Help me call a blessing down, for I think our poor old world needs it, a blessing of peace, a blessing of the ordinary, a blessing of national life without chaos and personal life without fear.
Help me pray a healing down, for I know how much we need it, a strengthening of the bonds between us, simple respect and patient listening, a new beginning for us all.
Help me welcome the sacred down, the wide-winged Spirit, drawn from every corner of heaven, to walk among us once more, to show us again how it can be, when justice is the path and love the destination.
If I do any reflection or contemplation of spiritual truth, I can best do it in a peaceful place like the one depicted in this watercolor art—soft light, peaceful color, a canopy of trees, nothing going on, just silence with a bit of birdsong. I can’t often go to such places so I paint them and imagine myself there. It works.
I have been writing a spiritual memoir to be released sometime in August. Just imagine—all the multitude of my stories from this blog together in one book! I sort of cringe when I think about it. I have been writing my memoir for months, and the process revealed many truths to me. The stories—I call them Spirit Stories—unfold from reflection, contemplation, and experiencing my life events all over again. Emotions arise in me as I remember, and tears cleanse my spirit. Experiencing past life in present time reveals so much insight and healing. I am learning a lot about “my truth” in the process. These are just a few of the things I have realized so far.
Even the smallest events in my life teach me big, important lessons.
People are not always what they seem, including me!
I think I may have been placed on the earth to be hurt by mean people.
When I fall—face-in-the-dirt fall—I always get back up. So far!
Sometimes I do not fall. Someone pushes me!
I found my truth while reflecting on and writing my memoir.
So that’s what I’ve been up to. That’s why you haven’t heard from me much here. But just wait for the book to be released. You will learn more about me than you ever wanted to know! Deciding to write my memoir was a long, confusing process for me. I ruminated about it for years. But I landed on the fact that speaking my truth (to all three people who want to hear it) is important. Saying it clearly and out loud is an important life thing, even if I’m the only person who hears.
Anne Lamott expresses the important life thing like this:
You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart—your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.
Sometimes I counsel persons who feel hopeless. I tell them that I will hold their hope for them until they are ready to hold it for themselves. I have always liked that image of holding hope for another person. It respects the genuine difficulty of feeling hopeless, while leaving the door open for hope to return in another and better time. Just so you know, I am not feeling hopeless, but many times in every day brings a hopeless moment—my hands might shake when I try to thread a needle; my legs might get suddenly weak; I might be very dizzy while cooking dinner; I might fall face-first into the flower bed and fracture my wrist while trimming a shrub. In those times and others like them, I need someone to hold my hope until I can again hold hope for myself!
I have to tell you: I am a pretty strong person that doesn’t yet know how to live my life being unable to trim a bush in my front flower bed! But at the same time, physical deficiencies bring on feelings of hopelessness that take a toll on my soul and spirit. Deep down grief it causes, when you are gradually losing your ability to do something you loved to do in the past. I tell myself that maybe I should admit the losses I’m experiencing and ask a friend to hold my hope until I can hold it for myself. But of course, that would be falling of a pedestal marked “Super Woman.” How could I do that?
So on this day, since Ihave been suffering with Covid for six weeks, I turned my thoughts to the subject of emotional and spiritual healing. My thoughts raised the questions of what exactly is the difference between the soul and the spirit, and how in the world would I heal those places inside me?
Here’s my attempt at an answer. Most of us would agree that we consist of body, soul and spirit. In fact, the Bible affirms the existence of all three:
May your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:23)
Ourphysical bodies are fairly evident to us, but our souls and spirits are so much less distinguishable. In the preceding scripture passage, the Greek word for soul is psuche (ψυχή), or as we might call it, “psyche.” This word “soul” implies our mind, our will and desires and our emotional responses to life’s situations. Our soul is reflected in our personality. Our soul is our life.
“Spirit” is a completely different word. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma (πνεύμα). It refers to the part of us that connects with God and receives the breath of life from the Holy Spirit (Άγιο πνεύμα). Our spirit is our breath, the breath that animates and enlivens us from deep within. I like the way theologian David Galston explains it:
“The soul is life, and the Greek word is psyche. The spirit is breath, and the Greek word is pneuma. Natural confusion exists between the [meaning of the] spirit and the soul . . . both words, in their roots, mean breath. But for the Greeks, there were two kinds of breath: the kind necessary for life, the psyche, and the kind necessary for [our very breath], the pneuma. In modern English, we might distinguish the two as life and energy.”
