The woman at the well

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say….”

         —John 4.15-20

Women did not have the power to marry or to divorce. That was the discretion of the man. So she has been used five times, and is being used now again. But Jesus neither judges her past nor dwells on her situation. He names her pain, but allows her to set the agenda for their conversation. She doesn’t want to talk about the men in her life. She wants to talk about God. So they do.

For yeas she has been ignored, belittled, and treated as if she had no worthy ideas or valid perspective. She has been treated as if she is not worthy of another’s attention or fidelity. She is ostracized by her community (she can’t go to the well ’till noon, at the bottom of the village pecking order for morning water). But now, at last, here is someone—a man, no less, and a Jewish rabbi!—who listens to her, who attends, not to what he thinks of her, but to what she is actually saying. He doesn’t just tolerate her. He truly, deeply and wholly accepts her, and all of who she is. I imagine at some point that mingled with the water from the well and the living stream in her heart that Jesus promises are her tears of joy and gratitude.

We all have our secret burdens of pain, shame or despair. We all have our secret struggles, our failures, our wandering journeys. We have been misunderstood, judged, labeled. Aren’t we all hungry for acceptance, in which we can just be ourselves without either pretending we’re perfect or dwelling on our wounds? The one single most remarkable thing about the church I serve, that which I am most proud of them for, is that they are a safe place for people whose lives are broken.

This is not just lovely; it’s holy. This willingness to embrace people is an embodiment of God’s grace. God receives us without labels, without judgment, without distraction, and attends to our hearts. We get self-conscious before God and start listing our strengths and weaknesses and God says, “Yeah, so? I love you.”

What we are all most thirsty for is to belong. Pray that you might offer a safe place for all others, for those whom even you judge harshly. May they find in your presence the warm, gentle embrace of God. Listen to them.
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

The weaver of heaven

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

The weaver of heaven looks out
upon her world and wants
to walk among her dear humans unnoticed
for she knows how alarmed they can be

So she weaves a beautiful garment for herself
and when she is finished
naked and eager she puts you on
and you fit perfectly

And you walk out into the world
and hardly anyone
not even you yourself

But every movement is actually her
every breath is really her
and even when you stumble
she is beautiful in you

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light


Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” …. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
         —Genesis 12.1-2, 4

God grants us lives that are more interesting than predictable. I’m only 57, not 75, but these days I feel like Abram: every United Methodist pastor serves under the appointment of their Bishop, and this summer my Bishop is appointing me to another church (in Acton, Massachusetts.) This will be our sixth move, so we’re used to this business of stepping off into the unknown. The temptation, of course, is to pretend that it’s not unknown: to imagine that I can just be the same and do more of the same, that I don’t have to learn or be anything new. That would be too bad.

We resist change and the unknown, partly because we fear loss. I’ll miss some friends, and my dear New Hampshire woods. But mostly we fear the loss of control, knowing what to do. Since we identify so deeply with our control, it feels like we’re losing ourselves. Well, in fact that is true, since we really are invited to become new people. Abram became Abraham.

But in all our travels and travails, in consolations and desolations, no matter what treasures are taken, or trophies given to us, through all our changes, even as we leave who we are behind and become new people, two things are constant. One is our soul, the holy core, the divine nucleus of who we are that cannot be taken away or changed. All God’s transformations faithfully honor our deepest self; they do not destroy it. Let all that is new and unknown strip away what is external and reveal your soul.

The second: God did not say to Abram, “Go find it.” God said, “I will show you.” This also is constant: the Holy Presence who abides, who lives so intimately with us that it is not above or beside us but within. When things about us are busy and changing, it takes time to sit still and go within to meet that Presence. But the Beloved is there. In all your changes, seek that holy seed of who you are, your eternal soul, and seek the One who abides within. And you will find that they are one, that your soul is of God, and yearns for God, and leans toward God. This mystery will accompany you through all changes and illumine the unknown. Go from Abram to Abraham. Go from merely having a soul to being one; let go of everything else—and no changes will trouble you.

