Author Archives: watchingthespaces

About watchingthespaces

I like to watch the spaces between the things that other people see, the overflowing gaps and the chock-full emptiness.

Memorial Day

Today we remember those people in the U.S. Military who have died in service to our country. We commemorate them in many official and unofficial ways. I suppose those who feel it most deeply are those who have lost loved ones in war. As a nation we mourn with them today.

What do we remember today? We remember those who gave the one thing everyone has to give for a cause greater than themselves. Liberty stands tall as the cause most important in the U.S. This is especially poignant to me when I think of the number of non-White soldiers whose liberty was not what it should have been–and yet they served and died anyway. There is no way to minimize their nobility. It is also poignant to remember that the war that cost the most American lives was fought between the states, where brothers fought brothers. It’s funny how so many times in war, the greatest nobility is found lower in the ranks rather than higher.

This day reminds us that we are always poised on the knife-edge between centering ourselves and descending into nothingness, or putting something truly greater than ourselves in the center and rising to nobility. Only the latter is the truly human choice.

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The Soul

I just had a conversation with a friend of mine about the soul. In his tradition, one can lose one’s soul, or at moments of vulnerability, another can steal it. Without the soul, the body is listless and unmotivated, and over time, can even die. With the soul, the person is whole, and capable of giving the world the gifts that are that person’s to give. Western (white) psychology might call it depression and treat it with counselling, therapy and/or medication, but as a priest, I find the language of losing one’s soul rather illuminating. When one has lost one’s soul, one goes about doing those things that find it again and restore the wholeness of one’s being.

I get a lot of people who come to me for spiritual counsel and direction. Viewed through this lens, I could say their souls are weak, vulnerable, or even lost, perhaps stolen by a traumatic incident or a malicious act by another. In my friend’s tradition, restoration of the soul can include the mediations of a traditional healer. I am not a traditional healer in the same sense, but spiritual traditions often walk along parallel lines and can learn from one another. The Christian tradition has a long history of spiritual counsel and guidance in which I AM trained, and I see the parallels. To borrow language, (and I do this with permission,) I know what has restored my soul at the most traumatic moments of my life. It has come through healthy spiritual community, sound spiritual guidance, disciplined spiritual practice, and travel to significant places.

Where is your soul? How is your soul doing?

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Rocks and Beaches

Around here beaches are made up of rocks—of various sizes. (If they are really, really small, we call them sand.) On the beaches of larger rocks, the individual differences between them can be quite startling. Some are speckled granite, some are stripes of chert or schist, some are solid, heavy black of basalt, and many more. I do not know, but it would not surprise me if each rock on the beach contributes in some essential way to the life-giving environment to some set of organisms that flourish there, making the particularity of each rock important. But if you stand back, you see a beach, the fertile borderland that defines land and sea. Unity in diversity. It’s all around us.

Dominant White culture in the U.S. prides itself on its individuality. Each of us is a rock of a different size, color pattern, weight and shape. I find it interesting, then, that Europeans often comment on how conformist people from the U.S. tend to be. We may wear different clothing, but we are easily recognizable abroad. We may drive different cars, but they are all more similar to one another than to cars in other countries. From the outside looking in, people see the beach.

I have been thinking recently how the fight for minority rights is a function of both the rocks and the beach. The stories that move us to action are often individual human stories of outrage or tragedy, like the cell phone video of Nicolás Chávez shot by 5 police officers while he was on his knees with his hands up. Nobody should be treated like this, no matter who they are. As individuals, everyone counts. Name the names.

I find a different kind of inspiration when I stand back and look at the beach. The beach supports a myriad of life forms, inspires the eye of the painter, and invites me to a reflective stroll along the borderlands. The beaches of human experience make humanity possible.

