Category Archives: Sabbath

What the Trees Said – The Invitation

Northwest Temperate Rainforest

Give up.
Stop fixing,

As I am in you be
in me.

This effort
to separate
is so
on you.

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. Galations 5: 1, NEB

I am off to spend some time listening to trees. Perhaps I will bring back messages. In the meantime, you might consider what you are trying to fix, hanging onto, or hungering after, that, in truth, you have already been set free from, or possess in great fullness. At least that is what I aim to do.

Of Pastors and Love

chapel cross

People still think the pastor can save the church.
I am 30 years old and I do not want to be a hospice worker.
My church is so scattered. The task is to try to get them to focus.
One third of the church split off and left.
I had nine years of a dark night.
                                                                -overheard at a retreat for clergy

I have been listening to the conversations of small groups of clergy about their lives in a once, honored profession. Pastoral ministry has suffered loss of prestige, respect, and influence over the past thirty years in the eyes of many Americans. Some of the reasons for this include sexual misconduct, greed, hypocrisy, ethical failures, cultural upheaval, and changing demographics.

In addition, the rise of fundamentalism produced considerable confusion about what a “real” Christian is or is not. Some  Christians have promoted particular understandings of Christianity as normative for all disciples of Jesus. Often these perspectives have held media attention, while many other Christians do not share the same understanding. When only extreme and headline grabbing faith expressions are discussed, distorted impressions of faith end up defining religion in ways distasteful to many, including Christians themselves.

Most of the conversations I heard from pastors were about adjusting to sweeping change, which, though in the long view the human species excels at, at the same time, has never come to embrace without struggle.

Statue follow me

Cultural differences in what people are valuing
I worry about the bottom dropping out
My congregation worries that I will leave.
I want to be fully employed. I have all this stuff I want to express.
I want to finish well, stay fresh, and spiritually dependent on my God.

Earlier this month, I listened to new pastors engaged in ministry for four years or less. More recently I immersed myself in the wrenching, painful, joyful, and, yes, hilarious stories of men and women serving churches in Iowa from a range of Christian traditions. They were invited to attend a retreat by their judicatory heads and supervisors from nine different denominations, including AmericanBaptist, Lutheran (ELCA), Roman Catholic, Reformed Church of America, Church of the Brethren, Episcopalian, Presbyterian (USA), and United Church of Christ. The gathering called, The Imagination Retreat, was sponsored by the Des Moines Center for Renewal at Grandview College and held at The Shalom Retreat Center in Dubuque, Iowa.

We were all from what are generally considered mainline churches. These include the once great, proud churches with huge stone buildings, in some cases, now nearly empty and in need of repair, as well as fifteen member rural churches, bustling parishes, and missional congregations.

I want to get to know my daughters and grandchildren.
This is the first time off I have had in 32 years.
There is a whole generation ignorant of the language of God.
I am really content and happy, but maybe I am not supposed to be content.
My church worries about dying.

We had two pregnant moms in the group, older clergy nearing retirement, and ones in the middle wondering if it was time to pull up their roots and move on to a new parish. We probably did not all agree on the hot social/political issues our governments are fighting about. However we had not gathered to solve problems, debate, or convince others of the rightness of our positions.

We came because we were weary, hurting, looking for something more, and needing a safe place to be ourselves and be honest. We came because we were exhausted from being in charge and offering living water to thirsty souls, while our souls had dried and shriveled for want of the refreshment of Christ Jesus. We came for Sabbath and renewal and to imagine what seemed nearly beyond our comprehension as we began: peace, hope, faith, unexpected freedom, and joy – all gifts, which amazingly arrived pretty much on schedule at the end of day three of our four days together.


All of it is about this one woman,[or – man, secretary/choir director, organist, trustee, Sunday School teacher, family/person who runs everything,] . . .

They don’t see themselves as a vehicle for Christ. They just write checks.

How long… before I retire, leave, this church dies,
do I have to wait, until we start seeing some growth?

There isn’t a Roman Empire anymore, but there sure are a lot of Italians.

Church happens. It just happens.

