November 30, 2010

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.

Proverbs 3.5-6

There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light.

The Avett Brothers, Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of promise

I’m not sure who Godot is, but I’m pretty certain he is slow. People have been waiting for him since 1949.

For a period of time, I was an existentialist. I fed on the Theatre of the Absurd–writers like Camus and Sartre, Beckett and Ionesco, those French intellectuals who gave Existentialism an even bleaker meaning.

In Sheffield England, I was friends with a minister and intellectual from New Zealand. He considered himself a ‘Christian existentialist’. I thought the two were mutually exclusive, but now, I am not so sure.

Perhaps they are closer than we think.

Much of life is waiting. We wait at the Post Office, at the mailbox. We wait in the train station and the grocery store. We wait for a job interview and for the next move in a game of Chess. We wait for so much more.

And while we are waiting, we hope.

Hope is essentially existential. It positions us between moments in time like a paused video. We do not know the ending.

But in contrast to the Theatre of the Absurd is the belief system we share as people of faith: that there is a larger meaning; that what we do matters; that we are in a purposeful play and that our waiting is not absurd.

In 2004, I began to live from the directive of Proverbs 3. 5-6 in a way I hadn’t before. I began each moment of everyday to trust in the Lord with all my heart and leaned not on my own understanding. In all my ways I acknowledged him, and knew he directed my paths. The truth of these verses was  practiced  in very simple ways. I am thankful for this gracious time of an existential faith. But it is hard to remain there. So much of life is not-knowing, incomprehensible reality, relationships we don’t understand, Mystery.

We live in the in-between times of an existential pause and before the final curtian of our eschatology and faith. Yet in this wait, we are asked to trust, and thus, our wait can be productive, purposeful, and rich with meaning. It can be fresh with new life, like watching a seed germinate.

Jesus said, I tell you the truth. Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12.24). Emily Dickinson, my sister poet and recluse, said it this way: Hope is the thing with feathers.

I have always struggled with hope. I recall sharing my personal tendency towards an existential despair with a professor at Emory who taught the course on Eschatology–the theology of last things. I sat rather uncomfortably in my seat in his class in my third trimester of pregnancy. He looked at my burgeoning belly and said, You are the embodiment of hope.

We are like Godot’s friends, Vladimir and Estragon. We have already waited a long, long time and wonder whether we should remain on the corner or move on down the road. Yet, scripture reminds us that we wait on a God who comes. By this, we won’t be disappointed.

The seed has fallen. It germinates underground. We wait for Christ’s return in a pregnant pause of intermission. And while we wait, we hope.

I still struggle with hope and often succumb to existential thinking, but this morning, as the rain softens hardened soil, I hold onto faith and hope like a thing with feathers and pray the seeds which I have planted are germinating and will one day rise from the earth. I hope that I will not give in to despair and that the second half of the existential play will not be absurd.

You Can Close Your Eyes

November 29, 2010

Well the sun is surely sinking down

But the moon is slowly rising

So this old world must still be spinning around

And I still love you


So close your eyes,

You can close your eyes, it’s alright

I  don’t know no love songs

And I can’t sing the blues anymore

But I can sing this song

And you can sing this song

When I’m gone.

  –James Taylor, You Can Close Your Eyes


James Taylor is familiar. He’s like listening to myself for I have liked his music since high school. His voice comforts me.

His composition, You Can Close Your Eyes, was part of my regular repertoire for bedtime lullabies when my children were young. It’s a sweet song.

The words in the chorus–So close your eyes, you can close your eyes, it’s alright–teach a profound theological truth as I hear them sung, as my lips form the words.

Advent is almost here. The season of expectation and of waiting. A sort of pregnant longing for the Christ to come. We are like Mary in this sense: we want the baby to be born.

The precarious position we find ourselves in as believers is the in-between, which is where we live. The ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. The interlude before the final movement. The space between Christ’s appearances, an interstice of meaning.

 So we wait. We ponder. We try and do our best.

I like the chorus of James’ song because it calls us into trust—trust for the in-between times. After the sun has set, before dawn. The night where we live.

