91—An Addendum


Last year for my Grandmother’s 90th birthday I wrote this piece: 90 for 90 in Honor of Grandma Gladish. Today we have the joy of celebrating her 91st birthday and in honor of it, I offer this addendum… 

Another year of Grandma here with us has been a gift. It’s been a year where I needed her wise words and gentle guidance and assurance. A year where I would have missed her deeply had she moved on to cheering from the other side. This was the year where I called her and said, “So, there’s this man that I’m getting to know….” And she said, “I’ve been praying for someone to come along.”

This was the year when I got to take that same man to meet Grandma and delight in how the two of them hit it off and soon were deep in conversation about nuanced details of shared interests and history. And later, Grandma would offer me her deep wisdom and blessing to continue to grow with and commit to this man.

This was the year that we went through an election cycle like no other and the year that I called Grandma after proudly voting for the person we hoped would be the first woman president and celebrated this step forward for women. And this was the year that I called her after the election and she reminded me of the ebb and flow and cycles of life and history and encouraged me to keep going.

This was the year my now fiancé and I called her to share the good news and this was the year I got to send her photos of my wedding dress and learn what her favorite flowers are to use in the wedding in her honor.

This was the year that I have received emails encouraging me in my ministry and preaching and affirming the work I’m doing each day. And the year that she sent me news articles and quotes to support the work I’m doing.

This was the year I saw day after day of the sweetness and relationship between my mom and my grandmother continue to grow and the year I saw Grandma’s continued gifts in the world.

Every day with a Grandma around is a gift, and this year is no exception.

Happy Birthday Grandma Gladish, I love you!


Anointed to Love


November 13th, 2013
Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church, San Pedro, CA

Scripture: Isaiah 35:3-8, Luke 17:20-21

“The hallmark of love is not loving ourselves, but loving others and being united to them through love.” Divine Love and Wisdom 47 Emanuel Swedenborg

As a church, we don’t stand with a particular political view; as people of faith, there is not one right partisan expression. What we stand behind, no matter what, is love. And being people who are anointed to love.

Love goes beyond who we voted for, or how that is expressed. Love looks out into the world to see who is suffering, who is experiencing fear and loss, who is consumed by hate. Love looks inward at parts of ourselves—at what is underneath our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Love isn’t always comfy or pretty. Often love calls us to go beyond our comfort zones.

Glennon Doyle Melton writes “Love is not warm and fuzzy or sweet and sticky. Real love is tough as nails. It is having your heart ripped out, putting it back together, and the next day offering it back to the same world that just tore it up.”

Love is fierce. Love is persistent. Love puts our bodies in between, beside, and behind bodies that are threatened. Love combats the hate and words of condemnation that come into our own heads, and stops us when we want to lash out at other people.

I think love also gently wraps a blanket around us. It encourages us to care gently, for ourselves and for each other. Love reaches out and checks in, “How are you doing?” “How can I support you today?” “How can I stand with you today?” Love calls out to that Divine love, and welcomes it into this place.

This message is nothing new friends; it’s what you hear from me most every week—love God and love each other, honor the dignity of all human beings, we belong to God, we belong to each other, we are loved and we are called to love. This is not new information, nor a new call. But today we have the opportunity to be reminded of its imperative. We have a reminder that love is not easy, but it must be our consistent commitment, for the long haul. The work of courageous love has been the work, is the work, and will continue to be the work. All the resolve we feel now—we must keep that, and continue to stay awake.

We must be awake to where there is hell and negativity that is working to divide us and twist things. We must be awake when it urges us to flare up in anger or take us to the pit of despair, and when it tells us there’s no point and to just stop.

We must stay awake to heaven and its powerful force for compassion and justice and healing in the world. Because heaven is with us and among us—urging and infilling us, anointing us to love.

And this is why we need to keep gathering together, praying and listening and acting. We need to educate ourselves in how to love more effectively and  to encourage each other. We need to hold each other accountable.  We need to widen our circles and expand our friendships. We need to look more deeply at things we might have assumed we know, and question narratives that have been presented as the singular truth. We need to consistently do our internal work of rejecting hell and welcoming heaven and to show up and stand with courage and compassion in the face of injustice and hate. We need to be kind to each other and gentle to each other. We need to call together on God, for the strength and comfort and resolve. We need to come around God’s table where all are welcome, and remember together that we are beloved and we are anointed to love.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear.”
For God is here.

Baptism: A Poem

Part of the Pilgrimage Summer 2013 Series
Written during my time on Iona

2013-06-10 10.24.44Baptism: A Poem

I met the shore,
greeting the sea I’ve
seen now from multiple angles,
but had yet to touch.

It seemed right that
this was the moment,
in this cove where
and flesh

This place where pair
after pair
of feet have trod.

To wonder and
pay homage,
to the Saint,
but more,
to the thin space
curled within
this cove.

I stoop.

People fill the rocks,
each of us in our own moment.
Mine with this rock curled in my hand,
and the water.

I took off my glove,
and dipped the tips
of two fingers into the salt bay.

To my forehead,
and my breast,
the cross etched when I was a wee one,
just four weeks old.

