To See the Face of God

And So…We Sing Reflection

The coronavirus is offering us a most timely and colossal gift—the gift of, at last, awakening to our common humanity with all peoples. Suffering does that. Nothing galvanizes us to act unconditionally more than witnessing the suffering of the innocent around us—and, in this case, we’re all innocent. The virus has done this by not being partial to the rich, the poor, the well–loved or the unloved. It doesn’t care if we live in a developing nation or an underdeveloped one. It’s immune to our political and religious affiliations. It doesn’t notice if we’re gay or straight or what color our skin is. By leaving a trail of suffering across all of our faces, it is showing us that we are all in this together, experiencing the same thing, at the same time, in the same way.

And, suddenly, many of us find ourselves writing notes, making food packages, giving rides, leaving groceries and supplies at front doors, smiling shyly at one another across our six feet of distance. It doesn’t occur to us to assess worthiness or to gauge eligibility; to ask what religion someone is or to require proof of nationality. No, we simply respond because we are compelled to do so from that place that can now see beyond the differences to what’s the same in all of us—to see that those very strangers we never knew were just like us, children of the one Creator and, as such, our very brothers and sisters in this one human family in which we all live. The coronavirus is breaking us open enabling us to see with new eyes and to respond with a new heart laid bare by our common suffering.

While there are those already sensing how our planetary and global conversation might evolve as a result of this common experience—incredibly important and, in truth, likely the only thing that will save us and our planet—I find myself thinking about it more from the other direction, from the depths of that new, collective, heart emerging. For I don’t believe, in the end, any aspirations of global transformation will hold unless they arise from a transformation of the human heart—inspired by nothing short of, truly, seeing one another. For, I know for myself, in moments when I’ve been able to . . .     

I suddenly see…   

You . . . the man I passed in the isle, talking gibberish, looking afraid, confused . . . You are in my heart today. I hope you found a home . . . a meal.

You . . . the woman with the nice smile with whom I had a fun conversation about that last roll of toilet paper—the one we both found hidden behind a crate on the shelf . . . Your smile still warms my heart. Gosh, how I would love to have a cup of tea with you.

You . . . my neighbor I passed in the hall today and with whom I exchanged a friendly smile . . . I’ve seen you but still don’t know your name. When this is over, I’ll remedy that.

You . . . the woman I saw at the elevator who, as the door opened, suddenly asked, “Is it safe to go out?” Oh, if I had thought more quickly, I would have said, “Yes! Would you like to go for a walk?”

And . . . from my mind’s eye . . . I can suddenly see . . .

You . . . all the ones who will find out today you tested positive . . . My heart cries with you.

You . . . the one who’s discovering that time with your children is forging a new bond . . . My heart celebrates with you.

And You . . . the one caught in hurtful family dynamics unable to escape . . . My heart grieves with you.  

You . . . the one who’s lost your job and now, literally, worries about how many more loaves of bread you can buy to feed your children before the money runs out or help arrives . . . I stand with you and would invite you and yours to dinner if I could.   

You . . . the man pulling that cart of supplies to deliver to a neighbor . . . You made my heart skip all the way back home.

You . . . the one who is alone during the long days of lockdown . . . My heart would so love to reach out across the miles or through my computer screen to touch you.

You . . . who selflessly go to work to help the sick knowing you are exposing yourself . . . and you who work behind the counters bagging our food and, you, helping us with needed supplies . . . many of you quarantined from your own family and loved ones . . . Oh my, yes, it is truly YOU who are the heroes we will long remember.

But, mostly, it is You . . . who are sick, confined, quarantined in a sterile hospital room knowing you could die alone without the touch of a loved one’s hand or hearing a loved one’s voice . . . and to all those who love you and can’t touch you or share a tender moment with you . . . It is to you my heart reaches out the most.

Truly seeing you, my brothers and sisters, cracks my heart open to greater and greater depths enabling me to both sing and cry from that place that knows your joy is my joy and your tears are my tears. We go together, you and I, for we are all a part of our one human family.     

So, my prayer is that we’ll use this incredibly unique moment in our evolutionary history to pause, look, feel, and see our beloved Creator right there before us . . . looking out at us through one another’s eyes, speaking to us through one another’s voice, reaching out to us through one another’s hearts. That we may hear the voice of the Psalmist: Create in me a new heart; heed the words of Krishna: Deep in the heart of all lies the light of all lights forever beyond darkness; rest in the reassurance of Allah that there is only one God: la il laha illa allah; and, awaken to the holy commandment of Jesus: Love one another as I have loved you.

Oh, my dear brothers and sisters . . . let us all . . .  

Look out . . . and see . . . the face of God everywhere.   