I hear recurrent themes in their conversations. I hear the subtext of the laments, the confusion, and fatigue of these pastors as the groaning of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ. We use Walter Brueggemann’s masterful little book, The Spirituality of the Psalms. Brueggemann relates the form of the Psalms to the realities of human experience as –

Psalms of orientation: songs of guaranteed creation
Psalms of disorientation: songs of disarray
Psalms of new orientation: songs of surprising new life

Christians find in these psalms, not only the story of Israel’s suffering and God’s redeeming love, but also the foreshadowing of the Paschal mystery: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as well as their own personal and corporate experiences of orientation, disorientation, and surprising new orientation.

One recurrent theme is that of impasse, a condition of disorientation, when one doesn’t know what to do next. Our response to impasse is often anxiety and rising panic. Soon anxiety’s children show up: shame, blame, judgment, polarization, disengagement, or the increasing need to impose control or force. Learning how to manage the inevitable anxiety of change, my own, as well as that of my congregation is vital for spiritual leadership.

I have changed. They have too.

So this guy on the board says,
“That’s not what it was forty years ago.”
And I think, “I wasn’t even born then.”

On my Sabbath I ask, What is going to give me life today?
The ministerial association is horrible.
There are local pastors’ groups, but they are not nurturing.
Change means giving up something and that is scary.

And God said, “Why don’t you let me do that for you?”

For me – I am always sort of thinking I need the next class,
books, conference, skill set. Now I see I have everything I need.

9134246995_8d62e4e10d (1)

I also hear isolation and grief. I hear resilience, like the fertile, spongy sweep of a bog, a rich, deep, ground of being. I hear love, sometimes entangled and enmeshed, sometimes pure as a meadowlark’s song, sometimes self-emptied and sacrificial, always full of passionate yearning for Shalom.

It only takes me about twenty minutes before I am in love with them all.

It is easy for any child to pick out the faults in the sermon on his way home from church every Sunday. It is impossible for him to find out the hidden love that makes a man [or woman], in spite of his intellectual limitations, his neuroticism, his own lack of strength, give up his life to the service of God’s people, however bumblingly he may go about it.                            Flannery O’Connor


May Jesus hold us all close in that hidden love.


Special thanks to those who dreamed up this gathering: The Rev. Dwight DuBois, Director of the Center for Renewal, the Rev. Myron Herzberg, and the Rev. Mary Beth Mardis-LeCroy. And deep gratitude to all who gathered!

For more information about this retreat you may email Dwight DuBois .
Photographs by Suzanne Gorhau.


AUGUST 17-18

I will be Scholar in Residence at  First Presbyterian Church, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa on August 17-18, 2013. I will lead workshops on Saturday afternoon, and preach Sunday morning, followed by a Q&A forum.

     . . .from one degree of glory to another
Growing in the Knowledge and Wisdom of Love

We live in a time of sweeping changes in our personal, corporate, and global lives together.  The rapid pace and depth of change reach into every corner of our lives and leave many feeling confused, fearful, and grieving.

This presentation will consider what Christ teaches us about such change and how we may respond to the changes we face from the stance of a growing and deepening faith required for such a time as this. Our particular focus will be on the practice of contemplative prayer, which fosters wisdom, creativity, compassion, and love.

Find out more here


Exploring Solitude: Tomb Time

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still, because God has fallen asleep in the flesh, and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear. 

 – from an ancient homily on Holy Saturday used in the monastic tradition


Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is one of my favorite days of the church year. I want to savor the richness of this day, but our rush to Easter Vigils, Easter Sunrise Services, Easter Breakfasts, Easter Cantatas, Easter Dramas, and Easter Egg Hunts does not give one much opportunity to enter the soundless, solemn peace of Christ asleep. I want to halt the parade of Easter soirees to discover the grace of this moment in the story of saving Love.

Such a pause doesn’t seem to be in our nature.

