Embracing Mystery

To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

– William Blake

I enjoy spending time around children because they remind me of how to live each moment fully, how to examine the world with eyes of love and wonder, and how to embrace mystery as a natural part of what it means to be alive. Somehow, between childhood and adulthood, we manage to squelch this wonderful approach to living and replace it with something far less satisfying, what we term “realistic” and “appropriate” and “logical.”

Somehow along the way we build fences, construct walls, and organize life into neat categories of black and white, right and wrong, in and out, cool and uncool. Because of our human desire to “know” and control our life and destiny, we strive for certainty and mastery. We seek to acquire and cling to rather than experience and ponder. In the process, largely unintentionally, we lose our ability to embrace the mystery of the universe.

Have you ever watched a child experience the natural world? Have you seen how each flower is its own universe to be explored, how every bird and animal is marvelous and wonderful to behold? Remember how mud puddles are for jumping in–not avoided–and garden hoses are destined to be fountains rather than simply conduits for H2O? Little children don’t watch clocks. They don’t hurry past when something catches their fancy. They are honest and inquisitive and, well, real.

Children not only accept mystery, they embrace and are enthralled by it. Mystery and wonder are partners in living. Once upon a time signals a story worth listening to, and music is made to inspire a silly whirl of a dance. A child sees no reason to argue about whether the world was created in seventy days or seventy million days. The world was created, and it’s really cool; that’s what matters.

What would it take for you to recapture and embrace the mystery of life in this new year? Is it possible for you to take off your watch, shut off your cell phone, put on some music and dance like a kindergartner until you fall down exhausted? Can you spare an hour to walk in the woods, to taste snowflakes, and yes, to stomp in a puddle? Will you treasure and ponder the mystery that you are, the gift of life that the Creator has given you, and the wonders and delights of this beautiful world? I hope you will. I pray you will.

We wake, if ever at all, to mystery. — Annie Dillard

Photos by AlicePopkorn and vastateparksstaff. Thanks!


By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. — Luke 1:78-79

Read: Luke 1:68-79


I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. — Og Mandino


When I lived in North Dakota, one of my favorite things to do on a crisp, clear winter night was to bundle up, go outside, and gaze into the star-spangled sky. Out on the rural prairie, without the interference of city lights and traffic noise, one gets a real sense of the enormity of the cosmos and the handiwork of the Creator. One also gets a very real picture of just how small and insignificant a single human can appear in the scale of the universe.

Yet, we do not have to feel insignificant because scripture reminds us that God knows the very number of hairs on our head. We are wonderfully and fearfully made and deeply loved. Even in the darkest hour of night, we rest assured that dawn will break, bringing new light and renewed hope. Jesus is coming again to bring light that the darkness cannot overcome. Yes, the stars are lovely to look upon, but it is the light of Christ that shows us the way to real life that never ends.


Make time to go outside and look at the stars. Tonight you might even have the opportunity to see the Geminid Meteor Shower in all its glory. Give thanks to the Creator of the universe for the majesty and glory that seem to expand before your eyes.

Today also marks the commemoration of St. Lucy, a young Sicilian Christian martyr who lived during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. While we do not have much knowledge about her life, we believe she had decided to devote her life completely to God and give her possessions to the poor.  Her feast day is particularly important in Norway and Sweden, where the oldest girl in the house dons a crown of candles and serves saffron buns  to her family early on this particular morning. For more information click here. For a recipe for St. Lucy’s Buns or Lussekatter, click here.

Photos by Tydence and Henrik Kettunen. Thanks!


There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  — Luke 21:25-26

Read: Luke 21:25-36


“Advent: the time to listen for footsteps – you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.” — Bill McKibben


A quick glance at global news headlines can be a terrifying thing. Headlines announce war, murder, destruction, natural disaster, hunger, poverty, and abuses of all kinds in a macabre parade of words and images. It’s enough to put one into flight mode–at least metaphorically.

One way some folks cope with this onslaught of devastation is to ignore it by running to other activities, passions, and pleasures. The problems seem so big, so bad, and so complicated that it’s easier to ignore them. Thank about it: after the horror of 9/11 we were encouraged to shop, to get on with life as usual and keep the economic machine running smoothly.

Luke’s gospel tells us something completely different. Instead of fleeing, falling, and fearing, we are to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (21:28b). We are to look and listen for the footsteps of God’s redemption in our world.

