Tag Archives: creation

A meditation to help us face 2024

Are you or your friends scared to face 2024? After everyone finished their reports on the December sicknesses last week, many people went on to report their anxiety about the coming year — for some it was more than anxiety, it was terror.

I can see why they feel that way. The Trump effect has created trickle-down lawlessness that makes simply driving one’s car frightening. The decades of partisan power struggle in U.S. politics has leaked into everyday transactions. Left-leaning institutions cancel their leaders, right-leaning institutions fire their pastors and directors and everyone has a litmus test, everyone is primarily concerned with power. Jane Coaston coined the term, “vice signaling,” to describe how Trump’s core supporters convey their tribal allegiance and show how little they care about conventional moral norms. The basic questions of life have become “Is my side winning? Am I getting what I deserve? Am I getting ripped off? Can anyone be trusted?”

It is not like humanity has ever stopped asking those questions. But cultures all over the planet have found striking ways to fight our sinful impulses. People keep reporting how they don’t have anyone fighting for them and don’t have the strength to protect themselves.

We all have something to give

We may have more capabilities to cope and even thrive than we think. That reality also appears in my office every day.

We all have something to give that makes things better. I think Jesus followers, especially, should feel an obligation to express the truth and love in them — that truth and love which is given to you in a unique way only you can give. In light of that I have been trying to figure out how to keep putting some truth and love out there that is not just outrage about Trump or despair about how many bad things have happened to me (e.g. – I have Xfinity issues).

My attempt at truth and love today centers on my recent, new soul friend, John O’Donohue. I think you could use some time to meditate on the teaching I received from his book Anam Cara. It could soothe your fears and even help you find a way through all those things you dread.  Throughout his book, O’Donohue keeps describing the basic alternative to the constant power struggle we are all sick of and sick from.

Life is not about who wins the election and who controls the economy. If it is, then life is just about getting power, and most of us do not have a life. That is, the life we have remains hidden from us.

In his Celtic way, O’Donohue reinforces what every baby knows and every adult longs for: life is about love.

O’Donohue can’t help but write poetry, even when he is writing prose. So I took a nice section of his book and made stanzas out of it, like a poem. I gave each section a title.

After you’ve used it all to meditate, I’ll make a few comments in closing.

See if this meditation gives you a non-anxious few minutes and fans the flames of God’s love in you. I believe as we claim such space in the world and live out of it, the Spirit of God transforms fear into fulfillment.

Your face is the icon of creation

Against the infinity of the cosmos and the silent depths of nature,
the human face shines out as the icon of intimacy.
It is here,
in this icon of human presence,
that divinity in creation comes nearest to itself.
The human face is the icon of creation.

Your heart is your inner face

Each person also has an inner face,
which is always sensed but never seen.
The heart is the inner face of your life.
The human journey strives to make this inner face beautiful.
It is here that love gathers within you.

Love awakens what is divine in you

Love is absolutely vital for a human life.
For love alone can awaken what is divine within you.
In love, you grow and come home to your self.
When you learn to love and to let your self be loved,
you come home to the hearth of your own spirit.
You are warm and sheltered.
You are completely at one in the house of your own longing and belonging.

Longing and belonging fuel the fire of fulfillment

In that growth and homecoming
is the unlooked-for bonus
in the act of loving another.
Love begins with paying attention to others,
with an act of gracious self-forgetting.
This is the condition in which we grow.

Once the soul awakens,
the search begins
and you can never go back.
From then on, you are inflamed
with a special longing that will never again linger
in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment….

Love unlocks eternity

At the deepest level of being,
possibility is both mother and transfigured destination
of what we call events and facts.
This quiet and secret world of the eternal is the soul.

Love is the nature of the soul.
When we love and allow ourselves to be loved,
we begin more and more to inhabit the kingdom of the eternal.
Fear changes into courage,
emptiness becomes plentitude,
and distance becomes intimacy.

Godless people are going to try to use fear, emptiness and distance this year (and always) to dominate us and steer us in the direction of surrendering our true selves to their power. Trump even shared a fan-made video on Truth Social saying he was chosen to save us.

