Running into a Brick Wall

August 30, 2018


Question: If you owned a brick wall, would you rather it look like this?


Or this?


If you picked the first image, we need to talk.

Here’s what happened.  Thirtyish years ago, having recently moved to our house, I decided to remove the heinous firethorn shrub espaliered to the front wall of the garage.  With the Thorny One gone, the wall was blank.  Back in that day, I had a problem with blankness.  I conceived a great idea —  to plant fig ivy.  Which promptly surged up the wall, covering it with luxurious green. The ivy was delightful in every aspect for, oh, a few years.  But then the trouble began.  Lovely it may be, but fig ivy is invasive.  Once it fills a wall it demands constant trimming around the edges, lest it ruin the surrounding paint. Over the years it burgeons in depth and trunk size, eventually becoming less of a demure flat screen and more of a bulging ponderous heaviness, a haven for wasps and annoying house sparrows.


This winter we had a serious cold snap. The normally all-weather ivy turned into a brown, crispy mat.  I trimmed out the dead but what remained did not look promising. In fact, it looked hideous. So one day I went out and pulled the whole thing down, hacked it off at the ground.  Which left…the roots. I had to pay for several hour$$$ of root-removal. We’re talking just short of jackhammers.


Blankness as relief — my how times change. But now the easy to ignore brown rootlets still clinging like superglue have turned into a thick tracery of ghostly white, as shown above.  I am tired of looking at ghostly white, which I take to be the last hurrah of the ivy, as in, you think you got rid of me, eh?


Wire brush doesn’t work.  Pressure washing doesn’t work. This morning I went to the wall with a cake-icing spatula, and lo, one clean brick, in nothing flat!  This is much more fun than other things I should be doing! I decided to measure the task ahead of me.  Thirty rows of 15 bricks. 450 bricks.  The morning was cool and the process strangely meditative — within one hour I had gouged and scraped clean 22 bricks at the west end of the wall.  Plus 2 bonus bricks at the east end, which I will thank myself for when I get down there.


Whilst gouging and scraping, I had an idea:  People could sign up to remove the remaining rootlets.  I could charge a modest amount per brick. The proceeds could go to, oh, some worthy cause or other.  Haven’t worked that out yet.


How Filled With Awe is This Place

Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

“How Filled With Awe”

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker


Opening hymn #89 “Joyful, Joyful” / Closing hymn 685 “Now, on Land and Sea Descending”

Exodus 3:1-6

Now Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, drove the flock into the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush. He gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed. Moses said, ‘I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight; why doesn’t the bush burn up?’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him out of the bush: ‘Moses! Moses!’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am,’ He said, ‘the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

The book of Hebrews says, ‘Therefore, since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us be filled with gratitude, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire.’ We are receiving. Let us be filled. Grateful we are. But almost afraid. Drawn forward, we hold back. We hide our face. But still our hearts catch fire and burn. Do you want this intimacy? Do you want to be one with this sovereign demand? Then take off your shoes. Feel the ground with your feet, flowing up to fill you. God is Absolute. God is fire. God says: My flame shall not hurt thee / I only design / thy dross to consume / and thy gold to refine. God cherishes, God wants, God burns for us, it seems. And if God consumes, tis only to give us new life.

The world is changing fast. We stand in a strange place tonight, between the ‘no longer’ and the ‘not yet.’ I know you feel that. Something wondrous wants to be said, some creative energy is building. But in the meantime all seems chaotic. How can Moses, how can I, how can we make a difference? Here’s an idea: Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’

We are alive tonight. At Nineteenth and Harrison. In Beaumont, Texas. With cares enough, true. Also beautiful possibilities before us. I call that a miracle.

Take Moses, that curious mix of cares and possibilities. Again and again, the ground had shaken beneath his feet. Son of a Hebrew slave-woman. Prince of Egypt. Exile to Midian. Husband to Zipporah. Son-in-law to Jethro. And now, here he is. So Moses is driving the flock one day, as usual, through the wilderness, guiding them to green pasture, his rod and his staff their comfort, and he sees a burning bush.

A shrub on fire.

Moses says, ‘I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight. Why doesn’t the bush burn up?’

Well, that’s all the Teacher is waiting for. That’s all the Teacher is ever waiting for! The wonderful curiosity of a human! And so God calls: ‘Moses! Moses!’

Before Moses knows it, his shoes are off, he’s standing on unfamiliar ground, between the ‘no longer’ and the ‘not yet.’

David Orr says, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane.”

