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The gift of mercy

In the living room, Christmas is still in the air. Yes, the Christmas tree is still up, until the 12th day of Christmas, January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. I’m content to live this way until Lent. But something tells me that I am obliged to shift gears. What with the New Year and all.
People who know me understand that deadline means, time to get started. Let’s just say it drives my list-making-friends barmy. And this quirk doesn’t really serve me well during New Year’s resolution time.
I could tell you that I’m going to aim high; Eliminate worry. Or I could aim low: promise to cut down my emoji use. But my gut tells me that the truth fits this one; I will read the manual about inner peace… just as soon as I can find it.
If I’m honest, I can tell you I drag my heels, as (to my detriment) head-in-the-sand has served me well. 

But I do know this; in 2020, I will keep telling stories. Because stories keep us sane. And I will speak honestly, from my heart. A disconcerting commitment in a world where we’re not sure where truth parks itself, and perception too often wins.
Truth for me must begin with my own pessimism and sadness, knowing when I let go of the manic tug of urgency, I’m face to face with the demons I’ve kept at bay. Still afraid to be grateful for such a gift—this sacred and messy self. So, I give myself grief, as if my value is predicated on keeping score, my mental calculator at the ready.
Add this recent conversation. “So, you’re 65?” the young man asks, incredulous.
“I am indeed,” I tell him. He scrutinizes me.
“Wow. What are you going to do with your life now?”
It never hurts to begin your New Year with a come to Jesus moment.
Certain questions give us a run for our money. And we take a moment to breathe. I take the high road and tell him I’ll tidy up, going through piles of stuff that have been assembling over the years.
My shorthand for that “stuff” is KOSA—Keeping Old Shit Alive. I’m good at it. And if that language is unfamiliar to you, welcome to my world.
His look tells me all I need to know, “So that’s what old people have to look forward to?”
I call my friend Ed for help. “I don’t know what to say,” he tells me. “But telling the truth is a good place to begin. We live in a world that needs honesty without pat answers.”

So, I spend the week juggling the young man’s question in my mind. And here’s my answer: I choose to live fully awake and unafraid.
It helps to get wisdom from Snoopy. He sits on his doghouse, at his typewriter, typing away. Charlie Brown approaches, saying “I hear you’re writing a book on theology. You need a good title for a book like that.” Snoopy’s thought bubble, as he smiles self-assuredly: “I have the perfect title. The title: Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?”
Yes. We live awake and unafraid knowing our strength is grounded in humility.

This week I watched a movie that did my heart good; The Two Popes. We meet Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) as he is preaching in a poverty-stricken area of Buenos Aires and then catch up with him in Vatican City in 2005 where 115 cardinals have gathered to elect a new Pope after the death of John Paul II. Anthony Hopkins plays Pope Benedict XVI.
The two churchmen could not be further apart in their theology and personal style.
Pope Benedict: “You talk about walls as if they are bad things. A house is built of walls. Strong walls.”
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio: “Ah… Did Jesus build walls? His face is a face of mercy. The bigger the sinner, the warmer the welcome. Mercy is the dynamite that blows down walls.”
(There’s a good bit of social media kerfuffle about what is accurate and what is not. And the conversations between the two men are conjecture. Fair enough.)
But I know this: there is freeing power in the truth propelled by self-awareness and humility. I took heart in Jorge’s acknowledgement about decisions he made that hurt people. Decisions that diminish better angels, decisions not good for the soul. We live in a world that could use a marinade of mercy. Okay, I could use a marinade of mercy. And I know that the “wall” in my own life, is my pride.

We preachers sure know what to do and say for other people. (And I’m guessing there’s a preacher in all of us.) This line from the movie floored me; “You must believe in the mercy you preach.”
Mercy (unmerited love) is the fuel (the fire) for transparency, as I no longer need to run from regret. I own my neurosis and my failings. They do not own me. From that place, healing and reconciliation is possible. Mercy frees our heart to love and to live.
“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness,” George Saunders confessed.
Never underestimate the power of kindness. Beginning with kindness to yourself.