I often ask my clients, mentees and friends this question: How is your heart? They almost always understand how their heart is and why. But ask these questions — How is your soul? How is your spirit? — and the answers don’t come as easily. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think that, for myself, it is that I am able to know my heart more easily. I am more in touch with it. When I am sorrowful, happy, excited, surprised and I place my hand over my heart, it is as if I have literally touched it, and my heart tells me what emotion is there.
As for my soul and my spirit, well, they are deeper in me. In the innermost places of me, my soul mourns and celebrates and holds all manner of emotions. In my innermost parts, my spirit lies quietly within me, always waiting for the brush of Spirit wind, waiting in stillness for the breath that animates and enlivens.
So what is the lesson here? What is the message from God we need to hear? Believe it or not, it’s not complicated. Isn’t it just like God to send us a thoroughly uncomplicated message that we immediately make complicated? God’s bottom line here is easy, simple, and uncomplicated: “Guard your heart, your soul, your spirit . . . all that is within you.”
From Joshua: “Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God.”
From Deuteronomy: “Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life.”
From Proverbs: “Above all, guard your heart with all diligence; for from it flow the wellsprings of life.”
From 1 Thessalonians: “And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And that’s it! So I will leave you with just one path that you may choose to follow: the path that leads you deep within yourself to your sacred, quiet place and then implores you to listen for God’s whisper and wait for the breeze of the Spirit. Where? In a beautiful, peaceful place, under a starlit sky, in a quiet room filled with sounds of music. Whatever your experience of loss and lostness, loneliness and isolation, mourning and tears, may you find comfort. Whatever your experience of being unable to hold your own hope, may you find someone who will hold hope for you until you are healed enough to hold it for yourself. And may you hear the sounds of soul and spirit nearby, and perhaps find the brightest hope yet in the words of poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, here turned into beautiful music.
Until another day, hold on to hope, Kathy
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind.
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparell’d in celestial light, The glory of a dream.
The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where’er I go, That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind.
The Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum Montgomery, Alabama
The Memorial site is designed to contextualize this horrific past of racial terror in our counties history. It is part of our collective history and these events should be remembered, recognized and reconciled. Comprised of eight hundred and five Corten steel markers hung from the ceiling and etched with the names of the victims, one for each county where a lynching took place throughout the United States.
The wind brings your names. We will never dissever your names nor your shadows beneath each branch and tree.
The truth comes in on the wind, is carried by water. There is such a thing as the truth. Tell us how you got over. Say, Soul I look back in wonder.
Your names were never lost, each name a holy word. The rocks cry out—
call out each name to sanctify this place. Sounds in human voices, silver or soil, a moan, a sorrow song,
a keen, a cackle, harmony, a hymnal, handbook, chart, a sacred text, a stomp, an exhortation.
Ancestors, you will find us still in cages, despised and disciplined. You will find us still mis-named.
Here you will find us despite. You will not find us extinct. You will find us here memoried and storied.
You will find us here mighty. You will find us here divine. You will find us where you left us, but not as you left us.
Here you endure and are luminous. You are not lost to us. The wind carries sorrows, sighs, and shouts.
The wind brings everything. Nothing is lost. —Elizabeth Alexander, “Invocation”
This poem is posted at the exit of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
Please give thanks for the Oakwood University Aeolians performing the inspiring hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
O God, be gracious to me, For my soul takes refuge in you; And in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by.
— Psalm 57:1
Last night we had thunderstorms, loud ones. All of us were awakened from a deep sleep—me, my husband Fred, and Kikí the cat. And all three of us ended up in the bed together, Kikí snuggled between us in the soft covers. Sleeping in our bed is not Kikí’s normal habit, but the storm frightened her, and it was her safe place for the long, long night of the scary thunder!
Most of us tend to take feeling safe for granted. It’s all about knowing we live in a safe home, in a safe neighborhood, with the things we need. Typically, we aren’t stranded outdoors in a storm or wandering about in a scorching desert. For the most part, we are not left outdoors in freezing weather. We are the fortunate ones who have choices, but there are people all over the world who do not have the comforts they need and deserve.
In this season, we think about people who have needs more than we do in other times of the year. We may give more to organizations that help them, or we may reach out ourselves to offer a safe place for them. As we think about gifts and ribbons and bows (and gift cards for our teens), I hope all of us will remember the many people in our communities who truly need our gifts and our caring.
Truth is, we all need safe places almost more than we need anything else—physical safe places as well as emotional safe places. I suspect the little puppy in the photo above found both in the shelter of a goose’s wings. The animal kingdom is truly incredible. While we assume that animals are only focused on the safety and survival of their own kind, this simply isn’t true.
