Soul Soil

Recently my minister friend, Mimi Dixon, was preaching on Matthew 13. She asked me to describe what it takes to cultivate good soil. Celtic Christians have often taught that the Earth is the first Scripture we read and so I agreed, reflecting on what Lady Terra Firma might want us to know.

For soil to be ready to receive and nurture seed, we must first take stock of it. We have to get down on our knees and thrust our hands in. We have to get dirt under our fingernails. We have to squeeze it in our hands and sometimes smell it. I’ve even heard farmers talk about tasting the dirt. (I gave that up in the third grade and I’m not going back.) Preparing soil is dirty work. You can’t do it in your Sunday best or your good shoes.

After getting up close and personal with the soil and determining what is needed to bring it to the place of being ready to receive seed, the soil must be broken.

Around here in mountain clay, it’s backbreaking work, best done with a pitchfork thrusted into the ground. With all the weight and force that can be mustered, the metal tongs must pierce the earth, shattering the surface that has grown hard with years of being walked upon, with years of weathering. What was underneath must come to the surface.

My grandfather taught me to work with the earth by applying a little moisture. A little water will loosen up the soil, creating a grace between the granules that allows for the necessary breaking and churning.  

Once the soil is broken, nutrients are worked in. Nutrients in the form of grass and water processed through the south end of a northbound cow. (We’ll pause right here, while you work that out.)

Now, these “nutrients” aren’t ready right after processing. Right after processing, it’s only waste matter--what’s left when all the good has been taken out. This processed grass and water is the diseased, the discarded, and the useless. In nature though, (like the kingdom of God) nothing is wasted.

What is needed is a little transformation time. Processed grass and water is worked into a compost pile where time and heat will transform what was a waste product into something that is essential for good soil. If the waste isn’t processed fully it will plant alfalfa seed wherever it is spread (a hard lesson I learned in a now defunct strawberry garden gone wrong). If the compost pile isn’t turned and tended, it will begin to stink up the neighborhood and grow things even Dr. Frankenstein might be afraid of.

The nutrients are ready when they don’t stink any more and nothing is germinating—then it’s time to work it into the broken soil. Allowing it amend what was lacking, heal what was broken and create a rich environment for receiving and nurturing seed.

Soul soil works in a similar way, even the soul soil of children.

Perhaps something is this post resonates for you or for a child in your life?

Are you experiencing the breaking and churning?

            Where is the water, the grace that allows?

Are you experiencing the transformation of waste product?

            How can you participate in the turning and tending?

Are you on the other side, experiencing the growth of good seed that came from transformed soil?


Good, Good Gardener Jesus, thank you for tending our soul soil.

Engaging Maundy Thursday through Easter with Families

Excerpt from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide...

Maundy Thursday

Seasonal Fun:

Maundy Thursday begins the second part of Holy Week, and with it comes a shift in focus. Its name comes from the Last Supper, when Jesus declares, “A new commandment I give to you: love one another.” At this point in Holy Week, we no longer prepare; we are instead immersed. We don’t think to the future; we live in the present. We slow and quiet our lives and our homes so that we can focus on Jesus.

Choose one or two of the following practices:

  • »  Remove everything but the cross and the Christ candle from the Family Altar.

  • »  Turn off the TV and keep it off until Sunday. If you can, do the same for computers and unnecessary phones.

  • »  Read the account of the Last Supper together as a family.

  • »  Begin dinner with the “highest ranking” family member washing everyone’s hands. (You can do feet if you want; in our culture washing hands before dinner is customary.)

  • »  Attend a Passover Seder meal; this is the traditional Jewish ritual meal that we believe Jesus was celebrating at the Last Supper. Ask around: there are often people in the community who like to include others.


    Reflect on the Following:

    Till: Jesus, thank you for your body and your blood that you gave for us. Help us to remember that when we eat and drink of you, we will never hunger or thirst again.

    Plant: John 13:1-35

  • Water:

  • »  Receive it: When did someone serve you today?

  • »  Serve it: When could you serve another person today?

Weed: When did you share Jesus today through serving? When did you receive Jesus today by being served?