The planet needs people, people of moral courage, people who live well in their places. Moses? Each person here tonight, hoping to learn how to live and love in the place between ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet’? Step forward.

Oh Thou merciful, give us eyes to see and courage to say yes. I like this prayer:

‘Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder: How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it! Blessed is the Eternal One, the holy God!’

Blessed is the Eternal One, who sent me to Delaware last week, to spend some time with friends. Blessed is the holy God, who sent me to the southernmost of three counties, to the charming town of Rehoboth Beach.

Rehoboth is a name rooted in the Hebrew book of Genesis. Rehoboth means a wide place, with plenty of room. In the nineteenth century, Methodists made a beeline to this wide place, for camp meetings and ocean air. How could I resist?

My good friends Brenda and Rix—Methodists—built a place in Rehoboth, on family land. I went to them, I nestled in. They were my refreshment, my Jethro in the wilderness. But they didn’t make me drive their flocks! They did however invite me to consume delicious food and be pampered in every way their kindly hearts could devise.

One delight was a day trip to Lewes. Now, Lewes is a very old town indeed. Much older than Rehoboth. In Lewes is Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, established 1681. Saint Peter’s calls itself ‘the first church in the first town in the first state.’ Open all year, 24/7, for sanctuary, for solace, for healing.

Naturally Brenda and I made a beeline. No burning bushes, but a fenced front yard full of stones stretching back to Margaret Huling, born 1631, lived 76 years, buried 1707. Here lyeth her body. Also the body of Henry F. McCracken, pilot of the Delaware Bay and River, who was buried in 1868 along with his anchor. Yes, his anchor. Part of it (the anchor, not Henry) can be seen sticking up out of the ground.

In this holy, hushed, perfectly manicured yard are crowded the stones of many solid citizens. Generations, all connected, resting in holy ground. Brenda and I were delighted, and all the more when a living person appeared, a cheerful church lady, pushing a kitchen cart down a sidewalk.

We accosted her with a question, and she proceeded at some length to tell us how this church had changed her life. Not creed, not dogma…just, this place. These people. Who welcomed her, and her questions, just as she is. To her, this is miracle.

Inside the church—open 24/7 you’ll recall—we found a simple sacred space. The mountain of God. With the most heavenly stained glass windows. Radiant color, burning with stories, yet not consumed.


One window, women and angel at the empty tomb, was blocked at the bottom by a stack of chairs. As a roving prayer reporter I made bold to pull up another chair and stand on it, right there in church. Having come this far, I needed to see all of this marvelous window.


Can you imagine? Are these things miracle enough for you?

Miracles enough. Another day, back in Rehoboth, on Deauville Beach, a bearded little man. Skinny legs in leggings, orange tee shirt cinched around the middle. Not so remarkable, you say? (Except perhaps for the leggings.) Well, the belt around the middle is to anchor his bagpipes, which he plays as he treads the water’s edge. Brenda and I in our bare feet followed his music, his deliberate shoeprints, till he turned aside at his destination. He was playing Beethoven: ‘Joyful, joyful we adore Thee…’

Bagpipers. Storytellers. Peacemakers. Barefoot ladies of a certain age. Lovers of all kinds, living well in their place.

Leaving Rehoboth, the miraculous kept calling. At the Philadelphia airport, in the hall connecting Terminals D and E, right next to a pair of forbidding doors saying something like ‘Do Not Enter on Pain of Death,’ I saw a surprising sign:

‘The Quiet Room. For Solitude. Or Prayer.’

Always open. To be used in silence.

Wait. What? What marvelous sight is this? Your roving prayer reporter stopped. She gazed. She took a step toward the Quiet Room. Then she looked at her watch. Gate D3 is calling. Mustn’t be late.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to miss a single inch of holy ground, and after all, there really is plenty of time, plenty of room to breathe. So I turned aside, and went in. There was a foot washing station for those whose religion requires it. But I kept my shoes on this time, reveled in the holy in my own way. As promised, it was quiet. Also lovely, thoughtfully laid out, all 315 square feet of it. And that was miracle enough for me.



‘Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder: How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it! Blessed is the Eternal One, the holy God!’



‘Monday’s Child is Fair of Face’

August 20, 2018


I was born on a Monday.  At two in the afternoon, so they say.  At my age, fair of face is more a matter of growing in grace! If I can gracefully bear, and gracefully strive…what more could one ask of a Monday? For my new week and yours, here’s a partial list of things I’m thankful for:


Work to do and a nice place to do it:


A squirrel, a clean birdbath, and some pink flowers:


Happy veronica:


And a lizard keeping a low profile in Hardin County (thanks as always to sister Kate for these delights!)


