Don Beisswenger – Presente

Since he passed away on Monday, I’ve been thinking with gratitude about the many ways that Don Beisswenger shaped my life. I moved to Tennessee the fall of 1979 after having grown up in my dad’s churches in Oklahoma. Edgehill was the first church I actually chose to join on my own. Don and Joyce Beisswenger were in that church and I’m blessed for it.

I was a disillusioned, impassioned young adult wanting to change the world. I attended a program at Don and Joyce’s house and learned about “liberation theology.” “There is hope for the church,” I thought, and ended up at Vanderbilt Divinity School working on my M.Div. (I signed up for the course on Contemporary Theology and waited in vain for the unit on liberation theology to come along.)

I marched all over town protesting with activists like Don and Hogan Yancey, telling the story of the U.S. War in El Salvador and the martyring of Bishop Oscar Romero. I went to Washington, DC, slept in a church with activists from Jonah House, and stood with others to block the entrance to the Pentagon on the Feast of the Holy Innocents — commemorating the slaughter of the male Hebrew children by King Herod.

Don was in charge of Field Education while I was a Vanderbilt. I interned with social justice groups. And then, needing one more field education unit, I served for a summer with Alive Now Magazine at The Upper Room. I found my vocation during that summer of Field Education. Since I had figured out what I wanted to do — be an editor — I got tired of doing school work. One Sunday, Don mentioned to me, “Hey, Beth, Y’know, the faculty has approved your graduation, pending the completion of your incomplete. I went home from church and finished the paper that day.

But Don’s influence didn’t end there. It was about that time that he and Joyce bought the Cheatham County land that became Penuel Ridge Retreat Center. I count myself fortunate to have been included in the small group of 8-10 of us who walked the land and listened for God’s purpose for that place. I became a part of the “core team” who discerned that the land would become an interfaith place of solitude and retreat, rooted in social action.

For a number of years, then, I lived next door at the retreat center. Don and I built decks together, worked on projects like the construction of The Well, led and attended retreats, walked the trails, and stood around looking at the tractor when it wouldn’t start. (In fact, my mind’s eye sees him sitting on the tractor, that wry smile on his face.)

In 2004, Don served a six-month federal prison term at the age of 73 for his non-violent protest. His book, Locked Up: Letters and Papers of a Prisoner of Conscience was published by The Upper Room. (It’s on my goals, Don, but I still haven’t gotten arrested for a matter of conscience. I’ll keep working on that one.)

Don Beisswenger has joined the communion of saints. Thank you, my friend, for all the ways you influenced, changed, nurtured, and enriched my life. You are present in this world through all of us who were shaped by you.


“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.”
– Isaiah 58:12, The Message

Come, Spirit of Courage, creative Source of Healing. Amen.

A Kaddish for My Mother

I’m grateful to Rabbi David Horowitz, Academy faculty presenter this week. He taught us the Kaddish, the prayer prayed to the Holy One on the anniversary of the deaths of our loved ones. Today I remember Mom.

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name in the world which God created, according to plan. May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime and the life of all Israel — speedily, imminently, to which we say: Amen.

Blessed be God’s great name to all eternity.

Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing, praise, and comfort. To which we say: Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel. To which we say: Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace us and to all Israel. To which we say: Amen.

Version of the Kaddish, praising God, that mourners recite during the bereavement period and to mark the anniversary of a death of a loved one. From Mishkan T’filah.

Broken Wide Open

As soon as we laid eyes on you

Our hearts rushed in, unprotected,

Held captive by you

With your bright, smiling eyes.


Even with your hair grown long

Like a Highland cow

Those brown, trusting eyes,

“They’re under there somewhere,”

Reflected love.
 Unconditional love.


We fed you, watched you grow,

Cheered your every milestone,

Forgave your every transgression,

(Even that time you unraveled

the berber carpet in the bedroom.)

We loved you with wild abandon,

Ignoring the certainty

that some day we’d lose you.


And now you have gone.

And our unprotected hearts

have shattered, quite completely.

Broken wide open with the sudden loss of you.

“Thank you” is all we can say.

Thank you for being our very sweet pup.

Stealer of hearts.
 Such a good dog.

Hearts will heal, eventually.

But they will be forever reconfigured

By loving you.


A Blessing of the Wounds (#metoo)

Bless, O bless these wounds,
God, the healer.
Fresh wounds, still bleeding.
Tender hearts, tender spirits.
An innocent crossing the path of violence.
Bless, O bless these wounds.

Bless, O bless these wounds,
God, the comforter.
Old wounds, healed over,
But suddenly reopened,
Tender hearts, tender spirits.
Wounds inflicted by stories in the news.
Bless, O bless these wounds.

Bless, O bless these wounds,
God of tenderheartedness.
Hidden wounds, forgotten, never known,
Tear through the layers of memory.
Wounds, long buried, rise to the surface.
Bless, O bless these wounds.

Bless, O bless these wounds,
God, of justice.
And bless those bearing these wounds:
Victim or survivor,
Angry prophet or weeping child,
Tender hearts and tender spirits.
Bless, O bless these wounds.

Stand Witness

There are forces that flow
Through this universe.
Forces of life, of death,
of good, of evil.

Today a person dies.
Tomorrow a child is born.
We witness these events and
Stand in awe
At the holy immensity of it all.

Sometime we are swept up,
Blown around,
Knocked to the ground
By these powers
That we cannot see or hear,
Understand or control.

We stand as witnesses,
To the forces of evil,
To the oceans of love.

We stand as witnesses
To hearts broken open
With sorrow,
To voices speaking quietly
With courage.

We stand as witnesses,
Holding these sacred spaces,
Remembering and trusting
That our presence
Is enough.

Stand witness.
Be present.
Trust.

There Is a Field

I’ve just returned from my second weekend intensive in spiritual director training with The Haden Institute. I’m grateful for time apart to learn, to be fed, to not be in charge of something, but, instead, to be fed spiritually.

There is a sacred space at the intensive that is just for creative expression and processing. I painted this piece in response to a Rumi quote that was shared in our morning meditation.

Out beyond the ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field. I will meet you there.
-Rumi