Homes: A Week of Travel and Being Home

Midland, TX - Near the Airport

I have been thinking more about the idea of space-time from my last post, particularly the space (place) part of it. I live in Dallas now. A place that I dearly love, partly because both of my kids live here, but also because of the trees and beautiful, colorful plants that are a part of life in this place. My house is surrounded by them. Stepping out onto my deck, I often pause for prayer and to take in the beauty of my surroundings. I feel blessed by such beauty and often sense God’s presence in my Dallas garden.

This week I was scheduled for several meetings in West Texas and SE New Mexico. For those unfamiliar with this place, I believe the best description might be ‘absolutely nothing like Dallas’. This is an area that I am very familiar with because before Dallas, I lived in West Texas for 27 years.

Stepping out of the air terminal in Midland, an immediate feeling of being home settled over me. I was a little taken aback by the strength of the pull this place still has on my heart. As you can see from my picture, on the surface this space doesn’t have much to recommend it. Barren. Dusty. Unchanging – you can drive for miles (and miles!) and the view doesn’t change.  But in spite of first impressions, the West Texas terrain for me, as one who has lived it, is a place of beauty. The first thing you notice is the sky (no pesky trees, hills, tall buildings, etc to block your view). It is blue and expansive. The spaces out here are uncluttered and wide open.

While in the area, I had the pleasure of a quick (our schedules weren’t cooperating!) visit with a dear friend who has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer for the last few months. Walking into her den and giving her a big hug, I was once again overcome by an incredible sense of being home in her home. Knowing our visit was to be short, I was particularly keen to soak in every moment of our time together. We did not waste a moment of that visit!

I hit the road for SE New Mexico and a remote gas processing plant. The plant is so remote that for the last 15 miles of the drive the GPS showed me driving in the middle of a field! My cell phone works very sporadically in this area and not at all in the vicinity of the plant. In spite of the remoteness, a group of 15 of us slowly began to arrive from all directions. Once assembled, the meeting began. Here again, I was struck with an incredible sense of being home. Over the years, I have spent so much time in many similar locations. I  am very comfortable in sparse the settings of the oil & gas industry. The group of us was crammed around a fold out table, sitting on folding chairs in a small trailer which is the office/workspace for the plant. I was, of course, the only female in the meeting which is the norm for me. There were several new young engineers in the mix, and the rest were folks I have been working projects with for the last 20 plus years. It was amazing how at home I felt in this environment. It felt like a holy time and holy space.

God has been tugging on my heart strings this week – the lesson for the week is HOME. I have always thought of my self as a bit of a nomad – a person without a real home. When people ask, “where did you grow up?” or “where are you from?” I don’t have an easy answer. My father was in the Air Force, so my growing up was split between the mid-west, Texas and even Europe. I never really knew how to answer the question properly. Sometimes because of my Irish roots (Donavan), I would just claim Ireland as my home – even though I have never actually been there! The importance of place is so strongly a part of Celtic culture, it just seemed right somehow. This week I have come to realize that I am not a person of no home, but a person of many homes.

My Backyard Garden - Dallas

What my homes have in common is that they are places where I have put down roots, places that welcome me and places that I feel ‘kick-off my shoes’ comfortable in.  Safe places with family, friends, or colleagues who are glad to see me when I show up! These are the holy landscapes of my life – sacramental spaces & times where I encounter the Holy Creator of the universe.

And this week, I remembered to give myself the gift of pausing to take it all in. It was a balm for my soul during an incredibly busy week.

And yes, landing at Love Field and heading up the Dallas North Tollway. I was home again, but then I never really left home, did I?


The wisdom from heaven waits to drop on us like rain in spring. When we want our souls to be drenched in that wisdom, we need only be quiet and observant to each moment that is before us. Those who practice awareness in the moment find that giving a word in season and even hearing a word in season is natural and effortless. Wrestling with the past or fantasizing about the future stops our powers of observation, and the words from heaven often go unnoticed.

So, stop right now. Be still. Let the drops from heaven fall gently on you.         ~ Renee Miller

St. Theresa’s Prayer

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

Burnout (On Vocation, Part 4)

Burnout … results from trying to give what I do not possess…Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.

~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

On Vocation, Part 3

[Vocation] comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what is is truly about…Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.      ~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Having just returned from my synod’s annual candidacy retreat, vocation and call were pushed to the front of my mind. Also, it was Advent and I was surrounded by the example of Mary and her willingness and openness to accept without understanding the call of God. A call that meant at best a very difficult time for her in her culture or which at worst could mean her death. She gave her assent without really understanding the HOW – it’s a mystery. I, unlike Mary, am not good at this mystery stuff – I want to have the how and why clearly defined prior to taking a step in any direction.

