Love on the move. Themes from Gospel of John

Bending down to wash and anoint someone’s feet. What story do our feet tell about us? How we live? How do we love? How do we touch the earth?

Indeed, what amazing gifts might must be ours if we could kneel and honor the humanity in another? I imagine we might just start to see the holy there as well. — Janet Hunt

My Grandmother Washes Her Feet
in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears (excerpt)
Mohja Kahf My grandmother puts her feet in the sink         of the bathroom at Sears to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer, wudu, because she has to pray in the store or miss the mandatory prayer time for Muslims She does it with great poise, balancing herself with one plump matronly arm against the automated hot-air hand dryer, after having removed her support knee-highs and laid them aside, folded in thirds, and given me her purse and her packages to hold so she can accomplish this august ritual and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares
Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom …
Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum …

On Feet: Walking and Washing

I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves – we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny. — Mary Oliver 

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair … ― Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm. — Abraham Lincoln

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. — Saint Augustine

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go. — Dr. Seuss

When food comes you open your mouth; when sleep comes you close your eyes. As you wash your face you find your nose, when you take off your shoes you feel your feet.  At that time, if you miss what’s being said, take a torch and make a special search deep in the night. How can you attain union?  — Joshu

The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless. — Billy Graham

Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. — Stephen Hawking

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet. — Rumi

… Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking — walking not in order to arrive, just for walking. The purpose is to be in the present moment and enjoy each step you make. Therefore you have to shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the present moment. … We walk all the time, but usually it is more like running. Our hurried steps print anxiety and sorrow on the Earth. If we can take one step in peace, we can take two, three, four, and then five steps for the peace and happiness of humankind. … If we can transform our walking path into a field for meditation, our feet will take every step in full awareness. Our breathing will be in harmony with our steps, and our mind will naturally be at ease. Every step we take will reinforce our peace and joy and cause a stream of calm energy to flow through us. — Thich Nhat Hanh

From our feet, we can tell how the rest of our body is doing. The way we follow the Lord reveals how our heart is faring. The wounds on our feet, our sprains and our weariness, are signs of how we have followed Him, of the paths we have taken in seeking the lost sheep and in leading the flock to green pastures and still waters. The Lord washes us and cleanses us of all the dirt our feet have accumulated in following Him. This is something holy. Do not let your feet remain dirty. Like battle wounds, the Lord kisses them and washes away the grime of our labors. — Pope Francis

Extravagant Love: Washing and Anointing

… we don’t separate a self from its environment, and cleaning expresses our respect for and sense of wholeness with the world that surrounds us. Shoukei Matsumoto

A monk asked Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery: please give me some guidance.”  Joshu said, “Have you had breakfast yet?”
The monk said, “Yes I have eaten.”  Joshu continues, “Then go wash your bowl.”
— Joshu, Buddhist Koan

In this text, Mary continues the theme of extravagance in the form of costly gestures involving expensive ointment. … Now is no time for frugality. This extravagance on earth is participating with the work of heaven. — Lynn Miller

Do you see this person that you are judging?  Do you see her humanity, her profound child of God-ness, her generosity, her capacity for compassion?   — Joy Perkett

Sounds like a horrible idea to me, trying to get ​closer​ to God. Half the time, I wish God would leave me alone. Getting closer to God might mean getting told to love someone I don’t even like, or give away even more of my money.It might mean letting some idea or dream that is dear to me get ripped away. — Nadia Bolz­-Weber

So Mary might have given Jesus this stunning gift of extravagance as a thank-you or as a prophetic witness as to what would soon be. Perhaps her motivation was a mixture of both. But what if another reason Mary poured it all out that day was simply because she knew deep down that her gift would make a holy difference to Jesus. Her gift, her generous offering, could remind him who he was and how much he was loved. — Shannon J. Kershner

What amazing and wonderful thing can she do, what can she say not with words but with her whole self: Mary takes the best she has to give and in an hour of need, as death looms over this little band of disciples, Mary takes the best and breaks it open over the feet of Jesus, the one she loves, the one she is about to lose…even if only for awhile…but we suspect she does not know that, yet. — Kathryn Matthews Then again, we might ask whom God might work through next. And if you ask that question, then invite your people to look at those sitting near them. For God may be about to use each of them in a surprising way to care for their neighbor, to offer a listening ear, to do their work with faithfulness and courage, to stand up for those who are less fortunate, to resist peer pressure at school and offer an alternative to those watching. Who knows? What we do know is that God is regularly about the business of surprising us with where God shows up, whom God uses, and what God accomplishes. — David Lose

Mary’s extravagant love for Jesus makes it possible for Jesus to show extravagant love in what follows — washing the feet of his disciples, handing himself over to be arrested in the garden, carrying his own cross, dying, rising, and ascending. Mary loves Jesus into his future as the fulfillment of, “for God so loved the world.” — Karoline Lewis

Jesus’ commandment to love one another is not a commandment to feel affection, but a commandment to act in a loving way, even when we would rather do otherwise. — Elisabeth Johnson

