Come to Bethany

One of the things I love about a song like Come to Bethany is that it leaves people with questions. What’s Bethany? Why do I feel transported by this song? What does it even mean to sing those words?

Bringing a song to life is something of a mystery, but I think I can shed some light on its meaning.

It was a beautiful Southern California day in May. Hayden Lukas, Stephan Nosrat and I had just been thrown together at the very first Songwriter Initiative retreat. We were given a prompt—a bible story, any bible story—and three hours to write it. Go! I remembered a room I used for quiet study while getting my MA in Theology on that campus a decade before.

The walls were glass and the sun warmed us as we worked. Hayden started to finger pick a little riff. Stephan lifted a bow to his violin and a groundswell opened up in me. I closed my eyes and listened. And then the first words came.

“Have you ever loved someone so much that you would wash their feet with your tears?”

The question is far from random. It’s rooted in the story of a woman—likely a prostitute— who scandalized the inner circle of Jesus’ day by daring to approach him as he dined. She wept at his feet and wiped him clean with her tears, with her hair. She lavished Jesus’ feet with oil and continued to kiss them. The men were outraged but Jesus turned their contempt back on them. “I entered your house but you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet….therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” (Luke 7: 44-47)

We all leaned into the sound of those words but none of us couldn’t remember exactly which woman it was, which verse it was, and whether or not the woman who washed feet with tears was the same one who annointed Jesus’ head with oil. Stephan was on it. From his phone he read, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany—” He likely kept reading but all I could hear now was the melody and an invitation, “Come to Bethany, come and be set free” and from there we knew we had the song. We would capture the spirit of a small town on the Eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem. A town which we would soon “discover” was home to some of the most scandalous, life-giving, sentient, and wholly miraculous moments in all of the New Testament.

Just an ordinary town

Jesus made many visits to Bethany during his three year ministry. Early on he was invited to stay in the home of a woman named Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary of Bethany. Martha opens her home for Jesus to teach. Her sister Mary sits at his feet to listen. This is a radical departure from social norms. Women had no place sitting with men, learning alongside men. If Jesus were not present, one of the men would likely have shouted, “get in the kitchen where you belong!”

But Jesus’ response to Mary is even more radical: he welcomes her. And in this welcome he teaches that the old rules about who’s in and who’s out no longer apply.

The Raising of Lazarus

This is the defining miracle of Bethany, and the foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The story begins when Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” They expected that he would drop everything and come running to heal him. But Jesus said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11: 4) As we see often in Scripture, Jesus is living into a story so epic in scope that even his closest followers could only understand his meaning in retrospect.

Two days later Jesus announces, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

(A curious sidenote here: Thomas—most famously known as doubting Thomas because he wants proof of everything—has already set his eyes on Bethany and the promise of a life that conquers death. “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” John 11: 14-16)

When they arrive in Bethany, Lazarus has already been in the tomb for four days. Martha goes out to meet Jesus on the road. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

(John 11: 21-26)

There is yet another extraordinary moment in this narrative. When Jesus sees Mary and many others weeping over the death of Lazarus, “Jesus began to weep.” This is the only instance in all of Scripture where we see Jesus crying—not over Lazarus—whom he knows he will raise— but over the pain and suffering of the mourners.

“Jesus’ tears transformed Mary’s view of her Lord. Soaking the hardened ground of Bethany, Jesus’ tears commingled with hers.” —Makoto Fujimura

Holy Week

The raising of Lazarus is considered the tipping point that leads to his execution. He’s gotten too big. His wisdom and power are too great; supernatural even. Orders are given for Jesus’ capture. He never tries to hide. Rather, from Bethany he mounts not a high horse but a lowly colt and enters the city in full view. All around him people cry Hosanna! and wave “leafy branches,” symbolizing victory and celebration. This would mark the first day of what we call Holy Week: Palm Sunday.

Jesus would come and go from Bethany throughout the week, offering his disciples some of his most prophetic teachings: cursing the fig tree for bearing no fruit (symbolic of a Judaism that was no longer producing spiritual fruit in its people) and overturning the vendor’s tables in the temple shouting, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of thieves.” (Mark 11: 12-25)

There would be a dinner in Bethany that week, as well—in one account, at the home of Lazarus; in this account, at the home of Simon the Leper, yet another marginalized person with whom Jesus spent his final days.