We have all heard stories about interspecies friendships. A dog who makes friends a cat. Or even a dog and a cow who have become friends. Usually the story is about an animal who went out of his/her way to comfort another, even though the two animals might be of different species and have very little in common. I want to share a true story with you.
It’s the story of a goose who sheltered a puppy from the cold during some dangerously low temperatures. The original story of this unlikely couple went something like this: In January of 2019, a polar vortex hit North America. In Montana, an especially frigid place, a passerby spotted a goose cradling a freezing puppy under its wings.
This goose’s motherly instincts immediately kicked in when she saw the puppy. Not wanting the tiny puppy to suffer, she covered the baby with her plumage to shelter it from the bitter cold. She hoped that her efforts would keep the puppy alive. Another source of this story tells us that the goose and the puppy—not at all of the same species—were adopted together. What a truly beautiful thing to witness!
There are plenty of humans that love and respect one another and even go out of their way to help those in need, even those who are not like them. But there is still far too much hatred and intolerance in the world. What might it be like if every person, animal, and every part of God’s creation could count on safe places, shelter from the danger, protection from fear, or a refuge in troubled times?
And how graced we are when we believe the Psalmist’s promise . . .
In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by.
During your meditation time, you may listen to the lyrics of this song. Original Songwriter/Composer: Scott Brenner, Cheryl Thomas
Most folk don’t take nearly enough time to notice it. These days way too much ugliness hides the beauty that’s always around us. Even when we don’t pay attention, beauty surprises us with magic and mystery. Beauty is a lot like hope.
The magical appearance of beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. For me, beauty can inspire me by color and movement, by the shimmering stars on a clear night, by the magnificence of a tree’s movement in the breeze, by looking into the eyes of my grandchildren. Beauty is there for us always—to be seen, to be heard, to be sensed deeply in our bodies and in our spirits.
These days, I need more of it—more hope, more beauty. I need more visions of beauty to supersede the ugliness of injustice, division, racism, misogyny, homophobia, political warring, brokenhearted immigrants looking for life, mass shootings, Covid, gun violence, child trafficking, suffering in Ukraine—all the varied chaos around the world.
And then there are the people here and there who bring grace to us all by transforming ugliness into beautyand hope.
As for the beauty revealed in the opening photo, I don’t know who created it or photographed it. I do know that he or she is a person who finds beauty in unlikely places at unexpected times, and translates that beauty into grace to be shared with those who most need it.
Who knows about that image? The striking silhouette of the trees, the birds flying above, the twinkling stars in the sky, and all of that with swirls of color that seem to me like holy movement. Regardless of the source of that photograph, I like to believe that its beauty—all beauty—comes directly from God as grace for me, and for you.
This is the time of year for celebrating trees as they put on their autumn display. Enchanted forests transform into even more magical places in this season. It can be pure glory to watch the vibrancy of fall. So I’m thinking about trees today, but I’m thinking of them with a bit of nostalgia. Several months ago our landlord had my favorite tree cut down to the ground—all the way with nothing left but a stump and an ugly, sawdust-looking mess. I was angry. I still am. The problem was the tree’s roots endangering the foundation of the house.
For me, the peril of the house’s foundation was not a significant concern. My concern was simply losing a “friend.” When we first moved into our house in Macon, I began photographing the tree, almost every day for a year, to capture its fascinating life cycle. I took photos of the leaves and the limbs and the bark, and found the tree’s transitions to be fascinating. In that time, I became attached to my Chinese Tallow tree with its beautiful leaves.
Scroll left to see a brief slideshow of a few of those Chinese Tallow photos.
Just a few months after I lost my tallow tree, a large limb in our enchanting backyard forest succumbed to heavy winds and fell to the ground, just missing our house. Behind our house, by the way, is a small forest. The forest is dense, with very large, tall trees providing a lush canopy, smaller trees providing a shorter canopy, and even smaller shrub-like trees and bushes filling in the rest. Sunlight peeks in through small areas of the thick canopy, but not enough to breach the dense foliage underneath. The forest provided shade for us, cool breezes in that part of our yard, nesting birds and small creatures, pleasant forest noises of rustling leaves and creaking limbs—natural beauty.