Remembering her may help them leave him alone while he finishes delivering his message. At home in Bethany, the storm clouds are still piling up against the door when Mary gives the forecast: it will be bad, very bad, but that’s no reason for Jesus’ friends to lock their hearts and head to the cellar.  Whatever they need, there will be enough to go around.  Whatever they spend, there will be plenty left over.  There is no reason to fear running out–of nard or of life either one–for where God is concerned, there is always more than we can ask or imagine–gifts from our lavish, lavish Lord. — Barbara Brown Taylor


Reflections on prodigal love: themes from parable in Luke 15

When is love prodigal? When is it wasteful and exuberant to offer compassion and welcome though it may not be merited or appreciated? Some early theologians so feared this parable of prodigal love, that they decided it shouldn’t be told or taught … it offered a model that overturned good sense and economical, societal order. When have you been prodigal and excessive in your love? And would you do it again? When have you received such impractical generosity of heart? — Rev Gail

Song: Prodigal by Sidewalk Prophets

The Prodigal Son
(excerpt) Spencer Reece
For a decade I did not speak to my parents.
Are you listening to me? I will not bore you with details.
Instead, I will tell you something new. Listen to me.
I was angry. But the reasons no longer interest me.
I take the liberty of assuming you approve of forgiveness
… we discuss blessings, absolutions, consecrations—our work of the soul.
… Mother and father, forgive me my absence.
I will always be moving quietly toward you.

Blessing that Waits to Come to Your Aid — Jan Richardson
 When I have become / so reliant on myself
that I cannot see / the need that gnaws / so deep / in my soul,
open my eyes, open my heart, open my mouth
to cry out / for the help
that you do not ration, the deliverance
that you delight to offer / in glad and / generous measure.

Poem (excerpt) — Rumi
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
… You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Prodigal Love: Extravagant Welcome & Unearned Grace

We’re all being loved in spite of ourselves. — Richard Rohr

I now see that the hands that forgive, console, heal, and offer a festive meal must become my own.  ― Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

The pattern of the prodigal is: rebellion, ruin, repentance, reconciliation, restoration. — Edwin Louis Cole

We are so afraid of letting people off the hook. We are so resentful of unearned love. Unless we happen to be the ones toward whom the father is running, with his arms wide open and tears wetting his beard. — Barbara Brown Taylor

The story of the Prodigal Son is a story about hearts: selfish hearts and generous hearts, closed hearts and open hearts, cold hearts and warm hearts, broken hearts and joyful hearts, unrepentant hearts and repentant hearts, unforgiving hearts and forgiving hearts, resentful hearts and grateful hearts. It reveals so much about the vagaries of the human heart. When all is said and done it is the heart that matters. … The heart is what I am deep down. It is the real me. Darkness of heart is the blackest night of all. Emptiness of heart is the greatest poverty of all. A heavy heart is the most wearisome burden of all. A broken heart is the deepest wound of all. But the parable reveals how steadfast is the heart of God. — Flor McCarthy

The eyes of mercy are quicker than the eyes of repentance. Even the eyes of our faith are dim compared with the eye of God’s love. … It means much love truly felt; for God never gives an expression of love without feeling it in His infinite heart. — Charles Spurgeon

The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” ― Henri Nouwen

Prodigal Child

… the prodigal figure is at work in us when we go racing through the candy store of life, unaware of the price of the going and comingor the cost. We are takers who gather everything we can to ourselves, or squander it or do nothing, and then discover that life demands back everything it gives in ways we never dreamed. — Joan Chittister

In relation to my practice, I am the prodigal son when I live in forgetfulness and self-centeredness. When I hurry … because I am attached to my agenda, I waste the precious gift of life in the present moment. When I come back to my breath, I seek the peace of mindfulness … — Mark LeMay, from Mindfulness Bell published by Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Sangha)

And, like the prodigal son, he had returned broken in body and also in mind to the house where he had been born … ― Catherine Cookson

The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate. A fine example was the Prodigal Son — when he started back home. ― O. Henry, The Green Door

The back door beckons to a prodigal son. ― Michael Davidow

It was his home now. But it could not be his home till he had gone from it and returned to it. ― G.K. Chesterton

… and it was the son’s new revelation of his poverty of heart that propelled him back into his Father’s arms. ― Tommy Tenney

But at least you and I have this in common: I know what it’s like to hunger.  To hunger for love, for depth, for passion, for joy. And I know what it’s like to imagine an exotic Elsewhere, a more perfect nourishment miles away from my Father’s all-too-familiar table. I know what it’s like to “come to myself” in the broken, impoverished places of my own foolish fashioning, and to long for the warmth and sustenance of a home. — Debie Thomas

Once a person learns to read the signs of love and thus to believe it, love leads him into the open field wherein he himself can love. If the prodigal son had not believed that the father’s love was already waiting for him, he would not have been able to make the journey home – even if his father’s love welcomes him in a way he never would have dreamed of. ― Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible

