Aug 18 2016

Rhythms of Grace

As we begin a new school year at UDTS, I made a short video exploring rhythms of grace for our incoming students: holistic ways to think about our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits, in the midst of the busyness of life. This is first video I’ve made, with the lovely Sinsinawa Dominican Convent as the backdrop. While it is addressed to our incoming cohort, I believe there is much that can speak to people in different contexts.  May it provide a moment of retreat and encouragement in your week!

(Before playing, I invite you to pause the Music for Dreaming in the right column >>)

Nov 28 2014

Friday Florilegium

Carl Vilhelm Holsoe (Danish artist, 1863-1935) Standing on the Balcony

Carl Vilhelm Holsoe (Danish artist, 1863-1935) Standing on the Balcony

Cup of tea and book in hand on a snowy Iowa morning, I’m celebrating the first deeply quiet day after months filled with moving and teaching and finishing the dissertation. The draft has been given to the committee, and in a week, I will be flying to Boston to defend it. While I’m thankful to have the draft behind me, I’m holding onto the comfort and hope of this quote:

‘What a strength and spring of life, what hope and trust, what glad, unresting energy, is in this one thought: to serve Him who is “my Lord,” ever near me, ever looking on; seeing my intentions before He beholds my failures; knowing my desires before He sees my faults; cheering me to endeavor greater things, and yet accepting the least; inviting my poor service, and yet, above all, content with my poorer love.

Let us try to realize this, whatsoever, wheresoever we be. The humblest and the simplest, the weakest and the most encumbered, may love Him not less than the busiest and strongest, the most gifted and laborious. If our heart be clear before Him; if He be to us our chief and sovereign choice, dear above all, and beyond all desired; then all else matters little. That which concerneth us He will perfect in stillness and in power.’

— Howard Edward Manning – (1808 – 1892), English cardinal, Archbishop of Westminster


Friday Florilegium 1

After monks copied texts in those days before press or xerox, they would take left over pieces of vellum, copy down quotes from scripture or other texts on which they wanted to meditate personally.  These scraps were often bound together into a florilegium, Latin from flos (flowers), legere (to gather), creating a bouquet of literary flowers.

Each Friday, I’m going to offer a digital florilegium of a quote or three from books I’m reading, or a longer review. These texts could be from scripture, 19th century devotionals, contemporary and historical authors, dissertation reading on prayer and education, music, movies, or just some random-quote-goodness! My dear friend, author, and lover of children’s books, Kimberlee Conway Ireton, will also be doing the florilegium each Friday. She writes:

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Aug 20 2014

September 29


The date is lined in bright green (for life) on a handmade poster-size calendar that now hangs in my living room. Six weeks. What has been my constant shadow for four years will be coming to birth as I labor to finish a first draft and turn it in. Under the calendar is a list of things I’m looking forward to, not the least of which is removing the word “dissertation” from my vocabulary for awhile.

But before these hopes become reality, there is a the very real task of writing another chapter and the conclusion, revising and editing, and then defending, all during these next three months. And there is very real fear.

This morning as the anxiety churned, I listened to it, trying to understand its needs, playing the spiritual director with my inner self, hoping to coax some deep breaths and, as my dear friend recently explained, work with the labor pains rather than against them.

“You won’t find the words,” it whispered.

It’s an old fear, a reference to the comprehensive examinations when I feared words would fail me in the 4 hours allotted to each test, that they would evaporate, leaving me with sentences that made no sense, but even more, had no beauty or depth.

I didn’t sleep the nights before those 4 exams and while they were far from stellar examples of writing, I put words on the page, and pages increased, and then it was over. I moved through the experience, but not unscathed. Doubt had entered my process of writing which hadn’t been there before–a crack in my trust of myself, but also in the words themselves and their Source.

Finding words seemed more and more difficult. A vicious circle, the fear the words weren’t there–in their word haven someplace deep in my heart, fled, broken into component letters, devoid of meaning, or beyond my brain’s reach–led to the very thing I feared: no words, as I roughly demanded, begged, or tried forcing their return.

For long now, I’ve viewed my dissertation writing in the light of these blood-stirring words of Gandalf in his battle with the Balrog:

Through fire… and water… From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak, I fought him… Until at last, I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside.

But the seemingly mutinous words are not my enemy, nor is the writing process. No. Writing, when entered into humbly and reflectively embraced, forms a scholar, providing the boundaried space and time for the deepening of theological thought, to germinate ideas, nurture them in a fertile seed bed before sharing them with the world. Even more, a theologian is formed by the process to practice ongoing reflection; incarnate the reflective process in oneself and share it with others; and be filled with the reflective fruit, that the world may experience more love and justice through its birth.

There is much in my writing process that needed tending and pruning by the Master Gardener. Not the least of which is my shying away from the discomfort of being pruned.

Anne Truitt writes, “The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own intimate sensitivity.”

Beautiful words, but not necessarily words of comfort.

Simone Weil describes the patient waiting of pen above paper as we wait for the word. For her, this practice strengthens muscles for prayer, and even more, to attend deeply to the person before us in their need. This is not an image of violent wrestling words to the page, but it is a call to breathe through impatience and discomfort.

Karl Barth argues that those called to be theologians are called into doubt, to always ask the difficult questions–fearful, at times–and live in this discomfort. Facing my doubt and distrust of words is the only way through.

And even as I write this post, even as I’m willing to enter in through the fear and reflect, I find the word haven–O sweet embrace!

