What is Your American Dream? And other questions for now and for after the election.

Democracy Under Construction. Photo by my 10-year-old son.


Have you noticed that it’s election season? Sigh.

As a person who tends to avoid conflict if at all humanly possible, I usually avoid political discussions unless I know we are on the same page or I just plan on listening.

As a person who writes mostly on matters of heart and soul, I also avoid writing about politics.

Yet, as Parker Palmer would tell us, the heart is the place where everything begins–especially democracy: the heart is “that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation.”

Palmer’s book Healing the Heart of Our Democracy is so important and so wise. Especially in this season. Everyone should read it. I usually don’t tell people what to do, but I am telling you: read this book.

Regardless of this election’s outcome, we the people have some work to do.

Palmer reminds us that there is and always has been a gap between reality and the aspirations on which the United States was founded.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.

These words have never been fully realized here in the United States. Not when they were written. Not now. But these words are still true. Palmer reminds us that there is a gap between reality and what could or should be. To stand in the middle of that gap requires hope, tenacity, hard work, and the willingness to let our hearts crack open. If our hearts are hard toward one another, they are just going to shatter. That won’t help.

Maybe now is a good time to start conversing with one another–not just talk at each other, not just see who can shout the loudest.

Maybe, regardless of political affiliations or opinions, we can find common ground–or if not common ground, at least understanding.

Maybe we can begin by asking: What do these words mean to you?

What does it mean that all men are created equal?

What do you think other unalienable Rights might be?

Do these rights apply just to Americans?

Do these rights apply to every person under the sun?

How do we live that way?

How do I live so that my rights aren’t infringing on another person’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

What is your American Dream?

What is your dream for your country?

What is your dream for this country’s children and grandchildren?

How does this dream fit into your dream for the world?

Maybe we might find more common ground at this dream stage–this hopeful and visionary part.

Then how do we pull it off? How do we work toward making this dream more and more real? I’m guessing that’s were we get a lot of different ideas about how to best achieve these things. This is where things get messy.

Maybe there isn’t just one way to work toward these goals. Maybe both sides have something to contribute. Maybe there are more than two sides.

Maybe instead of demonizing people who think differently, we can be curious. We can ask: Tell me why you think that? Can you give me examples? Tell me more.

The American dream isn’t just a government’s responsibility. It’s everyone of its citizens’ responsibility. How do we the people make this a reality?

How am I working on making my neighborhood, city, state, country, and world a place where all people are created equal with rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? How can we work together?

Let’s start listening.

And then let’s continue the slow and messy work of making these dreams real.



News and Direction


Have I told you that I get to do homework?

I get to do homework! I am in the middle of reading a book by Marcus Borg for class. I like him. And on Tuesday evenings, I get to meet with a wonderful group of people, and we get to have conversations about God and soul and contemplative practices. I love this stuff!

In three years, I am hoping to have a spiritual direction certificate. This seems to be the direction my in-between time has been preparing me for.

Six years ago, I had never even heard of spiritual direction. When I first heard the term, I thought it sounded a little weird and mysterious. Then I kept hearing about it, and it sounded like something that would be a good idea for me to try. I started seeing a spiritual director about three years ago.

Once a month, I drive to an office building about 20 miles from home and walk myself to a small office tucked into the corner of the building. The room holds two arm chairs, a plant, and a small table with a candle and a clock on it.

I take off my shoes and sit in the chair facing a small window while Sherry lights the candle and takes the chair opposite me.

Every month we begin the same way. Sherry takes my hands and she prays: she welcomes God even though we already know that God is present; she asks God to direct our time, to help me to notice.  And then we begin.  Sometimes we just spend some time in quiet.  Most of the time I start talking.  Sherry asks questions or makes observations. She has witnessed the transformation taking place in my soul during these last few years. It is helpful to have someone bear witness to this, to remind you of where you were and show you where you may now be.

With Sherry, I get to talk about God or at least about where I think I’ve noticed God showing up in my life.  I get to share the deep things that are going on in my soul–the things that might be awkward to bring up in polite conversation with most people. I’ve been learning to pay attention to the direction that my life is taking and to be purposeful about this direction.

Spiritual direction allows me to experience the sacred space that listening with another person opens ups. Slowly, I realized that maybe this was one thing I was created to do and be in this world. I was created to be a listener. I have a hunger for God, for listening, for making space, and soul conversation. This hunger in me is something I can offer back. I am excited to see how this path unfolds.

That’s my news.

If you’re like I was six years ago and are wondering “what in the world is spiritual direction?” I’ll try fill you in. If you think it still sounds weird, that’s just fine. No hard feelings.

