tomales bay

Yesterday I had the delight of being able to say, “this is my second week at the Food Pantry.” The last few weeks have been overflowing with first after first as I get settled into this new home and city, school, internship, and work.  Each first could warrant a post or two in themselves, as each overflow with a wealth of interesting things to reflect on. But rather than just never posting on my blog again, frozen in how many posts I could write, I’ll give you a few glimpses.

sunsetFirst days of getting to know the area:

  • Hiking and walking and running near my home and experiencing the dusty beauty of the trails and the incredible views around the Bay.
  • Discovering that I have some city driving muscles to build and thanking all that is good for google maps GPS on my phone which has been my constant companion in the car and on foot.
  • Wandering around Berkeley and San Francisco and discovering nooks and crannies.
  • Learning the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system and getting on and of the right and wrong trains.
  • Discovering that the gem of the Botanical Gardens within walking distance of home.
  • Enjoying the beach, and the redwoods, and the mountains, and the parks, and the cities.

dancing saints

First days as an intern at Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church and The Food Pantry:

  • The honor of working with some seriously stellar human beings on the staff.
  • Serving in the Food Pantry and getting to know a beautifully eclectic community that comes together to feed and be fed every week.
  • Worshiping with dancing saints above and dancing saints around and experiencing embodied liturgy.

First days of school:

  • Now being a distance student at Earlham School of Religion and experiencing the education through the online lens.
  • Being in-person at Swedenborgian House of Studies and soaking up the conversations and joy of the in-person connections.
  • Remembering how much homework comes with classes and wondering where that’s going to fit in my busy year!

First day of work at the Beatitudes Society:

  • Appreciating how this job found me and what a good fit it is.
  • Diving into a crash-course on what the job entails and appreciating the network of people I will be working with.
  • Excitement about being part of an organization that is focused on equipping emerging entrepreneurial faith leaders to create new models for vibrant church life and the pursuit of social justice.


My prayer for this year…that I am able to stay present and engaged in this overflowing bounty and find breath and balance in it all. 

You Are a Pumpkin

“You Are a Pumpkin” or “Being Emptied Out”
 A sermon for Joint Seminary Chapel
(Earlham School of Religion and Bethany Theological Seminary)



“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” When I hear these familiar lines, I’m drawn to the second-half of the equation. Let’s talk about the dancing and this joy-filled clothing. “You brought me up from the grave, you spared me from going down into the pit.” Rescue and new life—excellent! I’ll avoid even acknowledging that the pit is there…thank you very much. Let’s stick with the new life, the joy and the springtime states. They’re pretty, new and shining, light and fluffy.

But look outside for a moment. What day is it? September 30th.  Fall is upon us. Look outside. The leaves are dying and falling to the ground, the plants are curling up and drawing in. Things are rotting, decomposing, returning, dying. The cycle of the seasons around us reminds us… Surrender comes before growth. Cycles and seasons are part of the journey. The pathway to life is through death. Death to our self, to our agendas, to our need to control. Birth to the idea that God is God and we are not.  Nature displays in front of us, that part of spiritual life is the process of being emptied out. There are internal parts of us that need to die, in order for the Divine Life to flow through more freely.

Or another way of framing it: You are a pumpkin.

A pumpkin, filled with the seeds and muck, mixed with hope and new possibility, and baggage and old stories. Terrified of the pain of carving, while yearning to shine brightly.  You are a pumpkin. A pumpkin in the hands of the Carver. Anticipating the scooping out, to make space for the light.

