It is a cool, misty-moisty day, a good day to be baking. October is birthday month here at this old house. The first one is next week and for that, a from-scratch high altitude angel food cake is baking in the oven, rising nicely. I save egg whites in the freezer until I have close to 12. A dozen large egg whites equals what is needed for the recipe. I reached 10 egg whites several days ago and so, with the addition of two more egg whites, the unlined copper bowl insert went into the mixer bowl. Soon, a cup-and-a-half of egg whites went from blah liquid to glossy stiff peaks with the help of a little cream of tartar. Mixed with the sugar, flour and vanilla, the egg whites are transformed in taste into something worthy of a birthday celebration. And because I had two egg yolks left over, chocolate pudding is now cooling on the back porch, waiting until it can go in the refrigerator. Two treats because of the way eggs are made!

My afternoon’s cooking and baking are an illustration of what spiritual transformation can be. We take the “raw eggs” of our lives, our talents and gifts, our life experiences and through various practices of “mixing, beating, and adding other ingredients” (such as prayer, fasting, Bible study, worship, service, confession and more), we transform into clearer images of the face of Christ here on earth. If eggs had feelings, I’m sure being beaten in a mixer would not “feel good” but it is what makes them go from blah liquid to exquisite, shiny peaks. And so it is with us. There are things that happen to us that are meant to make us more useful in the Kingdom of God. We need to be mixed with other things, whirled into a new state of being, able to bring joy to those around us.

As in all analogies, the comparison points don’t always line up but it is amazing to me how many situations in life can be an “icon,” an illustration, of God’s work in our lives and our work in God’s Kingdom. For example, tea bags soaking in hot water or pasta cooking in boiling water can remind us of the discipline of meditation. Nature and its riot of colors in autumn or spring display the disciplines of worship and celebration. In fact, the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 3rd and 4th centuries used meditation on Creation as a Scripture equal to the written Word of God. Even St. Paul, in Romans 1:20 talks about the witness of nature to God: Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. If we will let ourselves see and hear, we can find evidence of God at work throughout our full and busy days, even when we can’t stop and read the Bible.

Fr. Richard Rohr adds this perspective to the idea: All of creation, it seems, has been obedient to its destiny, “each mortal thing does one thing and the same . . . myself it speaks and spells, crying ‘What I do is me, for that I came’” (Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”). Wouldn’t it be our last and greatest humiliation, if one day we realized that all other creatures have obeyed their destiny with a kind of humility and with trustful surrender? All, except us.

All elements of nature do what they were made to do, even eggs. I invite you this week to be and do who you were created to be. Do what Martha Beck calls “an integrity cleanse.” That is, stop lying! Be honest with yourself, with God, with others. Live out of your deepest desires, the ones God put into your heart and soul. As you do that, you will bring joy to God, to others and to yourself. And have a piece of cake to celebrate!

This past week, we spent a day going over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. The official park web site describes it this way: “Covering the 48 miles between Estes Park on the park’s east side and Grand Lake on the west, Trail Ridge Road more than lives up to its advanced billing. Eleven miles of this high highway travel above treeline, the elevation near 11,500 feet where the park’s evergreen forests come to a halt. As it winds across the tundra’s vastness to its high point at 12,183 feet elevation, Trail Ridge Road (U.S. 34) offers visitors thrilling views, wildlife sightings and spectacular alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from the comfort of their car.”

As it has continued hot and fire-ban dry here at this old house, we and quite a number of others traversed the road, marveling at the spectacular aspen fall leaf colors as they stood mixed in with the various conifers or in breathtaking dense stands. The sun shone through the yellow and orange leaves making them, at times, seem almost electrified.

Despite packing a heavy jacket, hat and gloves, it was a balmy 69 degrees at the Alpine Visitor Center and in the 80s in Grand Lake. Due to beetle kill, the re-opened Grand Lake Lodge had cleared many of the trees on its down-slope hill. We could stand on the porch and see both Grand Lake and the town of Grand Lake, views that, for years, have been blocked by forest. For once, I actually liked that the trees had been cut as it made one of our favorite places in Colorado that much more spectacular. It is also wise fire mitigation; defensible space around an historic wooden lodge is smart. Below are what we saw from their magnificent porch.   IMG_1675 (3) IMG_1674 (3)

After exploring the area, we headed back over Trail Ridge to the Estes Park side of the park for our annual time of listening to the annual elk bugle. This is the call of the males during the fall rut. Insults never sounded so sublime! Go to this YouTube site to understand what I am talking about as the sound the bull elk make is hard to describe:

A great video of what we go to see every year! In addition to fighting over rights to the various harems and yelling insults at each other through these other-worldly noises, the males spray themselves with urine, a smell you have to be a female elk to appreciate.  While all this “hootin’ and hollerin'” is going on, the cows and calves calmly graze until a nervous male decides they needed to be herded somewhere, probably into his harem group. If he is stealing from another bull, the fight is on. It is one of nature’s wonders I never tire of experiencing.

