blessings Means of grace self-compassion

For the Changing of the Seasons

I’ve been writing this slowly – for months – as I contemplated the changing of the seasons in the natural world, as well as the seasons in my life: school transitions resulting in family schedule shifts, expanding and evolving ministry opportunities, my dad’s death and the seasons surrounding it, my children’s growing skills and independence and the ever-changing realities of parenting, the recent shifts in the United Methodist Church. The seasons are always changing. Next week, school gets out for summer. Another change, just for a time, before we begin a new school year in August. But we will be different then. We do not know what this season will bring, or how it will change us. May we move through this transition and many more, with grace and compassion. I wrote this for me – to me – but perhaps it’s for you, too.

For the Changing of the Seasons
For everything there is a season…
a period supposedly defined,
but more often,
the boundary is unclear,
the time immeasurable,
the lines blurred.

There is a before,
a during,
and an after…
but even with
clear dates on the calendar,
the beginning
and the ending
are elusive.

In the beginning,
there is a shift,
or many small changes,
perhaps marked by
a celebration or a grief,
a ritual or an event.

But in looking back,
was that really the beginning?

Or was it a slow build,
originating deep within,
on a day you cannot name
with a feeling or a thought
that is both undeniable
and impossible to describe?

Or did it begin with
something surprising
and earth-shattering,
an ending so sudden
you could barely
catch your breath?

Or was the beginning
the absence of something,
perhaps unnoticed,
overlooked for a time,
until a relic of the past
brought it to mind?

Beginnings and endings
always hang together…

Sometimes it is only
in retrospect
that you can name
what began,
what ended,
and what grew
out of the meeting
of the two.

The shift inside you
whether subtle
or startling
whether sought out
or surprising,
is how the seasons
are shaping you.

You are not what is
or what was
or what will be

you are
what you are

As the seasons come and go,
you change and grow…
becoming new
again and again
with each passing season.

sacramental United Methodist Church worship

Hope for the UMC

Note: This post is a reflection on the 2020 (in 2024) General Conference of the United Methodist Church. If this is not relevant to you, you might want to skip this one. If you want news on General Conference, you can find commentary on Pastor Jeff’s blog, or some brief highlights and my thoughts integrated into a sermon in yesterday’s worship service.

I’ve been feeling them for almost 2 weeks: birth pangs. Let me be clear: this simply metaphorical. And yet, it feels remarkably similar to when I was actually on the verge of giving birth. Something is coming, a new thing is being birthed in the United Methodist Church. Hope is alive. Joy is in the air.

As we approached this General Conference, the only thing I was pregnant with was anxiety. After a series of frustrating and disappointing General Conferences, I had high hopes and admittedly low expectations for this General Conference. I prayed fervently for a more inclusive church. I prayed that we would take steps as a denomination that would enable us to do contextual ministry, that we would remove the harmful and restrictive language regarding LGBTQ+ individuals, that we would affirm social principles that would honor the diversity of our denomination, that we would come out of this General Conference with greater unity. I hoped for all of it, but I don’t know how much of that I believed would happen. After all, I have been conditioned to be disappointed by General Conference. 

I began to feel the birth pangs, at first farther apart, more mild, as legislative committees approved legislation moving us toward being a more inclusive church, but I didn’t get too excited. I knew there was plenty of room for things to change course. But the birth pangs began to get closer together and stronger as the entire body, vote after vote, often with overwhelming majority, began to move the church toward inclusion.

My experience in the last 2 weeks bore some similarity to the day our second child was born. She was overdue by several days, and I was beyond ready for her arrival. But here’s what you need to know: for nearly 2 months, I had been having contractions daily, and they weren’t “practice” contractions; they were productive. For a period of time, I was being watched for premature labor, and every doctor I saw (due to complications, I had appointments 2-3 times/week in my 3rd trimester) was convinced our daughter would be born early. Many times in those final months of my pregnancy, I thought “this is it…she’s coming today” and then the contractions would stop. When I reached my due date and she stayed put beyond it, I had also been conditioned not to get my hopes up that contractions meant “real” labor. So, when I awoke to contractions early on the morning of our daughter’s birth, I noticed them, and then went about my day. However, this time, they didn’t stop. Still not believing that I was actually in labor, I kept myself busy doing things like folding laundry and organizing things in the nursery. I couldn’t sit still; I had to keep moving. Eventually, I began to realize that this might be the day we would finally meet our daughter, and I called my doctor, and prepared to go to the hospital.