The season of Advent provides the space and opportunity to slow down, give our “running shoes” a rest, and listen in prayer, worship, and daily life for the signs of divine action in the world. The signs are there. They are hopeful. And  they are very, very real! Dear friends, look for these signs of real life abundant and overflowing with mercy, love, and grace. Be still and encounter God.


Take a “news fast” today. Avoid encountering news on television, radio, and website. Instead, play some music that inspires you. Take a walk outside if weather permits. Bake some bread or sweets and fill your home with the fragrance of love’s creative action. Share your baked goods with family and friends. Choose an inspiring film to watch–or a comedy if you’re in need of a laugh. Most importantly, light a candle and pray for the wisdom to work for peace and watch for God-signs in the world. Blessings on your day.

Like Dave Brubeck? Remember him this week by listening to “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Check out David Anderson’s article about Brubeck, who died December 5 at the age of 92, here.

Photo by kt Ann. Thanks!

Experiencing God in Creation

“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”   – George Washington Carver

Do you experience God’s presence and handiwork in the natural world? I know I do. Like Carver, I believe that God does communicate with us in many ways–some subtle and some more direct. We hear God speak through scripture. We come into the Divine presence in worship. We converse with the Triune God in prayer. We encounter Christ in Holy Communion, and we sense the nudging of the Holy Spirit in our daily  lives. Whether or not we are aware of and in tune with these holy encounters is another story.

Try this: next time you are outside try being open to the presence of the Divine. Listen for the still, small voice of God in the wind. Smell the freshness of newly turned soil. Hear the trill of a bird song. God is present. The Creator is active in the Creation. You are a blessed part of the creation and as such you are dearly loved.

Pay attention to the divine “broadcast station” of creation. Listen. Hear. Understand. Live. Give thanks. Oh, and be a good steward of this marvelous gift. God’s hand, God’s voice, and God’s presence are everywhere in it.

Photo by Per Ola Wiberg used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

If You’re Happy and You Know It…

You can choose to be happy. No matter your state or station in life, if you look at each day with hope, love, and and open mind/heart/soul, you will find a blessing somewhere. String those little pearls of blessing one by one on the necklace of your life, and soon you will find that happiness has been hanging around all along.

No, not every day is a happy day. Sadness, pain, and loss are a part of the human condition, and none of us are immune, but even in the midst of grief one can experience a spark of joy, a happy memory, and the love of friends and family.

According to dictionary.com, happiness “results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good.” When one approaches life from the perspective of “thanks-living,” of looking for the good in all areas of life and giving thanks for the blessings ones experiences and shares with others, then happiness, well, happens.

The key to happiness is to look for the good in all things and in all people, to be contented with oneself and in one’s situation, and to love without reserve or measure. You and I, dear friends, possess the key to unlock the door behind which happiness lies. Be grateful for this fact and live into it. Make lemonade out of life’s lemons, and write your own happy ending. Don’t let doubt and despair rain on your parade.

Peace, blessing, and happiness to you this day!

Lenten 40/40/40 Update for Day 13:

Honoring Relationships

Today I give thanks for another North Dakota friend — Paula. She is a strong woman who possesses a beautiful, generous, and kind spirit. No stranger to pain and grief, Paula nonetheless finds happiness, contentment, and meaning in her life. She gives of her time and resources generously and doesn’t meet  a stranger. She loves her family and friends dearly. Thanks for being you, Paula! Knowing you has made me a better me.

Giving Possessions

Today it’s time to give away some music CDs. Since my iPod is now synched to my spouse’s, I have no need for duplicates and choose to share (legally, of course!).


Today was a gorgeous sun-drenched March day in south-central PA. How glorious it was to simply marvel at the budding trees and daffodils straining to bloom. Thanks to the God of all creation for making such bright beauty possible.

For Further Reflection…

How have you created happiness today? What has brought you joy?

Photo by donireewalker used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Sunrise — Thank You — Sunset

Sunrises are not normally part of my daily ritual. My body’s natural rhythms do not favor rising early. I am much more likely to treasure the bold oranges, brilliant reds, and bright pinks of a sunset instead. I like the Jewish tradition of beginning the day with sunset and ending with sunrise. Remember, from the book of Genesis, where the refrain “and there was evening and there was morning” frames the Creator’s activity? Works for me!