So when I reject my identity as beloved child of God and turn to my own plans of self-satisfaction, or I despair that I haven’t managed to be a good enough person, I again see our divine Parent running toward me uninterested in what I’ve done or not done, who covers me in divine love and I melt into something new like having again been moved from death to life and I reconcile aspects of myself and I reconcile to others around me. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Offering Exuberant Love: Prodigal Parent

Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope. — John Ciardi

But the real Prodigal in this story is your Father, is he not?  Over-the-top, undignified, and hair-raising in his love? —  Debie Thomas

You never depart from us, but yet, only with difficulties do we return to You. ― Saint Augustine, Confessions

This father is not content to have one child without the other; he advocates for and seeks out both. — Barbara Brown Taylor

When the prodigal son returned … The father accepts his son with loving-kindness and rejoices at his return. He greets the prodigal son warmly and rejoices at his return. The father’s response is a model for how I can treat myself when I stray from the path of mindfulness … I try not to cling to or repress my shame and anger. I notice these feelings and return to my breath. My feelings cannot be removed with aggression. I recognize them as part of the fold, and each time I return to the path, I say to myself (paraphrasing Thay), “I have arrived; welcome home.” — Mark LeMay, Mindfulness Bell published by Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Sangha)

… let us remember that God is the prodigal Father, who refuses to give us the love we deserve, but instead who gives the love we need.  … who waits patiently for His lost children to return. When He sees us from a long way off, He runs to welcome us. … feels our absence … steps outside to be with us, and waits patiently for our response. — Barbara Brown Taylor

The father wants not only his young person back, but his elder son as well … The father … wants both to participate in his joy … Thus the father’s unreserved, unlimited love is offered wholly and equally. He does not compare the two sons. He expresses complete love according to their individual Journeys. — Henri Nouwen

… your relationship to God is simply not defined by your really bad decisions or your squandering of resources.  But also your relationship to God is not determined by your virtue. It is not determined by being nice, or being good … Your relationship to God is simply determined by the wastefully extravagant love of God.  A God who takes no account of risk but runs toward you no matter what saying all that is mine is yours. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Older Child: The One Who Stayed Home, Yet Was Also Lost

… But here’s your vindication: the power in this story is yours … Your Father stands in the doorway, awaiting your company. You get to write his ending. What will you do, as the music grows sweeter? What will we choose, you and I? — Debie Thomas

There are many elder sons and elder daughters who are lost while still at home.― Henri Nouwen

The fatted calf, the best Scotch, the hoedown could all have been his too, any time he asked for them except that he never thought to ask for them because he was too busy trying cheerlessly and religiously to earn them. ― Frederick Buechner

The older son squandered his freedom by not thinking he had any. He didn’t believe that all that was the Father’s was his. He squandered the gifts of the Father by living a life of mirthless duty. And coming home from the field he hears the party underway and resents such a lavish show of love thinking it a limited resource. He was being a complete ass and yet again, the Father comes to him reminding him of the great love he has for his child. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

The third character, the elder son, remained faithful to his father while his younger brother squandered his inheritance. … The story does not explore the elder son’s feelings, aside from his anger. I can easily imagine him also feeling resentful, wounded, and suspicious. These feelings are familiar, for I have held them toward others and towards myself … I wake up to the suffering caused when I stray from mindfulness, I feel critical and suspicious of myself … I sometimes feel the sting of shame … I feel both the guilt of the prodigal son, and the angry suspicion of the elder brother toward myself … Each time I catch myself living in forgetfulness and feel the prodigal son and his brother in my heart, I try to remember the father. — Mark LeMay, Mindfulness Bell published by Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Sangha)

Reflections on the fierce & protective love of a hen vs the predatory nature of a fox … choosing the unexpected, challenging expectations along the Way … themes from Luke 13

Her love of her children definitely resembles my love of mine. – Alice Walker

Hen-Love

It is one of those moments that will be engraved on my brain forever. For I really saw her. She was small and gray, flecked with black; so were her chicks. She had a healthy red comb and quick, light-brown eyes. She was that proud, chunky chicken shape that makes one feel always that chickens, and hens especially, have personality and will. Her steps were neat and quick and authoritative; and though she never touched her chicks, it was obvious she was shepherding them along. She clucked impatiently when, our feet falling ever nearer, one of them, especially self-absorbed and perhaps hard-headed, ceased to respond.
— Alice Walker


Once you know how to come home to yourself, then you can open your home to other people, because you have something to offer. The other person has to do exactly the same thing if they are to have something to offer you.
— Thich Nhat Hanh


I have sharpened my knives, I have
Put on the heavy apron.

Maybe you think life is chicken soup, served
In blue willow-pattern bowls.

I have put on my boots and opened
The kitchen door and stepped out

Into the sunshine. I have crossed the lawn.
I have entered
The hen house.

