Beginner bus

Metro Transit bus 63 schedule

As a middle-aged man boards the 63 bus at Alina Health he says to the driver, “I just found out that I don’t have cancer!” The driver congratulates him. “It’s always nice to know that I’ll live longer,” replies the man. He feeds two dollar bills into the fare machine. It’s rush hour. The driver doesn’t charge him the extra 50 cents. 

The man shuffles to the handicap seat behind the driver. As he sits, he holds a white envelope in front of him, thumb and fingers at each edge, as if it’s a rare manuscript he does not want to crease or fold. At the top left corner is the Alina Health Cancer Research logo. Otherwise the envelope is blank. 

Although a pale yellow mask covers most of the man’s face, I see that his skin is grayish and tough, like a rhino’s. Smoker? It’s March in Minnesota, and the temperature outside is just above freezing yet he’s wearing just a sweater. A nice sweater and, like his olive-colored sweatpants, probably designer clothing, close fitting, not baggy. As the bus lurches over potholes along Grand Avenue, the man holds the envelope in front of him, as if a screen through which he’s watching flashbacks to his past, mistakes made, graces granted. The images fade to white: a tabula rasa, a blank slate, a new beginning. As Mary Oliver asks in one of her poems, what to do with this one precious life?

Rainer Maria Rilke offers this:

So, like children, we begin again
To learn from the things,
Because they are in God’s heart;
They have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
To fall,
Patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
Before he can fly.

A young man I’ve seen before boards the bus. A teenager, whose large expressive eyes seem to look with wonder at all that transpires before him. He takes a seat across the aisle from me and stares out the window as the bus navigates around poorly parked cars.

Here’s the invitation: in one hand we gently hold a future glowing with possibilities, and in the other we gently hold impermanence, the knowledge that our days our numbered. There is no guarantee of a tomorrow. 

Both the cancer-free man and the wide-eyed teenager serve as our teachers today, reminding us of the importance of a beginner’s mind, of seeing life in a new way, breaking free of habitual thoughts and patterns. 

tree bud

The March 19, 2023 daily meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation offers this insight from Richard Rohr:

“Notice when Jesus counsels the beginner’s mind. Every time he welcomes little children, it’s when the disciples are discussing topics that to this day lend themselves to heady, ideological discussions. One group can come down as right and the other group can come down as wrong. Basically, Jesus says it’s a waste of time. He’s telling them, ‘You’re not seeking truth; you’re seeking to be in control.’

Jesus says the only people who can recognize and be ready for what he’s talking about are the ones who come with the mind and heart of a child. It’s the same reality as the beginner’s mind. The older we get, the more we’ve been betrayed and hurt and disappointed, the more barriers we put up to the beginner’s mind. We move further away from the immediate delight and curiosity of small children. We must never presume that we see, and we must always be ready to see anew. But it’s so hard to go back, to be vulnerable, and to say to our soul that ‘I don’t know anything.’

Try to say that: ‘I don’t know anything.’ We used to call it tabula rasa in Latin. Maybe we could think of ourselves as an erased blackboard, ready to be written on. By and large, what blocks spiritual teaching is the assumption that we already know, or that we don’t need to know. We have to pray for the grace of beginner’s mind. We need to say with the blind man, ‘I want to see’ (Mark 10:51).

Spirituality is about seeing. It’s not about earning or achieving. It’s about relationship rather than results or requirements. Once we see, the rest follows. We don’t need to push the river, because we’re in it. The life is lived within us, and we learn how to say yes to that life.”

How are you saying yes to life today?

Day 3: Gut and mind reset

Only the impossible is worth doing

On this last day of the monodiet of mung dal and rice, it’s worthwhile to consider, why did I do this? And did I achieve what I’d intended?

First, it’s important to note that eating along mung dal and rice (plus the banana and riced cauliflower I added today) is not about purification. While that may be one of the effects, it’s not the purpose. No, what I’m working on will have a far more universal outcome.

I’m preparing mind, body and soul for a revolution.

North Wind Woman leading march
Photo by Tyler Schank /

As I stated in my post for day 2, we have a lot of impossible to make possible in the next decade. This new year, 2020, we need a groundswell of people like you and me to join together and pull the rug out from under the power structure that systematically condones or promotes environmental and social injustice.

Life as we know it is in grave trouble. Here are headlines from today:

  • “Trump Rule Would Exclude Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning” (Translation for Minnesota: Free pass to Enbridge for the Line 3 pipeline)
  • “Millions of Australians Are Choking on Smoke From Wildfires” (This ground zero for climate catastrophe is a sneak preview of our future in the U.S.)

Homelessness is epidemic. More than 10,000 people are homeless on any given day in Minnesota, and last year, at least 100 people died while homeless in Minnesota.

Signs at the homeless memorial 2019

While some of us rely on faith to guide our way, hope is the common driver. In a recent sermon, Jered Weber-Johnson eased my despair when he shared this quote from the gifted writer Rebecca Solnit:

“I say all this because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say it because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.”

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by so much change needed in this world, I highly recommend reading Hope in the Dark. Solnit’s thesis is that radicals have a long, neglected history of transformative victories, that the positive consequences of our acts are not always immediately seen, directly knowable, or even measurable. She gives countless examples of how the acts of an individual (think Greta Thunberg) led to a much larger chain reaction and changes such as the right for women to vote, the end to slavery, environmental protections, gay marriage…the list goes on.