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7 Things

And So…We Sing Reflections…

We hear it all the time. Don’t wait ’til tomorrow to say I love you; I forgive you; I’ve been a better person because of you; what I’ve most appreciated about you; how you’ve gifted my life…because we never know if we’re going to get tomorrow. We know this . . . but we don’t—until we’re caught in a pandemic. Recently, my heart, quite tenderly, settled on the knowing that, should I get sick and need to be quarantined, I could die without ever seeing my family and all those I love again. Now, interestingly, it is not the dying part that bothers me half as much as the Oh no!!! I wish I had told them…part.

So, I’ve decided not to wait. I’ve started making notes I’m calling 7 Things . . . 7 Things I Love about You . . . 7 Sweet Memories of You . . . 7 Things I Appreciate about You… I’m not sure how I landed on 7 but there it is. But I can tell you that it’s the sweetest thing on the planet to be writing them. It’s like, finally, I’m doing the most important thing . . . that very thing that answers that proverbial question, What would you do if you knew you only had a day, month, year to live?

Far from feeling like doomsday or some self–fulfilling prophesy, (News Flash: We’re all going at some point and none of us know when!) I feel so very happy, at peace, and truly in love when I’m writing these notes—especially to those where things have felt unclear, unresolved or in any way strained or broken. In these cases, as I’m pulling out of me what I most love or appreciate about them, I remember that it’s not important that they love me. It is only important that I love them. This is what sets my heart at peace.

7 things that fill my heart to overflowing . . .

7 things that help me to remember what it truly means to live . . . 

7 things that crack my heart open to love unconditionally . . .

7 things that set my soul free . . .

Thank you, Coronavirus.

PS: Many of you reading this know of my grandson Sean who has autism. Thought I’d share the one I recently made for him… 


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And So…We Sing Reflections – 1

They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.

Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM

We are being tested. No doubt about it. Tested to see if we can continue living our deep spiritual principles in times of intense struggle and uncertainty. In the Tree of Life community, we’ve talked a lot about the purpose of being tested over the years always saying it was really a good thing. No fun for sure. But, certainly, a way of mining—way down—to excavate some buried treasure we didn’t even know we had—to, ultimately, see for ourselves that we really do blossom, not in spite of, but because of.

So, I’ve made a commitment to live through this time, every day, looking with soft eyes, to see just where I may extract some of those spiritual gems that only reveal themselves when we are forced to dive deep. The first one came this past Friday. May it bless your day as we begin this journey together . . .

What? No toilet paper?! There’s nothing like the toilet paper shelves being empty to jar us awake! Like most, I’ve been dealing with my own fears, insecurities, and watching my own need to hoard—just in case. Then, recently in the grocery store, passing those empty shelves, and waiting in that very long line on the way up to the additional lines at the terminals, I suddenly took in the gravity of our situation. I didn’t fully realize it at the time but our would become the operative word.

It became so the next morning when, in my spiritual practice, I prayed to our beloved God to please show me what I needed to know about this critical time. In the silence, I was surprised to sense that the coronavirus could actually be a blessing—that how the instinctual impulse to hoard, when we perceive there’s not enough, can actually awaken a deeper sense of our interconnectedness. How? I suddenly saw how in our affluent way of living, indeed satiated fullness, we so easily can become comatose forgetting we are utterly and completely dependent upon other people, people just like you and me, to show up every day and do their part so we may continue to enjoy the life we’ve come to know and, all too often, take for granted.  

I saw images of the farmers in the fields growing our food, the packers, truck drivers and, finally, the grocery store attendants placing the items on the shelves. And, as for the most revered item in times of crisis, toilet paper, I could now imagine the tree cutters, paper manufacturers, assembly line workers, and again, the haulers and, finally, the store attendants placing this most coveted of all items on the shelves. Now, add in a pandemic and the possibility of just any one of these groups falling away, and suddenly I was awakened to the very real truth that any broken link in this human chain impacts the whole.

From there, in the silence of my heart, I began to feel how I, as one of the affluent ones, have actually contributed to the kind of global hoarding that’s now being played out in neighborhood grocery stores all around the world. For example, my husband and I are not rich by any means. We enjoy a comfortable middle–class retirement lifestyle. Yet, look inside our refrigerator and cupboards and you’ll find almond milk and regular milk, Ezekiel bread and regular bread, almond butter and peanut butter, fancy organic granola and Cherrios, just to name a few examples. Really? When there are many people around the world who have no milk, no bread, no peanut butter, no cereal.

Gratefully, I came out of my prayers feeling both deeply connected to the web of life as well as fully culpable for my part in it. I can’t pretend now I don’t recognize my part in creating hunger in a faraway land. I can’t turn away from the suffering I now sense ever more deeply. And, as a result, my heart has been pierced to a new depth with the most tender of all remembrances—that every person is my brother, my sister. So, as suffering and death increase with this pandemic, I’m reminded of the importance of not isolating my heart—but, quite the contrary, to keeping it open to all, in all ways, as I am able. For, in truth, I’m as intricately connected to the one far away working in the fields as I am to my neighbor tending her garden.