No matter how far the lands where you roam,
your journey is always coming home.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

A psalm of spring

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

O Greening God, Spring be your praise!
         Praise be these warming, gentle days,

the evening light that lingers more
         each day beside her lover’s door,

the silent, ice-bound brook’s release
         to sing its melody of peace,

and snow-bowed limbs, now free, that lift
         their hands to thank you for the gift.

The lines of geese, mile after mile,
         are monks processing up the aisle

toward the altar of their nest
         while chanting psalms that we are blessed.

Your praise be sap in buds and roots,
         the courage of the small green shoots,

the breeze from warmer bosoms drawn,
         the songs of birds that thread the dawn.

O God of budding, birthing things,
         all rising up your glory sings—

all bugs that hatch, all smells that waft,
         all thawing, swelling, turning soft:

this is your praise, and may it be
         as in the woods, so clear in me.

Emerge in me, O Lord, like spring,
         that I may be the hymn you sing.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Born again

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Realm of God without being reborn from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can you enter a second time into your mother’s womb and be born?”

         — John 3.3-4

OK, class, settle down. After you all finish tittering about Nick’s silly question here—listen, it’s the same question you have, isn’t it? He gets our panic: in this being born again thing—I get to bring my old self along, right? He’s made the absurdity of it clear by using a biological image of climbing back into the womb and trying again, but the reality is spiritual: not just your body but your whole self, what you think is “you”— you can’t take it with you. When you are born again you don’t go back to some earlier point, you go onward. You die. You leave your self behind. You’re not just birthed again, you’re conceived again. You’re created. You’re a wholly new person.

Nicodemus’ question points out our deep attachment to our “self.” That attachment is what we call sin. Sin is living in the illusion that I can create myself, and that I do create myself, and that this self I create is worth defending. We assume that our self is contained in our body, and spend our lives wrestling with its limitations. We identify with our feelings and thoughts and beliefs, with our memories and personalities and accomplishments, as if that’s who we are. But who we are is an image, a little bit, a handful of God.

When we really, truly, madly, deeply love God, we love God even more than our own “self”—and we give that self over to God, along with the illusion that we are God, that we get to create and control our own self. In so doing we return to our true self, our soul. We allow God to create us, over and over again, in God’s good and beautiful grace, trusting, as she said the first time in Genesis, that is is “very good.” We are re-born, not by human will, but from God. “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of human doing, but of God” (John 1.12-13).

To “believe” doesn’t mean to think. It means to give your heart to the One who creates you new, every morning you awake, every breath. So, Nick, the answer to your question is yes. Enter again into your Heavenly Mother’s womb, and be born again, and again, and again. The hard part is letting go of who you think you are, so that you are ready to receive it from God. (That’s what Lent is about.) Every moment we choose, we can let go of the person we have been trying to be, let the Beloved conceive us anew, and allow her to birth us into this world as newborns, beautiful babies, full of wonder, and swaddled in love for the Mother who gives us birth and life.
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Life begins

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.


It begins in deadly hearts of stars,
in elements consumed, transfigured
in killing, birthing heat.

It begins deep within, in the murderous
seething of earth’s innards.

It begins with rock defeated, riven, worn,
stone creased and cracked and crushed
a million times, battered
to sand and sent on its silted way.

It begins in womb-dark murk and musk of soil,
in death and rot and rank decay,
in spilled seeds split and broken down,
in loss, collapse and festering,
by blessed unseen bugs and germs
digesting darkness into light.

In awful places this miracle,
this life begins.
In darkness, deaths and desolations
is the birth of what shall be.


Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Blessed darkness

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

         — John 3.19-21

And yet—
I hate the darkness and all that is unknown,
and I am afraid to look into my shadows,
where truth is, obscured.
I turn on the lights,
keep things entertaining and happy.
I await the equinox,
when night is pressed into a corner of the room,
when mystery is eclipsed.

— And yet as darkness turns out its pockets,
new things are revealed,
things that had been carefully tucked into the murk,
and I close my eyes.
I flee from darkness into the obscurity
of lights and sparkle and brightness and flash.

Sprit of illumination, draw me
into the holy darkness,
the shadows where dwell things that are true,
the nocturnal fears and memories
that I only see truly in their dark.

