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Into the Void


Bird on a poleSunday, I sat in my living room, a late afternoon sunbeam warming me as I sat crossways in an overstuffed chair, my back leaning against one arm, my legs draped over the other; on the telephone. Again. This time my phone was on mute, listening while others shared in a teleconferenced recovery meeting.  We went through the traditional format and introduced ourselves.  It was hard, at first, not being able to see others reactions to the conversation, liking speaking into a void.  But as people began to share their anxiety and their struggle, as well as their hope and their gratitude, I felt my shoulders release downward with every word and response. As I nodded in silent solidarity, I also began to notice the lump in my throat, constricting with the pent up anxiety that I had not allowed myself to feel before that moment.

I was glad of the telephone then, that no one could see me begin to weep- I felt ashamed at being so afraid, when, as I chided myself, I was one of the privileged- but as the confessions of other’s anxiety found their way into my heart, my own fear rose up and the tears came.

In a meeting, in person, when you struggle not to make the crying face, people respond; they glance in sympathy, they pass you tissues, they pat your arm. But there was no one to do that, and so my fear was able to have its way; full- fledged and an affront to all my good intentions and foundational theology.

I know that tears are healing and letting them come does far more good than attempting to batten down the hatches of your psyche.  So I let them come, and the tightness began to ease.  Eventually I pressed unmute and shared, although the emotion was still evident in my voice.  I told the truth, that my faith was shaky, my fears were high, and I felt powerless- to get to my parents, who are compromised and high risk, to not be able to visit others whom I might be putting in danger, and especially powerless over my rage at the political lassez-faire and callousness.  I expressed gratitude for local action.  I spoke my own connection to all of it. When I finished, there was a “bing” of a bright pink heart emoji, via text.  I stared at it, eyes filling again, for this small and extraordinarily lovely thing.

Others went on to share, and we ended the meeting with gratitude at creating this community of voices.  A community unseen but not unfelt, speaking into a silence that was not a void, something new and unexpectedly connected.

As our communities close down our traditional way of being together, I give thanks for the technology that allows us to rediscover alternatives.  There is much coming across the internet waves that is beautiful and wise.  On Being is sending podcast care packages.  The National Audubon Society is sending collections of photos and articles to remind us of the beauty of our world.  Poets are waxing eloquent about the compassion that is possible, in spite of our fear.  The earth, without humanity’s brutal fingers on her for a few weeks or months, could begin to heal.  And all who minister are speaking into the questions as well as the uncertainty, knowing that silence is not a void, and that something new and unexpectedly connected can come.

“A voice on the bare heights is heard,” the prophet Jeremiah says. It seems that clarity is coming, and that the uncertainty, the silence, and even the void will lead us in new and challenging directions.  I join my voice with his, and yours, my brothers and sisters, as we lean into to winds of profound change, speaking our love with courage and skill.

Here’s yet one more voice, a poem prayer by Father Richard Hendrick, OFM, Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries, a blessing for this day:

Yes, there is fear.

Yes, there is isolation.

Yes, there is panic buying.

Yes, there is sickness.

Yes, there is even death.


they say that in Wuhan after so many years

of noise

you can hear the birds again.

They say that after just a few weeks of quiet

the sky is no longer thick with fumes

but blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi

people are singing to each other

across the empty squares,

keeping their windows open

so that those who are alone

may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland

is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.

Today a young woman I know

is busy spreading fliers with her number

through the neighborhood

so that elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples

are preparing to welcome

and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary.

All over the world people are slowing down

and reflecting.

All over the world people are looking

at their neighbors in a new way.

All over the world people are waking up to a new reality

to how big we really are

to how little control we really have

to what really matters.

To love.

So we pray and we remember that

yes there is fear.

But there does not have to be hate.

Yes there is isolation.

But there does not need to be loneliness.

Yes there is panic buying.

But there does not have to be meanness.

Yes there is sickness.

But there does not have to be disease of the soul.

Yes there is even death.

But there can be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.

Today, breathe.

Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic.

The birds are singing again.

The sky is clearing,

Spring is coming,

And we are always encompassed by Love.

Open the windows of your soul

And though you may not be able

To touch across the empty square,



Grace and Peace to you,
















Imagine these words in Calvin’s soliloquy.

