesson for us all. Their short lived presence is a reminder of how fragile all life really is. Their ability to emerge from what had only been frozen form but weeks before offers imagination for what could also emerge from us.

Of course, there are other things that stun with what seems impossible. The way one human can deny the humanity of another. Because of skin color. Or how they name the Holy. Or who they love. Or the language they speak. The way groups of people can come together to create a false sense of ‘other’ and make laws that define those as less than. That some could find any reason to take a child from the arms of a loving parent and separate them, placing those small, vulnerable ones in frightening situations, knowingly, with intent.

“Impossible..not able to occur, exist or be done…very difficult to deal with…very unreasonable”. I guess the word has many meanings. Today I want to remember the beauty of impossible that lies in the presence of the waterlilies. In hope, I pray for what seems the impossible presence of beauty and kindness and wisdom to become visible and real in our world. Especially for what feels so very difficult to deal with and incredibly unreasonable

“Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.

I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.”

The Power of a Name

Every name is real. That is the nature of names.”
~Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl

Names. How did you come by yours? I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t have some story about their name…who chose it…whether they like it or not…what they’d rather be called instead. Names hold power and history and help us mark our spot in the unfolding of our lives and our world. And while I do not remember the feeling of making the letters of my own name for those first tries, I have watched many a child, my own included, do the painstaking movement of each letter that would eventually be the triumph of their name scrawled in black and white for the purpose of saying, “I was here.”

This past weekend I walked through the Museum of Art in Chicago and was once again gobsmacked by the beauty and creativity of the painters. Particularly the Impressionists. I am not sure why these paintings, this style grabs my heart so, but they do. The colors, the brush strokes, the evocative landscapes that draw you in as you feel your pulse slow and rest in an image that speaks of what is both real and hoped for…a beauty that transcends time. I stood and soaked it all in and allowed the gift of the artist to provide a balm of both inspiration and healing.

As I was gazing upon the paintings I began to notice the signatures of the artist often placed in a lower corner of the canvas. I became mesmerized by looking at the names realizing that it really was the name that made the painting real for me. I wondered about the signature…how did the artist choose to be finished? Was the signature an afterthought or was there genuine pride and satisfaction with what they had created? Seeing the name written in a corresponding color became very powerful declaring the artist’s presence.

We sign our name many times every day. Sometimes we do this with great care…when we want to be truly known as we send off a card to someone we love. Other times we scribble an illegible series of marks that would be difficult to decipher as having anything to do with who we are. I wonder sometimes at the many times I swipe a credit card and use my finger to sign my name…How could anyone ever trace this signature back to me?!

What we give our name to is important. I think the artists knew this when they signed their paintings and said to the world, “ This is mine. I made this. I dreamed this. I offer this now to you…in my name.”

As I observe our world right now people are giving their names to acts and decisions that are having grave consequences for the most vulnerable among us. I wonder if, in a few weeks or or months or years, they will be proud that their name is on the canvas they have painted. I wonder if those who gave them their name would stand by them in what they have created. What we sign in our name has lasting legacy.

Names are important. We are wise to think and act carefully as we add our signature in the world. It will likely be remembered for years to come.

Thresholds

At any time you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it? A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms and atmospheres. Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up
~ John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

They begin to arrive sometime in early May. The mail carrier delivers the envelope with the photo of a young, fresh face gazing toward a camera held by a professional or a doting parent. There is always a smile. Sometimes the card also carries an image of this same face, recognizable but so much younger, a treasured memory of the child that has now become a young adult, now being launched into the world. These invitations to graduation parties find their way to refrigerator doors and other areas where they can accompany the receiver in daily acts, their presence a reminder of the passing of years, the making of moments.

Their faces and the promise of their lives are reminders of the thresholds that shape our lives. We mark them. We celebrate them. Sometimes we mourn what has been. We are filled with expectation for what is yet to be, unknown, to be discovered. If we are willing, we are aware that the threshold is a place of movement from what has been toward what will be. Thresholds are powerful and always present.

I was reminded of this last week for many reasons. Not only have I been gazing upon the faces of high school graduates I have known since they were born but I also crossed my own threshold into the world of retirement. And one of my younger colleagues is about to make a leap into a new life, a new world of being as he moves to California. In talking with him we shared some conversation about the strangeness and yet the excitement of this movement. I used the word ‘threshold’ to describe it.

