Winter Wisdom

It’s 7:05 pm and I’m ready for bed. It’s been dark for hours and it’s very cold here in the upper midwest. Chipmunks and black bears are hunkered down; honey bees are doing a well-choreographed dance – a constant movement toward the center of the hive to stay warm. 
It’s my understanding that hibernation isn’t really about long periods of sleep but of slowing the body down enough that the heartbeat and breathing can also slow. For animals, instinct, daylight and temperature dictate the timing of hibernation. I am clearly influenced by the lack of daylight and cold in my desire to turn in by 7; but I have to be a bit more intentional than other animals about slowing my pace. It can be difficult to make time for slowing and simply being; for resting in the present. Being in the now allows feelings to surface and sometimes overwhelm. When I’m busy, I can maintain enough motion to notice the feelings but not really tend to them. 

My work closes down the last week of December and with a pandemic still raging, I was able to slow down and be for 10 days. I had no plans and no routine. Like many, I’ve dealt with a lot of loss this past year.  Spending time intentionally doing nothing brought up grief and tiredness and tenderness. Giving myself time to pay attention to where I feel these emotions in my body and the space to wallow in the sadness feels both indulgent and vital. The constriction I feel in my chest moves me to tears when I let it. I recognize grief and give myself over to it. I am not overwhelmed or exhausted by it. Rather, I sense a loosening. Like I’ve given myself enough time to be sad that I can let some of it go. In recognizing and staying in the darkness, some of the pain is washed away.*

What would it be to give ourselves time to hibernate each winter? Time to slow down enough that our breathing was affected? For more than an hour yoga class or a 20-minute meditation? If your initial response is like mine, it’s something like, “well I could get laundry done,” or “maybe I’ll catch up on email.” Getting tasks done may be necessary but chores don’t slow your heart rate.  What would it be to truly slow down that much? Is that even sustainable? 

Now that I’m going back to work, I know I will move back into the daily rhythm of life and lose the feeling of this odd spaciousness of time. My energy will be more focused, and I know it will be easy to notice that I’m grieving, but not actually give myself over to that sadness. 

This time off with nothing to do was a gift. It was a sacred time. I’ve so appreciated it, I almost want to schedule “hibernation time” into my week. But I know that’s not the same. I do want to remember this time, honor it and make space for it again. Doing so means being willing to be present to myself. Not just how capable or strong I am, but also present to the broken pieces, the sharp edges. There is wisdom there. I just need to slow down enough to learn. Learn from my own inner wisdom, learn from silence, learn from the dark. 


*it feels important to acknowledge that for those living with depression, darkness can overwhelm and crush. Pain isn’t washed away but can become more debilitating. My experience is of grief, not depression.

Acknowledging the One God

Recently I was asked to preach on a biblical text which is called the Greatest Commandment (Christian) and the Shema (Jewish). It is recorded in Mark: 12:29 and Deuteronomy 6:4. From the Inclusive Bible it reads: ‘Hear, O Israel: God, our God,  is one.   Love the Most High God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:29)

I know that I do not live this commandment fully.  There is a part of me that doubts, that clings to my own sense of knowledge independent of a deity.  But what if, what if I did align my perspective to this commandment?  What would change?  How would my own values, my ethics, my day to day decisions shift?  Would it require a remaking of my relationship with the One God?

I talk with people every day in my professional life who firmly believe that there is no organizing power beyond the earth’s scientific majesty, no Ultimate Being who has a connection to Creation.  This is such a common perspective that it now seems countercultural to orient a life around the call to love  God with all heart, soul, and mind, and even further to be guided by the person who is Jesus, the Christ.

It is pretty popular these days to eschew the concept of God.  In some spiritual circles, I have noticed it raises hackles to talk too much about God.  It creates a rift between the theists and nontheists, terms that I don’t find so helpful because of their absolute distinction from each other.  They are terms that are black and white, and often divisive.

In my own life, my relationship with this One God shifts, changes, grows, fades, redefinines.  I wish that it was always oriented around the great commandment to love with all my heart, soul, and mind.  I wonder to myself about how to deepen that orientation, and I think it may involve some significant paradigm shifts. 

Probably my deepest encounter recently of the One God happened when I was in a religious setting totally foreign to me. I had been invited to a friend’s mosque, and this poem is an effort to convey the depth of experience I had there. To explain a couple of Muslim terms:

Muezzin is a Muslim leader who calls the community to prayer

Adhan is the call to listen to God, or Allah

Here is my poem:

The muezzin sounds its prayer, it is

A loud plaintive cry- invitational, pleading, a clear message

To turn toward the One God, intoning

“God listens to the one who praises God,” and I

Lower down to kneel,

Arms stretched forward in petition like

A reach for something just out of grasp.