What should we do?

I am going to keep re-membering as the powers try to dislocate my insides and separate me from loved ones. I plan to keep turning into the truth and love in Jesus.

I am going to go back to James:

For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. — James 1:23-25

I am not going to forget what my face looks like, whether distorted by AI or tracked by cameras. My inner, unique face is going to be shown to the world through self-forgetting, transfiguring, and embracing love. I don’t need the world’s power if I am secure in the heart of creation, resting in the grace of God in Jesus. I may use my power to good ends, but I will never try to live off it like it longs to feed on me.


Today is the MLK National Holiday in the United States. If you’d like to join in and learn what it is all about, visit The Transhistorical Body. 

The Sanchi, ice sheets, the Bible: Reasons to notice the crisis in Creation

Sanchi leaking all over Creation

This picture is the Iranian oil tanker Sanchi engulfed in fire in the East China Sea. On January 6 it collided with a Hong Kong-based tanker carrying grain and eventually sank eight days later. It was carrying 122,000 tons of condensate, a highly toxic and flammable mix of gas and oil products that is nearly impossible to clean up after a spill. The collision caused an explosion that sent thousands of tons of oil spilling into the ocean — at one point the spill was larger than the footprint of the Paris metro. The explosion killed all 32 crew members. It is still unclear what the impact on marine life will be. Globules of oil are washing up on the shores of Japan already. The substance can last in water for months and cause cancer and other complications at low concentrations. This spill is the world’s largest since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. [See Reuters great graphics].

The day the Sanchi sank, the Trump administration was finding out that only one percent of the millions of acres newly opened up for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve were finding interested lessees. It was the first day Trump’s porn star affair became public. It was the day he attacked Democrats over DACA. And it was the day when it was revealed that Russian hackers were attacking the Senate. The U.S. newscasters were almost uniformly uninterested in the Sanchi, distracted by Trump’s skillful manipulation of the media for his ongoing reality TV show. This might be one of those huge disasters you never heard about because you live in the United States.

Creation is changing

Meanwhile, last month evidence came in about the thin Arctic icecap and never-before-recorded high temperatures there. The extended warmth staggered scientists. In February, Arctic sea ice covered 5.4 million square miles, about 62,000 square miles less than last year’s record low — the difference is an area about the size of the state of Georgia. Sea ice coverage in February also was 521,000 square miles below the 30-year normal — an area nearly twice the size of Texas. Sea ice is still growing, but whatever grows now is going to be thin and easily melted in the summer. The new heat released by the open, warming water impacts the jet stream which researchers think accounts for the weird winter storms in the U.S. and Europe.

Despite the alarming evidence, last year Trump backed out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, looking for a better deal. Mr Trump has called climate change a “hoax” in the past – one perpetrated by the Chinese. The President said in his June 2016 withdrawal announcement that the agreement put American workers,  particularly in the coal industry, at an “economic disadvantage.” The Paris Accord “as drawn and as we signed was very unfair to the US,” he said. But on January 10 he said the U.S. might get back in if he could correct the bad deal. He dithers while we needed to get serious twenty years ago.

It is all very bad news for the world, as I am sure you already think.

97% of publishing climate scientists agree that human activity, mainly greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change, only 28%-51% of evangelicals (depending on the survey) agree.  We might want to excuse their skepticism to some degree. It is true that some in the  environmentalist movement are so religious about “Mother Earth” that they scare away traditional people. And it is also true that some people promote climate change arguments because they want to make a buck on “green” technologies — they also promote skepticism. And then there is the Trump affect.

Artists call us to care for creation
The Caring Hand — Glarus, Switzerland

Christians don’t uniformly know whether they should care for the creation, for some reason. I think we, of all people, need to be at the front line. If you need help with your conviction, here are some Bible verses that reinforce the point.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

As the creation story goes, God gave humankind a command to tend, or keep the Garden. The Hebrew word for “tend” or “keep” means more than just keep it neat and tidy; it means “to guard” or “to watch and protect.” The other word in this verse that’s very important is “work” or as some translations more accurately say “to cultivate.” It is from a Hebrew word meaning “to serve.” So this verse could read: “The Lord God put them in the garden to serve it and to protect it.” Even if we did not have that verse, anyone feeling the earth with their toes instinctively knows its truth. Even if you don’t love the Creator, you know bad things will happen if you don’t take care of creation.

