Invitation in Loneliness


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June was rough. I found myself spiraling into self-preservation and feeling less and less hopeful about the state of our country. I know I wasn’t alone in this feeling and yet not having the usual places and unstructured time with friends meant I was trying to process everything alone. I was also taking two summer classes and still working.

Gratefully I know more or less what I need to do when these feelings start. Eat good food, rest, exercise, play, and make more space for reflection and meditation. In these practices, I quickly realized that a big piece of my emotional state was our collective growing acceptance that the pandemic was nowhere near done. Many of the short term adjustments we made needed to be reevaluated for their sustainability. I did not want to live the next 12 months in the same ways I had lived in the previous 4. I wasn’t sure what I needed to do, but just slowing down to hear this assessment was the first step.

Biking Rock Creek Park

On a long bike ride, I realized that I was being invited to reconsider two ways of being. First, how I was connecting with others and second, how I was connecting with myself and God.

Henri Nouwen breaks down loneliness into these same two parts (The Return of the Prodigal Son). He calls to mind that when most of us feel those emotions of loneliness emerge we frequently say we need to be around more people. Sometimes we know it’s not just any people, it’s people who we feel our full selves around. If you’re able to meet this first wave often the bulk of loneliness will lift.

However, Nouwen invites readers to consider that perhaps we feel this sense of disconnection and loneliness also as a disconnection from ourselves. We miss that sometimes, that deep persistent loneliness is a reflection that we have stopped listening to our own souls, and for Christians to God’s quiet nudges. Maybe because of sudden traumatic upheaval, or a slow drifting away, we find ourselves in unfamiliar feelings and experiences without the support we need.

I know I missed my friends. I missed the fun we would have, the easy time talking about nothing in particular, that gave space to talk about the meaningful pieces of our lives. When I’m feeling down I tend to retreat inwards and so I needed to respond to that tendency to make intentional effort to talk (in real-time) with someone every day.

Second, I also realized that the first 4 months were extra crazy because there were shock waves of uncertainty, mistrust, anger over inequity, and lack of leadership. Mixed in with the Pandemic and racial justice demonstrations the first 4 months of the year (Jan-April) I was recovering from my own emotional breakdown after the church case. Reflecting on my own healing from emotional burnout, all that was happening in my family, circle of friends, and our country helped me place my problems in their true perspective.

I’m still reorienting from all that the first 6 months of the year upended and now heeding the call to deepen the ways I connect with my friends and family, with my breath and with prayer. Praying for wisdom (in the Serenity prayer) and for daily bread (in the Lord’s Prayer) reminds me to ask God for just enough light, just enough sustenance, just enough visions of goodness, and love to make it to the next day. I’m asking God to remind me that I have so much to share and to give as well. To direct my feet and my time towards justice, mercy, and healing.

With the practice of connecting more intentionally with friends and family AND with myself and God I’m feeling more ease, less anxious, and more connected. Every day brings its own uncertainties and each day I can remember my breath and my hope to live into God’s love.

Funeral for a butterfly


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Tonight, I walked past a butterfly, dead on the busy sidewalk.

I wanted to stop and draw chalk around it’s yellow and black wings spread open, tattered and dull. I wanted to bring out caution cones and crime scene tape to detour the distracted commuters. I wanted to stop the nearby busses, opening and closing doors, moving passengers between work and home. I wanted to question witnesses, find security footage, rewind the day to discover if the butterfly’s last moments were filled with dread as feet stepped closer and closer or if it died in a sudden flash of sun reflecting off the windshield of a nearby bus. What was the last flower it visited? Where was it headed? Are there friends waiting?

I didn’t do any of these things. I just kept walking, my arms full carrying groceries and my mind already racing ahead to what I would eat for dinner. Instead, I let it’s frail body disappear behind me without even a prayer.

If I had stopped would anyone pause with me?

Would we create a tiny gurney out of old business cards, perhaps folding in the edges to create a box? Maybe we would form a procession as we turned the corner to find a quiet side garden. Maybe we’d create a funeral pyre out of some twigs, sending the butterfly’s ashes to Valhalla.

I’d want to say a few words, but what could we say for something we didn’t even know existed five minutes ago.

Fruits of the Spirit and Pruning


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So tonight was just the opening of a 1.5 day orientation for seminary. I’ve started my Master’s of Divinity at Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC. Associate Dean of community life Rev Dr Asa J. Lee, started by reading John 15:2

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

The dean then pointed out that if you bear fruit you will be noticed by the master pruner and you will be cut. The Dean posited that we had, along our individual paths, born fruit of the spirit and that is likely part of why we were starting seminary. He went on to warn that we will feel the pruning that happens in school as we grow and learn to focus our gifts, our prayers, and our studies. I instantly recalled a favorite quote I used to have on my wall by Kahlil Gibran:

Shall my heart become a tree heavy laden with fruit that I may gather and give unto them?