I have been jarred awake in a way I had not imagined and I realize I have only begun to see just the tip of the proverbial iceberg . . . but I will continue to pray, day by day, and dive deeper and deeper. And I pray many of you will too for, if so, the coronavirus may just leave us with the greatest blessing of all . . .

A new way of seeing, being, and living in the world . . . born of an ever–deepening sense of interconnectedness with all peoples.

And so . . . we sing.


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Why I’m a Dancer

If you caught my October 2, 2019 blog, An Unexpected Gift of Grace, you know I broke my wrist shortly after returning to dance. I’m back now taking private lessons with Jen, owner of Allegro Dance Academy, to build up my repertoire before returning to a class. Today we did ballet and I told her I’d send her one of my favorite stories about dance—actually, one that’s much more than just about dance—one that offered a life–changing lesson for me. Curious? Here’s the story I first told in An Ordinary Life Transformed: Lessons for Everyone from the Bhagavad Gita, followed by an addendum story I’ve not shared publicly. You’ll see the connection. Enjoy!

Dance was always my first love but after an auto accident at sixteen I had to stop. Then in my mid–twenties, I discovered an adult beginning ballet class just up the street from where I worked in Honolulu, Hawaii. My teacher’s name was Jack Clause and he definitely did not look like a ballet teacher. He was rather short and stocky and had very little hair, but, his face—oh, that face with those glowing eyes—held me fast. I always knew something special was about to happen when he walked in the room. No chitchat allowed. No coming in late. Nothing less than our full attention was accepted. Later I learned he was quite accomplished and had been brought in from the mainland to work with the Honolulu Ballet Company.

As we worked at the barre, he’d come around to each of us and say, “Up . . . up!” and stand there until we were lifted and shining. But most importantly, he told us to be beautiful as we moved across the floor. Now, most adult beginning ballet students look anything but beautiful moving across the floor! Still, he would bellow, “Be beautiful! There are many technicians but very few dancers! Be a dancer!” After class, it was all I could do to remember it was not appropriate to grande jette down the sidewalk on my way to catch the last bus home!

After just over a year, we left Hawaii to spend a year in Japan. It was during that time I realized the true gift of his teaching—the true gift of allowing myself, daring myself to be a dancer—not just a technician—in many parts of my life! And it felt very important to say thank you. I anxiously waited for the day we’d return home as I knew there’d be a layover in Honolulu. I would tell him then.

Finally, the day came when I found myself on the familiar sidewalk outside the old building. As I was about eight months pregnant, I hobbled up the stairs and, breathlessly, asked the girl at the desk how I might find Jack. She stared at me with a kind of awkward look and said, “You don’t know?”

“Know what?” I asked.

“Jack died a few months ago,” she said. “He had a heart ailment. He knew he could die at any time. You didn’t know? Most people knew.” All I could do was shake my head and make my way back down the stairs, stunned and sad.

But the blessed gift he gave me has remained and has continued to serve me all the days of my life. Thank you, Jack.


Fast forward a few years. I’m living in Pensacola, Florida and have just heard that Mikhail Baryshnikov himself is coming to Birmingham, Alabama! Though I was pregnant again with our second child and about due, I was determined there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity! My husband at the time wasn’t able to go so I reserved a single seat, front and center, in the very first row of the mezzanine. My dear friend lent me a gown I could wear in my current condition which happened to be very low–cut and crimson red. “Perfect!” And, off I went.

Okay, I confess I did enjoy some of the puzzled to slightly–taken–aback to clearly disagreeable looks I got as I joined the others seated around me, distinguished gentlemen with their ladies, all decked out in their furs with dangled purses. Given the times and context, I did feel a bit like Hester in the Scarlet Letter, but I just kept telling myself, “No matter! I’m going to see Baryshnikov!”

But, as usual, I was to receive what I didn’t see coming.

A few days earlier there’d been some buzz that Baryshnikov had been ill and some question as to whether he’d dance. But, gratefully, last minute, we were told he would. But the first solo performer that night was another well–known dancer of the day, Peter Martins. Now, Martins was clearly at the top of his game. He was, technically, nothing short of brilliant. It was truly amazing to watch.

But, then, finally, it was time for Baryshnikov. Suddenly, as if shot from a cannon, he leaped out from the side into the air, leaping over and over, making a wide circle around the stage. Instantly, we were on our feet clapping and cheering! He went on to dance solo and with partners but, somehow, no matter what he was dancing there was that certain something. Having danced, I could tell, on that night, he wasn’t quite up to Martin’s technical brilliance . . . but it didn’t matter. Even perhaps not feeling well, it was still he who stole the show for it was he who had that certain something.

My beloved teacher, Jack Clause, called that something . . . beauty when he demanded we, “Be beautiful!” Truly, I have always held a soft spot in my heart for Peter Martins when I remember that night because, for all his technical brilliance, he just couldn’t stir the heart, as only that something can, in the way Baryshnikov could.  