Threshold is not a word that comes up much in every day language. But saying it aloud, I realize it has stuck with me. I have noticed how I have been saying the word in my head with regularity and noticing the many thresholds, doorways, that get crossed in any given day. And I have also noticed how ‘threshold’ is both actual, literal, and a marvelous metaphor. Which, of course, is what John O’Donohue the wise, prophetic poet was referring to…inviting the reader to consider to fullest range of this word.

“…it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up.”

The graduates whose thresholds are before them in numerous ways are embarking on frontiers that will take them to places they never imagined, meeting people that will challenge and surprise. This always happens when our hearts are being passionately engaged and we are awake. And this threshold gift is offered to each of us, no matter our life stage, when we are willing to open our hearts to the what next, to the expansive nature of the Universe, to see the world with Sacred Eyes.

My prayer is that each of us, graduate or otherwise, find amazing ways for our hearts to be passionately engaged and woken up. It seems to me the future or our world depends upon it.

 

 

 

 

Bathed in Blessing

“The object of pilgrimage is not rest and recreation-to get away from it all. To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to every day life.”
~ Foreword by Huston Smith in The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau

Pilgrim. Pilgrimage. These are two words, two concepts I did not anticipate would be such a significant part of my life, my identity. And yet, like many of life’s twists and turns these seemingly ancient words have come to define for me the outflowing of my life experience. Over the last years, I have been blessed to lead and accompany four different groups of people who chose to name and claim the travels they took to Scotland, Ireland and Italy as pilgrimage. It changes the shape of travel to do this. The packing, the planning and the little challenges and surprises of airports, hotels, all the sites experienced become cloaked in the Sacred More when seen through the lens of pilgrimage. This has been my learning.

My words have been absent from these pages for some time. I have found the current political, social and religious climate to be so strident, so terse that I have been fearful of being drawn into it. But over the last weeks I have found an urging from many to take up this place once again. Perhaps my pilgrim’s life and lens needed a bit of dormancy. And, truth is, I also now find myself at a very significant place that is nudging…maybe even pushing…me to open the palms of my hands and the beating of my heart to remembering the pilgrim life in its fullness once again.

After more than three decades of ministry in a faith community, I am embarking on the pilgrimage route of retirement. Like most paths that welcome the feet of a pilgrim, this one has some planned itinerary and many dangling details. Like the beginning of any day or week or year, there are expectations that will be fulfilled and those that will never materialize. Like any plan…at least in my experience…Spirit will show up and bring surprises and challenges beyond what had been imagined. I will once again learn the lesson that control is a fleeting illusion.

And yet what has been clear from the day I set out on this path, by declaring the ending date and drawing that line in the sand, what has accompanied me has been blessing. The blessing of words of kindness, gentleness and good will. The blessing of stories remembered and those held dear. The blessing of laughter and tears, of letting go and holding on. The blessing of prayers and hugs and knowing looks. Receiving all these has become another part of the path and has created the soil in which I will have the courage to step out.

Thinking about these experiences as I have over the last months, I have wondered if these are blessings we are all offered on any given, ordinary day but most often miss in our desire to plan and execute our to-do lists. As each day is a stepping out, how might we be more awake and aware to the blessings that accompany us for the journey of 24 hours…7 days…52 weeks. I have to believe they are there if we have eyes to see. Thinking about this I was reminded of hearing the poet David White say that ‘pilgrim’ is the one true name every human shares. “ But your loss brought you here to walk under one name and one name only…..pilgrim they called you. Pilgrim.” he writes. Where is your pilgrim path calling you?

While I may be moving on from the daily work of ministry at Hennepin Church, I plan to keep the practice of writing about the pilgrim path that will continue to unfold before me, one I hope connects with your own in some way. I hope you will join me when it suits you.

And so now the next journey begins…all of it bathed in blessing.

 

Held by the Moon


And so another year begins. Each of us has reason to hold 2017 in either joy or sorrow. Many I know, myself included, found it to be a difficult year as we shared in daily doses of turmoil, confusion and what I would name as mean spiritedness in our world. Others most likely saw and encountered it differently. While this experience in this particular year is probably not unusual in the grand scheme of things, this year felt different to me to the point that this new year arrives with more heightened expectations. Are you up for it, 2018?