 The words beckon us to believe that we can sing the song even when he’s gone.

Still, Still, Still

November 28, 2010

Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed,
The world is sleeping,
Holy Star its vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.

Sleep, sleep, sleep,
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth.
The night is peaceful all around you,
Close your eyes,
Let sleep surround you.
Sleep, sleep, sleep,
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth.

Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.
While guardian angels without number,
Watch you as you sweetly slumber.
Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come. 

   –traditional Austrian Christmas Carol

I can feel your heart beat through my shirt

This was all I wanted, all I want

  — Snow Patrol,  Just Say Yes

Yesterday, we cut a Christmas tree.

We had planned to dig it up but the space where it is going is too small for a root ball. It is a Little House.

Today, we will decorate it. String the cedar limbs with old-fashioned colored lights, don it with home-made ornaments and an eclectic collection from travels and friends.

Tonight, when everyone is gone, I will sit on the sofa with only the Christmas tree lights on. It will be a transcendent moment, I hope.

Still, still still go the words to the Austrian lullaby. So much of Christmas and Advent is about being still. Still enough to hear the snow fall. To hear your own heartbeat and that of another.

In seminary, I had a legendary professor named Dr. Bill Mallard. He was an English person in theological garb. He spoke from a literary sensibility. His lectures were poetry.

This was twenty-six years ago, but I still recall one personal moment of transcendence he shared with the class. It came from his experience as a husband as he lay his head on his wife’s chest. He could hear her heart beat through her shirt. In that moment of stillness, his life made sense in all its fragility and wonder.

We all have known moments like this when time stands still. When we are quiet enough to hear the wings of swallows or to watch a butterfly land on our hand.

For me, these moments of transcendence are too few and too far between. They cannot be manufactured, mass-produced like children’s toys from China, but I believe there is a way to open up our souls to their presence. And that is through prayer.

Prayer grows up when it stops talking and starts to listen. I don’t recall which saint made that statement but I do recall its gift in my life, like a tiny silver thimble, wrapped and hidden under the tree, the last present waiting to be opened.

Sometimes it takes an inordinate amount of bustle before we can settle down. The gifts must be made or gathered from stores. The cards written and sent to old friends. Travel arrangements secured, cookies cut and delievered to neighbors, ribbons tied and curled.

But if we are still enough and really listen, we might hear a baby sleeping.

The truth will find me, and it will set me free.

   –Devotional, Novemeber 25th

This morning, early, like 2:30, I stepped onto the deck and heard a crunch.

It was the first frost, Jack had come, and the leaves were frozen into brown designs, rounded lobes of white oaks fixed in time.

The year is accelerating. Thanksgiving Indians and Pilgrims are packed away and out come the lights. The smell of hemlock and fir floats past us as we walk into grocery stores. Poinsettias greet us at the door.

Seasons come and, too quickly, they go.

I have always had trouble with letting go, with the release of dreams and illusion. It is hard to distinguish between what is real and what is plain fantasy. It is hard to know when to quit one thing, so another may begin.

I believe there is an art to the seasons and a gift of saying goodbye, so we can say hello.

Jesus seemed to get this aesthetic, although not without some effort on his part. On his knees, he cried out to God to hold onto his lifeblood, his respiration as a human being. He didn’t want to die.

Do any of us? Do any of us really want to let go of what we know so that we can hold onto something new? Do any of us truly embrace change?

The seasons, trees, nature teach us how it is done, and how it is graceful. Leaves transform into shining gold before they drift to the forest floor. Water slowly recedes in creek beds before icicles form on banks. Soft needles of pine carpet the ground in pick-up stick designs before they are frozen to the earth without movement and lie still.

There is a gentleness to nature, at least in Georgia, where we know the four seasons.

I am thinking this morning about theology and the contribution feminists have made. Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father opened the floodgate to a stream of reconstruction which included women’s perspective. But before the rebuilding, a deconstruction had to occur.

Deconstructing is always difficult. It means letting go. And feels so painful as we pry fingers loose from what is familiar. Yet, it is necessary. Until we can let go, we cannot move on, and movement is a fact of life, as the seasons show.

