Pastor Kaye's Blog

Prayer: Words or Heart?

As far as I’m concerned, prayer is one of the hardest topics to discuss. Before I begin, let me be clear that I honor wherever you are with prayer, as I’ve probably been there myself. Having said that, I am in a different place with prayer than I’ve ever been before and it is not easy to share because it flies in the face of much of what traditional Christianity has said about prayer. So, this is where I am in my journey with prayer today. If it doesn’t make sense or fit for you, just ignore me.

(For the full video version, click here.)

I have a confession to make… I’ve always wanted to be someoneprayer1 who prays well and diligently, but I’m not. Whenever I’ve been with a family that diligently prays before every meal, I’d inwardly cringe at myself and feel shame that I didn’t institute prayers at mealtime with the family. Nor have I ever said prayers with my kids before bed. Two black marks against the pastor right there.

Professionally I’ve tried to be the praying pastor I was supposed to be. I’ve led hundreds of prayers over the last 20 or so years, participated in prayer vigils, sat in sanctuaries and talked to God, prayed at bedsides, blessed babies, animals, homes, motorcycles, and communion elements. But the traditional form of prayer as supplication or intercession has always felt awkward and not quite right…

I’ve tried, but I’ve had many experiences with prayer over the years that have caused me to question and doubt. Let me share just a few.

At 17 when my mom was dying of breast cancer, I prayed for God to take her, just let her die, because she was in so much pain. She passed away later that day. Because I prayed it, or just because it was time?

At the young age of 24 my then-brother-in-law got very ill and went into respiratory failure. I sat in the waiting room of a hospital praying the rosary out loud with my former Catholic in-laws for Pat to live and be healed. But Pat had severe brain damage and lived the rest of his life, another 20 years, in a basically vegetative state. Was that God keeping him alive because of the prayers? Did we condemn him to that? Or was God not answering? Or was that just how things happened?

Fast forward a number of years when I was asked to lead a small, private prayer service for a young mother who was dying of cancer. I wanted to give her all the support and care that I could, and so of course I agreed. But part of me felt like this was setting her up for disappointment and I felt like a fraud doing it… I didn’t have healing powers, nor a magic wand, and the God I knew wasn’t a magic genie granting wishes. However I hoped and prayed I was wrong, perhaps God could be swayed by words and touch, and a miracle would happen. But she died anyway.  Was it because I didn’t have enough faith? Did I fail? As far as I could tell she was a good woman who did everything right…where was God?

Bishop John Shelby Spong tells a story in his book, Why Christianity Should Change or Die, about how his wife Joan was diagnosed with cancer in 1981. It was mostly likely to be fatal. Because he was such a public figure the news spread to all the churches in the diocese, as well as to the media. People everywhere began to pray for her in prayer circles and in worship services. Care and concern and love were given to them through these actions. Remission was achieved for a time and she lived 6 and a half years before she died. As that prolonged remission became evident people began to take credit. “Our prayers are working.” Spong said that despite the gratitude he felt for the caring that people showed, he struggled with their explanations. What if, he wondered to himself, a sanitation working in Newark, NJ, had a wife with the same diagnosis? And because he was not a high-profile person, with a large social network of people, socially prominent or covered by the press, his wife never comes to the public’s attention. Perhaps he’s not religiously oriented, or is quiet about his faith, and her illness never comes to the attention of hundreds of petitions and churches? Would she live a shorter time? Endure more pain? Would God be responsible for this because of God’s capricious nature to only help those well-connected, socially elite, high status folks? Was that the type of behavior he wanted to attribute to God? The answer was “no.”

In Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus instructed the people on how to pray, and a slightly altered version of this prayer has become the standard, go-to prayer for millions of Christians throughout the centuries. But the world, science, and theology have evolved and we’re not those people. For me and perhaps for many of us, the words to this prayer (while familiar and maybe even comfortable) don’t really fit our understanding of God anymore, especially if we’ve moved beyond a theistic God – a being that resides apart from us watching over everything.

The Lord’s Prayer hearkens back to a time when God was male residing in the clouds (heaven) far removed from humanity. This God delighted in hearing how sacred “his” name was, and “he” judged who would be worthy of having their prayers answered based on their sacrificial offerings, their adherence to the religious law, and the quality of their prayers.

Basically, none of these things work for me.

Do I want God to be a magic genie in the sky granting my every wish? Absolutely.

Do I want God to give me preferential treatment for being a pastor ? Heck yes!

Have I found it to work that way? Nope.

Now, the other thing I notice about this passage on prayer, as well as the passage preceding it about charity, and the passage following it about fasting, is that Jesus is very clear that it isn’t about making sure everyone else knows you’re giving, or praying, or fasting. He says all those folks who did those things in public already got their reward… they received recognition and a boost to their ego. But for those of you who aren’t trying to prove how pious you are, but are simply giving out of the goodness of your heart, or praying a simple prayer of connection, or fasting as a spiritual discipline, you will receive an internal reward. Your souls will know a deeper connection to all of life.

Joan Chittester, in her book In the Heart of the Temple, says “When we are young religious, we “say” our prayers. When we get older in the religious life, we “go to prayer.” But when we begin to see prayer as the undergirding of life, the pulse of the universe in the center of the soul, we become a prayer. First, as Gandhi says, we have words and no heart; finally, we grow into a heart without words.”

I believe that the intention of prayer is to connect to the flow of energy we know of as God, the Divine, Ground of Being, Essence, Spirit, Goddess (whatever you want to call it). Jesus seemed to be intimately connected to God on a fairly consistent basis. And that connection manifested in his teaching, his compassion, his love, the way he included and brought hope to the outcast and marginalized, the way he confronted the religious and political powers-that-be in bring freedom from oppression. If prayer is connection with God and we see his connection in all these ways, then prayer is much more than words. Prayer is how we live.

