Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Washer Woman’s Mission

I was a contemplative prayer evangelist at the time. Like Father Keating before me, I preached that you should shut up and listen for a change. God did not create Chatty Cathy. It was a zeal akin to tent revival preachers. People looked at me funny sometimes. Eyes glazed in puzzlement.

During that time, I taught at a spiritual institute. A woman in my class who stood out like a sneaker on a rack of dress shoes returned sad-eyed. “It doesn’t work for me,” she said. “I tried and couldn’t be still five minutes, let alone twenty. Besides, I have work to do and must be about my Father’s business. There’s a dying world out there.”

For some crazy reason she reminded me of the dry cleaner portrayed by Steve Martin – who could take your filthy garments and make them like brand new. I thought to myself, wow, when God made her he must have said, “Now there’s a piece of work.”  

 Not another soul in the world would start a mission in a coin-operated laundromat at a camp ground. No one but her – or a SNL skit writer. This image of The Washer Woman remained in my mind’s eye until I had the following dream:

It’s nightfall and we are sitting on her narrow front porch. As I leave and cross the street my glasses fall off my nose and shatter. And I’m thinking, now there’s nothing left to do but pray.

Really?! Nothing left to do but pray?  No reading or writing?  Just pray? Is this what my life has been reduced to now that I have no vision?


That’s when I changed my tune. Or rather my lens. I took the Washer Woman up on her invitation to visit her mission. More out of curiosity than anything. Then came home and wrote what I saw and heard. And just in case you’d like to come and visit too, here are directions and a heads up on what to expect.


Drive north down Highway 301, past the school where, weekdays, deaf children run wild on the playground. Keep going until you see the sign, “Snake Man,” then turn left into Kamper’s Lodge and swing on around pass the turquoise pool in front of the Laundromat and park your car. Get out and go inside – any wayfaring stranger is welcome here of a Sunday morning, rain or shine. Take a seat in one of the six pews painted white as the washers and dryers lined up in back of the room.

If it’s winter when you arrive, I’d advise you to bundle up in layers, and don’t forget your thick socks, gloves, and lug soled boots. The cold north wind creeps through these cinderblock walls like pneumonia into lungs. Soon you’ll meet the “Preacher Lady” and members of her flock, the snake man included, and Sister Kim, newlywed, along with her husband Blinky. Don’t worry if you’ve been drinking, just leave your bottle outside for the time being. You never know, this could be your lucky day.

If the weather is warm, short sleeves are fine. No need to hide the craters on your arms. To these folks, needle marks are common as acne on a teen, tractors on a farm. You won’t hear any Trinity chimes or sing the usual hymns, recite the Apostle’s Creed, drop a check in the offering. Just come as you are. You have nothing to fear, nothing to dread. There is no religion here, but for the laying on of hands and the resurrection of the dead.


What’s your story?

When have you needed new lens?

Thursday, May 27, 2021

How to Lose a Sense of Wonder

I read a true story the other day that made me cry. Made me weep. A true story about a fragile old man who befriended a broken teenage girl and helped her regain her sense of wonder. For, as most of us know by our teen years, wonder has begun to fade just as surely as we’ve forgotten how to skip. What happens to that childlike amazement? Mark Twain had an idea:


“We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that the native has because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we have gained by prying into that matter.”


In full cogito ergo sum mode I sat at my desk and tried to write a story about a rainbow. Not that you must be inspired to pen anything worthwhile but when the task is more tedious than scraping shell bits from a boiled egg, when the draft is more stagnant than a mudhole even though you’ve prayed for inspiration and nothing magical appears on the page, you might hear yourself saying, I’m so done here, and call it a day.

True story. Straightway I drove to the grocery store after a spring rain and pulled into the parking lot and behold! A giant double arc overhead. A glowing ribbon of color, array of bright shades, golden light. Am I alone here?