The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth. (Revelation 11:18)

God cares about the creation. Some say he is going to destroy it all and give a new heavens and new earth to his followers. Since it is all going to burn up, why worry what happens to it? Others (like me) say that God intends to restore the earth and reconcile all creation to its rightful place in relationship with its Creator. We are either part of the restoration or the destruction.

Anyone who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and anyone who takes care of a master will be honored. (Proverbs 27:18)

This is a double proverb. If you tend the tree you’ll receive fruit. Are you tending a tree or just pillaging fruit? What’s more, the one who tends a fig tree will probably tend after other things as well. A master is looking out for people who can tend their own business well. That kind of person could oversee a master’s business. We might not be able to tend the world but we can tend our own little corner of it and do what we can where we live. We have a master looking for partners in redemption and our reputations begin in our own backyards.

You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. (Numbers 35:33)

God clearly commanded Israel to not pollute the land. The command here is to never pollute it with the blood of vengeance — sanctuary cities are being established! But even if this is not a direct word about never polluting the earth with carbon emissions and plastics, the principle can’t be ignored. The land must be stewarded and protected from what pollutes it.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it. (Psalm 24:1)

In capitalist parlance, God holds the title on Earth and will hold us responsible for how we care for it. We are here by invitation. As we previously read in Revelation 11:18, those who abuse and destroy the earth will get justice. Knowing that the earth is not really ours, we should treat the earth with the respect of knowing it is God’s. The Lord is more than willing to share it with his beloved children.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:49)

Jesus sums it all up with love. We are not excused from caring about what happens to our neighbor because of principle, profit or preference. If you suspect Jesus is just talking about caring for members of the Body of Christ, remember they are severely endangered all across the world due to everything from sinking cities to disappearing polar bears. Not caring is not an option.

One final verse: Psalm 46:2-3, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Bad things are happening, but our salvation is not secured by undoing climate change. Undoing climate change springs from our love and our connection to our Creator in Jesus Christ, through whom everything was made. Redeemed people redeem the earth — or die trying, their destiny secure.

Genesis 2: The Marriage Story

On Saturday we opened up the topic of marriage at our leadership training. There is a lot of change coming to fruit in U.S. society regarding marriage and the changes can be very confusing. Some of our confusion came to my attention when a cell asked me for a “private session” to talk about cohabitation and same sex marriage. When we had talked over some of their issues, one of them finally asked, “So Rod, what is marriage?” I’m not sure why the question surprised me, but it did. I realized we had some theologizing to do. Their thinking had been colonized by the philosophies of the age that did not recognize Jesus; they needed to talk. So let’s keep talking, here — gently. Arguing about intimacy and sex is never a good idea, in my opinion.

This is some of what I was saying on Saturday.

Understanding marriage starts with a story, not a definition.

Though U.S. laws and philosophies demand otherwise, any wisdom about marriage is going to start with a story; and it will be one about relating to God at the center of it. Some people connect with congregations of the Church and one of the first things they ask for is the congregation’s definitions surrounding sexuality to see whether it is tolerable. If that is you, I can only ask that you are patient with our Bible-like ways. If you ask Jesus, “What is marriage” he will probably tell you a story. Marriage is too mysterious and too full of God to reduce it to a definition one can control and fight about. U.S. society has no center, so it is in a constant fight about definitions that become laws. The kingdom of God just does not work like that.

Genesis 2 is a marriage story

Marriage of Adam and Eve. Jean Fouquet (1420-1481)


One of the first stories about marriage is in Genesis 2, where the Bible collects tales about the creation of the world. Among the many things that Genesis 2 is, it is a marriage story. I think we learn three things from it:

We are not alone in our garden, God is with us.

I suppose when God presented Adam with Eve, the man could have responded in other ways than with the wonder he expressed. He could have said, “What in the world is it?” Likewise, Eve could have whispered to God as they walked down the aisle of Eden, “Are you sure you know what you are doing?” Instead, Adam and Eve went with the miracle and trusted God for what was being created.