The crosses I’ve traced so many times
when I greet the ocean,
the Divine Movement
throughout my life.

In the name of the Creator,
Redeemer and Sustainer.
I commit again,
To a life of service,
to my God
and fellow humans.

The wave comes and covers my boot.

I rise and step back,
hesitant to leave this moment
of ritual.

Refocused on my life
in the world.

2013-06-10 10.16.59

I will soon not be with you

Originally published on “Echoes from the Edge” at: http://www.beatitudessociety.org/ 

African grandmother, Gogo, patterned scarf covering the closely shaved tight curls, once pure dark, now a contrasting silver-gray. Gogo holding her granddaughter, one hand clasped over the other, providing a seat for her round little bottom and a shelf for her eyelet white dress.

The mama is at a distance. Inside the house, she leans on the edge of the window opening, her arm receiving the sun and her face hardened in the shadow. Removed from the firewood that needs to be gathered, the mud-caked shoes, and the toddler arms reaching to be picked up.

She did her part. She went through 27 hours of childbirth; she’ll be quick to remind you. And it’s her breasts the little one crawls to in the middle of the night, feeling for the source of sustenance and comfort.

In the dark of the night, the hand gently stroking the back of her daughter’s head betrays her feelings of love. When daylight comes she puts on her defensive shell.

She won’t be here long. She knows it. Who’s it going to help if she allows herself to get attached? Surely it’s better to keep her distance and spare her little one the grief of losing her mother so young. Bond to Grandma, she’ll be there. But me, cling to me not, I will soon not be with you.

Is this not one more powerful quality of Jesus, the Christ? He chose to stay present in the moment and to love the people in front of him—even as he is preparing for death.

I think of the meal Jesus shared with his disciples, his chosen family. We call it “the last supper.” But the disciples probably called it “Passover” or “dinner.” Still not understanding this one amongst them was so soon going to die

Jesus told them. And showed them. And all the while gently prepared his friends for the loss they would soon encounter. Infusing meaning into the daily elements of bread and wine—remember me—casting a vision for reunions in heaven in a house with rooms for all, praying for the world and his closest friends.

In the preparation of leaving, Christ was present, in the nurture and care for his children. Through the deep pain of loss, in mud-caked sandals Christ present to nurture, heal, and caress our broken places. Offering presence through the ages, “Take, eat, this is my body.”

“I Heard An Owl” by Carrie Newcomer

This song has been one of my musical prayers of late.  It wrestles beautifully with the nature of evil, love and healing and what is God and what is human and where the hope and action come in.

Here’s a link to a youtube video someone made using the song if you’d like to listen to it. Or check it out on iTunes.

I Heard An Owl
by Carrie Newcomer (on her 2002 CD “The Gathering of Spirits”)
I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do

Up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though shaken I still believe
The best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.

I am a voice calling out
Across the great divide
I am only one person
That feels they have to try
The questions fall like trees or dust
Rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer “Love”

Light every candle that you can
We need some light to see
In the face of deepest loss
Treat each other tenderly
The arms of God will gather in
Each sparrow that falls
But makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.


I’ve been asked to define myself, a number of times today. Who are you? What’s your story? Where are you from? What is your faith heritage? What will you do with your one wild and precious life? (Thank you Mary Oliver).

I’m sitting in DuPont Circle. Humanity everywhere. (Humidity everywhere). People, literally, circling around me. Each person with a story. How would they define themselves? By profession? Race? Gender? Family Role? Citizenship or hobby? Do we find our definitions by who we are or who we are not? Does it even cross my mind to define myself as a white American when they surround me? I bet it’s different for the woman of Iranian heritage, striving to raise her children as American citizens, still connected to their Iranian roots.

Who am I? I long to distill it simply, to land on something pithy like, “I am a child of God.” As the words mentally leave my lips, I see them colliding into an expanse of landmines. Who’s God? Which God? Is your God better than my God? Does your being a child of your God change how you’re going to relate to be? And so on. And aren’t we all God’s children? But which God?

This afternoon as nine of us, eight Beatitudes Society Fellows and a mentor, sat together for our first session, the following question was posed: What is your response to the term “progressive Christianity”? We wrestled; wanting to connect with some of it, distance ourselves from other parts. What to claim, what to reject? Wanting to be new and innovative and different, and yet, still drawn to the connection to our heritages, our history.

We played with naming progressive Christianity as a term in response to, and in opposition of, extremist, fundamentalist, conservative Christianity. A definition to tell what one isn’t, not necessary what one is.  One spoke a self-definition of being one who works to live the gospel and follow Jesus. Still riddled with baggage and potential assumptions, those words, but the humble, sincere tone in which they were spoken preached to me.

What if “a follower of Jesus Christ” meant being someone who is kind and loving, respectful and selfless? What if being a Christian, (let alone a “progressive” one) brought the assumptions of ultimate respect and honoring of each person on their paths of life and a movement of good and love in the world? What if when I said, “a child of God” I could look into the eyes of the one I’m speaking with and mutually connect knowing that we’re humbly standing in front of another human expression of the Divine love?
Quick! Define yourself.  Me? I say: “Namaste”*.