I’ll spare you the details from there, but the point is that in the last two weeks, at first, I wasn’t sure if I should pay attention to the birth pangs I was feeling as General Conference began to unfold. But when I found myself unable to sit still, moving around with nervous excitement, as the votes became more and more significant, as vote after vote affirmed what I had been praying for, I saw a theme emerging: breaking down barriers for the sake of love. While the 2019 General Conference built up walls, this one tore them down. I began to realize that something new was coming for the UMC.

Let me be clear: General Conference was not perfect. There were missteps and challenges because it was a gathering of imperfect humans. And I lament that too much harm has been done for too long to our LGBTQ+ siblings, harm we will have to work to reconcile.

And I want to affirm that it was a gathering of people seeking to be connected – to God, to one another – and to share love with one another and the world. It was beautiful to witness through the livestream; I can only imagine what it was like to be in the room where it happened. I am full of hope for the UMC!

Narrowing the focus to something that impacts me specifically, one piece of legislation that passed grants deacons sacramental authority, where contextually appropriate. Deacons are ordained to Word, Service, Compassion and Justice. We are called to serve as bridges, as connectors, between the church and the world, extending Christ’s love beyond the church and into the world through our ministries. Sacramental authority for deacons does not change our ministries; it does not make us “like” elders. Sacramental authority for deacons is about extending the means of grace into the world.

A graphic for describing deacons, created by UM Deacons: Sarah Dierker, Sara L Martin, Barbara Dunlap, and Kris Wise

The order of deacons was created at the 1996 General Conference, as a separate ordained Order. Those who worked and advocated for the Order of Deacons had hoped that deacons would have sacramental authority. After all, sacraments in the UMC are administered by ordained persons, and deacons are ordained. However, compromises were made, and the Order of Deacons was created without sacramental authority. As I was 10 years old at the time, there are numerous other deacons who were part of those conversations and can articulate this with greater detail and clarity than I can. Many of them can also articulate the challenges in their ministries due to the lack of sacramental authority, which is why forms of sacramental authority for deacons have been pursued for decades, as a channel through which deacons can extend the means of grace in their ministries. The 2008 General Conference approved limited sacramental authority for deacons, with permission from the bishop. Until 2012, Deacon were ordained to “Word and Service.” I was commissioned as a deacon to “Word and Service” in 2011 and then ordained under the 2012 Book of Discipline in 2013 to “Word, Service, Compassion and Justice.” The ministry of the deacon is ever-evolving, but our calling and ordination has not changed.

Remember, I said that the theme I saw emerging from General Conference was: breaking down barriers for the sake of love? This is one of those instances. It breaks down the barrier that often prevents deacons from extending the means of grace into the world.

A paten and chalice I received as an ordination gift. Without sacramental authority, it has been merely a decoration. However, after the vote passed at General Conference, I pulled it off the shelf and took this picture because it now has new meaning in my life and ministry.

For those interested in understanding the ministry of a deacon as a whole, here is the paragraph regarding the ministry of a deacon from the Book of Discipline, with the revised language around sacraments. (I have bolded the sentences related to sacramental authority.)

¶ 328 The Ministry of a Deacon – From among the baptized, deacons are called by God to a lifetime of servant leadership, authorized by the Church, and ordained by a bishop. From the earliest days of the church, deacons were called and set apart for the ministry of Love, Justice, and Service and for connecting the church with the most needy, neglected, and marginalized among the children of God. This ministry grows out of the Wesleyan passion for social holiness and ministry among the poor. It is the deacons, in both person and function, whose distinctive ministry is to embody, articulate, and lead the whole people of God in its servant ministry. Deacons fulfill servant ministry in the world and lead the Church in relating the gathered life of Christians to their ministries in the world, interrelating worship in the gathered community with service to God in the world. Deacons give leadership in the Church’s life: in teaching and proclaiming the Word; in contributing to worship, in assisting the elders in administering the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, or in presiding at the celebration of the sacraments when contextually appropriate ; in forming and nurturing disciples; in conducting marriages and burying the dead; in embodying the church’s mission to the world; and in leading congregations in interpreting the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world. For the sake of extending the mission and ministry of the church and offering the means of grace to the world, the deacon is authorized to preside at the celebration of the sacraments. Presiding at the celebration of the sacraments involves taking responsibility to lead the gathered community in celebrating baptism and Holy Communion. As members of the Order of Deacons, all deacons are in covenant with all other deacons in the annual conference and shall participate in the life of their order.

The question I have gotten over and over again in the last few days is: what does this mean? I can only tell you how I understand it, and what it means for my particular context of ministry.

