Saturday, January 31, 2015

What a Difference a Day Makes

Today is the last day of January.  Tomorrow is February 1, which seems like a seismic shift, for some reason or another.  Tomorrow the calendar turns over and another month, the second month, begins.  I am one month older, it is one month closer to spring, or it just just the day after Saturday, in an endless parade of days.

January seems interminable.  Why does the month of January seem so long?  December has the same number of days, but does not seem so long.  "What, it's still January?" I catch myself saying.  "It seems like it has always been January."

February, on the other hand, is the snap of a finger, the blink of an eye.  It is gone before I know it, which is okay, since I am trying to get through winter and closer to the days when the sun and the warmth will re-appear, and I can plant something in the ground, and nurture it.  February is a brief cold wind, except that it is really only three days shorter than January.  Three measly days.  Seventy-two hours.

Why does January seem so long?
Why does February seem so short?

Why do I spend my time looking forward to some other time than now?
Why do I spend my time looking back to some terrible wonderful time in the past?

Perhaps there is no 'ordinary' time.  We only make it 'ordinary' because we could not bear to stand in front of the burning bush all of the time.

Maybe each moment is a seismic shift, a turn of the calendar page, a transformation, whether we want it or not.

Today is the last day of January.

Tomorrow I will wake up and it will be February 1, and the Lord's Day, and there will be a seismic shift.  Or not.

It will be a New Day.  Or it will just be another one of a parade of endless days.  Your choice.

Somewhere, a bush will be burning.

I don't know why I know this.  I just do.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

In 1991 I Wrote This About My Call

I was looking for some old Lenten monologues I wrote based on Mark's gospel, and I came upon the "Endorsement Essay" that I wrote for the seminary and for my denomination.  Here's what I wrote:

SINCE childhood, I have been nurtured by many stories from the Bible.  There have been picture Bibles at bedtime before prayers, stories told by Sunday School teachers, lectionary readings preached from the pulpit.  A few of these stories have stayed with me and become mine, to comfort as well as afflict me.  He is a story about some of the stories that have become companions with me on my journey.

Story #1
It was a dark and stormy night, and the little boat was rocked by waves.  The disciples had all they could do to keep afloat, for the wind was against them.  When they saw Jesus walking across the lake to them, it was somehow not so reassuring, but just another eerie thing in the middle of the night, the kind they would have nightmares about sometimes after witnessing Jesus cast out some particularly terrifying demons.  "Don't be afraid!" he called, and it was about as easy to stop being afraid as it would have been to stop breathing.  Impulsive Peter, however,  put all sense behind him.  The man knew no fear.  He leaped from the boat and found himself, to his surprise, walking on water.  It didn't last, however; it couldn't last.  Peter feared he fell; he failed.

It was August 30, 1981.  My palms were sweaty, my mouth was dry, I felt somewhat numb.  I was in church, being commissioned as a missionary to Japan, and I listened intently as the minister told this story.  I identified with Peter.  I was leaving for Japan the next day, and I was not packed yet.  I felt ignorant, foolish, unprepared.

"But I never feel prepared!"
It was at a winter retreat
that a student said it,
I was pleased when a counselor replied,
"But we walk on water all the time."

It is well to be prepared,
but we dare not forget that we are never fully prepared
for the tasks that are most worth doing.
The tasks that are worthy of us, as persons,
are often beyond us.

--Gerhard Frost, "Bless My Growing"

As I prepared for ministry of service in Japan, I feared that I had gotten in "over my head" as Peter did, and was about to drown.  But I also began to suspect that "over my head" was just where God wanted me.  I began to suspect that a life in response to God's grace was a life of risk, a life of continual dependence on the Voice that calls out over the waves, and the strong Arm that reaches us when we are drowning.  We are continually drowning and being raised to new life, and since that first drowning, we need not fear the others.

It was May 19, 1957.  I was only one month old, and this time, I did not jump in.  I was pushed!  When my parents brought me to Augustana church that day in obedience to God's Word, I'm sure they did not suspect what adventures would follow.  But as the minister poured water three times over my head in the strong name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I was assured a lifetime of getting in "over my head."  It is a lifetime of grace for all of our a ventures, of daring to risk because of the God who dares to go with us.

