Sunday, July 31, 2011

It*s in the wrestling

How many times have you wrestled with God at night, in the dark?  Sent all your companions on ahead, waited for a good word, a new turn of events come daylight?  So much, I think, is to be found in the wrestling, not especially the outcome.  I think God comes to meet us in the wrestling, wrestling which we can only do by ourselves.  In that wrestling comes the possibility of blessing.

Send everyone on ahead
Across the river.
Wait alone at night
In the dark
Wait in the dark
Hope for a good word brought back
Hope for the enemy,
Once brother,

Instead the stranger comes
In the dark
At night
The stranger comes
Wrestles your life to the ground
Lost and won and lost
Hip-checked, wounded
Blessed in the dark
Named and nameless

Send everyone else on ahead
Hope for life
Hope for life again.
Pinned to the ground
Wrestle the dark strange nameless one
Pinned to the ground
L   mp.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sound bytes

There*s something particularly wonderful about being with people in recovery.   They know they have to take it seriously or they may completely miss out on Life.  They may die tomorrow.  They know (many of them know) they may die tomorrow.  What a privilege to spend time with people who have chosen to grab Life again, to learn something new every day.

The guys at the halfway house are given sound bytes
To chew on
Along with their recovery:
One day at a time
Learn something new every day
Slow down
Let go
Let God.
Sound bytes to chew on.
They stream through my head
Inhabit my dreams.

One of the guys asks me
What I have learned today
I tell him I am newly grateful
To be able to drive.
When I ask him the same question
He thinks a long time.
A long time.
I got up fifteen minutes earlier
This morning.
I took more time before work
And the day went better.
Then he smiled and said
I didn*t realize until I said it out loud
How important that was.

I thought:
That*s two things
The Act
and the Realization
It*s Important.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Prima donna

Quite the light show the last couple of nights.  Not as much rain out our way, but spectacular lightning. I went to bed so I could watch it in the dark.  I had to reset the clock radio three times... three moments it seems that the lightning wanted center stage.  Prima donna.

Arrives at night.
She owns the stage
Prima donna that she is:
Piercing bright light, crack of thunder
She takes the stage
Surprise stage left
Stage right
Down from the rafters
Of the sky.
Lightning roams the edges
Of the heavens,
Waits to make her
Surprise appearance.
Prima donna.
She does not like competition.
Lightning waits until all the lights are out
Or turns them off
To make her appearance
She owns the stage
Prima donna
That she is.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Boundaries are often difficult.  Where does one draw the line, raise the bar, build the wall?  There do seem to be some rules, but it*s so rarely all or nothing.  It seems it would be easier if it were.  Teaching and learning nuance... that*s hard.  That*s why there are treatment plans to consider boundaries at the halfway house.

Treatment plans at the halfway house
Include boundaries:
Thick and thin
High and low
Permeable but still protective,
That still allow one*s skin
To breathe.
Knowing where the lines
Are to be drawn,
Bandaids applied;
Skin still
In the game:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One thing

Multi-tasking, I think, is overrated.  I know there is a lot to be done, but really very little has to be done immediately.  Dealing well with one thing at a time, sitting with one person at a time, being present to One Thing even while I am aware of Everything Else... the line outside the door, for example.  This is the challenge.  I am in training for this challenge, every day I practice dealing with One Thing at a time and listen to the clamor in the hallway.

The challenge:
To deal with one thing
At a time.
One thing
Right now.
Only one.
Today I notice all the links
With everything else
I think
This One Thing.

I mean it

One Thing.

The rest are lined up
Outside the door
They will still be there
When it comes their turn.

One Thing
Sits in front of me
One Thing

It challenges me
To focus

There is a chant
From the rest in the hallway
Outside the door.
They want their turn
Right Now
Right Now
Right Now

One thing sits
In front of me

One Thing.
We have lunch together.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More sidewalk

I continue learning.  Last night was more sidewalk.  I continue learning.  I hope I always will.