Becoming prayer… being a heart with no words… is about being a living prayer. When we show compassion to another we are connected to God and are a living prayer. When we bring the light of hope and positive thinking into someone’s life, we are connected to God and are a living prayer. When we stand up for the underdog, the bullied, the outcast, the rejected, we experience God and are a living prayer. And when we open ourselves to receiving love, compassion, generosity from others we participate are a living prayer. Perhaps this is what to “Pray without ceasing” means in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

Spong says, “We are to live as if everything we say and do is a prayer, calling others to life, to love, and to being.”

So, I haven’t stopped praying, instead I’m trying to live prayer… and I’m better at it sometimes than others. Sometimes I fail miserably. Sometimes I’m humbled by the prayer that others live.

Know that I still trust in a mysterious flow in the universe that connects us, and brings what we consider to be synchronicities into our lives. And, yes, I pray for many people, I just do it a little different than may be expected. When I pray I simply open my heart and without words hold others in light and love.

Love & Light!


Work: sanctity or suffering?

work guyThe Bible seems to have two conflicting viewpoints on work. In Genesis 3:16-19 God punishes Adam and Eve because of their little transgression in the Garden of Eden. God tells Eve that her pain in childbirth would be greatly increased and that she would be subjugated by men. And God tells Adam that he was now destined to painstakingly labor on the land which would yield thistles and thorns. Only through hard labor and toil would there be bread to eat. Work would merely be suffering and punishment for their disobedience.

(For the full video version, click here.)

Then Paul, in his letter to the Colossians 3:22-23, puts a new spin on work. He says, “Do whatever you do from the heart. You are working for Christ, not for people.” It makes work sound like a holy enterprise.

That’s an interesting dichotomy. Work as suffering or sanctity… which is it?

Think for a moment about the work you do (and if you are retired then this includes volunteer work, taking care of the house, or caring for grandkids, or hobbies – however you define it for yourself). Now, do you feel that there a sanctity to that work – a sacredness, a holiness – or not? What is it about the job that brings a sense of the sacredness to the work? Perhaps it is one of the following:

  • Gives value to life
  • Gives meaning to life
  • Help others
  • Grow self
  • A way to give ourselves to the world
  • Fulfilling
  • A place to feel connected, a place to belong and build community
  • Empowering to support oneself, to be responsible
  • A gift to the future.

According to a survey of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Policy, most Americans believe “that their work is very important to their spirituality…”And Joan Chittester, in her book The Heart of the Temple, also concurs that “work is holy,” we’ve just lost sight of that in a culture and society where the worker is valued less and less, wages don’t keep up with inflation and the cost of living, there is no company loyalty, age and experience are no longer valued, more and more jobs are shipped overseas, and the worker is a commodity, not a human being. It appears that the corporation certainly doesn’t see work as a holy endeavor.

But can we?

We’ve often heard that you need to follow your passion in order to feel a spiritual connection in what you do, but that probably leaves out the majority of workers and denies them any spiritual value in working.

What if what we do has less to do with our feeling of the sanctity of work than how we do the job and how we think about the job?

If the Divine continues to work and create in and through us in this world, then we are co-creators with God in whatever we do. And then, in just about every job, it is possible to see the bigger picture of how we are co-creators, how what we do serves a higher purpose and has spiritual value.

When John F. Kennedy’s visited NASA and saw a janitor mopping up the floor, JFK asked him what his job was at NASA and the gentleman said, “I’m helping send a man to the moon.”

In another story, a traveler came upon three men working. He asked the first man what he was doing and the man said he was laying bricks. He asked the second man the same question and he said he was putting up a wall. When he got to the third man and asked him what he was doing he said he was building a cathedral.

Seeing our jobs as creative endeavors that serve humanity can change how we look at them, and consequently bring even more purpose and value to them.

So if you are a truck driver hauling salt… you are working to keep people safe on the roads.

If you are a teacher… you are shaping future generations.

If you keep a home that is beautiful, well-cared for… you are nourishing the people who live and gather there.

If you are a realtor… you are helping people fulfill dreams and build families

If you are a healthcare professional… you are keeping people healthy.

If you are an artist… you challenge humanity with new perspectives and/or lift people up with art that is aesthetically pleasing.

I could go on and on…

My point is, if we begin to acknowledge our work as sacred – in the sense that we are co-creators with God to help humanity – then I think that changes how we feel about work, the energy we put into work, and the way we treat people we work with. Work is not simply a means to make money, it connects us to other human beings, is an exercise in love, and feeds our souls.

There is a story about a master woodcarver who was commissioned by a Prince to carve a bell stand, a task that probably carried the weight of his life should he fail. The stand he carves is so beautiful that people claim it was made by the spirits. But the woodcarver insists that he is merely a workman with no secret to what he did. But we can see in his approach that he treats his task as a holy task.

You see, as the woodcarver pondered his task, he deliberately kept his spirit from getting caught up in the storms and temptations that surrounded the task. His process was to fast to quiet his heart and soul. It took three days of fasting to forget about gain and success. Five days of fasting to forget about praise and criticism. Seven days of fasting to forget about his body and move into the mind of the soul. By then all thought of the Prince had vanished.

Only then, in a place of connection with his heart and true self, and therefore in connection with the Divine, did he seek the right tree for the bell stand knowing that he would know it when he saw it. With eyes to see, the right tree appeared, and the bell stand appeared within it. He seemed, at a spiritual level to become one with the wood and then he used his skill to draw forth the bell stand that was ascribed to the spirits.

In some ways this story may feel out of reach. Who of us has the luxury to take 7 days to get our hearts right before starting a task? And clearly the heart and soul is very unruly for it to take that long! He seemed pretty disciplined, I think it might take me a month!

Still, I think the message is important. For us to work at a level of true self, in connection with “the truth as it is” (God) we need to forget a whole bunch of things:

  • Pleasing others
  • What we’ll get out of it
  • Fear of failing
  • Being praised or criticized

My sermons come easiest when my heart has moved beyond these things. When I’ve become one with the process and the flow of thought.