When my children were little, we drove to Dahlonega and panned for gold. Metal pans plunged into muddy water as sand and dirt were lifted. Again and again, this process was repeated in a rhythmic sieve as we searched for flecks of yellow among the brown. Gold is really quite yellow, like the last of the poplar leaves, truncated and stubbornly hanging from high limbs.

We had to be patient and persistent. Gold doesn’t just jump in the pan. It must be mined, even in a roadside venue.

At our best, we are miners. We practice persistence as we sift through muck. Train our eyes to be sharp and to know what to look for. We can be fooled by mica and pyrite–minerals which glitter and are mistaken for gold. But, in fact, are worthless and only raise our hopes.

I am learning about discernment, the hard work of determining what is valuable and what is not. What I must hold onto and of what I need to let go. Sometimes, this process takes a long time and requires a diligence and patience like a miner dipping a pan into murky water again and again. We never know when the pay off will come.

I recently reread a devotional which speaks of truth as dynamic. It has a life of its own and though we go searching for it and think we can beckon it to us, call it from the heavens, force it with strong will, it takes its own time. But eventually, given patience and endurance, it finds us and sets us free. It is gentle and graceful in its timing.

I pray this morning as I look at the waning moon and scan the night sky for winter constellations. Orion, Taurus the Bull, the Gemini twins, and the Pleiades cluster escape me. I see mostly clouds and bare tree limbs. My horizon is limited from the deck and my patch of sky is small.

But I trust that through the seasons, as skies shift and space is opened up, I will catch stars in my vision and make sense of their shape. I will know when to let go. I will know when to hold on.

The Practice of Thanks

November 25, 2010

Now thank we all our God

With heart and hands and voices

Who wondrous things hath done

In whom the world rejoices

Who, from our mothers’ arms

Hath blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love

And still is ours today

   —Martin Rinkart,  Now Thank We all Our God

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing

He chastens and hastens his will to make known

The wicked oppressing

Now cease from distressing

Sing praise to his name

He forgets not his own.

   –Netherlands Folk Hymn

Today is such a wondrous day. I always love this time of year when the woods are almost bare, a few golden leaves remaining.

Many of us will sing Over the river and through the woods as we travel to grandmothers’ and cousins’ and family homes. We will gather together and give thanks. We will feast on turkey, cranberries, and one another.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Ryle extended family will begin our meal with three kernels of corn on our plate. Each person will share three things for which they are thankful. It is a lovely and rich tradition. This year, we will add another place-setting to our table and give thanks for our newest member, Katie’s husband Guy.

It is always hard to narrow down thanks into three things. Sometimes, we fudge a little and squeeze as much as we can into one category–family, health, nature, music, faith, work, these are common themes. We are all blessed beyond measure. I am having an especially difficult time this year deciding, so I thought I would practice here and see how it goes.

 This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for:

  1. Family. My incredible family of origin and the fact that I have enjoyed Thanksgiving with them for 55 years. I am glad each member is doing so well, I give thanks for Dixie and Beazer’s long and good careers and their new retirement, Dallas’gift of  music, Katie and Guy’s marriage, Stephen’s steady work the past year which has taken him to places like Germany and France and Montreal, and Cathy’s new job in Maine, and my nephew, Ben’s, work with homeless children. I will save my parents for a special category.

I am thankful for my little nuclear family and the incredible people they are: for a husband who works hard seven days a week without complaining to provide for us, for his sense of humor and for his job which he enjoys; for Hank and Hayley’s amazing relationship and marriage and each of their callings and work, their fine minds and spirits. I am especially thankful this year for Hayley—to be able to have such an incredible and loving daughter-in-law and for her important research on the brain and passing her qualifying exams. I am grateful that Sam made cheerleading because it has given him such joy, for his diligence in school, and Christian housemates who are his brothers, and for his bright future, and hopefully a trip to China next summer. I am grateful for Hank’s ambition, gifts, and servant heart, and the way God will continue to use them for the public good. I am grateful for all of our interrelationships and how much we enjoy one another’s company.

