Lenten Lights JJ ~ Holding out Hope

Spring - Japanese Red Maple

Just a few weeks ago, on the third day of Lent (March 7) I wrote about standing in ”hope and expectation that new leaves will appear soon” on this very tree. Now in Holy Week my hope and expectation have been fulfilled. It is a run-of-the-mill, every-year miracle. Recently I heard something about miracles as changes in perception. Miracles can also come in the form of changes in the weather, or changes in the season, or changes in the material world.

As we approach the hardest days of Lent, these Holy Week days when death and betrayal are immanent, I hold on to the words from Hebrews: “do not grow weary or lose heart.” Hold out hope and expectation. Miracles are underway.



Lenten Lights II ~ “Pray to the One I Love”

I don’t mean to over simplify this Holy Week. In fact the emotional and spiritual logic of it is irreducible. It’s a story strange and unique unto itself. But when I boil down the Jesus story of that final week, I see a story about love. Because even stories about righteousness, or truth or salvation, are nothing without love. In the beginning was the word and the word became flesh and lived with us in love. And the incarnation of Jesus was neither a beginning nor an ending, but a way through to living participation in the very life of God. Most simply it seems to me Jesus died at the end of holy week because of profound and generous love. There are political explanations and theological ones, yet the most compelling story – this holy Monday – is how the story of love played itself out and Jesus laid down his life for his friends in love.


This music video “From This Valley” is sung by the Civil Wars. Joy Williams and John Paul White began working together and recorded their music in the neighborhood. I like their edginess. Their brokenness. The soul wrenching honesty of their lyrics. Their heartbreaking sound (like around the 2:20 – 2:40 mark in this video). The song seemed just perfect for this week. . . its longing and its hope . . . orphans . . . outcasts . . . desert and river . . . mountains and passion. In our very particular experiences we are connected to all the stories of hope and love, disappointment and betrayal, grief and celebration at the loose ends of our lives. So . . . pray, pray, pray, dear ones. Pray to the one you love.



Lenten Lights HH ~ Labyrinth 

Holy Week Labyrinth

Tonight I feel the blessings of a community that sets up a Holy Week labyrinth, and says, come and walk. The candles were lit. My daughter first tagged along at my heals then pushed past me, then went at her own pace. I wrote these meditations when I was expecting her. Now here she is, growing faster than I can keep track. Time and community and the mercy of God circle in to the center of my life and back out. I walk. And in each step I both detach from and connect to all that is, to the power and empowerment of love and life.

This week we walk the path of Jesus that leads through great love,
.          surprising betrayal,
.                     healing and teaching,
.                                meals and miracles,
.                                          life and death.
.                                                     God’s mercy in every step.


Lenten Lights GG ~ Remembrance

Searching my cache of photos for palms and Palm Sunday, I came across this picture of the Holocaust Memorial of Miami, taken while on Spring Break trip last year.

Holocaust Memorial - MiamiThere are indeed palms, but they pale in the shadow of this memorial, a hand reaching up in profound struggle, “conveying the unimaginable and remembering the unthinkable.” Sculptor, Kenneth Treister says, “The immensity of this tragedy is infinite. To express it artistically, impossible … but I had to try.”

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. Christians will begin the remembrance of the final week of Jesus’ life and ministry, a triumphal entry to Jerusalem, core teachings of the faith, followed by his arrest, trial and crucifixion. At the heart of Christian faith is a profound wound. It must be remembered. And the remembering is complicated by the seemingly impossible and conflicting need not to valorize or glorify the suffering, pain and death, neither to forget the painful presence of violence in the story. If we find an easy answer or pathway through this tension, it is probably not much of an answer.

Monday evening begins Passover or Pesach. Jews will begin the remembrance of the Exodus out of Egypt, the key teachings of their faith, and many other times of profound suffering over the course of history for the children of Israel, including the Holocaust during the second World War. At the heart of Jewish faith are wounds so numerous and profound, as to be “infinite” as Treister says. There is no glory in this suffering, yet remembrance is absolutely key, so much that when Jews in America respond to questions about which central aspects of the Jewish experience shape their political activities, remembering the Holocaust tops their list.

If you can do nothing else with Holy Week or with Passover, then at very minimum, I urge you to remember, and ponder with some seriousness, the wounds at the heart of Christianity and Judaism. How religious traditions and people cope with violence – their own and that of others – remains one of the greatest challenges of our time. We ignore this challenge to our own peril. The vision of Christian hope and of Jewish tikkun olam (healing the world) are based not in casual or grandiose optimism. Rather sacred hope and healing are grounded in the most profound vulnerabilities of life and death.




Lenten Lights FF ~ Guest Post by Michaela O’Donnell Long

Morning Door - Michaela O'Donnell Long

Today’s photo and reflection come from photographer, media producer, and friend, Michaela O’Donnell Long.*

“Morning Door” by Michaela O’Donnell Long 

I work from home. Well, technically, I work from my garage-turned-studio. Each morning when I make the trek to my studio, this door greets me. Because it’s a fog-glassed door the morning sun causes the adjacent lemon tree to dance across the exposed glass. And often, because I have my coffee clutched in one hand and my computer in the other, I’m forced to spend a moment in front of it—watching the shadows flutter as I search for my keys.

But, the morning door must also sleep. By noon it has all but vanished, giving way to the hot day, the setting sun, and the day’s inevitable nightfall.