Forehead touches the Turkish patterned rug in a simple room, 

My makeshift head scarf, my jacket, sweeps across the floor with each undulation.

I lean into this, praying with Shukri, mimicking movements

Feeling it as a cosmic dance, shoulder to shoulder.

The women pray loudly, a cacophony of voices in supplication:

God is great.  To God belongs all praise.

We women, we stick together, we are

Intent on the televised room where men pray, this

Notion of division that tests my ethic, striving to

Trust in a rationale beyond my own understanding.

I pray in my own way too, my personal sense of

God as I know God imminent in space we make sacred together

Calling to this one God known in so many ways,

Over and over falling to our knees,

Face to the ground,

Like a wave, like a plea, like awe.

I think about the many things that pull me away from acknowledging the One God: my own sense of purpose, other’s demands, politics, conflict with people. I think of the many ways that my belief in the person of Jesus makes conflict with a wider human community.

Would it be helpful if like the Muslim community, the muezzin called out the adhan the call to prayer five times a day, for the whole community to be alerted to the structured time to pray?  

I remember when my neighborhood in Minneapolis allowed the mosque to chant the call to prayer across loudspeakers the community for Friday prayers during Ramadan in 2021.  The comments ranged from the grateful to the outraged. Those who were outraged were basically offended that their right to peace and quiet was disturbed. Any infiltration of control was seen as an affront to one’s own personal freedom.

For me, I believe that if the culture of prayer was more embedded in my surroundings, I may be able to be immersed more in the acts of the Greatest Commandment, the call to love and serve and listen.

Radical Uncertainty: Creating out of Chaos

In so many ways, I desire things to be predictable.  I like to know their order.  When I was 20 I traveled to a retreat where the main activity was to create a 25 year life plan.  Carefully and thoughtfully we tried to divine the future.  What I learned in the decades following is more like the sign which hangs in my sister’s hallway: “the mark of God is that you will be led where you did not plan to go.”  Needless to say I am pretty much through the 25 year span that I so carefully planned that week, and much of my life did not happen as I had expected.

In those following years I learned to be more flexible and spontaneous- a teaching that lassoed me fervently and demanded it.  But nothing could have prepared me or any of us for this time in our world that requires flexibility beyond capacity, and creativity broader than individual imagination.

Roshi Joan Halifax spoke recently, and shared her concept of Radical Uncertainty.  When I first heard this concept, I thought about all the unfortunate current circumstances.  Yet as Roshi Halifax shared, I was drawn to her instinct toward communal creativity as healing balm for Radical Uncertainty.  Although Radical Uncertainty creates a tension of being suspended between two possibilities, there is yet space for freedom of vision and practice.  Like the poet David Whyte says: “You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in.”  Radical Uncertainty does not inhibit us from freedom, and in some cases it sets us free.As we let go of a false sense of Certainty, there may be new opportunities to discover what lies on the other side of certainty.  I am still trying to discern in these times what that means.  A part of me feels there is no choice but to trust in this process which may mean letting go of unhelpful patterns like Expectation, Expediency, and Excess.

What are you letting go of this season?  How will you cultivate the support that you need to be in this inevitable new season that is approaching?

Anne Supplee and Maia Twedt (Quaker chaplains) invite you to join in a workshop offered by Way Opening Workshops:

Letting Go: Embracing a New Season

October 20 7 PM Central Time, on Zoom, suggested cost is $20.00.

Please email for a Zoomlink.

Being Imperfect

Watercolor by Kimberley Lueck, Minding Spirit, @mindingspirit

The documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi calls into question for me the merit of being a perfectionist. Jiro Ono has artfully mastered sushi making, and owns the most esteemed sushi restaurant in Japan.  In order to eat at this restaurant, people get on a waiting list for several months.  Once inside, Jiro serves them about 20 different servings of sushi at a counter in front of the kitchen, one after another, with limited conversation. Watching the diners, you realized they are simply basking in the sacred experience of savoring.

Jiro’s delicate craft relies on subtleties that he has honed, including diligently choosing the best fish at the market, and also massaging a fish like octopus for 45 minutes.  People confirm that Jiro’s sushi tastes uniquely exquisite, and they feel very nervous to eat there because of the restaurant’s high reputation.

Jiro’s sons grew up learning the craft of sushi making in their dad’s restaurant, and one of them still works as an employee in Jiro’s restaurant.  The other son has ventured off to develop his own sushi restaurant. In the documentary, that son critiques his dad’s deep value of meticulousness as limiting and cumbersome.  But Jiro holds fast to his value of technique, hard work, and precision.

