Dear Saints,

What do you plan to be next week for Halloween: goblin, ghost, superhero, cheerleader?  I have a friend who was Batman 9 years in a row as a kid, dealing with the “Joker” and the “Riddler” on his own terms, and now he is a school psychologist.  It’s pretty great, isn’t it, to dress up as some form of your alter ego, walk through the neighborhood, and get candy for your efforts?

No one really knows how our current version of Halloween came to be.  It didn’t earn a permanent spot on the American calendar until the early 20th century, and “one finds no mention of trick-or-treating or anything like it in published sources earlier than 1939.” (David Emery, Urban Myths)  Interestingly enough, one does find many reports of unrestrained pranks and vandalism in connection with Halloween festivities from the late 1880’s on, things like outhouses turned sideways, so perhaps trick-or-treating was contrived by adults to provide an orderly alternative to juvenile mischief.  (Emery)  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I guess.

Another juxtaposition of sweet with the scary is Dia de los Muertos, beginning in Mexico and probably evolving from Aztec customs.  By the 16th century the tradition of making sugar skulls and gathering in the cemetery to celebrate the saints was spreading throughout Spanish speaking cultures.

The word Halloween derives from All Hallows Eve, so our dressing up in costumes on the night before All Saints Day may borrow from a medieval custom.  In those days and earlier, folks believed that on this holy night and day, the souls of the dead mingled with the souls of the living in some special and powerful way.  Long before Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis, people dressed as their biggest fears on one night of the year, so as not to be controlled by them on the other 364 days.  The veil between order and misrule, present and past, heaven and earth was thin on All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day, and insightful folks sought to hold all of that at once.

And to round out the celebration, the day after All Saints Day is the feast of All Souls, a holiday that we have almost completely forgotten.  The distinction between the two is all but lost, but in the old days it went something like this: “On All Saints Day we remember those saints who have left a name, whose stories we know something about, like Saint Peter, Saint Paul, or Saint Mary.  Then on All Soul’s Day, we remember all of the faithful departed, whether they made a mark in the world or not, the saints (who are sometimes) known to God alone, like our relatives, our friends, or the old woman across the street.”  Between the two celebrations, “we come into communion with all those saints and souls who have gone before us, with all our kin, known or unknown, to whom we are related by Christ’s blood.”  (Barbara Brown Taylor)  Remembering all of them makes us humble and hopeful, perhaps, a little less likely to repeat the mistakes of the past and a little more likely to discover the gifts we were born to offer.

We are saints in the making.  Every person that we lift up out of poverty or keep from harm’s way, every broken heart that we strengthen or help mend, every wall we break down or chasm we bridge makes the world a little more like the one that God envisioned.



Do you remember the first time you heard the Beatles? Or sung a Beatles song? Do you remember what song it was?

“Imagine” was mine. We sung it in Mrs. Blacklock’s music class at Bryn Mawr. I can still remember the purple-inked ditto sheet the lyrics were printed on:

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s  easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today … aha-ah …

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” Albert Einstein once said. “For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

Imagination is a bridge connecting the present moment to a possible future. When we imagine something in our mind’s eye, we have a concept, a picture, an image that we can work towards, to build, to create. A dream to manifest into reality. A hope to fulfill. “Heaven”, if you will, to “bring down” to “earth”.

Imagination can be prayer, just as prayer can be imagination.

Are you in a broken relationship? Can you pray for … can you imagine … what being in a healed relationship would look and feel like? Can you pray for … can you imagine … what a healed city would look like? Can you pray for … can you imagine … what a healed nation might be? (What our public discourse would sound like? What our institutions and systems might accomplish, and in what manner?)

Can you pray? Can you imagine?

And then, to play on the words of D.C. public school teacher, theologian and lay preacher Verna Dozier, does our world actually come closer to the “dream of God”, because of what you imagine?

Prayer is where the dream of God begins; action is where the dream leads. Imagination is how God’s dream is conceived; engagement is how it is birthed. Prayer and action, action and prayer. Imagination and engagement, engagement and imagination. An ongoing dance … an ongoing circle … if we are willing to be God’s minds and hearts and hands and feet, building God’s “Kingdom” here on earth. One healed relationship. One healed school or institution. One healed community. At a time.

There is an African proverb that goes: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Imagine where we might go … and let’s go there … traveling and living The Way … together.