Over ten years ago US News and World Report solicited readers’ answers to the question, “Does America have ADD?”  According to the article, “Since 1965, the average news sound bite has shrunk from 42 seconds to just 8. The average network TV ad has shrunk from 53 seconds to 25. Fifteen second ads are on the rise. Multi-tasking is in. Downtime is out.” Millions of children and quite a few adults have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, a brain imbalance that is thought to be the root of unusual hyperactivity, impulsivity, and poor concentration. Wired magazine calls ADD the “official brain syndrome of the information age.”

What does it take to sit us down, stop us in our tracks, and shut our mouths? When have you been brought to your knees and cast face down, prostrate, by some overwhelming mystery of suffering love? Have you been able to stop the frenzied round of your life’s demands without feeling guilty, lazy, or neglectful?

What is alarming to me about our culture’s distracted, harried quality is that, as I understand redemption, transforming love requires a lot of focus and concentrated effort. I really cannot participate with Christ in his death and resurrection, and simultaneously answer my E-mail, pick up the dry cleaning, plan supper, and listen to my teenager.  Not that any of these activities cannot hold saving power, but servants of transforming love need to be able to act with attentive one-pointed concentration, and a wholeness of mind, heart, and body that require our doing one thing at a time. What is implied in such loving attentiveness is that this task, this person here, now, is worthy of my entire attention. As I am able to set aside or die to other competing calls for my concern, greater love and healing may pour through me.


Tradition holds that after Jesus died on the cross, he went to preach to the souls in hell and retrieve Adam.

16th century Russian icon of the Descent into ...

I certainly hope not. Hadn’t he already done enough preaching, enough sacrificing?

I’d rather think he rested. After all it was the Sabbath. Surely his ministry and the hard saving labor of his passion and death had worn him out. What  wondrous grace then to be placed in a soundless chamber safe and secure from all alarm – not to mention, answering machines, faxes, cell phones and pagers.

Not all silence is the graced silence of Christ’s tomb. Silence is the expression of a multitude of experiences: embarrassed, sweaty-palmed pauses, numbed shock, dissociated trauma; dull tedious droning; the excruciating stillness of shunning, loneliness and betrayal; the thick pouting silence of blame and resentment; the angry choking silence of the oppressed; and the isolated silence of the deaf.

In contrast –

The silence of the grave has a solemn feel.
After great pain a formal feeling comes-
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs, wrote Emily Dickinson.

The solemnity of Holy Saturday carries a weight that presses us down to the earth where we are no longer able to flit and flutter away from truth.

The flimsy props we use to hold ourselves upright slide to the ground and we along with them. Like sheets stretched across a sagging clothesline until the wet and windblown linens drape upon the earth, the weight of death drags us down, lays us down in a voluminous sweet surrender.

The Resurrection Power of Truth Telling

Truth is a friend of this silence. The silence of God reveals what is false, what words confuse, conceal, deny, or destroy. I love how Jesus just stands there when Pilate asks, “What is truth?”  Truth is right before us, standing in this present moment. Truth simply offers itself. It does not argue its case, defend itself, or plead. It just gives itself to us in love for those who have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to know. As I embrace the truth of the present moment with love, the next moment is redeemed.

“The power of the kingdom is the spirit of the Risen Christ seen in the strength of truth as it continues to break through human limitation and sinwrites Jacqueline Bergan. The Risen Lord enters my world with his redeeming grace and power through the door made my truth telling. What truths have I entombed in silence? I meet the Risen Lord as I speak truth as best I can moment by moment.


The silence of the tomb is full of freedom. One feels a releasing and relaxing throughout one’s whole being – like taking off your shoes, loosening your belt, slipping into comfortable old clothes. You are not in charge. You do not have to make things happen. You do not have to figure things out. This silence is the celebration and sanctification of being itself – your being.

So how do we get there- off the cross and into the tomb? How might we enter into such a silence and know its sweetness and its eternal freedom? I do not think we do a very good job of teaching ourselves how to surrender. We may move through lent and Eastertide watching and reflecting on Jesus who dies for our sins – trying to figure out just what it really means and what difference it makes, working up an appropriate attitude of contrition and sorrow – yet somehow distanced from it all.

