Mother and child taking a break from holiday shopping.

Mother and child taking a break from holiday shopping.

Sitting quietly in the midst of the holiday hub-bub, while sugary holiday songs wafted through the air around her, this mother sat feeding her baby at the Arsenal Mall — I mean “Project.” Her centeredness was so beautiful. It felt like a gift in the midst of an atmosphere engineered to make me restless, designed to make me feel like I need more. She conveyed contentedness and presence.

There are some good books on parenting. But in the end, one learns to be a parent by parenting. One gathers the inner strength needed to get through the sleepless nights and put up with the spit and poop and other glop by simply putting up with it. Experience is the best professor, in parenting, and in so much in life, including prayer.

I met recently with some colleagues who had both read a good book about prayer. They traded favorite quotes and teachings from the book. Clearly it had made an impression. I’ve read some good books about prayer, too, but I chose not to join in the conversation. I think I’ve learned more about prayer from praying, and from being with people who have more experience than I with it. Chief among them are the brothers of SSJE, an Episcopal monastery in Cambridge. The brothers’ entire life is prayer, ordered around corporate prayer, which they offer to God at set times all through the day. Every day. Day after day. They are a living book on prayer.

During Advent, they invite us to pray with them through an online Advent calendar. Each day, they invite us to meditate on a different word, using an image and a short quotation from one of the brothers’ sermons as a touchstone. Today’s word is “experience.” Check their website here or on Twitter, check #Experience #AdventWord to find out what they and others are hearing the Spirit say about experience.

Thank you to the mother in the mall (I mean “project”), whose name I do not know. Thank you for being an icon through which God’s experience of being patient and caring and still with us was revealed. Thanks for being part of my experience.

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Keep on Walking in Circles

photo (51)One of my favorite songs from back in the day is called “We’re Gonna Keep on Walking Forward.” It’s a great song for replenishing your courage in the midst of work for justice or positive change of any kind. Singing it with friends and colleagues, slowly and in four-part harmony, always makes my heart sing. Here’s the version I know.

But there are times when I feel like I’m walking in circles. Or that our society is walking in circles. Are we making any progress? Am I “achieving” anything of note? Making a difference at all? Certainly the news of recent weeks makes gives me pause. Are we a better society than the ones our ancestors crossed oceans to escape? Am I any more self-aware or open-hearted than I was as a youth?

I was glad on Saturday to have the chance to walk a labyrinth, which we brought to our parish and incorporated into our Advent Quiet Day. In a labyrinth, you can’t get lost. But you do need to keep going. “It is solved by walking,” as the ancient phrase goes. I walked slowly, letting my mind travel back to many other places I’ve walked in my life: walks on the beach of Lake Michigan, walks around the rim of a volcano in Kenya, protest marches, walks across a snowy city in Wisconsin, AIDS walks. So many steps, each one bringing me closer to this moment, this decision-point. Where will I walk next?

The labyrinth feels true to my experience. Around and around we go in life and as a society. But the labyrinth is a path, and the journey itself holds blessing. To sit it out would be sad – maybe sinful, even. I will “keep on walking forward,” inviting as wide an array of people to accompany me as possible. But I will anticipate some twists and turns, and I will seek to make sure no one gets left behind on the journey.

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The Fog of Peace

Not much of a view from the top of Palfrey.

Not much of a view from the top of Palfrey.

I took this picture at the crest of Palfrey Street last week, on one of those really foggy mornings. The weather obscured the normal view from this perch. You can’t see the steeple of Redeemer Fellowship down the hill. You can’t see the rooftops of various industrial buildings farther off. You can’t see them, but they are still there.

It’s easy to walk around Watertown these days and believe that we’re living in a time of peace. Christmas tunes fill the hallways at the Arsenal Mall. Kids are laughing and enjoying video games at the public library. Folks are eating pancakes at the Town Diner or stocking up on Armenian baked goods for the holiday weekend.

But all is not well in the world, and we know it. We know about Ferguson. We know about Aleppo and Gaza and lots of other places of devastation. We know about the impact of political stalemate on our stalled and increasingly restless, divided nation. It is a false peace. How do we live honestly and faithfully within the fog of peace?

Here are a few possibilities for your consideration. They are all forms of “showing up.” First, show up to the news reports. It’s tempting to change the channel/turn the page/click on something less meaty. Resist the urge. Stay with it. Learn the facts, the stories, see the faces. Then take this into your prayer.

Second, show up for creative, non-violent protest of injustice. We live in a time when things need disrupting. Perspectives need changing. All sorts of interesting possibilities are being workshopped. Show up. Learn. Speak up.

Third, show up in places where people can cut through the fog in conversation. This might be a recovery group. It might be Blue Christmas service. It might be a cup of coffee with someone from another faith tradition or culture.

How are you cutting through the fog of peace? Share your story so we can learn from it.