Give me courage to look behind the veil,
to reach beneath the pall,
to close my eyes and go in.

Blessed darkness, you who reveal
the stars, and the loveliness of the moon,
illumine me.
Christ, Loving Mystery, enigmatic brother,
walk with me into this good night,
where I am shrouded in grace,
where I stumble into the cross—
you, my dark friend, bearing my darkness,
nailed to my evil,
entombed in my gloom,
making of my shadows
a grave that cannot hold.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light


Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
I went to the desert last month. Not out west, but down in Boston. After her surgery, Beth was in the hospital for six days, and I stayed with her in her room and waited on her. For me it was a desert experience, a time when everything else was stripped away and life was reduced to the bare essentials of being present. For six days I retreated from my job and the busy world of multitasking, and entered into the blessed desert sabbath simplicity of monotasking: only doing one thing. I attended to Beth. That was all. Time meant little. There were days when I never even left the room, let alone the hospital. There were nights when I slept little, and days when I never got around to eating. I wasn’t fasting; I was just doing something else.

I’m not saying I was actually wholly attentive. At times I got restless, or distracted, or wanted to do something else. This is not about me, but the experience. It was very meditative. I loved the contemplative focus of just doing one thing, being fully present to Beth, and letting go of everything else. I loved the simplicity of it, the freedom from my wants and attachments. I liked being in that place of deep attentiveness. I didn’t mind if she was crabby or appreciative, or if what she asked of me was a little thing or a real effort. There was just one thing.

This is what Jesus went to the desert for. To each of his temptations he responded by deepening his attention to God. “We live not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God…” “Do not put God to the test….” “Worship God, and serve God alone.” He was practicing monotasking, so that all he was ever doing was being attentive to God, loving and serving God.

I’m afraid I’ve slipped back into my busy, confused world since the hospital. I am not wholly attentive to Beth, nor to God. I am multitasking again. Whatever I’m doing I seem too often to also be doing something else. So I welcome the the Lenten season, when we go back to the desert. In prayer, fasting and acts of justice and generosity we practice loving attentiveness to God, to others, and to all the world. We stay present to Christ in his suffering, and serve him in all his incarnations, not to accomplish many things, but, in all we do, to love and serve God. God’s love for us becomes our love for others. Blessedly, beautifully, gracefully, our whole lives become one thing: God’s love in us.

May it be so for you this Lenten season.
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Meditation on a disaster

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

God does not cause earthquakes. God causes compassion.

         Kyrie eleison.

We are small and fragile, and we need each other.

         Kyrie eleison.

God is the love that draws us toward each other.

         Kyrie eleison.

Sin is the fear that drives us away.

         Kyrie eleison.

This is life is a gift. Every moment is precious.

         Kyrie eleison.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

         Kyrie eleison.

This day, this moment, is the time for compassion.

         Kyrie eleison.

Pray that you might become more purely loving today.

         Kyrie eleison.

When all of life and death have swept over us, love is all that remains.

         Kyrie eleison.

We hold our sisters and brothers in Japan in our prayers,
mindful of the great compassion that enfolds them,
the Infinite Love that weeps with them,
the life-giving Presence that sustains them,
the Spirit that holds us all as one.

         Kyrie eleison.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Not by bread alone

Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness
to be tempted by the devil. 

—Matthew 4.1

God, I have a list
of stones to turn to bread,
things to accomplish today
and in my short eternity—
power to exercise.
But I relinquish my list, and my power
and receive from you alone.

Beloved, I have hired angels
to protect me from falling,
from being hurt, taking risks.
I want to measure your love
by my comfort and satisfaction.
But I renounce what shields me from love
and all its suffering,
from life and its losses.
You alone are my security.

Infinite Lover,
I’ve put earnest money down on the world,
furnished with everyone’s adoration.
It was counterfeit, of course,
but none of us knew.
But I let go of it all,
for your love alone,
pure gift, is all
that sustains me.

God, I would like to be God—
my God, for my sake, in my own way.
But I will be your creation
and you be my God.

Infinite Love, Mysterious Wisdom,
take my life from my hands,
my power, my security, my place in the world,
and place me, empty handed,
in yours.

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

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