Gardening, or painting, or working through a problem all goes better when my heart has forgotten the distractions that can trap us. Teaching or helping others or designing things or working with animals… they all got better when we move into a clean space of being, uncluttered by the things that distract the mind.

I think this is what Paul was getting at: “Workers, work diligently in everything you do – not only to win favor, but wholeheartedly and reverently, out of respect for Christ. Do whatever you do from the heart. You are working for Christ, not for people.

Christ is an energy, a presence within each of us… work for that, work from your heart, because all work is holy.

Lenten Blessings,


Complexity or Simplicity?

What do you think of when you think of a day to live simply? Perhaps it involves relaxing on the beach, coffee and a good book, no work, a glass of wine and a good friend, or a walk in the woods with your dog. Whatever it is, it probably evokes peaceful, relaxing, calm joyful feelings.

While we dream of these scenarios, we’re resigned to the fact that most of the time, life is not simple, life is complex. Here are three simple things to prove my point: cell phones, television remotes and health insurance. Any one of those things is just about as bad, if not worse, than untangling the dreaded Christmas lights. And that is just the tip of the iceberg in the category of “life is complex.”  Add relationships, jobs, feelings, and personalities to the mix and it’s like untangling a whole box of Christmas lights every day!

(For the full video version, click here.)

Mark 7:1-8 is a good example of how complex and complicated the Jews had made their religion. There are 613 laws that Orthodox Jews are required to follow including: wash your hands (in a certain way) before you eat, only eat certain things prepared certain ways, sprinkle your food before you eat it, wash your dishes a particular way, and on and on.  When the Pharisee started in on Jesus because his disciples hadn’t ritually washed their hands before they ate, Jesus pretty much replied, “Seriously, that’s what you’re going to nit-pick about? Whether they follow a man-made precept? Don’t you really think God is keeping track of who washes their hands and who doesn’t? What God really cares about is what is in your hearts.”

In the same way, Joan Chittester, in her book, In the Heart of the Temple, also urges us to focus on what is in our hearts:

If we lack simplicity, if we fret at every delay, become miserable at every change of plans, become miffed at every imagined slight, become irritated at every lapse of deference, become despondent over every lack of gadget, then God has been replaced in us by a god of our own making. Then the simple life, the sanctity of the present moment, the contemplation of the divine in the mundane, the “purity of heart” that centers us on the eternal that is in the now, disappears into oblivion.

She goes on to say that no matter what we try to DO to make our lives simpler, it’s a false sense of simplicity if our heart isn’t in on the deal. So, how do we foster a simplicity of heart? Chittester gives us four things to work on that she says are essential in cultivating a simplicity within:

  • Honesty
  • Being unencumbered
  • Opening to a consciousness greater than ourselves
  • Serenity in the midst of chaos


She says honesty is the foundation of all of it. And that doesn’t mean not telling lies, it means not pretending to be something we aren’t. It means living with integrity and authenticity. We can’t have simplicity within if we’re dealing with the complexity of trying to be what everyone else wants us to be, trying to please everyone, putting on masks so people only see what we want them to see, or being self-centered and believing that having what we want, when we want it is the goal of life.


Chittester shares an Arab proverb that says, “We own only what cannot be lost in a shipwreck.” Whatever we own, all those things we cling to and put value on, are truly only temporary. Anyone who has had to clean out someone else’s house when they’ve passed away or gone into a nursing home intimately understands this. Yet, we acquire more and more stuff without getting rid of anything.

Let me be clear here… it is not the things that are the problem. They are a neutral party in all of this. The problem is our clinging, our attachment, our fear of letting go, our need for things to fulfill our needs and desires. Instead we need to cultivate an appreciation of the beauty in each moment regardless of what we perceive our lack to be.

Simplicity of heart understands and accepts that there is NO thing that can give us value, truly fulfill us or make us whole. So, we can take things, but we have no problem leaving them either.


Living with a simple heart means learning to walk through life aware of the Divine Presence, in and around us and then root ourselves deeply in the Ground of our Being so we walk gently, with kindness and compassion, unperturbed by the “clutter of the commonplace.”


Do you remember going to the park as a kid to play on the merry-go-round? merry-go-round1If you sat in the middle, someone could spin you as fast as they could and you wouldn’t move. But, if you left the middle, the force of being spun gradually pulled you to the outside until you were handing on for dear life. Serenity is like sitting in the middle of the merry-go-round despite the way the world spins around you. Achieving true simplicity of heart, Chittester says, requires the ability to cultivate serenity despite the aggravations and agitations of life.

Mark Nepo, in his book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, has a slightly different take on this:

I’ve been listening way inside, where the Universe rushes through me like wind through a hole in an old door in a hut near the edge of a cliff. I’ve been going there and listening, on the inner edge of everything. There, I’ve heard two irrevocable truths: the truth of life, the very fact of it, how it comes out of nowhere like a strong breeze to lift our faces, how it goes on its way; and the truth of how life like a storm can rough up our hearts, how we have no choice but to feel that wind move through us and around us. Trying to give words to this is difficult. But the first truth can be offered as the truth of things as they are, and the second as the experience of being human.

We live in this challenging place between “the truth of how things are” and “the experience of being human.” Simplicity of heart is the “truth of how things are” – that God, the Universe, the Ground of our Being is intimately connected to our souls and that is the eternal, foundational truth. And the complexity of life is “the experience of being human” – where we’re faced with the storms of life, large and small, the agitations, the irritations, the fears, the dramas, the tragedies, the life-altering decisions.

He suggests that perhaps the path to dealing with this is not to run from the storms or try to shut them out (because truly even acceptance of the storm does not necessarily stop the destruction or the pain), but to learn to be a container for the peace that comes from simplicity of the heart and groundedness in the Divine, AND for the storms. To be a container for both simplicity and complexity. What happens then, I think, is that we sit in the center of our merry-go-round of life, bringing love, peace, patience and compassion to the chaos, until the spinning slows down.