Story #2
Job was a Good Man, God had said so Himself, so it came as somewhat of a shock when he found his fortunes turning from good to bad and from bad to worse.  He lost everything; first his fortune, then his family, even his wife, last his health.  No one understood it, least of all Job, although some of his friends who thought they had it all worked out came over to try to enlighten him.  "Comforters," they were called, and some of their responses sounded reasonable, though none of them were very comforting, and Job did not find them compelling.  In the end, Job demanded an explanation from God himself, and though he didn't get one, he did get God, the creator of the Universe, right there, at this bedside.

I first read the story of Job, all 42 chapters of the Revised Standard Version, the first day of my senior year of high school.  It was an assignment.  I didn't understand it much then.  But by the end of my senior year, I had begun to take a liking to this gutsy questioner.  By the end of this year, I too was beginning to question God.  Confronted by issues of human suffering, the Holocaust, the Atomic bomb, I found it difficult to believe in an all-powerful but all-loving God.  Trips to the library to learn more about Jesus did not bring answers but still more questions.  In the church, which I continued to attend despite my doubts, I found no answers either.  But I found something.  I found God who promised to be with us "where two or three are gathered."  I found that the Christian response to suffering was not an answer, but a presence.  As Job discovered, answers did not sustain me.  But God has sustained me and continues to sustain.  Within the bread and the wine, within the gathered community which sings, prayers, confesses together, God is present.  Sometimes the community believes for me when I cannot believe.  Sometimes another is weak when I am strong.  I know we don't always get answers, but I know that the Creator of the Universe has come right here, among us.

Story #3
Jonah went to Nineveh to preach repentance, but it certainly wasn't his idea.  In fact, the indentations in the sand were pretty long and deep where God dragged him kicking and screaming.  In case you had forgotten, the first thing Jonah did when God called him was get on a boat going in the opposite direction.  After that, he ended up spending three days in the belly of a great fish, reconsidering his original plan.  That's what you get for trying to run away from God.

I like Jonah.  I think I am a lot like him.  He was stubborn and resistant, pretty convinced that he could not preach the Word, especially to Nineveh.  Jonah knew his weaknesses and used them as excuses to run away from God's call.  I find I have been the same way.  "I can't serve you, God," I have argued.  "I am not a leader.  I am not assertive enough."  (Indeed, I will have to learn to be more assertive as I grow in ministry.)  But my argument, unfortunately, did not impress God.  "You're crazy, God", I countered, "I am too much of a people-pleaser to preach your Word prophetically."  (And it's true, I do need to learn to be less concerned about how other people see me.)  But God was as stubborn as I was, and this argument did not work either.  "O God," I persisted piously.  I am not disciplined enough in my own life of prayer and Bible study to lead a congregation's spiritual life."  and God granted that it was a true confession, but did not give up calling me.  I began to hear another voice beneath all of my excuses, and this one was a still small voice, reminding me that along with all my weaknesses, I also had gifts to bring to ministry.

One of these gifts ironically, grows out of my own stubborn delay in recognizing Gods call.  Because of that, I have had many experiences as a lay person, struggling to integrate faith and life.  I have often sat in the pew on Sunday morning and thought, "That's nice for you, Pastor, but how do I live out my Christian faith in my life and at my job?  What do I do on Monday?"  I want to hang onto that experience as I plan worship and preaching.  I have also sat on church councils and know the good, the bad and the ugly about church politics.  I believe that lay people can teach me as well as learn from me.

Another of these gifts is a love for stories and for writing.  Clarity of expression is important to me.  I know that words and stories have power.  I also know that people are stories to be read and enjoyed.  I want to learn to read people and learn from them and be sensitive to their struggles.  I know that the Word is not just words on a page, but the word of speech, of touch, of sight and of sound.

Another gift I bring is my nurture in the Lutheran tradition, with respect for the power of baptism and the Triune God who commands it and acts through it.  Yet I have grown through a variety of religious experiences, Lutheran and not:  summer campfires, charismatic worship, reading in mysticism, cross-cultural experiences, and insights through art, music and literature.  I have learned that God speaks to us in a variety of languages to different people.  All these resources I might bring to worship, preaching, teaching, and counseling, now that I have gotten out of the belly of that great fish.

Story #4
In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the Beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In the Beginning was the Word.  And the Almighty Word leapt down from heaven, took on human flesh, eating and drinking and laughing and weeping with us.  In the End the Word was crucified by us and for us, but that was only the Beginning.  In the Middle the Word healed and forgave, spoke in riddles and walked on seas, multiplied loaves of bread and divided the house of Satan, and wear generally misunderstood and underestimated.  In the Middle, almost nobody understood until the End.  But that was only the Beginning.  In the Middle was the Word, and the Word is in the Middle.  In the Middle, we continue to misunderstand, get it wrong, trip over our shoelaces and miss the point.  And in the Middle we continue to hear the Word, "Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins, who is, in the middle of our middle, still eating and drinking and laughing and weeping with us, although we often don't understand until the End.