“A woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.

By pouring this ointment on the body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Matthew 26: 7-13

Every time we sing “the love of Christ, a sweet perfume” in the bridge of Come to Bethany, we remember her.

The last farewell

The Books of Luke-Acts are replete with stories of Jesus’ 40-day return after his resurrection. He connects with disciples and new believers. He reassures them, guides them, empowers them and offers these final words in this singular place: “He led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50-52)

Bethany is the last place that Jesus was ever seen on Earth.

Come to Bethany

In Proverbs 9, Wisdom (who is personified as a female character) calls out from the highest places in the town, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

Jesus embodies this Wisdom teaching when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

In these closing words in Revelation, Jesus ties all the pieces together in one glorious invitation:

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come,” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Revelation 22: 17

None of us had these readings and references in our mind when we went into that glass room, but I’ve come to suspect that the Spirit of God had a hand in bringing us together. Because the other thing we all agreed on instantly was that we needed to start the song from a place of modern day suffering. That the promise of a life full of blessing and the “aroma of Christ” means the most to those who feel the farthest from it. Maybe this is why Jesus issues his signature invitation—come to me—to weary souls like us. Maybe this is why we were led to end the chorus with this suggestion: How ’bout we all go to Bethany.

ARTWORK: Mary of Bethany by Daniel F. Gerhartz, Resurrection of Lazarus by Sergey Guz, Emmaus by Helge Boe, A Woman Annoints Jesus, artist unknown.

#bethany #holyweek #annointing #lazarus #songwriters


A Glimpse of Heaven at Trader Joe’s

It was just supposed to be a quick grab and go. Fridays can be tricky at Trader Joe’s, so I was prepared for an aisle or two of three-lane traffic. What I was not prepared for was the gaggle of senior citizens mingling in every entry aisle and passageway as if they’d rented out the bread & muffin section for an octogenarian birthday party.

In the place where impatience usually rises up in me I found myself instead leaning in. Their wizened faces were alight with joy as they chatted in thick accents. “Russian Jews,” I thought to myself. Russian Jews at the end of life telling stories and smiling and entitled in the best possible way to be clogging the aisles of the neighborhood store.

What could they teach me about slowing down? About recognizing that, in the end, when all the suffering is behind you, that there is nothing else but this: to delight in the company of one another.

Just this morning I had read in the Benedictine devotional Always We Begin Again these words: “Every day carries the potential to bring the experience of heaven; have the courage to expect good from it.”

For a moment they were like icons to me: windows into the realm of the sacred, the holy. Although depression, anxiety, and isolation is epidemic in this country, there were no shadows on these faces. Some were in wheelchairs. Others had walkers. By virtue of their advanced ages, all would have known heartache and illness and loss. The fact that they were all together told me that they had arrived that way, likely a field trip from a local senior center. I reached for a loaf of Ezekiel bread.

“What is that?” one of the ladies asked. She was 5′ tops with a cropped shock of red hair. In a brief conversation, she had confirmed that they were, in fact, all Russian Jews from a local day care.

“Oh, it’s very healthy,” I told her. “No flour. See here. Ezekiel 4:9. It’s the same recipe one of your prophets gave us.”

“Ah,” she said, and smiled.

I continued on with my shopping, carrying inside me a new shade of meaning for “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4).

I was loading up my trunk when the seniors finally began heading out to a large van. Driving away, I looked in my rearview mirror. On the side of their shared vehicle I saw the words Nazareth House. And smiled.

One of my favorite promises from Jesus is this: “In my father’s house there are many rooms,” (John 14:2). Today I’m grateful to have had a glimpse of this one.





So Teresa of Avila & Martin Luther walk into a bar….

Two years ago this month, I spent a glorious five days at my favorite Benedictine monastery learning more about a 16th-century Carmelite nun who reformed much of the monastic community of her day by training the women—and then many of the men—in prayer. Not the verbal kind of prayer but the practice of meditation, contemplation, and silence born of praying in and through the Scriptures.

