Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Moment

When I wrote last week about watching for a significant moment this holiday season, I wasn’t sure that it would happen to me. Katie and I were introduced at the Christmas Eve service, and I thought that was it. At the party afterwards, I overheard her introduced as a Mennonite pastor. So I sat down next to her, curious about how a woman, and not dressed in black, could be a Mennonite pastor. I learned there is a wide variety of Mennonites, from the very strict, who do wear black clothes and maintain distance from modern society, to those who meet society halfway.

Her journey began a number of years ago. Katie was driving around looking for a church to go to on Sunday, saw a parking lot full of cars, and figured that something must be going on. The people welcomed her in without pushing her to become a member, and not caring that she was divorced. They simply asked her to share worship with them. Eventually she joined the congregation, feeling that its members loved her into membership. When she felt drawn to be a pastor, they supported her it that, too, and helped pay some of her seminary expenses. Nine years later, when the congregation had an opening on its pastoral team, they asked her if she was interested.

The good news that came into the world at Christmas is for all people who need hope, even if they’re not members of my tribe.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


This holiday season, I’m not looking at the decorations but for the transcendent in nature, for one image that will capture my imagination and draw me in. And when I find it, then I want to stay focused on it. I don’t want to hurry on to something else, but let whatever it is settle into me. I want to sit with it, and let it surround me with mystery.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Perhaps in no other season do people go searching as much for what is missing in their lives. In December they look for signs of hope, and they try to help others get by.

A solitary pilgrim walks through the dark Russian forest repeating a simple prayer--that Christ’s breath would live inside him. Kerry walks the Santiago de Compostela in Spain and finds what she thought was lost. Lawrence works in a hospital kitchen in France; when he gets home, he answers letters from people struggling with faith. Katherine goes to work at L’Arche in Toronto and helps the developmentally challenged get through another day. Catholic Workers in Chicago raise vegetables to feed the hungry and provide spiritual nourishment. On cold Oakland streets, Ann brings blankets and coats out to those trying to survive without homes. At TaizĂ©, people of all faiths come together to pray and sing. On the island of Iona, people learn how to help those who have been marginalized by industrial society.

In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Giant Sequoias stand in the snow and marvel at the stars moving across the sky, watching as they have since before the baby was first foretold. Nothing happens at Christmas, except the birth of hope. We feel this when we stare up at the stars when we’re in the mountains, on the sand at the edge of an ocean, or standing in our backyard.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Yosemite in Winter

The sun rises behind Glacier Point, making the bare granite rock of North Dome and the meadows below glow with warm yellow light. In Cook’s Meadow, acorn woodpeckers hop up the trunks of dead trees, picking out acorns they stored there in the fall. Three young bucks hang out by Sentinel Bridge looking for trouble, their breaths coming out in small puffs. The crow in a nearby tree makes a gurgle noise repeatedly. It's a funny sound, and each time the crow caws, its tail goes down. By Swinging Bridge, a square chunk of light gray granite that was washed downstream by the spring flood, sits on the edge of a reflecting pool of emerald green. A white lace of ice edges the banks of the calm and meandering Merced River; its tranquil water reflecting the blue sky. An ouzel flies up and plays in the rapids flowing down a two-foot-stretch of pebbles.

Taking a physical inventory, I find that my only warm place is in the small of my back. Adjusting my clothing to get warmer without success, I head to the cafeteria for a hot breakfast. Then it's back outside to see more of the valley in this early light. Later in the morning I duck into Degnan's for hot coffee. At noon I heat up a can of soup. When the sun finally reaches camp, it’s finally warm enough to take off one layer of clothing. After hours of shivering, my body relaxes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Listening to Birds

After Evelyn died, people wrote letters and cards of condolence. Many did not know what to say for someone who died in her forties.

One of the memorable letters came from Judy Rasmussen. It addressed our sense of loss and what remains of people when they die, what stays with us and gives us strength. Judy wrote, “There is no right card, no right expression, no wisdom. My heart is so heavy that I can’t express myself. I am sitting in my garden listening to the birds. I can hear Evelyn’s hearty laugh beyond their sound, and hear her sing. Her presence is strong. I remember Evelyn approaching me after my sister’s passing. I barely knew her. She put her arms around me, drew me in, and helped me begin the healing process. Evelyn’s warmth and sensitivity are embedded in my heart.”

Judy died this week. The one who heard Evelyn with the singing of the birds is gone. Her presence will also be missed.