God expresses the Trinity’s character by creating us male and female in the Lord’s own image. Our coming together, is a mysterious, complete picture of who God is as we love one another as male and female. This is not the only way the image of God in us is revealed, because it happens when I love my children or comrades, too, and it happens when I choose to be my true self in the Spirit. Obviously, Jesus and Paul are not married and recommend their condition as a way to be married to God, so to speak. So people who are not married must not feel like they are missing out on the heart of the matter. But marriage is a basic way we creatures show how we are made in God’s image. The story of creation ends with marriage being the “moral” of the story: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). One of the basic reasons for the story was to explain why people get married and how God is with us in that.

Marriage is a primary way we come to our wholeness.

We all might know that in the story of Adam and Eve they get in quite a bit of trouble together. They make some choices that have some severe consequences. Their oldest children are not very well put together. I don’t think the whole clan has fully figured out how to be human for the first few chapters of the Bible, if then. In this process of sin and redemption, crime and wonder, marriage is a central crucible for growth. It is a laboratory for learning love. It is a crucible because it contains some volatile stuff that needs a gracious container to mature in. Many of us have blown up the lab a couple of times, and we know what I am talking about.

Yes, marriage is for romance and pleasure, but those elements are not enough motivation to sustain a love that can suffer like God’s. Personal satisfaction (whatever that moving target is!) is not enough to make a marriage worthwhile over time. If marriage is a practical process of learning  how to be a human who can be his or her true self in Christ, how to be a person who is able to come together in a kiss that is packed with mutual care, then we are getting somewhere.

Marriage is a primary way we fulfill our purpose

Some people think that Adam and Eve just wandered around in the garden hanging out, naming new animals and fruit they discovered. Not entirely. It says they were given the garden to “work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). They were partners. They needed each other. Then sin made their work even harder! They were charged to be fruitful and cover the earth — have children, create community, keep the earth in shape, develop humankind. They had a whole earth to explore and tend and an eternity to do it. Their relationship had innate purpose. Just as God created them in a purposeful way, with love and goodness in mind, they were to be creative and purposeful.

Some of us have had relationships in which having the relationship was the goal of the relationship. Perhaps one partner was the avoider and one partner the pursuer — that often keeps couples occupied. Maybe both partners surprised themselves and their mate by discovering new issues they had with intimacy — that often gives people something to do. All relationships are challenging, but relationships with nothing else in life but the relationship are even more difficult. No person can be our “everything” – thanks for the confidence in me to think I could be, but no thanks. Being made for more than a relationship with your mate is not an either/or thing. Having a purpose should enhance intimacy.

How do I think community is created?

There is a lot to learn from the story. On Saturday, we began by thinking about what our parents’ marriages had been like. How did they bring us into creation? It makes a big difference to how we think we are to function in it. We are part of their ongoing story. If the family was eating forbidden fruit all day, it makes a difference.

If you are considering making a marriage covenant, are attached to a regular sexual partner, or are cohabiting, I think it is crucial to understand the story you are writing. When mating, Jesus followers probably want to match the creation/re-creation story in significant ways, since we are in the process of creating a new community with two people  at the center, and we are leading the community of the church in significant ways by what we do.

These days people tend to have

  • sealed off love (don’t connect too much) or
  • solace love (hang on for dear life), when what we want is
  • synchrony love (mutuality and understanding).

We tend not to know our own story too well, or to even think we should have one. We are more reaction than action. The marriage story in the creation story encourages good meditating. It causes us to consider how God is in everyone’s picture. It helps us make sensible choices in relation to others. Nice work, spiritual ancestors!

Finding a thin place: St. Kevin shows the way

Today is St. Kevin’s Day, so I thought I would post a piece I shared in 2008 after I got back from my Celtic pilgrimage. For those who have time for quite a bit of reading, enjoy!

One Sunday at our meeting I met a nice woman who said that she used to live in South Philly but felt that God released her to go live in the burbs. Now she just loves going out her kitchen door and hearing the creek running through her backyard.