Does anyone else not see this amazing spectacle? People oblivious, passing in and out the store, sightless. Blind to wonder. Never had I felt so alone. Finally, after packing grocery bags in the back of his car, one man looks skyward, then prods his son to life.

“Hey look up there. A rainbow.” Unable to contain my excitement, I lean my head out the window and say, “Amazing, aye?” The guy in the tweed cap walks my way and says, “Sure is. You know what that rainbow means?”

“Sure. God’s promise to Noah.”

“Did you know there’s another rainbow surrounding the throne in the book of Revelation?”

“Oh yeah! When my brother was a little boy, he saw that scene in a dream! Saw Jesus in the sky with his arms outstretched, a rainbow over his head, saying, “I’m coming soon.”

All the while we’re gazing up at the sky, at the beauty that feels like a miracle. The teenage boy standing next to his father, smiling at us, two grownups carrying on like that. Totally enthralled by a rainbow. Beats all he’d ever seen.  

His father saying, “Why do you reckon there are two of them, one right on top of the other one?”

The boy replying, “I’ll ask tomorrow in science class and let you know.” 

End of discussion.                             


I don’t know about you, but I’m a slow unlearner. It took years to once more see life through the eyes of a child. As William Blake described it:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

A Heaven in a Wildflower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

Eternity in an hour.

Before it was educated out of us, we lived in wonderment. It was our natural state of being. We were our truest selves, living and taking pleasure in the moment. We were natural mystics, awestruck by the world around us. It was all amazing. Mary Oliver, who clearly held on to her sense of wonder, said it best in “Mysteries, Yes:”

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those

who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company with those who say                                                          

‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads.”


What’s your story? When were you last awestruck? Seized by wonder?  What sight stopped you in your tracks and captivated you for a moment in time?  

Art: NC Wyeth 


Wednesday, April 14, 2021


We met in a one-horse town on a Sunday afternoon at The Bailey Café: the quintessence of charm and hospitality, walls graced with over a thousand teapots. More teapots than you can imagine in one place. A fairy tale ambiance. A hidden treasure.

An afternoon well-spent in good company. With friends I knew well and friends I’d yet to meet. But no strangers, only birds of a feather clinging to the Vine. You know what they say about time flying when you’re having a good time – and I can safely assume that a good time was had by all that afternoon in the company of Wayne Jacobson.

I haven’t seen him since that day at The Bailey Café – which has since closed its doors – but lately I’ve enjoyed Wayne’s company again like a daily tea while reading his latest:

Lived loved, free, full: a collection of 365 daily reflections designed to draw the reader into a deeper place of quiet rest. Yes, that rest that some of us have struggled to attain by the sweat of our brow. Well, maybe not you.

But from my understanding most of us have aspired to abide in the Vine 24:7. Desired the tenacity of Brother Lawrence. The steadfast will to remain in God’s presence all the livelong day and engage in seamless conversation amid pots and pans. Amid the hustle and bustle of life and mundane chores alike.

But what happens when life interrupts that sweet communion? When you’re pushed and pulled every which way to meet the world’s demands? How centered are you then? Disconnect happens even to the best of contemplative hearts.

But instead of enduring the drone of guilt… there I go again, a lapse of conscious effort… slack me.. can’t even tarry with Jesus one solid hour... Wayne offers a suggestion he calls “The Pause that Transforms.” A no-sweat stance. A cooperative effort instead of it’s all on me. My burden. A brief excerpt from the book:

“Look to him early and often throughout your day. As you start your car…before you pick up the phone… pause and see if he has anything to show you…and you’ll begin to see things that are easy to miss….”

The gospel according to Wayne is that simple. His latest work, Lived loved, free, full offers practical steps to lighten the load of guilt that many have unnecessarily shouldered.

Every daily reflection is woven with one common thread: grace – the necessary ingredient for even the strictest ascetic’s self-denial. In Wayne’s vernacular, grace means God’s ability to do in us that which we cannot do entirely on our own. Desire + grace = transformation.