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I love the comic strip “Chickweed.” Recently, one of the characters has a baby, her first, and the interactions between her, her husband and the nurse are a great caricature of what we often think about giving birth. The woman is irritated with her husband for getting her in this condition, shouts at the nurses, does all the things we think, and then it all goes away after the baby is born! Maybe I’m walking out where I don’t belong because I have never, or do I ever expect to give physical birth, but I was there at the birth of my three offspring, and there is something so ground-shifting about it, that the hype and hyperbole only hint at what I felt.

We know that the process of birth changes a woman’s body permanently. I know from my experience that having children changes a soul permanently. It is hardly surprising, then, that the process is fraught with intensity. It mirrors—no, it traces the path of all the soul-changing experiences we have in life. There is a time of preparation, as changes are anticipated and actually begin. There is a time of transition that is as dangerous as it is beautiful. There is a time of resolution when a new identity is poured into us, and we never quite see the world the same.

Perhaps one of the greatest human endeavors in life is to give birth to a wise and mature soul as one’s legacy toward a wise and mature society before one is finally birthed into whatever we conceive of as “the other side.”

From this side to the other: Thank you, Mom.

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Zero Carbon Birds

This last week I spent two days with colleagues in our annual Clergy Retreat. Travel to the location required either much-too-long a drive, or ferries. I like the ferries. It is one way for me to get out over deep water in Puget Sound. Interesting birds live out there, pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets, cormorants, and gulls. These animals drift between islands, sometimes hitching rides on large boats, or floating on the wind. The divers can reach down hundreds of feet in their search for food. They live, breathe, eat, sleep, reproduce and pass on with no carbon footprint whatsoever.

Granted, we have no fur to insulate and cool us, and we have not even a hint of the marvel of feathers, so we had to figure out life in other ways. We did, and for thousands of years, our carbon footprint was essentially zero. Then we changed our minds about the nature of the world around us, deciding it was a commodity instead of a sacred trust, and we decided to consume it. The price: a carbon footprint that is destroying the very world we are consuming, making plastic rocks in Brazil and chaotic weather patterns.

Returning to Carbon Zero is going to be hard, but nothing worth doing is easy. Think of the birds.

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Mount St. Helens looks peaceful under a skirt of snow as I fly past at 35,000 ft. It’s hard to imagine her conical peak shooting ash and death higher than I am now, sacrificing her symmetry for renown. But her story is white-washed now, edging into the realm of legend.

I was at a book signing and celebration last night for Project 562, by Matika Wilber. She is of the Swinomish Tribe. She took several years to visit all 562 tribes in the US, to record stories in word and image. She is trying to melt the whitewash painted over Indigenous peoples in the US by the dominant culture and bring to light the stories held precariously underneath.

I kinda hope for another eruption, but this time of a life-giving expansion of story, so that room is respectfully found for all peoples’ feet on the common soil of our humanity, on the breast of Mother Earth.

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Quiet after the Storm

The week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday is really busy for people like me. Historic sacramental traditions in Christianity hold a lot of church services, and celebrate liturgies we only celebrate during this Holy Week. When I was a young priest, I learned to ramp up to it so I wouldn’t get caught unprepared. I also learned to lean on other people. This year’s celebration was not the work it often is, due to a lot of help, but I still feel the typical post-Easter let-down. Many of us take time off. I’m taking time off next week, so I’m still at it for this week, but energy cycles are quieter within.

I think what I am feeling is more than just emotional exhaustion. Life goes in cycles on deeper levels than the emotions. After the activity, one cycles into a place of inactivity. The quiet comes after the storm with in as well as without.

I do not believe that I am alone when I say that the Great Mystery is as present in inaction as in action. We, locked in time, can only know that reality cyclically, but neither is better than the other. We need them both.