So… live authentically, learn to let go, be consciously aware of and open to the Divine in the NOW (whatever that now may be), and strive for serenity, so that we develop a simplicity of heart that we bring to meet the storms in life.

Lenten blessings,



During this Lenten season, as we’re encouraged to go within, I want to talk about Sabbath time, because I think it is a concept our society has either lost or is losing quickly. Now, there are some things I’d be happy with society losing (like world wrestling, or reality TV, or who-can-eat-the-most contests)… but I believe the loss of Sabbath time is actually detrimental, not just to our spiritual lives, but to our lives in general.

(For the full video version, click here.)Shabbat-768x513

There seems to be no historical basis for a Sabbath day prior to the Israelites of ancient times. Genesis 2:1-3 gives us the mythological context in which this practice began – God created the world and everything in it in six days and then rested on the seventh. This wasn’t because the Holy One was tired, but to model a day to rest and revel in the goodness of the world.

The Sabbath has been a cornerstone of Israelite religious practice from earliest times and there is frequent mention of the Sabbath throughout the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament). But what exactly is Sabbath about? And is it even applicable or practical for our lives today?

I originally entitled this message Sabbath: rest or vegetation? Because I think some folks would say that vegging in front of the television counts as Sabbath time, but that comes from a misconstrued understanding of rest and Sabbath.

The practice of Sabbath for Jews begins on sundown on Friday with a ritual to light the Shabbot candles, recite prayers and share a meal. The following 24 hours is time for socializing with family and friends, studying the Torah, sharing meals and family time, perhaps making love if you were a married couple, and worship on Saturday morning. Most types of “work” are prohibited on the Sabbath including cooking, starting fires, any sort of business, traveling and much more.The Sabbath ends at sundown on Saturday, again with a ritual of candles and prayers.

Joan Chittester, in her book In the Heart of the Temple,  suggests that the purpose and intent of these practices is “to enrich life, to measure life, to bring reflection to life, to engender life with soul. Sabbath is for resting in the God of life and bringing more to life ourselves as a result… Sabbath [is] designed to be used to determine the meaning and substance, the purpose and direction of our lives. Sabbath should be those time-out days when we allow ourselves to look at life in fresh and penetrating ways….”

Jesus said that “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.”  In other words, this kind of time is important to our health and well-being.  Why?

A friend tipped me off to this great book called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. Yes, it is basically a business book, but I believe the concepts it proposes make a strong case for Sabbath time.

Newport begins by talking about the difference between shallow work and deep work.  Shallow work does not require much concentration or focus. Falling into this category are things like emailing, paying bills, filing, meetings, phone calls, anything Internet related, watching television, video/computer games.

Deep work, on the other hand, is anything that takes intense amounts of concentration and thinking. Writing, problem solving, brainstorming, art, study, practicing an instrument, and craftsmanship are examples of deep work. Newport suggests that “Any pursuit – be it physical or cognitive – that supports high levels of skill can also generate a sense of sacredness.”

I believe that true Sabbath time is deep work. But, as Newport points out, deep work is hard and shallow work is easier, so as human beings we gravitate toward the easy work. It is the Principle of Least Resistance. But the shallow work is not particularly rewarding or meaningful (other than you can check it off your to-do list), whereas deep work is.

Newport shares the story of science writer Winifred Gallagher who “stumbled onto a connection between attention and happiness after an unexpected and terrifying event, a cancer diagnosis.” In her book, Rapt, she talks about how the disease wanted to monopolize her time and attention, but as much as possible she would focus on what was good in her life instead – “movies, walks and a 6:30 martini.” Because she found that, instead of having a life mired in fear and trepidation, she found that it was often quite pleasant, this led her to investigate the role of attention in one’s life. What she discovered is that there is much research out there supporting the fact that it is not our circumstances that determine how we feel, but where we place our attention. If she had focused on her cancer diagnosis, her life would have become fearful, anxiety-ridden, and depressing. Whereas focusing on the good things made her life more pleasant. Basically she says, “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love – is the sum of what you focus on.”

So, if we spend our lives paying attention mostly to the shallow things that draw our attention, how we feel about our lives and ourselves will be shaped by that. But, if we spend more time on deep work, things that inherently carry a sense of impact and importance, then how we feel about our lives and ourselves, who we are, will be shaped by that. It is the deeper work that will give greater meaning and purpose to our lives.

So, here’s the rub… humans are easily distracted, which means deep work is hard to maintain.

At the time of writing this sermon, I turned off my phone and checked out of email and the internet. I gave myself two hours of concentrated deep work time to write. But I found I often had to fight the urge to check email or my phone. This discovery was sort of unsettling.

Newport suggest that, “The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”

As I read this it sounded a lot like the creation of a Sabbath day with routines and rituals. A day that was created for the benefit of people because it would not just give them a break from work, but a break that was meaningful and purposeful as it involved the deep work of spirituality, the deep work of developing relationships, the deep work of worship and prayer, and the deep work of study.

I’ll grant you, that with our society the way it is, this model is probably not practical for most of us. So, I’m not suggesting that we attempt an entire day of Sabbath… but I do wonder if we could be more intentional about at having least SOME Sabbath (deep work) time during the week.

I also want to be clear that Sabbath time does not have to be solitary. Other people, with their thoughts, ideas and questions, help us to learn and grow so we delve deeper into our own thought processes.

You may consider worship to be Sabbath time, but worship is only ONE hour once a week. It’s a good start, but I believe that more Sabbath time will enrich our lives even more. How can we begin to schedule the deep work of Sabbath time, to focus our attention on the sacred in our lives?

