Prayer by the Hours

prayerLent 2016 is almost upon us. Every time I’ve considered what my Lenten practice should be, the Divine Office has leaped up and raised its hand. And waved enthusiastically.

That’s probably because I’ve been studying Benedictine living. Benedict created a moderate schedule of work, rest, prayer, eating, drinking, and study for his monks – a HUMAN paced life, centered around the Divine Office.

It’s very appealing. A daily schedule of prayer breaks up the day; it could prevent me from slipping into the obsessive, hyperfocused, body/mind/soul-damaging ten-hours-without-a-break work mindset to which I’m prone.

But really – how practical is it with my life? Not at ALL. I’m busy. Really busy. I’ll forget. I’m lucky if I remember to pray once, much less multiple times, each day.

Sigh. That’s EXACTLY why I need this discipline. Lent isn’t about choosing the easy thing. It’s about choosing the needful thing.

And I need balance in my life. I need awareness of the Divine in my life during the day. Every day.

So I’ve created 2-5 minute contemplations, loosely based on traditional Divine Office services, along with a one-page conversation to explain what Prayer by the Hours is all about.

Would you like to join me? I don’t expect everyone will pray five times a day (or seven or three or…) There are no expectations. No success or failure. Just an opportunity to walk (stumble) together through Lent.

For 40 days we will:

* pace our daily lives ala Benedict
* increase/improve our prayer life
* explore who we are as expressions of the Divine

I’ll provide daily contemplations from scripture, Rumi and other Sufi mystics, etc, and together, we can see how it feels to Pray by the Hours.

Click here to join the group. Feel free to invite friends. Blessings!

What’s in a Name?

I was reading Psalm 113 today, and I got stuck on one of the words: LORD.

by John Singer Sargent

In America, where there are no lords (or ladies), we vaguely associate the word with jolly old England and people dressed in Victorian clothing. We picture expensive, elaborate garb, symbols of status and wealth. We imagine a life free from want. A life filled with servants who cater to our every whim.

Lords, then, stand in stark contrast to the serving peasants, those masses who live one week’s wage – or less – from hunger and homelessness. Ultimately, the word LORD evokes images of injustice and inequality. And that’s where I got stuck.

Now, I understand that LORD is just a placeholder for a concept, namely God. But as you probably know, I get cranky about language which validates privilege. (Or violence. We sing Onward Christian Soldiers in tribute to Jesus? Really?) The word LORD bothered me, because it arises out of a caste system which believes some are more important than others.

But we’re talking about God here. God IS more important, right?

Honestly, I’m not sure that’s true. If God resides in us, if we are God stuff through and through, if we are images of God, then we cannot be less important, can we? Because in some intangible but real way, we ARE God. All of creation is an expression of Godself, and therefore as holy as the God we imagine to be external.

by Leon Lhermitte

In any case, the point I’m trying to make is that we’re using a word that reinforces a stratum perspective: namely, that one person – a rich lord, say – is more important than another, perhaps a peasant down to her last penny. Regardless of our perspective of God’s supremacy, using class-reinforcing words for God also informs our view of one another.

Let’s be honest. We do stratify. We glorify doctors. Or musicians. Or baseball players. Or whoever our LORD happens to be. It’s so not WWJD. Jesus commands us to love each other as equals, and I believe one way we can bring our perspective more in alignment is by being thoughtful with language.

Words matter. Words define and create our perceptions, and thereby our actions. That’s why I get my knickers in a bunch (what are knickers and how do they bunch?) when I run across a word like LORD.

What does the Hebrew word translated LORD really mean? Is it a word of hierarchy, or is it something else? It turns out, LORD is the English substitute for the word YHWH, which is the unpronouncable name of God. The word YHWH comes from the Hebrew word havah, which means to be, to become, or to come to pass.

Ah-ha! We follow the God who is. The God out of which all becomes and happens. Or, to jump back onto my We-are-all-God bandwagon, this is the God who is, who becomes all things (us and creation and all that we can’t imagine), and who is in all activities.

