Rejoicing in Sprouts



I’ve spotted two so far. Tiny tomato sprouts from seeds that I planted 8 days ago. Seeds that are a few years old because last year I had a tomato tragedy and my plants weren’t able to produce fruit. I’ve been checking for signs of life a few times a day since I planted the seeds. I have a habit of impatience. And also doubt. Are they going to work? Are they too old? Is the soil too wet? Is it warm enough? What if nothing happens?

Oh me of little faith!

Seeds are amazing. Resilient. They possess magical, life-containing powers just waiting for the right conditions. Stuck in a baggy, shoved into a three-ring binder, stored on a bookshelf–they will not amount to much. Just hidden potential. I’m not sure how long they maintain their life force.

Add dirt. Water. Sun. Time. Miracles happen. New life happens. I’m already dreaming of red, ripe, softball-sized tomatoes. Sweet juice spilling all over my hands when I slice them for a sandwich or for my favorite summer breakfast of tomato slices and egg fried together in olive oil. Add a little sea salt and you have perfection on an early August morning.

Sprouts! That’s all they are now. I’m so excited.

Life is full of seeds. Seeds that transform us, bringing new life when the conditions in our hearts are right. We are full of miracles and life-changing potential buried deep in our souls. Seeds waiting for darkness. For softening. For nourishment. For warmth and light. For time to grow. What gives my soul space and room to grow? What practices soften my heart?

This business of transformation requires a lot from us. But it’s not pull-up your bootstraps, make over your life kind of work. The work required from us is about cultivating the conditions that allow for transformation–for becoming. How do we let God do God’s thing in our hearts? It’s a lot of work and it’s not really work at all. Does that make any sense?

Sometimes, we find ourselves in life with hearts that are hard and parched. How do we get to that place? We know too much. We are always right. We are living someone else’s life. We always have things to do and places to be and little time for stopping even for a short chance to catch our breath.

We forget to wonder. We have no time for mystery. No patience for paradox.

How do we cultivate a soft heart in the midst of laundry piles and soccer practices? Doctors appointments? Work obligations and responsibilities?

Here are just a few ideas:

What stops you in your tracks with wonder? Spend some time there.

What reminds you that you are fiercely and deeply loved? Spend time there too.

What reminds you that you are just one small part of this universe? One brief brushstroke? One drop in an ocean? Spend some time there.

What reminds you that you are connected to God? To others? To those who have gone before us and who will come after us? To creation? Spend some time there.

It’s hard to have a small, hard heart when we practice wonder. When we learn to drink deeply from the depth of God’s love for us. When we know in our bones the smallness and finiteness of our lives in these earth bodies. When we remember that we belong to one another.

Your soul might need different things than my soul. What does your soul need? Ask it. Listen for the answer.

An open, soft heart is a necessity for awakening to the life that is waiting inside of you. We can participate in its softening. In cultivating conditions that will allow for growth. And then we wait and rejoice in sprouts.






Daring Contentment

“I believe that the most important single thing beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.” Maya Angelou

When I think of daring. I don’t usually think of me.
But I have been daring lately. Daring to be content.
Daring to be happy with me and the life that is mine. Daring to be unapologetic about the things that I like.

A while back, I read something in some magazine about a shampoo for brunettes that eliminated brassiness–“the unattractive red tones when light hits.” Unattractive? I’ve always liked the red glow the sun brings out in my hair. I liked the warmth and depth it gave to my hair color. That’s brassy? That’s unattractive? Well I guess that you can think that if you want. But I’m going to embrace and love my brassy until my sparkles take over.

Sparkles? I suppose that same magazine would describe them as “ugly gray.” Cover those babies! Right? What if I dare to like them? I might. We’ll see. For now, I’m embracing the sparkles starting to streak through my brassy brunette.

When I moved into my house, I liked the kitchen. I liked the warm wood cabinets. Then I saw kitchens just like mine in all of the before pictures of kitchen remodels with descriptions like: “Boring” and “Outdated.” Says who? What if I dare to like my kitchen just the way it is?

What if I dare to like my body? Just the way it is? Long and finally gathering a few curves. Sharp angles softening. I don’t need a beach body. My body serves me well, mediating my experience on this earth. It is my doorway to Presence. What if I dare to love it? To listen to it? To embrace it? To honor it? Just the way that it is.

What if I welcome my soul, my heart, just the way that I am? In all of my earnestness and quirky awkwardness. A bundle of contradictions. Full of love and fear and hope. Gentle and sharp. Fed by both friendship and solitude. A mixture of doubt and faith. Full of courage and the need to hide. Patient until I’m not. This mixture of shadow and light gives me depth. It makes me real. Human.