The President’s words
in speeches and on Twitter. 
Does it glamorize racism? Sure. Does it
desensitize us to hate speech? Of course. Does it help
us tolerate bigotry? You bet.  Does it stunt
our empathy for our fellow beings? Heck yes. 
Did it CAUSE the racially motivated shooting in El Paso?
Well, that’s hard to prove. 
The trick is to not ask the right question.

There have been recent reports in the news showing President Trump’s twitter feed side by side with the “manifesto” of the gunman in El Paso: identical circled words in both documents.  The day after the shooting, the President read a carefully prepared statement, which sought to link gun violence with mental illness and video games, saying it was “mental illness and hate, not the gun that pulled the trigger.”  CBS news reported on Monday that NRA leaders called President Trump’s staff members and said they were pleased with what they heard.

The President may be an easy target for those of us who care about words, and speaking truth and compassion.  To be sure, on other side of the aisle there have been plenty of misspeaks as well.  May I too admit my own morbid curiosity that lets me scroll through cringe-worthy social blunders that are spilled onto social media, and how much I appreciate the witty bon mots used in just the right way?

The problem is that talk is cheap, but the costs are going up.  One writer comments:

We dwell in a virtual Babel of linguistic confusion and misdirection.  One need think only of the advertising industry to appreciate how pervasive is the use of language to at once deceive and seduce, to consciously create by means of words and images multiple illusions in pursuit of which other humans can spend their fortunes and their energies . . . . . .We are aware as well how the slippery half-truths of advertising have become the common language of politics, where messages to the public are crafted precisely according to their ability to “sell” a candidate, where lying about and slandering opponents have become recognized as the most effective of all campaigning devices, and where political agendas are advanced by appeals to the electorate’s more primitive fears and most unworthy cravings.”[1]

So, the general gist of this is to watch what we say.  If only it were that easy.  Psalm 141 says, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”  Jesus said, “it is not what you put into your mouth that makes a person unclean, it is what comes out,” (Matthew 15:11) and that we’re going to have to give an account of every careless word we utter. (Matthew 12:36)

One of my favorite books is When God Is Silent; in it Barbara Brown Taylor reflects on the story of the Incarnate Word:

In the beginning was the Word; with God and in God and God. All things came into being through this Word- life and light too. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. . . .

When the Word became silent on Golgotha . . . .the world shook with grief.  Rocks made the only sound they could, splitting open with small explosions that were their best versions of tears.  The veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom, with a sound of such ripping that those who heard it thought it was the sky.  The whole inanimate world leapt in to fill that silence, while poor, dumb, humanity stood speechless before the cross.

Later, after three days of complete quiet, the Word rose to break the silence.  That familiar, beloved voice was once again heard on the earth, only briefly this time.  Go.  Make disciples. Teach. Proclaim. Go.  Ready or not, it was the disciples turn to speak.  The Word had come back to entrust them with the Word.  Then he disappeared for good.

His words did not disappear.  They lingered in the air, still pulsing with power.  All they needed to do their work was someone to speak them. . . . Who was going to be the first to try on his words? They might as well dress up in his clothes and put his shoes on their feet.  Who was going to pretend to be him?

Teach. Proclaim. Go.  There was no way around it. The Word had willed them his words.  And so the disciples entered the cloud of sacred speech.  Peter was first . . . . but the others were not far behind.  Before long they were all saying things they had never heard anyone but Jesus say before.  Quoting him, they began to sound like him, and remarkable things happened around them when they did.  People were healed, freed, fed, transformed.  People called them gods and laid garlands at their feet, which gave them a chance to explain the difference between the Word and servants of the Word.. . . . .When the disciples spoke in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, their words became acts.  There was no vacuum between their saying and God’s doing.  When they spoke in the name of the Word made flesh, God came to earth all over again.[2]

So.  Can I use my words to good purpose?   I can call my representatives, and remind them that a bill that supports universal background checks is still sitting on a certain senator’s desk, even though it has been passed by the House.  I can also remind my representatives of the latest Marist Poll on universal background checks as quoted by Tamara Keith on the PBS NewsHour August 5, 2019: “It is — you have got 96 percent of Democrats, 84 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of independents. That is — I mean, I don’t think that many people support apple pie.”

And here, for a start, is how I will use my words, so that Christ may live again in them. I have a relative that posted an opinion I do not share on my Facebook page.  It took me a day to come up with the gentlest response I could:  “Check your facts,” and then I followed with the data to illustrate the sequence of events we disagreed on.  Did it take time? Sure.  Did it irritate me?  Of course.  Did I want to just ignore it and privately think disparaging, judgmental thoughts? You bet. Do I think this will have precisely zero effect on how either of us thinks? Heck yes.  But is it necessary for relationship and love?  That is the right question to ask.

