Friday, December 17, 2010


For many past years my daughter, Anne, and I, have created the Christmas cards that have gone out to friends and family.  She does the art work, I do the words.  

This year we have collaborated on our 2010 Christmas card and they have been mailed out.  

Both the art work and the messages on these cards are at least in part devised to appeal to children who, as we know, seldom receive cards which speak to them.  Here for this year-ending blog is the message on this year's card, unfortunately without the dazzling art work of Anne:

"Once upon a time in a faraway country there lived a boy by the name of Eli.

Every day he tended the sheep on his father's farm.

Because Eli had a very active imagination he sometimes imagined flying through the air visiting all the exciting places he read about but knew he would never see.

One day while tending the sheep a man appeared to Eli asking him if he would like to visit those exciting places.

"Yes, yes," said Eli, "but I can't leave the sheep."
"The sheep will be just fine until we get back," the man replied. "Now hang on because here we go!"

In a moment Eli found himself soaring high above the earth, through the air, past the heavens, through the clouds, far beyond all the stars and planets.

As they soared high above the heavens Eli said, "Nobody will ever believe me when I tell them where I've been and what I've seen."

The man who was guiding him said, "Just take this little piece of heaven
in your hand, hang on to it, and when people ask where you've been just show them this piece of heaven."

When Eli looked at what he had in his hand he was amazed at what he saw.

The piece of heaven looked like the hugs his father and mother gave him every day.  It looked like the neighbors who picked him up when he fell on the rocks while he was playing.

It looked like his own friends who sometimes on Saturday's visited the children who were patients in the Children's Hospital.

What he held in his hand was very light so he held onto it very tightly.

Once back home he thought he ought to quit imagining things like having a cloud in his hands.

But when he went to bed that night just before he dropped off to sleep, he took the piece of heaven out of his hand and looked at it.

To his astonishment he saw in the cloud the man who had taken him on his journey.  

And as he went to sleep he thought how beautiful it is that a person, even a child, could make a heaven out of ordinary things...

        Like hugs

             And neighbors

                 And children who care for other children

                       In this world."

I personally like the thought of Rev. 13:13, ..."come down from heaven to earth."  What this speaks to me is that the lofty themes of heaven can so easily be translated into the mundane, daily, things of earth. "I saw a new heaven and a new earth," is the way heaven, a theme so prominent at Christmas, is translated into human love, forgiveness, patience, kindness and so much else.  So, at this year's ending, with so much to gratify and please, my blessing to all, and I know Anne joins me in this, "May God give you the dew of heaven."  Gen. 27:28                                    


Friday, September 3, 2010


My mother went into a nursing home sometime in her early 90's. Even then she was able to do things and had a sharp mind. Whenever I or one of my brothers or sisters would get in to see her we would take her down to the house which we kept open for her. Because she could outcook and outbake Julia Child, she would want to fix things for those of us who were there.

One day when I was with her I took her down to the house and after awhile she wanted to know what we would like for lunch. Whatever it was that day she asked if we would like her to make an apricot cobbler.

Let me tell you, my mother's apricot cobblers were just the next thing to manna from heaven, MAYBE BETTER!!

She got out all the ingredients and got the cobbler ready to put together. At that point in her life my mother was very unsteady on her feet which is one of the reasons she was in the nursing home. She had had a couple of strokes.

With all the ingredients in front of her on the work table I stood behind her ready to catch her if she faltered or needed support. She made the cobbler, we had lunch, and I've always thought of that as an example of how to make a cobbler with flour, sugar, apricots and a whole lot of standing with and holding up.