I am grateful for my parents and will try not to cry here. I am thankful that daddy is doing so well and for his new doctor and therapists and wonderful attitude, for mother’s abundant energy and strength and joy all bundled up together to be able to do all she does each day, and for her being able to help Katie plan her wedding. I am thankful that Daddy could stand at the altar and give her away. I am thankful to them for their gracious hospitality in letting me live with them for six months this year and for their generous financial help so we could finish the Little House.  I am thankful for their marriage and the role models they are in how to make a good one. I am thankful for the spiritual heritage I have been given and for their wonderful minds and interests. But mostly, I am thankful for the amazing people each of them is and that they were given to me to be my parents.

Ok, you can see how it’s going and how difficult it will be this year to limit my Thanksgiving to three things. The dressing will grow cold and the cranberry sauce will be warm by the time I am through. The gifts God has given this year are too rich for words and endless: the Little House and having our own home and for all those who helped us rebuild it—especially Shawn, Ellen, Emily, and Kathy; for the gift of words and the joy of writing and my new blog and readers and how it has saved my life; for life itself and not killing myself; for the adventures of the past year in France and Norway and that I was sitting at a table with Trappist nuns and new friends on a fjord last Thanksgiving; for people we love and who love us and for a God who holds our future, no matter what; for the woods; for the internet and facebook and the people it has connected me with; for being back in Marietta; for young people like Hank, Hayley, Sam, Ben and others I have met who give me hope for the future; for simple work in a bakery; for prayer; for grace; for friends; for scripture and literature; for music and the way it speaks and sings for us; for sex and bodies and the Incarnation; for travel and new adventures and the unknown; for medicine and counselors,  for the supply of basic needs like food, and clothing, and shelter and those who help others around the world who don’t have these, forthose who work for peace and justice, for  so much more…

Where does it end? It doesn’t.

So maybe, most of all I am grateful this morning for a season to reflect and which invites us into the Practice of Thanks.


Desert Mother

November 24, 2010

Your greatest responsibility is to yourself.

   —Nancy Dendy Ryle, my mother

If I prayed to God that all people should approve of my conduct, I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, but I shall rather pray that my heart may be pure toward all.

   —Desert Mother saying

My mother is a sage. She might as well be a desert Amma.

She teaches by example and through words. She prays like a saint and is a living library of quotes, authors, and spiritual help. Which is why she surprised me the other day with these words, Your greatest responsibility is to yourself.

This idea feels like a contradiction to what most of us have learned in the Church. We are taught about sacrifice and laying down one’s life for others. We are instructed to pour out ourselves as libation. But herein, lies the hidden truth: to be responsible to self is the best way we can be responsible to others.

In the fourth century, in the deserts of North Africa, women gathered together to live in caves. Some were cenobitic and lived in community. Others were hermits–the eremitic branch of monasticism– and lived alone.

Can you imagine what their families said?!

They–along with men like Antony, Desert Fathers/Abbas–chose to leave the comforts of home and the wealth and luxury of Italy and the practice of a Christian faith under Constantine, which, in their view, had become fat and lazy. Little was asked. Little was given. The Roman Empire had become a Christendom where Christianity was essentially the State Religion. The following paragraph elucidates this idea:

The legalization of Christianity by the Roman Empire in 313 actually gave Anthony a greater resolve to go out into the desert. Anthony, who was nostalgic for the tradition of martyrdom, saw withdrawal and asceticism as an alternative. When members of the Church began finding ways to work with the Roman state, the Desert Fathers also saw that as a compromise between “the things of God and the things of Caesar.” The monastic communities were essentially an alternate Christian society. The hermits doubted that religion and politics could ever produce a truly Christian society. For them, the only Christian society was spiritual and not mundane (Wikipedia).

So.. the women went. They traveled in ships or by foot to Egypt. They were counter-cultural like their brothers, but even more so as women.