A Certain Slant of Light

August 16, 2018

Tennessee 013.jpg


There’s a certain Slant of light,

Winter afternoons —

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes —

—Emily Dickinson



Cathedral Tunes, oppressing. Wait, what?   I thought church was supposed to afford an escape from the weighty cares of the world?  True, the work of the church is to comfort the afflicted.  But the work of the church is also to afflict the comfortable, to take our too-blithe notions and apply pressure. Thus we grow, and we deepen, into greater usefulness to others.  The Heft of Cathedral Tunes.  An example springs to mind:



“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,  earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.”



This heart-piercer is a Christmas song??  It continues, applying pressure.   A young mother worships the Beloved with a kiss, and how could life ever hurt this innocent baby?   Yet we know it will.  It seems Joy has a Heft to it, which must be carried.



Morning finds me in the house where I’ve lived for thirty-four years.  Not for the first time, I try to capture the stately dance of color on the dining room wall. Color, flooding my heart. Gratitude!  Revealed instead, the solemn hush of an empty chair. At the sight, absence presses down. I ponder awhile.  My heart grows deeper. It takes a certain slant of light.



Two more angles on Mystery, brought to you via my sister.  May they bring a smile!



“Oh, I am a pretty thing, inclined upon a flower!”




“Hi there!”

 —Kate Hambright, Beech Creek, August 2018

Oh the Things We Heard!

August 13, 2018



At seven months, granddaughter Amelia is a jolly little soul, adaptable, socialized. Should she smile at you, guard your heart! Actually, it’s too late—you’re hers.



She can chug water from a juice cup. She is adept at ooching rapidly across the floor—crawling will come soon, unless she decides to skip that in favor of running. She is vocalizing as follows: raspberries, lip-bops, squeals, and the occasional statement of feeling, in low feminine tones. Soon she will say actual words.   And so, I’m filling her word bank: ‘Bench.’ ‘Car.’ ‘Jaybird.’ She gives no sign. But I know she hears me.



She has the gift of silence. Of quietude. For instance, this morning I put her in her outdoor swing, that sturdy plastic seat for one which her daddy hung from a steel cable between an oak and a pine. She loves this swing. She loves it so much that while it’s swinging with her in it, she grows intensely still. No shrieks of glee for this girl. On the contrary, she seems to go inward. Such a thoughtful, serious look in those eyes. So I left her to her sustained reflection, dropped down at the base of the oak with my back to the bark, and joined her in stillness.



Oh, the things we heard! Chortle of a red-bellied woodpecker. Several Jay statements: “Beedleyoop. Heebert Heebert. Jay Jay Jay!” The rolling trill of cicadas—did you know the male of this big-eyed insect has to shut down his hearing when trilling, lest he blow out his own eardrums? And all for love.



Best sound of all: Three Mississippi kites. I heard, I knew, up came my head, and there they were! Three gorgeously graceful raptors zooming about in the airspace high above, gobbling insects. When they’re not munching on bug life, they emit a high, thin whistle: pe-teew. They were hard at their work this morning. For some reason their cry, the sheer fact of them, elicited a ragged sob from me: for beauty, for the brief glory of life. Amelia regarded me. Silently. With what I would like to believe is deep understanding.



Then we went inside and chugged water from a communal juice cup. Then she lay upon my bosom and cried tragically for about a minute, then went stone asleep, thence murmuring into her crib, then up again in an hour, wreathed in smiles, playing peep-eye through the slats.



Learnin’ the Blues

August 11, 2018
You may know this old song:
“That’s the beginning – just one of the clues –
You’ve had your first lesson –  in learnin’ the blues.”
Sometimes the clues are tragically hard to miss.  A friend has published a paper: “Houston After Harvey: Where We Are and Where We Need to Be.”
The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey approaches.  Resilient as we are, the thousand-year storm etched on us a terrible new verse of the blues. It will always be with us, solidarity with the ones who inscribed their arms with their social security numbers as the waters rose.  No wonder that now, when a hard rain falls, people incline to fear.
Meanwhile, we live and love our precious lives.  The hope is that wisdom will accumulate, causing “the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.”
Wisdom:  The price of life is hazard.   The price of loving is losing.  The price of a future is learning from the past.  If we can view our inevitable wounds as a growing edge for wisdom, think how much deeper and truer our lives will be.  Think how denial and anxious avoidance of the unpleasant and inconvenient will fall away, in favor of true joy.  One true joy is having meaningful, creative work to do. My true-blue friend in Houston is working.  So are many. Wounded by what has happened, we take appropriate solace and sabbath, and we press forward.
“You’ve had your first lesson / in learnin’ the blues.”  I looked up the meaning of the color blue.  Blue speaks of good things—sky and sea, open spaces, spirit, intuition, depth, loyalty, sincerity.  The psychology of color claims that blue has a restful effect—calming and cooling.  Too much blue, though, can cause feelings of melancholy, negativity, sadness.  The art is finding the balance!  Balance, with an aim:  Clarissa Pinkola Estes asserts that “any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.”
A small, calm thing.  Perhaps the naming of a car?  I’m thinking of a recent purchase I’m pleased to call “Ruby.”  I am grateful for the means to have her, the skill to drive her.  As you know, ruby is a gemstone of radiant red, tempered with a measure of blue.  That might not seem much of a selling point for a paint color. But I like it!