Gotta tell you, isn't that what it means to be in a family, a community, a circle of friendships, a marriage, a human need, standing with and holding up? The peculiar thing about this is that standing and holding is most needed when the other person in that marriage or family or community is the weakest. Nobody needs hold up Atlas. Through love and patience and prayer and stick-to-it we may make it possible for the other person to become strong, to survive whatever is causing the weakness. Not only this, but standing behind and holding up just might end up making the sweetest, most succulent, cobbler this side of heaven. Maybe even the other side as well.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


In the west African nation of Mali there is a natural hill formation that features at one spot a contour of the letter U. For many hundreds of years this site has been the center of the most important religious ceremony in the life of the people of Mali. Once every 60 years the movement of the earth brings Sirius to the center of this formation. This is the occasion of the ceremony suigi. This event is based on a belief that 3000 years ago celestial beings visited Mali form Sirius. Most of the people of Mali see the appearance of Sirius in this formation only once in their lifetime.

Sirius of course is the Dog Star. The months of July and August are commonly called Dog Days. July and August supposedly got that name from the fact that dogs, suffering from heat, become listless and run out of energy. Sounds like me. I don’t have any idea whether celestial beings from Sirius visited Mali or not, but I’ll tell you something. The messages the Mali people think they received when Sirius appears in the sky during sigui isn’t far from other visitations that brought wise men and magi to a new understanding of how God works in human affairs. I do something as often as I can remember to do it. Early in the morning while it is still dark, I look at Sirius and I receive messages about so many things it boggles my mind. The people of Mali are superstitious, dependent on myths, on signs? Yes and so am I. It’s amazing what messages I receive about life and death, love and laughter, hope and healing, just by looking at the Dog Star, especially in these Dog Days.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Frontier of our Spirit: Deciding to Go On

Not so many miles north of where I live here in Central Nebraska there is the little village of Bartlett. Bartlett was established as a pioneer town out on the Nebraska prairie frontier, not so different now, I suspect, from the frontier days in which the town was established. I have an old record book which tells me that in the 1890's a small group of people were trying hard to keep a Sunday School open there in spite of hard winters and few people scattered all across the prairie. As the fall weather began to turn to winter on the plains in 1892 the people holding the little Sunday School open decided to hold a meeting in which people could vote as to whether or not to keep the Sunday School alive. In the afternoon of Sunday, October 25, 1891, that group of 39 persons gathered to make their decision. I would imagine there were pros and cons, differences of opinion, maybe a divided sentiment. When the vote was finally called for the records say this: "It was decided by vote for the Sunday School to go on."

It would be a great thing if all our 'goings on' could be decided by a support group of family, friends and even neighbors. Sometimes it can. But not always. Sometimes we face our "going on" alone after a divorce, after the death of a loved one, after a mistake or crisis or a failure. Friends and family can often affirm a decision we make but sometimes we are the only ones who can make that decision. It is then our faith takes hold, our confidence in ourselves is renewed and we become aware that "Nighttime is only the other side of daytime."

Sometime when you're driving through the scenic wonderland of north central Nebraska, you'll come to the little frontier town of Bartlett. What you'll see, in addition to other mind-boggling mysteries and magic, is a little church where 119 years ago a pioneer group of 39 souls 'decided to go on." Just like you and I can every day, out on the frontier of our spirits.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Centripetal Force of a Parent’s Love

I find myself fascinated of late by programs from National Geographic and History Channel, as well as from various readings, to learn that planet Earth is remarkably free from being devastated by stellar asteroids that tear through space by the millions. Planet Earth has been struck in the past, notably in the Yucatan and in Siberia. We do find small pieces of space stuff that have hit our planet but nothing like what slams into many other planets as a part of life in the great out-of-space. The reason given for our relative freedom from such disaster is the planet Jupiter. Jupiter has such an enormous sucking (centripetal) power that it sucks into itself those asteroids and flying stellar debris that might otherwise slam into our earth. In other words, Jupiter is looking out for us.