— Mary Oliver, Farm Country


The Lifted Up One, the One who sits high and walks low, taught that the thoroughfare to God is full of bypaths and back roads.
The way up is down.
The way in is out.
The way first is last.
The way of success is service.
The way of attainment is relinquishment.
The way of strength is weakness.
The way of security is vulnberability.
The way of protection is forgiveness (even seventy times seven).
The way of life is the way of death — death to self, society, family.
Know your strengths. Why?
Because that’s the only way you can Lay Them Down.
God’s power is made perfect … where? In our weakness.
Want to get the most? Go to where the least is.
Want to be free? Give complete control to God.
Want to become great? Become least.
Want to discover yourself? Forget yourself.
Want honor? “Honor yourself with humility.”
Want to “get even” with enemies? Bless and love them.
— Leonard Sweet, Excerpt from Jesus Drives Me Crazy

On Hens

… drooping their wings for some to creep under, and receiving with joyous and affectionate clucks others that mount upon their backs or run up to them from every direction; and though they flee from dogs and snakes if they are frightened only for themselves, if their fright is for their children, they stand their ground and fight it out beyond their strength.” — Plutarch, 1st Century AD

… under the shadow of their wings, and with this covering they put up such a very fierce defense – striking fear into their opponent in the midst of a frightful clamor, using both wings and beak – they would rather die for their chicks than seek safety in flight.” — Ulisse Aldrovandi

The forest fire had been brought under control, and the group of firefighters were working back through the devastation making sure all the hot spots had been extinguished. As they marched across the blackened landscape between the wisps of smoke still rising from the smoldering remains, a large lump on the trail caught a firefighter’s eye. … As he got closer he noticed it was the charred remains of a large bird, that had burned nearly half way through. Since birds can so easily fly away from the approaching flames, the firefighter wondered what must have been wrong with this bird that it could not escape. Had it been sick or injured? … Arriving at the carcass, he decided to kick it off the trail with his boot. As soon as he did, however, he was startled half to death by a flurry of activity around his feet. Four little birds flailed in the dust and ash then scurried away down the hillside … The bulk of the mother’s body had covered them from the searing flames. Though the heat was enough to consume her, it allowed her babies to find safety underneath. In the face of the rising flames, she had stayed with her young. Her dead carcass and her fleeing chicks told the story well enough–she gave the ultimate sacrifice to save her young. — Jacqueline, DeepRoots blogger

A hen is to her little chicks, next, a cover of safety. There is a hawk in the sky; the mother bird can see it, though the chickens cannot; she gives her peculiar cluck of warn-ing, and quickly they come and hide beneath her wings. The hawk will not hurt them now; beneath her wings they are secure … for, in the next place, the hen is to her chicks the source of comfort. It is a cold night, and they would be frozen if they remained outside; but she calls them in, and when they are under her wings, they derive warmth from their mother’s breast. It is a wonder, the care of a hen for her little ones; she will sit so carefully, and keep her wings so widely spread, that they may all be housed. What a cabin, what a palace, it is for the young chicks to get there under the mother’s wings! The snow may fall, or the rain may come pelting down, but the wings of the hen protect the chicks; and you, dear friend, if you come to Christ, shall not only have safety, but comfort. I speak what I have experienced. … The hen is also to her chicks, the cherisher of growth. They would not develop if they were not taken care of; in their weakness they need to be cherished, that they may come to the fullness of their perfec-tion. — Charles Spurgeon

Why A Hen Instead of a Fox?

A hen is what Jesus chooses, which – if you think about it – is pretty typical of him. He is always turning things upside down, so that children and peasants wind up on top while kings and scholars land on the bottom. He is always wrecking our expectations of how things should turn out by giving prizes to losers and paying the last first. So of course he chooses a chicken, which is about as far from a fox as you can get. That way the options become very clear: you can live by licking your chops or you can die protecting the chicks. The image of God as hen is finally one that lays bare God’s vulnerability. When you are the mother hen, all you can do is open your wings wide and gather as many as you can. … Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first … The fox slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her – wings spread, breast exposed – without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart, but it does not change a thing. If you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. Which he does, as it turns out. — Barbara Brown Taylor

The Fox

… in Hebrew. Lions and foxes can be contrasted with each other to represent the difference between great men and inferior men. The great men are called “lions,” and the lesser men are called “foxes.” The epithet “fox” is sometimes applied to Torah scholars: “There are lions before you, and you ask foxes?”[4] In other words, “Why do you ask the opinion of foxes, that is, my opinion, when there are distinguished scholars present?” … Consider the following list of possibilities for “fox” in its negative sense: weakling, small-fry, usurper, poser, clown, insignificant person, cream puff, nobody, weasel, jackass, tin soldier, peon, hick, pompous pretender, jerk, upstart … In context, and referring to a local ruler, “fox” was a humiliating “slap in the face.”  … Jesus was direct. Antipas was a שׁוּעָל בֶּן שׁוּעָל (shū‘āl ben shū‘āl, “a fox, the son of a fox”), a small-fry.— Randall Buth, Jerusalem Perspective

Hen Stories

The great Persian poet Rumi had an extraordinary teacher named Shams. Even as a child Shams seemed different. His own parents struggled with whether to send him to a monastery or the village of fools. They did not know what to do with him. When he had grown he told them the story of the duck’s egg that was found by the hen and hatched. The hen raised the duckling with her other chicks. One day they walked to a lake. The duck went right in the water, Shams said to his parents, “Now, father and mother, I have found my place. I have learned to swim in the ocean, even if you must remain on the shore.” — Jack KornfieldVariation on Fox and Hen in Aesop’s Fables — Milo Winter 

One bright evening as the sun was sinking on a glorious world a wise old Cock flew into a tree to roost. Before he composed himself to rest, he flapped his wings three times and crowed loudly. But just as he was about to put his head under his wing, his beady eyes caught a flash of red and a glimpse of a long pointed nose, and there just below him stood Master Fox.