I think Newport’s suggestions for deep work in business apply fairly well for Sabbath deep work:

  • Schedule time for deep work
  • Don’t always do deep work alone
  • Learn to disconnect… go off the grid
  • The mind also has limits to deep work… learn yours and temper it with downtime

Jesus was clear that Sabbath was not just about adhering to a set of rules for a holy day, it was a practice to help bring us meaning, fulfillment, and life in abundance.

Lenten blessings,



Last week we found ourselves with Jesus in the wilderness in the gospel of Mark. I’m fascinated by what happens after that, so follow along in the book of Mark for a moment. After Jesus’ time in the wilderness getting grounded in the Spirit and, I believe, understanding himself and his path a bit better, he returns to begin his ministry, preaching and teaching the “Good News.” In the very next story in Mark, Jesus starts gathering disciples beginning with the brothers Simon and Andrew, and the brothers James and John.

Then there are five stories of Jesus’ healing people:Discipleship-Blog-Banner

  • Person with an “unclean spirit” (1:25)
  • Simon’s mother-in-law who was ill with a fever (1:31)
  • Many people who were sick with diseases, and cast out many demons (1:34)
  • Person with leprosy (1:41)
  • Paralyzed person (2:11)

(For the full video version, click here.)

Which brings us to our reading for today in which Jesus is walking by the lake, presumably in Capernaum, sees Levi sitting in his tax office, and says to him, “follow me.” The next thing you know, Jesus is reclining to eat at Levi’s house with a crowd of tax collectors, notorious “sinners,” his disciples, and even some of the religious leaders of the Pharisee sect.

The Pharisee is a little put off by eating dinner with a bunch of lowlifes and turns to one of Jesus’ disciples and asks, “Why does the Teacher eat with these people?”

Overhearing the question, Jesus declares, “People who are healthy don’t need a doctor; sick ones do. I have come to call sinners, not the righteous.”

I have two thoughts on his response. First, I suppose it could be taken as a compliment to the Pharisee, who might then think he’s the healthy, righteous one who doesn’t need Jesus. OR, Jesus is really saying this sort of tongue-in-cheek: “I’m not here for those of you who think you are healthy and righteous, because you think you’ve got it all figured out already and won’t be able to hear a word I’m saying. You may not think much of these other folks, but they will be open to my teaching.”

Regardless, I find the progression of events in Mark interesting. Jesus performed a series of healings then compares himself to a doctor coming to help the sick. But the people sitting around the table aren’t ill, in this case it is a sickness where one has lost their way in life. Their attitudes, behaviors and treatment of others has led them down a dark road. They have lost themselves.

From my viewpoint the crux of the matter is that Jesus came to heal – emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

Joan Chittester, in her book In the Heart of the Temple, tells the story of a teacher who traveled with great difficulty to a faraway monastery because there was an old monastic there who had a reputation for asking very piercing spiritual questions. “Holy One,” the teacher said. “Give me a question that will renew my soul.” “Ah, yes, then,” the old monastic said, “your question is, What do they need?”

The teacher wrestled with the question for days but then, depressed, gave up and went back to the old monastic in disgust. “Holy One,” the teacher said, “I came here because I’m tired and depressed and dry. I didn’t come here to talk about my ministry. I came here to talk about y spiritual life. Please give me another question.” “Ah, well, of course. Now I see,” the old monastic said, “in that case, the right question for you is not, What do they need? The right question for you is, What do they really need?”

If Jesus were answering that question, “What do people REALLY need?” what would be his response? What was he teaching his disciples?

Chittester comments that discipleship often requires some sort of “academic or ascetic exercise.” In other words, learn something or refrain from doing something. In addition, it seems like (for many people) discipleship also implies blind obedience. But what do people really need for their spiritual lives?

In my humble opinion, it’s not obedience. Discipleship, following Jesus is not about obedience to creeds, laws, religious texts, rituals, traditions, or other formulas designed to get one to heaven. I don’t recall Jesus ever instructing anyone memorize bible passages or the 10 commandments or the 613 Jewish laws.


So, what do people really need?

I think people need support in being like Jesus, who was a healing presence in this world.

One day the Buddha was threatened with death by a bandit on the road. “First,” the Buddha said to the bandit, “honor my last with and cut the branch off that tree.” “There,” the bandit said, handing the branch to the Buddha, “whatever good it will do you now.” “Correct,” said the Buddha. “So please put the branch back on the tree again.” “You must be insane,” the bandit said, “to think anyone could do that.” “Oh, on the contrary, my friend,” the Buddha said. “It is you who are insane if you think you are mighty simply because you can wound and destroy. The mighty are those who spend their strength to create and to heal.”

This is what discipleship is about. Not obedience, but about being a creative and healing force in the world – for ourselves, our relationships, our systems and our environment.

What does this look like? Here’s a start…

  • Listening to someone who is hurting
  • Seeking understanding instead of judgment
  • Being inclusive, welcoming and accepting
  • Sincerely apologizing when we’ve done something wrong
  • Offering forgiveness when we’ve been wronged
  • Holding someone when they cry
  • Working for justice
  • Showing kindness and gentleness
  • Being generous
  • Recycling
  • Going to therapy to help heal yourself

I don’t care (and I don’t honestly think Jesus cared) what you specifically believe or what religion you follow, as long as you live your life as a healing presence, walking the path of love, compassion, kindness and justice.

Lenten blessings,



This coming Wednesday is commonly known in the church calendar as Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. From Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday, minus the Sundays in between (because they are supposed to be “little Easters”) is 40 days, meant to mirror the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness prior to his public ministry.choices

The story of those 40 days in the wilderness is about the mental, physical and spiritual preparation that Jesus goes through in order to be ready to preach and teach the Good News of God.

(For the full video version, click here.)

In Megan McKenna’s book, Lent: The Sunday Readings, she states:

[T]he temptation in the wilderness story is short and powerful. The Spirit sends [or drives] Jesus out toward the desert… The desert in the Jewish tradition is the place of transition between slavery and oppression and the making of a people into the children of God ready to enter into the promised land of their dreams. It is a period of testing, of letting go of what was before so that what is to come can enter into them… It is also a time of privilege, of intimacy with God alone, who leads and teaches them in the deepest recesses of their hearts so that they come to know that home is where God is within them.