Mother's Day is past, Father's Day is coming on, and I think how much centripetal force parents bring onto themselves for those of us who are their children. Every day they bear our bruises and burdens, take onto themselves our fears and failures, absorb our sorrows, act as healers, angels of mercy, forgivers, lovers and menders. More than any parent can know, or any child can know, parents are like Jupiter, shielding the child from the rocks and dangers of all this physical and emotional debris floating around in their lives. For myself, even though my parents are well situated in their eternal place in the heavens, I know they still, from that position, in my mind and heart, keep busy centripicating (forgive me Mr. Webster), the hurts and fears that come to their earthly child. Bless you, my mother, bless you, my father, bless your child with grateful praise for so great a world as this one in which we live.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Lights Coming On Again

The beginning of the First World War in 1914 brought forth from Sir Edward Grey, England's Foreign Secretary, the prophetic comment, "The lights are going out everywhere in Europe..." This comment was to be a truly prophetic analysis of four years of death and destruction. What I try to remember in my reading of history of that war was that in the spring of 1919 those lights began to come on again. They've come on after every war, after every natural disaster, after every personal tragedy, after grief, loss and heartache in any of our lives. I cannot know how many beautiful children died this very day somewhere in the world or how many marriages came apart or how many failures there have been or defeats suffered. Their name is legion of course. Whatever the number, they were lights going out in someone's life.

Then, I look out the back window where I live, out across the patio, and I see what it means in Genesis 8:22, "seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall never cease." The caretaker here on this Thursday morning is cutting swaths through the burgeoning grass, farmers down the line are putting in corn in straight rows that go on for half a mile without a single flaw in the row, birds are making their nests and bees are buzzing for all their worth. Not only this but everywhere there is recovery after sickness (I love the Prayer After Recovery in the Episcopal Prayer Book), comfort after sorrow, hope after despair and life after death. Perhaps there could have been a better world created by the Creator God but this one is pretty good as far as I'm concerned. I've done some gardening, fed the birds, petted a dog, laughed at some jokes, loved my neighbors and especially my family and feel this may be the best there ever was. Life does that, making lights come on again like a 1000 kilowatt bulb right in our faces.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dancing With the Lord

In the summer of 1518 the people of Strasbourg, France, suddenly began to dance in the streets. Men, women, and probably young people and children, went into a dancing frenzy. Once they began to dance they couldn't stop and they couldn't say why they were dancing, they just danced in a fury until in the hot sun they began to fall and many died.

John Waller has written about this strange event in A Time to Dance, A Time to Die. This phenomenon has been analyzed from many angles. No one has been able to fully understand it.

I have a theory, they danced BECAUSE THEY WERE HAPPY! There are worse ways to die. David danced before the Lord (1Sam.6:14), we are to praise him with timbrel and dance (Ps.150:4), "...there is a time to mourn and there is a time to dance..." (Ecc. 3:4), when Jesus entered Jerusalem for Passover people threw palm branches on the road, cried out, "Hosanna, Hosanna!" and probably some of them broke out into a break dance, and in that marvelous, wonderful non-canonical book in the Catholic Bible ACTS OF JOHN, "Grace danceth. I would pipe, dance ye all! (vs. 95) and then, "Thus, my beloved, having danced with us the Lord went forth." (vs. 97).

On Palm Sunday I dare you: get up from your seat in church or during Passover from your synagogue, go out into the aisle and dance! Dance for joy, dance for faith, dance for the Lord who is present in our lives, dance just for the fun of it, just for the Hosanna of it. Praise him with timbrel and dance, dance, dance!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Blue Skies and Practicing Hope

I don't know how many words there are in all the human languages for "up" and "down" but there must be hundreds. They all describe the daily life of almost all of us. "Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down," is the musical way of describing our human journey, Paul Robeson sang it so powerfully. Life is yin-yang, push-pull, a tug of war, and for all the hazards and uncertainties that brings us I never thought it was so bad a way to live. If nothing else it keeps us from being bored out of our minds. It keeps us from being ordinary, predictable, safe. I've suffered a lot of ennui this particular winter from the prolonged cold here in Nebraska and I've had visions of all those years our family spent in the Republic of Panama with 85 degree temperature year round, warm oceans, fresh fruit in the garden every day of the year. Then I remember those times in that beautiful country when I was nostalgic for wintry mornings and sleds and snow and... Sameness can be deadly.