Most of the men have been
in treatment
Or prison
Or both
Before this.
The halfway house is newfound
With accountability.
In group they talk about
Having more sidewalk now:
Jobs during the day,
Free time to fill.
I have never thought before
About freedom
As more sidewalk
To walk on
Until now.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Finding plumb at the halfway house

Jesus* parables show us the possibility of plumb, as they up-end our understanding of the way things should be, the way things are.  Yesterday, when I used experiences as the halfway house as examples of the Holy, I realized afterwards I am watching the enactment of a parable there every day.  I watch the men line up, then go off plumb, then back on plumb, as we all tend to do.  Perhaps they are spinning a bit more, but I go into spin on a regular basis too.  I got a note from a friend (thanks, Keith!) saying my plumb bob fit into his sermon yesterday.  I*m glad it was used Somewhere.

The plumb line,
Its bob spinning at the end
Was important,
But not the exact metaphor
I needed yesterday
To demonstrate how Jesus
Was the line that showed
Direct vertical
To the center of the earth.
Instead of a plumb bob,
A plumb line,
I needed
The halfway house,
The guys lined up at dinner,
The guys
Talking gratefulness ,
The guys
Lined up in group,
Sharing their proudest moment.
They filled the room
With laughter and praise,
Pride reigned,
The good honest kind of pride
Anyone could share.
I saw them line up
With Jesus
Right there in front of me.
I saw them
Completely plumb for a moment
Lined up with Jesus.
Really just like me,
For a moment
Lined up with Jesus.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Plumb bobs

So I woke up this AM with plumb bobs and plumb lines on the brain.  Thought it would fit into the sermon.  No.  I think I would still like to use it as sermon illustration at one point.  For now I*ll hang it in the office.  It*s really quite a cool thing.  

I learned more about plumb bobs
Than I ever knew before,
Enough to know it is apt
To consider Jesus
The best ever plumbline
There is
or was
or ever will be,
Not just leave it all
Back with Amos
And the others.

I am now the proud owner
Of a stainless steel bob,
Strung and knotted with ordinary string,
Threaded by the hardware guy
The way I do a needle:
With spit and eyeball.
All that plumb research
But it didn*t line up
With the sermon.
I think I will hang it
Next to the bookshelf
So I will see it coming
And going.
One can never have too many

Nocturnal thunderstorms

Weather sirens are a relatively new thing in Roselle.  When we asked after we moved here in 1995 why there were no sirens, we were told they would wake people up.  Duh.  And of course we could probably hear sirens from the Medinah Country Club or Itasca or Schaumburg or even Hanover Park.  Two or three years ago now there was a weather siren crusade led by one particularly wonderful woman.  Now we have sirens.  I think of how change comes about.  Often it begins with one person getting a burr under her saddle.  She will forever be known as the siren woman.  Not a bad thing.  Not a bad thing at all.

I hear the sirens
So I gather the living things,
The cat,
The turtle.
We sit in the basement
With the wind-up weather radio
The cat
The turtle
And me.
3 in the morning.
I sit in the camp chair
Next to the washing machine,
Wind up the radio.
I hear it is the season
For nocturnal thunderstorms.
They favor the climate
In late July and August.
They roam the northern periphery
Of hot high pressure domes.
They develop and strengthen at night,
In the dark.
When the sun rises
They dissipate
In the light,
In the very light
Of the rising sun.

3 in the morning
I listen to weather lessons
On the wind-up radio
With the cat
And the turtle.
I picture storms roaming
The northern periphery
Of hot high pressure domes.
When there are no tornadoes
We all
Go back to bed,
Wake up
In the light.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Life with a Chinese box turtle

We got Felix when my son was 5.  Felix looks pretty much the same twenty years later.  Chinese box turtles live a long time.   A Long Time.  Usually pets don*t outlive their owners.  This one may.  Those who think  turtles have no personality are wrong.  I admit to being partial to box turtles.  When I was young, I had a box turtle.  I kept Henrietta in a tank in the living room.  Her favorite food was strawberries.  She loved any group of people who gathered there, came out of her house, dug into the rocks next to the glass.   Henrietta only returned to her house when people left.