My understanding of this change is that deacons do not have the same sacramental authority as elders. Elders are still responsible for ordering the sacramental life of the church; deacons still assist, and preside when it makes sense, aka “contextually appropriate.” For me, the significance of this is that the responsibility of discernment is moved from the bishop to the individual deacon. This is HUGE! For deacons serving in contexts without elders, it enables them to administer the sacraments according to their own discernment. It is still significant in contexts where there are elders, as even within the ministry of a local church, occasions arise when a deacon will need to preside. The removal of the requirement to ask the bishop for permission is not simply a matter of convenience; it honors our ordination by empowering us to make decisions surrounding our ministries.

In my current context, I anticipate that I will preside over sacraments on occasion, in particular, in scenarios beyond the walls of the church where the focus is on extending the ministry of the church into the world. And at times, it may be contextually appropriate for me to preside within the walls of the church, as well. A primary example is when an elder is unavailable, but it may not necessarily limited to that (however, I anticipate discernment around those situations would always occur in partnership with the elder with whom I serve).

The specifics of what sacramental authority will look like for deacons, and for me specifically, remains to be fully realized. But we have taken steps forward and it feels empowering. It feels hopeful. And it it just one more step that this General Conference made toward breaking down barriers for the sake of love. My heart is full!

prayer spiritual practice Uncategorized

Embodied Spiritual Practices

I have wanted to write about embodied spiritual practices for quite some time, because of their significance in my life. In fact, I have begun writing about them, and stopped, several times. It is challenging to describe the effectiveness of these activities that do not on the surface seem “spiritual” and yet, are essential to my own connection with the divine, a form of prayer that doesn’t look or sound like what we often think prayer is, and yet, engaging them reorients me to God, to myself, and to the world around me.

“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer  

Perhaps this quote from Richard Rohr best describes why I find embodied spiritual practices so helpful. I spend a lot of time in my head. That is my personality, and the nature of my work. Engaging in activities that require my whole body gets me out of my head. Embodied practices enable me to do more than think, but to truly live, with my whole being. And that is a form of prayer.

“What is prayer? It’s not a passport to heaven.
If anything it’s a way of seeing here, a way of being here.”         

 Pádraig Ó Tuama, Being Here: Prayers for Curiosity, Justice and Love

In recent weeks, I have engaged in several embodied spiritual practices that I’ll share here. This is not an exhaustive list, simply a snapshot in time. Some are commonplace things I do frequently, on repeat, and they sustain me. Others are irregular, or even one-off experiences. All enabled me to open myself to God, to be fully present to myself and the world around me, and I emerged from these experiences changed, even in some small way.

Walking: Whether in my neighborhood or in a park or down a busy street, this is the simplest and most accessible way to engage my body, even if only for a few minutes. And this is often when I hear and see God’s work in the world and in my life most clearly.

Making sourdough: This is a practice and a process, but there is something holy about keeping sourdough starter alive, nurturing it, and keeping it healthy enough to serve as leaven in bread. And when it is time to bake, I use my body to measure and weigh, to mix and knead, and then the dough rests…and I am reminded that after work, I must rest, too…and after resting, the dough has changed – expanded and risen – the leaven has done its work in the resting time. And I shape the dough and let it rest again, before baking it in an extremely hot oven. And when it emerges, it is no longer a sticky ball of goo, but the most delicious nourishment, and as it feeds my body, I remember how the process of making it fed my soul.

Ziplining: Last Friday, David and I went on a zipline adventure – hiking with a guide to 5 different ziplines, the longest of which was 2800 feet – and it was AMAZING! I have ziplined once before, through a rainforest canopy in Costa Rica on our honeymoon. That was a lot of fun, but it was also in the middle of planned vacation. This was a random Friday. We put our kids on the school bus in the morning, and to be honest – it was one of THOSE mornings – and then we went ziplining while they were at school. This experience was an interlude amid ordinary life, at the end of a week when I was truly exhausted. It might have felt good to stay home and lounge on the couch, read, perhaps take a nap. But what I needed was something different. And while it required energy, it was truly restorative, and it enabled me to re-enter my “normal” life with renewed perspective – more connected to God, to myself, and to those around me.

Puzzles: It is not unusual for me to have a puzzle in process on our dining room table. Conveniently situated between our home office and the kitchen (the hub of our home life), I pass the dining room numerous times each day. I can easily step into the dining room to spend a few minutes puzzling to re-orient my mind during a busy workday, or to calm my mind in the midst of parenting and running a household. And I am always reminded that everything will come together, one piece at a time.