I tune into this human peculiarity when I see the stresses and trials of my friends and acquaintances. I sympathize with their defeats and undeserved sorrows. I've never been so dumb as to be a blind Pollyanna or reckless Candide who see nothing but blue skies and pure joy. Life is a lot more than constant blue skies even in Panama and certainly a lot more than just continuous joy. But even so, I'll tell you something: Bitching and blaming never turned a grey sky into a blue one and complaining never in the history of the world made a 'down' into an 'up.' What does help us at least move closer to an 'up' is the knowledge that practicing hope makes hope. "See the birds of the air, how they neither spin nor gather into barns, yet see how they are fed.'" Life is a waiting banquet, a banquet of good news, of victories great or small, of hope unconquerable, of expectations, of efforts, of attitude. So - in the midst of our downs, hey, look up, son-of-a-gun!, the sky has turned blue and we didn't even know it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What’s That You Say?

In our recent book, WHIRLWINDS AND SMALL VOICES, my daughter, Amy and I write a lot about how language is developed and used.. As far back as 500 BCE the Greeks advocated the development of an international, or alternative, language that everybody in the world could learn. The Greeks thought such a common language would prevent wars, assist in international business dealings, promote academic and cultural ties and stall off domestic violence. With such a language children and parents could actually understand one another! The fact is, we have such a language, in fact, more than one. The most important one is Esperanto. 100,000 people can speak and understand Esperanto. Esperanto is spoken in at least 83 countries. There is an annual World Esperanto Conference. More than 100 periodicals are published in Esperanto and more than 30,000 books.

I have a basic Esperanto grammar book. It hasn't gone well. I haven't found anybody else who can speak or understand it. I've had to revert to my basic English with attempts at other languages when I'm in the countries of those languages. Thank goodness I've never visited the Inuits of NW Canada.

Then I think, well, maybe I'm capable of a second language after all. I can say, "Hello," in the language of every one of those 83 countries. All I have to do is smile, that's "Hello" in any language. Even the Inuits recognize that. Every 'foreign' language speaker understands the language of a warm handshake, an arm around the shoulder, a 'Please," "Thank you," "You're beautiful," "What's your name?" and "I love you." If someone has offended us we have only to say, "I forgive you," and KAZAM! barriers of language fall.

I'm going to take up Urdu. I have no idea what, "shlaa" means in Urdu but I know what "You're my friend," means in any language. So - whoever you are or wherever you are, let's talk, you and me, beginning with, "I do believe, really, that you are one of the most important people God ever created." You'll understand that; it's our common language.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Giving Up Not Singing for Lent

I've sometimes thought the Season of Lent must have been created to remind us that music may well be the most God-centered way for us to express our longing for a more perfect union with Him/Her. Written prayers we read by rote or confessions that don't confess anything or giving up chocolate for 40 days seem to me to miss the mark of Lent which is glory and not gloom. I've never gone much for sackcloth and ashes in Lent. I much prefer standing out in the garage singing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" or riding my bicycle down the park path letting Haydn's "The Spacious Firmament on High" scare the living daylights out of the kids and dogs within hearing. I have no intention of downgrading prayers, confessions and creeds - but when it comes time for me to let out the Spirit and to tell Christ how I feel about him and about the state of my soul and about my earnest efforts toward a deeper spiritual perfection, I find it more to my liking to sing my version of "Hallelujah (hey, try spelling that without looking it up) Chorus" or "Sing With all the Sons of Glory" or waiting for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to lift me up to repentance and to send me winging upwards with, "O, Thou, That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion."

Yes, of course, we all have our own way in spiritual disciplines, to all that is holy and divine. For me it has always been singing out like a madman. I'll tell you something, I once blew off the facing of a hand held microphone in a service by singing to excess, "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken." Remember, on the night of the Last Supper before Jesus went out into the night before Golgotha, he and his disciples "sang a hymn."