Dear Folks,

Several years ago a friend from college spoke at Riverside Church in Manhattan.  He was 30-years-old at the time, a struggling musician with a day job, sharing a house with friends in Harlem.  I had heard him sing several times in and around New York, but on that Sunday morning he was not in the choir or offering a solo.  Tom had been asked to be co-chair of the church stewardship campaign, which both surprised and pleased him, and he called his dad in Memphis for advice.  “I hope you will accept the challenge,” his father said.  “It will be an opportunity for you to remember that we never own anything in this life.  Do you have the courage to stand up and say that?”

I don’t know if Tom would call himself courageous, but I think he was.  He looked small as he stepped to the microphone and described life in the city on a budget, pinched by limited resources and the number of hours in a day.  “I caught myself recently saying to friends that I ‘needed more, deserved more, wanted more,’” he said, “and something clicked inside me: why am I focusing on what I don’t have?  What will change if I concentrate on what I can do instead of what I can’t?”

The service that morning concluded with the final verse of Hymn 112, spoken as a prayer: What can I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him—give my heart.

That’s the essence of stewardship: to give ourselves.  If we have eyes to see it, everything in our lives is a gift—even our hard earned money and our time—and those gifts are ours to offer, for the good of the whole, to help and heal the world.

You know what a steward is by analogy: she is the person who manages the wine for the owner of the restaurant.  She tends the bottles, chills some, and turns others.  She receives new supply, takes care of the empties, and keeps the place looking clean and bright.  She cares a whole lot about the wine, and wants to make sure that people have access to it and enjoy it, but none of it is really hers.  It’s the person who owns the restaurant who really owns the wine, and the steward is acting as an agent for the host.

Or…he is the person who presents the airline to you when you fly.  He takes you to your seat, offers you something to eat or drink, and directs you to safety in the event of an emergency.  He manages your experience as you travel.  But he doesn’t own the airline; he represents it.  He offers it to you for the owner, whom you probably haven’t met directly.

A steward is one who manages another’s property or finances or affairs.  In the stories Jesus likes to tell, it is the person left in charge of a large estate or vineyard.  It’s a person who serves others on behalf of someone else, and that’s why we talk about stewardship in the church.  The world is the vineyard, and Jesus calls us to share what we have, to be God’s hands and heart to heal it.

Everything changes when we concentrate on what’s possible.



This week the Women Who Wonder (WWW) spent time creating a personal mantra or two. It was a creative exercise that produced some interesting results. For those of you not part of the gathering, I thought you might enjoy considering what your mantra might be.

First question to ask is what is a mantra? It can be a guideline for living your life, or adjusting to conflict or overcoming challenges. It is a short phrase that reflects your belief system or how you would like to respond to a situation. Professor John Norcross wrote “A sense of self-efficacy is needed for success and those who fail to achieve often feel defeated. Low self-efficacy is linked to negative self-talk. Not only do they feel like a loser but there is a strong correlation with lack of follow through.” Maddison Krown says it another way: “Your self-concept is your destiny.”

While mantras are frequently used in meditation to quiet the mind, they are useful in our everyday lives to encourage us, to ground us, to reinforce a sense of self confidence. You may formulate more than one and find that you change your mantras over time to coincide with a particular situation. The key ingredients to your mantras are that they are short and truly meaningful to you.

I will share two of mine as examples. The first is one that I use when I might be feeling stressed or anxious. “All shall be well, all shall be well.” I repeat that slowly and prayerfully in a rhythm that synchronizes with my breathing. There is no rushing a mantra for it to be effective. Pastorally I also find this useful for individuals particularly when I am praying with them prior to surgery. I suggest they say it as a way to calm any fears.

My second mantra is “There is always Plan B.” I use that when it appears things might not work out as I had anticipated. It is another way to say life will resolve itself, just maybe not as had been planned. There is also a creative component to this Plan B mantra as I have learned to maintain a curiosity about exactly how things will work out. Often there is a sense of delight that Plan B was actually ‘better’ than Plan A!

A final thought for you. When you are in church and listening to the lectionary readings, be alert to any phrase of scripture that might grab you as especially meaningful. Such short verses are a wonderful resource for mantras.

So, I invite you to consider adopting your own mantras. This should be an exercise that is not forced or heavy. Enter into it lightly. Enjoy it. I would love to hear what you come up with!