Some people feel that if they have seen something once, they don’t need to see it again and that may be true of many things. However, when they are referring to natural wonders like the annual elk mating ritual or Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park, I find myself sad. It implies a jadedness towards life, that somehow, Nature, in all her splendor and diversity isn’t enough to capture the person’s imagination any more. I think we will see more of this ennui towards natural phenomena as we become more glued to our SmartPhones, going through life and the National Parks texting and taking selfies. While there is nothing wrong with those activities per se, it is the degree to which I see it happening that concerns me. Who will fight to preserve the National Parks in another 50 years? When every bit of them are on YouTube and Facebook photos, will we bother to save it for a first-hand, pristine, personal experience?

Since Genesis 1, we know that the hand of God is found in nature. It is one of the “Scriptures” the early Church assumed. The Desert Fathers and Mothers often didn’t have written Scriptures in their hermitages in the Egyptian desert of the 3rd and 4th centuries. They “read” about God in nature and felt as deeply instructed as if they had had what would have been a rare and expensive copy of the Bible. How many of us deeply study Nature today to seek what God has to say to us in it?

As we went through Rocky Mountain National Park during its hundredth-year anniversary as a National Park, I hoped and prayed that there will still be hundreds of people in another hundred years who come every year to hear the elk bugle and see the aspen leaves change color in the fall.

Our rains have not come but it has turned much cooler here at this old house. The sun isn’t quite as hot during the day and the nights are borderline cold. Soon, the wool blanket will be added to the bed. The upstairs room air-conditioning unit was put in the closet, a silent testimony to the high heat of weeks past and a promise of more to come next year. Most of my summer neighbors have migrated south to winter homes and the hummingbirds are quite active at the feeder, building up strength to begin their long migrations south. I am dreaming of making caramel apples soon and the oven that is on to bake cookies is offering a welcome bit of heat to a cool house.

There are seasons in our spiritual life as well. While articulated with the same names as the natural seasons, the seasons of our souls don’t necessarily correspond to the calendar’s seasons or where one is chronologically in life. As with the natural seasons, spiritual seasons aren’t always clear cut or neatly divided into equal lengths of time.Image result for free photos four seasons

In the springtime of our souls, everything feels new and exciting. Oftentimes this season is associated with a new-found faith or a revived faith. Joy comes easily and miracles feel like they are waiting to happen. New seeds are planted and growth explodes in us. We feel young though “green” and vibrant in this season.

In the summer of our souls, there is still a settled contentment. The seeds have been planted and now is the time of watering and weeding. Growth marks this season, though not always in an upward line. Like a good marriage that has moved from the honeymoon euphoria into a more settled routine of life and love, so in this season of our souls, we are “comfortable” with God and our place in God’s Kingdom.

Autumn brings the promise of a rich harvest.  The hard work of planting in the spring and tending throughout summer bears fruit up to a hundred-fold. We feel mature, confident and able to mentor well. Yet, as in autumn in nature, things are shifting and change is in the air.  After a sense of fullness or completeness, we may also find ourselves mildly discontent. Autumn can be a time for reevaluation as well as enjoying the fruits of our labors under God’s grace and mercy. It may be a time to shift into a course of deeper study or consider moving into areas that are out of our comfort zones. We may be aware of our mortality in ways we haven’t been before.

Winter is a time when the soul feels cold and withered. It is a season of pruning, of lying fallow, of feeling that things one has worked so hard on are dead. It can be a season of grieving losses for what might have been, of what never was. Doubt and/or darkness are the hallmarks of this season. We survive this season with the harvest from autumn. We live out of raw obedience more in winter, seeking to remember the warmth of the sun/Son. Feelings related to our faith may be dormant; there is no spiritual sap/life force rising. Some of the greatest soul work happens in these “dark nights of the soul.” We may not see any buds, let alone fruit, but we trust that god is at work deep within us.

Christian community is critical in all the seasons of our souls. Walking with others helps tame our spring-time zealousness and strengthen our winter survival skills. Soul friends can keep us from throwing in the towel in winter and help us assess the full extent of our autumn harvest. As surviving in the wilderness on your own is possible but not preferable, so surviving the ups-and-downs of our spiritual seasons is so much richer within a supportive and mature community.

What season of life are you in right now? Share that with someone this week!

I have been thinking about the idea of preparation this week here at this old house. This past Labor Day weekend, we went to Alaska where it is mid to late fall. The animals there are in preparation mode for surviving the coming harsh winter. Specifically, we went to McCarthy in the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains. Every year, the town closes down for the winter with a Labor Day party. A band comes down for the weekend and plays in the only bar in town. The McCarthy road is a 60-mile, rough drive in good weather (it has its own Facebook page!); this is very rural Alaska. Some families who live along the McCarthy road were starting to move in closer to schools in Kenney Lake or Anchorage. Kennecott was winding down its tourist season with seasonal National Park Rangers making plans for where they would spend the winter. IMG_1645 (2)

In Fairbanks, our daughter loaded her winter car box into the trunk after we unloaded all the gear we took to McCarthy.  Her studded snow tires will go on in a week or two. (There was fresh snow on the tops of many of the peaks in Alaska.) Here at this old house, there are fewer hummingbirds at the feeder as many have begun their long journey south. The leaves here are just thinking about turning here whereas in Alaska, the hills were brilliant gold. In both locations, bears are feeding 20 hours a day, trying to bulk up for the long hibernation they will endure, though the bears here will have a less harsh environment to endure and for a shorter time than the bears in Alaska.