Solar Eclipse: We viewed the eclipse at our daughters’ elementary school, in a field surrounded by hundreds of kids, family members, and teachers. While it was spectacular to see, the gift for me was being fully present to hear the gasps of children as it got dark, to look around and see the amazement on so many faces, to just be, in the presence of other humans, as we witnessed something we may never see again. For a few minutes, time stood still, and everything else fell away.

Gardening: This might seem like “work,” but gardening form of prayer for me. Pulling weeds is like confession, loosening the dirt to plant is like centering, putting a seed or a seedling in the ground is like an offering, watering, waiting and nurturing is like patiently listening for God to speak, and harvesting food for my family’s table is like thanksgiving.

Standing barefoot on the grass: It is hard to describe just how grounding this practice is for me. I wear shoes almost any time I am standing, and so it is jarring (in the best possible way) to walk outside with bare feet, to feel the cool grass under my toes, and the breeze blowing my skin. To just be still, for as long as it takes, to feel connected again, to realize that the spot where I am standing – no matter where it is – is holy ground.

 “What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human,
trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”

Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

And today, reflecting on all of these experiences, I am grateful, for their role in helping me become more fully human, one day, one practice, at a time. I think I’ll go ride my bike now.

blessings self-compassion

For when it’s all too much…

My friend’s dad died this week. We have been friends since 2011, back when we were both graduate students, young adults without kids. So much has changed since then: moves, marriage, careers, babies. We now live half a country apart. We both have young children. And we both lost our fathers within the course of a year. 

Connecting with my friend this week reminded me of this permission slip I wrote to myself months ago, on a day when the combination of parenting and grief and work and household management was all too much. I did not write it to share it. But here it is: for me, for my friend, and for you, for when it (and “it” can be anything) is all too much. 

For the day when
the tears flow freely,
becoming sobs,
but there are no words
to describe the hard,
when sighs and groans
are the language of prayer…

Breathe in and out.
Sigh, scream, cry.
Curse if it helps.
Throw punches at your pillow.
Make a cup of tea.
Stare out the window.
Walk, run, flee…

Do whatever enables you
to set down
this too-muchness,
that threatens to
overtake you,
this overhwhelming-ness
that is trying to crush you…


This is your permission slip
to pause your spinning mind,
to be attentive to your body,
to connect with your soul,
to ask what it is that you need…
and then DO it,
without delay or excuses.

And if you can’t figure out
what you need,
be counterintuitive.
Do the opposite
of what you usually would,
do anything for the good
of your mind, body, soul.

It may seem easier
to say than to do,
but the doing
is what will get you through,
and let me be clear,
I mean the kind of doing
that is focused on YOU.

discernment spiritual practice

Welcome 2024

As the sun set on 2023, I was literally lounging in a hammock in my front yard reading a cookbook until I no longer had enough light to see words on the page. Yes, it was warm enough for that on New Year’s Eve (I also picked tomatoes from my garden that afternoon). And no, I don’t mean figurative “sunset” as in, midnight. I mean literal sunset. I’m always in bed hours before midnight. And if I’m up at midnight, it better be because of a sick kid. But I digress. My point is that I appreciate the Jewish timekeeping practice in which the day ends at sunset and a new one begins. I like that start to a new year or season, also. It is a rhythm that gives me time to mark the ending, and to begin again before resting.

Also, yes, I read cookbooks during my leisure time; I enjoy cooking so much that I find it fun and relaxing, and reading a good cookbook is simply thrilling! I wanted to end the year being gentle with myself, doing something that brought me delight. (Although some joke that I hate fun, I like to say that I have a different idea of fun than most.) When it got too dark to read, I went inside and celebrated the new year with my family, watching the London fireworks at 7pm CT, as is our tradition. This not only follows the rhythm of time that I appreciate, but it also enables the kids to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and the grown-ups too. (See? I’m VERY fun!!)

2023 was a hard year. Perhaps the hardest. My dad died. Parenting is challenging. Parenting children through your own grief and theirs is even more difficult.  But I’m not saying, “good riddance” to 2023; I’m saying, “thank you.”

I am not the same now as I was at the start of 2023. While some may list all their accomplishments, the books they read and the places they traveled in the last year, I am looking back and what I see is a labyrinth. What do I mean by that? I mean that 2023 was not linear, not focused on goals or accomplishments, finishing anything at all. In fact, I put down more than I finished or picked up. (Perhaps you noticed that I barely published anything on my blog all year?!) I released my grip on many things, and I embraced compassion. I practiced being gentle with myself and others. It was a meandering path, one that moved closer to the center and away from the center, a journey not bound by time or goals. When I walk a labyrinth, I wander around a small, fixed area and emerge different than when I entered the labyrinth. That’s what 2023 was like for me.