One of the pastor’s at the retreat brought up the following conundrum: “I love words. I often read passages in books, even sermons, which state the things of God much better than I ever could. Why should I preach with my words when I could just read the eloquent words of others.” Why indeed?

I’ve always thought that my patron saint should be Jonah. (Of course, there are two problems with this line of thinking. First, Lutherans definitely don’t have patron saints. Second, Jonah was/is no saint – not even beautified come to think of it.) Jonah who received his call to the people of Nineveh, decided against said call and promptly headed off in the opposite direction to Tarshish. Now there’s a saint I can relate to – out and out defiance! Of course, there was that whole business of the storm, the fish and being unceremoniously vomited up on the shore that eventually made Jonah, grudgingly, willing to head off to Nineveh. Contrasted with Mary’s willingness to accept God’s plan for her as recorded in Luke, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38, NRSV) there is a world of difference!

Or consider Isaiah, who when he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” responded, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8, NRSV No argument, just a simple: I’m here – I’ll do it.

Of course, there is always Moses to look to as an example, right? Yes, here again I find a kindred spirit. God comes to Moses in the burning bush with a call. Moses, unlike Jonah, doesn’t show out and out defiance. No, he just spends most of the next chapter in Exodus arguing with God about his unsuitability for the task and asking wonderful questions like, “What if no one listens to me?”

what if… what if… what if…

Finally, Moses pulls out the big guns with God and reminds God that he has “never been eloquent” and thus is unfit for this task! Surely he’s got God now. God, of course, is not dissuaded and promises to help Moses speak.

Moses finally, literally quits beating around the bush and, says, “Oh Lord, please send someone else to do it.” You gotta love this guy, who in the face of the miraculous manifestation of God in the burning bush, argues and works every angle possible to have his call placed on someone else! God gets mad, but does relent somewhat, by saying that Moses and Aaron will team up for this task. Amazing chutzpah that Moses!

Would that there were more Mary and Isaiah in me and less Jonah and Moses!

There are calls in life that we can’t run away from nor argue our way out of. We all have been gifted and called in accord to our gifts and abilities. In fact, look at the call of Jeremiah:

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, “I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” 9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. (Jer 1: 4-9, NRSV)

Jeremiah’s vocation (call to ministry) was consecrated before his birth! Jeremiah does argue slightly with God reminding God that he is not an adult, but I think as he is a youth we can overlook this, don’t you?

Jeremiah’s call applies equally to each of us, ordained or not. We are all being called by God to fulfill a vocation that is uniquely ours to fulfill and one that we can’t escape (remember Jonah!) no matter which direction we run.

Let’s pick back up with Jeremiah. He has been faithful to the call that he has received with negative results:

7 O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. (Jer 20:7-10, NRSV)

Well, look at that! Jeremiah took up his call and delivered the Lord’s message as instructed and, low and behold, people did not listen nor change. In fact, they made fun of Jeremiah! What’s wrong with this picture!?

So Jeremiah, makes a very logical decision, “I don’t like how the message is being received. I believe I will just keep my mouth shut!”

Sensible man.

But much to his dismay, Jeremiah finds it exhausting to not speak the message, and in fact, finds that he must continue to speak the words of the Lord irregardless of the negative personal consequences.

You see your call and vocation is most likely tied to that thing which you can’t not do. It is such a core part of who you are that to inhibit its expression would do you physical and emotional harm.

So back to the question posed by the pastor at the retreat. Yes, others may articulate the things of God in the most beautiful of ways, but our job is to find our voice and speak the message we have received from God trusting God with the results.

Amen and amen.

Transformation (Waiting, Part 3)

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4, NRSV)

It is so easy for us to lose our focus and shift our sight away from God. With all of the distractions in our lives, it’s amazing that we manage to achieve a God focus as often as we do! With discipline and practice we can learn to reconnect with God and to bask in the light of his love for us. The more regularly that we take time to reconnect; the less distance that develops between us and God.

Just as an athlete must train regularly in order to maintain optimum fitness and to develop the skills that are required to succeed, we too must train in order to maintain our connection with the Divine. A connection that grounds us and provides us with the firm foundation that we need to survive. Staying open and actively practicing connecting with God provides the key to maintaining this connection.

We were created for a purpose and gifted accordingly. Our Father loves us and desires to give us the desires of our hearts. Resting confidently assured of God’s desire for us, we are thus able to approach God with our deepest desires. As we approach, we lay our desires open before Him and release them into his loving arms.