Because it was a name not to be pronounced, Hebrews in early centuries substituted the word haShem or the Name. Today, they use Adonai. When the Bible was translated into English, LORD was the substitutionary word.

That’s a relief. The original word has nothing to do with a caste system. That means I can validly substitute a reverent word/phrase that carries less baggage. Perhaps I might even use the root word, Havah.

Oh, did you know? The modern form of Havah is Eve. Wait, you say. The most revered name of God is a variation of….Eve?

art by Linde Mott

Ah, yup.

So, now I’ll return to Psalm 113 and rewrite it without the word LORD. If it wasn’t equally classist, I might consider substituting LADY. 🙂

I Have No Idea Where I’m Going

DSCF3079“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

This is Thomas Merton’s prayer, a prayer beloved by many. I love it, too.

I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know if I’m even following your path. But I’m trying to, and I think my attempts please you, even if I get it wrong. So I’ll trust you, even when I fear you might be getting it wrong. Because no matter what, you’ll never leave me alone.

Life looks pretty darn good when we wander life’s paths with this perspective.

Labyrinth of Fir and Fern

labyrinthI hiked ten miles during a recent camping trip. It was hot and I was tired (and thirsty – I didn’t realize there wouldn’t be water available at the highway trailheads we passed) but I felt deep satisfaction in knowing I could complete a long day’s hike. 

The next day, Tali and I took a two mile stroll through the woods, following a path that twisted and turned and led ever upward. As I turned around to retrace my steps, I realized I was traveling a labyrinthian trail. I stopped.

“Divine – whatever you are, whoever you are, IF you are – show yourself. Not so that I will believe, because I don’t think you ever obscure yourself. I think – no, I believe – you are visible, if I can only have eyes to see.”

I looked around. I saw firs, ferns, tiny maples. I remembered the majesty of the aspen grove we walked through the day before. I remembered when, long ago, I received these words: Look at nature. Look at the trees, the hills. Wrap yourself in them, because it is my love extruded into the world.

My deity is not a god of deserts, but rather, one of forests and hills, of vineyards and fields. So long have I searched for home, but in that moment, I realized I’ve never been homeless. I am a child of the Willamette valley. I carry it within me, and in so doing, also hold the divine, who is visible within and without.


enoughEnough! You’ve allowed the corruption of justice long enough. You’ve feigned helplessness or turned your back as your leaders let the wicked get away with murder. Their job was to defend the helpless, to make sure that the underprivileged and the down-and-out are treated fairly. Their job – and yours – is to stand up for the powerless, and to rescue them from those who exploit them. Ignorant people! You have your heads in the sand. You haven’t a clue what’s going on, and now everything’s falling apart. – paraphrase of Psalm 82

I’m incensed at those who mouth the words of our rich political and business leaders: “The unemployed are lazy. They don’t work hard enough. There are plenty of jobs. They just don’t try.”

I want to shout, “Quit drinking the kool-aid!  (Or tea, in this case.)  Open your eyes and see what’s going on!”

But then I look at myself. What am I doing to change our society, our political structure? Wringing my hands makes me exactly as effective as those whose blindness infuriates me. In fact, isn’t my inaction even more egregious than their ignorance? Because I DO see what’s going on.

What can I – and any individual – do? I mean, like, immediately? I can:

  1. Refuse to patronize the businesses of large employers who pay their workers less than a full-time, living wage.
  2. Move my money from a bank to a credit union.
  3. Purchase products that are fairly traded. (My responsibility for my fellow humans doesn’t end at my country’s border.)
  4. Campaign for living wages for all. Poverty would end tomorrow if we had national minimum income and a higher minimum wage.
  5. Buy less. Need less. Give more.

The current oligarchy will collapse in a month if we refuse to participate in the economics of our current era. It’s time to get our heads out of the sand. This isn’t just a political problem, it’s a spiritual one, and the psalm is clear. If we continue to stand (purposefully or through inaction) on the side of those who profit from exploiting others, we stand against God. 