How Old Is Spring, Miranda?

August 8, 2018

Ogden Nash was an American poet, known for his light verse.


Here’s another:




had ’em


In a 1958 interview he stated,  ‘I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old.’  When I was twelve or so, I came across his poems on my parents’ bookshelf, and devoured every volume.  I too have thought in terms of rhyme from earliest memory, and like him feel free to make things rhyme that don’t necessarily.  His ‘Ode to Duty’ is a delightful example!

And then there’s this poem, written to his wife:

A Lady Who Thinks She Is Thirty

Unwillingly Miranda wakes, feel the sun with terror,

one unwilling step she takes, shuddering to the mirror.

Miranda in Miranda’s sight is old and gray and dirty;

Twenty-nine she was last night; this morning she is thirty.

Shining like the morning star, like the twilight shining,

haunted by a calendar, Miranda is a-pining.

Silly girl, silver girl, draw the  mirror toward you;

time who makes the years to whirl adorned as he adored you.

Time is timelessness for you; calendars for the human;

What’s a year, or thirty, to loveliness made woman?

Oh, Night will not see thirty again, yet soft her wing, Miranda;

Pick up your glass and tell me then—how old is Spring, Miranda?


This touched me when I was ten, twenty, thirty, and all the more at twice thirty and counting!  But then, who’s counting?


Ogden Nash, what a guy.




Blessed Community

August 7, 2018


A word about Sunday school! (You are free to run for the hills, but I’d rather you stay with me.) For years I felt I didn’t need it.  My reasoning: I was taken to SS for infants and children and teens, which gave a good foundation.  From there I worked and studied on my own (introverts, unite, in the privacy of our homes!)  Then I was moved to teach weekday Bible studies, a task I embraced with fervor for many years, and figured was sufficient.  But then one day, I eased shyly into a Sunday morning class called Explorers. I had heard they boldly cross boundaries, exploring outside the box, daring to examine unexamined presuppositions.  So at venerable fifty-something, I showed up.  Well, you guessed it—I rose through the ranks and now find myself Commander of the Night Watch—er, facilitator of the group.  And oh how I love our little community.  And in a way I’m not kidding about the Night Watch.  The task of biblical literacy and spiritual growth seems urgent to me.


When I set up this website, my idea was to consolidate my writings and teachings, offering refreshment to whoever is hungry for whatever fare.  I want to be a conduit, not an endpoint!


One request was that I provide a link from my site to the monthly prayer calendar I compile for our church.  Another request was that I begin to archive my Sunday school lessons.  This I did by reserving a place for them apart from my weekly/daily musings in general.  (I’m a little behind—fixing to post the last two lessons. Which you are free to read, or not!)  The thing about lesson-texts is that they miss the orality of the Sunday school experience–the conversation, the different perspectives, the puzzled brows, the aha moments, the mutual respect. And the sheer joy of being together.  Still, you may find something in them you can use.


For me, it’s kind of like this:  There is Ultimate Reality, also known as Creator, God, Mother, Father, YHWH, other Names too numerous to mention.  I am pleased (thanks to a vivid dream I may tell  you one day) to think of Ultimate Reality as ‘She Who Is Behind Everything.’  She is not Person, She is the Uncreated.  She is not me but She lives in me and I in Her.  She is not Color but the everflowing overflowing superabundant Source of Color.  Allow me to illustrate.  Yesterday I glanced at my kitchen windowsill and saw this:


My heart was pierced with joy, with terror at the Vastness… the miracle of existence, the depth of mercy…


In response,  I can keep the weekly lections for my little group, and watch for signs (without depending on signs), and share a few illustrated stories.  And prayer calendars.  And lessons.  Small things, done with great love.