As I packed to go to Alaska, I prepared with long underwear, a hat, gloves, my warmest pajamas, all of which I ended up using. Even though it was in the upper 80s here at this old house before we left and when we came back, I had to think ahead to a climate that was at least eight weeks ahead of where I live. Trying to put everything I thought I might need into one checked bag was a bit tricky. I was aware of all the refugees in the world right now. Many of them had fewer of their possessions with them as they fled dreadful circumstances than I was taking on a vacation. In my book, “A Spiritual Disciplines Devotional: A Year of Readings,” I suggest an exercise that you might want to try by yourself or with others: Open a suitcase in front of you on the floor. Imagine you have 15 minutes to flee your home, possibly forever. What would you take? What would you leave behind? Time to plan and prepare is a gift not everyone gets.

Here at this old house, with the real danger of wildland fires, we have an evacuation list that we keep in the car as well as in the house. We have heard too many people who had minutes to flee a raging forest fire later say that they grabbed the oddest stuff in their haste and panic. Trying to prepare for something we hope we never have to face, we thought a list would keep us focused in an emergency.

Next week, I am playing for the funeral of someone who died very unexpectedly. How does one prepare for death, one’s own or another’s, especially if there is no warning it is coming? One way is to live as if each day were your last. As much as possible, live fully into the day, being kind and compassionate, seeking to be at peace with all you meet as much as it depends on you (see Romans 12:18). In Benedictine monastic communities, an open grave is kept in the cemetery. As the monks walk past it daily, it is a reminder that they may be the next one in that hole. Another way to prepare for death is to treat each time of sleep as a time of dying. Pray through the day past, seeking to discern what was life-giving and what was life-draining. Where did you see God? Where do you need to ask for forgiveness? What habit do you need to strengthen? Then, follow Psalm 4:8– In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Nature’s creatures and plants know how to prepare for the changing seasons they must endure. How do we, created in the image of God, do the same?



It is definitely early fall here at this old house: hot days and cool nights. We have had virtually no rain all month, so the grasses are dried out to a crisp. The Western Slope peaches continue to be exquisite but many tomato plants have not done well due to the cold, wet May we had. Agriculture requires such a fine balance, a reality too many of us have no clue about as we are so removed from our food sources and the land in general. With the ability to engineer foods to be available nearly all year long, most of us have no idea what it means for a fruit or vegetable to be “in season” or “out of season.” That makes it hard for many of us to fully appreciate 2 Timothy 4:2–Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.

One of my favorite stories of Henri Nouwen, the late Dutch priest, goes something like this: Nouwen was exhausted and went to a monastery to rest. A group of Roman Catholic high school students came for a weekend retreat while he was there. Their leader asked if Nouwen would speak to the kids about worship and the liturgy. Frustrated, Nouwen went to the Abbot complaining about his desire for rest and lack of interest in preparing a talk for these students. The Abbot looked at Nouwen and said that if after all these years of being a priest he couldn’t simply talk to the kids about the liturgy, then there was something very wrong. Nouwen, the Abbot said, didn’t need to prepare but rather live in a state of preparedness and speak to these students out of that state. Put another way, Nouwen didn’t need to prepare a talk as if he were speaking to a conference full of liturgical scholars. Rather, Nouwen could speak simply and from his heart on aspects of the liturgy that would be appropriate to high school students.

When I first heard that story, I was profoundly struck by the idea of “living in a state of preparedness.” That is very much what 2 Timothy 4 is saying. This begs the question: how does one live in a state of preparedness? The quick answer be focused on a subject, always looking for ideas related to it as you go about your day. In the case of 2 Timothy, we would always have our antennae out for things relating to the Kingdom of God. Out of that richly tilled soil planted with godly seeds, one can then speak a word appropriate to any situation and person.

I tend to live and think “liturgically.” That is, I am very aware of where we are in the Church Year each week. I have three things that I use to help reinforce each week’s lectionary readings:

  • a radio program called “Sing for Joy” (,
  • the three-volume set “Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource” (,
  • and Nancy Roth’s three book set on hymns from the Episcopal hymnal 1982 related to each Sunday’s lectionary theme (

I also do a daily devotional that is based on the lectionary for each day that includes three readings, a hymn from the Lutheran hymnal, and a prayer. By reading and/or listening to these resources, I find that I am more prepared for worship on Sunday morning and more grounded in kairos, God’s time. It helps me live in parallel worlds, chronos (clock time) but focused on the world of God’s Kingdom and rule in parallel with my daily tasks. It doesn’t always work. Chronos is a harsh task master but by periodically stopping and reflecting on God’s time, I can more easily “keep calm and carry on.”





In season or out of season, living in a state of preparedness–good goals for the fall, don’t you think?


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