So, back to the limb that fell down in our forest. The landlord arrived with a small work crew to remove the limb and clean up. The small crew created big chaos in our little forest. The landlord asked them to go ahead and cut down the entire huge tree that had lost the one limb. Down came that tree. And another, and another, and another, leaving behind scarred, dusty, devastated earth. It hurt my heart. I could not look at it for several hours, as my husband described the desolation of our once-enchanting forest. Eventually, I went with him to the backyard. I could barely look at it. A lump rose up in my throat followed by anger that asked how humans dare to cut down large, living trees that may have been alive for a hundred years or more. Who gives us humans the right to do that?
I know that plenty of things (and people) harm trees. Lethal threats come in many forms: windstorms, ice storms, lightning strikes, wildfires, droughts, floods, a host of constantly evolving diseases, swarms of voracious insects.
Tender young seedlings are easily consumed by grazing mammals. Hostile fungi are a constant menace, waiting to exploit a wound, or a weakness, and begin devouring a tree’s flesh. But there is one predator whose acts are unforgivable. That predator is a human who is intent on cutting down breathing, oxygen-creating, life-giving trees.
Research tells us that the trees known as “mother trees” are a vital defense against many of these threats. When the biggest, oldest trees are cut down in a forest, the survival rate of younger trees is substantially diminished.
For young saplings in a deeply shaded part of the forest, the network of trees is literally a lifeline. Lacking the sunlight to photosynthesize, they survive because big trees pump sugar into their roots through the network.
At the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Suzanne Simard and her grad students are making astonishing new discoveries about the sensitivity and interconnectedness of trees. Her research described the concept of “mother trees,” which she describes as the biggest, oldest trees in the forest with the most fungal connections. She says that the trees are not necessarily female, but she sees them performing a nurturing, supportive, maternal role. With their deep roots, they draw up water and make it available to shallow-rooted seedlings. They help neighboring trees by sending them nutrients, and when the neighbors are struggling, mother trees detect their distress signals and increase the flow of nutrients accordingly.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, especially if what I’m saying sounds unbelievable to you. Instead, I point you to an article published in The Smithsonian Magazinewebsite, where I gleaned the scientific information for this blog post.
Journalist Richard Grant begins his article in The Smithsonian Magazine with an intriguing question: Do Trees Talk to Each Other? The controversial German forester, Peter Wohlleben, says yes, and his ideas are shaking up the scientific world.
Richard Grant writes, “My guide here is a kind of tree whisperer. Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, has a rare understanding of the inner life of trees, and is able to describe it in accessible, evocative language. Wohlleben has devoted his life to the study and care of trees.”
Grant goes on to explain . . .
Now, at the age of 53, Wohlleben has become an unlikely publishing sensation. His book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, written at his wife’s insistence, sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany, and has now hit the best-seller lists in 11 other countries, including the United States and Canada.
— Richard Grant
“Some are calling it the ‘wood-wide web,’” says Wohlleben. “All the trees here, and in every forest that is not too damaged, are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.”
Grant continues . . .
Wohlleben takes me to two massive beech trees growing next to each other. He points up at their skeletal winter crowns, which appear careful not to encroach into each other’s space. “These two are old friends,” he says. “They are very considerate in sharing the sunlight, and their root systems are closely connected. In cases like this, when one dies, the other usually dies soon afterward, because they are dependent on each other.”
– Richard Grant
One can only be mesmerized by this botanical research that gives a “human quality” to trees and makes forests even more enchanting to us.
. . . majestic crowns approaching one another make a glorious canopy, through the feathery arches of which the sunbeams pour, silvering the needles and gilding the stately columns and the ground into a scene of enchantment. —John Muir*
Enchanted forests, trees that talk with one another, connectedness between trees—is it science or fantasy? Scientists are only just beginning to learn the language of trees. They admit that most of the time they don’t know what the trees are saying with pheromones. They don’t know how exactly how the trees communicate within their own bodies. They don’t have nervous systems, but they can still feel what’s going on, and experience something analogous to pain. Another plant scientist, Allen Larocque, says, “When a tree is cut, it sends electrical signals like wounded human tissue.”
Perhaps I should just end with these provocative words by John Muir:
A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.
I have always been drawn to honeybees, mesmerized by them and by the beekeepers who care for them. Once many years ago, I put on the beekeepers garb and that big, fashionable hat with the dark veil of netting. A friend who had several hives was teaching me how to handle the bees. I actually held them in my hands, rather hesitantly, while noticing how gently the beekeeper held them. From this uncomfortably close proximity, I was able to listen to the buzzing sound of the honeybees, buzzing that I did not hear as harsh, but rather hushed. The honeybees greeted him when he approached the hive. When he held them in his hands and they moved up his arms, it looked like a graceful dance of the beekeeper and his constantly moving honeybees totally in sync with one another. How could one not be enchanted by this wonder of creation?