Lent is for singing, brothers and sisters. Where we sing and what we sing and how we sing is of course up to the singer. For myself, every day in Lent I sing half a dozen hymns. I generally like what I sing. I can only trust the Lord to like it too. That why I sing it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When We Grow Up to Be Little

One day, when my granddaughter Jaime was about 4 years old, she showed me something she was playing with. To please her I said, without too much thought, "Gee, I wish I could have one of those." To which she replied, again without too much thought I imagine, "You can, grandpa, when you grow up to be little."

Ah, Peter Pan and Linus and Bert and Ernie and Alice in Wonderland and Snow White much you tell us about one of our most precious gifts in being human beings, the gift of imagination. The astonishing thing about literary figures, such as Alice and Peter Pan, is not that they never grow old, it is that we don't want them to. And why don't we? Because they represent something magical which is the vital balance to our real world of stress, anger, disappointment, war, and unspeakable cruelty.

In my own journey how often I discover that my folly is redeemed by the wisdom of Charlie Brown and that the unendurable was made endurable by the philosophy of Cinderella. To be in touch with the unseen world of music, art, faith, great literature, the saints of the Church, of the heroes of our national life, of the inner world of "The Railway Children" or "In America," is to touch the flowing fountain of renewal. For myself, Paul Robeson singing, "There is a Balm in Gilead," on an old LP is a source of unending magic. We are no less empowered by what we can't see than by what we can see. As Alice reminds us, "Why, I do five impossible things before breakfast."

What we see and hear with our eyes and ears is no more curative than what we hear with our spirits. That kind of cure is a necessary part of our growing up to be little in order to see the world that is beyond the world. I hope you’ll share with me ways in which you have “grown up to be little.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Forever In My Heart on Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day, that festival between Christmas and Easter, has become, next to Christmas, the most expensive holiday/festival in American life.

The amount of money spent on those outrageously priced greeting cards and the even more atrociously priced gourmet chocolates, not to mention flowers costing enough to start one's own greenhouse, have often become a substitute for human words that cost nothing except a tug on the heart of the sender. "Roses are red, violets are blue..." may tell us something about Botany,but not much about how we feel about a mother, father, child, wife, husband, etc... It isn't what cards, flowers and chocolates say to a friend or loved one, it's what they don't say that has transformed the day created in memory of the martyr St. Valentine, to a 'card day' instead of a "I know the sacrifices you've made for me," or "Through all these years you've been the one steady strength for me" or "I have so much pride in you I can hardly contain it" day.

This doesn’t mean I won't send some symbol of hearts or Cupid with his little spears, but with those symbols I will send along my personal thought to family and friends that they are loved, appreciated, remembered, cherished and are forever in my heart as "the sun of my soul." With or without a card or flowers when we care enough to send the very best, we send ourselves, writ by hand.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Looking Forward as well as Backward

"Thus I ended this month with the greatest
joy that ever I did any in my life, because

I have spent the greater part of it with abundance

of joy and humor, and pleasant journeys, and brave

entertainments, and without cost of money..."

The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1661

So now, like Pepys I end the month with great joy. Like him I have spent the greater part of it with humor and pleasant journeys, and brave entertainments and some of this costs a bundle so I part ways with Pepys there. I endured the blizzard of '10, remembered January is named after the Roman god Janus who with his 2 faces looks forward as well as backward. I tried to enrich the friendships I have across 3 continents but especially nearby. I celebrated the great Arcangelo Correlli (1653-1713) who filled the world with music and once led an orchestra of 150 violins, experimented with recipes in an international cookbook given me by Amy, fell down on the ice, sang Auld Lange Syne to myself, saw a play, read books, watched "Don Giovanni" on the VCR for the 10th time, kept faithful to the devotional readings of the yearly liturgical calendar and “ thus ended the month with the greatest joy that ever I did any in my life.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An S is an S is an...