It was this same uncompromising desire to mine the Scriptures for the revealed Word that led Martin Luther to launch, unwittingly, the Reformation. Teresa of Avila would have been two years old when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg saying, in effect, “what I see the church doing and what I hear Jesus saying are not the same thing.” Teresa experienced the conflict this way: “how I hear God calling me to pray, and how the Church allows women to pray are not the same thing.”

After being introduced to the practice of “listening prayer” through an ancient book she found on the shelf at her uncle’s house, she returned to urge the local Bishop to allow her to teach these prayers to the young women at the convent. He said no. “These are not for women. You just stick to the Lord’s Prayer.” And so she did, teaching the women to add great gaps of silence in between each line and, much as Luther had done in his Small Catechism, turned the Lord’s Prayer into a master class in hearing and responding to the word of God.

This Scripture-based listening—called lectio divina (divine reading)—was the most common monastic prayer practice of Luther’s day. It would have been a part of his basic toolbox of daily prayers. There are a few variations of this ancient contemplative practice, but the common thread is that it involves reading sacred texts with the understanding that God is speaking to us—to you and to me—in and through these inspired words to guide, comfort, correct, encourage, and fill us with the love we need to love others well. As we read we are to listen until a word or phrase catches our attention and then slowly ponder it, considering in the silence things such as what do I know about that word/phrase? What meaning does it have in my life? What images come to mind? And what might Jesus be trying to show me in and through it today?

Over the course of that particular retreat on the life of Teresa of Avila two years ago, I found myself keenly aware of the curious way in which God has guided and shaped my own faith life. Baptized at an Episcopal church, with little familial teaching or support to build on that means of grace, I entered my teens and early twenties as a typical “hip, L.A. agnostic.” I was 33 when I finally came to faith in a profound conversion at a specific moment in time exactly where God had placed me—in a little Lutheran church in my neighborhood—in advance of a crisis. A few months later I was invited to join a small group of Lutherans on a retreat at St. Andrews Abbey where I would learn about the practice of lectio divina, the liturgy of the hours, chanted prayer, and the practice of silence. I knew nothing at the time about the difference between what Catholics and Lutherans believed, or that it was in any way unusual for someone in the Lutheran tradition to be at a Benedictine monastery. I just knew that whatever God wanted to give me I wanted to have.

For the next 20 years, I would grow in the love and knowledge of the Living God through these two strong guides: the weekly grounding in a Lutheran community which gave me the lens through which I would see Jesus, and the daily prayer practice learned through the monastic community, which connected me in a deeply personal way to Christ. As I grew, the desire to help others find their way grew in me, too, leading me to create midweek “entry point” services like The Renaissance Service (TM) , and The Peace Service. To write little books like happy are those. And now as I travel around the country speaking, to introduce others to a new way. A simpler way. The way of hearing the Living God not only through His word but in the ripple of silence beyond His word.

For most this seems like a whole new world. This sort of listening prayer practice has not been taught by many in the Lutheran church. In some places it is actively discouraged, as the old guard holds firm to the position that monasteries and their practices are inherently bad: that they mislead people into thinking that we worship a God of exotic mountaintop experiences when in fact He is right here in the muck with us. This is a good thing to be mindful of but here, now, in the 21st-century, where joining a monastery is hardly high up on anyone’s top 10 career paths, the fear causes us to lose far more than we gain. Thankfully, for the past five hundred years, while the Protestant church shunned contemplative practices, the monasteries and their flocks kept them alive, holding the silence for a noisy world until we were ready for them again. One of the great teachers of lectio divina—a 12th-century monk named Guigo—explains that the desire to pray the Scriptures comes when “you feel the gap between your life and God’s promise.”

Look around. Daily we awaken to new levels of chaos and conflict and uncertainty. The gap between our longing hearts and a gracious God seems impossibly far to many; a gap that the simple, unmediated word of God and the subsequent life-giving peace that it brings can begin to fill.

Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk

It was Martin Luther who taught us all that “Scripture is the manger in which Christ lies,” but he was terrified of people’s longing to stand in silent awe and behold Him. Even now that old fear sadly still clings, and I’m left to mourn not only the tenacity of that fear but the great loss to the people of God, to His Church, and to the world that has come from reinforcing it—sometimes overtly, sometimes simply by failing to allow so much as a breath between the elements of a worship service for God to speak into the hearts of the faithful.