I love that the New Year of 2018 arrived held by a full moon…a Super Moon. Did you see it? Our very cold temperatures and clear sky allowed its spectacular beauty to shine into our windows last night. I stood for some time just watching the spill of its light on the icy, frozen white of the backyard. Noticing how its rays overshadowed the many twinkling lights still dancing from Christmas, I smiled at its power and inspiration for all the light we seek not only at this time of year but also in all seasons. This Super Moon begins January, this new year in which we place our hope and another Super Moon will be seen in our night skies on January 31st. For this first month of the new year we will be held between two glowing orbs whose presence is closer to our horizon than normal. It’s something to think about and something to take comfort in. What Light can we absorb and reflect back to the world being held as we are in the bookends of this phenomenon?

Over the last few weeks much has seemed to be upended. There was the normal infiltration of trees and decorations and gifts piled into the spaces we try to keep in some kind of order to allow us to make sense of our work and our lives. This addition of ‘stuff’ is heartwarming and beautiful allowing traditions to be lived out. It can also feel as if our spaces contract making less space for moving around the stage of our life-play. Yesterday, as we took down the tree and put the decorations away, I felt a relaxed opening as more room was added for moving around and things got returned to their usual spots in our house.

In our offices at church, during the days leading up to Christmas Eve, painters moved in and began to paint hallways and offices. Pictures were removed from walls, chairs were in the hallways, as these young men gave our office spaces a fresh coat of color to enter the new year. I laughed at the upending of it all at such a busy time of year. What was the meaning, the metaphor of this kind of insertion of upset of our daily playhouses?

And it wasn’t just the physical spaces that got upended in these waning days of the year. In my life and the lives of those I love, we have lost people to death and accident and illness which was heart-breaking and unsettling. All the ways we normally structure our every day and our holiday celebrations were altered and we needed to find new ways of walking the path toward a new year, of finding joy amidst sadness. Some years are like this.

And yet, Christmas Eve came as did Christmas Day. We gathered for worship and celebrated the birth of Jesus. We sang the familiar songs, lit candles and stood in the glow of their flickering light. We greeted those we see often and those that traveled from far away. And now the New Year is upon us. There will be need for cleaning up, for throwing away, for letting go, for holding on, for beginnings and for endings. There will be order and there will be chaos in this unfolding of another 365 days. We will make sense of some of it and be confounded by much of it. We will trust that the One who breathed us into being walks every step with us.

And we all have a fresh coat of paint and two Super Moons to light the way. I’m ready. Are you?

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~Rumi

Once Again…Again

***Christmas Eve falls on Sunday this year. This makes for a kind of fullness that can boggle the mind. Advent Four in the morning and Christmas Eve services in the afternoon and evening. This is not a complaint but a fact and a privilege. This blog post was written on December 24, 2008. Truth be told, I might not have written anything much different on this Christmas Eve 2017.

It is Christmas Eve. Once again those who celebrate this holy day will fill the pews of churches large and small. Familiar carols will be sung, candles will be lit and we will sew together messages from Isaiah, Matthew, Luke and John to tell the story of the birth of the Christ Child. The beauty of the liturgical church year is that we would do this even without the commercial reminders that it is Christmas. Years before malls and coupons and the message to buy, buy, buy, this story has grounded Christians in a simple, yet profound telling of the birth of Jesus.

I have been thinking about this story and the many ways it can be read and heard. And truth be told, each of us will hear it in our own way, with this year’s hearing different than last year. We have each added life experiences that have changed us and shaped us into the people we are this year. Jan Richardson writes of the many ways we can tell the story: “We can tell is as the story of an unwed mother who dared to enter into partnership with God to bring forth new life; as a political story about the birth of a revolutionary; as a tale about a love that longed so much for us that it took flesh, formed in the dark woman of a woman show shared her body and blood to bring it forth. We can tell it as a story of darkness giving birth to light.” So many ways to tell an ancient and simple story. It depends on the lens of our life how we read it, how we hear it, how we enter into it.

2008 is coming to a close. It has been a year that has rattled us in many ways. Many of the safety nets we took for granted have unraveled. It has also been a year in which we have seen glimpses of great hope. Tonight as we gather to once again tell the story of Christmas, how will our experience of this year shape our hearing? As the young ones don their angel wings and shepherd costumes, will our spirits be filled with the surprise and awe of how God enters our world? As the Magi present their precious gifts, will we want to dig deep into our own gifts and share them with abandon? As Joseph looks lovingly at the young woman at his side, might we be filled with the trust and faith of those confronted by Mystery? And might each of us remember all that has been lovingly birthed in our lives this year and, like Mary, treasure all these things in our hearts?

