Facing the Holidays This Year

candlesThis year, our holidays — All Saints, Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas — will be different and challenging. I’m grateful to be a part of several events from The Upper Room to comfort you during this difficult season.

  • All Saints Service on November 4, 11:00 a.m. (Central Time). Streaming on Facebook and YouTube.
  • Blue Christmas Advent e-Course. Begins November 29. Learn more.
  • Blue Christmas Service from The Upper Room Chapel on December 21, 11:00 a.m. (Central Time). Streaming on Facebook and YouTube.

All Saints Service
I recently wrote about my saints in an article published on The Upper Room’s website. If you don’t have a church family with whom to celebrate All Saints Day, please consider joining us on Facebook or YouTube for an All Saints service from The Upper Room Chapel on Wednesday, November 4, 11:00 a.m. (Central Time). We will gather together, light candles, and name our saints.

Advent e-Course – Blue Christmas
This Advent will undoubtedly prove to be an unusual one. In the midst of a global pandemic, following a contentious presidential election in the U.S., and in the swirl of racial unrest, we long for a vision of the Holy One.

The Upper Room invites you to join us this Advent as we seek the Light in a season of darkness. Together, we will spend daily time reflecting on the light of the season, gather weekly for online worship, and engage in times of prayer and reflection on scripture. Learn more.

Blue Christmas Service
Join us on December 21, 11:00 a.m. (Central Time) for a Blue Christmas Service in The Upper Room Chapel. Streaming on Facebook and YouTube.

To Michael

I came home today and
Starting looking through boxes of photographs.
I was looking for the photo of you and me
At the United Methodist children’s educator event way back when.
The theme was “Peace” and you and I told the story of
Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes.

In my mind, the picture shows me, in white face,
Portraying Sadako.
I’m sitting in an old-fashioned wheel chair,
Wearing a hospital gown and surrounded by paper cranes.
You are standing in the background, narrating the story.

I see you in so many of my memories. …

I picture you smiling as I pop into your office —
The only one in the buillding with a rocking chair.

I see you standing at the microphone at annual conference,
The only clergy-person-not-from Edgehill
Speaking out for lgbtq folks.

I picture you sharing your stories
And teaching me how to tell my stories.

I see us preaching at Edgehill on Pentecost Sunday
Both of us wearing albs, weaving the story in two voices.

And then I found it …
Not the picture I had in my mind …
But a hidden treasure from the year
I was welcomed into full-time church ministry.

There I am. There you are.
Your eyes lighting up
As I introduce you to my Grandpa Tom,
The man I’d been telling you about in my stories.

Thank you, Michael.
I picture you and Grandpa Tom sitting on a porch in heaven,
The two of you swapping stories.

You are surrounded by
All the saints who went before.

You are a friend.
You are a blessing.
You are love.

Reverend Michael Williams passed away suddenly on March 19, 2018. We hold all who loved him in prayers and light.

St. Patrick

I’m thinking today of St. Patrick and those holy days in July when we were on pilgrimage in Ireland.

The stained glass window above is in Saul Church, the site of Patrick’s first church. It is the only depiction we saw with Patrick clothed in blue rather than the green we know today.

I wrote this reflection there in that holy place.

St. Patrick, I thought I knew you, the saint of stained glass and mitres, of shamrocks and crosiers.

Today we celebrate your feast day with parades and green beer. But the color of your adopted country is blue. And the old ones took your feast day as a time for abstinence and prayer.

Let me see past the 21st-century Patrick to the Patrick of 432, the man called to return to his place of bondage and bring the word of love.

Let me reclaim your remembrance as a holy time, an opportunity for service to the poor, the hungry, the enslaved. For you once were poor, hungry, and enslaved. Let me reclaim your remembrance with gratitude and humility.

Pray for me. Pray for us, Patrick.

Columcille’s Stations

We walked in the steps of Columcille during our pilgrimage to ancient, sacred places in Glencolumcille.

Born in this County Donegal in the 500’s he was a “descendant” of Patrick’s Christianity.

Columcille blessed the ancient places, the neolithic markers and holy wells.

And now, thousands of years later, Margaret and Marian take us on this sacred pilgrimage.

If we had been here in June 9th, the feast day of Columcille, we could have joined the old ones walking, barefoot, the night before.

The Place of the Knees, the Height of the Cross, St. Columcille’s Chapel, St. Columcille’s Chair, St. Columcille’s Well. We walked between them in community, in silence.

I felt honored to be shown this ancient ritual. I worried about intruding on another culture’s sacred places.

And then I realized that this pilgrimage is part of my Christian culture. For I am descended, our church is descended from these Celtic saints who brought Christianity to Ireland and to Scotland. 

I am, we are, recipients of the faith of Patrick and Brigid and Columcille and Kevin. Thanks be to God for this gift.

Turas Cholmcille

Yesterday we took a very special pilgrimage to ancient stones in the Glencolumkille village in County Donegal. 

The traditional name of the pilgrimage, Turas Cholmcille, means Columcille’s Stations (in Gaelic). We were led by two women from the local community, Margaret and Maura, who are trying to revive the pilgrimage. What an honor to have this walk shared with us. 

It is thought that Columcille lived in this community and, finding standing stones from ancient times, had Christian symbols carved on them. Then developed the tradition of a pilgrimage to these sites in reverence and penitence. 

