Dearly Beloved,

         Bear fruits worthy of repentance.
         … Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none;
         and whoever has food must do likewise.
         One who is more powerful than I is coming.
         … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
                          —Luke 3.8, 11, 16

Christmas is not all lovely tinsel-haired angels and shepherds in their cute bathrobes and a sweet little baby, no crying he makes. Luke's sure of that. Christmas is the coming of the Prince of Peace, whose empire will have no end... which means, of course that our empire will come to an end. The changes he describes in people's lives are not just issues of piety or personal morality. They are issues of justice. The scriptures and the carols of the season are thick with God's care for the poor, God's desire to set prisoners free and lift up the downtrodden and bring down the mighty and wrest power from oppressors and remodel the world.

“Preparing the way” is more than having a warm spot in your heart. The One who is coming is the Prince of Peace, the sovereign of justice among us. He has a claim on us. He places demands of his realm upon us. We are responsible for our world, for poverty and racism and violence and the harming of the earth. We are responsible for justice, for healing and reconciliation and redemption. There is nothing more true to the heart of Christmas than doing justice.

This Advent and Christmas, visit someone in prison. Participate in a Jericho Walk. Reach out to immigrants. Write to your Senator or representative. The child Jesus and his parents are waiting outside the wall. Prepare him a way. Repent, and bear the fruits of justice.

   —December 11, 2018

The ax at the root

         Bear fruits worthy of repentance.
         … Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees;
         every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit
         is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

                        —Luke 3.8, 9

How can this be Christmas, the ax at the root?
Where are the lovely things,
the sheep and stars and frankincense?

Wake up. Christmas is meant to change us.
There is no comfort without engagement,
no good news without strings attached.

God, help me not skim through Christmas.
Beloved, let me be changed.
I yield myself to you,

to prune what you will,
to feed what you will,
to harvest what you will.

I surrender myself to your pruning,
the ax at the root of my desires,
your spade in the soil of my deepest longings.

I accept the gift of what is taken from me:
habits that harm, my heart's diversions,
my shield from the world's pain.

Let the coming of Christ be the flowing
of your sap up into my being,
into fruits of presence and justice and love.

Baptize me with the fire of your indwelling.
Pregnant with Christ, may I bear the fruit
of your new creation in me.

   —December 10, 2018


         By the tender mercy of our God,
         the dawn from on high will break upon us,
         to give light to those who sit in darkness
          and in the shadow of death,
          to guide our feet into the way of peace.
                                 —Luke 1.78-79

Beloved, I am your early morning dark,
your deep blue sky, shadowed neighborhoods,
velvety darkness, thirsty for light.
I am your prison cell where someone lonely waits,
looking at the little window.
I am not alone. We are all a vast plain
waiting for the lifting of the blanket,
humanity is a beautiful bride waiting for the lifting of the veil.
And you are our dawn.
We are the vessels of your light,
pitchers ready for your dawn to pour in
from the well of you
and carry out into the world.
In the shadow of death, mine
and those I abet,
my soul sits, waits,
watches the dimming stars.
Now, tender mercy, now.

   —December 7, 2018


         ...that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
         might serve God without fear...

                        —Luke 1.74

Our worst enemies are no one else,
but our own fear, greed and resentment,
our urge to be right and safe and powerful.
They soldier on, as if the war is not over.
But God has set us free
from the enemies of our wholeness,
enemies of life.
We are free to serve, to love, to risk
without fear.
We are free from the traps and tangles in our heads,
the tales we spin of what can't be.

Our fear, already safe on the other side,
still mumbles about impossibilities
while the bird flies through the bars,
the imaginary mountain.

Nothing but the lies in our heads prevents us now
from being the perfect vessel of the Beloved,
being fearlessly forgiving,
being the light in the darkness.
That is who we are now.
We are free.

   —December 6, 2018

Prepare the way

          Prepare the way for Love,
          make straight a path for the Holy One.

                        —Luke 3.4

Enough of your junk drawer clutter
bucket of old used punctuation
heartthrob amusement ride of distraction.
Prayer is a snow shovel.
You plow it all aside. All of it.
Clear a space.
Admit it: your heart is a hoarder.
Clean out your piety's basement.
You don't build the way, don't accrue it.
You empty it.
Rough made smooth, crooked made straight,
busy made empty.
Empty it all.
Silence the noise, the chorus, the committee,
the crowd.
The empty place is not long, stretching away.
It's just right there, around you,
a circle of light,
empty air,
silence—not what you hear,
but how you listen,
what you practice.


Now there's a way.

For the Coming One,
who speaks silence,
who blesses the emptiness,
the Presence
who is the negative space itself

where you've made room
for a little friendliness.

   —December 5, 2018

What God has begun

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

         The angel Gabriel was sent
         to a young woman...
—Luke 1.26

         I am confident of this,
         that the one who began a good work among you
         will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

                        —Philippians 1.6

You don't know it
but you have that glow
of a young woman
who is pregnant
and has only just now found out
or maybe hasn't yet
but somehow you know
God is in you, growing,
something started you can't stop
which will flow out from you,
escape you, transcend you.
All you have to do is say Yes
and let heaven slowly blossom
in you.