The more I study and understand the gift of that prophetic cry sola Scriptura, the more it seems incomprehensible to me that a divide should still exist between the people who confess that Scripture Alone is the source and norm of all teaching and the people who believe that through and beyond His word, “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25). Wrestling with this conflict, I find myself wondering if Teresa of Avila and Martin Luther ever met. With a wink, I dare to imagine what would have happened if they did:

It was not a dark and stormy night but it was fall, and the villagers were starting to come in a little earlier. Stay a little later. Martin and Teresa had each been traveling. They meet in a pub halfway between Avila and Wittenberg. (Maybe the Swiss held a theological summit: who knows?) Martin has a beer or three. Teresa abstains—not because she doesn’t drink but because she knows the importance of the meeting. Luther would have been in his waning days of “fighting the good fight,” Teresa in her rising. But in their reformer’s hearts they would have been peers. They shared a profound love of Scripture. They were both change agents of the once-in-a-millennia variety. They both burned with the same urgent fire: that the people would move beyond their puny, transactional faith and embrace the “living and active” word of God. And that the church leaders entrusted with their care would teach them.

Martin orders another round. The bar swells with rowdy chatter. Darts fly past. Martin and Teresa lean in, pinking in the heat, and debate the prickly point of pursuing “union with God.” Martin pounds his fist and sputters something contemptuous about “mysticism.” He was ever vigilant about causing despair or hubris in the faithful. Teresa smiles and pats him gently on the hand, “Now, Martin, don’t you think it’s fair to say that God gave us His word as well as the silence from which the Word came?” Martin stops to consider her position, as he often does with the devout and influential women God placed in his life. Teresa’s eyes spark like flint in a welder’s hands. This is not the sort of meeting she was forced to have in her early years in the convent, before the Living God has taken hold of her heart; then, she was just a beautiful young woman enlisted to flirt in the convent parlor with potential donors to help keep the doors open. Now she was a woman of God in the full fruits of her gifts. “Don’t you think we should trust the Spirit of the Living God to speak to His children in whatever way He sees fit?”

In the creche of silence they’d created in the noisy tavern, Teresa waits. Silence, she’s learned, is the good soil of humility. In silence, we find our common ground.

Perhaps this is why the psalmist is called to proclaim: “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still. As in stop moving. Stop talking. Stop praying even, and let God have the floor. For it was from silence that God first created the world and everything in it. It was in silence that He prepared Elijah at the Wadi Cherith (1 Kings 17: 2-7) girding his heart for the showdown at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:19-40) and then, again, revealing Himself to His weary prophet as healer and savior (I Kings 19:12). It was to silence that Jesus retreated all throughout the Gospels (Mark 1:12, 1:35, 1:45; Luke 6:12-13; Matthew 14:13, 15:29 just to name a few), taking time to hear His father as he journeyed through this human life. And it is in and through life-giving silence and the practice of listening—to God, to one another—that we begin to hear how we are being called to love and serve and heal.

Silence is the great gift the 21st-century church has for a noisy world, but rare is the church where silence can be found any more. Instead we fill our gatherings with words and decibels and images and rote responses as if we’re afraid of what might happen if we took time together and let God speak. While the church remains gridlocked in an old argument over traditional vs. contemporary worship, we have lost sight of a third way: contemplative worship. The way of silence. The way that Teresa of Avila called the practice of taking a “long, hard, loving look at the real.”

How do we do that together? Well, as we move beyond the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation clamor we might begin by reclaiming the practice of punctuating worship services with silence, and trusting the Holy Spirit to know how to use it. And, even more challenging for a Church that is suspicious of anything that comes in from the margins, to begin to recognize that God has been quietly preparing the hearts of artists and mystics and everyday saints to show us a new way. A way of peace that invites people in. And calls people home.

A hush falls across the noisy pub. Heads lift, and turn, expectant.