The limiting factor of a perfect technique like Jiro’s is that there is little latitude for spontaneity, creativity, and versatility. There is also a tendency to behold other people under the lens of expectation and pressure. As a counter-weight to perfectionism, Japan also hosts another philosophy called wabi-sabi. I have grown curious about this counter-movement in Japan which focuses on the beauty inherent in things which are simple, and often imperfect. Wabi-sabi provides a necessary correction for the pressure to conform or excel. Alongside the mysterious energy of wabi-sabi a beloved verse from the Psalms dances through my mind: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” I love this passage because it leaves room for our being created with the complexity of both perfection and imperfection.

Certainly there is a spiritual element to imperfection: the expression of who we are as inherently lovely if not perfect.   Perhaps Jiro’s son who had the less famous sushi restaurant instead creates a dining environment for people to kick back more, laugh, and be together in a relaxed environment.  Perhaps he is able to do this without massaging an octopus for 45 minutes!

If you’re wanting to read more about the practice of imperfection, I commend to you this excellent book:  The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown.
This book was my first introduction to the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi: Wabi-Sabi Welcome: Learning to Embrace the Imperfect and Entertain with Thoughtfulness and Ease by Julie Pointer Adams.

And if you are curious about Jiro and his sushi, Jiro Dreams of Sushi can be streamed on Netflix.


Thanks to Art Friend Kimberley Lueck @mindingspirit whose permission I have to use the image.

And check out the upcoming offerings from Way Opening Workshops, a new spiritual retreat venture by Anne Supplee and Maia Twedt. @wayopeningworkshops

Rearranging our Minds

I am currently aside Lake Superior in northern Minnesota almost up by Canada, and it is mysterious and foggy. I’ve returned from a walk along a pier, where orange lichen carpets the rocks on the narrow path out toward a lonely lighthouse. My spiritual director has said that being by a large body of water works to “rearrange our mind.” This derives from Buddhist lovingkindness practice which suggests to people are in crisis, transition, or challenge to go to be beside something large: the ocean, the sky, a huge tree, or even a tall elder. I feel the immensity of Lake Superior, and appreciate the spaciousness it confers. It is a buffer from the past many months as a health care worker in a pandemic and as a resident by East Lake Street in Minneapolis which rose up after George Floyd’s murder a year ago. I am in need of recalibration, renewal, rearrangement.

One thing that has saved me these many months is indulging in books about the art of doing nothing. This is counterintuitive to my nature in so many ways, contrary to the culture in which I live, and the upbringing which I experienced in formative years. Productivity is praised and rewarded. Being still, not so much. And yet, through this time many of us have learned more about being still. I know I have learned to be with myself a little bit more, and been more content with slowing down. As we look ahead to a post-pandemic world, what do we keep and what do we let go of? Is our relationship to time and engagement forever shifted, or is there relief to getting back to a busy life?

If you are skeptical of the concept of slow living, I commend to you my favorite pandemic read: Niksen: The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing by Olga Mecking. In this book is found a range of cross cultural understandings about time and productivity. Admittedly, this book did send me on a flurry of obsession about reading books about doing nothing, until I realized that obvious tasks were waiting to be acknowledged.

May you find places and spaces this summer to rearrange your mind, allow spaciousness, and encourage time for renewal.

Minneapolis as a Mirror

Washington DC Photo, Credit Maia Twedt

My city senses that the world is watching us as a pivotal battleground for urgent racial reckoning. Nonetheless this does not take away the initiative of each and every one of us to do our part in overcoming white supremacy. Violence to people of color has happened for centuries, but the current crisis demands that I examine my white body consciousness like no other time. I live in a transracial family and reside in a diverse community, but I would be fooling myself if I didn’t see the blind spots of my own prejudice and the reality of inequity in the environment in which I live and move.

Nekima Levy Armstrong spoke recently in the Twin Cities daily 8 AM virtual prayer tent Healing Our City

She said, “In the midst of discomfort, in the midst of uncertainty, God is saying take my hand and do something. There’s a role for everybody to play. Each and every one of us is responsible for doing our part. What is not an option is sitting back and waiting for someone else to do what God has called us to do. With everything going on, God is asking us, ‘how are we in service to God?'”

Civil rights movements are opportunities for everyone to get involved. This is not the work of any one particular community. This is our work. This is our time. This is our world, and it is time to contend with injustice in the way that our God calls.