Lent and Easter become a sort of mythic cardboard backdrop to our lives as unreal and one dimensional as a child’s drawing. What we may miss is that the paschal mystery played out before us in scripture, hymn, and ritual is simultaneously going on in our own lives and hearts. Jesus is dying and rising in the circumstances of your life. Knowing that, believing that transforms your every act, every thought into something holy with sacred potential to give new life.

So to what do we surrender? Evil, sin, death – a rabid crowd roaring for someone to crucify? We surrender to Love – to how Love is having its way with us in our lives – through the tedious, joyful, painful days of getting up in the morning, fixing breakfast, setting out to do what needs to be done. I know many saints who quietly surrender to love and love’s inscrutable purposes day after day, until spent with loving in the simplest, most unassuming ways they are drawn into Love itself.


A freight train sounded its mournful whistle as it rattled past my father’s window at the nursing home. Sometimes a light behind his eyes would ignite and for the briefest second he remembered trains. Love had hallowed him out. He was getting ready to enter the final tomb. Every time I see a hawk I remember when he told me how he loved to lie in the fields as a boy and watch the hawks ride the currents of the wind.  My mother called the place where my father waited for God, the “rest home.” Its actual name is Pleasant Manor Care Center. We have modern names for these places – skilled nursing facilities, residential care, assisted living. I rather like rest home myself.

The tomb of Holy Saturday is a kind of rest home where we wait to be lifted into resurrection.

Go ahead.  Surrender to Love.  You have nothing to lose, but death.


Images in this post are from Liturgical Art, Meinrad Craighead, 1998, Sheed & Ward

Solitude Practice:

  • Look around the tomb. What truths have you hidden away?
  • Do one thing today slowly, attentively, mindfully. Perhaps you prepare a meal, listen to a child, take a walk or a shower. Open yourself fully to the task with loving generosity. What do you learn?

Next post in this series –  Exploring Solitude:  Leaving solitude, gone to Galilee.


  Praying Life Readers,

I am leading a workshop this month here in Topeka. Hope to see you there!

Look and See: Nurturing a Shining, Festive Life of Prayer

Saturday, April 21, 2012
First Congregational Church
1701 SW Collins, Topeka, KS

Please register early to assure a place by calling or emailing First Congregational UCC. 785-233-1786;


Church Meeting Postmortem

I cannot for the life of me
figure out
how people who love God
good people
 faithful people

are able to spend so much time
talking about God
reading about God
and running here and there
doing God’s work

and not have to stop.

And bow.
Lost in love.

Every five minutes or so.

I know well the sweet seduction
of anxiety, power, and that little harlot,

I have fallen for their whispered lies,
and empty promises.

I have wakened from a night
in their arms,
unsatisfied, restless, and fretful.

But, I ask you,
do we not have a clue
that the Beloved is in the room
right before our eyes?

How many epiphanies are omitted
from the minutes
of last month’s meeting?

How can we go on pretending
that Holiness is not breathing
shivers of ecstasy
down our necks?

Am I crazy?

But I am also sick and weary of sitting on this Wonder.
Don’t be surprised then,
when I rise up and prostrate
during Carl Mitchell’s report
on the cost of replacing the pews
with movable chairs.

I just couldn’t go on pretending any longer,
and this hungry Love has taken me

beyond propriety,
and order.

The kingdom of Heaven will come when men and women
allow themselves 
to be penetrated by bliss.    M.C. Richards

Windbags, Blatherers, and Chatterboxes for God

Le Silence, painted plaster sculpture by Augus...

Image via Wikipedia

“The most beautiful thing a person could say about God would be to remain silent from the wisdom of an inner wealth. So, be silent and quit flapping your gums about God,” advises Meister Eckhart, the German theologian born in 1260.

My flapping gums are weary, my jaw aching, my tongue hangs out the corner of my mouth. I have spoken, written, and read far too many words about God. I am after that inner wealth, the wisdom of silence.

For the next two weeks I offer you silence, as I head to the lake and the woods and join a few other word-weary types, who will sit and pray and eat together without flapping our gums.