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Write down this phone number

Celebrating a year of doing great work

Celebrating a year of doing great work

A while back, I was reflecting with some folks in my parish about the language we use when we pray in church. One woman said that she finds it awkward to pray for “the poor, the lonely, the sick, and those in need.” She wisely reflected, “Who isn’t lonely, to some degree? Who isn’t sick or needy in some way or another?” Being human means carrying an ever-changing complexity of conditions all the time. And being a person of faith — any faith — means understanding yourself to be implicated in your neighbor’s suffering, loneliness, or poverty, and saying yes to the call to respond.

Praying in and alongside of suffering is important. But knowing where to refer someone who needs tangible help or expert care  is also important. A year ago, Watertown took a great leap forward by hiring a Social Services Resource Specialist named Danielle DeMoss. I met Danielle early on, and I keep her phone number right next to the phone in the church office. She is the go-to person when someone needs help and I’m not sure how to help them. If you live in Watertown, check this link and put Danielle’s number in your phone now!

The need for affordable shelter, food, mental health services, financial assistance, and other services is growing, growing, growing. The complexity of need is growing, too. I hope funding for Danielle’s position is at least maintained, ideally increased. I hope that all of us, when we go to the polls on Tuesday, cast votes that work for the relief of suffering rather than its perpetuation. And I pray that, even in the midst of our own personal hardships, we can link arms with those who truly need a boost to stay upright.

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Sound and Noise

A beautiful Wednesday on the dock

A beautiful Wednesday on the dock

“What is the difference between sound and noise?” My children were asked to answer this question as part of a homework assignment last week. Good question. Yesterday I took a break from a long to-do list to lie on the dock on the Charles River in Watertown Square and ponder it. I closed my eyes and soaked in with thankfulness the warmth of the autumn sun, stockpiling its energy for the grey days ahead.

I listened. I did that exercise you’ve probably done along the lines, in some yoga class or meditation training: “Try to identify all the different sounds you can hear.” Men chatting. Wind rustling through the trees. Big trucks rumbling over the bridge. An ambulance passing. And then the traffic — the constant whirr of car engines and wheels spinning across concrete.

Most of the time, eyes open, looking out across the Square, the sound of all this traffic is noise to me. I long for less. I remember walking once through the Square late at night, after a big snowstorm. It was so still, so beautiful. I long for a return to that. But on this day, eyes-closed, lying in the sun, it was OK. It was sound, not noise. It was life and movement and part of a sonic dance.

Whatever the “noise” in your life today, I pray that you find your own equivalent of a dock to lie on. I pray for warmth and light to ease the strain of all that wrangles and clangs in and around you. I pray for the grace to offer sound, rather than noise, to those I meet this day, too.

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Evangelizing the Clown

Making the most of Faire on the Square

Making the most of Faire on the Square

Faire on the Square is always a ball: music and dancing, free tchotchkes, and sno-cones. What’s not to love? But my favorite part of the Faire is the unexpected encounters and surprising conversations that occur.

This year, a stranger asked me to prayer with them,  I did some marriage counseling, and I danced with students from Perkins. Meanwhile, my friend Angelita did an amazing job chatting with people about our church. Angelita goes into every moment of her day just sure that God has something good waiting there. And she takes joy in meeting people and sharing her enthusiasm for our parish community. Everyone is a blessing and potential friend, in her eyes, from the neighbor who has just moved here from Mexico, to the exhausted parent of a toddler, to a man wearing face paint and a yellow wig.

Who knows whether the clown will show up at our yard sale or our contemplative prayer service? But this I know: Underneath his costume there is a child of God who deserves a smile, a prayer, and an invitation to community.

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My Left Foot

Me, not going very far.

Me, not going very far.

These are my feet. I’m standing on Russell Avenue. But I won’t be walking up the sidewalk very far any time soon. No long walks by the river. No hikes to enjoy the fall leaves changing. Three more weeks of an ankle brace, elevating the leg, and some ice packs. Rats.

It could be worse. Really. Everything will heal. But navigating the world more slowly and carefully since my injury has sharpened my awareness of how much I take for granted. Mobility is an amazing blessing, and for most of my life I’ve just tooled around, unaware of how lucky I am. I’ve advocated for those living with disabilities, but I’ve never been the one who needed the elevator or the ramp myself. I’m learning a little now about the small inconveniences that impede many people on their daily round. I just need a quart of milk, and I have to walk all the way to the back corner of the supermarket?!

I’ve revised my fitness goals for the fall. I’m trying pilates. I’m focusing on eating well, rather than walking miles. And as I travel at a slower pace, I’m stopping to talk with people who are also taking the elevator or the ramp. I’m holding doors open for those whose mobility is even more limited than mine. I’m giving thanks that one of my ankles works fine, so I can, indeed, keep walking.

What is changing your perspective these days?

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