Heeding Holy Week

When I was 22, I ventured off to Washington DC to live in community in inner city DC with seven amazing women in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps.  My placement was a vibrant place of ministry called Bread for the City, which proved to be transformative in ways I had no idea were coming.  

One of the first clients assigned to me was *Celia, a large black woman with a wide embrace and wide smile.  She welcomed me with literal open arms, a big hug from a big woman with a big heart.  Many times I visited Celia’s one bedroom efficiency in a tough part of DC.  I could see right off the bat that she was not lacking for clothes.  She visited our clothes closet daily, and clothes filled every spare corner of her tiny living abode, including lamp shades and chairs.  I also concluded that she was not in need of food, as she had access to our food pantry.  She also had Medicaid, and was a regular patient at the free medical clinic at Bread for the City.  So my quandary became, what was I supposed to offer to Celia? I had what I thought were good ideas (hatched from all my life experience as a white girl from Iowa).  Every time I pitched an idea to Celia, she would rear back her head and laugh- “girl, all I really need are some pictures of Jesus.”

When I finally resigned myself to the fact that Celia knew something deeper than I did about what was called for in these times, I began the great hunt to find her some pictures of Jesus.  I enlisted all my housemates to help find pictures of Jesus in thrift stores using our limited volunteer corps monthly stipend.

When I finally encountered the big prize- a large portrait of Black Jesus with his hands outstretched, I knew Celia would approve.  I brought it to her efficiency one afternoon, and her words were these: “you finally believed what I really needed.”  Her eyes filled with tears, and of course she held me in a big warm embrace.  I felt a flood of satisfaction, that I had been a part of this project that Celia ordained of finding Jesus in thrift stores in Washington DC.

I share this story in the backdrop of the Passion Palm Sunday, against the story of Jesus asking for a donkey to ride on the road into Jerusalem where he knew he would face his death.  There are just so many ways that I want to question Jesus’ sense of what is needed at this time, and a donkey is just the start.  Why a donkey?  Why Jerusalem, with all the Roman soldiers and the controversial temple?  Why the fanfare in the procession where Jesus rode the donkey?  Why the death?  Why not fight back?  So many questions are raised in the Passion story, and so many ways that I want to question Jesus’ authority about his sense of what was right in these times.  Could there have been another way?  A less painful way?  A way with more ease?  A way without a cross, without a death?  My mind wanders to all the alternative ways that salvation comes about, ways without all that suffering, the blood, the trauma.

Enter Simon from Cyrene.  Simon is the one who becomes conscripted by Roman soldiers to carry the cross for Jesus, a job that certainly I would never want to have to do.  He develops a unique role in this story of murder, an unwitting accomplice in this event that is about to unfold.  He becomes part of the procession, part of the problem, part of the story.  I would imagine that there were a hundred other places Simon would rather be.

I find myself in this Passion story, not truly able to distinguish what role I want to take on in this story.  Should I stand at the sidelines, and cheer on this popular hero?  Should I carry the cross and become an accomplice in this death sentence?  Should I stand and jeer at the crowds, and mock Jesus’ followers?  Am I in actuality a Roman soldier, being a participant in the killing process by what I either do or omit to do?  Am I one of the robbers on either side of the cross where Jesus hung, who committed real crimes that may deserve real remuneration?

The Passion story surfaces all the ways that I feel conflicted about my role in relationship with this suffering servant named Jesus.  I don’t know whether to stand with the crowd, loan him a donkey, insist on serving him some water, commit a nonviolent protest, or what.  I am left feeling a little like I felt with Celia.  What have I truly to offer?  What am I willing to receive?

Simon of Cyrene, ordered by the Roman soldiers to carry the cross, did not really have much choice in the matter. Carrying the cross was both a burden and a gift.  Those of us in privileged positions are often given more choice about how we show up in the world.  We are also given choice about the kind of relationship that we want to have with Jesus.  Maybe Jesus is your friend, or your wisdom teacher, your messiah, your critic, your guide, your confidante, or he may be merely a literary figure that you have heard of- the range of relationships with Jesus is wide.  But no matter where you land on the spectrum of  affinity to Jesus, the Passion Story invites you to consider your role in this scene of injustice and murder.

Many of us, myself included, may not be as heroic as we wish that we were.  For example, I may feel fine about waving palm branches in a parade as Jesus and the awkward donkey ride by, but ask me to counter the Roman soldiers who await him, and I go weak in the knees.  Others among us have much more experience in countering Roman soldiers, but they may not be as skilled at standing at the foot of the cross as Jesus dies.  