What if I dare to be happy with just the way I am? With where I am? With what I have? That’s daring. That’s freedom. That’s power.

_Just be exactly where you are

Be present to the life that is yours right now.
Let go of what you think you should do.
Let go of what you think you should be.
Let go of what you think others think.
God is satisfied with and wants only you.



“I’m Painting! I’m Painting!” and Learning to Pray through Play

“Man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays.” ~ Friedrich Schiller

Do you ever have “I’m sailing!” moments? You know, like from the movie What About Bob? when Bill Murray is tied to the sail boat mast and yelling for joy because he’s finally sailing? Don’t tell me, I’m the only one.

Mine sound like this: “I’m sewing! I’m sewing!” This happened when I finally got around to learning how to use my sewing machine after it had been sitting in my closet, untouched for years. I might have actually said those words out loud.

“I’m planting! I’m planting!” This happens every spring as soon as the weather warms up enough to dig in the dirt. Spring is always, always exciting.

Lately, my joy-filled cry is: “I’m painting! I’m painting!” For some reason, I’ve had an itch to paint. I bought some canvases a while back. I bought paints and paint brushes. Then those art supplies gathered dust in my closet for months. The itch grew really strong a few weeks ago. So strong, in fact, that I took out the paints and canvases and brushes. I went through photographs to find one that I wanted to try to capture in paint. I watched a you-tube video on how to get started. And then I started laying down layers of paint. Oh my goodness, is it fun. “I’m painting! I’m painting!”


Do I know what I’m doing? Nope. Is it any good? I have no idea. Does it matter? I don’t think so. It’s pure play. It brings me joy. My paintings make me happy while I’m working on them and even when I look at them afterward. I can’t wait to paint some more.

When do you experience “I’m sailing! I’m sailing!” moments? Those moments when you just love what you are doing and feel so happy that you get to do it? Is it running? (I can’t imagine, really, but that’s so awesome for you.) Hiking? Cleaning? Making music? Cooking? Biking? Swimming? Creating? How do you play?

I’m sure there are all sorts of psychological and emotional benefits to play. What if I told you that playing could be prayer? That you could actually be practicing contemplation in the middle of play? And I don’t mean that we should make our play all serious!

If, like Buechner said, our mental chatter gets in the way of noticing God’s presence in our lives, contemplative prayer is one way that people can try to quiet that mental chatter. Often we think of contemplative prayer as being still, being silent, closing our eyes and trying not to think about things. There are many beautiful, quiet contemplative practices. But sometimes, this quiet seems pretty impossible to achieve.

Contemplative prayer is really just paying attention. Maybe this is why playing might be a great way to start a contemplative practice.

In his book on prayer, God & You, William A. Barry, S.J. encourages us to try contemplative prayer by doing “something we like to do and ask[ing] God to be with us.” He says, “I can invite God to make his presence felt as I do what I like to do.” That’s it. What enjoyable activity will take your attention away from your mental chatter, your self-concern and anxieties?  Try that.

According to Margaret Guenther in her book Holy Listening, play and prayer have been linked with the work of contemplative living for centuries. Guenther says that when we play, “[w]e are freed from our compulsion for right answers, freed from the need to acquire and achieve, freed from anxiety by the transitory nature of play.”

I find this to be true when I paint. It’s just for me. I’m not analyzing it or judging it. I’m not thinking of much else while I’m painting. I’m actually paying attention to the picture in front of me. And I can sense God’s joy and delight when I create. Painting is also teaching me to bring this non-judgmental attitude toward my other activities. (That’s what a contemplative practice eventually does.)

So how do we communicate with God while we play? Barry reminds us that God’s communication is most often ordinary: feeling peace or comfort, feeling God’s closeness, or feeling a sense of well-being or gratitude. Do you feel these things when you play? Maybe that’s God saying “hi.” And all we have to do is say “hi” back.

We tend to make things–especially God things and prayer–more difficult than they need to be.

I still have a hard time sitting down and praying with a lot of words. I love to sit in quiet, but my brain likes to jump all over the place. Praying as painting or gardening or cooking? That actually sounds beautiful and fun to me. What kind of play as prayer sounds beautiful and fun for you?






Embracing the invitation of “It is”


Some situations call for excellent analytical skills, but generally, employing these skills directed at the people around us isn’t helpful. It separates us. I try to ‘understand’ them, but without putting myself in their shoes. What if there is another way of seeing those around us?

The phrase “It is” has been repeating in my heart for the past few weeks. I think I need to pay attention.

Recently, I read Frederick Buechner’s words: “What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought.”

I’m finding that “It is” allows the chatter to quiet down.