Heart for the Hawks

August 6, 2018


This early morning, the songbirds are strangely silent. As I leave my lamplit reading and ease across the room to take up Sacred Laundry-sorting, the World beyond the glass invites a glance.  Ah.   There in the Elm, fifteen feet from me, at eye level, His Rapturous Raptor, Buteo lineatus, Red-shouldered Hawk. Orange belly, dappled back, yellow beak, tipped in black.


Dark eye catching mine, he flies.  An hour later, it’s still pretty quiet out there! Re-equilibrium is taking a while.


Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “Religious experience is a response of the whole person to what is perceived as ultimate, characterized by a peculiar intensity and issuing in appropriate action.” Yes.  Early bright morning—what year, I couldn’t say. As today, I look up from my work, the World beyond the glass inviting a glance.  There atop a utility pole, lit up by the rising sun, a red-shouldered hawk.  He seems in no hurry, he seems all unaware of the watcher below.  Does he know there’s a Face on his back? I find myself intensely caught—body, mind, and heart.   When at last he falls on some out of sight Other beyond the fence, I do my best to capture what wants to be said:

hawk icon.jpg

Then there’s the Christmas Angel.  If you haven’t seen him before, on this website, or the cover of my book, here he is:

Christmas morning angel.jpg

Does it seem to you those bright breast feathers are signaling Something?  Whatever it is, it captures me.  And my intense response is to brave the sharp cold of that morning and capture it!


To close, a truly clunky poem about the difficulty of identifying hawks.


Phoebe’s Hawk Song

Valentine’s Day, 2010

“Give your heart to the hawks” –Robinson Jeffers

Okay, I will!

Zone-tailed, White-tailed, Red-tailed, Broad?

Their tails are confusing, so maybe I oud

To turn to their size? Wee Merlin, big Marsh?

If only they’d line up, not treat us so harsh!

Cooper’s or Kestrel, Krider’s or Black?

Can’t find my Peterson, feeling the lack—

Rough-legged, Red-shouldered, Harris, or White?

Sharp-shinned, Sparrow hawk—Children of Light!

They know who they are, and what they must do,

As do I, so back to the slew

Of papers and projects, practical things.

But the Hawk is still out there, flexing his wings . . .






Furtive Angel

August 4, 2018


Certain things want to be said.  Recently the Gray Catbirds in our yard have added to the chorus with an inordinate amount of catcalls and improv, from dawn to dusk. Add to that a  behavior new to me:  Several times lately from my post on the elliptical I’ve seen a catbird swoop down to a belly-landing on the back bed mulch, stretch its wings, pull them back it a little, and remain there for a while.  Is it resting? Hoping to scare up some tasty edibles? Whatever it’s up to I thought you might enjoy a Catbird essay from my book.


Catbird, Settled In

 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; as for me, I will be glad in the Lord.

Psalm 104:33-34


Catbirds. They’ve decided they like our neighborhood. Since spring began, they’ve been burbling and mewing like crazy. But I’ve been unable to find them. No great surprise, for everyone knows that catbirds are a thickety folk. By that I mean they’re “furtive and skulking.” Happy in the hedgerows, dark feathers make concealment easy. Solid gray, black skullcap, long black tail, flipped about with jaunty if secretive air.


How to describe the catbird song, which tantalizes me so? Like their cousins the mockingbirds, they are adept at mimicking the songs of other birds. But not for them the clarion precision of a mocker. No, catbirds are more into improv, that is, rambling riffs of burbles, warbles, squeaks, and chips, interspersed with the catlike mews which give them their name. I hear them at dawn, I hear them at dusk. I am fascinated. I should be content with the music, but I long to see them. For weeks and weeks, I do not.


Until: Late one evening finds me on the patio, snugged into a wrought iron chair, earbuds in, reviewing an emerging mix of sacred song. By some alchemy of weavings from my collection, I find myself growing still. I do not decide to be still. I just am. At that moment, with daylight fading to black, I see a dark gray form on the fence. Another joins it. Be still! Be still!


So still am I that one of the catbird pair, O furtive angel, leaves the safety of the fence and flies to the edge of the fountain not six feet away. There at the fountain the catbird and I are together, with ease.


Next morning, as I’m about my laundry day, a catbird flies down to the grass just outside the back door. Through the glass, he gives me a merry look, and a flip of his slender black tail.


Sunday morning finds me again in my patio corner, enjoying the “hush of nature, newly born.” A catbird flies to the birdbath, oh so close. She gives me a bright measured eye, then calmly takes a drink of water. I guess the ice has been broken.