“Have you heard the wonderful news?” cried the Fox in a very joyful and excited manner.

“What news?” asked the Cock very calmly. But he had a queer, fluttery feeling inside him, for, you know, he was very much afraid of the Fox.

“Your family and mine and all other animals have agreed to forget their differences and live in peace and friendship from now on forever. Just think of it! I simply cannot wait to embrace you! Do come down, dear friend, and let us celebrate the joyful event.”

“How grand!” said the Cock. “I certainly am delighted at the news.” But he spoke in an absent way, and stretching up on tiptoes, seemed to be looking at something afar off.

“What is it you see?” asked the Fox a little anxiously.

“Why, it looks to me like a couple of Dogs coming this way. They must have heard the good news and—”

But the Fox did not wait to hear more. Off he started on a run.

“Wait,” cried the Cock. “Why do you run? The Dogs are friends of yours now!”

“Yes,” answered the Fox. “But they might not have heard the news. Besides, I have a very important errand that I had almost forgotten about.”

The Cock smiled as he buried his head in his feathers and went to sleep, for he had succeeded in outwitting a very crafty enemy.

The Hen is a Symbol of Motherhood for Reasons We May Have Forgotten, So Let Us Recall— Dr. Karen Davis
In our day, the hen has been degraded to an “egg machine.” In previous eras, she embodied the essence of motherhood. In the first century AD, the Roman historian Plutarch praised the many ways in which mother hens cherish and protect their chicks, “drooping their wings for some to creep under, and receiving with joyous and affectionate clucks others that mount upon their backs or run up to them from every direction; and though they flee from dogs and snakes if they are frightened only for themselves, if their fright is for their children, they stand their ground and fight it out beyond their strength.”
The Renaissance writer Ulisse Aldrovandi described how, at the first sign of a predator, mother hens will immediately gather their chicks “under the shadow of their wings, and with this covering they put up such a very fierce defense – striking fear into their opponent in the midst of a frightful clamor, using both wings and beak – they would rather die for their chicks than seek safety in flight.” Similarly, in collecting food, the mother hen allows her chicks to eat their fill before satisfying her own hunger. Thus, he said, mother hens present, in every way, “a noble example of love for their offspring.” … I saw this love in action, when a hen named Eva jumped our sanctuary fence on a spring day and disappeared, only to return three weeks later in June with eight fluffy chicks. Watching Eva with her tiny brood close behind her was like watching a family of wild birds whose dark and golden feathers blended perfectly with the woods and foliage they melted in and out of during the day. Periodically, Eva would squat down with her feathers puffed out, and her peeping chicks would all run under her wings for comfort and warmth. A few minutes later the family was on the move again … One day, a large dog wandered in front of the magnolia tree where Eva and her chicks were foraging. With her wings outspread and curved menacingly toward the dog, she rushed at him over and over, cackling loudly, all the while continuing to push her chicks behind herself with her wings. The dog stood stock still before the excited mother hen and soon ambled away, but Eva maintained her aggressive posture, her sharp, repetitive cackles and attentive lookout for several minutes after he was gone … Sitting on her nest, a mother hen carefully turns each of her eggs as often as thirty times a day, using her body, her feet, and her beak to move each egg precisely in order to maintain the proper temperature, moisture, ventilation, humidity, and position of the egg during the 3-week incubation period. Embryonic chicks respond to soothing sounds from the mother hen and to warning cries from the rooster. Two or three days before the chicks are ready to hatch, they start peeping to notify their mother and siblings that they are ready to emerge from their shells, and to draw her attention to any distress they’re experiencing such as cold or abnormal positioning … A communication network is established among the baby birds and between them and their mother, who must stay calm while all the peeping, sawing, and breaking of eggs goes on underneath her as she meanwhile picks off tiny pieces of shell that may be sticking to her chicks and slays any ants that may dart in to scavenge. During all this time, as Page Smith and Charles Daniel describe in The Chicken Book, “The chorus of peeps goes on virtually uninterrupted, the unborn chicks peeping away, the newborn ones singing their less muffled song.” … During the first four to eight weeks or so, the chicks stay close to their mother, gathering beneath her wings every night at dusk. Eventually, she flies up to her perch or a tree branch, indicating her sense that they, and she, are ready for independence … Let us with equal justice perceive chickens with envisioned eyes that pierce the veil of these birds’ “mechanization” and apprehend the truth of who they are. In The Chicken Book, Page Smith and Charles Daniel remind us, most poignantly: “As each chick emerges from its shell in the dark cave of feathers underneath its mother, it lies for a time like any newborn creature, exhausted, naked, and extremely vulnerable. And as the mother may be taken as the epitome of motherhood, so the newborn chick may be taken as an archetypal representative of babies of all species, human and animal alike, just brought into the world.” … This is What Wings Are For.