That’s nice. When she meditates out there and meets God, she’s probably having the same kind of experience as the writer of Psalm 104.

God’s trees are well-watered—
the Lebanon cedars he planted.
Birds build their nests in those trees;
look—the stork at home in the treetop.
Mountain goats climb about the cliffs;
badgers burrow among the rocks.
The moon keeps track of the seasons,
the sun is in charge of each day.
When it’s dark and night takes over,
all the forest creatures come out.
The young lions roar for their prey,
clamoring to God for their supper.
When the sun comes up, they vanish,
lazily stretched out in their dens.
Meanwhile, men and women go out to work,
busy at their jobs until evening.
What a wildly wonderful world, God!
You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
made earth overflow with your wonderful creations. (Psalm 104:14-24, The Message)

What a wildly wonderful world! I honor all the people, past and present,  who want to preserve it! I don’t have a creek in my backyard, but I know many places that have made praise well up in me, too.

Finding a thin place

The desert has been a wildly wonderful place where I have seen God revealed in memorable ways during my life. I often talk about the first time I ever went to the Anza Borrego area in the California desert as a young teen. I had one unforgettable night under the stars. …

I was terrified of the snakes in the desert to begin with, and then they told me not to get out of my cot if I wanted to sleep outside with my friend. If I put my foot down there might be a rattler, because they came out at night. So I was shivering alone in my bed from fear and from the desert cold. Then I looked up and felt an even deeper kind of shiver. I was alone in the universe staring up into a crystal clear sky with huge stars, huge moon and utter silence. I began to feel what I later named the glory of God in an inarticulate, visceral way. I felt some kind of excitement and joy well up in me to meet whatever was calling to me. Something that had always been in me was meeting something that had always been calling me. You have probably had experiences like that when you found yourself surprised by God being revealed in creation.

Our ancestors in faith among the Celts were especially good at finding the “thin places” in creation where so many of us meet God. Some places in the world seem like there is a thinner gap or thinner barrier between heaven and earth. The so-called New Age people talk about spiritual vortexes all the time, I’m not going with their interpretation of the power they feel, but they might be on to something. One of John McCain’s houses is in Sedona, Arizona, where we discovered a lot of pilgrims to such a vortex on one of our trips. Go figure. The Celtic believers thought and many other people have thought that there seem to be natural places where God’s dimension and ours meet.

Turning toward a thin place

In some places people might even create a thin place because they have gone to a particular place to seek God repeatedly – it’s almost like they’ve been digging through the walls of the prison and now the wall is so thin you can hear through it.

We do things like that, here. For instance, a Celtic Christian would often light a fire, like we do, and expect people to let the fire mark a time and place as a sacred, thin place where we would meet God. They would expect seekers to see and feel God in the fire, to assume the fire to have some kind of spiritual life in it, to receive the fire as full of some gift from God. The place where Circle of Hope meets is just a wilderness of chairs and walls before we come in and name it a place where we will meet God — then it has the possibility of being a thin place — like we called the place away from being folding chairs and drywall and it repented and became a place where God dwells — like we repented of seeing the room as just another room and saw it as a place to meet God. That’s how thin places — where God’s dimension and ours meet — are shaped.

To go searching for God in the thin places that seem built into nature is a repentant thing to do. It is an act of turning away from the suppression of God’s glory under human-made things, and turning back to the Creator. Like the woman who fled to the suburbs wanted to escape the suppression of creation under the asphalt and hear God in the creek, sometimes we are given that very luxurious choice. Sometimes, of course, we just bump into these places instead of finding them when we are seeking God and they are just as transforming.

The Apostle Paul says that everyone has a soul equipped with and for these feelings of knowing God as a creature who is part of creation. Everyone has some kind of knowledge of God somewhere inside, or at least we have to have a very hard heart not to have some of instinct for meeting the Creator in creation somewhere. The Celts assumed that everyone has a place in them that could make a connection with God and was in fact connected, if only by breathing the air God made. Our wanton disregard for creation, seeing it as a means to our own ends, would seem like blasphemy to them. For instance, I’m sure they could not fathom anyone being so committed to automobiles that they would rather poison the air and change the climate than walk.