The whole pilgrimage would take six hours to complete (barefoot) as the pilgrims visited the fifteen stations. We visited eight stations in the three hours we journeyed. (I kept my hiking boots on.) 

I am still reflecting on the experience. But wanted to share this. 

Pick up three stones,
The leader said,
And we will carry them up
To the cairn at Columcille’s Well.

I picked up three small stones And began to walk up and up and up
Along the trail, beside the sheep.

We stopped to rest
And looked out
At the valley below us.

I imagined the cairn we were traveling to …
A small, rounded pile of stones by the holy well.

When we walked around the curve in the mountain,
We found not a small rounded cairn,
But a mountain of stones.

How many pilgrims,
Each with three rocks,
Have made this climb?

Thousands and thousands of
Pilgrims have carried their stones
And left them there.

Thousands and thousands of
Pilgrims have walked three times
Around this cairn,
Setting down a stone each circuit.

Thousands and thousands of
Pilgrims have prayed here,
Have touched the holy water.

God of healing,
We lay before you these burdens,
These hopes, these sorrows.

St. Columcille,
You walked these paths and
Carried these stones.
Pray for us
That we might follow
The one who heals,
Who loves,
Who walks with us.

Patrick


Today we walked with St. Patrick. We visited the Patrick Centre in Downpatrick and prayed at his grave. We touched the cold water of St. Patrick’s Wells at Struell. We prayed at Saul Church, the site of the barn Patrick was given for shelter — the place he established his first church. 

St. Patrick, I thought I knew you, the saint of stained glass and mitres, of shamrocks and crosiers.

Today we celebrate your feast day with parades and green beer. But the color of your adopted country is blue. And the old ones took your feast day as times for abstinence and prayer.

Let me see past the 21st century Patrick to the Patrick of 432, the man called to return to his place of bondage and bring the word of love.

Let me reclaim your remembrance as a holy time, an opportunity for service to the poor, the hungry, the enslaved. For you once were poor, hungry, and enslaved. Let me reclaim your remembrance with gratitude and humility.

Pray for me. Pray for us, Patrick.

(I took this photograph near the grave of Patrick. The flower and I spent some reflective time together.)

Thinking of Dad

Charlie, c. 1957

I am thinking of you today, Dad,
On this day when you crossed through the thin space
To join the saints who had preceded you:
Mom, Holt, Ida Mae, Bill …

You had been leaving us for a long time
As bits and pieces of your memory slowly slipped away.
“A blessing, really,” is what we all said of your passing.
But that did not take away the grief that we felt.

I remember the first time you did not remember who I was.
We were having dinner at the kitchen table.
You had been looking at me, and then
You finally asked me who I was.
I said, “I’m your daughter.”
You turned to Anna to see if it was true.
She said, “Yes. That’s your daughter.”
“I have a daughter?” you said in surprise.
But you took it all in as I told you who was:

Beth, your daughter.
Writer of books and liturgy.
Singer of songs.
Clergy in The United Methodist Church.
Worker at The Upper Room.
(You remembered The Upper Room.)

You were so happy
That you had a daughter.
So proud of who I had become.
And I was so happy
At your delight.

And so, we started our new ritual
Carried out in person, on the phone,
In which I would introduce myself to you
And you would be surprised … delighted!

And I was blessed with your love, your happiness,
And your affirmation
Over and over and over again.

A Prayer for St. Patrick’s Day

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In name of the Creator,
In name of the Child,
In name of Spirit,
Three in One:

Creator cherish me,
Christ cherish me.
Spirit cherish me,
Three all-kindly.

God make me holy,
Christ make me holy.
Spirit make me holy.
Three all-holy.

Three aid my hope,
Three aid my love,
Three aid my eye,
And my knee from stumbling,
My knee from stumbling.

Adapted from Carminca Gadelica, Vol. 3, p. 63.

Enter the Stillness

cook stove

I sat in the kitchen in the early morning and entered the stillness that comes with this place, this little cabin in the mountains. The stillness is not silent — the river roars below me, the hummingbirds buzz outside the window. I hear the chips and squeaks of the chipmunks and ground squirrels looking for breakfast.

I thought about the episode of “On Being” I listened to yesterday. Krista Tippett interviewed Pico Iyer about “The Art of Stillness.” Iyer talked about his need to find stillness after a lifetime of travel and movement. I long for that stillness, that “not doing” … and this is one of the places that I find it.

I remember that on our family vacations here, Dad would get up before anyone else and get a fire started in the cook stove. (We didn’t have another stove to cook on and the stove also heated the water.) By the time others got up, the kitchen was open for business. We ran from our cozy beds through the freezing cabin to the warmth of the kitchen and a breakfast of pancakes or hash browns and eggs.

This morning as I sat in the same chair Dad would have sat in. It struck me that he must have longed for and found the stillness of those early mornings here in the kitchen, just as I do today. A tiny, sacred sabbath space before the day begins.

Quiet my anxious mind
And open my heart.
Let me find the quiet place
And meet you there.
Amen.

Spiritual Companions

  

As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us. It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved. 

Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives. They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys. 

Parents, spouses, children, and friends can become true spiritual companions after they have died. Sometimes they can become even more intimate to us after death than when they were with us in life. Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship. 

—Henri J. M. Nouwen
Bread for the Journey