And that is only the beginning.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Preacher, Not Preaching

It is Saturday evening.  I'm not preaching again this weekend.  It feels odd, not exactly like a vacation (which it is not) but more like my job description suddenly changed, or someone moved around the days of the week without telling me, or I have forgotten a large appointment in my weekly calendar.

The first time it felt odd was when the preaching schedule came out.  A whole month without preaching.  My knee jerked.  "What am I going to do?" was the first thought in my head.  Not that there isn't plenty to do, even without preaching, but I have grown to believe that preaching regularly sort of justifies my existence.  The reading and the studying and the thinking and the conversations all give shape to my week.  I end up seeing the world in a different way, bringing the scripture readings to the world and the people I know.

The second time it felt odd was on Wednesday, when I realized that I hadn't really studied the scriptures for a few days.  This should not be so, I thought; the discipline of scripture reading is not only for the sake of preaching.  But what should I study?

Why not the scripture readings for this week? I answered, after a short period of angst.  So there I was, at noon on Wednesday, sitting in the common area at our local mall, eating my tuna sandwich and reading the Beatitudes that I would not preach on, hearing the words in my mind, not just the familiar words of uncommon blessing, but also the words about the salt and the light and how our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, which sort of blows my mind, no matter how many times I read it.  I have a hard time quantifying righteousness, I realize.  I actually don't think you can measure righteousness.  I don't think you can measure grace either.  I just think this.  I wonder if I am right.

And now, here I am, on Saturday night.  I am not praying for the Holy Spirit to enliven the words I have written, and I am not wondering whether I should re-write a few of them.  I am not struggling for a little last-minute inspiration.  I am not wondering whether I missed the Spirit this week.

It feels different:  not good, not bad:  just different.

There are times when I wonder what it would be like to have a different weekly schedule, and a different Sunday discipline.  I wonder how it would feel to get up and turn on the radio, and open up the newspaper and fix a pot of coffee, to sit around in my bathrobe and fix scrambled eggs and cinnamon rolls for my family.  Or, I wonder what it would be like to go the bookstore instead of the sanctuary on Sunday morning, to commune alone with books and other people and a gourmet coffee.  I don't say this with judgment, and not a wistfulness either.  It is not that I wish for anyone else's life.  I am just curious sometimes, about how it would feel to have a different rhythm, with no preaching.

Lex orandi, lex credendi -- as we pray, so we believe -- I learned this saying long ago in seminary, but I wonder if it applies to more than prayer, or if prayer is perhaps more expansive than I used to think.  How do the rhythms of my life define what I believe, who and what I trust, and what are my priorities?

All these questions I am considering in the darkness of a Saturday evening, when tomorrow I am not preaching.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Longer Epiphany

I've often wished that the season of Epiphany was just a little bit longer, and not just because it would give me a little more time to get ready for Lent to begin.  It is also possible that I like long Epiphanies because there is a better chance that (at least here in Minnesota) Easter will be a warm spring day with some flowers blooming, which is the way I imagine it should be.

But I also just like Epiphany, as a season, even though, I confess that I don't think of it as much as I ought to.  It is that obscure little season between Christmas and Lent.  Christmas is famous.  Everyone has heard of it, even people who don't ever go to church.  Many people are also vaguely aware that there is something called "Lent", partly because of its reputation as that season when people have to 'give something up.'  But Epiphany?  What's that?  It's an odd word really, that most people don't even use or know.   Even as a Christian-in-the-know, I can't help but think but think of Epiphany as that 'sandwich' season:  a smattering of Sundays after the big high of Christmas, but before the serious discipline of Lent.

Friends, it should not be so.  Epiphany is a season.  It is a season that begins with the wise men following a star to Bethlehem, and ends with Jesus' face shining on a mountain.  In between, we get stories about light, and stories about Jesus calling his disciples.  We get the story of Jesus' baptism and stories of him healing people.  But why?  Why these particular stories right now?  They are small windows of light, small revelations of who Jesus is in the world, and of who we are in the world, as well.