Spiritual directors make space for others to share their sacred stories, to ask the big questions, to discover and listen to their own soul, and to deepen their relationship with God. It’s so helpful to have company in this endeavor. Jeanette Bakke explains: “It is often easier to recognize what is essential when we speak out loud about our interior life.”

It is powerful to have someone bear witness to your story.

In spiritual direction, you tend to ask the big questions–questions like: “Who am I? Where have I come from? Where am I going? What is prayer? Who is God for me? How does God speak to me? Where do I belong? How can I be of service?” (These questions are from Henri Nouwen’s book Spiritual Direction.)

One of my favorite aspects about spiritual direction is that “directors don’t give answers or tell directees what to do in their relationship with God or when making life choices. Instead, they listen with directees for how the Spirit of God is present and active.” (Jeanette Bakke, Holy Invitations) As a directee, you learn to do your own listening.

According to Nouwen, “Spiritual guidance affirms the basic quest for meaning. It calls for the creation of space in which the validity of the questions does not depend on the availability of answers but on the questions’ capacity to open us to new perspectives and horizons.”

A spiritual director helps to affirm these questions and encourages us to live into them. In spiritual direction we make space to look at how these questions are shaping us and working into the fabric of our every day life. We learn to keep our eyes and ears and heart open to God’s presence, which is always surrounding us.

I think practicing spiritual direction is not just something to do, but it is a way of being in this world. It’s more of who I want to be.

Have you experienced spiritual direction? What has that experience been like for you?











The Question

“Are you ready?”

You wait patiently
as I drink another
cup of coffee
and check
today’s news
and get up once again
to look at some
or other

The gentle question
holds the hint
of a smile

As you wait
for me
to find my
way back to

Welcoming Empty Pages and Spacious Places

Spaciousness is a place of grounded possibility.

I’ve been contending with empty pages for a while now. Empty journal pages—pen poised in my hand for 30 minutes and the page still blank. Empty word documents—cursor blinking and not a word to type. Empty pages sometimes feel like failure.

In a few days, I will be staring down another blank page. For the first time, all of my kids will be leaving for school, and I will be here at home. I feel a little panicky. What will I do with my time? Will I actually start writing in earnest? What would I write about if I did? What projects will I actually have time to tackle? What will I volunteer for? What kind of jobs will I seek out?

When I look into that emptiness, I find fear. Fear of not being enough. Fear of wasting my time. Fear of being nobody. Fear of losing my purpose. I fear the emptiness.

This fear of emptiness might compel me to fill all of the empty spaces as quickly as possible with work, volunteering, social outings, organizing, and all sorts of other things.

Emptiness begs to be filled.

I have started to think about this blank page in another way though, a way that settles me and inspires me.

What if this blank page isn’t an emptiness? What if this blank page is actually a place of spaciousness?

Emptiness and spaciousness can look similar. Blank. They can both be unsettling places.

But where emptiness seeks something to fill it–approval, attention, validation–spaciousness makes room. Spaciousness is a place of grounded possibility.

Space is opening up before me. Space that is full of possibility and promise. There will be space for something new to grow. Space to find a new rhythm. Space to tend to what is growing in me. Space for deepening relationships. Space to discover my unique way to contribute to the world at this time. Space for living creatively and intentionally. Why rush to fill up all of the blank spaces?

One of my key tasks in this life is to discover what it means to be a spacious person.

Henri Nouwen describes this spacious quality in his book The Wounded Healer: 

“When our souls are restless, when we are driven by thousands of different and often conflicting stimuli, when we are always ‘over there’ between people, ideas, and the worries of this world, how can we possibly create the room and space where others can enter freely without feeling themselves unlawful intruders?

…. [W]hen we have finally found the anchor place for our lives within our own center we can be free to let others enter into the space created for them, and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song, and speak their own language without fear.”

 I think this is what it means to be a spacious person. This kind of spaciousness requires time and intention. It requires leaving room in my actual schedule to tend to my own soul and to welcome other people. It requires intentionality in the things that I do put on my calendar and in the way that I use my time. It requires an open heart and a mind that is willing to unlearn and learn again.

When I look at these empty pages as a place to practice living spaciously, they no longer frighten me. I welcome them.



Poetry Unfolding

I witnessed poetry
this morning
in the gray sky
above my backyard.

This backyard that is
every suburban
plot of cut grass
and swing set
nestled between
busy streets.

I wish you could have seen it too

because words will
never convey
the catch-your-breath magic of
one hundred herons
in swirling dance:

black-tipped wings
bending in unison
to form one v
and then another v
in pure, synchronized