The Feast of the Epiphany is commonly known as Three Kings’ Day. It means “manifestation” or “showing forth”. In other words, the birth of this Bethlehem child, is no longer a secret. I love that there is the tradition of blessing the home for the new year. Using chalk above the door, markings are made 20+C+M+B+20. The letters (sometimes K instead of C) stand for the names traditionally given to the wise men (Casper, Melchior and Balthazar) as well as for the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” or, “Christ, bless this house.”
Speaking of blessings, here are my favorite books of 2019. Spying on the south, Tony Horwitz. Dad’s Maybe Book, Tim O’Brien. A Pilgrimage to Eternity, Timothy Egan. Unfollow, Megan Phelps Roper. Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino. In the Shelter, Padraig O’Tuama. Leadership, Doris Kearns Goodwin.
I’ll settle in with a new book tonight, and let my heart stop racing after today’s Seahawk football game.

Quote for your week…
The baby was staring intently at other people, and as soon as he recognized a human face, no matter whose it was, he would respond with absolute delight. I realized that this is how God looks at us, staring into our face in order to be delighted, I suspect that only God, and well-loved infants, can see this way. Even when we try to run away from our troubles, as Jacob did, God will find us, and bless us, even when we feel most alone, unsure if we’ll survive the night. God will find a way to let us know that [God] is with us in this place, wherever we are, however far we think we’ve run.  Kathleen Norris 


Today’s photo credit — After sunset, Manasota Key, FL, Ed Kilbourne… Thank you Ed… keep sending your photos… send to

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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Thank you for your artistry in tending the seeds, roots and blossoms in so many gardens and gardeners. Ann
–Dear Terry, On this New Years Day and New Decade, I want to thank you for all the wonderful “Sabbath Moments”, your books (I keep each one so I can go back to them) and your uplifting and challenging messages!  Honestly your writings bring me hope when I feel down and even when I am not down they still encourage me to see more. I was very close to my Grandmother growing up and when we would walk to church on Sunday mornings we would play a game of what can I see that is different, someone planted a new rose bush, someone’s door was painted a new color etc. it has encouraged me all these years to be more attentive and that is what your writings do for me.  So, again, I want to start the New Year with gratitude and you come to mind on this first day. Peace, Prayers, Love and Joy in the New Year, Kathleen
–Thank God for you, Rohr, and many others who keep us centered. Much love and respect. Jack
–It’s amazing (grace?) how you manage to so often come up with just what I need to hear. Thank you for this. “…craving gentle hands of grace…” My wishes for you, and us all, are the same — sanctuary, awe, joy, peace and all the rest. Have an awe-filled New Year! Terry
–Terry, Now that I am retired I often lose track of what day of the week it is! This is one of the laughable but also frightening parts of getting older. I am always thrilled to discover your Monday Sabbath Moment in my Inbox. “Monday, Monday…..can’t trust that day” BUT reading your weekly reflection I can trust to inspire and motivate me. Monday blessings, friend, Pam PS Giving thanks for the life of Ram Dass!
–Terry, Thank you for you and what you do for the world. I first learned about you from early morning RV New Morning. Then I ran into you several years ago in Vashon, You are an inspiration and a reminder of all that is important in life. May God continue to bless you Mightily. Patti
–Thank you. I scatter SM among many. I’m a SM Johnny Appleseed. In gratitude. Lynne
–Thanks for another good year of Sabbath Moment. Just read that Ram Dass has made it home. Happy Gardening in 2020 Namaste. Brenda.

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To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight. e.e. cummings

My wish for you
Is that you continue
To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness
To allow humor to lighten the burden
Of your tender heart
In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter
To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined
Maya Angelou

Our Prayer:
Dear Lord, please give me
A few friends who understand me and remain my friends;
A work to do which has real value,
without which the world would be the poorer;
A mind unafraid to travel, even though the trail be not blazed;
An understanding heart;
A sense of humor;
Time for quiet, silent meditation;
A feeling of the presence of God;
The patience to wait for the coming of these things,
With the wisdom to recognize them when they come.

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