He wakes up
Any time of the day or night,
Maybe climbs into
The water dish
For a bath and drink.
Maybe he decides it is time
For blueberries,
Perhaps Mighty Dog turkey.
At 3 in the morning
No one is awake.
He throws a turtle temper tantrum,
Picks up the ceramic plate
In his mouth,
Slams it against the glass.
It used to hold blueberries.
He wants blueberries
3 in the morning
Blueberries immediately
He tells us
Twenty years into this
We speak Chinese box turtle

Thursday, July 21, 2011


I suspect we will make new heat records this summer.  It is not a dry heat.  While I would love to live in an open-air house where the cooling breeze blows through, I am grateful for air-conditioning in weather like this.  When we got married and moved in 1995 (me from Boston, Jeff from North Dakota), I remember it was hot like this.  It*s interesting to me what certain memories are tied to, how particular experiences are wired to things like weather.  It*s interesting to me how all those experiences are wired together.

I remember the summer
Of 1995:
Newly married
Soon newly pregnant
The heat of that summer
Reminds me of now.
The heat
The stress number index
With moving trucks
From Boston,
North Dakota;
The marriage
The baby coming
Two new jobs
A third grader.

That fall I was met at the new parish door
By a large blonde woman
Arms akimbo.
She stood at the top of the steps,
Madder than two wet hens,
Asked me who I was,
What I thought I was doing there.
I remember the heat
Of that summer,
Reminds me a bit of now.
The large blonde woman died less than a year later
Quick diagnosis, then two weeks dead:
Cancer of the bile duct.
She died
Soon after our baby
Eyes wide open
Was born.
I remember the heat of that summer
That fall
That spring,
Reminds me a bit
Of now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wednesday is gratefulness day

There*s something about practicing gratefulness out loud that I like.  It goes with noticing particular things, as well as the more general.  I think we get used to the help, help, help prayers, and lose the thank you, thank you, thank you ones.  I like Wednesdays at the halfway house.

Wednesday is gratefulness day
At the halfway house.
The guys get five minutes
At the end of dinner to say why
They are grateful.
Sure, some are rote pieces
Of gratefulness, but
Every week
there are always one or two things
Which catch my breath.

The lists always start with
I am grateful for
Waking up
Going to work
Being sober

At the halfway house I remember
Sure I am not God
Sure I need help
Like we all do.

At the halfway house I am reminded
Every Wednesday
Five minutes after dinner
To be grateful

The Sort

Preaching this Sunday.  It*s like adding yeast to flour.  Years ago I used to make bread.  I remember punching down the dough after the first rising, putting it in a warm place to rise again.  This morning I woke with my head spinning around all the parables.  I figure this is part of that first punching down.  We*ll see what it looks like after the second rising, and the baking.  I think I remembered to put salt in the dough.  Nothing worse than a tasteless loaf of bread.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like
Wheat and weeds growing
To be harvested together,
Only sorted
At the end.
The Kingdom:
It*s all the fish of the world
Swimming together,
Only gathered into nets
And sorted
In the end.
I remember the fairy tale:
The girl who was given the task
Of sorting all the grains of wheat
Out of a huge pile.
She enlisted the ants
To help her.
She could not do it alone.

I sort and sift and net
The parables of the Kingdom
Jesus told
plus a few more.
Instead of neat orderly piles,
They grow
(Mother used to say)
Like Topsy
(I never knew who Topsy was
But I knew she was always growing
Bigger than anything I ever knew)

Like mustard seeds
They become mustard trees,
Birds nest there.

Like yeast
They make more than enough bread
For the veritable Feast
At the end
More than enough bread
For the Heavenly Banquet.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


It seems to me a surefire way for a parish priest to get in trouble ... suggesting someone might be better matched to a different worshiping community, Christian or even otherwise.  It seems part of my priestly ordination to help people find spiritual home.  I love the Episcopal Church, but it*s not for everyone.