What the Heck is Triduum?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERALent is an endurance course, filled with hills & dips, with boulders that block & pebbles that turn the foot, and with the occasional breath-taking view. The last three days, Triduum, are the cruelest of all, for the path climbs straight up, straining our spiritual muscles to the breaking point.

It begins with Maundy Thursday, best known as ‘foot washing day’. Someone on a forum asked, “It makes me really uncomfortable. What’s up with foot washing?” Well, it’s about remembering that the Christ path is first and foremost about serving, especially those whose feet are dirty. It’s about taking our shoes off and realizing that our feet are dirty, too. It’s about washing others’ feet without judging. It’s about being humble, and letting someone else wash your feet – without worrying about whether or not you’re being judged.

And really, it’s not about feet at all. It’s the intimacy we’re uncomfortable with, isn’t it? But Jesus called us to be personal, to be intimate, to be truly loving with one another. We need to have MORE foot washing, to break through our barriers. Because if such an innocuous thing makes us uncomfortable, we can be sure we’ve placed even higher blockades on more important matters.

Good Friday reminds us that neither government nor society are just arbiters. It shoves into our faces the truth that soldiers, left alone, may torture and mock. That government convicts innocent people. Then and now, we should be horrified when anyone’s dignity is cast aside.

Jesus’ death was not ordained of God, not part of some convoluted plan to save us from a self-bound deity. His death was man-made, because then and now, we will go to any lengths to silence those who pull us from our comfortable delusions. Good Friday gives us the opportunity to contemplate our chains – and the chains of others.

On Holy Saturday, we sit in stillness with Our Lady of Solitude, grieving that which is gone. This is the hardest day- to just sit in our discomfort. If you’re like me, you don’t want to endure, you want to cure. But unless we understand the causes of our pain, we don’t correct, we only mask.

So, we sit silently with all who grieve, all who have lost love, homes, jobs, dignity, hope. We must understand their pain, because Easter resurrection will come for them only if we, the hands and hearts of Christ, bring it.

Finally, FINALLY, after this three day period that lasts forever, we reach the resurrection summit. Our Triduum tears have cleared our eyes, and we can see for miles.



Love splashing around
staining all it touches with
the beating heart of God.


“If you were called to create a creed, what would it say?” asked priest Shelly Fayette to the gathered group. “Here. Take paper and pencil, take five minutes, and write.”

Since I’d already done this exercise (see it listed here: Prayer) I chose a creative, rather than a dogmatic, route and created  the haiku above. (There is an extra syllable. Oops.)

What would YOUR creed say?

The Holy Messiness of Matter

dunnforest 0001John Scotus Eriugena, the ninth-century Celtic teacher, in reflecting on the ‘seven days’ of creation in the Book of Genesis, taught that it is not a chronological account of the making of the earth. Rather, it is a meditation on the ever-present mystery of creation….and this is the desire that countless numbers of people in the Western world are becoming aware of: the desire to reintegrate our lives and our spirituality with the mystery of creation.” – J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation: the practice of Celtic Spirituality

I remember an evening a decade ago, driving through the Van Duzer corridor in the Coast Range. I felt lost and alone. God spoke to me, saying, “Child, look around you. See the trees? See the night sky? Wrap the rich cloak of creation around you and feel my love. Anytime you feel cold and lonely, wrap yourself in the warmth of my world and know that you are loved.

From that moment, I knew I was connected to tree and hill, stone and star via the M-brane of God, which is Spirit. To say that either I or the world around me was subject to original sin (i.e., imperfect at conception) would be to say that Spirit itself was fallen or failed.

Clear back in the ninth century, Eriugena understood this. He taught that Genesis was written to bring us into the mystery of creation, not to dictate its parameters. He saw Genesis as a parable that showed our inextricable link to creation through God’s presence which permeates all. For a millenium, Celtic spirituality (of which he was a part) embraced the holy messiness of matter – and of spirit – instead of trying to sanitize one or both by denying the innate holiness of the corporeal.