Stephanie Eden, a friend and brilliant singer/songwriter paints it this way:
She says: These are the lyrics to a song I wrote this past October while carving pumpkins with my children.  It is inspired by a sermon given by Pastor Jonathan Rose a number of years ago on the process of being emptied out, and it’s titled: Hollow Me

Hollow Me
By Stephanie Eden

One October a pumpkin grew
Full of seeds and thoughts
She said I don’t wanna be one of those
That sits around and rots
Pick me now cause I wanna be
Like other pumpkins I’ve seen
With a picture and a warming light
For the kids on Halloween
But the other pumpkins warned her
It’s a process you can’t handle
Being scraped and carved right to the flesh
Till you’re cleaned out for a candle

Hollow me hollow me hollow me
And make me shine
Make me shine

The pumpkin she was determined
Her fate was in decoration
But with the first stab of the knife she thought
Time for reconsideration
They were right she thought I’d be better off
As a pie or on the vine
Why wasn’t I satisfied as a big orange squash
Why did I want to shine?
But the carvers hands were gentle
And she could sense the jubilation
As he held her and he made his plans
In great anticipation

Hollow me hollow me hollow me
and make me shine
make me shine

As he began to scrape inside she found
To her seeds she was attached
She was afraid without all her junk inside
She’d be more likely to get smashed
But she noticed too a feeling
Of freedom as she was emptied
All the space and possibilities
Like holding light instead of seeds
Though she never had felt pain
As a pumpkin on the vine
The pain could not come close to how
Good it felt to shine

Hollow me hollow me hollow me
and make me shine
follow me follow me follow
if you wanna shine
make me shine

You are a pumpkin.  You have a choice. Each of one of us have a choice. We can stay on the vine. Comfortable and secure, yes, but in the end, probably just a waste, rotting away.  You have a choice. Each one of us have a choice. We have a choice to allow, or in moments of bravery and insanity, even invite the Carver to take out the knife and begin to hollow. To open up to the emptying out that Christ calls us to, and that Christ walked. Welcome and invite brokenness and being emptied out? Careful what you wish for…but Christ did. Or at a minimum, Christ boldly and deeply accepted this path, wrestled with it and brought new life from it. Christ rose again.

I think that in our culture we often like to try to put a little more space between these polarities—to separate the dying from the rising again. We put space between the scooping out of the insides of the pumpkin to the brightly shining jack-o-lantern. We want to create distance from re-birth to the death. We can be drawn to just think about the newness of life, spring, flowers, shining lights twinkeling from the pumpkins. Of course, these are all good things to focus on, but I believe that in separating the pieces of the cycle, death and life, light and dark, springtime and fall, we can loose some of the profound message for each of us in our spiritual paths.

Swedenborgian theology, my faith background, talks about the process that Jesus went through throughout his life, culminating with death on the cross.

It outlines this process into two states: One, being emptied out and
two glorification or resurrection, new life. A passage from Swedenborgian theology:

“The reason why Christ experienced these two states, the state of being emptied out and the state of being glorified, is that no other method of achieving union could possibly exist.  This method follows the divine design.

The divine design is that we arrange ourselves for receiving God and prepare ourselves as a vessel and dwelling place where God can enter and live as if we were God’s own temple. We have to do this preparation by ourselves, yet we have to acknowledge that the preparation comes from God. This acknowledgment is needed because we do not feel the presence or the actions of God, even though God is in fact intimately present and brings about every good love and every true belief we have. This is the divine design we follow to go from being earthly to being spiritual.” True Christianity 105, Emanuel Swedenborg

In order for God to flow through us, the vessel needs to continue to be cleaned out and cleared out. The shining of our light requires being emptied out, being carved, being formed. We can probably all probably pretty quickly think of a time in our lives or an area of our personal and spiritual growth where we have felt the carving, the cutting, the spiritual surgery, the scooping of the goop. Maybe when we lost a loved one, or transitioned jobs. When we came up against challenges in relationships, experienced a health crisis, a spiritual crisis. When we encounter doubt, struggle, and in the day to day work.

This is the work. To be emptied out and to be filled up. The emptying is painful. And powerful. It’s part of the design. It’s part of the cycle. The seasons.

But the other pumpkins warned her
It’s a process you can’t handle
Being scraped and carved right to the flesh
Till you’re cleaned out for a candle

Hollow me hollow me hollow me
And make me shine
Make me shine

This link between the suffering, pain and death and the new life, resurrection and hope is one of the cruxes of the human experience. Recently I’ve been reading a number of memoirs and autobiographies for classes and I’ve been struck by this theme. I’m touched by the honesty and vulnerability that is brought forth in these human stories and it leads me to reflect on and wonder about my own story.  If I was writing my life auto-biography, would I have the guts to lay out this level of honesty? To expose my seeds and goopy insides to others?