A woman’s primary role in society has been that of wife and mother. And for one who is both, this role is beautiful.  Self-sacrifice comes easily for most women as we tend our children and make a home. We often put others needs before our own, and in so doing, find fulfillment and joy (which makes one wonder if there is sacrifice at all).

I  think the harder piece for most women is to learn to care for and value self. It requires a tremendous amount of effort and courage and continues to be counter-cultural.

Sometimes, in  following our dreams and vocations, the particular plan God has called us to, it leads us away from family. Sometimes it brings us close. But always, male or female, our greatest responsibility is to ourself.

Due Diligence

November 23, 2010

You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.

   —Acts 8.21,22

But it hurts me so inside , to see her treat me so unkind

Somebody, somewhere, tell her it’s unfair

Can I get a witness?

   —Marvin Gaye, Can I Get a Witness?

How dare you treat her this way!

   —my friend Erin, a fierce defender of the defenseless

My brother is an attorney. For years, he practiced immigration law and helped internationals to find their way through a complex system of visas, naturalization, and legalese. Now, he is a public defender. He uses language I can’t comprehend, phrases like due diligence.

I’m not certain what due diligence means in the legal system, but I know what it means for me: the exhaustion of all possibilities. A thorough tenacity.

I am good at this. I may procrastinate and sometimes lose my way, but tenacity is one of my strengths—or weaknesses.

When is it that we cease due diligence in a situation and walk away? When does tenacity become stubborn?

God is a God of justice–a prerequisite to peace. Scripture reminds us of their relatedness and its import. We are told over and over to defend the poor, the widow, the orphan. To care for the weak and downtrodden. To call our leaders to repent from their evil ways of oppression and to balance the scales which always tip to the rich and powerful.  To defend those who cannot defend themselves.

At some level, we are all defenseless. We offer kindness and are accused of the inverse. We are longsuffering and taken advantage of. We continue the course we are on even if it is destructive. We need a public defender. And we all need to make our apologies.

Melanie sang a song with the lyrics: There’s a chance, peace will come, in your life, please buy one. I never understood the ‘buy’ part but perhaps, she is speaking of Robin Hood.

We know the Legend. The band of thieves, a Friar, and a Maiden who stole from the rich to give to the poor. They sought to right the wrongs of an English royalty which milked the innocent for all they were worth. Robin and his Merry Men bought peace through sacrifice, not unlike our Lord.

Life is, indeed, a mess and we are all a part of that mess. We must own it. We all stand in need of forgiveness and we all need to repent. To say I am sorry to people we have hurt. To practice our own due diligence.

Listen to your heart. It’s there that Jesus speaks most intimately to you. Praying is first and foremost listening to Jesus, who dwells in the very depths of your heart.

   —Henry Nouwen

Hold me closer tiny dancer

   —Elton John, Tiny Dancer

I have seen a counselor for most of my life.

Some have been clergy. Some were MSW’s or psychiatrists and had multiple credentials, including the one most important, that of being a catalyst.

I am grateful to each of them. They have prescribed medicine and listened. They have given practical advice. And they have always pointed to the authentic self. I don’t know how anyone makes it without therapy.

I met with one who is an old friend and a minister and my current and excellent counselor last week. We sat in a room in a church. Across the hall, we could hear bumps and jumping, a teacher’s voice. We wondered what was going on.

Then the door opened and out popped miniature ballerinas with pink slippers on their feet. They filed by our window in tights and leotards, their hair falling loose from buns. They were noisy and happy little girls.

My counselor said, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

I knew what he meant because we had been discussing the sin of separation. It was a Jungian moment of synchroncity.

In Christian theology, sin is defined as separation from God. But I think there exists another definition and that is the separation of self. These two are companions and hold hands like little girls.

God lives in our heart and we live in God’s. Without this beautiful intertwining, like yarn being wound in a ball, we cannot know true integration and bless the authentic self.

I have always struggled with this integration, perhaps like you. It has been hard to value that little ballerina who dances inside of me. What my counselor, Mark, did not know, when he called on the lesson of the moment, is how much I love ballet.