Polluted places of connection

It think Paul is similarly appalled in the following piece of the scripture. He sounds kind of tough. But He is not just mad about godlessness. He is feeling it. His tone is more prophetic, than merely angry. He’s trying to excite that place in us where God is or can be known, but which is quite polluted — the spiritual trees have been uprooted, the relationship has been eroded, and the spiritual landscape needs to be restored.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people who suppress the truth by their wickedness,  since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that everyone is are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  (Romans 1:18-21)

This is my paraphrase of that, with some help from Eugene Peterson:

Acts of human mistrust, wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. That grieves God and makes him justifiably angry — like you get mad at your beloved dog because he never seems to be able to stop chewing up your throw pillows.
One would think that people would be aware and respectful of God, since his presence and value are as presented rather clearly in the world around us. By taking a long, thoughtful, and unself-centered  look at what God has created, people have always been able to see beyond what their physical eyes can see. The power and mystery of God are behind the power and mystery of that lightning or any light. Nobody has a good excuse for ignoring God.

There is no good excuse, but there is a good reason behind not recognizing and honoring God. People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into dishonor and confusion so that the light of sense and direction in their lives went dark.

What the Celtic Jesus followers and I think is that this darkness Paul is talking about, that you probably know about quite intimately, can be dispelled in the thin places. There is no magic about thin places like Irish people became known for thinking — like fairies live there and some magical thing will happen if you stumble across one. But the thin places can be used to seek God and you might even make one for yourself to use.

The spirit behind what I am saying is in this prayer from the collection of prayers and sayings of the old school Celts that were collected in Carmina Gadelica. This prayer may be is a bit much for some of you, so let’s not say it aloud, because then you might feel coerced to pray it. Just move your lips in silence or make the faintest whisper if you want to take part in it. I’ll read it out loud. When we get to the part about our warp, that is a term from weaving, like God is knitting us.

I believe, O God of all
That You are the Father of life;
I believe O God of all.
That You are the eternal Father of love.

I believe, O Lord and God of all the peoples,
That you are the creator of the high heavens,
That You are the creator of the skies above,
That You are the creator of the ocean below.

I believe , O Lord and God of all the peoples,
That You are the One who created my being and set its warp.
Who created my body from dust and from ashes,
Who gave to my body breath, and to my being consciousness.

I am giving You worship with my whole life…
I am giving You honor with my whole utterance
I am giving You reverence with my whole understanding
I am giving You humility in the blood of the Lamb.
I am giving You love with my whole devotion
I am giving You affection with my whole sense
I am giving You my existence with my whole mind
I am giving You my soul O God of all.

Kevin in his thin place

The person English speakers call St. Kevin may have prayed this very prayer in the place he found called Glendalough, the Glen of the two lakes. He was especially good among the notable Celtic ancestors in the faith at using the thin places. They say he lived for 120 years, all the way through the 500s. He was a son of the aristocracy who fled the power and wealth of his family to seek God as a hermit in this place that came to be known as Glendalough, which is just south of present-day Dublin. We don’t have a lot of factual evidence about him, just a few stories and the elaborate ruins of the city that grew up when people came to follow his example and live with him, until he felt obligated to lead them.

Glendalough, the thin place

Gwen thought this was a pretty shot of the place when we visited. The big round tower is just visible over the hill. This would have been the view a lot of pilgrims saw to let them know they were almost at this famous thin place called Glendalough.

Probably the most famous story about Kevin is about the time a bird made a nest in his hand. If you ever see a statue of him, it will probably look like the picture below. Kevin was known for spreading himself out flat on his back on some big rock in the middle of nowhere. He was all about being one with the rest of creation and experiencing God from the sky down and from the ground up. One time he spent such a long time in this contemplation that a blackbird made a nest in his hand. When he came out of his reverie he realized what the bird had done. Despite the pain of doing so, he kept his hand still for mother blackbird until her children were hatched and gone.

You’ve got to wonder how these stories get going! I would say this one got going because we all have a yearning in us to be so still, so in touch, that life would be given into our hands, and we would be able to handle it without wrecking it.