I used to get in trouble
When people came to talk with me
And it was clear
They needed to find
A different community.
I would tell them about the Methodists
The Quakers
The Orthodox (Greek and Jewish).
I would mention the church down the street
That was doing the exact thing
They wanted our community
To do.
I would make sure they knew
Our welcome
But if they wanted a place to sit
In community and silence,
Speaking when they were led by the Spirit
To speak
I knew a possible place for them.

I used to get in trouble
For naming those other possibilities.
I did not seek to fill the pews or chairs
So we could count them
As ours.

Give it a try
I*d say
Let me know how it goes.


Jesus taught in parables, seemingly simple stories, with odd juxtapositions of images:  a good Samaritan, a woman sweeping her house to find a lost coin and spending more than the coin*s worth on a party, a mustard seed growing into a tree which will provide space for all the birds of the air... a mustard bush big as a house...some bush!  Jesus says to his disciples:    Do you understand?  They answer Yes.   Really?  Really?  Do they really understand?

Last summer a thistle grew
Next to the rhubarb.
In the near-demolished box
Of the vegetable bed,
A thistle took root.
I watered it.
Pretty soon I wondered
How big it would grow.
I remembered eventually
It would have purple flowers,
Then thistle seed for goldfinches.
It crowned at six feet
The thorns
The flowers
The seeds.
The goldfinches came
As I watched,
Swooped delighted in and out.

This Sunday Jesus asks us to consider
The mustard seed
The eventual mustard bush,
The birds that may visit
Even nest there
If we water it.

Monday, July 18, 2011


I begin another week: internship at the halfway house, working out in the mornings, focusing on one patch of garden to weed, oh yes, and preaching at church on Sunday morning for the first time in four years, in exactly four years.  When occasion calls, I move.  I learn from my watching my daughter, watching the guys at the halfway house, watching the flowers and weeds grow.

I watch her twirl.
Even though I don*t dance
Like she does,
Practiced dance twirls,
From lessons two or three times
A week,
I recognize the spin,
The need to be
Everywhere at once.

I practice new ways
To see and hear myself
In new places.
When occasion calls
I move.
When it is time for silence,
I sit
Still as a stone,
Still as a stone
I tell you.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


I try to write every day.  Sometimes there are true bits and pieces, sometimes only a little shine.   Sometimes it flows, beginning to end and I have no idea where it came from.  I think of the preaching professor at Seabury who used to say: Every sermon won*t be a sonnet.  And, of course, there are all the sermons or reflections which people hear or read in such completely different ways that a part of me wants to say: Why work on it at all?  But I do.  It seems I must.  

When I write
I collect the true bits
At the end,
Discard the rest.

When I write it flows true
Maybe blue
Perhaps it recalls the sky,
Maybe water dappled in reflected clouds.
Sometimes there are birds,
They string it all together
In flight
In song
In hop.
They cock their heads and listen
For worms

Only sometimes
Like rivers,
Like clouds blown
Like birds,
When I write
It flows true.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Glass birds (redux)

Often dreams have carried the voice of God for me.  Sometimes I recognize it when I wake up, sometimes it takes awhile, a long while.  Today, for example, I am learning new things from the glass birds years ago.  Often God speaks to me in birds, in dreams, yes, but also in things like the tree full of cedar waxwings this spring, the hawks, the great blue heron in a particular pond on Irving Park Road near my house, and, of course, the ducks across the creek.  God uses different language, different images, to speak to each one of us.  I am grateful.  I will preach again on July 24th.  I know the words I choose will be heard in different ways by each person listening at 8 and 9:15 and 10:30.

Years ago now
I dreamed more than a dozen glass birds
Each one unique, beautiful.
They sat, nested
On the clear glass table
before me,
wings folded,
wings spread.
I marveled at the colors,
The transparencies,
Each one separate, beautiful,
Together on the clear glass table top.