I took ballet as a child, dabbled in it in college, and have taken classes as an adult. I used to attend every performance of the Atlanta Ballet. When my family was in Paris and wanted to surprise me with a gift it was tickets to see Swan Lake.

It takes years to become a ballerina, ten years I am told. Ten years of hard work and discipline to form the body into art, to hold an arabesque in perfect balance, to be en pointe.  I never made it that far, never wore toe shoes laced around the ankles, never reached that moment—the exquisite pause–when time stands still. But I have been en pointe where it matters most—in the deepest recesses of my heart where time stands still in an exquisite pause, where I am one with my authentic self in a beautiful arabesque.

Our lives are so complicated. We are separated like light through a prism. We know only portions of the spectrum, We are yellow or we are violet or we are red, but the full rainbow of color often escapes us.

I suggest there is a way to form the arc, to sit under it like a sojourner under a shade tree, And that is when we remember who we are, and whose.

Jesus wants us to be happy. I am convinced of this. And he’d like us to be integrated, to know no separation from Him or from our true self.

I believe the pure souls we are get lost along the way. We lose the little ballerina, the cowboy in a hat and holster with a silver star pinned to his chest. We lose the child who draws pictures of cars and cuts out paper dolls, who writes stories and plays pioneer in the woods. We lose our small boxing gloves, and with them our best sparring partner. We lose us.

Separation happens in many ways: We experience it in marital conflict and divorce and the loss of a child in a custody battle; in geographical or emotional distance from our loved ones; in severance from jobs and careers and income. Many know separation from their houses, foreclosed on by lenders and auctioned on courthouse steps. Some are separated from their homeland, from sources of food and water, and from their own limbs. And all of us have known the painful separation which comes through death.

But the greatest separation is from God and self. 

It makes no diff’rence, night or day
The shadow never seems to fade away

And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

   —The Band,  It Makes No Difference

Now is the Time to Worship

    —Contemporary Christian chorus

I sat in my car last night listening to the radio.

For years, I listened to nothing but ‘Christian’ music, sacred texts, choral arrangements, Benedictine chants, and Contemporary Worship. 

God has allowed me to reenter the world of the secular and I have been digging it.

So now, I listen to Dave Radio, to The River, even to Country and Public radio. It’s hard to explain, really, the journey God has had me on, so I won’t. 

I just know last night, I needed to hear The Fish, 104.7. I praised God in my car through the tears.

If you live in the Atlanta area, you may know of this station. They play what is termed Contemporary Praise and Worship. It seems to me that phrase is redundant. For praise is worship, perhaps the best kind. 

One of the things I miss the most about my role as a parish minister is the planning of worship. I simply loved it. The coming together of liturgy and the Word, the integrity and wholeness of a well-thought out service, open to the Creative Spirit of God through the important aspects and multi-faceted dimensions of worship: Invocation—the invoking of God’s Presence at the outset; Praise and Thanksgiving through the opening hymn(s); the Affirmation of our faith through the Apostles or Nicene Creed (Credo meaning I Believe); the Prayer of Confession and Our Offering; the sharing of the Peace; the reading of scripture from the Common Lectionary, the Psalter sung; the preaching of the Word, inclusive of children; Communion or the Eucharist; the Closing Hymn of Sending Forth and the Benediction of Blessing.  

Yep, these are the elements of Worship and as Dr. Don Saliers taught us at Candler through the renewal movement in the Protestant Church, each is vital. But when we are hurting, praise is invaluable. Praise is noun, but more importantly, it is verb.

The Band played a song called It makes No Difference. The lyrics are sad and speak of times when the sun don’t shine anymore and the rains fall down on my door. We all know those times of darkness and storm, when we are overcome with grief and pain, but as I have learned from alternative worship, there is no better remedy for our sorrow, than to give God praise.

Praise is counter-cultural in hearts that hurt. It is contrary to what the world knows and yet, it is powerful. The little epistle of James says it well: Count it all joy when you face various trials for the testing of faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1.2-4).