Wherever you are when you hear this story, I invite you to enter into its telling fully. This year’s hearing will never come again so savor it. Let it roll around in your heart. After your candle is lighted and the first notes of Silent Night have been sung, look around and be held in the miracle of these ancient words that bind Christians together everywhere. And as the candles die out and the notes of carols fades into the night, then we can begin to live into how the story might transform us, for this year, for our time. This is what will keep the message alive.

Christmas blessings to you…………..

“When the song of angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the brothers,
to make music in the heart.”
~Howard Thurman

 

 

Winter Prayer

A Prayer for Winter

We give thanks for the blessing of winter:
Season to cherish the heart.
To make warmth and quiet for the heart.
To make soup and broths for the heart.
To cook for the heart and read for the heart.
To curl up softly and nestle with the heart.
To sleep deeply and gently at one with the heart.
To dream with the heart.
To spend time with the heart.
A long, long time of peace with the heart.
We give thanks for the blessing of winter:
Season to cherish the heart.
Amen
~Michael Leung, The Prayer Tree

Last week I came across this prayer while leaving the time I had spent with my spiritual director at the Carondolet Center in St. Paul. These monthly sessions ground me and remind me to pay attention to the movement of the Holy in my life. The hope is that if I can have these reminders I might actually be able to help others do the same. Some days, weeks, years are more successful than others.

We are just over 24 hours into the season of winter. Yesterday in late morning the Winter Solstice suspended us between seasons for a brief moment of darkness and light and then began spinning us once again toward an ever-increasing experience of light. The months ahead we call winter and they have their own texture and gifts to offer. In Minnesota the snow that came a few weeks ago has a guarantee of sticking around as the temperatures plummet over the next week. Christmas Day is likely to be colder than any we have had for some time.

I am a friend of winter and of the cold. I am thankful for the ways in which slowing down is a requirement in winter. Otherwise you might find yourself flat on the ground having moved too quickly across icy pavement. As the prayer says, winter is a time for soup and reading and curling up and dreaming. These can be heart-space practices.

Lately, I have been thinking much about the heart. Heart is both real…that organ which keeps us alive and moving…and metaphor…that deep held place of love and passion and compassion. In these Advent days, I have been companion to those whose hearts are expectant with the promise of new birth and new adventures. I have also been present to those whose hearts are breaking with grief and despair and loss. It is easy to think that this Christmas season we hold so dear and dress up in all kinds of fancy, shining garments would not have any of the later. But we know this is not true. The world and all its seasons and celebrations keeps moving even as our hearts rejoice and as they break.

One of my favorite lines of scripture telling of the first Christmas is the description of how Mary, the mother of Jesus, looked around the stable where her baby was born and took in the animals, the shepherds, the angels and the magi and ‘pondered it in her heart.’ In this pondering, Mary was not unlike most new parents. With a heart warmed with the promise of a new life, most parents ponder…cherish…those experiences in ways they do nothing else in their lives.

As a season to cherish the heart, winter can be a great teacher for both joy and sorrow as it calls us to a pace and rhythm that strengthens this life-giving muscle. Called to reflection and quiet, we can be called to our own pondering of the stable in which we find ourselves. May there be blessing in both beating heart and place of compassion as we make our way toward Christmas.

Remembering

***The last few days It feels as if I have been searching for something. These times of transition like the Winter Solstice can bring about an unsettling and I am feeling it. This post was written December 20, 2015 and it conjures a lovely memory for these dark winter days. Memory and deep hope.

Last night my family and I attended a performance of “Between the Worlds” at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. For as long as I have lived in the Twin Cities, I have loved their work and the depth of their creativity. I must say that I have learned as much about the importance of ritual and how to create it from these artists committed to craft and social justice as I ever learned in seminary. I know that the work I do on a weekly basis would somehow be less if not for the inspiration of Sandy Spieler and her troupe of those dedicated to what can be done with simple objects…paper, wheat-paste, paint, sticks and poles, and a little wire. It is magic they create, a magic that draws the audience into an encounter with Mystery.

Last night’s performance was a celebration of these dark days we call Advent in the Christian household. But these are days that have been honored throughout time by cultures who lived closer to the earth than we now do. Those who lived in the rhythms of the seasons and who patterned their lives around the give and take of the Sun and the Moon. Those who knew in their bodies the power of both darkness and light. As people whose lives are now dictated by the flip of a switch, those who believe they have control of light and its arrival, we have lost the wisdom of those ancient ones. I personally believe we are lesser for it.