But in this wilderness time of learning, growing, and changing, there is a tension that needs to be worked out: the tension between the voices of the world and the voices of the Spirit. The figure of Satan (which in Greek simply means Hinderer) is the characterization of these voices of the world tempting Jesus with the illusory things of the world. Now, it seems to me that for Jesus to have been the deeply centered, grounded, consistent and stable spiritual leader he was, there had, at some point, to have been conscious choices on his part about how he’d live his life, how he’d make decisions, and how he’d treat other people. The story of Jesus in the wilderness offers us one possibility to how he found that center.

Here’s a proposition… what if we each made these 40 days of Lent a conscious walk in the wilderness for each of us? What if we became more conscious of the decisions we make on a daily basis? What if we pay attention to the tension present in those decisions between the ways the world calls us and the ways the spiritual path calls us?

Think about this tension for a minute. What are the things we choose between?

What do the voices of the world sound like?

  • Greed – you need more…
  • Power – you should have control…
  • Judgment – you’re better than them…
  • Sloth – what’s the point in trying…
  • Complaining – life sucks…
  • Elitism – you deserve…
  • Selfishness – you first…
  • Jealousy – they can take away what you have… 
  • Envy – they have something you don’t…
  • Fear – you can’t…
  • Violence – an eye for an eye…
  • Anger – don’t let them get away with that…
  • punishment – you should make them pay for that…
  • Self-loathing – you’re not good enough…

And what do the voices of the Spirit sound like…

  • Love
  • Compassion
  • Generosity
  • Understanding
  • Joy
  • Kindness
  • Forgiveness
  • Patience
  • Helpfulness
  • Hope
  • Trust
  • Equality

So… when we’re in a position to respond to a situation or person, our wilderness time calls us to first to check out which list we’re responding from.  And it is awesome each time we can choose to respond from the Spirit list. But, then things get a little trickier. You see, it is possible for our actions to be spiritual choices, but inside the voices of the world are grumbling. For example, you can give $5 to a homeless person on the street, while inside you’re judging them by condemning their dirty clothes, their laziness and you’re thinking they’ll probably just use the money to buy alcohol. Our generous outsides don’t match our judgmental, complaining insides.

I believe part of the goal of the spiritual life is for our insides to match our outsides the way Jesus’ insides matched his outsides.

I encourage all of us to use this time of Lent to work on being consciously aware of the tension and temptations that confront us daily, then to choose well. Perhaps if we make the spiritual choices long enough, our insides will begin to change to reflect our actions. It’s not easy, and it’s more than a 40 day process, but Lent is a good excuse to start.



I Am Listening

This week we’re presented with the story of the call of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-10). Just as Samuel had to intentionally stop and listen to Yahweh, so we also have to intentionally listen to God on this crazy journey we call life.

(For the full video version, click here.)

In this story a voice spoke to Samuel three times in the middle of the night Im-listening(was this out loud or within his heart, we don’t know) and he believed it to be Eli, the old priest he served. Finally Eli caught on and realized that God was trying to talk to Samuel. Eli instructed him, “The next time you are called, simply answer, yes, Lord, I’m listening.”

Samuel was lucky. He had someone with some experience and wisdom to tell him to pay attention and listen.

Today isn’t unlike Samuel’s time… prophets, people who claimed to have heard from God, were uncommon for a time. We’d probably be hard-pressed to find many folks today who believe that God speaks to them (and I don’t trust most of those who say God does). Or, perhaps it’s just that we’re like Samuel and we don’t know what we’re hearing. Perhaps if we consider the possibility that the Divine, Source, Universe, Energy (or whatever you’d like to call that Something More), can communicate with us we’d do things a little differently.

Perhaps we’d stop more often just to listen for that still, soft voice.

Perhaps we’d see opportunities as potential paths offered by the Divine

Perhaps we’d be willing to be surprised, to end up somewhere we didn’t expect to be.

Perhaps we’d begin to expect the unexpected.

Rabbi Karen Kedar, in her book God Whispers, says, “The world of the spirit speaks to you in a hundred voices. Listen with the heartbeat of your soul.” I believe this is true. Here are some of the ways God speaks to us that we named in worship yesterday:

  • Dreams
  • Intuition
  • Other people
  • Scripture
  • Music
  • Coincidences
  • Synchronicity
  • Signs
  • Art
  • Poetry
  • Symbols

All of these involve paying attention as we walk through life. Most require that we stop for a little bit to listen, be still, reflect, meditate (I’d say prayer, but most of us think of prayer as us doing the talking and this is time for us to be quiet). I know some of you are thinking, yea, right, when do I have time to be quiet? How about turning off the radio in the car? Five minutes drinking your coffee in the morning? In the shower? Washing dishes? Shoveling snow? Mowing the lawn? Gardening? Walking? Petting the dog or cat? We have plenty of opportunities, we simply have to open to them.

Listening to God requires not only paying attention, but then following the energy, or getting in the flow. When I’m trying to determine how to preach about a certain scripture I can list three or four directions I could go, but only one of them will have an energy to it that I can follow. To try one of the other options means pulling my hair out trying to make it work.

But following the energy, or getting in the flow of the Divine is NOT a head thing… it is a feeling thing, a heart thing.

Following our intuition is pretty much the same thing. It’s a gut feeling. An impulse.

Mark Nepo, in Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, says “To intuit means to look upon, to instruct from within… As such, intuition is a deep form of listening that when trusted can return us to the common, irrepressible element at the center of all life and to the Oneness of things that surrounds us…”

Are you aware when your intuition is nudging you? Have you ever discounted it and realized later that you should have listened? Have you ever had anyone try to discredit your intuition? Women’s intuition is often disparaged by those touting logic and reason.