The Life Line

Sometimes God shows us things months—even years—before they have meaning to us. It is only in retrospect that we begin to say “oh.” A few years back I began seeing this scene in my Spirit. Only I was the woman in the picture, and the metal was not part of a boat rigging but rather an actual hook, large and sturdy and deeply imbedded in my chest as it lifted me up and out. I did not resist, but rather hung limp, yielding, trusting, not unlike the woman in this picture. The scene travelled across my psyche, my soul, from time to time over the past few years, a season that has been marked with tumult and blessing. The painting was not unfamiliar to me. I had used it once in The Renaissance Service. When the visions started coming I tried to track it down, but could not remember the name or the artist—the slide was, curiously, missing from my collection. This morning I woke up and saw it all. The hook was gone. I had been delivered to the new shore. And the name of the artist and the painting was in my mind clear as day: The Life Line.

This very day God is speaking to us all, maybe in words, maybe in pictures, maybe in some faint dawning we must choose whether to lean into—or continue hiding from.  “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:15)

God has a plan. May we learn to be like putty in his hands that he may rescue and deliver us our whole life long— and into the next.

"The Life Line"  by Winslow Homer
“The Life Line”
by Winslow Homer


Kathy, I’m Lost

The year was 1972. I was living in a house on top of a hill in Mandeville Canyon, L.A., playing the albums of my coming of age in a perpetual loop. There were other people who lived in the house but my memories are of being alone a lot while my mom was out on dates and my brother was holed up with his bong and my sister was too young to be in my field of vision. My dad hadn’t lived with us since I was seven, a heartbreak I never quite recovered from. Kate Campbell was born the same year as me—1961— and lived in a cheery home in Nashville, Tennessee, a Baptist preacher’s kid raised in the thick of the civil rights movement, surrounded by people— friends, family, admirers of her father. We each remember hearing the song, the foreshadowing hum, the line that launched the timeless seeker’s tale… “Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together.”

So begins the Simon & Garfunkel tune that was forever seared on our eleven-year old psyches; one line, we recount now, perhaps above all the rest. “Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said “though I knew she was sleeping.” In an instant we knew the power of art, and the stuff of truth: in the human condition we will forever struggle with being known, understood, heard, even by the people who know us best. We can never quite form the words. Not in time. Not before the moment passes. “Kathy, I’m lost,” the song which is called America says, an anthem to pining and searching and the ineffable ache of longing that is, perhaps, felt most keenly in this country where we fell in love with the idea that we could have/be/do anything we wanted, a freedom which has proven to be a greater burden than anyone imagined. Perhaps this generation, with their gnawing fear of missing out, will spark to these lyrics anew.

Kate and I have helped each other carry the load of the artist’s burden of uncertainty for 15 years now. Shared stories of lifetimes spent pouring out the gifts we each knew we had at eleven, at nine. I started reading at three. Kate begin singing in church at seven. “Out of the heart will flow rivers of living water.” Kate would have known that this was from Scripture decades before me; still, she was no clearer than I where the outpouring was leading, how it was all meant to add up. “What am I doing here?” How many times had we found ourselves saying this over the years, and then, by some primal mix of self-knowledge and faith, we kept going, certain in the way that our “friend” Thomas Merton captured so beautifully in this prayer:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Kate pulled into my driveway in L.A. yesterday, making a loop to see me as she finished several tour stops in CA. The tracks for the new album are almost done. She recorded a lot of the songs on her iphone accompanying herself on an old Wurlitzer, or her guitar. Although 99% of her work is her own magnificent writing, she has covered three tunes in this one. The K.O.A. Tapes the album will be called when it’s released this summer. It is the soundtrack of her life on the road. A life of asking, “what am I doing here?” and continuing to show up anyway. And now, after 20 years, those answers are becoming clearer in a way that brings peace. It is this peace, this deep sense of being in our “right house” that we all seek. The peace that D. H. Lawrence describes as “sleeping on the hearth of the living world, yawning at home before the fire of life, feeling the presence of the living God like a great reassurance, a deep calm in the heart.”

When we struggle to find it, may songs like this let us know that we are not alone.

(America, sung by Kate Campbell, lyrics by Paul Simon)

New Music

St. Cecilia by Guido Reni. St. Cecilia is known the world over as the patron saint of music. It may come as a surprise to learn that she was not a vocalist or an instrumentalist, but that her gift for hearing the pulse of God alive in sacred music led the Church to view her as having a musical vocation.