I have learned from my Christian brothers and sisters who are not ‘traditional’ that there is no more important time to praise God than when we suffer. To lift our hands and bend our knees. To cry Holy, Holy, Holy. To say to God, We worship You. We honor You. We give You glory and magnify Your name. You are worthy to be praised.

Why do we do this as people of faith? Is it merely a trick or a technique to bring us temporary respite when we are in the valley so low? Is it a form of denial or a false sentiment to camouflage, like a fake smile plastered on a face? Is it escape or cover-up or just downright stupid?

I don’t think so. I believe when we understand praise to be not just noun but active verb and when we learn to practice it through the pain, it is transformative. It transforms situations. It transforms perspective. It transforms us. It makes a difference.

 I have written a new creed and you can say it if you want to:

I believe in a God who is with us through the trials and who parts our Red Seas. I believe in a God who makes a way in the wilderness, when the sun don’t shine anymore and the rains fall down at our door. I believe in a God who feeds us tea and oranges like some desert Suzanne. She takes us by the hand and leads us to the River where we drink cool water from underground springs. I believe in a God who is faithful and can be trusted. Who holds our hearts and lives, our dreams and desires and longing, our unspoken words and our deepest fears in God’s hand like a beautiful hazelnut, perfect and whole. 

And so, like the anchorite Julian, who lived in Norwich during the time of the Black Death, who suffered through her own sickness and woes, whose heart must have been broken with the tragedy which surrounded her, we can say and believe the words she heard in a showing, All shall be well.  

We can praise God in spite of our tears.



All these words that you meant to say

Held in silence day after day

Words of kindness that our poor hearts crave

Please don’t keep them

Hidden Away

   –Josh Groban, Hidden Away

My grandmothers are deceased but their letters live on.

They are kept in a box somewhere in storage and their writing is vivid in my mind.

Both women were bright, well-educated, and loved me. But the content of their letters–and their handwriting–were as different as night and day.

Grandmother Ryle, my paternal grandmother, lived in Perry, Georgia for most of her life. She wrote of her book club, of church, of the pecan harvest. She meticulously cut out articles from the newspaper she thought might be of interest to me and included them in the post. Her handwriting was large and even, on two sides of white paper in black ink. 

Nana, my mother’s mother, was more exotic. She traveled the world and brought us pomegranates. She wore silk embroidered blouses and black cashmere sweaters, often handed down to me. Her letters were of travels and issues in the larger Church. Nana’s handwriting was atrocious. One could barely make it out.

But they both wrote words of  kindness that our poor hearts crave. Their love was not hidden away.

We have so many ways to communicate today–gmail, twitter, skype. We’re attached to our cell phones like appendages. We instant message, chat, and blog. We post our likes and add friends on facebook. But do we keep our love hidden away?

Josh Groban, that sweet young singer I would love to take home, has written a song called Hidden Away. The lyrics are powerful:

Over mountains and sky blue seas

On great circles will you watch for me

The sweetest feeling I’ve got inside

I just can’t wait to get lost in your eyes

And all these words that you meant to say

Held in silence day after day

Words of kindness that our poor hearts crave

Please don’t keep them

Hidden Away

Sing it out so I can finally breathe

And I can take in all you say

Holding out for something I believe in

All I really need today

I want to free your heart

I want to see your heart

Please don’t keep your heart

Hidden Away

You’re a wonder, how bright you shine

A flickering candle in a short lifetime

A secret dreamer that never shows

If no one sees you then nobody knows

And all these words you were meant to say

Held in silence day after day

Words of kindness that our poor hearts crave

Please don’t keep them

Hidden Away

Sing it out so I can finally breathe

And I can take in all you say

Reaching out for someone I believe in

All I really need today

I want to feel your love

Will you reveal your love

Please don’t keep your love

Hidden Away

I want to free your heart

I want to see your heart

Please don’t keep your heart

Hidden Away

I loved my grandmothers. They taught me much about living small and large from the radius of a Middle Georgia town and the circumferences of Europe. But most of all they taught me about love, revealed through handwritten letters.

I don’t think it matters how we communiucate, which medium we choose. The only thing that matters is that we don’t keep our love hidden away.