Live Loved Free Full on Amazon
Wayne Jacobsen’s 



Monday, April 5, 2021


Her disappearance has been gradual. Little by little waning and weaning herself from the usual comforts and consolations – even those offered by her faith. Now prayer rings hollow, even the tried-and-true one liners like “Thy will be done” and “Have mercy on me,” my friend confesses.

And because life has become a running series of Job episodes, she’s ready to make her exit, claims to have one foot in the grave already. Naturally, she hopes it turns out the way Julie Suk saw it in her poem, Between Lives.

And what if it’s true that the life we’ve lived flashes by at the moment of death?

Not even for an instant would I want repeated
the boring drone of guilt,
nor the shabby aftermaths of desire.

The black tunnel lit with epiphanies
would be my take –

sighs of contentment, laughter, a wild calling out –

and at the end,
a brief flaring of the one we’d hoped to become
escorting us into the light.

The poetic imagery continues speaking to me, opening new vistas of soul exploration. Take for instance, the “black tunnel lit with epiphanies.” Dark tunnel: a universal symbol for the passage from life to death - although I’ve now reimagined that brief passage as the whole of life’s journey. Which, in light of eternity, is but a vapor. Our lives flashing before our eyes from cradle to grave.

How ephemeral this life is: as brief as the journey through the momentary tunnel at the children’s park where you hear a chorus of wild screams, then travel back into the brightness of daylight.

As brief as the time between Good Friday weighted down with grief and Sunday’s resurrected release from the dark domain. From light we come and to light we return.

As brief as a book cover. “This Life is Only the Prologue,” writes Wayne Jacobsen in his new book I was sent to review (see forthcoming post for more). “On the last page of the last book of his Narnia tales, just when the reader thinks the story is over because the world has ended, C.S. Lewis pulls back the curtain even farther as he writes of the four children:”

“For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world…had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”


Meanwhile we travel through these tunnels lit with epiphanies along the way. Reminders of who we are and why we’re here. Little signposts pointing to purpose and keeping us on track toward our divine destiny.

For, as Wordsworth put it, “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting”… and all who’ve come before us “trailing clouds of glory” lit our way. All the poets and prophets and saints, the Risen Christ and all of creation displaying his glory, the children of God who went out in a blaze but passed the torch along.

I’d like to remind my friend and each of us with one foot in the grave that we’re just walking each other home. This ain’t exactly the Hotel California. Whether we check out or not we’re leaving. But the drone of guilt sometimes follows us toward the exit.

Not long ago a fellow poet and dear friend said to me on her deathbed, “I wish I could have been a better person.” This from one of the most caring and generous souls I’ve known. Whoever she’d hoped to become was there all along, discovered tucked inside the pages of her Holy Bible after her death.

A prayer, an epigraph:

Let us feel you on our pulses and in our breathing and convince us in our very bodies that we live and die in the hollow of your hand. Release now these mute longings hidden in our hearts to join the early morning bird song singing green beginnings and multicolored hopes, for you are shaking us and shaping us into a springtime people with Easter in our eyes.  


If this life is only the book cover and title page, what would your epigraph say? Your theme song? Mine would be almost as brief as the title: I Was Here. Something as brief as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Or maybe the last sentence in T.S. Eliot’s East Coker: “In my end is my beginning.”


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Wishing You

On my New Year’s birthday, I read this poem by Ana Lisa de Jong that spoke to me, really spoke to me. For it’s been some year. Not just any old year. Not a typical year for anyone on the planet. You know what I mean.

Maybe you too have suffered trauma, a disquieted soul, deep grief. A dark night. A dark and stormy night. I joked with my friend Meg yesterday about cliches and how, yes, it was the best of times and the worst of times. The worst of years for obvious reasons.

The best of years because God and I together moved this mountain – mountain-moving: a cliché I couldn’t outdo because of the magnitude of progress this old packrat made decluttering a whole monstrosity of a house, upstairs and down. The silver lining in confinement.