Gandalf’s words are not for the dissertation, they are for that which whispers the lie, the haunting doubt that the words have fled, leaving me in front of a blank page and a deadline looming. They are for that which calls into question the Word spoken at creation–the source of all good words–and all life. They are for the temptation to distrust God’s own infinite storehouse of words. God has the cattle on a thousand hills, as the psalmist writes, so God the Logos, is Lord of Words.

Lord, I’m not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. 

May it be so.

As I write these next weeks, as I write in obedience to my vocation, the practice is to remain in this moment, and writing the word for this moment, humbly leaving the words for the next moment to hope and to God. I may not see them, and the lie may whisper they have fled, but moment by moment, they will gently be loved into sentences, paragraphs, and pages.

The only practice is to write and one day (soon), it will be finished.





Jul 23 2014

The Contemplative Cottage has moved…to Iowa


If you had told me 9 months ago I’d be leaving my friends, church, jobs, and city to live in Dubuque, Iowa, I would have laughed. Loudly.

Not because I had anything against Dubuque. In fact, I’d heard over the years very good things about a certain seminary there.

But Iowa? My image of Iowa was of a flat, mountainless expanse, void of trees and salt water,  full of corn, farms, and miles of roads unserviced by public transportation.

And did I mention snow? That cold stuff which Seattle is blessed with infrequently and causes a city-wide celebratory shut-down to sled the Counterbalance (aka Queen Anne Ave)?

Well, Iowa gets a lot of it.

But Dubuque is nothing like I imagined.



Something happened around October of last year. I woke up and realized that working two jobs–on staff at my church as communications and systems manager, and adjunct teaching at Seattle Pacific University (and continuing to occasionally eke out pages on my dissertation)–was simply unsustainable for much longer. This realization was the crack in my forcefully promised “I will not move again” vow, uttered upon arriving back in Seattle 3 years prior. My friends were gracious in letting me be stubborn, but even I knew that openness to God’s call could not coexist with it. In following Jesus, openness is part of the fine print.

I think God works His best when our own insufficiency and limits brings us to take a deep sigh and timidly open just a bit to what He might have in mind. Into my own wary openness flowed gentle grace and a seed of possibility as He helped me imagine something different.

Exactly what this something different might be, I had no idea–and if an angel had told me the particulars, like Sarah, when told of having Isaac, I would have laughed.

One thing I did know, sadly. It would involve me saying “no” to one of my jobs. I never imagined it would mean saying no to even more, in order to say a bigger yes.

In November, my dissertation advisor, a mentor who has so often encouraged me and kept me on target in the doctoral process, emailed me about an open faculty position and suggested I apply. It was in a huge beautiful city, one I was very familiar with and could imagine moving to, but while I was open, the idea didn’t quite fit. I checked in with my best friend, Kimberlee, and asked her thoughts about applying. It still seemed the right thing to do, in this new openness, so I decided to apply and see what God might be planning.

As I wrote my application two things happened. First, in writing my teaching statement, I realized again how much I love teaching and how I longed to do this work full-time. And immediately after that realization, I had the thought, Why not see what else is out there, beyond Seattle? 

I found a faculty position description which made my heart skip a beat–and I mean that literally. Discipleship. Christian formation. Small seminary. University setting. Loves Jesus.

Then I started looking at the town. Monasteries (two!). Convents (four!).  Old houses. The wide Mississippi running through. Trees. Hills and views. Small.

At the in-person interview, in the middle of snow storms and one of their worst winters, I met a wonderful group of people, people I hoped to have the privilege of working with in this calling to prepare pastors. And when I left Dubuque in February, I prayed that this was the sprouting of the seed God had planted in that little crack of openness months before.

I could handle snow if it meant this. I could leave my home, my community, if it meant this.

In March, I accepted a position as assistant professor in discipleship and christian formation at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. In May, I left my job at Bethany Presbyterian and got on Amtrak for the trip east. Kimberlee came with me for a few days to get me settled (bless her!).






In two weeks my students arrive and classes begin. It will be a long while (maybe never) before I stop pinching myself.

How is gentle grace flowing into cracks of openness in your life? What seed is God planting?

My hope as I begin this new season is to invest again in the work of this blog and share a little of life and reflections on prayer, theological education and other random odds and ends in following Jesus, and create a little contemplative community on the internet. Be welcome here. Be at peace!

Christ’s grace to you, and peace!



Aug 3 2012

Friday Florilegium

Today’s Florilegium is from Daily Strength for Daily Needs, and such a timely collection of quotes for our 24/7 lives.

Then I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for naught, and in vain.–Isaiah 49:4

Because I spent the strength Thou gavest me
In struggle which Thou never didst ordain,
And have but dregs of life to offer Thee–
O Lord, I do repent.
–Sarah Williams (1837–1868), English poet

Mind, it is our best work that He wants, not the dregs of our exhaustion. I think He must prefer quality to quantity.
–George MacDonald (1824 – 1905), Scottish author, poet, and pastor

If the people about you are carrying on their business or their benevolence at a pace which drains the life out of you, resolutely take a slower pace; be called a laggard, make less money, accomplish less work than they, but be what you were meant to be and can be. You have your natural limit of power as much as an engine,–ten-horse power, or twenty, or a hundred. You are fit to do certain kinds of work, and you need a certain kind and amount of fuel, and a certain kind of handling.
–George S. Merriam

In your occupations, try to possess your soul in peace. It is not a good plan to be in haste to perform any action that it may be the sooner over. On the contrary, you should accustom yourself to do whatever you have to do with tranquillity, in order that you may retain the possession of yourself and of settled peace.
–Madame Guyon (1648 – 1717), French Christian mystic

And for another Friday literary bouquet, join Kimberlee Conway Ireton.

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