Then the Word will become flesh again, in us.  Then all our words will reflect the Word who called us into being.  Then the words of our mouths will be acceptable in the sight of our Rock and our Redeemer.

[1] The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XII (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1998) p.206.

[2] When God is Silent, Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley Publications, Cambridge, MA, 1998)pp. 46-48

It Happens



In all the recent rain and after a week away, my lawn had turned into a meadow.  With a few hours in the afternoon to mow before the next rainstorm came in and in a hurry to get the job done before teaching my class at 6, I filled up the tank, started the engine, backed out of the garage, and made a few turns around the yard.  I don’t mind the task; having a riding mower it’s kind of nice to go back and forth across the lawn with nothing but engine noise and the smell of grass for an hour and a half.  But something was wrong. . . .I looked, and…a flat tire.  Shoot.

No problem, I had time to get to the store and buy that air compressor I’d been meaning to get anyway.  Was back in 45 minutes, opened it up, read the directions, pumped up the tire, and was ready to go. Another turn around the yard, and something was still not right.  I shut down the engine and looked again.

Sure enough, a copper wire was lodged in the tire.  Without thinking, I pulled it out. A hiss, and there went the tire, flat.  Again.  I called Louie, at Cold Spring Lawn and Tractor (Bless him).  “Well, you can buy a new one,” he said, “or if you pop it off and bring it here I’ll put a tube in it and save you some money.”

“Uh, take the tire off?”

“Sure!” he said, like it was easy.  “You’ll have to jack the mower up, and then you just take off the hubcap, take a screwdriver and pop off the c- clip, remove the washers and it should just slide right off.”   He took my silence for a yes. “I’ll be here, just bring it down.”

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll see you in a bit.”

I put some blocks of wood under the axle, banged them in with a hammer to lift up the mower, and then the trouble began.  There were various attempts with an assortment of tools.  Some choice words.  A little stress.  Fifteen minutes later, I called him back.  “Hi Louie, it’s Leslie again.  I can’t get it off.”

“The tire?”

“The hubcap!!”  The pliers won’t fit, and the wrench slides off the plastic!”  Can I cut it?”

“Sure, I’ve got a bunch, I’ll give you one.”

“Okay, I’ll probably call you back.”


What’s underneath the plastic hubcap was unrecognizable, covered in what looked like tar. I didn’t see a clip, or washers.  Back to the phone.


“Hey,” he says, “How’s it going?”

“I don’t know what it is, and it’s covered in tar.”

“Oh, that’s just grease.  I like grease.  Just wipe it off and then you can take a picture of it and send it to my wife’s phone.  You have a smart phone?  Then I’ll run upstairs from the shop and look at it and tell you what it is.”

Now there were dirty paper towels scattered among the hammer, screwdrivers, exacto knife, pliers and two wrenches.  I sent the picture; he texted back.  “It’s a C-clip.”

Another 10 minutes with three different screwdrivers.  The clip finally popped off, went flying.  There was some swearing at this point.  I pulled the washers off.  I pulled the tire, sitting in the driveway with a foot braced on either side. It did not move. I switched positions, leaned back. Tried again.  I tried for a while.  I checked my watch. I kicked the tire.



“I don’t get it- everything’s off! It’s not moving!”

“Well, sometimes, you just gotta bang it.”

“Bang it?”

“With a hammer.  Bang it with a hammer.”

With pleasure.  I banged it, and talked to it at the same time.  “WHY won’t YOU come OFF?”

And then it moved, a little.  I pulled, and finally the tire was on the ground.  I raised my fists and make a victory sound like a yeti:  “Uuuuuuuuuuaaaaaaaagggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Twenty minutes and twenty dollars later, I was back with a pumped up tire, only this time I needed the car jack to get the mower high enough to slide the tire back on.  When I was done, I gave another victory salute and pick up the tools.

And what was my reward for all this work?  I got to mow the lawn.

As I was relating this story to my brother, complete with sound effects, I said, “And after all that, I just get to do what I am supposed to do anyway.”  Zen Master Doug replies, “Of course.  It’s all about the process.”

