The One Who Hears

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
          Then the Lord said,
         “I have seen the misery of my people who are in Egypt;
         I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.
         Indeed, I know their sufferings,
         and I have come down to deliver them.

                  —Exodus 3.7-8

You may say, “I feel your pain,” but you cannot. You can only know your own, and imagine another’s. But God knows your sufferings, for God is in you.

You may feel that your cries go unheard into the darkness, but God hears, allows your cries into her heart of hearts. They echo in the mind of God day and night.

And God goes about God’s passionate work: to deliver, to set us free from oppression, from fear, from death, from all that holds back our love from its freedom.

No matter your struggles, your gifts, your hopes, there is this great energy of deliverance moving in this world, already at work to set you free,

you and all who hope, who suffer, who are oppressed, who long for freedom, for peace, for the arms of the One who Hears.

And you, what burning bush have you seen? What work are you doing, what energy are you following? How have you taken up your cross and followed

the One who knows our pain, the one who hears, the One who delivers?


Take up your cross

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

          “If you want to become my follower,
         deny yourself
         and take up your cross and follow me.”

                  —Matthew 16.24

The Christian faith is not a set of opinions about Jesus. It is a life of following him, practicing his self-giving love. To follow Jesus is to enter the suffering of the world. The cross is not an annoyance, a burden, an injustice. Your “cross to bear” is not the overbearing aunt. It is the fear of the abused, the tears of the deported, the rage of the dismissed, the weariness of the exploited, the despair of the condemned, the loneliness of the forgotten. It is bearing in your heart—perhaps even in your flesh— the suffering of others, and their infinite worth, to act for the sake of grace in their lives, to be in solidarity with the poor for the sake of justice. It is to embody God’s grace amidst human failings. It is your grateful choice to suffer for the sake of love.

Lay down the sword of doctrines and arguments, the shield of your separate self, your privileged security, and take up the the cross of Christ, the risk and vulnerability of the Gospel, the courage to confront injustice and embody healing, the love of God, weak, naked and tender in this world, and more powerful than a hundred armies.                

Burning bush

Oy, what I had to go through—
morning breath, in and out,
the desert bird song,
the look in the lamb’s eye,
either a sinking or a rising feeling
in the stomach (neither one worked),
the abiding blood of that Egyptian,
the quaver in a stranger’s voice,
the cry of an anguished mother,
a longing the shape of desert air,
an emptiness greater than Egypt,
injustice at the well, and a woman,
a stunning sunrise, love and despair—
it went nowhere.

I finally had to light a crazy bush on fire
to get his attention.



Morning light, green shoot,
door quietly opening,

what dawns upon you
that hadn’t before,

pilgrimage toward this moment,
first step at the Red Sea,

so much left behind,
and what abides,

and who,
and what is not yet,

what you have and
what will be provided,

divine promise,
its keeping yet to come,

new, and yet from of old
prepared, awaited,

led into the room
already set for you,

without your being able to know
what blessing is in store,

how you are needed here,
what grace is about to unfold.

First day of school.
Let there be light.


No justice

God of mercy, why is there no mercy?
The poor are robbed, the hungry wait,
prisoners long for the welcoming hand.
The powerful wield their weapons day after day.
Refugees walk in their long lines toward you
and never arrive, never find home.
The laborer used, the child abused, wait
for no announcing angel, no welcome rescue.
The lonely and condemned weep without answer.
God of justice, why is there no justice?
Living Word, why your silence?
Exiled by race, enslaved by greed,
crucified by gunshots,
your children cry to you.
Why, O Loving One, why do you not speak?

You do not hear, my Beloved, for my voice
is wrapped in the cry of the poor.
My tears are there in the prison cell,
my glory with the disappeared.
You do not hear me because
I am whispering to them.

Holy One, we enter your silence as a temple.
May we hear your cry in our heart.
May your song rise up in our throat
as we lift our voice for your justice.
May we bear your mercy in our hands
as we labor for your will.

God of mercy, I will be your mercy,
for you are my hope.


On the mountain

My son and I climbed a broad, barren mountain
in Norway. We didn’t know the language,
but on the mountain there’s only
the language of the mountain.
The path was faint and narrow, and sometimes
it lost us, and we had to find our way.

All along there were little berries, blueberries
but wilder, more tart, like Montana’s huckleberries,
the mountain’s open handed gift for us that we ate
as we followed or made our way.