I believe there are small ways our intuition speaks to us every day, and we follow or don’t follow without even knowing that there might have been results or consequences to our choice. Sometimes, we follow and it was glaringly obvious that something more was moving.

Author HeatherAsh Amara tells a story about running late for an appointment when she felt the strong urge to visit her neighbor. Her rational mind said, “You need to get going, there is no reason to visit Fred.” But something deeper kept saying, “Just walk next door, see how he is doing.”  After arguing with herself for a while, she decided to follow the pull to see her neighbor and called to let her client know she’d be a little late.

Fred had been going through some really difficult circumstances: the end of his marriage, the possibilitiy of having to leave the home he loved, his young son being miles away. When she walked up he looked up from cooking dinner, surprised to see her.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I just felt the urge to come see you… how are you?” she said as she plopped down into a chair.

He sat silent for a long time. “Well,” he said, “I was actually just cooking my last meal. I have decided to end my life.”

After a half hour or more of listening to his fears and anguish and being present to him, he said, “I can’t believe you came by. You are right, I don’t want to end it all. If you hadn’t come by I would have shot myself tonight. Thanks for being my angel.”

We need to pay attention to those nudges and gut feelings and jump into the flow of the universe to see what it has in store for us.

I also believe that the universe sends us signs and symbols to help us know when we’re on the right path or to help guide our path. I’ve had many, many of these experiences, but I want to share one that I heard recently from a seminary student. She thought her life path was youth ministry, but then things changed and she just wasn’t feeling it. Every night she went to bed asking God to show her what to do next. Strangely enough the word seminary kept showing up everywhere she went. Random people discussing seminary in her hearing. She didn’t make the connection, but kept asking God each night what she should do. Every day the word showed up. It wasn’t until she was in the bathroom at a grocery store and someone else in the bathroom said seminary that she finally gave in.

We interpret the signs. They may mean nothing to anyone else. That doesn’t matter.  But the chance of us seeing them is slim unless we’re paying attention and are open to them.


First of all, God is a loving energy that wants to bring us in line with our highest good, our most authentic self, our truest, most life-giving path.  It is not hateful, it does not cause harm (though your path may include letting go of some things or relationships that are unhealthy).

But what if we make a wrong turn? What if we misread the signs or ignore our intuition? Then we just go from there. I believe God uses what we give to God and helps us move from that point. There is no point in beating ourselves up. We learn what we need to learn and move forward.

Pay attention, maybe even be like Samuel and say, “Here I am God, I’m listening.” Follow your intuition, watch for the signs, go with the energy, for the spirit has amazing and unexpected places to take each of us.

Love & Light!



Path of Transformation

Each of the four Gospels give John the Baptist the prominent role as the forerunner of Jesus. These stories or texts tend to emphasize John’s call to repent and be baptized.

Today I want to re-frame what I believe is the traditional Christian understanding of the word repent.

I believe most Christians understand repent as penance for sins. Contrition. Feeling sorry (and meaning it). Making amends. Going to confession.

(For the full video version, click here.)

So, here’s a different take on it. In Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s book, The First Christmas, they tell us that “the biblical meaning emphasizes change. “They explain:

“To repent is to turn to God. In the Old Testament, its meaning is shaped by the Jewish experience of exile: it means to return from exile to the place of God’s presence… To repent, to return, is to follow the way that leads out of our exile, separation, alienation, and estrangement to reconnection.

The New Testament meaning of the word… adds an additional nuance. In the New Testament, the root of the Greek word translated as “repent” means “to beyond the mind that you have,” to enter into a new mind-set, a new way of seeing. To repent means to begin seeing differently.”

When we work on these two things pieces of John the Baptist’s message – moving from separation (exile) to reconnection and going beyond the mind we have – I believe we are truly committing ourselves to a path of transformation.

RECONNECTIONtransformation sign

I invited you to take a moment for personal inventory. How is it with your soul right now? How much of the time do you feel connected to the Divine? 1%? 5%? 20%? Is your spiritual journey compartmentalized into Sunday mornings, or your walk through the woods? Do you actively engage your spiritual journey, or is church a box you check off each week and forget about after that?

I guarantee that we’ve all had times when we’ve felt more connected or less connected than others. It has to do with life situations, time, energy, desire, and conscious intention.

Lots of folks “self-exile” themselves from church because of things that happened or things that didn’t happen, or because none of it was making sense anymore, and then they decide to cut themselves off from God altogether. Or, sometimes folks just drift away from their spiritual journey and before they know it God and spirituality doesn’t have much place in their lives at all.

Wherever you are, I invite you to stay connected, connect more, or reconnect, and commit to you… commit to your spiritual path this year. Whatever that looks like for you.


Next, we need to commit to going beyond the mind we have.

We can go through life on auto-pilot moving through the minutes, hours, weeks and months of our lives without really putting much thought into our spirituality or our inner journeys. We can work, play with the kids or grandkids, play golf, play cards, make dinner, go out with friends, go shopping, take care of our parents and partners, and take care of our homes without ever thinking about our personal and/or spiritual growth.

In the book A Woman’s Journey to God, by Joan Borysenko, she talks about the Tibetan Buddhists philosophy that speaks of three kinds of mind. “The dull mind with no spiritual interest. The average mind content with dogma and blind faith. The inquiring mind that is curious and filled with doubt. ”

I love this idea. And I believe it is the inquiring mind always pulls us beyond the mind we have.

What are the things we can move beyond?

  • Beliefs
  • Preconceived notions
  • Expectations
  • Limitations
  • Behaviors
  • Reactions
  • Judgments
  • Routine
  • Habits

The inquiring mind calls us not to become too comfortable or complacent with how we think, what we do, how we react, or what experiences we open ourselves to.

Pema Chodron said, “The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.”