Whatever our craft, becoming a true dancer requires, in any moment, that we unleash all the skill, technique, we’ve been cultivating so that all our preparation may serve the creation of that something beautiful seeking expression through us. It requires we throw off self–consciousness, faintheartedness, and get out of the way so that this thing of beauty can be revealed—to us and to all. It requires we remember that such a creation of beauty can only soar when our spirit is free.

Sitting here some forty-five years later, I can still see that glowing face and hear that bellowing voice, Be beautiful! There are many technicians but very few dancers! Be a dancer!

It was a seeding in my heart of that . . .something . . . which I have, graciously, come to witness in many forms over the years . . .

A seeding most joyfully and lovingly offered by the voice of one who knew . . . that very day . . . could be his last.

The ultimate gift of beauty from him . . . to us…

Finally, I thought you might enjoy seeing a couple of pictures of me dancing all those years ago…


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The Look

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44)

I wrote this as an open letter to a man I encountered on a city street recently…

Dear Brother,

I wonder if you’ve thought about it since. You were so mad at me because you thought I was laughing at you. That day my husband and I passed you in front of Alex’s Shoe Store. You, a black man, were packing up when you and I, by chance, caught a glance. What are you laughing at? You piece of white . . . shit! My knee-jerk reaction got stuck on the first line. I wanted to say, No! I’m not laughing at you! I’m sure I’ve hurt many people in many ways in my life but laughing at someone is not one of them. If you knew me, you’d know why. Still, I want to say I’m truly sorry you took it that way. But it was the second part that caught my breath—said with that rage–hot, volcanic look you gave me. It’s why we kept walking.   

I’ve thought a lot about that look. You see, I recognized it, in part, because I’ve seen it in my own children. It’s all too familiar—most often caused by the malicious, debilitating, festering of addiction. A festering that can eventually, tragically, lead straight into the abyss of suicide. Yes, I’m a mother who knows the unspeakable heartbreak of the malignant suffering hidden just behind that look.  

Still, I am not excusing what you did. It’s clearly not okay to verbally attack someone walking down the street, someone you just happened to make eye contact with. No, not okay. And, just in case you think I’m one of those white, hippy, granola, Kumbaya types, writing with some assumption that it could all be made better if we could just sit together, you’d be wrong. That would be a whitewash (forgive the expression) over that moment in time, wouldn’t it? No, I realize the bridge across racial and economic divides is narrow and frail and won’t hold anyone not ready or unable to take full responsibility for everyone’s safe passage. It’s hard work. It requires uncomfortable listening and true hearing. No, sitting here in my comfortable surroundings, I would not presume to know what your life has been. What brought you to that sidewalk that day. What your deep struggles are. What you have seen, experienced. I would not presume to know . . . but wish I could.

I suppose at this point I should tell you I’m a minister but not the kind who would dictate to you the answer from heaven. No, my life’s ministry has been about the practice of seeing the face of God in everyone—most especially behind the kind of look you gave me—the look, variations of which are there for different reasons on different faces at different times—but are always born of unspeakable pain and suffering.

As a woman of God, I can’t say for sure why you were put on my path that day. But I can say and want you to know that I know it was not you who taunted me but, rather, addiction’s unabating rage and desperation spewing out. And, I want you to know that, behind that look, I can fully recognize you as a fellow human being and, yes, as my brother.   

I pray that God’s grace will somehow deliver this note to you. I pray that one day you’ll find your way out from behind that look and out of that abyss of suffering. Maybe then, you’ll be able to remember that day when an elderly white woman, just passing by, glanced at you kindly.

And, perhaps, just perhaps, then . . . we could meet on that narrow bridge.  


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The Sheikh & The Preacher

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day…

In 2016, I visited the largest mosque in New England, The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC), in Roxbury Crossing, MA, to hear Sheikh Yasir Fahmy speak on The Toxicity of Othering. As usual, I did not receive what I expected. No, I received so much more!

About a third of the way through, I started to recognize similar teachings to that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I noticed that if I were to remove the Arabic phrases the Sheikh occasionally included and changed “Allah” to “God,” that, indeed, the core message would seem to be the same. Curious, once home, I listened to the video again off the ISBCC website and printed out a transcript. From there, my journey began and below are my findings which led to the creation of The Sheikh & The Preacher. The essay, expanded from this blog, was chosen for inclusion in the anthology One Nation, Indivisible: Seeking Liberty and Justice from the Pulpit to the Streets, edited by my former professor Celene Ibrahim and just released by Wipf and Stock Publishing.

The four key categories below came to me as I heard the similarities unfold. The sub-headings I also included as a way to highlight the specific teachings within each category. Sheikh Yasir Fahmy’s quotes have been occasionally edited by punctuation only to facilitate ease of reading. The numbers noted at the end of each quote indicate where in the video the wording appeared. The quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are taken directly from the sources indicated at the end of each quote.