This is not an easy task! It can only happen through the faith and trust that we have nurtured during our regular times of prayer. Praying provides the vehicle that we use to span the distance between ourselves and God. Praying transforms us and brings our will (desires) into alignment with God’s will (desires) for us. When we pray our deepest desires, we are opening our desires and ourselves up to God.

God honors our opening of ourselves with the slow steady process of transforming us and our desires and preparing us to receive our transformed desire. The time lag between our initial awareness of the desire and its fulfillment is the time of personal transformation required on our part required to enable us to receive our transformed desire.

Of course, unfortunately, this process is not instantaneous. It takes time – sometimes a seemingly interminable amount. It is certainly not a comfortable place to be – this place of waiting – but it is necessary for our preparation.

Difficult, but necessary.

The Monk (Waiting, Part 1)

The following is an story from Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions:

Winter lumbered toward spring. … Wait, God seemed to whisper. But another voice rose up in me and around me, a sensible, collective voice insisting that waiting was a huge procrastination, an anachronism, a nice idea, maybe, but something misplaced in the fast-paced, demanding world of today.

Besides, I didn’t want to wait. Waiting seemed the rawest kind of agony. I wanted God to simply whisk away the masks I had spent most of my life fashioning, to hoist up from my repressed well the lost and neglected parts of myself, to solve my problems, heal my wounds, and alleviate the inexplicable sense of discontent and pain I was feeling. And mind you, I wanted all of this now, immediately, or at the very least soon.

It was at this point that I traveled to St. Meinrad Archabbey for a retreat. One day after morning prayers, I walked to the edge of the pond and sat on the grass. I listened to the wind sigh over the water and tried to be still, to simply be there and wait in the moment. But almost instantly my inner chaos rose up. The need to keep moving, to act, to solve everything overpowered me. I got to my feet.

As I returned to the guest quarters, I noticed a monk, ski cap pulled over his ears, sitting perfectly still beneath a tree. There was such reverence in his silhouette, such tranquil sturdiness, that I paused to watch. He was the picture of waiting.

Later I sought him out. “I saw you today sitting beneath the tree — just sitting there so still. How is it that you can wait so patiently in the moment? I can’t seem to get used to the idea of doing nothing.”

He broke into a wonderful grin. “Well, there’s the problem right there, young lady. You’ve bought into the cultural myth that when you’re waiting you’re doing nothing.”

Then he took his hands and placed them on my shoulders, peered straight into my eyes and said, “I hope you’ll hear what I’m about to tell you. I hope you’ll hear it all the way down to your toes. When you’re waiting, you’re not doing nothing. You’re doing the most important something there is. You’re allowing your soul to grow up. If you can’t be still and wait, you can’t become what God created you to be.”

Somehow I knew in my soul that his words were God’s words.

…[God] enters into the experience of those who wait.

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:25, NRSV)

No More Dry Land

The Swan

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is a letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each minute more fully grown,
more like a king, composed, farther and farther on.

~Rainer Maria Rilke (tr. Robert Bly)

You are like Rilke’s Swan in his awkward waddling across the ground; the swan doesn’t cure his awkwardness by beating himself on the back, by moving faster, or by trying to organize himself better. He does it by moving toward the elemental water, where he belongs. It is the simple contact with the water that gives him grace and presence. You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life, and it will transform everything. But you have to let yourself down into those waters from the ground on which you stand, and that can be hard. Particularly if you think you might drown…. Let go of all this effort, and let yourself down, however awkwardly, into the waters of [your] work.

    ~David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

Rilke’s The Swan is one of my favorites! I find myself returning to sit with it every couple of months or so. It serves as a good plumb line.

The contrasting image of the swan walking (perhaps more appropriately waddling) on dry land versus moving elegantly, effortlessly through the water serves as a powerful a reminder for me to sort through all of the various activities that I am involved in. Am I doing those things that I was created to be about doing? Or am I involved in tasks, that while worthwhile, work against my strengths and might, perhaps, be better done by someone whose gifts and talents are better aligned to these tasks.

Of course, the hard part, once the evaluation is complete, as both Rilke and David Whyte point out, is the letting go of the familiar dry land and moving into water. Dying to that image that I am all-powerful and able to leap tall buildings, an image that propels me to push harder and farther, is not an easy step to take. But as I am encouraged by the image of the Swan to make the evaluation in the first place, I am also encouraged by the image of the Swan to step into the water and leave the dry land behind!

Oh Lord, pour your light into my life. Give me the courage to live in this light, seeking to open myself to using my gifts and abilities in your service and ever fighting the tendency of ‘trying to be all things to all people’. Enable me to envision my life as you see it – strengthening me to step off the dry land and into the waters that you have created for me. Amen.