On one of the worst nights of all the worst nights of the Iwo Jima campaign I fell into a shell hole saturated with the cold rain. In a moment, from out of the darkness, another Marine fell into the hole beside me. In the next few minutes no less than three other Marines took refuge in the hole. In the cold and darkness and steady rain the five of us fitted our bodies together and tried to sleep. We were a human 'S' of bodies, when one turned we all turned. We knew nothing about the 4 others beside us, but in our compactness, we gave warmth and comfort to one another. All this was done without a word being spoken.

"Why," asked the Confederate general James Longstreet during the Civil War, "do men fight when they are meant to be brothers?" I wonder that myself. Some of the worst verbal battles I've seen in my life have been in church meetings. A clergy friend of mine knocked a board member to the floor. Catholics and Protestants in colonial New England, having both found freedom in the new world, proceeded to try to deny that freedom to each other. Husbands and wives, having promised to love and cherish one another, kill one another.

One day, when I was a child, I heard, and probably saw, my first radio. I was told the voices coming from the set were from little men inside. I believed it! My knowledge now enlarged by years and experience tells me the voices I hear come not from the outside but from the inside and that if we are ever to rise above our worst natures we will learn better how to listen to our best natures. This may well consist of not making asses out of ourselves with others but rather making "S's" with them.

I tell you for a truth, an "S" in a shell hole can be amazingly warm and life giving.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise...

I'd rather be a Could-be if I cannot be an Are

Because a Could-be is a maybe reaching for a star-

I'd rather be a Has-been than a Might-have-been by far

For a Might-have-been has never been

But a Has was once an Are.

Good for you, Milton Berle, good for you!!!! in reminding us that the quality of our lives is often a result of what we tried to do and failed more than in what we did successfully. I think that so many of the things I risked in the past now are some of my greatest joys and precious memories. The barriers you and I set up enclosing us are usually self made. "I could never do that," "I would never do that," "What if I fail?", "I'm too old," "Wait until I'm retired," What will the neighbors say?, Better be safe than sorry."

I don't think so and I'd never be dumb enough to say that to Raold Amundsen or Ernest Shackleton or Lucretia Mott or John Glenn or Florence Nightingale or Marie Curie or Sacajawea or... I dare you to endure the scorn and laughter that was heaped on Antonie van Leeuwenhoek when he risked his professional life by declaring diseases were caused by microscopic life forms and not by 'vapors.' Tell the Sherpa guide Norgay not to be the first man to scale Everest because it's too high. I dare you! I dare you to tell Christ to quit making a fool of himself and come down from that cross. I dare you!

The quicker we are to adventure to the east the sooner we see the sunrise.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goodbye to All That in the New Year

Robert Graves in his autobiography, published in 1930, uses the phrase, "Goodbye to all that" to describe some of his feelings about 'The Great War.' Goodbye to all that seems like as good a theme as any other I know through which we can launch ourselves into the new year. Goodbye to all that is a taking leave of, a putting away, a dropping off, a departure. We move from North Dakota to Miami, that's saying goodbye to cold winters. We move from Miami to Seattle, that's saying goodbye to summer heat and humidity. We take old clothes to Goodwill, we throw away the bandages after laser eye surgery, we "bid a fond adieu" to loved ones at funerals. Goodbye to all that can be a grieving, a thanksgiving, a "remembrance of things past" (Proust).

It can also mean liberation from that past, ("Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last!" MLK). It can mean a new direction for our attitudes, new determination in the face of our faults and weaknesses, ("Never give up, never give up, just never, never, never give up" Jim Valvano of NC State Univ., dying of cancer), and most of all it can mean a cleansing, "Wash me and I Shall be Whiter than Snow." The big and little guilts we carry, the regrets, the sense of something not complete about our lives, is grist for the” goodbye to all that” mill. The New Year is as good a time as any to say goodbye, to put away, to chuck it, to cast it off. Like Robert Graves such a conscious decision to not let the past bog us down in self pity or mindless indecision is like listening to a melody that unchains us. It is like plunging into the waters of the Pool of Bethesda (John 5: 1-9) from which we emerge, free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last!