Grandma’s daily meditations


My grandmother was a wise, exceptionally well-read, open-minded, grandmapragmatic, spiritual, anti-dogmatic woman whose car proudly bore a “Catholic Woman for Obama” bumper sticker in a heavily red-leaning part of Eastern North Carolina.

Madelon Leaman Hyman passed away in January 2011. A few of her mementos that I have held onto include that bumper sticker and a photocopy of three daily meditations that she kept taped up in her bathroom. These meditations are beautiful in their simplicity, and I read them daily.

I am sharing this one with you in the hope that it brings you the same peace and perspective that it brings to me:

Ever in my inmost being, eternal, absolutely one, whole, perfect, complete, indivisible, timeless, ageless, shapeless, without face, form or figure, is the silent presence fixed in the hearts of all wo/men.

Anonymous meditation

–Melanie Kolkin

How to Visit a Grave, and Good Friday


The Patheos blog, Good Letters, shared this guest post by writer Shannon Huffman Polson. Written as a list of 15 steps instructing the reader “how to visit a grave,” it speaks to real emotion and experiences that are pertinent to remember on this day, when we mark the descent of Jesus to the grave.

I also really loved this Good Friday prayer, below, from writer and Mennonite pastor Carol Penner.  May your day be blessed.


We come gingerly to prayer on this Good Friday
holding the pieces of our broken world.
So much is ruined and spoiled,
so much hatred and anger,
so many acts of violence.
Our eyes turn to the cross
as evidence of our sinfulness,
crucifying even the one who loved us most and best.

There is no talk today of who is greatest
no talk of triumph and victory.
Instead we stand quietly here at the foot of the cross,
joining the few friends who stand in silent witness.
In this solemn hour,
as we remember the death of our Saviour,
crack open all that is hard within us,
every place that is self-satisfied and self-serving,
every attitude that is superior and smug.

We come before you as your broken people,
penitent, sorrowful, anguished.
Our comfort lies in words spoken at death’s door;
Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

–by Carol Penner

–by Caren Swanson

Image by flickr user 50%chanceofrain via Creative Commons.

To keep a true Lent


I eagerly await the slender crocus and bright daffodil creeping cream to green, bringing with them the promise of spring.  Anticipation is a beautiful thing.  Having something to look forward to, no matter what the circumstances, brings a certain joy well before the event actually takes place.  In fact, sometimes the happiness in anticipation is greater than the happiness actually experienced in the moment – that’s known as “rosy prospection.”

As a Christian, springtime means something more than bright greens and growing bulbs. Lent (literally “springtime”) is a time of anticipation and even more importantly, of preparation. It is our time to return to the desert where Jesus spent forty days readying for his ministry. As his followers, we are called to do the same.  I want to challenge us though, as Robert Herrick, a 17th century poet, challenges us in his poem, “ To Keep a True Lent”:

To Keep a True Lent

Is this Fast to keep
The larder lean?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour
Or ragg’d to go
Or show
A down-case look and sour?

No: ‘tis a Fast to dole
They sheaf of wheat
And meat
With the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife
And old debate
And hate
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent
To starve thy sin,
Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Lent is not a time to morosely give up the foods we love the most, but a time for honest reflection on ourselves; a giving up of our sin and a giving in to Christ’s love for us. It is an opportunity to become a group of people who embodies springtime. Lent is springtime; a time of joy as we emerge out of winter’s sin and brightly claim a new season, the resurrection of Christ.

–Kelli Sittser

(Image by flickr user lilli2de via creative commons)

Courage, cancer and poetry


Courage takes many forms, and for some who struggle with cancer or terminal illness, courage is the ability and willingness to notice beauty in the midst of fear and suffering.  The New York Times recently published an article about the growing number of individuals who have begun writing poetry in response to their cancer journeys, and what a healing tool poetry and other forms of creative writing can be.

When Kyle Potvin learned she had breast cancer at the age of 41, she tracked the details of her illness and treatment in a journal. But when it came to grappling with issues of mortality, fear and hope, she found that her best outlet was poetry.

How I feared chemo, afraid
It would change me.
It did.
Something dissolved inside me.
Tears began a slow drip;
I cried at the news story
Of a lost boy found in the woods …
At the surprising beauty
Of a bright leaf falling
Like the last strand of hair from my head

“The creative process can be really healing,” Ms. Potvin said in an interview. “Loss, mortality and even hopefulness were on my mind, and I found that through writing poetry I was able to express some of those concepts in a way that helped me process what I was thinking.”

The article profiles, among others, Karen Miller, who started writing poetry when her husband was first diagnosed with cancer, while she was pregnant with their first child. She has since gone on to create a series of anthologies called the “Cancer Poetry Project.”  On her experience of talking with the various writers, many of whom have cancer themselves, she said:

“They say it’s the thing that lets them get to the core of how they are feeling.  It’s the simplicity of poetry, the bare bones of it, that helps them deal with their fears.”

Though not all of us have had to face the presence of cancer in ourselves or those we love, we do all have fears that must be dealt with.  Poetry is something that is accessible to anyone–there are, literally, no rules. Have you ever used poetry or other creative writing as an outlet for expressing worries or emotions?  What other healthy and positive methods have you used to deal with your fears?

Caren Swanson

(Top image by flickr user Insomnia PHT, bottom image by flickr user churl, both via creative commons)

‘Tis the season…


For some, faithfulness to God’s call to ministry includes the very humbling journey toward ordination.  Many of you following that path have written and submitted the requisite papers, along with the Bible study lesson plans and the video-recorded sermons. Now it is time to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry for provisional or continuation interviews.