Yesterday while reading a fascinating interview with Tom Blue Wolf, I was reminded of those breathtaking moments I spent with the honeybees. Tom is a descendant of the AniCoosa, which means “peaceful people,” who are also known as the Creek Tribe, which is a part of the Muscogee Nation. He is a Native American spiritual guide, a man in love with nature, and a keeper of honeybees. One of the questions he was asked in the interview was, “What is it like to be in the presence of the bees, to listen to them?” This is how Tom Blue Wolf responded.
Creator is always talking to us. Most of us are about seven echoes away from the true voice of the Creator. Try to get closer, try to get maybe three echoes away. If you get too close, it’s almost too intense for most people. Like a burning bush. Aaaaah!
His response to the follow-up question was just as intriguing . . .
“What do you and the bees do for each other on the spiritual journey?
How is your relationship to them a spiritual one?”
They give life, and we protect it. We keep the harm away from them; we protect them. I have been in love with honeybees all my life . . . We beekeepers are integral to the bees’ world. They know us; they are in our dreams. We tend to them barefoot, they crawl all over us, they kiss us, they tickle us. It’s hard to talk about. So, of course we think it’s spiritual. Absolutely. The bees love us and we love them.
That kind of spiritual relationship between a human being and one of God’s created inhabitants of the earth would place any of us in a sacred space. Tom Blue Wolf described a state of being as “three echoes away from the true voice of the Creator.” It’s the kind of space most of us never enter, and for so many reasons—we don’t have time; we’re busy with our jobs; we have children to care for, laundry to do, and a plethora of responsibilities listed on the to-do list we seldom complete. We simply get too busy to embrace the beauty of nature and draw closer to the Creator.
Tom Blue Wolf would summon us, if he could, to be “three echoes away” from God’s true voice. So he writes about the Creator, the creation and the importance of protecting it, and our role as caretakers. He urges humans to follow the guidelines of Saint Francis, who thought it critical to have a close and enduring relationship with nature.
From the years I spent as a postulant in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, I learned about the many ways Saint Frances was devoted to the best characteristics of what it means to be a human being on the planet: benevolent, loving, kind, gentle, merciful, reverent, respectful. He treated every life form with dignity.
Saint Francis helps us pull ourselves out of the trap of being completely focused on two-legged humans. An example of that shows how most people describe a destructive incident only be the impact it has on humans. They might report, for instance, that a plane crashed and “we lost 180 people.” Or “the fire killed four hundred people.” In contrast, Saint Francis would say, “Not only did we lose four hundred brothers and sisters, but we also lost three thousand acres of Mother Earth’s flesh. We lost sixty-four thousand winged ones. We lost untold amounts of water, and what’s left is toxic and the ones that swim are no longer with us.”
Like Saint Frances, perhaps we should focus more of our attention on the natural world, the magnificent creation given to us by the Creator God we worship. For one thing, attention to the creation and its Creator draws us into holy moments that we desperately need for our spiritual nurture. If we lean into those holy moments, and linger there for a time, the burdens we carry could become lighter. The cares that dishearten us might become uncommonly dim. And we just might find ourselves in a most sacred space—the one that places us “three echoes away” from God’s whisper. And as an added grace, perhaps we will also hear the gentle buzz of honeybees!
I confess that this is an unapologetic promotion of our newly released book . . .
When God Whispered My Name!
Stories of Journey Told by Baptist Women Called to Ministry
Rev. Kathy Manis Findley and Dr. Kay Wilson Shurden, Editors
Let me tell you why I recommend this book, unapologetically.
In its pages, you will find not only my story, but also the poignant stories of eighteen women who were called to ministry, only to face challenges and obstacles along the way. Simply because they are women! These are diverse women, each one unique, and their journeys follow winding paths, uncharted and serendipitous.
You will be mesmerized by these heartfelt stories about how nineteen ministers each heard a Holy Whisper calling her to a life of ministry and compassionate service to others. Get your copy today at these links:
“There is power in a story well told, a sacredness that speaks to shared experiences, and draws us closer to God and to one another. When God Whispered My Name is full of such stories. Equal parts inspiring, sobering, and challenging, the stories of these women bear witness to the Good News that flourishes when one dares say yes to God’s call. This timely volume is sure to offer hope, encouragement, and community to women and men who are wrestling with that same mysterious call from God and those seeking to empower them.”
—Mandy McMichael Associate Director and J. David Slover Assistant Professor of Ministry Guidance Baylor University