In this season of Lent, we are reminded of Jesus’ death—and that with it comes pain and sadness. But, just as the morning door emerges on the heels of night’s darkness, so do the mercies of God’s love. In the resurrected Jesus we find God’s grace to begin each day in remembrance of his death and grateful for his resurrection.

* When planning this Lenten Lights series, I decided to invite a few guest posts. I met Michaela O’Donnell Long at the Academy of Religious Leadership meeting last year and we struck up a very interesting and helpful conversation about photography and leadership and theology. She is working on her PhD in leadership at Fuller Seminary. You can see her creative work at Long Winter Media.




Lenten Lights EE

Apple Blossom IOne of the gifts of my commitment to chase light with my camera this Lenten season is that I’ve watched Spring’s coming out party with a very focused eye. One effect of that watching is my sense that each blossom and bloom have unfolded slowly.

Consistent and patient attention is also one of the gifts of disciplined prayer. Even while things are falling apart around us, we still have an opportunity to focus our attention on the holy, to breathe, and to loosen our grasp on all that we hold onto through a day: our things, our expectations for the future, our self importance, and obsessive stories from the past (what Martin Laird calls the “videos” of our mind that we play over and over). When we let go of our grasping, a gift that comes in its place is being grasped by the sacred presence of the holy.

Apple Blossom II

Lent XXX

Lenten Lights DD ~ Window

sometimes I only see the window itself
sometimes the leaves beyond
sometimes the separation
sometimes the link
Simone’s paradox:
every separation
is a link.

 Fair Window


The photo was taken at the Fine Arts Building at Minnesota State Fairgrounds.


Lenten LIghts CC ~ You Rock!

Earlier in Lent I met a man who calls himself “Black Elvis.” He’s quite an interesting guy, full of life and humor and joy. Today, we met again when he sat down at the table I was serving at Luke 14:12. It was great to reconnect with him. And it only took him a few minutes to remember our meeting three weeks ago.

Elvis at Luke 14:12

When I shared the story of meeting Larry Morris, my friend, Amy Dodson-Watts, the director of Luke 14:12, said, “He’s been eating at Luke 14:12 lately!” Turns out he still does. Today he lit up the dining room with his jokes that end with punch lines from Elvis Presley’s greatest hits.

He points to the FedEx delivery man and says, “He brought me a package. You know what I told him?”
“No, what?” I ask.
“Return to sender!” Those in earshot grin and laugh. We joke and tease with others around the table, and he eats his lunch so he can return to his work selling The Contributor. He tells me, “You rock!” That’s his message of encouragement to everyone he meets.

Before he goes we pose for a picture. I feel the power of good news in the Nashville community. I know this man. And significant reason that I do is a result of the long hours and hard work of hundreds, maybe thousands of people at Room in the Inn, Luke 14:12, The Contributor, and other agencies, many of them faith-based, that work to humanize and care for men and women in Nashville who live at the margins, the working poor.

To change the conditions that create poverty and make pathways out of poverty, relationships and community are basic and essential. I’m grateful today for faithful relationship- and community-building where God’s spirit of compassion and justice is at work in our city. Today, while serving tables at Luke 14:12, I felt a moment of living more fully into the covenant of my own congregation which urges me to: “see where God is at work in the world and join in that work.”


Lenten Lights BB ~ Writing Inspiration 

Today was a full day of writing … little bits on several different projects. Much of my schedule day to day is filled with writing. So I’ve opened a new page on my site for writing quotes. I made a poster last week from a motto that got me through the week. Today, I made a new poster using a quote from one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott.

Lamott Writing Reading 1


If we need anything for Lent, it is to be life-expanded and soul fed. Selah.


Lenten Lights AA ~ Six Word Story

Chocolate Oatmeal Chewies

~ because Sundays in Lent are celebrations ~ 


Six-Word Stories for Lenten Lights
Six Word Stories, inspired by Ernest Hemingway show up often on my blog. During the 40 days of Lent, six-word stories are (usually) delivered on Saturday evenings. This one comes with a recipe (and a vegan adaptation) because Sundays in Lent are not of Lent. Sundays are not counted among the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, nor is fasting required. Every Sunday of every year is a “little Easter” when we focus on resurrection rather than penitence. The Sunday break from fasting calls for a little bit of chocolate. Here’s the original recipe from my mother-in-law and the vegan variation I made tonight.

(Chocolate-Peanut-Butter-Oatmeal Drop Cookies)
Margaret Reed

Combine in saucepan:
2 cups sugar                                                              ½ cup milk
1 stick butter                                                             ½ cup cocoa

Place over low heat and let butter melt. Boil hard for two minutes (no more). Remove from heat and add:
3 cups oatmeal
½ cup peanut butter, preferably crunchy
1 tsp vanilla

Mix thoroughly. Drop on waxed paper or parchment paper by spoonsful. Can use two cups oatmeal and one cup coconut. Refrigerate to firm up cookies.


(Vegan Recipe, adapted by Eileen Campbell-Reed)

Combine in saucepan:
2 cups sugar                                                              ½ cup almond milk
½ cup Earth Balance coconut spread                       ½ cup cocoa

Place over low heat and let butter melt. Boil hard for two minutes (no more). Remove from heat and add:
3 cups oatmeal
½ cup almond butter, preferably crunchy
1 tsp vanilla

Mix thoroughly. Drop on waxed paper or parchment paper by spoonsful. Refrigerate to firm up cookies.