We can’t repent – go beyond the mind we have – without opening our hearts and minds to new thoughts, ideas and experiences. We need to challenge ourselves, be curious, ask questions, and doubt until we find a truth that feels right in our hearts. And then we keep searching to grow even more.

What tools can we use to reconnect and start seeing the world differently?

  • Hang out with people who are also interested in this, who will push you or challenge you
  • Don’t take things personally… be curious about why people believe certain things
  • Constant self-reflection
  • Have one new experience each week… even if it is a new spiritual book, or driving down a road you’ve never been on, trying a food you’ve never had.
  • Keep learning

Take the Path of Transformation… seek to reconnect to the Divine, and adopt a mind of inquiry… the journey  will take us deeper into ourselves, into God and into life.

Love & Light!


Attending the Path

The onset of a brand new year entices us to plot and plan and make New Year’s resolutions. We set our goals, map our paths, and plot the roads we want to take to accomplish our wants, wishes and requirements for 2018. Most of us have probably scheduled vacations, thought about how to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates. Many of us may have even made goals for work, exercise, diet, health, volunteering, reading, going to church, and so on.

(For the full video version, click here.)

Perhaps you’ve even made a list. For some of us it is important to cross something off a list to feel like we’ve accomplished something. I’ve been known to put something that I’ve already done on a list just so I can check it off! We are a very goal-oriented, success-driven society, after all.

Sometimes I think we may get too caught up in getting where we want to gojourney that we miss the adventure along the way. And we forget that there really isn’t a final destination. There is no place to ultimately say, “I have arrived!” Even once the magi found the baby Jesus, they had to continue on their journey home by another route, amassing more stories and having more experiences.

I wonder if we could let go a bit of being so goal-oriented or destination-oriented, could we then allow ourselves the experience of the journey itself?

Last summer I took a group to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota for a mission trip. I had the route, hotel, and timing pretty well planned to arrive at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Turns out we actually had a few extra hours to kill Saturday morning so we didn’t arrive too early. And, sure we could have slept in, but we were in Mitchell, South Dakota, the home of the Corn Palace! Certainly the youth who were with us needed to experience this wonder. So, we spent an amusing couple of hours exploring this phenomenon and allowing ourselves a spontaneous experience on the journey.

Life is the same way. We’re programmed to want to get from point A to point B as directly and quickly as possible. Then life happens. We have health issues, job loss, a baby, a divorce, a death, an opportunity, a move, a change in life goals. The path just isn’t straight, no matter how much we may want it to be. Working with the metaphor, there are mandatory rest stops, road construction and detours, flat tires and tourist attractions. Occasionally we get lost and lose our way. We like to convince ourselves that these things are all “bad.” But perhaps they just “are.” Perhaps they just are part of the journey; places we can find God in awe, in compassion, in hope, in others and in our own perseverance and resilience. Once we shift our mindset we can open ourselves to the Spirit who helps us to learn and grow through all these wonderful opportunities.

The path, the search, the journey is its own reward. If you want to plan and map and make lists, great. But do so a little more loosely. Build in some flexibility and spontaneity. Open to the winds of the Spirit, watch for potentials and opportunities and strive to always, whatever happens, engage the moment life has presented you with.

Many blessings on your adventures this coming year.

Love & Light!


Gifts of the Heart

Often we think of the birth of Jesus as the birth of something new coming merry christmasinto our world or our lives, but what if it is not necessarily the creation of something new, but the celebration of the spirit that awakens in us what we already have?

Hope, love, joy and peace all existed before the birth of Jesus.

God’s presence was with humanity before the birth of Jesus.

Light existed in the midst of darkness.

(For the full video version, click here.)

We have friends who are moving soon and they’ve been cleaning out 20 years of living in one house. As she’s gone through the attic and hidey-holes under the stairs, she talks about how (in amongst the crap that collects) she has found precious things she hasn’t seen in years and had forgotten about. There is such surprise and joy and gratitude in that.

Maybe Christmas is like that. Perhaps we celebrate Christmas (often the same way every year) to try and rediscover that which we already have deep inside ourselves.

I think about the ways we lose sight of those familiar Christmas-time gifts: love, joy, hope and peace…

We lose sight of love in the midst of family conflicts or drama, or maybe we just lose sight of love because we fall into a routine or a rut. Or maybe we’ve lost a loved one, or had a break up. But Christmas reminds us of the unconditional love of the Divine that never leaves us. And the holiday draws that same love out in us, makes us want to share it not only with those we love, but often with those less fortunate, or maybe just with the person you’re chit-chatting with in the grocery line.

We lose sight of joy in the uncertainty of life, and get bogged down in fear or worry. Or sometimes (we hate to admit it) maybe life is good, but we’re waiting for the other shoe to fall and so don’t allow ourselves to fully experience the full extent of the joy. We focus more on a glass half empty than half full. Christmas calls us to sing forth our joy like the angels, to smile at the children, to know a depth of joy that dwells deep, deep within our souls.

Sadly, it is too easy to lose sight of hope in a world ravaged by drugs, human trafficking, poverty, the destruction of natural resources, hatred and violence. And sometimes life knocks us down one too many times in a row and we feel a deep despair devoid of hope.  Christmas reminds us that we are not alone, that there is something bigger moving in the world. Christmas reminds us that with each child hope is born again… and that includes each of us… we can all be a light of hope to the world.

And we lose sight of peace… not just peace between countries and people, but inner peace. We’ve forgotten how to slow down, to turn off our phones and televisions and computers, to quiet our minds and rest in gentleness of the moment, and open to a deeper inner peace. Christmas Eve, with its dimmed lights, beautiful music, and the sacred energy that fills the air, helps us touch once again that peace that the world cannot give.

Which of these gifts of the heart do you need to find again? What do you need to remember? What have you taken for granted that you need to see clearly and feel gratitude for again? What have you forgotten even existed and given up on?

May the love, joy, hope and peace of the Spirit fill you not only this Christmas time, but in the many days to come.

Love & Light!