Stop Line 3
Photo credit: (

Buff Grace, an environmental activist and Episcopal priest who never fails to inspire me, posed a provocative question recently on Facebook: “What if history was a gambler, instead of a force in a laboratory experiment, and you his ace in the hole?”

I’m going with the assumption we are history’s ace in the hole. There’s too much at stake to underestimate our ability to create significant change. This is no time to sit on the sofa, clutching hope like a lottery ticket. Let’s wield hope like an ax and break down the doors of apathy. Let’s release love and act with compassion for all beings. Let’s be the change we want to see.

Are you in?

Radical Connectivity

painting of earth by Hildegard of Bingen

At some churches, the Sunday service omits scripture and hardly mentions God. Yet God is most certainly there, in the hearts of those taking in a consistent message of love, feeling hardness give way to greater generosity, opening to a universal message: love as much as you can, as often as you can, with as many people as you can, for the rest of your life.

I’m reminded of a service I attended a few years ago at a Unitarian Universalist church. I’d known about UU from my formation as a spiritual director, through some of my classmates, and I was curious, but not enough to go to one of their services. What brought me to a UU service that day was music – specifically, a piece called Spiritus Sanctus, written by Ruth MacKenzie, that explores the intersection between Hindu and Christian mystics. A co-worker, who is in the choir, told me about the piece, saying the entire choir was transported by the music during the rehearsal. I wanted to be transported, too.

As it turns out, the entire service, not just the music, took me to a different place that felt oddly familiar. From the beginning, when the senior minister affirmed who the church was (people who are united in spirit and accepting of differences), I felt very much at home. The ministers used language I might have, had I been at the podium.

And the music? Spectacular. My only disappointment was that there wasn’t more of it. Two worlds merged – a Western voice represented by Hildegard of Bingen‘s text and Ruth MacKenzie’s music, and a Hindu voice represented by Nirmala Rajeskar, a world-renowned veena artist and vocalist.

painting of Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen

Nirmala Rajasekar, vocalist and veena artist
Nirmala Rajasekar

In the program Spiritus Sanctus was described as exploring “the common experience of radical connectivity shared by mystics around the world.” The love and the longing in that piece transcended human constructs – geography, religion, language – and allowed each of us in the church to see through the eyes of mystics.

Through these eyes I’m thinking about church as more than a building, and more even than the community of people who frequent it. I have referred to the Episcopal church as “my” church, but from the perspective of radical connectivity, “my” church is wherever I go. Perhaps the reason I felt so much at home in a church I was visiting for the first time is that I brought my church with me. Wherever I am is my place of worship. I need nothing but love to feel connected with others, for all of my days here on earth.

painting of earth by Hildegard of Bingen
Vision of the Earth, by Hildegard of Bingen


Dance Church Groove

Dance Church Groove

On the seventh day, God said, “Let there be dance!” God watched the dancing and saw that it was good. 

Every Sunday, people of all shapes, ages, and sizes gather to worship at Dance Church, in the radiant dance room at Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis. Is “worship” the right word? In this light-filled space you’ll find no icons, no statues of Jesus or Buddha. What you see are fellow human beings, twisting and jumping, moving and shaking, running and stretching, juggling and gyrating. The definition of “worship” is “reverent honor and homage paid to an object regarded as sacred.” Here at Dance Church, the sacred objects are us. After all, we not just human, but also divine. We celebrate being alive in our bodies through boogie woogie. 

The scripture? It’s in the songs mixed by a DJ. Just like the Psalms, these lyrics speak of longing, joy, despair and sorrow. Our hearts beat synchronously with the music. This is no somber Catholic or Episcopal service. It’s kin to Pentecostal. Sure, some people may come simply to dance. I’m quite certain, though, that I’m not the only one who experiences dancing as sacred. I arrive with the intention to open as fully as possible to Spirit, feeling the Spirit take me by the hand and lead my communion with music and other dancers.

I commune with a woman ripe with unborn child, gently swaying to the music, hand on her protruding belly. A young couple, joined like paired images in a poem, fluidly elegant as they responded in tandem to the beat. A man dressed in a lion suit, swirling his tail. A three-year-old, blond-haired girl with dimples. A teenager whose long legs seemed foreign to him, shifting mechanically in search of rhythm. A woman in her 80’s, cane in hand, shuffling in tiny steps, smiling beatifically. Two young, dark-haired women slithering along the floor, as if love-making, without a trace of self-consciousness.

People come and go during the two-hour dance session, and last Sunday, up to 40 people filled the space in various ways. Some of us roam the floor, weaving in and out of dancers. Others remain in the same spot the entire time, carving out a space of their own. A few people meditate or do yoga postures. Here, at Dance Church, everyone is welcome and accepted for who they are or who they want to be in that time and place. Only with that freedom can  church truly be church.

At Dance Church there’s no bread or wine. Cold water feels like a blessing after dancing non-stop for an hour. 

And sharing of the peace? Oh yes, some of my fellow dancers share exuberantly. This euphoria that arises with the freedom of movement shows itself through smiles, laughter, sweat, and a saintly glow. Each of us could crank up the music and dance at home, alone. Instead, we chose to dance with others, in community. We chose to go to church on a snowy Sunday.