The calming of a single heart,

or justice for the oppressed—
the life has already begun.
All of you, look around,
ask each other,
What has God begun in us?
How shall we attend
as God brings it to completion?

   —December 4, 2018

Every year

Every year
he says, “I love these people.
I'm going to go be with them,
just to walk them through the darkness.”
Every year the angels tell him,
No, this is a bad idea.
It never works.
But the Eternal One nods at him and smiles
a sad little smile,
and he pours himself out
into a great mysterious emptiness,
and he comes.
He always comes
and walks with us,
and every year I walk with him,
he smiles and nods that same smiling nod.

There is the brief moment in the stable—
despite the hardship quite lovely, really—
but then the hard work,
the road, the town square, the disputes....
And then he is taken.
Every year, taken:
shot beside me as we walk,
jailed, deported, lynched, crucified.

I walk on without him,
looking for a welcome place for him,
trying to bear that light,
let it gleam just a little...
And then it gets darker,
until it seems stupid and hopeless and foolish,
and then once again,
the angels shaking their heads
but singing glory anyway,
he comes.
Knowing, he comes,
every year he comes.
And I watch for them to take him,
and they do take him, every year,
and I say,
“The angels are right, this doesn't work.”
He nods and smiles and says,
“Yes it does.”
And he comes again.
And I,
a tiny light in a great emptiness,
I am waiting for him.

   —December 3, 2018

A heart aware

         Be on guard
         so that your hearts are not weighed down
         with dissipation and drunkenness
         and the worries of this life,
         and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.

                        —Luke 21.34-35

God, wake me from the fog of my low expectations,
the cement of worry that clings to my feet.
Help me shake off the world's despair,
its pointless habits, desires and attachments,
the awful busyness, the downward spiral
of judging, consuming, and protecting myself.
Give me the courage to trust you are moving and acting;
give me the vision to embrace the unimaginable.
Help me stand with clarity and purpose.
Give me the urgency to act—for now is the time—
and the patience to wait for the fullness of time.
May I look upon the world with eyes of grace,
and act with a heart of love and hope.

   —November 30, 2018

Be alert

         Be alert at all times.
                  —Luke 21.36

You have to know how to look
and where
among the distress of the nations,
the fear and foreboding,
to see the little fig leaves,
the subtle bursts of possibility,
God's faint but certain emergences,
the little gracelets that abound
and clue you in
on what is coming upon the world.
Look for the child who endures,
the woman who persists,
the beauty that subverts,
the love that sneaks in.
Watch for the free, outlandish life
that is not yet done arriving.
“That's just the way it is”
isn't the way it is.
Look till you see.
Dance till the music
can't help but start.
Don't miss a single birdsong.
You may have to silence yourself,
shed earbuds, turn off the TV,
and the one in your head.
The mercy that does not pass away
shows itself to those who are watching.
In the gray streets,
among the rows and columns,
the mystery keeps happening
and happening
and happening.

―November 29, 2018

A great disturbance

        The powers of the heavens will be shaken...
                        —Luke 21.26

A great disturbance approaches—
but not some dire calamity flung upon us,
the fantasy engorged preachers like to invoke.
No, it's a greater upheaval:
a rift in the very fabric of selfishness,
a disturbance in the powers of evil.
God knows the secret, fatal weakness
of the Opponent of Life:
his power is built entirely on lies and fear.
Even the simplest truth unravels it.
Even the smallest gift, the most subtle beauty,
shakes the powers.
The energy of love overpowers evil,
converts it, as light does darkness.
God mends this troubled world
not by mounting a war of good against evil
but by sending a helpless child,
a child who prevails, not by winning—
for eventually evil will kill the child—
but by evoking such unkillable love in our hearts
that the powers in the heights are shaken.
So when we see these things we raise our heads,
for our redemption is drawing near.

   —November 28, 2018

Righteous branch

         I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David,
         who shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

                        —Jeremiah 33.15

I know we are destroying your planet,
brutalizing children at the border,
while the Emperor spews hatred and fear.
I don't need to know the future,
nor even that you know the future,
don't need to be able to imagine how
in the world
a righteous branch might spring up
and save us.
I only need to know you are here,
and in the root of the trees even now
letting their last leaves go
you are here,
your bud already swelling,
ready for the cold,
you are here, your light already turning,
in the dust and dark and final confusion,
in the the sharp rocks and edges of the last road,
your child already coming,
among us, maybe even within us,
ready for the risk,
his beautiful little face lifting us into a different life,
your arms already sweeping us up.
Snow falls,
and a bud ripens.

November 27, 2018

My neighbor's tree

All summer my neighbor's tree offered its leaves
and the summer sun filled it with light.
Then it offered itself naked
and the moon filled it with light.
Now my neighbor sets up a ladder
and fills the tree with light.