Origins of Unhealthy Otherness

Exalting the Self and the Self’s Group as Superior

The Sheikh:

“We want upliftment. We want recognition. We want stability. We want to be known and recognized. We want to be justified. Because of our distance from Allah, we think that the only way I am to make myself big is by belittling others.” (25:05 – 25:34) 

The Preacher:

 “We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade…And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. It is a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it.” (Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, February 2, 1968)

Outcomes of Unhealthy Otherness

Removing the Inferior Others

The Sheikh:

 “[At the extreme, this need for recognition] becomes toxic, demonic, destructive. The self becomes self-aggrandizing and self-absorbed. (2:57 – 3:11) You are a danger to my existence, to my power. You threaten me so I want to destroy you. (5:35 -5:43) [These are] diseases of the heart that exist at the root of this toxic other. (18:44-18:50)People have trouble distinguishing between religious or cultural expressions and human value.” (9:48 – 9:54)

The Preacher:

“We’ve been in the mountain of war. We’ve been in the mountain of violence. We’ve been in the mountain of hatred long enough. It is necessary to move on now, but only by moving out of this mountain can we move to the promised land of justice and brotherhood and the Kingdom of God.” (Sermon at Temple Israel, February 26, 1965)

How to Combat Unhealthy Otherness

Humbly Examine the Self

The Sheikh:

“So, brothers and sisters as we think critically about this disease that exists in our society we have to begin with ourselves. We begin by looking in the mirror and thinking, ’Am I a person who otherizes?’ Am I someone who puts others into other ugly categories and belittles them because of who they are?” (21:49 – 22:13)

“We must take a step back and before really thinking about what people are doing to me, I have to ask myself, ‘To what extent do some of these diseases exist within me?’ For to them as you do it, it will be done to you. Before we sit there and look at others, we have to ask, ‘Am I truly embodying the best of prophetic ideals in this particular regard?’” (7:10 – 8:02)

The Preacher:

 “Now first let us deal with this question, which is a practical one:  How do we go about loving our enemies? I think the first thing is this: In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self. And I’m sure that seems strange to you, that I start out telling you this morning that you love your enemies by beginning with a look at self.” [later] “There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual. And this is one of the tragedies of human nature. So, we begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us, whether in collective life or individual life, by looking at ourselves.” (Loving Your Enemies, Nov. 17, 1957)

How to Cultivate Healthy Otherness

The Sheikh:

The purpose of all creation is ‘so you may know one another,’ to have an intimate engagement with people. [Allah said] I made you into these different tribes that you might know one another. So, it is through humility—that is the way we begin to heal the pains of our society.” (29:36 – 29:56)

The Preacher:

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” (Advice for Living, May, 1958)

Recognize the Common Unity and Destiny of the Human Soul

The Sheikh:

“When Muhammad stood up before a Jewish funeral procession and was asked why, he replied, ‘Is he not a soul that deserves honor, dignity and respect? He is a human soul and, therefore, has inherent value and has inherent sacredness and sanctity and the human soul should be honored and respected regardless of the realities of that person. That’s the prophetic ideal that must thrive in societies.’”  (8:15 – 8:59)

The Preacher:

“They [our white brothers] have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. [later] We will be able to speed up that day when all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” (I Have a Dream Speech, August 28, 1963)

See the Sanctity Within Each Person

The Sheikh:

“Am I someone who has genuine honor for others, genuine love? Can I see the sanctity in human beings no matter who they are? Rather than looking out into the world, rather than seeing all the ugly, I see all the beautiful. I see the beauty of human beings who are struggling to just be there.” (22:17 – 22:34)

The Preacher:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (I Have a Dream Speech,August 28, 1963)

Seek to Love and Forgive Your Enemies

The Sheikh:

“Only Allah can measure the God consciousness of others. It’s not your responsibility to identify others as being this or that. (27:40 – 28:03) We hold dear to our beliefs. We have a distinct desire to see that human life is treated as sacred regardless of the differences that may exits—even in the quote-unquote enemy. No matter your worst enemy, whoever they may be, they deserve dignity as prescribed by Allah.” (16:22 – 16:58)

The Preacher:

“And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers.” (Eulogy after bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, September 18, 1963)

Care for One Another

The Sheikh:

“That’s what it means to be a mercy to mankind. To dignify others is to make sure that everyone comes before me. I want people to be lifted high and if it requires that I bow down and that my neck is broken for others, I will do it. That is the prophetic spirit. That is what it means to honor others, to care for others, regardless of religion or ethnicity or race or even in financiers in the economic realm.” (20:16 – 20:50)

The Preacher:

“The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. (From his 1963 book, Strength to Love.) Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.” (The Major Drum Instinct, sermon adapted from the 1952 homily ”Drum-Major Instincts” by J. Wallace Hamilton, 1952) 

Cultivate a Consciousness of Love

The Sheikh:

“The most dignified and the most honorable amongst creation is the one who has the most God consciousness.“ (26:50 – 26:57)

The Preacher:

“Inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.” (Loving Your Enemies, Nov. 17, 1957)

Seek to be Vehicles of Goodness and Unconditional Love

The Sheikh:

“May he make us vehicles for good on this earth. May he make us prophetic vehicles of change toward goodness on this earth. May we be sources of mercy for others on this earth.” (26:57 -29:28)

The Preacher:

“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. [later] I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”(Noble Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, December 10, 1964)

Closing Quote: The Sheikh

“May Allah rectify the conditions of our humanity on this earth. May he allow it to begin with us. May he guide us, guide through us. May Allah rectify our hearts of the diseases that have caused the problems that we see today so that we can see a society that is prospering.” (30:17 – 30-22)

Closing Quote: The Preacher

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” (I Have a Dream Speech,August 28, 1963)

Lovingly offered by the Sheikh and the Preacher


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Jesus’ Message in a Nickel

In my Christmas service this past Sunday, I shared a story about a young girl who had helped an elderly man to bag groceries as she and her mom went through the line at their local store. The bagger, seeing what a kind act it was, gave the girl a nickel and thanked her for being such a good helper. The young girl, grasping the nickel close, found a special box for it and would keep it there for many years to come. As an adult she would say how meaningful and long-lasting that simple act of kindness had been for her.

I love the holidays as they remind me of the many opportunities, each day all around us, to offer some unexpected, unforeseen act of kindness to one another. And, most wondrously, these actions become the most powerful acts of love when done anonymously. Each Christmas, I wonder, “What will it be this year?” Honestly, it’s better than waiting for Santa Clause! Last year it happened in the 10-items-or-less line at the grocery store (what is it about grocery stores😊?) The year before it happened as a result of an unexpected visit to my doctor’s office. This year, it happened in a sandwich shop. Can it get any more fun, joyful and wondrous than this? I think not! And the sweetest thing is that these opportunities find us, in unexpected ways, as we simply go through our day. No special effort required on our part! It is just our joy to be servants-in-waiting to answer some unforeseen call for kindness.  

Of course, the ideal would be to live this message of Jesus, carried in a simple, ordinary, nickel, all year round. So, my hope for each of us this holy season is to hold fast to our very own nickel, held close in safe keeping by the remembrance of one of the great teachings of Jesus: You are the light of the world. (Matt 5:14). May each of us, more often, wake up each day in pure delight wondering, “What will it be today that will help me to give away my nickel…again? How may I shine a light of hope for my brother or sister struggling with some hardship unknown to me? Just how may I, dear Jesus, spread your message, humbly and anonymously, one nickel at a time?”

Wishing you the wondrous joy of many acts of love given…just waiting there, silently, at this moment, in your very own, ordinary, nickel…

Merry Christmas!

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Guest Blog by Lisa Koziell-Betz

I have invited Rev. Lisa Koziell-Betz, Class of 2012, and long-time member of the Tree of Life community, to share her reflection, from our Pray Without Ceasing class, in response to a question on Grace. While every week participants share the most profoundly beautiful thoughts, Lisa’s sharing particularly struck me knowing her personal journey with her daughter Morgan. Morgan died at age 7 from cancer, a rare combination of Neuroblastoma and Pheochromocytoma. Lisa has often said just how many moments of Grace appeared on their journey together but it wasn’t until this reflection that I, and all of us blessed to hear, understood what she had always meant by “Grace.” Thank you, Lisa, for allowing me to share your reflection. I just know it will bless, and serve, many.

#10.  Describe how Grace protects. 

This answer, for me, is really abstract. A lot of “misfortune” is perception. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines misfortune as “an event or conjunction of events that causes an unfortunate or distressing result: bad luck.” There are many definitions of Grace, many of them divinely related, but the one I am referring to is reprieve, which is to give relief for a time.

As many of you have heard me say before – there were many moments of Grace in my journey with Morgan and her cancer. How can this be Grace? How can this cancer not be misfortune? Sure, losing your daughter before she is even 8 years of age is traumatic – watching her go through almost 3 years of treatment is horrific. I would not wish it on anyone. So, one can perseverate on death, cancer, chemo treatment, etc., etc., and that is not a good place to be – on all levels. Trying to control what is uncontrollable leads to failure. So, you are putting out of control feelings upon an already bad situation which leads down a very dangerous road emotionally and spiritually.

Grace is what got us though – therefore Grace protected us. I don’t even know how to describe the internal energy levels that focusing on the moments of Grace versus the angst of misfortune creates in me. It is dramatic. I get all twisted up inside if I focus on the negativity of it all. I cannot see the forest through the trees. I am constantly in a place of reaction…almost like you are constantly hot-wired to react. It is tiring and draining. Grace gives you the opportunity to step back. Look at life differently. It lets you see the good and/or beauty amongst the ugly. The energy it elicits is calming – it is the Grace of reprieve. Doesn’t change the ugly but changes the internal receptors to this concept we call life.