We are all asked to figure out our role in this story of God that is unfolding.  We don’t have all the answers.  Goodness knows, I did not hold the answers for Celia, as she knew herself exactly what she needed and how I could show up for her.  But we are given clues along the way, if we truly listen.  

In this season of the pandemic, as we are beginning to come up for air, we may sense a cavern of grief and loss inside of us.  I felt it recently inside my parents’ home where I had not been for a year. I acutely sensed the loss of a whole span of a year.  Our spirits have been tested, and we have all walked the road to Calvary, some with more loss than others.  How do we show up for ourselves with self compassion?  For our loved ones? With our faith?  With our faithlessness? 

I have a friend named Susan who works in mental health and lives along the ocean.  I listened to her give a talk a few weeks ago, and she shared about the practice of beach combing when the tide recedes.  What is left behind is often anyone’s guess, when the tide goes out.  Random sunglasses, strewn garbage beaten by the surf, creeper crawly things that burrow in the sand whose names I don’t even know, sometimes jellyfish, sometimes beautiful shells, sometimes wampum which Native people used to trade for currency, and sometimes- if you are very lucky, beach glass.  Beach glass is shards of glass worn by the pulsing of the ocean into a very smooth, very beautiful piece.  A receding ocean leaves behind debris, but there is the occasional gift of seeing a sparkle in the sand.

Celia inspires me as I think about this time looking ahead and rebuilding our society in months to come after the upheaval of pandemic and racial reckoning.  She was a woman who knew her own trauma, but she also knew her own needs.  She knew what she truly needed to feel healing and love in her life.  It was a good laugh, a good hug, and some images of the Jesus who walked with her through her own Calvary. 

May there be sparkle in the sand amid the debris.  May we trust in our own callings that come forth from deep within, but listen for what is most needed.  May we embrace self-compassion as well as compassion for friends and strangers in our midst.

In this season of the cross, in this global season when we will look ahead to social recovery- how will we mobilize our faith, our resources, our spirits, our compassion? When we are asked like Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross, what will we do?  What is our relationship currently with this suffering Jesus of the cross?  What do we lay at the foot of the cross from our own lives?

*Celia is a fictitious name

Image from

One Year Mark of the Pandemic

Oh so weary of planning for eventualities,

Still shaking the burden of worry, that

Incessant presence of mortality which

Hovered closer than a breath of air.

So far has been traveled this year, so 

Deep the imprint of memories on the psyche:

Hidden faces behind tight masks,

The look of fear, like a frightened animal in the wild, the

Witness of lonely deaths, grief tunneling its way into the heart.

How to open the door slowly.

How to gather what remains to be 

Salvaged, to be treasured, to be found.

And pausing to acknowledge 

How the world goes round in its orbit,

Even this year staying on course, the humbling

Reminder of both limits, and expansiveness.

Love Can Be Prickly, Too

Love has its prickly side-  the times when love is not reciprocated, when love changes from what it began, when love does not meet the deep need of the heart.  Valentine’s Day brings up not just sweet, romantic feelings that cards and candy represent, but also emotions like anguish, longing, and brokenheartedness.

February 14 was the the due date of our first baby Gabriella who ended up being born far too early and never lived to see that Valentine’s Day that we had awaited.  Love has its losses that seem sometimes too much to bear.

The loss of that time has made its mark on me, and shaped me in ways that I could never have imagined.  Loving Gabriella has been a lifelong adventure, with its joys and sorrows like any other relationship.  It has changed me indelibly, etching its mark on my heart in a way that my other two children have also done to me.  I will never forget standing at the Pacific Ocean knowing that we were going to lose our first baby, seeing the power of the ocean billow repetitively and with such strength.  With my hand on my belly, I could not reconcile the power of creation, and the powerlessness that I felt and that I perceived my baby felt.

What I learned in the many years following this loss is that true love remains a part of one forever, even in different ways. To me this is testament to higher love, a love that has to do with the infinite and the universal.  This higher love allows me to trust that even painful love can metamorphosize into something new with patience, persistence, and support.  I hope that Valentine’s Day can commemorate that kind of love too.

Photograph used by permission from Karla Twedt-Ball, “Prickly Pear in Texas”

Holding Breath

Collage Image by Susan Greenler

On the brink, earth holds its breath for

The unveiling. First the inhale, remembering

All that has passed, then the exhale, slowly releases

So there is room for something new.

Awaiting an inoculation of hope, 

A promise of something different.

What it takes to envision change is no more and 

No less than the effort it calls forth.

Swelling in the body, the depths of the soul

Is a new dream from an old dream

Affirming the moral arc of the universe.

And the will of the people rises to the

Occasion of liberty and justice for all.

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