Under an oaken sky


“I was hiding in her. You do that sometimes. Sometimes you decide you’ll take refuge in the good, gracious enthusiasm that another person has for you and the love and the nurturing that somebody gives you.” Jackson Browne

Recently,  I had the occasion to sit on the lawn at Ravinia.  If you are not familiar with Ravinia,  it is a  Summer concert venue just outside of Chicago Illinois. Having grown up surrounded by the annual summer concerts held there, when I return I am surrounded by ghosts of concerts past. In my mind I find Pete Seeger walking past my friends and me saying hello to us .I see Janis Joplin arguing with Ravinia staff regarding what they perceived as her inappropriate read to sheer manner of dress. I hear Rufus Wainwright’s rich, dreamy voice singing songs I love. And I hear Jackson Browne singing many of the songs that have become touchstones guiding my life. Sitting under the oaken canopy as the night envelopes the trees and the trees cloak those of us gathered on the lawn, I’m feeling a sense of  peace and abiding joy.

With a full moon to light the night and beautiful music to relax and inspire, I wonder about the trees. Do they feel the vibrational pull of the music. Do their roots grow deep, stirring in summer to soak up what we hear? Does it encourage them to provide shelter, air, and beauty for us? Do they long to hear what we do? When the music stops at the end of the summer, are they left wanting more? Do they wish for an encore? Does  their memory run deep, deeper than my own? Do they wish for a concert or two to return to?

In the comfort of my chair, staring at the softness of the full moon, under the feathery oaken cloak, the world is dreamy and fine. I give thanks for all that is good and gracious, and for a place such as this to find rest.


Finding Hope

The earrings shown below were a gift to me about 15 years ago. Working as a hospital chaplain, I wore them often. In my mind they were the physical reality of what I hoped I was able to help patients (re)discover.

In a hospital there are a lot of stressed out people. Overworked staff, anxious families, people in crisis and/or pain. I wanted to be the embodiment of a merciful higher power when I went into a room.

At first, going into a room reminded me of trying to sell something to a stranger. Or it felt like what I  most probably naively imagine an investment counselor. I imagined my nervous self that first year of my clinical pastoral education (a seminary requirement; for the curious see here.)   https://www.acpe.edu/   as trying to sell someone on God, or perhaps the comfort of a higher power that had a plan for us. I fell in love with chaplaincy and stayed.  Patients were inspirational, their families were too. The stories I heard startled me, piqued my curiosity, amazed me, turned me toward God in a way that I had not experienced.  I learned that sometimes the best comfort I brought was hope. Hope that things would get better. Hope in the form of a temporary respite from pain, sometimes in the form of hearing and affirming a person. Sometimes in helping someone work a crossword puzzle. Sometimes in just being silent when words weren’t enough.

Sometimes it was in just holding a hand and understanding that this was comfort enough. Being present, showing up, offering to hold a cup to lips that were parched. Holding a hand while a patient was being wheeled to surgery.  Sitting with nervous families as they waited for test results.  Sometimes sitting with families and offering a prayer around a dying person as we shared our thanks for the work they had done, the love they shared, sobbing and often times laughing as we held their spirit close to us with each rattling death breath.

These earrings became an extension of my desire to bring hope to those I served. Until one day, several years after I left hospital work and served in another place as a pastoral counselor. Until I came home one evening and realized that one had gone missing. This was in 2010. I couldn’t bear to part with the remaining one. Hanging on a wooden earring rack, I took it off every now and then to polish the tarnish away.

Three weeks ago while at the counseling office I opened the drawer of the desk I use one day a week. Shutting the drawer for a moment out of surprise I gasped and opened it again. It was still there. Not a dream. Hope when I needed it most. Hope because I had almost lost all of mine. 2016 has repeatedly kicked who I am, what I do, and what I believe to the curb. Rearranging my life and tossing out things I did not know were trash.  Making way for whatever wonderful new thing is coming.

I hear it again and again. Loss and pain, overwhelming and staggering. Not only in my life, but on the news, in the lives of my clients.  There seems to be this repeating theme of a cosmic garage sale that is not making much sense.

I’d all but given up on hope and then there it was. Staring at me. Daring me to pick it up. My own glass slipper come home. Inviting me to bring hope to others. Encouraging me to hold on to it a bit, too.

If you are wandering on a path without much hope please find some here. Wherever life is bleak, take time for the comfort of a friend to cheer you When you least expect it, something good may show up along the way. Life is movement. Beloved families are made and changed every day. If you are lost, you are not alone. There are many of us on the same path, wandering at times seemingly without direction. If you are in need of hope, I hope it finds you. Maybe when you need it most it will show up.