In Search of Silence



Noise. Clutter. Complexity. Distractions. These are the norm for many of us in the western world. Since the U.S. election of 2016, the mad pace and chaos seems to have gone over the top. It’s as if the whole nation has taken on the chaotic ADD characteristics of a president who bellows contradicting policy statements every few hours and whose twitter-whims regularly destabilize our government, our economy, and the world.

We barely have time to mourn the latest school shooting before another Cabinet member is threatened or fired by the president. And it’s all blared 24/7 by bloviating newscasters with dueling “facts” and “alternative facts.”

That’s not what this post is about, though. This is about silence. And our crying need for it.

Yesterday I took a “day away” at Dayspring Silent Retreat Center in Maryland. Twenty of us began the day sitting by a crackling fire in the rustic lodge, gazing out a picture window at the surrounding wintery woods. We shared what we hoped to “let go of” for the day, it being Lent and a time of releasing the things that weigh us down or distract us from living better lives.

I had brought with me a bunch of church work, all of which I looked forward to doing: notes to help me design a Good Friday service, an outline for a Lenten “challenge group” I’ve been leading on Simplifying Life, and a draft plan for refurbishing the prayer walk on our church property. This is the kind of thing I love doing, but I often have trouble finding the time to focus.

Yet when it came my turn to say what I intended to let go of, I said the words, “church work.” I had not intended to say those words, but there you have it. We’ve been talking in our Simplicity class about letting go of the good for the better, and I guess God was showing me how to do that.


Our group spent the next four hours in silence.

I usually read and write a lot at these quiet days. But I didn’t even want the noise of words. Too many words!! Words — especially words that try to capture the spiritual nature — can be counterproductive. If there’s a little glowing ember of insight or wisdom in my mind or heart and I immediately try to capture it, analyze it, and control it, I have lost the ember. It has become about me and my words.

Instead of “wording” and adding to the noise in the world, I sat by the fire for a twenty-minute Centering Prayer session. Then I read a psalm and sat for another twenty-minute session. I enjoy meditating in community, half-hearing the soft sounds of someone making tea in the kitchen, the rustle of pages turning, deep sighs.

Later I went for a long walk. Walking in the winter woods and fields always reminds me of the journey we are all on, the seasons, the dark times, the pilgrimage in search of peace. “To be silent keeps us pilgrims,” as the early Christian desert hermits said.

I walked the labyrinth and noticed that it’s getting easier for me to connect with the feminine God. I’m not as easily distracted by the HE of my spiritual tradition. That was making me increasingly angry, but I’m learning to let that go as a human construct and enter the mother’s heart of God without fighting to get there.

“… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing,” said Jesus.

Peace & Quiet

After a silent drive home from my retreat, I stopped in to visit my neighbors. I was immediately blasted with the noise of the world: the Secretary of State has been fired! Another top White House aide has been escorted out of the building by security! I checked the news on my phone: The Pennsylvania race! The school gun-control walkout! House GOP concludes no collusion!

I am so glad to have been reminded that my attendance at this noisy circus is not required. I can check in, add words if they are helpful, march when it is necessary, grieve as Jesus did when he wept over Jerusalem: “Would that you had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Yet I can also return to an inner silence, “a peace that passes understanding,” and rest in knowing that God is love and love wins. It may not happen on my timeline, and it may be “hidden from my eyes,” but love always wins in its quiet way.


♦ ♦ ♦

Today’s word prompt: Noise


What Are Evangelicals Reading This Christmas?


As evangelicals give thanks for their president this year, I wonder if they will have read that after signing the tax bill, trump told his millionaire friends at Mar-a-Lago, “You all just got a lot richer.” I wonder also if they will have read that trump’s latest junket put the taxpayer costs of his golf trips at over $91 million this past year. I wonder if they will think about all the housing, food, or healthcare that money could have covered.
“Religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
James 1:27 
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
1 Timothy 6:10
I wonder too if the evangelicals will have read the Christmas story from Luke where the mother of Jesus says,
“God has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:51-53
May it be so, God.
I’ll share one last Advent poem here. This one is called Into The Darkest Hour, and it’s written by Madeleine L’Engle.