This was a not a year of having adventures or accomplishing goals. I did not travel far and wide. I traveled to San Antonio from the Austin area about a billion times, and only a few other places within a short driving distance all year. But I was where I needed to be, when I needed to be, with whom I needed to be. I read and re-read poetry and blessings, and I abandoned books and media that did not feed my soul. I focused on nourishing meals and exercise that felt good in my body, taking long walks, and doing lots of yoga. I invested time in nurturing my relationships. I cared for my family, and I cared for myself. And I am grateful for the time and space this year to listen to my needs and those of my loved ones, to grow in compassion for myself and others.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions. I used to, but I was always too ambitious and aspirational, and then very self-critical when I didn’t achieve them. The process was entirely unhelpful, so I let it go. At some point I began a new practice, almost by accident. I didn’t intend to. Perhaps it was intuitive. I began to listen to my life, to discern what I needed, and to try to describe it in a word or phrase that would serve as my guide through the next year, or season. A breath prayer, of sorts. This isn’t something that I’ve done religiously, or with a specific timeline (although sometimes it has coincided with the beginning of a year, there are times I have engaged in this practice again and chosen a new word or phrase multiple times during a year, as circumstances and seasons changed).

I rarely tell anyone what my word or phrase is, keeping it close to my heart, letting it sink into my soul and permeate my being, without any external input beyond prayer. I will share now that the word that emerged for me as 2022 drew to a close was “compassion.” At the time, I didn’t know where the Holy Spirit was leading me with that word, but it soon became clear that I had not chosen the word; the Spirit had chosen it for me, in her infinite wisdom, knowing I needed to embrace compassion in new ways in my life.

As 2024 dawns, many things are different. I have changed, and my circumstances are incomparable to my life at this time last year. As I say thank you to 2023, I welcome 2024. I have no idea what this year holds, but I pray that I will be able to continue to embrace compassion, and to welcome whatever comes, being present to what is.

In closing, I want to share a blessing from Jan Richardson’s book Circle of Grace. May it bless you, as it has blessed me.  

The Map You Make Yourself
A Blessing for Women’s Christmas
by Jan Richardson

You have looked
at so many doors
with longing,
wondering if your life
lay on the other side.

For today,
choose the door
that opens
to the inside.

Travel the most ancient way
of all:
the path that leads you
to the center
of your life.

No map
but the one
you make yourself.

No provision
but what you already carry
and the grace that comes
to those who walk
the pilgrim’s way.

Speak this blessing
as you set out
and watch how
your rhythm slows,
the cadence of the road
drawing you into the pace
that is your own.

Eat when hungry.
Rest when tired.
Listen to your dreaming.
Welcome detours
as doors deeper in.

Pray for protection.
Ask for the guidance you need.
Offer gladness
for the gifts that come
and then
let them go.

Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you

but by the star
that blazes inside you
telling you
where you are
is holy
and you are welcome

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice


This post is one in a series of reflections in response to the spiritual practices in Beth A. Richardson’s book Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.

Our spiritual practice this week was compassion. Beth A. Richardson shares: “In Hebrew, the word translated as compassion comes from the root word rehem, meaning ‘womb.’ When we have compassion for another, we have the sort of love that a parent has for a child.” This week, my child taught me about compassion. 

During worship last Sunday, Pastor Jeff led us in Beth Richardson’s loving-kindness meditation (Walking in the Wilderness, p. 90-91). It was the third time I had practiced it that day: once on my own, and then in each worship service, of which this was the second. Our 8-year-old daughter was sitting next to me. When Pastor Jeff gave the instructions to “pray fro yourself,” she was silent, like everyone else. When we were guided to “pray for a good friend,” she whispered to me who she was paying for. It was distracting, but it told me she was participating, and I smiled. When we heard the instructions to “pray for someone for whom you do not have strong feelings, such as an acquaintance” she again whispered to me who she was praying for. And when we were told to “pray for someone you dislike,” she whispered the name of a child at school who has been teasing her. I opened my eyes and looked at her, realizing that I, too, needed to pray for this child. I have had so much compassion for my own child and her emotional responses to how she is treated by this classmate, but I realized I have not been particularly compassionate toward this other child. I had not prayed for this child, and I needed to. My daughter led me to my growing edge, to this place of conviction, to an area where I have not been extending compassion in my life. 