*In Sikh scripture Namaste, Namastung or Namastvung is referenced as salutation to the Primal being, the One God.The salutation is followed by an attribute respecting a quality of the creator of all religions, Akal. “The spirit in me respects the spirit in you,” “the divinity in me bows to the divinity in you,” and others, are relatively modern interpretations, based on literal translations of the Sanskrit root of namaste.


How many times a day do we use the word “they”? Who are “those people”? What does the Bible story say about “them”?

This brief 5 minute sermon by Bishop Vashti McKenzie packs in a powerful message about the word and concept “they”. It was shared during preaching class this morning and the message is still ringing with me and I wanted to share it.

African Prayer

This was shared as a call and response prayer to start a beautiful presentation on Thursday about non-profit work in the Congo. As the words were read I found tears and laughter and gentle smiles of recognition and connection.  I share it here for all who love Africa.

An African Canticle adapted from a prayer of Kilakala Girls School in Morogoro, Tanzania

Africa…. Bless the One
And al you people and places,
From Cairo to Cape Town all,
From Dar es Salaam to Lagos all.
Here let all the works of the Lord…… Bless the One
Praise and extol God forever and even.

All you BIG things…. Bless the One
Mount Kilimanjaro and the River Nial,
The Rift Valley and the Serengeti Plain,
Fat baobabs and shady mango trees,
All eucalyptus and tamarind trees,
You hippos and giraffes and elephants……. Bless the One
Praise and extol God forever and ever.

All you TINY things…… Bless the One
Busy black ants and hopping fleas,
Wriggling tadpoles and mosquito larvae,
Flying locusts and water drops,
Pollen dust and tsete flies,
Millet seeds and dried dagaa….. Bless the One
Praise and extol God forever and ever.

All you SHARP things….. Bless the One
Sisal plant tips and tall lake reeds,
Maasai spears and Turkana hunting arrows,
A rhino’s horn and crocodile teeth…. Bless the One
Praise and extol God forever and even.

All you SWEET things….. Bless the One
Wild honey and papaws and coconut milk,
Pineapples and sugar cane and sun-dried dates,
Slow roasted yams and banana juice…. Bless the One
Praise and extol God forever and ever.

All you BITTER things…. Bless the One
Quinine and blue soap,
Sour milk and maize beer…… Bless the One
Praise and extol God forever and ever.

All you SWIFT things…. Bless the One
Wild goats and honking matatus,
Frightened centipedes and lightning flashes…. Bless the One
Praise and extol God forever and ever.

All you SLOW things…. Bless the One
Curious giraffes and old bony cows,
Brown humped camels, grass munching sheep….. Bless the One
Praise and extol God forever and ever.

All you LOUD things…… Bless the One
Monsoon rains on aluminum roofs,
Midnight hyenas and feast day drums,
Train stations and busy bus stops…… Bless the One
Praise and extol God forever and ever.

All you QUIET things…. Bless the One
Candle flames and just sown furrow,
Heaps of clouds and sunny libraries,
The Pyramids and Sahara Desert
Land snails and crawling turtles,
Grazing zebras and stalking lions….Bless the One
Praise and extol God forever and ever.

All you creatures that never talk,
Still bless you the Lord.
Praise and extol God forever and ever.

Embracing the Questions | Learning from One Another

This evening I participated in a webinar (online audio/video/visual presentation) by Peter Rollins (http://peterrollins.net/blog/) on a practice that he calls the Evangelism Project.  The purpose of the Evangelism Project is to visit different faith communities in order to BE evangelized. The basic idea is to gather a group of people together who are interested in truly learning about and experiencing people and faiths that are different from what they are used to and comfortable with. To purposefully enter into situations where people hold other faiths, other views and other ideas then we have held. The experience is about listening and observing. Not about defending or explaining one’s faith.

I’m intrigued and inspired by the conversation and find myself energized by the thoughts. Peter talked a lot about the process of doubt and humility and the willingness to let go of being right and to be open to being changed. This is a theme that I want to take into my seminary time. And a theme that I feel God has been working in me over the past 8 months particularly.

As I have allowed myself to question more, to doubt, to wonder, I am finding my spiritual path and awareness of the Lord growing and strengthening and unfolding. I am finding that as I embrace the questioning, I am simultaneously feeling more sure of and present with the Lord and with God’s presence in the Word. I am finding myself willing to open up to the Word being full of paradox AND being God with us. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… (John 1:1). I am growing to see the Word less as a rulebook, and more of a Divine Narrative of how the human race and the Creator interface.  And for me, it’s coming alive with a growing Vibrancy and Life.

I find myself fearful at times, particularly as I put voice to pieces of my process. I wonder if exploring the paradox might break down the careful construct that I have built for exactly how I should build my life—and then what? And then the Still Small Voice comes… It’s in those moments where I let the Lord take over and surrender to all He’s revealing and creating in this present moment that I get a glimpse. A glimpse of I’m not even sure what. But it seems to be good.

This evening’s discussion was good. I’m intrigued to see what ideas and experiences the Lord will bring tomorrow.