It was a time like this,

War & tumult of war,

a horror in the air.

Hungry yawned the abyss-

and yet there came the star

and the child most wonderfully there.


It was a time like this

of fear & lust for power,

license & greed and blight-

and yet the Prince of bliss

came into the darkest hour

in quiet & silent light.


And in a time like this

how celebrate his birth

when all things fall apart?

Ah! Wonderful it is

with no room on the earth

the stable is our heart.

An Advent Poem For Shameless Republicans

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Still no brilliance or profundity for an Advent offering. I spent my “quiet time” today, such as it was, finishing a little paperback mystery and occasionally nodding off, tired from rising at dawn with my Druid family to welcome the winter solstice sunrise.

Headed out to greet the sunrise on winter solstice

After a pancake brunch and a leisurely morning spent opening and admiring gifts, our afternoon was filled with the blasts and booms of the new Star Wars movie, a film doubtless bursting with spiritual depth and hidden meanings entirely lost on me.

So as much as I would like to share my Advent thoughts and feelings, instead I’ll share another Advent poem that I did not write. Yesterday I shared a poem from Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian and civil rights leader.

Today I’ll post a poem by Oscar Romero, a human rights leader and advocate for the poor who was assassinated during the Salvadoran civil war.

I dedicate this to the shameless members of the Republican Congress and the administration who just passed a tax bill that will endanger millions of lower income Americans for the benefit of the filthy rich. Merry Christmas.

The God We Hardly Knew

“No one can celebrate

a genuine Christmas

without being truly poor.

The self-sufficient, the proud,

those who, because they have

everything, look down on others,

those who have no need

even of God- for them there

will be no Christmas.

Only the poor, the hungry,

those who need someone

to come on their behalf,

will have that someone.

That someone is God.

Emmanuel. God-with-us.

Without poverty of spirit

there can be no abundance of God.”

Am I Too Liberal to Live in the “Real World?”



I just returned from a holiday party at an organization for which I occasionally work. The whole experience made me uncomfortable, and I’m not entirely sure why. I felt I couldn’t be my real self there. I couldn’t connect. As a result, I had a moment of standing outside myself, perhaps seeing Melanie as others do. And it was alarming.

Have I become a caricature? Am I so out of the mainstream? Do I expect everyone to share my values? Are my expectations too high? Am I too liberal to live in “the real world?”

Tell me what you think:

Bless this Food, Jesus

First of all, the boss blessed the food in the name of Jesus and said a long Christian prayer. All the music was Christmas music, and we played a Christmas trivia game. This is a group of 30+ employees, including many African-Americans and Africans. It’s highly likely there were at least a couple of Muslims in the mix. Certainly there were no Jewish people — they would have quit after the last party. Perhaps a few agnostics or atheists.

I joked to the man next to me, “Heaven forbid a Jewish person should ever start working here.” He looked at me as if I was mad. (He probably thinks I’m anti-semitic now.)

If you know me at all, you’ll know I’m a Jesus-person. I’m a lay pastor, in fact. But this is a place of work. I just found it all so inappropriate. Is it me?

Is this 1950?

After our Christmas trivia game came lunch. There was nothing for a non-meat eater to dine upon, other than veggies and dip and cheese and crackers. Platter after platter of wings and crab balls and beef and lobster dip, etc, etc. Even the potato salad had bacon in it. I’m not grousing about that, it’s just kind of unusual to go someplace these days where there isn’t at least something for a vegetarian.

Everyone stuffed all their trash into the recycling containers, of course. I did not bother rifling through the garbage to pull out the recycling as I often do. It was all covered with meat juice.

Locker Room Talk

OK, so here’s the final kicker. There were gifts given out and one guy got some electric thing that looked to someone else like a dildo. Six or seven guys were roaring with laughter, making all kinds of crude jokes such as, “That’s a power tool right there” and pretending to use a jack hammer. During this time, they caught no women’s eyes, and they carried on as if we weren’t even there. (We were far outnumbered.) I *think* the guys thought they were being subtle or clever, as if we didn’t know what they were talking about.

I was astounded. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a group of men like that, I had forgotten the intense discomfort. And a big part of the discomfort lies in not speaking up myself, even just to say, “How old are you?” in a joking manner.