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Unlikely Gift

You’ve all seen the movies where the emaciated and desiccated protagonist is plowing through the desert sands when a mirage appears on the horizon. The vision always features water, and usually palm trees. In the Middle East, date palms grow where they can—usually by a water source. The edible fruit is nutritious and the location of the plant promises lifegiving water. In the midst of deathly dry, the water of an oasis, marked by palms, is victory over death. It is no wonder then, that in the ancient Mediterranean, palms became a symbol of victory and life. It is also understandable how, though the text itself never specifies, Christian tradition has put palms in the hands of those who accompanied Jesus on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, celebrated on Palm Sunday. Palms were even carved into gravestones in catacombs. In Christian circles, they became symbols of Christ’s resurrection, a victory of life over death.

It seems an unlikely gift—this gangly plant with an impenetrable rootstock, unbranched trunk, and unkempt hairdo on top. But a gift it is, just like the gift of life over death often comes from unlikely places. New DNA studies of the Swahili people of East Africa suggest that, counter to colonial narratives, they are a mixture of Persian, Arabian and African stock, with the matriarchal nature of east African cultures suggesting not that Persian and Arabian men abused women by forced marriage, but rather allied themselves with powerful African women in order to enhance their trade networks. Instead of a narrative of diminishment, a story of strength emerges for women.1

I wonder what other unlikely gifts there are out there waiting to be uncovered.

Ancient DNA is restoring the origin story of the Swahili people of the East African coast (

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Two-way Streets

I live on a cul-de-sac. The only way to leave is by the road by which you came. Thankfully, it is a two-way street—cul-de-sacs require it! Life should be like a cul-de-sac; always require a two-way street.

I just spent a bunch of money yesterday booking a flight to Honduras in August. I will spend the first full day there training trainers for Cristosal, a human rights advocacy organization based in El Salvador, but with offices in Honduras now. I will then join the annual medical mission of Honduras Good Works, sorting and organizing medications, and then taking them and medical personnel, both from the U.S. and Honduras, into remote villages of south-eastern Honduras. Finally, I will meet with Episcopal church leaders from the area to hold a day of theological reflection. On this day we will hold a joint conversation about a topic the local dean gives us, where I learn about how they interpret their lives and ministries in light of the faith and I share some of my thoughts as well. In all three cases, it is vitally important to me that there be mutuality, sharing and mutual enrichment—a two-way street.

Later this week I will meet with leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia to talk about how to make trips like this two-way in another dimension. Diocesan funds make these trips possible, but if all they did was send me to do good things there and then pat me on the back when I got home, it becomes a cul-de-sac on a one-way street. The conversation will center around how to make the efforts two-way, how to share the riches of the work of good people in Central America enrich the people of the Diocese.

Charity that makes givers feel good and receivers feel diminished is toxic and I want nothing to do with it. But if we can build two-way streets that provide for respectful and increasingly mutual relationships, I want to be in the center of that.

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Deep Rhythms

Yesterday I was honored to offer a blessing of a new boat belonging to friends of mine. They live in Shelter Bay, Washington, which is Swinomish Indian Reservation land. I offered a Christian blessing at the beginning, the Commodore of the local Yacht Club offered toasts to boats and the sea, and then two Swinomish elders chanted blessings, one for the graphic design in North West indigenous style that he had applied to the vessel, depicting the origin of the boat’s name, and the other a chant of leave-taking, as a way of blessing future journeys.

I was deeply moved by the leave-taking song. It involved a hand-drum beat that began very quietly and moved through a slow crescendo until it felt as if my heart was invited to beat to the same rhythm, for it was, as it were, an audible link to the heartbeat of the very earth we stood upon. I closed my eyes and was caught up in the awe and audacious generosity of it all.

Many peoples have ways of syncing to the deep rhythms, perhaps all of us do—if we stop and listen long enough. My ears were opened by a way I did not know. Now, as I listen more carefully, I can hear it echoed in the rhythms of the marimba music of the Tsachi people I grew up with, flung forth in the carefree footfalls of rumba dancing, and uttered in the cadences of the liturgies I lead on Sunday mornings. Now that I pay attention, it’s almost become deafening!

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