Reflections on being curious and asking questions … the experience of the holy season of Lent.

In the holy season of Lent, we are called to the spiritual discipline of preparation. Some part of this is the practice of curiosity and questioning. Entering Lent is wandering into  the metaphorical  ‘wilderness’ … where everything is primal and makes a difference and you’re likely to be at risk and to get lost … it’s about life and death, about getting down to core values. From that deep place arises the deep questions, the underlying ‘why’ that shapes how we live. So Lent is about living close to the wellspring of creativity and tension, beyond the context that usually makes us comfortable, safe, and secure. Paying attention to Lent becomes an invitation to go into an emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual place where we have permission to wonder and doubt and explore and grow. — Rev Gail (with credit to Rev Sean Dunker-Bendigo of Madison Church for the inspiration to approach Lent as a series of questions)

Music Video Link: Question by the Moody Blues

Be present.
Make love. Make tea.
Avoid small talk. Embrace conversation.
Buy a plant, water it.
Make your bed. Make someone else’s bed.
Have a smart mouth and a quick wit.
Run. Make art. Create.
Swim in the ocean. Swim in the rain.
Take chances. Ask questions.
Make mistakes. Learn.
Know your worth.
Love fiercely. Forgive quickly.
Let go of what doesn’t make your happy.
Grow.
— Paulo Coelho

On Asking Questions: Being Curious

Always the beautiful answer / who asks a more beautiful question. —e.e. Cummings

Be curious. — Stephen Hawking

Don’t be afraid to look again at everything you’ve ever believed … I believe the more we search, the more we delve into the human teachings about the nature and God of life, which are in fact are the teachings of all the great religions traditions, the closer we come to a mature understanding of the Godself … In other words, doubt, questions, drive us to look at how we ourselves need to grow in wisdom, age and grace.  The courage to face questions is the first step in that process. — Joan Chittister

Instead of anxiety about chasing a passion that you’re not even feeling, do something a lot simpler: Just follow your curiosity. — Elizabeth Gilbert

A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea. — John Anthony Ciardi

Curiosity isn’t the icing on the cake. It’s the cake itself. — Susan Engel

We live in the world our questions create. — David Cooperrider

The role of the artist is to ask questions, not to answer them. — Anton Chekhov

I was looking for myself and asking everyone but myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. — Ralph Ellison

Ever since I was a little girl and could barely talk, the word ‘why’ has lived and grown along with me… When I got older, I noticed that not all questions can be asked and that many whys can never be answered. As a result, I tried to work things out for myself by mulling over my own questions. And I came to the important discovery that questions which you either can’t or shouldn’t ask in public, or questions which you can’t put into words, can easily be solved in your own head. So the word ‘why’ not only taught me to ask, but also to think. And thinking has never hurt anyone. On the contrary, it does us all a world of good. — Anne Frank

Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers. — Voltaire

How do I create something out of nothing? How do I create my own life? I think it is by questioning. — Amy Tan

My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, “So? Did you learn anything today?” But not my mother. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist. — Isidor Isaac Rabi

On Lent: Surrendering Ourselves

The reality is that I cannot free myself from the bondage of self.  I cannot keep from being turned in on self. I cannot by my own understanding or effort disentangle myself from my self interest and when I think that I can …I am trying to do what is only God’s to do. To me, there is actually great hope in admitting my mortality and brokenness because then I finally lay aside my sin management program and allow God to be God for me.  Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it … —  Nadia Bolz-Weber

… another Lenten season, a time of lengthening days…not just in hours but in slowness, in taking time to linger over our spiritual lives, over our identity as a people of faith, over the texts that form us and the quiet places in which God speaks to us, still. — Kathryn M. Matthews

The big rub is that to surrender my “singularity” (John 12:24) and fall into this “altogether new creation” will always feel like dying. How could it not? It is a dying of the self that we thought we were, but it is the only self that we knew until then. It will indeed be a “revolution of the mind” (Ephesians 4:23). Heart and body will soon follow. This is the real “try harder” that applies to Lent, and its ultimate irony is that it is not a trying at all, but an ultimate surrendering, dying, and foundational letting go. You will not do it yourself, but it will be done unto you (Luke 1:38) by the events of your life. Such deep allowing is the most humiliating, sacrificial, and daily kind of trying! Pep talks seldom get you there, but the suffering of life and love itself will always get you there. Lent is just magnified and intensified life. — Richard Rohr

I think it is good news–because even if no one ever wants to go there, and even if those of us who end up there want out again as soon as possible, the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be … What did that long, famishing stretch in the wilderness do to him?  It freed him–from all devilish attempts to distract him from his true purpose, from hungry craving for things with no power to give him life, from any illusion he might have had that God would make his choices for him. … But it would be a mistake for me to try to describe your wilderness exam.  Only you can do that, because only you know what devils have your number, and what kinds of bribes they use to get you to pick up.  All I know for sure is that a voluntary trip to the desert this Lent is a great way to practice getting free of those devils for life–not only because it is where you lose your appetite for things that cannot save you, but also because it is where you learn to trust the Spirit that led you there to lead you out again, ready to worship the Lord your God and serve no other all the days of your life.  — Barbara Brown Taylor

