Whale Spout Prayers

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The striking image of a whale spout spraying high into the air from the ocean surface is not only beautiful, but it is also essential for a whale's survival. Whales can live beneath the sea for long periods of time, but they must regularly come to the surface for air in order to survive. A spout occurs when, just as the whale surfaces, it blows out all of the old air in one big whoosh. This huge exhale creates space in the lungs that can then be refilled with new, life-giving air. The spout is an indication that the whale is yet alive - breathing out and breathing in - refreshed and strengthened to dive back into the deep.

Like the whale, we need to regularly surface from our busy lives in order to exhale the "old" and inhale the "new." Prayer is our whale spout; a spiritual whoosh that clears out the "old" burdens that drag us down and creates space that is then refilled with the fresh air of God's life-giving Spirit. Prayer is our indication to God that we are yet alive - breathing out and breathing in - refreshed and strengthened to dive back into both the joys and the challenges of daily life.

We offer our "whale spout prayers" to God - breathing out and breathing in - reassured of God's presence within and without, always and everywhere. Amen!

Sacred Flip-Flops

After my first year with Belly of the Whale Ministries, I got all jazzed up about offering a full slate of creative prayer programs for the fall of 2015. I enthusiastically put together these "Creative Pray-dates" and spread the word through Whale Spouts, social media, flyers, pamphlets and direct invitations. This was going to be great!

Then, an amazing thing happened... no one signed up! Not a single solitary person! I couldn't decide if I should be devastated or if maybe, just maybe, this was a hint that God was nudging me in another direction. I tried not to take it personally and prayed hard for clarity about what to do.

I had previously led a few programs on coloring mandalas as a way to pray and folks had responded quite positively. So, rather than spend my energy planning for programs that it appeared no one was interested in attending, I decided to cancel the fall programming schedule entirely and threw all my energy into creating a little resource that I called, "Praying with Mandalas." I ran off a few copies at the local printer and used them for a few small retreats (see pic above of the original cover).

Before I knew it, Praying with Mandalas took on a life of its own. Upper Room Books got on board and offered to publish a print edition, create an on-line eCourse and even requested a second manuscript that became Mandalas, Candles, and Prayer: A Simply Centered Advent. Had my "best laid plans" not been a complete flop, I would never had had the time or space to flip my focus and follow God's nudge toward writing, coloring and praying.

Now when my "best laid plans" seem to fall apart, I pray for eyes to see if there just may be a sacred flip flop afoot - a chance to be surprised by the holy spirit blowing in new and fresh ways that I would have never expected. Who knew that as I entered my fifth decade of life, my kindergarten passion for coloring would re-emerge!?

Are there sacred flip-flops happening in your life as well - moments when your "best laid plans" seem to unravel right before your eyes? If so, I pray that the wounds from these slamming doors may be healed by the refreshing breeze of the Holy Spirit blowing in through an unexpectedly opened window.

Thanks be to God for the blessings of sacred surprises and faith-filled flip-flops.

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A Mighty Wind

Last week, the rush of a sudden, violent wind blew through our neighborhood and a huge tree limb crashed down in our front yard. Fortunately no one was hurt, the house was okay and the split rail fence was the only casualty!

Over two thousand years ago, there was also a sudden, violent wind that filled the entire house where the Disciples were gathered. No limbs came tumbling down, but the walls of separation did. Rather than believing that the story of Jesus was to be shared in only one way, "all of (the Disciples) were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability." The wind of the Spirit blew down the cultural divisions that could have separated those gathered and each person was miraculously able to hear and understand in their own language.

As Pentecost people, I pray that the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit will continue to heal us of our misperception that there is only one way, only one language to hear God's Word. I pray that the mighty wind of Pentecost will continue to blow so that we may be able to hear Gods extravagant message of grace, repentance and resurrection each in our own way, our own context, our own language!

What a tremendous birthday gift that is for the church! Thanks be to God!

"And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind,

and it filled the entire house where they were sitting."

Acts 2:2

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Spiritual Bucket List

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What's on your bucket list? Often this question elicits big dreams of where we long to travel and what we long to do before we die. My own bucket list includes grandiose hopes like hiking the Appalachian Trail, seeing a whale in the wild, and returning to Africa.