Will you join us? Will you listen for the crickets and feel the cool breeze off the lake? Will you lift your head one  morning and sniff the blooming silence of our prayer?

Will you choose to live from the peace from which you issue? Will you forsake the urgent illusion of your own ego and sink into your being and find your home there?

Of course you will. I’ll meet you in the silence.


Every creature, whether it knows it or not, seeks repose.
                                                                      – Meister Eckhart

Stop It!

I woke to a list of tasks and projects to complete – important, worthwhile, necessary duties.

But the Holy One said, “Rest.”

I argued. “Lord, I have to do this. I need to get that done. And the yard needs raking.”

“Stop!” the Lord said to me. Stop it.

So I turned on myself, flaying myself with guilt and shame. “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you get more accomplished?”

“Shabbat.” God said. Shabbat.  

We drain ourselves with too much doing, striving, and succeeding. We push past our limits and strain our bodies and make ourselves sick. The neglected soul shrivels and turns dry and hard like the dusty, wrinkled slice of apple I swept up from under my table.

Shabbat or Sabbath means literally to stop. Interestingly, the Hebrew “Shabbat” sounds a little like “stop it.” 


Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.                                                                     Exodus 20:8-11

What Israel learned from the fourth commandment is that Sabbath rest is an alternative to aggressive anxiety, writes Walter Brueggemann in Journey to the Common Good (pp 25-26) .

Most Christians think of Sabbath as a day of worship, which may actually turn into a day of production, activity, and achievement, as many clergy will tell you. Though church seemed long and boring to me as a child, endless Sunday afternoons at my Mennonite Grandmother’s home, sitting on a couch with prickly upholstery and listening to the clock tick was not an improvement. At least at church we had music. At grandma’s my brother and I itched and fidgeted to go outside and play.

However, at its origin, Sabbath was not about worship. Brueggemann continues, “It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”

To cease working for a day is an act of defiance in a godless system of aggressive production and accumulation. To keep Sabbath is an act of rebellion against Pharaoh’s kingdom of scarcity where there is never enough. To keep Sabbath is a statement of faith in the abundance and provision of the Kingdom of God, where sharing by all will mean scarcity for none. Finally, “to stop it” is an act of obedient trust in God’s goodness, as one rests and enjoys the wonder of all that God has made.


Recently, people, who come to me for spiritual guidance, seek not so much counsel or suggestions for how to pray, but, rather, the permission and opportunity to be still and rest in God.

A woman tells me, “I think what I need today is to just be quiet and for you to lead me in meditation.” A little music, Psalm 27, and an extended silence followed.

We sat together facing our internal distractions and anxious mental sorties away from our intention of presence to God. We calmed our fretful souls, and held ourselves steady before the voluminous mystery of love. Over time this Sabbath being, this doing nothing, will change the quality and the character of all our active doing. By disengaging from Pharaoh’s system of scarcity and anxiety, we root more deeply into the realm of the endless mercy and providence of the Holy One. 

Here is a god, who had so much fun doing and creating that he took a day off in order to rest and delight in his own handiwork. Then God, tickled with himself, commanded all his creation, including livestock and resident aliens, to enter into the joy of such rest. “Go outside and play. Take a look at what a marvelous universe I have made. I can’t get over how wonderful it all is.”

As the woman, who needed rest, and I participated together in the wonder of the gift of our being, the silence thickened, ebbed and flowed, smooth as satin and softly throbbing. We drank deeply from that well. When the session came to an end, we drew back reluctantly from the living water.

“You were very thirsty?” I asked. Yes, she nodded.

“Me too.” I said.

Learn by little the desire for all things
which perhaps is not desire at all
but undying love which perhaps
is not love at all but gratitude
for the being of all things which
perhaps is not gratitude at all
but the maker’s joy in what is made,
the joy in which we come to rest.   
                                          Wendell Berry

May you discover the maker’s joy in your Sabbath rest.  

Shabbat Shalom!

“In returning and rest you shall be saved.

In quiet and trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30: 15

This is the second in a series of posts this year on
Isaiah 30:15. Read the first post on this verse here:  Returning

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