Whether you rise with the roosters or begin your day with brunch, both sunrises and sunsets are gifts to be treasured. The rising and setting of the sun form a glorious set of bookends to each day, between which we live and love and give thanks for the gift of life and everything we share.

Today I want to share something with you. It’s the story of Debbie Wagner, and it is sure to inspire you and give you reason to be thankful. The short version is this: Wagner was enjoying a wonderful life that was interrupted by two brain tumors. Saved from an early death through surgical intervention, Wagner nonetheless found her life changed. She was no longer able to do some of the things she had taken for granted such as following the complicated plot of a novel or creating meals from complex recipes. Rather than focus on what had been lost, Wagner searched for and found new gifts. She suddenly had an eye for the visual and an artist’s ability. She began rising early and painting each sunrise. From that experience many blessings have followed.

I encourage you to read Debbie’s full story posted on the DailyGood by clicking here. You can also visit her website by clicking here.  This courageous woman shows that it is possible to give thanks in all circumstances, creating beauty and hope from the ashes of pain and loss.

Photo by khsolomon used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


Stand Strong Hayhoe & the Friday Five

Ever heard of Dr. Katharine Hayhoe? She’s a Research Associate Professor at Texas Tech University and a respected teacher and atmospheric scientist. Hayhoe happens to be an evangelical Christian and is married to Andrew Farley, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at TTU and pastor of a nondenominational church in Lubbock. Together the couple wrote a book about climate change from a faith-based perspective. Now she finds herself squarely in the cross hairs of controversy.

She was contracted to write the opening chapter for the upcoming book by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich but was dropped after Gingrich was pressured by constituents and media. Rush Limbaugh dismissed her as “a babe named Hayhoe.” She is receiving a torrent of hate mail, including almost 200 nasty e-mails the morning after appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show (Fox TV).  Click here to read an article about what she’s facing, somewhat ironically from folks who claim the same faith.

Hayhoe spoke with passion in an interview with a Canadian newspaper, “My own faith is the Christian faith and in the Christian faith we are told to love our neighbours as much as ourselves. And our neighbours, especially the poorer ones, are already harmed by climate change.”

Curious about Dr. Hayhoe and her work? Click here to read more about her and to watch short videos from the PBS NOVA series The Secret Lives of Scientists and Engineers. Click here to read an excellent short article Hayhoe wrote for the April 2011 issue of Sojourners. Click here for more information about the book A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.

Do I agree with everything for which Dr. Hayhoe stands? I don’t know. Chances are we might split a few theological hairs, but seeking the common ground in our respective discipleship walks is much more important. I don’t have to agree with everything she says to appreciate her courage, her commitment, and willingness to speak the truth in love. I will say that on the issue of climate change I’m with her 1o0% (Hey, Rush, does that earn me the title of “climate babe,” too?).

This Friday I am particularly thankful for people of faith who stand their ground to speak the truth in the irrational face of hate and bullying. Thank you, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, for standing up for what you believe both as a scientist and Christian. I and many others stand with you, Dr. Hayhoe; stay strong.

If you want to show your support for Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, you can send her a note of appreciation through Sojourners by clicking here, or you can read her complete profile and contact her through TTU by clicking here.

The Friday Five

I am thankful for:

  1. the fresh homemade bread my spouse has in the oven right now,
  2. the spirit of collaboration and cooperation exhibited last night by folks from various churches and organizations in my area.
  3. that I have more than I need and plenty to share,
  4. my family,
  5. and the simple and amazing gift of another day on this wonderful earth.

Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video used under Creative Commons License. Thanks! Photo of Dr. Hayhoe from her website.

Beginnings: Water/Life

And GOD said, “let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”  –Genesis 1:6

Water is a fundamental element of life. Without it life cannot be sustained. In Genesis 1:6-10, GOD deals with water, separating sky from sea and sea from land. In the ancient world, water represented chaos. It was a force both destructive and life-giving.  Early humanity believed that the earth itself was founded upon a watery abyss that was deep, wild, and untamed.

Water is powerful stuff. It can be deadly in the form of tsunami, hurricane, or flood. Even the slow steady drip of water will eventually erode the most stubborn surface. Yet at the same time it nourishes, greens the earth, enables us to grow food, and in the water of baptism possesses eternal benefits.