When my mother-in-law was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year she mentioned that one thing on her bucket list was to return to a particularly beautiful sunrise service in Marin County, CA that we had attended years ago. This Easter we made it back to that sunrise service (see the picture) and were able to cross that special moment off her bucket list. We celebrate that she has responded remarkably well to her cancer treatments and for now is in remission. However, we grieve that she was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's and is now facing the very real challenges that dementia brings in day to day living. I am grateful we seized a bucket list moment when we could.

The seasons of life are in a constant state of flux. Every day is precious and we are never promised a tomorrow. So, what if instead of creating a bucket list filled with big moments for the future we imagined a bucket list filled with little moments that open our eyes to see God among us today? A sort of "spiritual bucket list" for everyday living.

What might be on your spiritual bucket list? My list might look something like this: tell someone I love them, do a random act of kindness, forgive, learn something new, say thank you, get lost on purpose and see where the road takes me, read the Bible, pray, color, sit silently in the hammock and breath, pet the puppy, listen to the birds, sing like no one is listening and dance like no one is watching.

Let's not wait for the end of life. Let's embrace the gift of the present - regardless of the season of our lives. I invite you to consider what might be on your spiritual bucket list and then choose one thing to do today. Thanks be to God for every moment we have breath to breathe and love to give.

Reconciling Ministry

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I am pleased to share that Belly of the Whale Ministries has begun the process of becoming an officially reconciling ministry which means that amidst our human brokenness we are called to be reconciled with one another regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, country of origin, age, ability and more.

As you may know, the United Methodist Church has been in quite a bit of turmoil as to how to move forward as the body of Christ - particularly with regards to issues of human sexuality. I certainly don't pretend to have all the answers, but as a result of many conversations I have gained some important clarity about my own faith journey.

So, I humbly share these beliefs with you - not as a be all and end all - but as an honest reflection of where I am today along this ever deepening journey of faith.

  • I believe that the Holy Scripture is the Word of God full of truth for all people - the essence of which is contained in the two commandments from Jesus that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength AND to love our neighbor as ourself.

  • I believe that we best understand how to live out these sacred commandments by listening for guidance from the Holy Spirit as revealed throughout history as well as through our own lived experience.

  • I believe that being a disciple of Christ means encouraging people to live a life saturated with love. This is the perfect fulfillment of the law as revealed through Christ's life and ministry.

  • I believe that we are called to choose love over scriptural literalism and that is why we have been able to see the wisdom in making the following critically important advances...

  • Women preachers are to be encouraged and celebrated. (in contrast to 1 Cor. 14:34)

  • Slavery is NEVER acceptable. (in contrast to 1 Peter 2:18-20)

  • Divorce is no longer considered to be adultery. (in contrast to Mark 10:11-12)

As it was with women's ordination, slavery and divorce, I believe that it is time to move beyond the literal interpretation of a handful of scriptures and welcome same sex couples fully into the life of the church. Loving, stable relationships nurtured and supported by a community of faith are a blessing to us all.

My deepest prayer is that by the grace of God the United Methodist Church will become a place of healing, hope and reconciliation that fully welcomes all of God's people all of the time.

A Prayer for Healing after General Conference

It was a both a blessing and a heartache to be present at the recent special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in St. Louis, MO (Feb. 23-26) as part of the team of translators (French). If you are not aware of the recent actions of the General Conference, click here for a helpful and hopeful summary of the event by my Bishop, Tracey Malone . 




The UM faith family is not of one voice with regards to the outcome of this General Conference and I wish to publicly state that I am NOT in agreement with the statement made by the UM global body. I will continue to raise my voice and boldly share my belief that the Gospel message is one of healing, hope, and redemption for ALL people regardless of your experience of human sexuality. Profoundly aware of the harm that has been done and hopeful for healing to come, I share this post-general conference poem/prayer with you as part of my own journey of healing. I pray that it may it be meaningful to you as well...




Global family reunion

3 days

3 nights

in the belly of the whale




Stormy seas

messy, stinky

and full of prayer

precious prayer




Spewed back out

gasping for breath

hearing our call

"Get up and go!"




Listen, fast, pray

sackcloth, ashes

God forgive us

new life comes




Full of grace, mercy

quick to forgive

slow to anger

abounding in steadfast love




Thanks be to God

Thanks be to God

Thanks be to God

Amen


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Generous Grieving

Several weeks after my dad died, while I was still in the tender and raw stages of grief, I received an unusual condolence card.  I opened the card and out fell 100 $1 bills along with this note, "When I have been deep in grief, it often helps me to be generous with others.  I offer you these bills to generously give to others in whatever way is meaningful to you. I know this will not eliminate your grief, but perhaps it will ease it just a bit."  