The word Epiphany actually means, literally "a showing forth, a revealing."  An epiphany is a revelation, a flicker or a flash of light, a moment when you said, "aha!" and just knew something, without studying or going through all of the steps.  Or maybe you WERE studying:  you were reading a book, or doing the research, or singing a song at church, or sitting at your desk at work, and in the midst of it all you had an epiphany, which is to say, that the truth just came to you, not as the fruit of your studying, but just as you were going along, in your working, in your playing, in your worshipping.

In some religious traditions, the season of Epiphany is also called "Ordinary Time."  As opposed to, for example, Christmas and your wedding and other high moments of your life.  But perhaps that is one of the reasons that I like it.  Most of our lives are, actually, ordinary time.  I wouldn't trade the high moments for anything, but the promise of Epiphany is that the light shines also on ordinary days.  So it goes like this:  when you are going about your working, studying, playing, regular Sunday morning worshipping life, suddenly, somehow, something will happen, and you will say, 'aha!', and you will know, just know, who Jesus is.  And you will know who you are, as well.  It could be as small a thing as a handful of water, shimmering, a line that leaps out at you from a book, or a song, a small piece of a small conversation that you had, just because you showed up.

So I sometimes wish that Epiphany could be a little longer, just a few more days to hear healing stories and be surprised by the possibility that God could be in this place, although we did not know it.  I do wish that Epiphany could just a little longer, although I suspect that it is the nature of the season to be fleeting, just as fleeting as our ordinary lives.

In the meantime, sing songs about the light, the light of a candle, the flame of the fire, the light in the darkness.

For that is who you are.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Just Do It

A little over a week ago, I had gone home for the day when I got a phone call that a parish member was near death.  It was snowing like crazy, and from the traffic reports I knew that it was likely that I would not make it to their home in time.  So I called his daughter, who was staying with her parents, and talked to his wife for a little while.  We remembered together some of the memories we shared, and I asked her how she was doing.  "Not good," she said, in a small voice.

"Would you like to pray?" I asked.  She said she would, so, over the phone, we prayed for her husband, and remembered God's promises, and prayed for their family, too.

For a long time I never thought of praying with someone over the phone.  I don't know why, exactly.  When I think about praying with another person, I suppose I think about really being with them, and I didn't think the phone really counted.  Or maybe prayer is an ancient discipline and a phone is a modern convenience, as if ancient practices and modern conveniences don't go together.  Or maybe it is something else entirely.  Maybe it seems like such a hard cut on the phone:  one moment you are having a conversation and then suddenly, you are doing something else, a different sort of connection.

Then, on Sunday, after church, I was shaking hands and talking to people on my way out of church, having those small conversations and being introduced to visitors.  One man asked me about the setting for my sermon story:  what was the name of that creek I had referred to?  Then a woman came up to me and said that an acquaintance of hers had lost their home in a fire the night before.  She was quite distraught, and I found myself blurting out, "Do you want to pray about it, right now?"

We prayed, right there in the narthex.

It was so not like me.

A few minutes later, I was introduced to two students, visiting from India.  They belonged to the Assemblies of God church, but happened to come to our worship service on Sunday.  We do have a handful of Indian immigrants who attend our worship service.

"Will you pray for us?" they asked me.

What was this, a prayer epidemic?  On Sunday morning, of all things, after worship, people wanted me to pray.  I prayed for them, that God would bless and guide them in their journeys, send them to the people who need them, help them to learn and to teach.

When I was a child, I said my prayers in the dark.  I worried about God taking my soul before I woke, and I wondered about what it meant to pray.   I prayed out loud because I prayed with my parents.  Later I just said the prayers in my head.

When I got older, I thought for awhile that prayer was magic, and that if I believed hard enough I would see miracles.  I had heard of miracles, and I believed the stories.  I still think that sometimes they do happen.

A little later, I often forgot to pray.  Or I thought that my prayers were my good thoughts.  Sometimes my prayers were the questions I asked God.  I thought those were prayers too, good or not.  Often I just thought them, or said them under my breath, not aloud.

Then I tried to keep a discipline, to pray at certain times every day, although I was, or am, very bad at being disciplined.

Finally, now, my thought about prayer is not so complicated.  It is:  Just Do It.  Someone asks me, will you pray for me?  And I say, "yes, I will pray for you" because I can't imagine saying no.  That is what prayer is.  It's not for me, it's for someone else.

Prayer is saying 'yes', because I can't imagine saying 'no."