Soooo, I think misfortune happens to everyone but not everyone defines it as misfortune. Depending upon perspective if one chooses to look for those moments of Grace – looking for the good, the calming, the positive spirit filling energies – then, ultimately this really is not misfortune as defined in the Dictionary. This, to me, is how Grace protects.


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In Memory of Elijah Cummings

Elijah E. Cummings, one of the great activists and statesmen of our time, recognized the signs of demagoguery and autocracy as a very real and existential threat to our democracy and, in particular, to the freedoms of the marginalized everywhere – particularly people of color. He recognized because he was old enough to remember – remember what it looked and felt like not to be free. This blog is a revised and updated version of “For Mini” originally posted in June of 2013. Then, I could have not imagined it being even more relevant today.

You could sit on my great-grandparent’s porch, deep in the southern woods, and count to ninety before the first faint sound of a car could be heard coming our way. The sound was something like the hum the wind makes as it is first gathering steam. As Don Williams once sung, I can still hear soft Southern winds in the live oak trees. This was where Joe grew up, my great uncle, the one they said was never right, to whom I would dedicated my first book, An Ordinary Life Transformed: Lessons for Everyone from the Bhagavad Gita. It’s also where Mini would come to cook and clean for us.

We were not the old money antebellum south. We were the other south, poor, yet fiercely proud. And, like such families, with many children to feed and crops to plow, extra hands were needed in the house and in the fields. And, those hands were black. Of course, by the time I was growing up and spending long, hot, pick-flowers-in-the-field days there, an image of the those extra black hands could only be held alive in the vapors of memory. But, Mini was no vapor. She was right there making the biscuits and, then, making my bed.

And so, she labored for our family for most of her long life. No doubt she would have said she loved us dearly, as we certainly felt so, and we always said we loved her like family. And, I believe, both were, unequivocally, true. Me, living in a different part of the country for the school year, did not have the long history with Mini. I was also part of a new generation hearing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the television. So, though I was always happy to see her come through the back door (yes, only the back), mostly, I just tried to turn away and not think about it too much. But, sometimes I couldn’t and that sour feeling would come back curdling in my stomach again.

I suppose I could have made it through without any unnecessary upheaval for those few short weeks each summer. After all, this was where my roots were, my home. This was my family, the only place I felt I belonged, and always a welcome respite from the long difficult school year where I struggled so. My family was good, salt of the earth, and I loved them. And, of course, still do.

could have had it not been for that outhouse at the outer edge of our back yard. Mini wasn’t allowed to use the indoor bathroom. The outhouse was for her. One day, when I was maybe ten or twelve, I watched her make her way out to that outhouse and I could feel that curdling again. But, this time the inevitable tide, like nausea, having festered for what felt like many summers in my young life, was not to be curtailed. I waited for her to return to the kitchen and, finding us alone, blurted out, Mini, why don’t you use the indoor bathroom?

And, exactly in that moment, would have given my whole life to take it back. Her stunned, piercing glance felt volcanic, like hot embers, long dormant, suddenly now in real danger of erupting without regard to fallout. And I, in the wake, stopped breathing, paralyzed. Oh, but my young, naive, heart was screaming, But, Mini, it’s not right! 

Gratefully, her lifetime of well-adapted this is how you behave ‘round whites instinct kicked in and she quickly recovered but not before giving me a good tongue lashing. Youse knows better’in dat Miss Stetnee. Things is how they is. You best leave it ‘lone now! And, turning from me, she threw the dry cloth over her shoulder and flashed me one last clear look of warning, We be done w’ this Miss Stetnee. We be done w’ this. And, so we were.

Things is how they is. You best leave it ‘lone now! My family would have echoed the exact same sentiment. Still, since, I have winced every time I remember. Just what was she to do with that? In truth, none of us, least of all me, were equipped to do anything with, simply, yet regrettably, what was. It was more than what we did. It seemed to be who we were.

We never talked about it again. I returned to school and, in later summers, would come to see Mini less and less as her age and health issues took hold. Still, over the years, I’ve often prayed that she knew what was in my young heart that day in the kitchen. I have imagined being able to sit with her and say…

Please forgive me. I just couldn’t watch you walk out to that outhouse anymore. I just couldn’t. Still, I’m sorry I was so unkind to you. I just so wanted you to know, dear Mini, that I ‘saw’ you…and so ‘felt’ for you. This was what was in my heart to say. I just didn’t know how.

Oh, dear Mini, thank you for your hands, sturdy and skilled, given in the long, faithful service to my family. Thank you for still making our biscuits and our beds but, mostly, for loving us, even when we did not know how to best love you.

Yes, I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees and, today, when I close my eyes, I can see in the vapors dear Mini standing there in the kitchen…but this time…

Smiling softly back at me…unburdened and free.