I think that’s why certain liturgical churches are seeing an upsurge in attendance by younger people. The teachings of these churches harken back to Celtic thought, embracing the earth and eschew separatism. That’s good news to a generation that wants connection with the world around it.



crossIn a conversation where I expressed my belief that Jesus did not ‘die for our sins’, someone responded , “Maybe people don’t need Jesus to die for their sins today, but back in Jesus’ day, things were pretty barbaric. Do you think he needed to come and die for THEIR sins?”

Interesting question. Here are my thoughts:

Living in the USA today, we may feel that people were more barbaric two thousand years ago, but I doubt the Palestinians share our opinion, or the peoples in Syria, South Sudan and other war-torn parts of world. Personally, I’m not sure the USA stands on much higher ground than the Romans of Jesus’ time, given that we still employ the death penalty. It seems our modern world has just as much need for God’s atonement.

But what IS atonement? If you look at the etymology, its original meaning was reconciliation after estrangement. It was only later that it evolved to mean making some kind of amends. In other words, payment was not initially a necessary component of atonement – the emphasis was on restoration, not remuneration.

Restoration is what Jesus understood his ministry to be about. The first time he appears publicly in his hometown, he opens the scrolls and reads,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In his reading, he extended God’s restoration to all (even non-Jews) without remuneration. That’s why the crowd then tried to kill him. Turns out, universal forgiveness and restoration wasn’t a popular message. It still isn’t. Even today, we insist people pay for that which is most basic to human survival – food, shelter, healthcare. Given that mindset, it makes sense that we would try to apply it to salvation, too. Then or now, we humans just don’t seem to be able to wrap our heads around the concept of ‘freely given.’

But if we didn’t need his death as atonement, then what was the point of Jesus coming at all? I think the point was Jesus’ LIFE:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

It doesn’t say, “that he gave his only son to be crucified and to die.” We add that in ourselves. Jesus came – was given – to proclaim good news, news that would change the heart of both religion and politics. And that news was: God dwells among us! His message was powerful enough that it frightened, not just the Jewish leaders, but Roman ones, as well.

So they killed him. But it wasn’t the end of the story. Humanity cannot overpower God’s love, and THAT’S the message of Jesus’ resurrection. Not even death can stop God from saving the world – and us.

Many Christians have a different understanding of atonement, one that involves Jesus as a sacrificial offering, as the substitutionary Paschal lamb. That’s fine with me; it’s why I love the Episcopal Church. We can stand side-by-side with our different understanding and still be in full communion. There is no need for estrangement – we can skip straight to at-one-ment. 🙂

God Grant me Vision and Courage to do more

sufferingI begin each day with the morning service from Iona Abbey Worship Book. Today’s reading was Psalm 82, which talks about God standing and speaking in a divine assembly. God says,

“How long will you defend the unjust, and favor the cause of the wicked? Rather, defend the poor and the orphaned! Render justice to the afflicted and oppressed! Rescue the weak and the poor! Set them free from the clutches of the wicked!”

But, continues the Psalmist, the assembly “knows nothing, understands nothing. They wander about in the darkness while the world is falling apart.” 

I can’t help but see that divine assembly as the assembly of Christian believers. I am horrified at those who call themselves Christian, yet defend businesses whose practices concentrate wealth, enslave people, and leave increasing numbers destitute. I don’t understand those who chastise the poor, ignoring their  long work hours and desperate need.

Every morning, in the Service, I affirm “God’s goodness in humanity, planted more deeply than all that is wrong.”

I need this affirmation. I need to know that even those who wander in the darkness are at heart, good and holy. That goodness is deeper than the pain and suffering they ignore, that goodness is buried under their blindness and their apathy.

I need that assurance to give me courage to act. Because every morning, I also vow that I will not offer God “offerings that cost me nothing.” I will not relegate God, creation and my fellow humans to a secondary role and tertiary effort.

Am I successful? Most days, I feel I am not. But I strive toward that vision. God has granted me the gift of words, both written and spoken. So I speak, even if my words will not be popular. Even if they cause me to lose clients and friends. Even if they open me to a bitter volley of response from non-believers and believers alike.

It’s not much. It’s not a great cost, especially not compared to those who starve, who shiver, who suffer. God grant me vision and courage to do more.