I have continued to pray for this child throughout my week, and not just for this child, but for my own feelings toward them. In the past, I have been filled with frustration and confusion and sadness about their behavior. I have prayed for my daughter to manage the situation as best she can, with the help of her teacher. But until this week, I have not prayed for this other child, the one who probably needs compassion more than I will ever know. This week, I have gained a new understanding of compassion and praying for our enemies. I am grateful that God has worked through my child to teach me, to lead me, so that I can continue to grow in compassionate love toward others, loving as Christ loved. 

But here’s the thing: the blessing exercise leads us first to pray for and bless ourselves, then to pray for and bless a good friend, then an acquaintance, then someone we dislike. There is wisdom in this gradual shift of focus from ourselves to our loved ones to those we don’t know well to those we dislike. It enables us to care for ourselves, have compassion for ourselves first, rather than forgetting about our own needs as we focus on the rest of the world. And then it enables us to be open to the Spirit’s leading. Each time I practice this loving-kindness meditation, different people come to mind. Praying into compassion has helped me to extend my prayer practice into practicing compassion this week, for myself, as well as others. 

Beth A. Richardson asks, “How do we find the healthy balance of caring that lies somewhere between compassion and numbing as we witness so much crisis and turmoil?” An excellent question to consider, and to ponder in prayer. I think it is different for each of us, and at least for me, I know the “balance” looks different each day. But I was reminded this week that it begins with prayer. Let us pray: 

Bless all people, everywhere, with your love. 

Bless all people with your healing. 

Bless all people with your peace. Amen.

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice Uncategorized


This post is one in a series of reflections in response to the spiritual practices in Beth A. Richardson’s book Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.

Last week, the spiritual practice Beth A. Richardson invited us into was Trust. Admittedly, I had not put “trust” in the category of spiritual practice before. But I certainly practice trust in my spiritual life, even though I had not reflected on it in those terms, or practiced it intentionally. Trust was just something I did when I did it, or recognized when I wasn’t doing it. 

Beth A. Richardson writes: “As followers of Christ, we commit our care and keeping to the Holy One, the Creator of all things. And trust becomes a spiritual practice.” She goes on to quote Daniel Wolpert, who says: “A prayer practice is just that: practice. It is taking time to learn how to listen for God. It is taking time to see the hand of God at work in our lives.” In my experience, this is true of all spiritual practices, which are all a form of prayer. 

This week, we were invited to practice trust by doing a “Trust Inventory” (Walking in the Wilderness, p. 72). When I completed the inventory, I found it helpful because I had never named my fears and how they are getting in the way of my love of God, neighbor, or myself in such an intentional way before. I found it helpful to name them, reflect on them in those terms, and offer them to God. But soon after completing the inventory, I realized my list of fears was incomplete. It wasn’t that I had not named things I feared. I had. But as I moved through the day and the rest of the week, other fears began to surface. Not new fears; rather, fears I had not yet named as “fear.” But whether I called them “fear” or not, they were still present.

Here’s an example: as I began to work on my sermon on Monday morning, I was overcome by a feeling of inadequacy. I began to question whether I could write and preach this sermon. Let me be clear: there is a certain amount of fear associated with the task of preaching that is healthy, and that for me, keeps me humble in my process of interpreting scripture and developing a sermon. But I experience another layer of fear related to public speaking. Often, I wish I could write the sermon and let someone else preach it. In fact, my preference for avoiding public speaking was a barrier to accepting my call into ministry for a time. Like Moses and others in scripture, I said to God “but I cannot speak well!” And as God provided for others, God provided for me – not by giving me someone else to speak for me, as God provided Moses with his brother Aaron (Exodus 4:10-17) – but by reminding me that while I may not be a gifted speaker, I am a gifted writer, and writing is a tool for public speaking. And so I leverage my gift for writing, and I practice, and I am able to preach.

And yet, every time I am scheduled to preach, I am afraid. I had not called it “fear” prior to last week. I have named it many other things: lack of natural ability, anxiety, Imposter Syndrome. And while none of that is inaccurate, fear is at the root of my struggle with public speaking. Fear that I won’t be up to the task, or that even if I am able to interpret the scripture well enough to write a decent sermon, my poor delivery will get in the way of others receiving it. This happens every single time I prepare to preach. It is part of my process. And, I’m aware that every single time I write a sermon, the Spirit guides my interpretation of scripture and gives me the words. Every single time, when I show up and do my part, God shows up and does God’s part. And that includes guiding me through the preaching of the words I have written on the page, which is the most terrifying piece. Even though I am afraid, my experience of God showing up and guiding me each and every time enables me to do it, and to do it again, and to do it again. While I don’t preach weekly, even moving through this process every few months is a helpful spiritual practice for me, an exercise in practicing trust in the Holy One. 