I hadn’t thought about how a garden works and how orchards work. There is a delicate balance of pruning a tree to increase the fruit without overburdening the tree. I hadn’t thought of the pruning I’ve had in life as part of the master gardener’s plan to cultivate a fruitful garden. Her hands knowing which branches to let go and which ones to shore up. Knowing what fruit will come even before the first blossoms appear. She knows there will be many seasons and that every tree will grow and fruit in their time. 

Over the summer I visited a friends peach orchard and noticed large clumps of peaches and other peaches hanging along a branch like sweet garlands. I wandered like a little kid through the orchard giddy when I found a a group of peaches untouched by the eager birds. I would pluck the ripe fruit and immediately sink my teeth into the slightly warm fruit, filling my basket with what I couldn’t eat for the week ahead.

Here is the longer Gibran poem entitled Part 2 Johannesburg:

And he said to himself: Shall the day of parting be the day of gathering? And shall it be said that my eye was in truth my dawn? And what shall I give unto him who has left his plough in mid furrow, or to him who has stopped the wheel of his winepress?

Shall my heart become a tree heavy laden with fruit that I may gather and give unto them? And shall my desires flow like a fountain that I may fill their cups? Am I a harp that the hand of the mighty may touch me, or a flute that his breath may pass through me?

A seeker of silences am I, and what treasure have a found in silences that I may dispense with confidence?


Esther and a Rising River


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How do you find a still point in the river? If you’re in the right spot you may see a stone or two jutting out of the water, cutting a path in the water’s flow, but if the water is running high even these stones may be covered.

Last week I went to Cummins Falls in Tennessee. It’s listed as one of the top swimming holes in the country. I hiked two miles to the base of the falls to join several hundred people for a refreshing swim. As I waded into the cool waters edging closer to the base of the falls some of the people around me were splashing and others were simply admiring the beauty of the scene. A small group of women in front of me were ducking in and out of the lowest part of the falls, disappearing behind the cascade. Of course I had to investigate. I swam over so the force of water was inches from my face, held my breath and ducked in.

When I opened my eyes I was underneath the falls protected by a long ledge covered in green moss and tiny ferns, perhaps 20 feet long, 4 feet deep, and 3 feet above the water line. From behind the water I could barely make out the women who had just left the space, who were only a few feet from me, otherwise I was completely alone with the sound of water crashing around me.

The scene was beautiful except I couldn’t catch my breath, my heart was racing and my breath was shallow. I couldn’t hear anything really. I tried to notice the moss and the ferns but after only a few minutes I had to leave ducking back through the cascade into the full light. Finally slowing my breath and heartbeat again.

The designers of Japanese Zen rock gardens knew what I had experienced under the falls, that nearness to flowing water has incredible impacts on the human body and mind.  They knew that having a still mind is easier when your environment is also still. When you try to meditate next to crashing waves, or roaring falls the stillness comes not from within but from the roar of water. In Zen Buddhism a goal of meditation is to still the mind in all situations, to quiet or make friends with the monkey mind. Next to these sand pools the student can practice this stillness in anticipation of crashing waves. These gardens are a place to practice this befriending and stillness.

Just two days before the visit to the falls I reheard the story of Esther, a Biblical heroine everyone should know, who was caught in a rapidly rising river where her still points were disappearing. An orphan cared for by her uncle,  Mordecai, who was taken from her Jewish community as a prize for the king and made queen because of her beauty. She was quickly confronted with news of impending genocide for her community. At first, it seems from the text, that having hidden her Jewishness from the king, she would escape death but her uncle quickly reminded her that no distance could protect her. Her uncle pleaded with her to approach the king and reverse the edict meant to eradicate the entire Jewish community.

Faced with death for approaching the king without invitation, Esther was staring at rapids rising over the riverbanks. She did what she had been taught:

Esther 4:15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.

She did what she hoped would bring her inner stillness and guidance. Many prophets retreat for prayer in times of turmoil. She was seeking a still point, a quiet that would allow the voice of God to be heard. The small voice in the roaring. From this stillness and from her love, she found the strength, courage and wisdom to know how to navigate and negotiate her identities as a woman, a queen, and a religious minority. She did not back away or ignore her communities cries. She gathered her attendants and confidants in the royal court around her to find stillness, to find God’s voice.

This is just one small point that emerged from Esther’s story for me this week. I am learning from these stories and teachers how to find stillness, to find connection while finding courage and wisdom to act in just and courageous ways. Part of this practice is surrounding myself with a community willing to seek courage and love and act together. People who feel and know the urgency of action. People who feel transformative love coursing through their veins erasing fear of the unknown, without erasing the weight of the moment. We know death waits for all of us, how we chose to act in the face of deathly moments shapes our stories.


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