Mortality: The Practice of Being Alive



On the day trees were felled to build our new sanctuary I walked the church grounds saying a quiet benediction over stumps of the oaks that had graced these acres for seventy years.  I swept away sawdust, measured, counted growth rings and took a few photographs with no idea to what end I was doing so.

Three trees I found particularly noteworthy. “Old Warrior” was the gnarled veteran that guarded the old church entrance and for years, did battle with soil compaction, lawnmowers and several errant automobiles.  Ever resilient, it was replaced by a burr oak transplant soon after construction was completed. The second tree, “Office” stood beneath our new workroom where I like to believe it now roots all work done there in the fertile soil of our faith. The third I named “Pulpit.”  It grew very near where our podium now stands and I especially longed to hear the story it had written over its mortal life.

Logs from these trees and their companions were milled into lumber that panels our new entrance and that was skillfully crafted into sanctuary furnishings. We don’t know which board came from which tree but I hear what I believe is “Pulpit’s” story each time we worship.  One board, a distinctively figured piece of red oak faces the congregation beneath the podium microphone. On the left, it carries a jumble of zig-zagged grain that often echoes my own emotions as I enter.  As the service unfolds my soul works to the right through the nineteen years the tree laid down the wood of this board. As time passed the grain changed; it softened and smoothed into a shallow, gently uplifting arc that unmistakably mirrors the curve of the nearby chalice. Though “Pulpit” was once alive, it no longer produces good wood or sweet acorns or fluffy mulch but its story is still being heard; at least I hear it. I wonder if “Pulpit” grew this particular board knowing it would carry its story beyond its own years. Did it know that a minister, a guest, a child or anyone we invite to stand in our pulpit would appear to have their heart held in that last gentle arc, the arc of this congregation? I hope so. I’d gladly settle for knowing my own mortal life’s work told such a story.


—Dick Haskett

The Practice of Being Alive

During an October sun drenched morning
I awaken to life as it is,
The cry of a Loon, migrating Geese,
A now quiet lake, morning coffee;
Breakfast alone, you’re gone, meditation:
This afternoon a walk in the woods,
where puffballs show up for dinner
Slowly home to stuff to be attended to –
Later grandchildren’s voices and stories to read,
Dusk settles in and darkness too soon,
Thoughts of the day nourish my sleep
As I dream myself into a new day of wonder..

—Gail Diez

sys-dividerMeditation On the First Snow of ‘14

Oh my goodness, I am sitting here looking out my bay window at the beautiful first snowfall of autumn 2014. It is sooo beautiful! I love it; I feel so­­ calm and soothed, watching as it falls gracefully. It is accumulating on the ground, the bushes, the stalwart red oak leaves. Oh, and the herb garden is covered; I can see the reddish color of the planters. Then there are the eight reddish cedar park benches in various stages of keeping and losing their piles of snow.

Higher Power, Great Spirit, You are so wonderful~~how can you make such Beauty. And the great thing is that You put in me the ability to appreciate such Wonder. You gave me the awe genes. I have tears in my eyes just now by living in the Now and wondering, being wonder-filled, awe-struck by Your calm, soothing Nature.

If You are Everywhere, You are here, in the snow, in the red oak leaves, in the trees across the courtyard with snow laden branches, gently swaying, doing their snow dance. They’re waving to me and You; the branches are saying “Yes, this feels great.” They say the snow kind of tickles as it lands on them and the building up of all those millions of snowflakes on their branches and leaves comforts them, reminds them that this Snow comes each year. They see the snow as satisfying, as part of their year, they are ever ready for it. It cleans their branches; the cool air that allows the snow to stay refreshes the branches. They will need the moisture, come spring, to help make the sap that travels up the tree veins to the branches, which grow their leaves once more. Yet again, Nature takes its course. How lovely is this Masterpiece, this living Masterpiece, the

Masterpiece that keeps me in the Now. Oh, Great Spirit~~Thank you.

—Diane Markel



In the year following my college graduation, several classmates died by suicide, also a high school classmate after returning from a trip to India.

While I was in graduate school in California, a favorite professor named Andy killed himself. Some said he was gay, but he certainly seemed to enjoy flirting with female students.  My Episcopal minister killed himself while having an affair with my roommate.

Another friend named Jane killed herself by jumping out of a tower on campus shortly after earning her Ph.D. and getting a job offer.

My first job was working at an experimental treatment center for young adult schizophrenics.  Two of everyone’s favorite patients killed themselves shortly after leaving the Center.  Though we lived with them, the staff didn’t realize how difficult it was for them to live with themselves.

Middle adulthood seemed to progress more easily among my peers, but the year I turned 50, after returning home to Minnesota, my old boyfriend of graduate school years died from a planned drug overdose.  He had told friends he had a terminal medical condition, but his autopsy revealed he was in fact in excellent health.  He had been emptying his father’s savings accounts, apparently telling himself he would replace the funds, which eventually ran out.

All of these lost souls were attractive, intelligent and loved by those they left.  Still I guess they did not feel they had a place where they could come in, be themselves, touch and be touched, heal and be healed, forgive and be forgiven. Were the invitations not loud enough?  Did depression deafen them?  And now the survivors: can we forgive and be forgiven?

—Ellen Lowery



Without a map, without a care, we crunched along the fallen carpet of golds and reds like small children enraptured by rustling sounds we could make. We breathed in the freshness of fall and soaked up the warmth of sun on our faces as we gazed in wonder at the sunlit sumac against a blazing blue sky acting as prayer flags for all the worldly woes we’d left behind. —Judy Fawcett


Thoughts upon pondering the “Homily on Silence for the Feast of St. Benedict.” This brought to mind the six years I spent as a sister at the Benedictine Priory, south of Bismarck, ND where every night we listened in the Great Silence following night prayer, called Compline, until Morning Praise followed by breakfast when we generally broke our fast and broke the silence. 



A lifetime, or two,
Commenced and spent
since the years of the Great Silence!

Deeper inside I go now
Longer I list . . . to you.
Setting aside my ego
For you,
To hear you—listen,
hear it!

I have heard my own heart-
Someone heard me, list. . . to me.
Took my pain unto her
Held it, gently, like a baby bird.
deep listening~~

Respect for me—the wounded,
Injured baby bird.

As I was held, I hold
Passing one to the other—
The Circle of Healing.

The Circle of life.
The healing of wounded.

No longer holding the pain
In silence—I let it
go into the silence of the
Space between us.
She holds my pain~~
Tears in her eyes!
I heal the pain.

From chaotic, shameful silence of
Not telling
To the warmth of silent, loving

I see me — wounded
I forgive—heal.

I am now comfortable in silence—
Welcome the warmth of self
Acceptance. Self
Forgiveness & healing.
Breaking the silence, sharing the
Pain, I walk into the Light of Love.

—Diane Markel


Photo by Gail Diez


Like Green Rain

A country graveyard rests among the fields
with little said of lives now gone.

One of the gravestones sprouts new flowers,
columbine and wild daisies
picked from a nearby meadow,
now left in a mason jar,
replaced each day before they wilt.

She comes and bends
and whispers quick words
to the new laid sod,
words she didn’t say enough
when time was sweet
as fresh cut clover in the barn,
where they chased and laughed
between the chores that needed doing,
where love made their work a game
and they were playmates night and day.

Now I wonder if she questions God
about being left so soon
with empty bed and arms.

Or, if her eyes clenched tight as fists
against her pain,
instead will slowly open
like some new spring bud
and spill her tears
like green rain on the ground.

—Jo Ford