While the Trust Inventory may have been the prescribed practice this week, writing and preaching my sermon was my practice, my exercise in once again moving through the process from fear to trusting God to do what God always does, because God is faithful. 

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice Uncategorized

Lectio Divina

This post is part of a series of reflections in response to the spiritual practices in Beth A. Richardson’s book Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.

Lectio Divina is a spiritual practice of “divine reading.” Beth A. Richardson says “Lectio Divina invites the reader to interact with the text using the eyes and ears of the heart by asking the question, ‘What is the Holy One saying to me in this passage?’” Helpfully, Richardson explains that “in Lectio Divina the scripture is read for formation rather than information.”

I have experienced the formational aspect of Lectio Divina myself. When I was first introduced to Lectio Divina, I was in an intense phase of reading scripture for information. As a college religion major, I was required to read large portions of scripture at a time to prepare for class. In order to write my papers and prepare for exams, I needed to be able to zoom out to look at the narrative arc of a text or the entirety of a biblical book in order to dissect a short passage. I was required to read commentaries and cross-reference, to use the study tools available to help me interpret the text. 

I found that when I was reading large portions of scripture regularly for my academic work, my personal scripture reading became very focused. I found myself reading one verse, or maybe a few more, per day. I read this tiny portion of scripture and spent time contemplating, without using study tools. I retrospect, I was intuitively doing the opposite of what my academic work required because that’s what my soul needed. This is when I encountered Lectio Dvina. I don’t remember how I learned about it or who shared it with me. What I do know is that this practice of divine reading and listening to the text was exactly what I needed at the time. I was already asking the question: “What is God saying to me in this moment?” And this is precisely the question Beth A. Richardson says we are asking when we engage in Lectio Divina. In contrast to my academic studies, where I was primarily focused on “what are the possible meanings of this text, within the historical and canonical context?” I was instead asking God what God had to say to me, in my life, at that time. 

The first time I remember practicing Lectio Divina in a group setting was in my first year of seminary. All M. Div. students were required to be part of a spiritual formation group, led not by seminary faculty (aka: our professors), but by local clergy. Our leaders were people who had been through seminary, and now served in the local church, those who knew the gifts and challenges of a seminary education as well as the realities we would face as we fulfilled our future callings. My group leader felt that Lectio Divina was an important practice for future clergy – not for our work (although, it certainly could be helpful) – for our personal spiritual formation. Our leader regularly led us through Lectio Divina during our group meetings. At first, our texts for Lectio Divina were scripture passages. Then, he invited us to contemplate religious art. He shared poems. He encouraged us to practice Lectio Divina with the front page of the newspaper. He shared music for an auditory version called Audio Divina. Because of his expansive view of spiritual practices and holy “texts,” I encountered God in new and unexpected ways. 

While I have not practiced it regularly, I have returned to Lectio Divina again and again over the last 15 years. I’ve always found it helpful as a means of discerning God’s voice in scripture, and in other texts. It focuses my prayer on scripture and invites me to be open to receiving what God might say. However, I haven’t practiced Lectio Divina in  while…until this week. 

This was an odd week to return to focusing on Lectio Divina, because I was on a family vacation. I have 2 young children, and while time to myself is *always* in short supply, the lack of routine and more compact living arrangements on vacation make it nearly impossible to find time alone. However, I found myself in a contemplative state of mind this week, paying more attention to the world and the people around me, asking God “What are you saying to me through this?” I found that this contemplative mindset enabled me to be more open to God in my daily life.  

Additionally, I did engage in the practice of Lectio Divina twice this week. Once, with Psalm 63:1-4 during which I found myself truly praying the psalm and repeating the phrase “your steadfast love is better than life” (v. 3a in the NRSV version) over and over in praise to God. I also practiced Lectio Divina with 2 Corinthians 5:16-18. I chose this passage because I know it well. God led me to contemplate humanity and my own human-ness. I was reminded that Christ gave us the ministry of reconciliation, and God brought to mind a situation in which I am called to be a catalyst for reconciliation between two people who are struggling to acknowledge and accept one another’s full humanity.

These two experiences are representative of my experience of Lectio Divina over the years. Sometimes, I simply hear a word or phrase that sticks with me. Other times, I hear God speaking or calling me in a direction I did not anticipate. I am grateful for this practice – now and throughout my life – as a means of helping me to draw near to God and to ask what God is saying to me in a given moment, whether the “text” is scripture, artwork, music, secular writing, or an event in my own life. God is always speaking, but am I listening? Lectio Divina helps me to listen.