Just do it.  Perhaps this is the secret not just of prayer, but of the Christian life in general.  It's not for you, it's for someone else.  And, as with prayer, you might be afraid, at first, or feel awkward, and not know what to do.  And of course you can't say 'yes' to everything, but when you do, it's for the child, or the lonely widow, or the African American teenager who is profiled, or the hungry person.  You just do it.  The reflection can come afterwards.

Just do it.  Jump into the deep end.  Pray.  Serve. Hold a Hand. Go.  Trust that God will catch you.

God will catch you.

Say "yes."  It's not for for you, it's for someone else.

But as it turns out, it's for you, too.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

"What's More Important Than Your Eternal Life?"

I was meeting with a family; they were telling stories about their mother, their lively, smart, stubborn, faithful mother.  She loved music and singing, cooking, traveling and learning.  She made and kept friends easily; she was interested in people.  She had been a nurse and an active partner to her husband, a family practice doctor, who had died during the last year after suffering from memory loss.

So we were sharing stories about their mother's faith when one of the daughters remembered their non-negotiable church attendance.  During the time she was growing up, their parish had a tradition of a pre-Lenten family night.  The daughter wanted to stay home instead and watch "The Wizard of Oz."  But her mother was adamant about the family priorities, saying, "What is more important than your eternal life?"

I have to say, I can't imagine any parent these days saying something like this to their children.  And I will also admit that, out of the context of the conversation I was having, it doesn't sound like something I would even want a parent to say to their children.  To the unpracticed ear, it sounds like a threat, "Go to church or your eternal life might be in jeopardy."  Is our salvation dependent on our church attendance?  Does going to pre-Lenten family nights earn us more salvation points with God?  I think not.

But, I am not sure that is the point the mother was making to her children.  It is not that somehow the certainty of their eternal destination depended on attendance at a certain number of church functions.  Perhaps it is more the hope that attendance at those church functions would be part of creating a foundation of trust.

"What is more important that your eternal life?"  Maybe that question doesn't mean "What is more important than knowing where you will spend eternity?"  What if it means more like, "What is more important than knowing God?"  After all, that is the definition of eternal life in John 17:3:  "Now this is eternal life:  that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."

One of the things that impressed me about this woman, and her faith, was that she had a list of questions that she was going to ask God, when she saw God face to face.  And the questions she had for God -- they weren't small potatoes.  They weren't theoretical questions.  Her top question to ask God was, "What's with this Alzheimers' crap?"   Deep faith did not mean unquestioning faith.  Deep faith meant faith deep enough to ask questions without fear.  Deep faith meant faith deep enough to know that she could bring her questions, and even her anger, to God.

To me, it's a powerful combination:  to trust God enough to bring to God the hardest questions of our lives.  And to teach our children that they can do it, too.

What is more important than knowing God so well that you can ask God your hardest questions?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Space Between Water and Light

On the last day of our after-Christmas vacation, the weather finally became closer to what you might expect from a Southwestern desert climate.  It was a sunny afternoon, and finally warming up enough so that we didn't need our jackets.  So, on Sunday afternoon, we took a little drive out into the desert.

My sister and brother-in-law had found the ruins of an old ghost town where they thought it would be fun to hike.  We drove down a road that I would have sworn was actually not a road ("No, that's it; that's where we are supposed to go," my sister said).  We got out of the car and stared out at the spare beauty of the desert, not seeing anything but varieties of cactus and palo verde trees.  There were no houses, no buildings, no roads that we could see.

When we got closer, though, we saw bricks, the remains of walls, some old pipes still sticking out of the ground, the last vestiges of the town that used to be there.  We hiked a bit, pointing out the clues to the former times, the times when humans prospered here, until my sister started insisting that we go and find the path to Queen Creek.

We knew it was near; we could hear it.  But the trick was finding the right path, the safe one that would take us there.  We even once looked down at the creek from a hill, but knew we could not get down to the water from there.

My brother-in-law wanted to go home; we had seen the ruins, after all.  That was the most important part.  But my sister kept talking about the creek; we couldn't go home until we found the creek.  At one point she disappeared for a little while; we thought she was lost.  But she knew where she was.  She was looking for the path to the water.

When we found it, it was just a little stream, tucked away in the middle of the ruins.  It was just a little stream, but once you saw the place, you couldn't help but notice -- in the middle of the desert, everything was starting to be green.  Green was sprouting up there.  We couldn't help it;  we just started taking pictures.  There was something shimmery there, where the light touched the water and bounced back.   It made me feel like this could be a place where secrets are revealed.