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An Unexpected Gift of Grace

I have broken my wrist. Left one, thank God. It happened when I fell hard on the wooden floor in my lyrical dance class last night. Late night in the ER. Tomorrow an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon to get the full scoop. Gift of Grace you ask? Indeed.

Many of you have heard me quote Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” And, we also know that sometimes it’s so easy to say, “Really?! Even this?! Excuse me?!” But, yes, even this, it’s true.

The back story will reveal why. When I first walked over to Allegro Dance Academy, just across the parking lot, I was showing up to take the summer Lyrical Dance class for adults. I was excited beyond belief. My husband had been gentle teasing me (with his sweet smile) about spending a week trying to decide what to wear! It was like I was in high school or something. “Will I fit in? Will I be able to keep up? Will I be the only one over 40?” One day I came out with my new dance pants and shirt on and, with arms raised like a cheerleader, asked, “How do I look?” to which he replied with that sweet smile, “40ish.” I mean, really, how cool is that!

But: Class cancelled. Low enrollment. I would have to wait for fall. But what did happen that day was that I had a long, wonderful, conversation with the owner of Allegro Dance, Jen, whom, it felt very clear to me, was someone who, though she had a very different background full of dance, totally resonated with what I was about. Heaven. I just knew I was in the right place.

Finally, the day of the first class arrived. Ready an hour early – there’s my husband’s sweet smile again – and then, out the door I went with my full body pulsing some combination of, “What the heck am I doing?” and, “Oh my God, I can’t wait!” Well, yes, it did look like I was the only one over 40 but most of the other women were middle aged and of varying shapes and sizes. But what I discovered in that first class was that lyrical dance was a combination of ballet, modern and jazz. The ballet I knew but not the modern and jazz. I also discovered that, because all the women in the class had been doing lyrical dance for a while, things went very fast – at least for me. So, after the first class, I asked my teacher, Christine (wonderful teacher!), briefly about private lessons and, the next day, decided to send an email to both her and Jen explaining what it was I was looking for and why. In part, the email read:

“I am looking to learn modern and jazz techniques, to integrate with my knowledge of ballet to, eventually, create my own a kind of liturgical dance language that can be used for both personal as well as spiritual exploration. Eventually, I would like to create a sacred dance ensemble.”

Okay, I confess it made me chuckle a bit thinking how this might be received. After all, this a dance academy, not a church or related spiritual organization. As it turned out, my teacher, Christine, was not available during the day. And, I could imagine most of the other teachers, from their bios, scattering for cover exclaiming, “What?? Not me!” And it did appear that no match was going to surface until one of the teachers did email me to set something up. “Probably, the one with the least seniority,” I mused. I had secretly hoped Jen would offer as I had read from her bio that she had, years ago, co-founded and was the choreographer for the Holy Cross Dance Ensemble. But I just knew she had her hands full with running the place.

And so, last night came and somewhere between the chaines and a jazz move down I went before I even knew what had happened. Seeing my deformed wrist, even in shock, I knew it had taken the fall (no pun intended). So, lying in emergency with my arm suspended, fingers in suction cups, wrist numbed (thank God), and watching the doctor massaging it back into its normal form, I began to let the full gravity of what had just happened seep in. And, it made my heart stop – not for what had happened – but for what hadn’t. A 69-year-old, with a hip replacement falls hard on the floor…if I had come down on my hip replacement side, I would have been put completely out of commission for many months – no teaching, nothing. And I could have injured my other hip, my back, my head. No doubt, it could have been devastating. So, to walk away (literally) with only a broken wrist, on my left side, began to feel, to me, like nothing short of a gift of Grace.

But there was more Grace to come. The next morning I had a long talk with Jen. I told her I wanted to continue my contract with Allegro but that, on my return, wanted to concentrate on private lessons, reiterating some of what I had put in my email, before returning to a class. And, without skipping a beat, she offered a day and time she would be willing to work with me. Suddenly, my heart just leaped! As many of you have often heard me say…We are all given to one another in the most perfect way and time. How joyous it is to imagine all the ways in which we will gift one another.

The whys and wherefores of Grace are way beyond my understanding. I just know that, today, instead of feeling discouraged that all that joy I had felt from just imagining returning to dance was evaporating in the wind like some old woman’s dusty dream, I am feeling like a dancer, who’s future is full of imagining and possibility.

In the meantime, I am saying my prayers with my prayer rope waking and sleeping and sending all my love into my wrist with unbound gratitude. I am saying to it, “Just imagine all the beautiful movements we will do together in honor of our human journey and in praise of our God. And you, my beautiful wrist, will have so much to share as we, together, peel away the deeper lessons of this journey over time. I love you. And as we heal, let’s remember that sweet joy that sent us skipping across the parking lot, for we, not in spite of, but because of, this fall, will soon move into the ever deepening caverns of the heart to reveal the treasures there yet unknown…for we, you and I together…my most beautiful wrist…

are dancers.”



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