This morning I realized how thankful I am to have access to clean water from the faucet. Yep, what I so easily take for granted is a real gift. Hop in the shower, turn a handle, and I have as much warm water as I need. No schlepping heavy loads from some spring or well far away. I don’t have to worry about water-born diseases thanks to water treatment and additional home filters. Ah, water! How wonderful!

My grandparents had a well. I remember on visits there lifting the wooden cover and peering down into the cool darkness. It was a hand crank operation with a bucket at the end of a rope. Older, not necessarily more mature, cousins occasionally threatened to deposit the younger, more annoying cousins into the deep, dank reaches below. I thought it was pretty cool to draw water from that well for about the first 24 hours. It got old quite quickly. Still, it was relatively easy access to a good source of potable water.

Not everyone is so fortunate. According to Living Water International, 884 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. That’s about 1 in 8 people without what we consider to be so basic–almost a right.

1.8 million children die each year as the result of diseases caused by unclean water and poor sanitation. That adds up to about 5,000 deaths per day. Water-related disease is the second biggest killer of children.

Those large containers of water you see women carrying in pictures from Africa and Asia weigh about 40 pounds. That’s equal to the average airport luggage weight allowance.

The average North American uses 400 liters of water each day. Europeans typically use about 200 liters per day. People in the developing world use on average only 10 liters per day for drinking, cooking, and washing.

The average per person spending for Christmas gifts if $723.  Multiply that number by even 50% of the population, and the figure is staggering. Living Water International stated that Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas. The U.S. National Debt is more than $15 trillion and growing. The estimated cost of providing clean water to everyone in the world is $20 billion.  Sort of makes that last figure sound paltry, doesn’t it.

I’m not trying to lay a guilt quilt over anybody’s shoulders, but I do hope that every person reading these words will be a whole lot more grateful for each sip of water and remember to thank GOD for each hot shower or bath. Next time you so easily turn on the faucet, say a prayer for the many people in the world who must walk miles to collect water or drink dirty water.

GOD’s been doing wonderful things with water since the beginning of time. It’s a gift of the Creator we should never take for granted. Today, and every day, remember to give thanks for water–each precious drop.

For Further Reflection

Today, spend some time reading water stories from scripture and praying in thanksgiving for water. Place a bowl of water beside your candle as a reminder of this precious gift. If it is a warm day, consider going to sit by a fountain or stream so that you will be able to hear running water. Here are some suggestions for water stories from scripture:

Genesis 1:6-10 (Water at Creation)

Genesis 6-9:17 (Noah and the Flood)

Exodus 14 (The Crossing of the Red Sea)

Mark 1:4-11 (Baptism of Jesus)

John 2:1-11 (The Wedding at Cana)

Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus Calms the Storm)

What other important water stories come to mind?

Thanks-Living Actions

Consider a water tax. For a period of time (Advent and Lent are good options), charge yourself a “tax” every time you turn on a faucet, the shower, or flush the toilet. It could range from a penny to a dollar depending on your means. At the end of that period of time, add up your “tax” and donate it to a water charity so that through your act of “thanks-living,” others may have a better chance to have good water, too.

Say a short prayer of thanksgiving every time you use water today. It can be as simple as Thank you, GOD, for the gift of water that gives life abundant both today and in eternity.

Photos by likeablerodent, carnie lewis, sustainable sanitation, and  fox_kiyo, used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!



Beginnings: Light & Darkness

Then GOD said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. and GOD saw that the light was good; and God separated the light form the darkness. GOD called the light Day, and darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.  –Genesis 1:3-5

How fortunate we are to be able to separate light from dark with the mere flip of a switch! When my mother was a little girl, oil lamps lit their nights, wood fired the kitchen stove, and human hands pulled water from the well. It wasn’t until she was grown and away from home that her parents finally had electricity run to the house and shortly thereafter a party line phone.

Access to electric lights has always been a part of my life, so darkness really gets my attention. When a storm downs power lines, rendering not only lights but alarm clocks, hair dryers, and phones useless, I notice and am reminded of what a gift electrical current really is. When we camp, and the darkness surrounds us like a blanket as the fire slowly fades to embers, I notice the dark.