Yes.  Yes it is.  Can I relate most things in life to the spiritual journey?  Yes. Yes I can.  And most of the time I can go with it.  Most of the time, I feel that I am on a path in the company of Spirit, doing the things that I discern the Divine has called me to do.  Except.  Except for when I get busy, or when I’ve got more than one agenda, or am in a hurry, or don’t know what to do, or feel dumb and have to ask for help, or try really hard and nothing seems like it’s moving.  You know, like how life happens.

But here’s what did happen.  I learned to concentrate on one thing, one step at a time. (Again.)  I remembered to slow down. (Again.) I asked for help and got it. (Again.)  I tried really hard and nothing moved . . .at first.  (Again.) And then it did.

You know, like how life happens.

And so, for you and for me, here’s hoping that our struggles small and large teach us again of how life happens, and how God happens.  May the process (Because it’s all about the process) of grace, and love, gratitude, and peace, happen, even if we do sound like a yeti occasionally.








The day did not start off all that well.  I was in a hurry, with an agenda in my head mapped out, anxious about the weekend to come:  Leading a two hour intuition workshop on Friday evening, leading yoga for a retreat Saturday morning, attending a grant writers workshop Saturday afternoon, guest preaching at a church on Sunday morning, and leading a workshop on death and grieving at another church on Sunday afternoon.  Who set this ridiculous schedule?  Ah, yes, that would be me.

It was Thursday, and I had a lot of preparation, still.  I taught a yoga class at 7am, and afterward, with the dog in the car, swung around to the deli to grab coffee so I could head to the office for an appointment; rushing.  I had my money in hand; i slammed the car door shut behind me and suddenly, found myself flat on the ground, in between the curb and the car, stunned and hurting.  I had tripped somehow and fallen, splatted, really, full out on the pavement, smacking my palms, banging my knee and the opposite shoulder.  My thumb had a bloody gash where my car key had sliced it open.  I sat up, unlocked the car and sat in the driver’s seat to assess the damage.  I wrapped my thumb in a napkin-I  I had already gotten blood on my shirt-and pulled up my pants leg to survey my knee, which also was skinned and bloody.

This is what happens sometimes when I am stressed and lose the connection to my body. I bump my elbows, or trip, or in this case, take a full swan dive onto gravel.  My brain is  minutes, or hours, or days ahead of my body, and my physical self, being grounded in time and space, cannot keep up.

So.  I slowed down.  I waited patiently in line for my coffee, handing over my two crumpled dollars awkwardly with my left hand and said keep the change. I drove, slowly, to the office. Where I sat and breathed with a friend.  Literally.  Her daughter was ill and anxious and I was teaching some breathing techniques to pass on and to use with her.  I taught Ujayii breathing and we did that for a few minutes.  Then I demonstrated alternate nostril breathing and we did that for a time.  Then I had her sit back and did a full Yoga Nidra body relaxation, so that she could experience it, and share it with her daughter.  In helping her connect with her breath, I connected with mine.

So. Later I took the dog for a hike in the woods, listening to the birds.  A woodpecker overhead was hammering a tree looking for breakfast.  I couldn’t see him, but knew he was somewhere in the canopy high up.  I put my hand on the trunk of a nearby tree–and I felt it.  His beak drumming the branch above reverberated down the trunk and right into my palm. Surprised, I stepped a few yards away and looked up- there he was, a Downy, busy at work. I came close and put my hand back on the trunk, amazed that I could feel him all the way from the top branch, through the trunk, and into my skin.  We were connected, by wood and sap and bark and beak and skin and breath.

I looked down at roots under my feet- connecting to earth and leaves and water and soil.  I felt the breeze and watched as the yellowed leaves  let go from the trees and connected with sunlight and air as they twirled slowly down.  The heartbeat in my hand connected to the woodpecker’s drumming tattoo on a tree branch.  My dog’s gaze met and connected with mine as he paused before dashing ahead.

I had been in a hurry, but had been forced to slow down.  In a new way, I knew that we can be connected if we take the time-to take a breath, to be fully present to one another, to gaze up, to look down, to feel.  That our bodies, grounded in space and time, need this as much as they need water and air.

Later, I connected with my chiropractor, a couple of aspirin, and a bath of epsom salts, much needed after my dramatic tumble.  So be it- if that’s what it takes.  I hope that today there is a connection for you-a little less dramatic, perhaps: sunlight, or a kind word, or a touch or a cup of tea, that lets you connect with the loving person you know yourself to be.

Take a deep breath in and out; I’ll do the same.