In his later years Kevin went off to his desert again. He’d interrupted being a hermit to lead the community, but then he went off again. The lower lake, where the main compound is, is pretty lush. But the upper lake is quite a bit higher in elevation and starts getting kind of scrubby at the top. Kevin went and lived in a small cave up there to be alone. At one point Kevin did go back for a while to straighten some things out, especially when he heard about the otter.

Here’s the story about the otter. One day Kevin was praying on the porch of his cave, and he dropped his precious psalter into the water. While he was lamenting his great loss, an otter he had befriended retrieved the book from the bottom of the lake. Miraculously none of the pages were ruined, or even smudged.

As the story goes, this same otter also helped feed the brothers and sisters in Kevin’s community and brought salmon to them from time to time. One of the monks got the idea that this otter would be easy to catch and he could use his pelt. The otter saw that he was going to be trapped and stopped delivering salmon. Some monks went hungry and some left the monastery altogether because they were hungry. When Kevin noticed that his otter friend was gone, he prayed to discern the disappearance. Before long he was visited by the brother who had plotted to kill the animal. That sent him back to exercise some direct leadership of the community for a while.

Find the everyday thin places

Is this story too simple for you? Maybe you have never had an animal who was a friend. That is to your loss. The Celtic church had a very lively sense of the interdependence of humans and nature, animals and trees and air and such. Long before we had to convince people that “Drill baby drill” might not solve all the ruin we had visited on the planet, the Celtic Christians thought that living in respectful symbiosis with the rest of creation was a basic act of faith. We have to teach people, even convince them, that the body of Christ is an organism, not just an organization of thoughts and pieces of data and material. But Kevin had a oneness with creation and thus with the Creator.

It is hard for a lot of us, like it was my suburban friend, to find a thin place in the city. But it is possible. I have tried to refine this art over the years. Here is what I did lately, maybe it will give you some ideas for how to practice the discipline:

I was running along Kelly Drive the other day and I was irritated by the wind making my run harder. Then I felt guilty about being irritated by the wind and decided to feel it instead. The wind teaches me, to push through, sometimes it blows things in me away, sometimes it delivers the Spirit of God.

Kelly Drive is a great resource. It is always good for becoming one with the river. Letting it take you somewhere, wash things away, be as ever-changing as you are.

The other night when I came up out of the subway at City Hall the birds were in Dilworth Plaza again. Quite often there is a whole mess of birds that roost in the branches of the trees there. I stopped and listened. I like their joy. I like how they are always keeping track of each other and protecting each other with their songs. Stop for birds.

The other day I had a minute to check in on the news, which I like, and which I can hardly wait to be over. I went into my den and the autumn sun was warming a section on my couch. My cat knows all about these sun places. Before I flipped on the TV I decided to spend a minute having a Sabbath in that sun and let it warm me. The sun made me feel better. The heat somehow made be feel more secure.

A week or so ago I was tempted to just dash through my backyard to the car, but I decided to stop and enjoy this lonely rose that caught my eye. It was the last rose of summer. I had to make a detour from my schedule and make a special event of bringing in that final blessing. I like how beautiful and fragrant roses are. So I put it in a vase. It is encouraging to see the roses who have some last strength stored up to bloom before the cold comes. It is expected in spring, but not so expected in fall.

Kevin seems to have been more interested in otters and blackbirds and roses than with people. Nonetheless, God drew together a vibrant community around him. Apparently, God rarely calls people to retreat to the boondocks and contemplate in the bosom of untrammeled creation. Even if you do, a city might build itself  around you. So we need to bring respect for creation with us as we go — notice every bit that keeps popping into view. By doing so much to honor it, we encourage people to be hopeful with us that it will be all be restored. Let’s give thanks for it, so our hearts don’t go dark.

Running the Bases: Revised

We need to know how we know things. This became clear again, lately, as some of my friends needed to make big decisions. They did not have as many resources for discernment as they wished they had! A couple of times we got out the old baseball diamond chart and tried to “run the bases” a few times to figure something out.