What an amazing, generous and thought provoking gesture!  Immediately my mind shifted from my own pain to how I might in some small way ease the pain of others.  A gossamer thread of healing began to wrap gently around my own aching heart as I pondered how to grieve with generosity.  

I held onto the money for months, pondering all the possibilities of how to pass it on.  Finally, last month as I was heading to upstate NY to return my dad's ashes to his beloved Lake Champlain, the time seemed right.  I traveled by plane, bus and automobile to get there.  Throughout my travels, I quietly, but joyfully left bits of my "generous grieving" money along the way.  In the airport, I left dollar bills in random places.  At the bus station, I left money to help with bus tickets for others. On the seat of the bus driver, I dropped a handful of bills on my way out the door. And on the drive out to Wilsboro Point, we stopped at a Dollar General Store where I left dollar bills tucked into children's books that only cost a dollar each.  All were small little gestures, but the opportunity to be generous in memory of my dad warmed my heart each time.  

To my friend who sent me this gracious gift (you know who you are!) I am forever grateful for your generosity with me so that I could grieve generously. What a healing gift you gave to me and so many others along the way.  As my dad would say, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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I live in you, I did not die

Do not stand by my grave and weep

I am not there, I do not sleep


I am the cloud in lake water clear

I'm in your breath, I'm always near


I am the stones on our beloved beach

I'm an easy laugh, always in reach.


I am Tiddlywinks the horse, I am lakeshore foam

I am geese in flight, come to carry you home.


I am the gentle breeze that lifts your soul

I'm a walk in the park, step by step we are whole


I am the clouds above in the endless sky

I live in you, I did not die


Adapted from the poem, 

"Do not stand by my grave and weep." 

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Precious Ordinary

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In the spirit of my dad's love of both the silly and the serious (the cheese and rutabaga moments of life) I share with you this silly story about the serious topic of Dad's ashes. 

My parents are avid recyclers and reuse old containers over and over again. So, when my mom was recently dividing up Dad's ashes (some for me, some for my sister, some to scatter at Lake Champlain), I jokingly said to her, "I hope you didn't use an old deli meat container for Dad's ashes!" She paused, smiled and responded, "Of course not. I thought a potato salad container would work better!"  My dad would have loved this! I can just see him grinning conspiratorially, throwing his head back, and letting out a hearty belly laugh!

We would do well to remember that it is often the ordinary objects and events of life that hold precious meaning.  What are the proverbial potato salad containers of your life that contain precious memories? Family dinners? Driving kids to school? Phone calls with friends? Meaningful conversations with a coworker? May we open our eyes to the "precious ordinary" in what we see and experience today and every day.




Easter Poem

My dad wrote this poem for Easter two years ago - 8 months after his initial diagnosis with stage IV prostate cancer.  It wasn't his last Easter with us at that time, but this year it was. I recorded this video of my dad reading the poem a few weeks before his death. His absence leaves a huge hole in our lives, but the hole is not empty..."it is filled by the futures, taking place." 

 

Easter

This is likely my last Easter here, with you all.

 

Timothy's on his way back to the conservatory in Cincinnati,

with Jordan and her parents, leaving a brother-sized hole

for Deborah to grow into.

 

She's driving already, and going to Liberia with Sharon,

if they, indeed, get there, on beyond the mandalas and spiritual growth.

 

They'll leave Andy with a hole, larger than the size of a Bear, 

to fill for a while.

 

Luke and Joshua, Chris and Debbie,

may be going to a new home,

 

eating with old and new friends, working in new places,

playing basketball, taking care of snakes and science,

roaring with laughter.

 

 

I have many holes, too,

a cerebral-vascular accident, mild aphasia, right-sided weakness,

high blood-pressure,

permanent pacemaker for bradycardia,

indwelling Foley catheter,

sleep apnea,

stage four prostate cancer, bone metastasis, stabilized with Lupron.

 

I cry a little.

 

Practicing on little holes,

I'm getting ready for bigger ones to come.

But they are not empty.

They are being filled by the futures, taking place. 

 

Leonard H. Seyfarth