Sure, it’s easy to be open about the mountaintop moments and the ah-ha’s in our spiritual life. The challenge is, do we share about the places where we are broken, where we’re being emptied out, the times when we wondered about this whole “God thing”, the days when we continued to make the same mistakes, listen to the same old stories and live in ways that were far less than saintly. It’s this that sticks with me and challenges me.

The pumpkin she was determined
Her fate was in decoration
But with the first stab of the knife she thought
Time for reconsideration 

They were right she thought I’d be better off
As a pie or on the vine
Why wasn’t I satisfied as a big orange squash
Why did I want to shine?

A few weeks ago, in worship, a fellow classmate offered his vulnerability to the group and invited us into the story of Jesus’ healing the man with the withered hand in the gospels.  He pointed out that before the man was healed, Jesus asked him to stand up before everyone and reach out his hand, and show his vulnerabilities.  My whole body tensed as he recounted the text, just imagining God calling me to stand up and articulate my brokenness, my wounds, my scars to the people around me. So much of me resists this, and yet, somewhere inside I feel the wisdom. Not to spew my life history at every turn as if spiritual community is one big therapy session. But to, in those moments of sacredness, present with God and human community, to be strong and courageous and reach out to the Healer in the presence of others. To acknowledge that part of the process of spiritual life IS the emptying out, that that is intrinsic in the process of shining. The call, the challenged, is to look honestly in ourselves and see what is blocking the Divine Light from shining through. What are the places in us that are stuck and stagnant? Where do we need to look a little deeper and see how our places of challenge and struggle can be transformed into wisdom and strength by the Great Carver? Or as Rumi puts it: “Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure”

I wonder if that’s what these authors did, in sharing their stories.  Is this part of the spiritual process of Anne Lamott, John Woolman, Roberta Bondi, Thomas Merton, Pema Chodron and so many others who share their life stories, their spiritual journeys, in the pages of autobiographies, memoirs, blogs and journals.  In the written word they walk through the suffering, line by line, in snapshots and in full-color. The dialog of the challenges, the pain and doubt lead to places of transformation. In these lives laid before us, a sacred offering to the larger community of faith, we can see God at work.  We can see God working through the life of a brilliant, addicted, depressed writer as she bares a child, finds God in a new way and steps into a daring journey of discovering faith. We can see God in the workings of at early church leader, as we see Christ’s light shining through division and mis-understanding, in leading and being silent.

Be it through the written word, honest preaching, held conversation, or solitary prayer, we can feel Spirit beckoning. Beckoning us to surrender to the Carving. Urging us to bravely look inside and examine and begin to let go of the things that are blocking the Light. Bravely inviting the Carver to hollow us, cleanse us, and shine Divine Light through us.

Because this healing is not just for each of us. This call to vulnerability is not about me or you. There is a greater call to healing through our brokenness, restoration through our vulnerabilities, resurrection through inner-death. This challenge to dig into our muck and guck and be cleared out is not simply a personal exercise. There is a world of brokenness, there is a God of Healing. As we walk through this process individually, we can be part of changing the collective. As the Light shines more and more brightly through each one of us, the Light in the world strengthens and spreads, widens and enlivens. The baptism of spirit offers all new life, cleansing and hope, each and every day. As we die to our own ideas of how life should be, as we loosen our grip that clings to the past and the future, as we release our needs to be in control and have it all together…God seeps in, rushes in, moves in our midst. Moves to bring healing to the all.

 Though she never had felt pain
As a pumpkin on the vine
The pain could not come close to how
Good it felt to shine 

Hollow me hollow me hollow me
and make me shine
follow me follow me follow
if you wanna shine
make me shine

As we continue our time of shared worship, you’re invited to get your hands dirty and engage in these questions.

What are the areas that you have been emptied out?

What are the areas you’re resisting?

What fears come up when you think about letting God carve you?

What does it look like to surrender to being cleared out?

What would it feel like to have the Light shining through more brightly?