When I was a child, my parents took me to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. At one point on the tour all the lights were extinguished, and for just a minute I knew complete darkness. There were no fire embers, no flashlights, no candles–just darkness so thick you could almost touch it. I still remember vividly that feeling some 44 years later. When the ranger turned on his lantern again, it didn’t take long for that single light to illumine the underground room in which we stood so that we could see one another again. What a wonderful feeling it was to not only feel my parents’ hands but to see them. Any feelings of doubt or fright I was experiencing were washed away by the faint light of the ranger’s lantern. I also remember those strange, pale, eyeless cave fish who had become so used to living in complete darkness that they ceased to grow eye structures and significant skin pigmentation, but that’s a story for another day!

So I am thankful that God spoke light into existence, I am thankful to have access to light when I need it, and I am thankful to have eyes with which to see the light. Most of all, I am thankful for the light of Christ. As the fourth evangelist wrote so beautifully, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). Let there be light; let there be light, indeed!

For Further Reflection:

Have you ever taken part in a candlelight Christmas Eve service or a candlelight vigil? Isn’t is amazing how one candle lighting others can create such a warm and inviting light? Today, darken a room as much as possible and light a single candle. Think about God speaking light into existence and how even the light of one small candle can overcome darkness. How much more can the light of Christ banish darkness! Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for light. Ask Christ to allow you to reflect his light to the world and to shine the light of hope and grace into dark places. Be prepared for God to use you as a light in the darkness.

Consider naming one night this week or even one hour as a sabbath from electricity. Use only candles, turn off the television, radios, and don’t use anything that relies on electric power. Notice the silence, the absence of the hum of computers and other electronics. Enjoy the warm glow of candlelight, perhaps even dining by candlelight. What do you notice? What did you learn? What does this say about our reliance on electricity? What would it be like to have to live without it for an extended period of time?

Photos by vince alongi, National Park Service, and kudumomo used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful for the Beauty of Creation

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” –John Muir

My journey from home to Trinity Lutheran Church in Rouzerville takes about 40 minutes in good weather–a bit longer if I need take an alternate route or find myself behind slow traffic. One Sunday morning I was even delayed by a farmer in his Sunday suit trying to move a recalcitrant calf out of the road. It is a lovely drive, and I am thankful for the gift of nature and the time to think and pray (with my eyes open, of course).

When I leave Arendtsville, I drive over rolling hills with orchards on either side. The view is breathtaking, and I have enjoyed watching it change during the short four months I have been making the trip. Once I cross Route 30 through Cashtown, I am in the flat lands surrounded by fields, farm yards, and more orchards. The trip slows down through historic Fairfield before I cross the covered bridge and head over Jack’s Mountain. Next is the ascent to  Blue Ridge Summit and subsequent descent into Rouzerville. On a clear day it is a stunning drive and perfect time to prepare my heart and mind for worship.

Sometimes I go home by a different route in order to stop at the nursing home in Quincy. This route takes me through Waynesboro, up through Quincy, Mont Alto, and Penn National. It’s a quick descent through the forest to Route 30 and then home. This route seems to be preferable in bad weather–at least that’s what I discovered during our October snow storm.

Some folks might complain about the distance, but by North Dakota standards it’s a breeze. I try to consolidate trips to be a better steward of time and resources, but I appreciate the opportunity to drink in the beauty of the Keystone state.

My husband and I are fortunate to be a short drive from the Appalachian Trail and the Michaux State Forest and Pine Grove Furnace State Park, all of which offer many opportunities to enjoy hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. Occasionally, when our day off is the same, we’ll take the dogs and go for a quick hike. Even if we don’t have time to leave town, we can take a quick walk up to the local cemetery. It sits at one of the highest points in town, is surrounded on three sides by orchards, and affords both peace and quiet and stunning views of the valley and surrounding mountains.

Simply standing atop that hill, holding my husband’s hand, drinking in the crisp autumn air and the beauty of God’s good creation is a gift beyond price and measure. Thank you, God, for the beauty of your earth. Help us all to be good stewards of this gift.

What are your favorite places to experience the beauty of creation?

Even if you can’t get outside, click here for a wonderful rendition of English Composer John Rutter’s version of “For the Beauty of the Earth” sung by the Paya Lebar Methodist School Girls’ Choir (Singapore). The voices and pictures are lovely.

Photos by Gerry Dincher and Rob Blezard used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!