We started taking pictures of each other.   I took one of my sister, standing just in front of the creek, with the light reflecting off the water and a finger of the creek in the eeriest shade of blue.   I thought then that I knew why my sister liked this place.  She is an artist, after all, and I thought she must be attracted to the way the light and the shadows and the water all work together to make everything beautiful.

Even us.

On Sunday it be The Baptism of Our Lord, the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany.  We hear the same gospel story every year, although a different variation.  This year the variation I am hearing is from Matthew, where Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan, and John doesn't want to do it.  Somehow,  in the River Jordan, the secret is revealed, and John can see it:  "I need to be baptized by you."  But Jesus knows something else, and he insists.  Somehow his being baptized will "fulfill all righteousness" whatever that means.

In my imagination I have sometimes thought that Jesus had a list, a list of all of the things he had to do to effect our salvation.  "Be baptized" was there, at the top of the list, even though, as the story goes, he had no sins to repent of.  That is what 'fulfill all righteousness' meant.

Today, though, I am imagining something else:  I am imagining Jesus and John, standing in Queen Creek.  "I need to be baptized by you," John says.  Somehow in the space between the water and the light he sees something about Jesus, something about himself.  But Jesus insists.  He insists because there is another secret that the world needs to know.

When he comes up from the water and the Spirit descends, the voice speaks.  "You are my son, the beloved."  And the Words shimmer in the space between the water and the light, and it all works together to make everything beautiful.

Even us.

Even us.

He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 1as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  (Ephesians 1:9-10)

Thursday, January 1, 2015


My congregation celebrated Epiphany one week early this year, on December 28, the last Sunday of 2014.  It was the reading assigned as part of our congregation's experiment with a different set of Scripture readings for the year, called the "Narrative Lectionary."  I had also been thinking, since almost this time last year, about a using an worship experience called "Star Words" in our services on Epiphany Sunday.  Different words, suited to meditation and guidance, words you can think about and chew on and even consider a gift, are printed on stars and given out to worshippers on the day we hear about the magi who followed the star.  Each person chooses a word from the pile; that word becomes their word for the year, whatever the implications may be.

Some of the words we used:  vision.  writing.  inspiration.  joy. discernment.  service.  teaching.  time.  comfort.  responsibility.  There were 163 words in all, so some we used more than once.  We printed them on pretty yellow stars with blue backs, the kind you can get at an art supply store.  On Sunday morning, we gave them out as people came up for communion, but at our small Saturday evening service there were only about 12 of us (it was the weekend after Christmas, after all), so I chose my star as part of the sermon, and we had everyone else choose their stars as well.

A new woman, sitting in the back of the chapel, got the word 'wisdom.'  Someone else, who I knew had experienced much loss this past year, got 'strength.'  A 91 year old man got 'leadership.'  Another woman, I remember, got the word 'judgment', and I could tell that she felt sort of uneasy about that.  She wanted a different word.  But for myself, I was relieved that if someone had to get the word judgment, it would be her, because she is one of the kindest, most gracious people I know.  I would be assured about her judgments.

We worried a bit about whether we had enough stars (we did).  Someone said if we ran out, people could make their own.  It was hard to explain that making your own wasn't the point; the point was picking a word which you did not choose.   I did tell a couple of people that they could choose another word, if they really felt the first one doesn't fit.  But the second one has also to be chosen from the pile as well;  you can't decide for yourself what your word will be, which is different, I think, from so much of our experience.  Like New Year's resolutions and goals, you make a list of what you want to do, who you want to be, and then you work on making it happen.  But the star is different.   It is not about what you make of your life, but about what comes to you, what is given to you.

As for me, I got the word "solitude."

I thought it an odd choice for the pastor, since so much of my vocation involves being around people.  Someone else did too:  she offered to change words with me.  She got "service", and was willing to take my "solitude."

I won't lie:  I knew what many of the words were, and I was kind of hoping for 'inspiration' (which was at the top of the star pile at one time) or 'time' or even 'writing' (something which would be on my list, if I was constructing a life).  But, instead I got 'solitude,' which I know, deep in my heart, is a gift, and which I both desire and fear, at the same time.  I know I need solitude, but I am not always sure what I will find when I am alone with myself.  Or maybe I suspect that I do know, and that is the problem.  Will solitude be inspiring for me, or will it be a big, empty space?  What will God say to me, if I give God room to say it?