Fill me, God,
in whatever way you will.

   —November 26, 2018

Dare give thanks

         Consider the lilies of the field...
                        —Matthew 6.28

Consider the lilies,
made beautiful.

Dare give thanks
not just for what you have,
give thanks
for who you are.

Your gratitude itself
will be a blossom
of loveliness.

   —November 22, 2018

Smoky Thanksgiving (Sing anyway)

Praying for the California fires

It's hard to sing a lusty thanksgiving hymn
with such smoke in the air,
smoke of trees and dust and houses,
cars and carpets, grass and cellos,
tires and flesh and pictures in their frames,
bodies of the dead and of the living, burned,
hard to take a deep breath and sing
breathing death.

But, child, the air has never been clear.
We breathe the ghosts of strangers' grief,
the breath of forests, the very air of death.
We breathe the dust of our ancestors,
the flesh of neighbors,
we breathe our enemies' cremains,
the pall of furnaces still hanging.
The ash of our bombings, dispersed like incense,
is on our lips as we sing
both alleluia and eleison.

It does not dull our song, this dust.
To breathe the fouled air of our common frailty,
the dust of our misdeeds and undoings,
the song of slaves, the hymns of the long march,
to take it in, to breathe it deep,
it doesn't clot our lungs,
but only adds the darker harmonies
to heartsick hallelujahs that we sing,
sing choking something back at times, but sing,
if only to remember
what we're choking back,
what we've lost, what we haven't lost,
sing, gasp, and wail and plead, and sing,
sing anyway.

November 20, 2018


The angel says to the three year old
and the aging on their deathbeds,
to the victor and victim alike:

you will endure,

but not like this.


Weather Report

Clouds that once were seas,
moved by winds whose nature is to move,
will shape-shift continually
as long as there is light,
and there will always be light.

   —November 19, 2018

The Resistance

         When you hear of wars and rumors of wars,
         do not be alarmed....
         The good news must first be proclaimed to all nations....
         You will stand before governors and kings because of me,
         as a testimony to them.
         The Holy Spirit will speak through you.....

                        —from Mark 13.7-13

Jesus describes the birth pangs:
a new world is being born out of this one.
But then he goes on to say:
You are the midwife of the world being born.
You are the mother giving birth.
You are the new birth.

In this world of hate and greed and fear
you are the Resistance.
You are a revolutionary,
not by heroic acts of destruction or rebellion
but by acts of grace and mercy.
It is love that subverts the world.
Every moment of beauty or generosity
undermines the foundation of this world
of consumption and conflict.
Every act of gentleness and forgiveness
tears down the walls of the Empire,
not one stone left on another.
The Spirit overthrows the world
through you.

Resist the empire of violence
with acts of love.
Even the smallest ones are powerful.
Not merely lovely, the widow's mite
is dynamite.

   —November 16, 2018

Threshing floor

Nothing is preordained.
The Fates are only wishes.
(Gift is better than destiny.)
But more impends for you, world,
than you imagine.
The gravity of grace
draws us always
toward blessing.
Those who have a heart for you
are already moving
in early morning dark.
There are those
who do not know
their welcome for you
waits within them.
Dear world,
you widowed foreigner,
precious Ruth, bereft,
worn fine by hard journeying,
your faithful love
completes you.
The light that will guide us all
ripens in your guts.
You are about
to be redeemed.
Go down to the threshing floor.
Blessing awaits.

   —November 9, 2018

My feral faith

Sometimes my feral faith
goes creeping through the shadows,
among the vines and brambles
shunning house and town,
scrupulously avoiding you.
I practice absence like a monk,
a yeti of the spirit.
Proud of my independence,
my furtive invisibility to you.

But You are the wilderness, aren't you?
You are my hunger,
you are my silence,
you are my absence,
you are the padding of my feet on the forest floor,
aren't you?

   —November 8, 2018

A prayer for the days to come

Eternal God,
         give us wisdom
         to see the big picture.

Creating God,
         give us imagination
         to live differently.

Patient God,
         give us perseverance
         for the long haul.

Suffering God,
         give us courage
         to work for justice.

Gentle God,
         give us humility and trust
         to practice non-violence.

Hopeful God,
         give us confidence
         in the power of love.

Crucified God,
         give us faith to reach out
         to you who are always rising.

Loving God,
         give us your grace
         for the days to come.

   —November 7, 2018

Copper penny

         A poor widow came and put in
         two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

                        —Mark 12.42

Your copper penny is enough.
Your one vote. Your one prayer.
Your one little good deed.
Any gift given with love
is filled with God
and so with infinite power.

In faith, give the copper penny.
Trust each one.
And give many.

Imagine a life full of such miracles.


         A prayer for election day

God of love, as we vote today
may your love and courage and hope prevail,
and after the votes are counted,
may your love and courage and hope prevail.

   —November 6, 2018