But the historic practices of Lent are Christian. There are three of them: praying, fasting, almsgiving. These are three things that Christians should consider doing all the time, but the 46 days of Lent provide us with an explicit invitation to do them more intentionally. I say an invitation, because we don’t have to do them, not during Lent, not ever. … I am going to make an unabashed case for Lent, myself. …  Lent is a chance to uncork the bottle, to unclog our spirits from what is stifling them, to sample the mystery. It is a chance to own that we do not wholly own ourselves, but acknowledge that God has a claim over us. We work so hard for radical equality in our lives—for equal marriage, equal pay for equal work, an end to bigotry of all varieties—and we sometimes delude ourselves, as religious people, that radical equality extends to our relationship with God … Taking on a Lenten discipline means surrendering to a higher power, it means placing ourselves under God’s authority and protection. But here’s the rub: to place ourselves under God’s authority is a reminder that we are under no other authority, or at least that all those other authorities are less than God’s. The church, the state, our remote fathers, our overbearing mothers, our inept boss who gets paid more than we do, our snarky coworkers, the popular crowd, the opposing football team, the opposing political party, Al Qaeda, alcohol, fried foods, chocolate, caffeine, porn, late-night cable. Whatever our addictions, whatever our self-medication devices, whatever our overlords of fear and control, none can match the power of God our Father and Mother, if we choose God as our God. To claim that we are in a direct relationship with our Creator, to join with that Creator and Sustainer in an act of self-disciplining, is an act of resistance. It’s a boycott of all that is body-wounding and soul-killing. It is a radical re-ordering of our priorities, and a reclamation of our God-given will and strength …  … What might you do, this Lent, to rend your heart, to give God an opening? What might you do to make God-shaped space within your heart, a space that will invite you to call on the name of God more frequently, to share the experience of your brother Jesus in the wilderness, to uncork the Spirit and let it flow freely, to release yourself from rage or addiction or the tyranny of lesser gods? What can you give up, or take on, as an act of resistance against the authorities that don’t deserve any claim over you?  — Molly Phinney Baskette

Reflection on thin places, climbing & coming down from summits, and transfiguration (themes from Luke)

One way or another, we find ourselves standing in the presence of holiness. In thin places … sometimes beautiful, stunning, awe-inspiring … sometimes terrible and life-changing. Thin places are locations or experiences, in the world, when heaven touches earth. They are places and times in which we cannot stay or linger or make our homes … because they exist as both ephemeral and eternal. In such places and times, what will we leave behind?  And what will we bring with us back into our daily living? — Rev Gail

That when glory shines,
we will bring it back with us
all the way, all the way, all the way down. — Jan Richardson

On Thin Places, High Places

Thin places are transparent places or moments, set apart by the quality of the sunlight in them, or the shadows, or the silence, or the sounds—see how many variations there are?  What they have in common is their luminosity, the way they light an opening between this world and another … It works to make you more aware of the thin veil between apparent reality and deeper reality. It works to pull aside the veil for just a moment, so you can see through. Sometimes I know I’m in a thin place because it feels like the floor just dropped two or three levels beneath my feet and set me down in a deeper place. They can open up just about anywhere … But thin places aren’t always lovely places, and they’re not always outdoors. Hospital rooms can be thin places. So can emergency rooms and jail cells. A thin place is any place that drops you down to where you know you’re in the presence of the Really Real—the Most Real—God, if you insist. — Barbara Brown Taylor

To put it simply: the Holy Spirit bothers us … moves us … makes us walk … And we are like Peter at the Transfiguration: ‘Ah, how wonderful it is to be here like this, all together!’ … But don’t bother us. We want the Holy Spirit to doze off … we want to domesticate the Holy Spirit. And that’s no good. because he is God, he is that wind which comes and goes and you don’t know where. He is the power of God, he is the one who gives us consolation and strength to move forward. But: to move forward! And this bothers us. It’s so much nicer to be comfortable. ― Pope Francis, Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday

On Climbing & Coming Down Again

I truly believe that there is no greater metaphor for life than climbing mountains. The mountains have a way of stripping the mind down to its basic senses and forcing us to live in the moment.  In order to do this we must respect everything around us and maintain balance. If you guys truly value your lives, then you must live them to the fullest. We have planned this trip for quite some time and have known from the beginning that it would be dangerous. To turn back now is useless. To turn back in the face of a fierce storm or worsening conditions is obvious. We must expect the worst and hope for the best. If we do not summit because we make the decision to turn back, then we will have learned yet another lesson. If we do not summit because we did not try, then we will learn nothing. I hope we all realize that if we believe mountaineering is about getting to the top of mountains, then we are treading a path of foolery. Mountaineering is about everything BUT getting to the top. It is about teamwork, courage, fortitude, good decision making, determination, etc. Getting to the top is merely the culmination of effort and circumstance. — Mountaineer, not attributed.