The creative process is rarely linear. So, too, with the spiritual life. In the final days of 2017, as I began a two-month fast from all social media and news, my friend singer/songwriter Blake Flattley asked me if I’d help him write a liturgy. I had no idea what part of the writing I was supposed to be responsible for. “You mean like hymns?” I said. “Oh, no,” he replied. “I’ll just rearrange some old public domain standards. I just want you to give it shape and vision and write the in-between parts and prayers.” I found myself oddly disappointed. I think I’d already started wondering what it would be like to write a hymn.

During that same stretch of time, a neighbor returned an electronic keyboard we had lent them for piano lessons; it was a hand-me-down from my mom for our own kids, who never played. I found myself gravitating towards those keys, noodling a bit, trying to recall the scales I’d learned in a semester of Piano at SMC a decade earlier. I pondered the problem of an opening hymn for the liturgy Blake and I had decided to call Fear Not!. No old standard said what I thought it needed to say, what I was certain people needed to hear. Then one morning in the shower, there they were: just the right words. They came in the form of a melody, a first verse and chorus.

The seeds of new music had been planted.

That same month, without warning or preparation, I found myself enrolling in a 2-year intensive training program of Christian Formation and Spiritual Direction. We took a field trip to the Getty Museum our first week. My cohort was supposed to be pondering a massive, chaotic painting but the art felt too noisy and not at all what I was in the mood for. I found a warm slab of Travertine outside and lay down to rest in the January sun. It was then I heard the second song: Enter Here. I recorded it on my phone. I sang it with my warbled chant-like voice to the group that night over wine and cheese. For the next two years, I sang Enter Here in my mind and car, certain that somehow, someway, some day—even though I didn’t sing or play an instrument—that I would end up giving birth to it.

I didn’t realize then, but God was already showing me the way back to my very own heart.

You see, ever since I finished my MA in Theology I’d been writing a lot of head stuff. Good head stuff, helpful and much needed, I think. More interesting and fresh than a lot of theological work. But it was not the work of my heart. Last year, I threw myself into a new memoir—hundreds and hundreds and hundred of pages written then excised. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds more, all in search of that heart-voice that ran like a pulse through my first book Baptism by Fire and my first liturgy, The Renaissance Service and Elijah & the SAT and happy are those. But that pulse was not in this memoir. Or maybe it was just buried under the weight of too many moments. Either way, it wasn’t working.

So I put it aside and, once again, I waited prayerfully. Expectantly. Wearily. Trusting that God would not fail to grant me the desires of my heart.

The beginning of our stories begin long before our own earthly lives, but I’m going to mark the start of this one here: it was a perfectly ordinary summer day—July 26, 2019 to be exact. I looked out the window of my little home office and saw Phil Cordaro pulling up across the street from my house. Cordaro, as in “heart.” He was not there to see me; he was there to give one of the kids on our cul-de-sac a piano lesson, just as he’d been doing for 15 years. Without forethought or plan, I found myself leaping out of my desk chair which toppled as I fled the room, through the house, out the door, and across the street to catch him. “Phil,” I said, startling him through the driver’s window. “Do you teach adults? Could you teach me to play, like, simple Taize chants, and maybe enough to do some basic composing? Some theory, I guess, and notation, or whatever I’d need to be able to write a song?”

We started two days later.

By the time I graduated from CFDM with seven other dear souls that fall, I had already wrestled Enter Here onto the page of my new manuscript notebook. Our final graduation gathering was at a retreat center in Santa Barbara. The cohort was asked upon arrival to put on a simple “gathering” in the chapel. Somehow I knew that Enter Here was meant to be an offering back to all those who’d been with me when I first heard it—a coda for our shared journey. I sang it acapella and all my dear spiritual direction friends joined in on the chorus. It was a kairos moment, to be sure. One that would sustain me for the the next several months, which were some of the hardest and most traumatic of my life. Two weeks after that perfect moment in the chapel, my 26-year-old daughter Remy, who developed epilepsy in her late teens, would return to the hospital for an intensive, invasive and prolonged depth-electrode study to prepare for a subsequent brain surgery. Throughout all those long hard days, I began to hear the whispers of a new song about the arc of her life and mine thru the lens of those hospital corridors. It would be called Full Circle Day. More songs came soon after and I began to understand that they were meant to be an album. His album. Seven songs that God had gifted me. I would “birth them” by asking different musician friends who have been important to me in different ways throughout my life each to record one that I would choose especially for them.