I have a bad cold. I have next-to-no voice this week. If I’d had any voice, I’m pretty sure I would have at least said something like that.

In the age of #MeToo, perhaps somewhere in the back of their testerone-addled brains they would think, “Oh yeah, I guess heard something about sexual harassment on the news,” or maybe, just maybe, “Wow, that might make my female colleagues uncomfortable.”

I hate that I literally could not speak. There’s remarkable symbolism in that, now that I think about it.

“Why Didn’t Those Women Speak Up Before Now??”

My muteness seemed to magnify what was going on internally, all those old familiar feelings. “I don’t want to get fired. Since I’m a temp, they will just stop calling me . . . I don’t want them to think I can’t take a joke . . . I don’t want to be ostracized . . . I want to be able to get along with my co-workers.”

And yes, “I want them to like me.”

Those are the very feelings that kept me from speaking up every time I was sexually harassed and/or assaulted in the workplace: at a theater, a hardware store, the CIA, a non-profit. Pretty much everywhere I’ve ever worked.

I thought things had changed. I thought the conversation was further along. I thought . . . I guess I thought it was safer.

The real question for me now is should I talk to the H.R. director? Should I point out that their office is not friendly to people who don’t share the boss’s religion? Should I tell her about the sexual harassment I’ve often witnessed there and use the jack-hammer guy as an example? Or should I just say, “Life is too short, I only work here sporadically, it’s not my problem?”

I could file a discrimination complaint on behalf of all vegetarians, but that probably wouldn’t be too constructive. I do need the job.

So — just a rambling holiday blog, 2017-style. I’m not going to bother to edit this, so I’m sorry if it’s not up to my usual standards. I’m tired & sick and really just wanted to process these feelings and see what you thought. Well?

Bring Back Mercy!

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Don’t you love the word “mercy?” I guess if you grew up with the image of an angry God and you were yelled at by a preacher about hellfire & brimstone and how you’d damn well better pray for God’s mercy, etc., etc. etc., maybe the word isn’t so comforting to you.

I was fortunate not to grow up in that type of “religious” home, although I still absorbed the angry-white-man-in-the-sky image and am working to banish it from my psyche. When I see the damage such shaming and haranguing has done to many of my friends, I can only pray for God’s mercy!

Today, though, “mercy” seems like a quaint, outmoded word, a word our grandparents might have used. In fact, my father often used the phrase, “Lord, have mercy!” — something I’m sure he picked up from his childhood in Texas. Daddy usually wheezed out these words when he was laughing so hard he was gasping for breath.

Mercy is an old-fashioned concept. With an economic system built on competition and greed, America is not designed for it. Certainly the last remnants of mercy (and grace) departed America during the 2016 election and its aftermath. In the U.S. now, there are only winners and losers, and the one who fancies himself on top glories in dumping on the people he views as “losers.”

Saddest of all, it’s the people who call themselves “true Christians” who seem to be rejoicing in the deportation of refugees and the loss of healthcare for the poor. A guy told me on Twitter last night that I wasn’t a “true Christian” because I didn’t believe in sending all LGBTQ people to hell.

Heart of mercy, right there.

Anyway, Lord have mercy, and keep me from politics this morning!

Bathed in Mercy

Mercy makes me think of water. It’s free and powerful and lovely, and it envelops you and holds you up when you’re immersed in it. It may be gratuitous glistening drops of dew that seemingly appear from nowhere, or a gently flowing stream that accompanies you as you journey in an unfamiliar place, or it may be a rushing river that picks you up off your muddy knees and carries you to a safer place downstream where the banks are sturdier.

In my experience, when I recognize how seriously messed up I am and I decide I want to heal, mercy abounds. I don’t have to do the guilty grovel or say the “sinner’s prayer.” The God I know is a God of grace and mercy who just wants us to help Her make the world a better, more loving place.

The Bible says that all God requires of us is to “love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God.”

Isn’t it fitting that the French word “merci” is related to mercy? I just want to say “thank you” to God and to all my merciful friends and family who put up with my (slight) imperfections.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have mercy on the beasts!