Richard Rohr recently wrote about how through contemplation, we “stop labeling, ranking, and categorizing people and things and just see them without letting them ‘possess'” us.

“It is” invites me to let go of this labeling, ranking, and categorizing.

I am deeper than my thoughts, my likes and dislikes, my choices, my mistakes, my triumphs. And so are you. You are. I don’t need to label you. Analyze you. Try to figure you out. You are. That is enough.

Analyzing involves labels, theories, and ultimately judgment. It is the opposite of “It is.” I wonder if what separates us from experiencing God in others is our “mental chatter” about them. What would happen if I just experienced her as she is?

This quote by Diane Eshin Rizzeto, captures beautifully how we can meet another “as is”:

“When we meet others as strangers, our hearts are open to possibility, change, and reconciliation. We haven’t decided what one another is, and only know that person as she presents herself in this very moment …. If you meet that person with the words of yesterday echoing in your mind, then your glasses are tinted disagreeable. You cannot meet the other as a stranger…. As long as we insist on seeing him through our memories, those glasses will not allow us to meet him openly and with possibility.”

Meeting another “as is” or “as a stranger” allows us to be spacious. Spacious in our hearts. Spacious in our welcome. Letting go of the need to analyze or label others makes so much space in our minds. Space for paying attention to what is happening in front of us, to what is happening in our hearts. It makes space for actually experiencing my life and the people around me.

I look at my six-year-old daughter. I feel the weight of her on my lap and in my heart. Is she listening? Is she keeping her room clean? What will her future hold? All of that pales to the fact that she is. And she is Loved. God lives in her soul. That is enough.

It’s in the shimmering now, the immediate here, where my soul glimpses and touches the Sacred, the More, the Real. Love. God.

The story goes that when Moses asked God for a name, God replied, “I am.” God is verb. Is being. Is unnamable and beyond categories and labels. We, who are made in God’s likeness, echo that being-ness in our souls. You are. I am. She is. That’s enough. We can end the sentence there.

Then I Remember My Favorite Things


February is an Eeyore kind of month. Gray. Gray skies. Gray snow. Gray trees. Gray clothes. Gray mood. But today, the sun is out. I’m wearing hot-pink. And I decided to make a list of some of my favorite things. You know, I think Rogers and Hammerstein had Maria give us some very solid advice.

There are things that I enjoy and like. And then there are my favorites: the things that I can’t stop talking about. The things I want everybody to try. I like it so much. I want you to like it too.

If you’ve been to my house some evening this winter, chances are I’ve made you drink Ina Garten’s Mulled Wine. It’s so perfect for practicing hygge-cozy, delicious, and hot. The perfect accompaniment for good conversation. Unless you are not into wine. I don’t make you drink wine if you are opposed to it or underage. I’m not really a wine pusher.

Do you live in the Minneapolis area? Do you ever travel by Lake Calhoun? Have you been to Rustica Bakery? Have you tried their bittersweet chocolate cookies? My sister calls them magic cookies. Because that is exactly what they are. Magic.

Monday night, I finished reading Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. I cried and laughed my way through that book. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and funny. That’s the best combination. It left my heart feeling bigger and broken open just a bit when I finished it. Have you read it? No? Oh, I really want you to.

Have you watched the movie Sing Street? We watched it about one month ago. Last Friday, I was moping around: “I’ve told everybody I know to watch Sing Street! Has anyone watched it yet? No, not one.” That night I received a text at 9:01 from one sister: “Jess, we’re watching Sing Street right now!” At 9:03 I received a text from another sister: “Jess, we’re watching Sing Street!” You don’t know how happy that made me.

Do you like movies? Music? The 80’s? Ireland? Funny and heartbreak at the same time? You should watch this movie. I must be a Sing Street pusher. I really want you to watch it. I really want to watch it again.

If you have ever received a book from me, chances are that book is John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. I’m an unashamed O’Donohue pusher. His words are so wise and true. They have changed me. I can’t loan you my copy, because I haven’t stopped reading this gem since I bought it almost 4 years ago. You should get your own copy.

What are some of my other favorites? Mary Oliver, Frederick Buechner, Rumi, Parker Palmer. I’ve told a lot of people to read their books. Gosh, I sound really bossy.

I guess this blog exists because I can’t stop talking about contemplation, practicing presence, God. Those are my deep-down favorites. They change me. They make me more me. They break my heart open and make it a more spacious place. I hope I’m not a pusher here, I’d rather be an inviter. This stuff is good.

Oh. And this guy. Isn’t he so cute? He likes me. And I like him right back.


What do you know? Those are just a few of my favorite things, and this list thing worked. I don’t feel so gray. What about you? What are your favorites? What do you want everybody to try? Maybe I would like them too.