Let us take a few moments to pray Psalm 111. May God bless the candidates, the board, and everyone who has provided support along this journey.

Psalm 111

Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.  The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

– Angela MacDonald
(images courtesy of and


When is the time for Love to be born?


Please note :: The Connection will be on hiatus for the Christmas holiday.  We wish you a VERY Merry Christmas, and we will see you in 2013!


Tonight is the darkest night of the year, and the darkness of the season is mirrored in the terror and hopelessness we see around us in the world.  If we ever needed a reminder of our need for Christ’s arrival in our lives, it tore through a first grade classroom last Friday.

And yet, as Christians, we know that the darkness does not win.  It seems so threatening at times, but we know the end of the story, and so we wait with joy for the Light of Christ to be unfurled in glory.

And it is in this spirit of hopefulness that we wish you all a most Merry Christmas!  Peace on Earth, goodwill to all!  In the midst of special music, late night services, and children’s sermons, we trust that each of you will find the mystery of the Incarnation made new for you this Christmas.  For, as Wesley himself said, “The BEST of all, God is with us!”

This poem by Madeline L’Engle seems especially pertinent right now.


This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor & Truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for Love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

–Madeline L’Engle

By Caren Swanson

–Images used with permission from Wikimedia Commons

Entering into Advent


We find ourselves in the middle of an unusual week, hovering between Thanksgiving and the start of Advent.  In this time of transition, let us pause in the glow of gratitude as we look forward to welcoming the Savior’s birth. Let us allow ourselves to carry our thanksgivings into the season of Christ’s birth with praises and joy.  Let us “joice” and rejoice throughout the Advent season.

On her blog, The Advent Door, Rev. Jan Richardson invites us to enter the Advent season with a blessing.

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
—Luke 21.28  Reading from the Gospels, Advent 1, Year C

Drawing Near
A Blessing to Begin Advent

by Jan Richardson

It is difficult to see it from here,
I know,
but trust me when I say
this blessing is inscribed
on the horizon.
Is written on
that far point
you can hardly see.
Is etched into
a landscape
whose contours you cannot know
from here.
All you know
is that it calls you,
draws you,
pulls you toward
what you have perceived
only in pieces,
in fragments that came to you
in dreaming
or in prayer.

I cannot account for how,
as you draw near,
the blessing embedded in the horizon
begins to blossom
upon the soles of your feet,
shimmers in your two hands.
It is one of the mysteries
of the road,
how the blessing
you have traveled toward,
waited for,
ached for
suddenly appears
as if it had been with you
all this time,
as if it simply
needed to know
how far you were willing
to walk
to find the lines
that were traced upon you
before the day
that you were born.

-Kelli Christianson

Image by Flickr user Paul Simpson (Creative Commons)

“The world did not have to be beautiful to work…”


It has to be close to freezing this morning. Seriously. It’s the second week after “falling back” out of daylight savings time, and I wake, surprised by the sun and wincing at the idea of leaving the warmth of my bed.

I shuffle through my routine – read, pray, gulp down some coffee – then throw on my coat, and brace myself for the gust of wind that I know will meet me on the other side of my front door. Head tucked down, I make it to the driver’s side of my car, throw my briefcase, purse, and lunch bag into the passenger seat, and set off toward work.

It’s all pretty routine. I’ve noticed that it’s easy for me to slide in and out of my days in this habitual way. I am, after all, someone who finds comfort and peace of mind in the predictability of a steady rhythm and pattern.

But then my day changes.

NPR is airing an interview with one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, who has released a new collection of poems, A Thousand Mornings.  Her aged and crackling voice breaks into my oh-so-regular morning: “The world did not have to be beautiful to work. But it is. What does that mean?”

I am haunted and challenged by the question. Have I encountered unnecessary beauty in the way my world works?  I revisit the events of my morning through this lens.

Mornings are growing colder. Today I wake with a start and a shiver, aware of the clear but cool morning light pouring through my windows, and noting that the days now spend themselves racing toward sunset.

I tug on a pair of socks to protect my already-cold feet from the shock of the chilly hardwood floor they are about to encounter. I wrap my hands tightly around a ceramic mug, thankful for its smooth glaze and intensely satisfying heat. The comforting scent of my daily coffee ritual rises, steaming, into my face.

I ease the muscles of my hands into the day’s work as I write in my journal, offering prayers and petitions for those I love, those with whom I work, those who are sick, those whose weight my heart already bears at 6:30 AM.

As I prepare to leave, my mustard yellow coat falls softly against me. Its collar is twisted and sticking up, but I choose not to fold it down, anticipating its protection against the wind that tosses red and brown leaves onto my sidewalk. I unlock and open my glass-paned front door. Thankful for the extra buffer of the collar, I quickly bounce down my stairs, around the corner of my house, and into the driver’s seat of my car. Closing the door, my belongings piled beside me, I slide my transmission into reverse and leave for the day.

There is beauty hidden in the rhythm of my morning. It doesn’t have to be there – and if I don’t notice it, it’s wasted – but it is there, nevertheless.

To you, I present the same question that has changed how I see my days: “The world did not have to be beautiful to work, but it is. What does that mean?”

-Ellie Poole

Images by adamknits and SSJE via Flickr

Oliver’s interview aired on NPR Morning Edition on October 14, 2012.

You will come at last to love


Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it.

Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light.

Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.

If you love everything, you will perceive the Divine Mystery in things.

Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day.

And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

–image by Caren Swanson