Further Heresy: Sage & Crystals



I’ve been burning a sage stick lately. I just wanted to get that out there and let the “Happy Housewife” Christian lady know. After all, confession is good for the soul.

I purchased the sage stick at a rock and mineral swap in a tiny town in New Hampshire, where I also bought a lovely piece of quartz with opalescent slivers inside it. Yes, quartz is a crystal, which some Christians believe is just about as heretical as a sage stick.

They think that crystals are “new age,” or “false idols” or “occult.” Never mind that Saint Theresa of Avila’s beloved sixteenth-century spiritual classic “Interior Castle” is based on the contemplation of a crystal:

“I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions . . . there are many rooms in this castle, of which some are above, some below, others at the side; in the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse.”

Contemplating nature is a time-honored way to reflect upon and connect with the holy. Jesus was forever talking about sparrows and types of soil and grains of wheat. He found lessons about God in everything around him. I feel closer to God in nature than anywhere else, so it stands to reason that I would want to use natural elements in my prayer time.

I light my sage stick and walk around my house, asking God to fill my home with Her spirit of peace and love and joy. I ask that She fill every space with the fragrance of Christ. (I don’t do this if my cat is downstairs, because it gives her a violent sneezing fit.)

I don’t believe crystals and sage sticks are magical or contain or control spirits; I think they are relaxing and beautiful. God made the rocks and the plants, and She gave us an appreciation for rich aromas and beautiful objects. We are intimately and organically connected to the plants and to the elements, and that’s why they help us embody our spirituality and connect with the Creator.

Here’s another confession: I am still a tad annoyed at the internet assaults launched by the Happy-Housewife Christian lady. So although she has already condemned me to hell for loving gay people, I am hoping to further annoy her with my hippy prayer practices. So there.

At least I am not cozying up to power and engaging in idol worship of a political leader like some other pastor-types.

Headed to Hell with the Homosexuals



A nice Christian lady just told me I was going to hell, apparently accompanied by many of my friends. “What kind of person are you?” she squawked. (Even over the anonymous internet, I could tell she was squawking.)

What set her off was my saying that I love my gay friends and family just the way they are, and so does God.

I’m headed to hell, she says, for “condemning the homosexuals to eternal death by allowing them to live in their sin.” (I wonder how many she has “saved” from this fate with her loving and compassionate spirit?)

I told her I hoped that God would bless her with a gay loved one who would have the courage to withstand her scorn and perhaps help her to see the Divine in every single person.

She assured me that she never scorned anyone and followed that up by telling me I was a liar and a fraud and should be ashamed of myself. 

“Happy Housewife” (her online name) told me that I am directly contradicting the teachings of Christ, who repeatedly said that homosexuals will never see heaven. I pointed out to her several times that no, actually, Jesus never said word one about homosexuality. She said what about Leviticus, and I said that, um, Leviticus was written well before Christ’s birth, and anyway if she cared to look into the cultural context and etymology of the verse, it clearly refers to temple prostitutes and sex slaves, not to two gay people sharing a loving relationship.

She said she didn’t want to hear any of my “cultural crap,” that she had heard enough of my “homosexual lies.”

I blocked her, lest I be tempted to waste any more time.

The Bullying Pulpit

This was all in response to an article about yet another well-respected Christian leader and author being threatened by his publishing house and having all his speaking engagements canceled because he said in an interview that he would perform a same-sex marriage.

Here are the words of Reverend Eugene Peterson that shook the evangelical’s pulpits:

“I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over.”

Heresy! You will never publish or speak publicly again!

Within a day, Peterson had been bullied into retracting his words and repenting of his momentary slip into love. 

Here is a recent piece about the hub-bub by one of my favorite bloggers, John Pavlovitz, whom I got to hear speak at the Wild Goose Festival last week. He concludes:

“I can only keep working to make American Christianity a place of love for everyone. Meanwhile I’ll lament Eugene Peterson’s public change of heart because of what it says, perhaps not as much about him, as about my faith tradition’s sickness, about the way it has lost the plot, about the pain it causes.

Most of all I’ll grieve the damage still being done to beautiful people, simply trying to walk this planet without having to fear religious people.”

“Opinions may be mistaken. Love never is.”

— Harry Emerson Fosdick


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