A poem by Marilyn Krysl graced the program for the show, a few of the final words I will share here:

the moon stops the fountain of your sleep/ and drives you out to wander and pace/ wide awake and burning, mouth dry eyes burning/ so that you are forced to acknowledge your own body/ and to remember the body is holy/ and to remember the body is one body/ and this earth the one holy body you cannot desecrate with impunity/ so that you understand that if you deny the dark/ you make a mockery of light.

These words draw me not only to the gifts of darkness and of light but also to the thing we say we are celebrating when we lift our candles high on Christmas. Incarnation. The belief that God shows up in the body. In the body of a newborn baby in Bethlehem. The body of the grown up Way-Shower, Jesus, who held before those in his time the power of both darkness and light and invites us to do the same.

Incarnation is both specific and individual and also communal. The Holy was born in a stable more than 2000 years ago. And the Holy is born in us when we remember and act as if we remember that ‘ the body is one body’. We are inextricably connected together as humans and with the earth which is our home by the One who created us to be reflections of the Sacred in the world. To do so is an honoring of what it means to be the face of the on-going Incarnation.

In these last days before Christmas, we would be wise to notice the play of dark and light. In these last days before the Winter Solstice, we would be wise to watch how the darkness holds the space for the Light to be born. These are precious days that hold us ‘between the worlds’. They are pure gift of grace and promise.

Stay awake! The Light is coming.

Snow Pilgrims

***We are hearing reports of a possible snow storm over the next few days. Who knows if it will materialize but this post from December 12, 2012 reminded me of how moving about after snow has fallen can be a time of great learning.

To say that making your way around the Twin Cities these past few days has been difficult is really an understatement. The snow that graced our presence on Sunday has wreaked havoc on the act of getting from point A to point B with any attention to time schedules. It seems the combination of snow, low temperatures, chemicals that need a certain temp to actually work and, perhaps, an attention to snow removal that was less than timely, has made for some of the slowest and painful commutes in recent memory.

Yesterday morning as I was creeping along the road, a certain nugget of wisdom that I learned on the Island of Iona a couple of years, came to mind. ” You can only move at the pace of the slowest pilgrim.” This caution was spoken to a group of folks I was traveling with just as we embarked on what became a nearly six hour Pilgrim’s Walk around the sacred places on this tiny island. This declaration ensured that we were attentive to one another, the pace each was able to walk, that no one was left behind, that no one rushed ahead.

Thinking of this way of walking as a pilgrim my mind then jumped to something poet David Whyte said when he was here in October. Speaking of the many names and identities we wear during a lifetime, he asserted that the one that remains true throughout our living is that of pilgrim. We are always a pilgrim in this life. Traveling from one identity to the next, one year to the next, one day to the next, one breath to the next. We are always on some pilgrim path.

So as I traveled my pilgrim way yesterday, I was aware of a car several yards ahead of me. Moving at the snail’s pace in which we were all engaged, this particular pilgrim was unable to make it up the slight incline that had become an ice rink. His tires spun. His car slipped left, then right. I watched as the pilgrims between me and our slowest kin tried to decide what to do. Wait. Pass. Slow down. Speed up. Feel anger. Offer compassion. So many choices on the pilgrim path.

Eventually, several passed by this whirring pilgrim trapped in his metal container. Most did so with trepidation. His spinning could result in a face to metal experience of this fellow traveler. As we all made our way past him, something moved in my chest knowing that I had broken the cardinal rule of the pilgrim walk. We were leaving our slowest one behind. Traveling on without him. Leaving him to fend for himself.

Practicalities had to prevail on a day like yesterday. Decisions needed to be made about staying put or going on, about passing or taking the risk of not having enough momentum to make it up the hill myself. My heart still went out to this one whose name I did not know but who shared this identity as pilgrim with me.

Advent continues to unfold and we are pilgrims on the journey toward Christmas. The darkness continues its hold on us. More lights appear every day as people rail against the night by decorating their windows and walkways with lights that spill color and illumination. It must be done. For we are people who walk in darkness yet long for light.

This morning this Blessing for Courage by John O’Donohue seemed appropriate:

“When the light around you lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside……
Close your eyes
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark.
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.”