But back to grief and loss, and why Ana Lisa’s poem matters. It matters because she so eloquently expresses what we all know deep down. That the little things, things we often take for granted in our everyday existence, are infinitely the most important. And only through sorrow does this revelation arise. Here it is, Ana Lisa’s poem about letting go and holding on, words to ponder this new year, words that comforted me this side of my deepest grief. 


I wish you better.

Whatever you didn’t get,


Whatever in this last year

you would hope to forget,

I wish you amnesia.

If not forever, just for the time it takes

to imagine, to place new hope

step by step.

And, whatever in this last year you did not receive,

or rather lost as something unable to be

kept in the hands -

I wish you better.

And if not better,

then a balm for your former pains.

A new view,

out through mist dissolving,

curtains drawn back to receive the sun.

Yes, I wish you that thing,

wish you whatever your heart,

if it could find a name,

would place its value on -

that illusive prize

which makes us hope in every new year’s


as though this year might

be the year we arrive at it.

And yet, I think it’s not until

in hindsight,

when we look back,

we see how all along we owned it.

These treasures of the heart


And that it’s our losses,

the things that have strummed the heart’s strings,

that were the important things.

Which is why I don’t wish you

amnesia, at least not as much as I do

memory -

and wisdom to treasure,

and recognise again

what are the main things.

That we might not leave them



Ana Lisa de Jong

Living Tree Poetry

January 1, 2021

 Art: Andrea Kowch

What little things have you come to recognize as infinitely the most important?



Sunday, May 10, 2020

How to ruin big sister’s date night

They were quite the little women, my mother, Nellie, and her four sisters: Lizzie, Beulah, Mabel, and Kathleen. She also had three brothers: Henry, Rex, and Johnny. But today I’m focusing on the little women.

 An Invitation by Andrea Kowch

Mischief makers. Innocent mischief, but mischief nonetheless. Her journal, a childhood memoir now in my possession, is filled with stories of their antics…The time her older sister, Beulah, decided it wasn’t fair her baby doll was bald and Nellie’s had long lustrous hair.

No, not fair at all. And so, Beulah took the liberty of stealing. Locks of love! Cut and paste and voila! Brand new hair for her own baby. Nellie’s shorn jagged. Her beautiful doll ruined for life.

One of her journal entries describes her childhood living room and a memory of one particular evening of innocent mischief:

“Directly in front of the fireplace there was a settee – a long padded bench with arms and back, a primitive sofa with matching brown leather chairs. It was a cozy atmosphere when we sat there in front of the open fireplace and listened to the logs hiss and spit every so often.

With this living room suite came a wooden table with compartments on each end which held our Holy Bible and several books and magazines. On the table sat our kerosene lamp by which we read at night.

I remember one occasion when Lizzie was sixteen, a young man came to visit her. Mama, thinking she was too young to ‘take company,’ made Beulah and me go in and ‘chaperone.’ Beulah walked in with me right behind her, then picked up the Bible, and the two of us took a seat near the young couple, Lizzie and her suitor, Marvin Gaye.

We sat before them the whole time, reading the Bible, but mostly giggling the night away. Lizzie’s beau never returned after that.”

Ha! I guess not. Poor Marvin. Subjected to a night of silly giggling, scripture reading, looks from two young women saying, don’t even think about it.

Happy Mother’s Day, Nellie. Your memory brought a much-needed smile to my face. It’s like you were here, telling the story all over.  

What memory of your mother has made you smile? 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

My grandmother once gave me a tip:

In difficult times, you move forward in small steps.

Do what you have to do, but little by little.

Don't think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow.

Wash the dishes.

Remove the dust.

Write a letter.

Make a soup.

You see?

You are advancing step by step.

Take a step and stop.

Rest a little.

Praise yourself.

Take another step.

Then another.

You won't notice, but your steps will grow more and more.

And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.

- Elena  Mikhalkova 

(Image of Tasha Tudor, American Illustrator 1915-2008) 

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