The chart offers a way to simplify the process of making decisions — discerning what we need to know. At its most basic level of interpretation the chart is about coming to understand what we consciously know, at this point, about what God is saying to us, and how we might sort that out.

The creation – We start as creatures in God’s creation, with instincts about what is good and bad, safe and dangerous, beautiful and ugly, etc. Some people might call what we do at this base an appreciation of “natural law.” We can know a lot about what God is trying to say by sitting on the beach looking at the ocean. One can read deep things about God by sitting with a leaf for a while.

Note: People or institutions that never get off home plate aren’t in the game much; they tend to think being a creature, interpreting “reality” from their own vantage point is all there is!

The Bible —  The revelation recorded in the Bible is like first base, our elementary, basic teaching about what God says and how to do the word. It is the basis of our tribe’s “lore” — our understanding about life, our tradition, history and ritual. It is the tried and true compendium from the spiritual ancestors validated by the present-day confirmation of the Spirit. Our practical, historical, and accountable understanding of God starts here. The Bible is mother’s milk to spiritual babes; and everyone comes to God as a child.

Note: People or institutions that live on first base might be a bit infantile.

The Body – The Church is like second base; it includes first base and started at home. In the church we have an ongoing dialogue that continues to process the word we have received and to incorporate further revelation. By speaking the truth in love our critical thinking is engaged. We discern-things-through with one another. In this way the body of Christ allows us to grow into more “teenage” thinking. We need a place where we can dare to be someone while still in a secure environment.

Note: People or institutions that stay on second base can end up designed for endless argument, just like teens seem to be.

The Spirit – A deepening person-to-person relationship with God is like getting to third base. We have to consider how God is directly speaking to us. We need to develop confidence that our thoughts and feelings coincide with God’s character and actions. We need to relate to God. We have experiences like Paul meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, or Matthew hearing Jesus call him to follow, or the woman at the well hearing her deepest secrets and needs touched. We long for a daily sense of discernment and direction– a sense that we know and appreciate God for who God is.

Note: People or institutions who camp on third base can be so subjective that their conclusions can ultimately be more about themselves than God.

After “running” we get back to home with a deeper understanding of our place in creation and our mission in the re-creation. Chances are, we will be running the bases again to sort out some new thought or circumstance. We hunger to keep moving with God and keep receiving from God all the gifts of knowledge, wisdom and vision we are given through every “base.”

Obviously, what I’ve said so far is a somewhat superficial idea about the complexity of thinking. It is mainly on a rational level. Lately I have thought I should be considering how to run the bases like an organism that is more than a brain. We listen and learn with our emotions and our new spiritual instincts as well as our minds. So “running the bases” should reflect how we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

The creation – I need to consider how I work as the creature I am. I am a peculiar creation with a way about me that is natural for me. I should honor that and live out of my new self with confidence.

The Bible – Reading the Bible is not just about understanding concepts. The Bible leads us to the basic disciplines of meditation and prayer. I need a collection of disciplines that help my inner being conform to the revelation I read or am taught, so I am saturated with the truth and love that is revealed. I am doing the word, not just hearing it. I am responding to God’s word to me, obeying, developing not just collecting thoughts.

The Body – My place in the body is elemental to my knowledge of God. Here I receive spiritual direction from caring people who know me. Here I test out my gifts and prove my value. From here I launch into mission. In the process of building, I am built. There is no ultimate knowledge outside God’s family.

The Spirit – I have an entire, spiritual side to me that is being discovered. God may lead me through new impulses, through visions. My dreams may come to have deeper meaning. I may receive words of prophecy, even the ability to heal. My daily experience of life has changed, so that everything has meaning. I can learn from every moment, every person, every discourse.

I put out this very basic thinking to encourage anyone who is listening to run the bases a few times today at various levels. Almost any subject can benefit from some Spirit-to-spirit mentalizing: What should I do about my marriage? How should I enter into the meeting at work today? How is God responding to the fear I am feeling? What should I do next?

God bless you as you do some spiritual huffing and puffing around the diamond.

[For a nice treatment of a lot of this, pick up Wilkie and Noreen Au’s The Discerning Heart]