There was wind, and rain, and sun.

Going up or coming down, confidently on the path
or puzzling over our rough little map,
wherever we were on that mountain of God
it held us, and we had each other, and the mountain,
and the little sweet berries.

The berries were small and low to the ground,
and easy to miss.



         “Who do you say that I am?”
                  —Matthew 16.15

You are my teacher, trickster, shaman, guide,
companion in all that I do.
You love God and the world so deeply
I can’t escape your warmth, your light.
You let me see your wisdom at work,
walking me through the scripture of this world,
and I follow and I am changed.
You walk with with me, move in me,
breathe through me, love through me.
You are the gardener who tends this world’s beauty
and shows me its secrets,
the local who knows this city,
takes me places, gets me into things—
wonders and trouble alike.
I will go into terrible, beautiful places
deep in the suffering of this world
because I want to be near you.
You question my deepest assurances,
magician, and make me look again.
You appear in the flesh in the jailed and abused,
beckoning, forgiving, still loving.
You are holiness being familiar,
the Holy Trinity with an arm around me.
You are my lover, passionate with God’s flame,
loving every part of me, every part,
radiant with God, my faithful servant:
I can’t get you up off your knees for me,
weeping for me, dying for me, rising with me,
holding my head in your hands.
You wrestle with me, wrenching from me my self
and leaving me nothing but yours.
You pray in me, pray for the world,
pray for me, pray for God,
and I am in wonder.
You draw me into your infinite silence.
When I am hungry for the bread of God
you make my mouth water,
and I love you.


Offer your body

         Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.
                  —Romans 12.1

     Because it is holy,
God’s gift to you,
molded from God’s clay,
and not some bad thing,
root of sin, vessel of shame—
holy, every part of it,
even though you could lose a few
or cut your hair different,
it is what God gave you,
it is all you have.
     Because it’s how you sacrifice yourself,
giving it to God and not getting it back,
every moment, every step,
every gesture a prayer.
     Because it’s wonderful,
the webbing between your thumb and finger,
the landscape of your palm
and its memories,
the stories around your eyes.
     Because it is your wisdom,
the muscle memory of faith,
like the lobsterman whose legs know
the sea and the boat and the weight,
how you know the weight
of the water you take the plants,
the food you’ve given,
the feel of bowing in gratitude or humility,
the rush of singing poorly, joyfully,
head back, eyes closed,
the heat in your chest when you risk
some love or forgiveness.
     Because it is how you move in the world,
what and how you eat,
your nearness to others,
your breathing in and out, so faithfully.
     Because how else will God know
what it is like
to walk on this earth?


A mountain

An ancient mountain
massive with beauty,
its feet in the roots of the earth,
little villages on its shoulders,
adorned with necklaces of waterfalls,
carved over eons by glaciers,
not easily but with much sorrow
and loss, much harsh grinding.
You are the mountain.


You are not the mountain;
you are the valley carved out,
made spacious by another’s suffering.


You are nothing so large,
but this little place of loveliness
where sheep graze.


You are the sheep,
the village,
the mist.



I’m home. I’ve just returned from three weeks in Norway with Beth and our son Jonathan (the trip was a Christmas present from Jonathan.) There was much that felt unfamiliar and much that felt like home. (Especially the mountains, for this Montana boy.) Among our many adventures there, we went to a “town” (a farm, really) called Garnaas, where part of my name comes from. Beth’s grandfather came from there to America in 1877. There we met Beth’s fourth cousin, a Svenkerud. The farther back in your family tree you go the more names you include. And we met his daughter, Jonathan’s fifth cousin, pregnant with Tanner’s sixth cousin. The farther down the tree you come, the more relatives you have.

I thought about how Vikings came to Britain, where most of my ancestors were, and how Scots came to Norway in medieval times, and wondered how much Norwegian blood I have, how much British blood Beth has. Tracing her DNA back 40,000 years, you’ll find that “her people” came from central Asia and eventually migrated through northern Africa to Scandinavia. If you go back far enough we’re all related.

But you don’t have to “go back.” We’re all related. We’re all one. We all come from the same love, that has found six billion kinds of beauty. We all come from the same breath, that speaks a million different languages. We are all migrants in this world, come from God and going to God. We’re all home. We’re all one. Wherever you are, whoever you are with, welcome home to your family.


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