Invite the Divine Carver to continue to shape you. Immerse your hands in the seeds, with the gook and yuck, acknowledging and embodying that part of the process of shining involves walking through the valleys, the brokenness, the shadows, the pain.

Where is God hollowing you right now? What needs to be emptied out? What light is bursting to be shone, that needs the surgery to let it free?

Wash your hands, remembering the power of your baptism, the promise of new life, of resurrection of the Light of Christ shining through you.

How do you see hope, new life and light moving in you?

Light a candle and hold it high, Christ’s light in you as you move in the world.

We’re also reminded in this process that this is not merely individual work. It is a collective effort to each take part in bringing more of Christ’s light into the world.

Sending Out: Reflections on Wholeness

 All:                   Busy, normal people: the world is here.
One:                  Can you hear it wailing, crying, whispering?
Listen: the world is here.
Don’t you hear it,
Praying and sighing and groaning for wholeness?
Sighing and whispering: wholeness,
Wholeness, wholeness?
An arduous, tiresome, difficult journey
Towards wholeness.
God, who gives us strength of
Body, make us whole.
Wholeness of persons: well-being of individuals.
The cry for bodily health and spiritual
Strength is echoed from person to person,
from patient to doctor.
It goes out from a soul to its pastor.
We, busy, “normal” people: we are sick.
We yearn to experience wholeness in
Our innermost being:
In health and prosperity, we continue
To feel un-well,
Un-fulfilled, or half-filled.
There is a hollowness in our pretended
Our spirits cry out for the well-being of the whole human family.
We pride ourselves in our traditional communal ideology,
our extended family.
The beggars and the mad people in our streets:
Where are their relatives?
Who is their father? Where is their mother?

We cry for the wholeness of humanity.
But the litany of brokenness is without end.
Black and white;
Rich and poor;
Hausa and Yomba;
Presbyterian and Roman Catholic:
We are all parts of each other,
We yearn to be folded into the fullness
Of life—together.
Life, together with the outcast,
The prisoner, the mad woman,
The abandoned child;
Our wholeness is intertwined with the hurt,
Working with Christ to heal the hurt,
Seeing and feeling the suffering of others,
Standing alongside them.
Their loss of dignity is not their loss:
It is the loss of our human dignity,
We busy “normal” people.
The person next to you: with a different
Language and culture,
With a different skin or hair color—
It is God’s diversity, making an unbroken
Rainbow circle—
Our covenant of peace with God, encircling
The whole of humanity.
Christians have to re-enact the miracle
Of Good Friday:
The torn veil, the broken walls, the
Bridge over the chasm,
The broken wall of hostility between
The Jew and the Gentile.
The wall between sacred and secular?
There is no wall
There is only God at work in the whole;
Heal the sores on the feet;
Salvage the disintegrated personality;
Bind the person back into the whole.

For without the one, we do not have a whole.
Even if there are ninety-nine:
Without that one, we do not have a whole.
God, who gives us strength of
Body, make us whole.
“An African Call for Life” from An African Book of Prayer by Desmond Tutu

(Psalms for Praying by Nan Merrill)

All praise to You, O Beloved,
For You have raised me up, and have not let my fears overwhelm me.
O Compassionate One, I cried for help, and You comforted me.
You, O Love, helped me release my soul from despair;
You gave me strength to face my fears;
Now love is awakening in me.
Sing praises to the Beloved, all you saints, giving thanks to Love’s holy Name.
Love withdraws when we close our hearts, yet ever awaits an open door.
In the evening we may weep,
Yet joy comes with the morning.
In my prosperity, I had lost sight of Love, I found power in my wealth.
In your mercy, O Beloved, my foundations You shook,
and in recognizing my separation from You,
I was dismayed.

I cried to you for help; to You,
I pleaded for forgiveness;
“What profit in my riches if I am separated from Love?
Will emptiness praise You? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear me, O Beloved, and be gracious to me!
O Love, hasten to my assistance!”
And You turned my mourning into dancing;
You set me free and clothed me with gladness.
My soul rejoices and is glad in You;
Songs of gratitude fill my soul rising up to You, O Beloved.