We should refuse none of the thousands and one joys that the mountains offer us at every turn. We should brush nothing aside, set no restrictions. We should experience hunger and thirst, be able to go fast, but also to go slowly and to contemplate. — Gaston Rébuffat

Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end. — Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

The aim of the mountaineer, if he wishes to be an artist in the full sense of word, is neither escape nor “the search for the absolute” as some have claimed, but rather seek that place where “the mystic remains silent and the poets start to speak towards men”. — Bernard Amy

The … trend in mountaineers is not the risk they take, but the large degree to which they value life. They are not crazy because they don’t dare, they’re crazy because they do. — Lisa Morgan

Just a reminder – a guidebook is no substitute for skill, experience, judgement and lots of tension. — Charlie Fowler

It’s a round trip. Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory. — Ed Viesturs

Definition: Alpinism is the art of going through the mountains confronting the greatest dangers with the biggest of cares. What we call art here, is the application of a knowledge to an action. — René Daumal

As I hammered in the last bolt and staggered over the rim, it was not at all clear to me who was the conqueror and who was the conquered. I do recall that El Cap seemed to be in much better condition than I was. — Warren Harding

Trying to connect to the moment, that move, that breath – this is what I have been striving for; finding the oneness that can exist with all the things around and inside me. — Ron Kauk

Relaxation, acceptance, and keeping open mind are key. … If I can’t do a move I merely accept that I haven’t discovered the right sequence… I will try to do it … different ways … until I find something that does work. That’s what I mean by keeping an open mind. — Lynn Hill

If there’s only one thing I would like to say, this is: enjoy the process. Don’t worry about the result. Climbing must be fun. — Marc Le Menestrel

In the Presence of Holiness

What can we say beyond “Wow”, in the presence of glorious art, in music so magnificent that it can’t have originated solely on this side of things? Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for new breath. — Anne Lamott

Love enables us to see things that those who are without love cannot see. — Thich Nhat Hanh

An awake heart is like a sky that pours light. — Hafiz

We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. — Thomas Merton

Show us the glory in the grey. — George MacLeod

I understood that I was being shown the future: shards of what would come to be. Often, I cried out for the pain of it. But other times, I was comforted, because I saw, for an instant, the pattern of the whole. — Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord

…he liked his transcendence out in plain sight where he could keep an eye on it — say, in a nice stained-glass window — not woven through the fabric of life like gold threads through a brocade. — Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God. — Irenaeus

Fortunately, the Bible I set out to learn and love rewarded me with another way of approaching God, a way that trusts the union of spirit and flesh as much as it trusts the world to be a place of encounter with God. — Barbara Brown Taylor

Life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come. — Franz Kafka

It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance–for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light….Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? — Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

And these Things, which live by perishing,
know you are praising them; transient,
they look to us for deliverance: us, the most transient of all.
They want us to change them, utterly, in our invisible heart,
within – oh endlessly – within us! Whoever we may be at last.
Earth, isn’t this what you want: to arise within us,
invisible? Isn’t it your dream
to be wholly invisible someday?
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Commentary on the Transfiguration: Ascending and Coming Down Again



If the great spiritual journey is to have any meaning whatsoever in our times, we, you and I, too, will have to wade into the throngs of hurting people on every plain of this planet, listening, listening, listening to the prophet Jesus, and exposing to people the underlying causes of all the wounding in this world and healing what we touch. — Joan Chittister

A transfiguration, a morphing, a realization had to take place, even in Jesus, before he became the Anointed One in which everything else cohered and held together (see Colossians, Ephesians, and the prologue to John’s Gospel). The resurrected Jesus is the Christ. The Risen Christ is Jesus but also bigger and beyond Jesus’ individual form and lifetime … But it is one universe and all within it is transmuted and transformed by the glory of God. The whole point of the Incarnation and Risen Body is that the Christ is here—and always was! But now we have a story that allows us to imagine it just might be true. Jesus didn’t go anywhere. He became the universal omnipresent Body of Christ. That’s why the final book of the Bible promises us a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1), not an escape from earth. We focused on “going” to heaven instead of living on earth as Jesus did—which makes heaven and earth one. It is heaven all the way to heaven. What you choose now is exactly what you choose to be forever. God will not disappoint you. — Richard Rohr

The beauty that emerges from woundedness is a beauty infused with feeling; a beauty different from the beauty of landscape and the cold perfect form. This is a beauty that has suffered its way through the ache of desolation until the words or music emerged to equal the hunger and desperation at its heart. It must also be said that not all woundedness succeeds in finding its way through to beauty of form. Most woundedness remains hidden, lost inside forgotten silence. Indeed, in every life there is some wound that continues to weep secretly, even after years of attempted healing. Where woundedness can be refined into beauty a wonderful transfiguration takes place. ― John O’Donohue

The new heavens and the new earth are not replacements for the old ones; they are transfigurations of them. The redeemed order is not the created order forsaken; it is the created order – all of it – raised and glorified. ― Robert Farrar Capon