And so Life in the Key of God found its voice.

If you never knew just how infinitely creative and life-giving the God of all Creation is, now you do.

Defining Mom

May was an amazing month for me (and it’s not even over yet!) I was invited to share my gifts throughout the Midwest in so many different ways, and it is that great variety that is giving me so much joy. My first stop was Concordia Seminary St. Louis, where I presented my thesis work on Man Turned in on Himself to an eager lecture hall of young seminarians and faculty. From there I went on to the “anchor” stop of this mini-tour: St. Paul’s in Decatur, IL, where I was the Guest Speaker for Mother’s Day, speaking on a Saturday night (my birthday!), and twice on Sunday, with a Q & A in between services. I returned to St. Louis for Mother’s Day dinner with a beautiful, noisy, young family, and got to spend a few days walking alongside a young friend in great need of an older mother’s love. I was then spirited away to a lake house in Kentucky to rest and pray and prepare my thoughts on the Psalms. During that time, Stories from Selma was getting ready to go live, and I was excited to share the story behind that important work online as I headed to St. Andrew, Cape Girardeau, MO. There, I got to teach on Man Turned In and Loaded Words with the staff, share meals with many wonderful families in the congregation, and be interviewed in three services by Pastor John Dehne as the church kicks off a summer study on the Psalms with my book happy are those. It was Pentecost Sunday—the day we celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit and His ability to communicate to all people in a language they’ll understand— and that “cute, little book” is a perfect example of that sort of cultural translation. My journey was made complete that night when I had the privilege of working with Kristin Schweain to introduce Taize worship and the practice of lectio divina in a coffee house run with love by the church. It was seven years from the day I sat on the floor in Church of Reconciliation in Taize on Pentecost, and I was mindful of how those moments connected. How all the moments connected, even now as I’ve returned. As Blake Flattley and I finalize a new compline liturgy we’ve been working on together called Fear Not! As I mentor a young female leader in the church about some big talks she’s about to give. And now, for the rest of the summer, to return to my truest heart work, a new memoir.

I guess you could say that I am the “mom” of all these projects, but to me I am simply living out the truth of Ephesians 2:10. “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Although each moment of the trip was a gift to me—including so many divine appointments—the Mother’s Day talk in Decatur is charged with special meaning. Because of my friendship with Pastor Eric Trickey. Because of his circumstances, literally living each moment by the Grace of God as we all pray for a miraculous recovery from a cancer that has moved beyond human solutions. And because I would speak on the topic of women, something I rarely do.

I’m glad I had the opportunity.

If you’ve never seen me speak, I should warn you: I am often moved to tears, and this weekend was no exception. I’ve learned to come to the mic with tissues.

Oh, the places you’ll go….

Over the past five months or so, I’ve been in something of a transition. First there was an intentional Wadi Cherith season, rooted in the just-rest-and-wait- and-stay-out-of-view example of the prophet Elijah. Then there was the nudge, on Christmas night, to plan a pilrimage to the Isle of Iona, Scotland this Easter. Then there was the gift of music, as my friend Blake Flattley invited me to work on a new liturgy and I—who cannot sing or play an instrument—begin hearing/writing/composing hymns. Then, after a new season of working with a Spiritual Director for the first time, a totally unexpected Call to begin a 2-year program in Christian Formation and Spiritual Direction. This program has already blessed me with the gift of a community of like-minded souls. More pointedly, it forced me to write a 10-page spiritual autobiography on “how I saw God working at every age and stage of my life.” This assignment, which I did grudgingly, led me to the answer I’d been struggling to find over what my next book would be. I longed to write another heart book, a memoir, but could not envision the scope, the framework, the timeline. This assignment gave me just the container I needed and set me back to the steady rhythm of prayer and reflection and writing. My office is now filled with stacks of old treasure–advertising memories, and screenplays, and unsold novels, and datebooks, and journals filled with notes and names and faces and big visions for stories, for the Church, and for speaking to those who don’t want anything to do with the Church. In all that, I unearthed a single DVD from my first big interview when Baptism by Fire was released. As it happens—really, as it happens?—it was filmed 20 years to the day that I will be leaving for Iona. That’s what life is like in the hands of the Master Storyteller.

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