Years ago now I asked you
In the dream:
What shall I do with them,
These birds,
This Beauty?
You answered
What do you want to do with them?
I replied
I could throw them over my shoulder.
You said
You could do that.
And again
Perhaps more thoughtfully,
You could do that.

Four months later
Not in a dream,
My sleeve caught
On the microwave door.
I pulled it down from the counter
on top of me,
The microwave and I
Crashed to the floor.
Four small glass vases
Stored on the microwave top
Bounced on the ceramic tile
Landed whole next to me.
I thought
I*m so glad I have been working out
I*m ok.
I thought
The vases did not break
The vases are still whole.
I marveled.

Then I remembered the birds
All the glass birds
The beautiful ones I have thrown
Over my shoulder
I knew the birds,
All the birds
Are still whole.
I knew as sure as anything
All the birds I have thrown behind me
Did not break or disappear.
They wait for me
To turn around.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Keep coming back

So ends week three at the halfway house.  The men work during the day, in recovery, and live in the house, with support, in recovery.  I continue to think about lessons for the Church in the experience.  The men here have chemical addictions, but the Church has long been noted for its hospital aspects.  We are all addicted to something.  As long as we are living in this world, we are in need of Christ, and we need each other.  In AA, Step One is admitting we are powerless over addiction (the drug, the behavior) in ourselves, whatever it is.  No, Church and AA aren*t the same thing.  Still... I wonder what would happen if we all held hands and said, after the dismissal, looking into each other*s eyes, Keep coming back.

Keep coming back
It*s said at the end
of every Anonymous meeting.
I listened to it even in group
Last night.
There are lines in every group
Which grow fresh or stale
In the naming.
Today it echoes
In my head.
Keep Coming Back.
For community
For support
For one more day of possibility.
In the Church we end the service
 with a dismissal
Go into the world
We say
To love and serve the Lord.
I wonder what would happen
If we added
Keep coming back.
The dismissal, after all,
Does not end the community,
Just this one time of gathering.
Maybe we believe it is implied,
But still:
Keep coming back:
For support
For love
For a kick in the pants
For one more day
Of possibility.
For life lived

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The women in Saudi Arabia/Bastille Day

So much to say here.  Of course I have a fresh understanding of the freedom that come with driving.  But still, 
I would never face a beating when I get behind the wheel, even if I*m on driving probation like the six months post-seizure.  I picture all the women of Saudi Arabia in broad daylight taking over the streets in cars. It*s quite a picture.  And still an issue.  Even though the King has declared women may work in lingerie shops now.  This pair of Western eyes remains curious.

They have taken to the streets
In droves,
In cars.
They now drive
In broad daylight,
So many that no one dares
To beat them back
To beat all of them back
Or senseless
Or silly.
Seriously they drive.

To Western eyes it seems a small thing.
It*s not
At all.
I heard the Princess speak
On NPR this morning.
She says that the King has signed a declaration.
It allows women to work
In lingerie shops.

The driving continues on
As civil disobedience.
A supreme act
Of civil disobedience
In full daylight
All together.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Variations on the theme

A friend helped me decorate my office (thank you, Terri!).  My brother gave me an Inuit print years ago of a woman in ceremonial garb standing on the moon, looking at the earth (thank you, Lane!).  The print is framed and hangs over the office sofa.  It is the piece around which the office is decorated.  It reminds me of a number of things: holding a wider perspective, celebrating what I see (the whole and the particular), remembering that as a therapist, I am also priest.  I am glad God has called me here.

Perhaps we never get the straight stuff,
Only variations on the theme
Of human.
Clients begin to approach
One by one.
They do not wait in line
Outside my door.
Each one echoes things
That are familiar.
They have seen miracles,
Heck they are miracles
Here they are
In my office,
The Inuit print on the wall
The Woman Who Went to the Moon
Shows both of us a wider picture of the world.
We talk variations on the theme
Of human.
And of course
We talk particularities.