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice


This post is part of a series of reflections in response to the spiritual practices in Beth A. Richardson’s book Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent. Last week, I reflected on the practice of being present.

As we continue our journey through this Lenten season, I have been focusing on the practice of lament this week. I am grateful to my guide, Beth A. Richardson. I deeply appreciate the way she describes lament.

“Lament is a prayer for help that comes from a place of pain or distress. Lament gives voice to our intimate feelings, our deepest longings. Through expressing our laments, we give voice to the exiled parts of our deepest self. Lament can be part of our process of healing. We offer our concerns and our wounds to God. And, if our wounds are not healed, they are acknowledged and offered in prayer to the One who walks with us in our wilderness.”

Beth A. Richardson, Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent

I have engaged in the practice of lament for nearly 15 years, but having a new guide helped me to engage in and practice lament in new ways this week. I wrote about lament during Lent last year. In that post, I explain how I became acquainted with the practice, my understanding of lament, and how it has been helpful to me over the years. 

Here I am, a year later, with perhaps more to lament. My dad is receiving hospice care as he nears the end of his life, one of our children is in the midst of a particularly challenging season, and my heart breaks when I read the news. I needed to engage this practice right now, and I didn’t realize quite how much until I did. 

In the past, my practice of lament has mostly taken the from of praying psalms of lament and praying freeform prayers of lament to God for myself, others I know, or the world, without paying attention to form and pattern. What I found particularly helpful this week was the reminder that biblical lament follows a particular pattern: address, complaint, petition, affirmation, resolution. I noticed it in the psalms of lament I prayed. And I employed it when I engaged the practice of writing my own lament. (I created this template from Beth A. Richardson’s guide to writing your own lament, if you want to engage in the practice yourself.)

I found that the form and pattern served as a permission slip and a framework that enabled me to share freely and without holding back. The prayers of lament I wrote this week are too personal to share; they were helpful because they were fully authentic, written for no audience other than God. The practice of writing them was healing for me, and I am grateful. My circumstances haven’t changed; my life is not easier; and yet, I was reminded that I am not in this alone. I can trust God to work in the midst of even my deepest sorrow and most difficult day. 

Finally, I want to share this prayer that blessed me this week with its truth.

Collect our tears
Tears of sadness
tears of joy
Tears of anxiety
nervous tears
Tears that don’t know why they run like rivers down the face
Gracious God, 
collect our tears in your bottle 
And pour them back on us as life-giving water! 

Safiyah Fosua, The Africana Worship Book: Year B

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice

Being Present

This Lenten season, our church is reading Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent by Beth A. Richardson. I appreciate many things about this book, but my favorite component is the invitation to engage in a different spiritual practice each week. Introduced on Sundays, we are incorporating the practices into our worship and study each Sunday and during the week following. 

The practice for the first Sunday of Lent was: being present. This week I have been intentional about being present as often as possible. 

I have practiced sitting and meditating. I have gotten distracted while sitting a meditating. I have taken walks and noticed the changing of the seasons, tiny leaves sprouting on trees, the early arrival of the bluebonnets in central Texas. I have been present and aware of my body and its cues, from noticing sore muscles from my workout to letting exhaustion lead to a nap instead of a cup of coffee.

A flower that blooms in our flower bed each year at this time.

This week, I was serving on the Board of Ordained Ministry for my Annual Conference. We met at the camp where I attended youth retreats as a teen and clergy events throughout my ministry. It is the same camp where my interviews for my ordination process were held. It was a gift to be there, to be present to what I am experiencing in my spiritual life now, while reflecting on where I have come from. It was a joy to pray with a candidate the night before her interviews, laying hands on her and interceding for her. I think that prayer time was when I was most present this week.  

My shadow, in front of the chapel at Mt. Wesley (Kerrville, TX) where I accepted my call to ministry 20 years ago.

I have noticed that the busier my schedule is on a given day, the more likely I am to try to do two things at once. The result is that I am not entirely present to anything or anyone. I noticed this when I was placing a grocery order on my phone while at the playground with my daughter. I noticed it again when I was talking on the phone while folding laundry. 

In my experience of practicing being present this week, I have realized that presence means being fully engaged in where I am, in what I am doing, and with the people I am with. Practicing presence is not as simple as “put the phone away,” although that can certainly help. I can get lost in my mind just as easily as in something I am looking at or holding. Presence is about being. In Beth A. Richardson’s words, “If we are truly in the present moment, we are open to the movement of the Holy One. We become a channel for the spirit’s promptings in us.” May we be present, and may it be so.