Good Friday

Seasonal Fun:

Good Friday is the saddest day of the church year. It is the day that hope dies. We are tempted to let our minds skip to Sunday, but we must resist. Easter can only be birthed from death. So we as a family sit in our sadness on this day. We lean into the pain and suffering of Jesus. On this day our faith is tried. Could we—would we follow Jesus to the cross? Is our love and devotion to him strong enough to walk with him through the valley of the shadow of death?

  • »  Read the account of the crucifixion as a family (today’s reading).

  • »  Invite the family to wear black to signify mourning for the dead Christ.

  • »  If your family doesn’t normally make the sign of the cross, try it today. When we make the sign of the cross we give all of ourselves to God, we accept the salvation of the cross for all the parts of us, and we also remember that all parts of us must die in order to live. Using the tips of your fingers, begin by touching your forehead, then your chest. Touch the front of one shoulder and then the other. Make it slowly and carefully each time you pray today. As you make the sign think about Jesus’ dying for the whole of us: our minds (forehead), our hearts (chest), and our bodies (shoulders). Explain the sign and his death to your children.

  • »  At 3 P.M. today, blow out the Christ candle as a sign of Jesus’ death.


    Reflect on the following:

    Till: We can’t say “thank you” enough for dying for us. Help us, Lord Jesus. Give us the strength, the love, and the devotion, to follow you wherever you may lead. We cannot do it by ourselves.

Plant: John 19:19-42


  • »  Imagine it: What was the most difficult thing to imagine about today’s reading?

  • »  Share it: Which person do you most identify with?

    Weed: When did you make the sign of the cross today? What did it mean to you? Where would be the most difficult place Jesus could lead you? How can you prepare to follow him anywhere?

    Holy Saturday

    We have no reading on Holy Saturday. It is a day where the silence of God is deafening. It’s a day where we go ahead and give up—give up striving for more or better. The struggle to die to ourselves that we have practiced all through Lent, finally gets its death blow on this day. Here the paradox comes into full bloom: though we know Easter is coming, in the silence and solitude of a dead Christ hope is lost. Don’t try to skate through Holy Saturday with distractions, or false hope. Avoid preparing for Easter celebration today. The only way to get to Easter (or resurrection) life is through this “dark night of the soul.”

  • »  Do not light the Christ candle today.

  • »  Children, especially, will feel the sadness and emptiness of this day. They may even cry. Let them and cry with them. They may not be able to verbally express what they know to be true: their Jesus has died. They are sad, and so they mourn.

  • »  Tell the children about how people were buried long ago. Tell them how Mary and Martha would have gathered up strips of cloth and herbs and oil to prepare Jesus’ body to be buried. Gather a basket with strips of cloth (or let them unwind a roll of toilet paper), oil or perfume, and some herbs. Mary and Martha were not able to prepare the body of Jesus this day because of the Sabbath, but inviting children into the act of preparation helps them express grief.

» Use a baby doll, toilet paper, and a cardboard box. Invite the children to imagine that the doll is Jesus, then have them help you wrap the body and put it in the box.


Easter is the day our lives are changed forever. Nothing, absolutely nothing will ever be the same. But for many of us Easter is as mundane as Tuesday’s Twinkies. We put on clothes we hate, hunt eggs we will never eat, and yawn through the Easter service. It wasn’t always this way. Easter is Christianity’s oldest celebration. It began with the day Jesus rose from death, and the celebration hasn’t stopped! Long before the church celebrated Christmas, we celebrated Easter. Easter should never play second fiddle to Christmas. We have Christmas because of Easter; Easter is the reason we celebrate Christmas. The Bread of Life conquered death—that’s the best news there is!

As we’ve been journeying with Jesus this year, we have heard over and over again his teaching about the Kingdom of God. We’ve seen him claim to know God in a unique, one-of-a-kind way in the Gospel of John; we’ve watched as he heals and forgives and loves. And at Easter, we get the best news of all—this Kingdom life is the real deal! By overcoming death itself, Jesus proves that the with-God life simply cannot be held down! So as we set out to imitate his life, we can have confidence and joy that Jesus’ abundant life truly is the best life. From the drab, cold winter days of Lent to the dark sadness of Holy Saturday, the question is raised—how can any joy come out of such loss and sadness? Easter answers: God’s power and life is so strong that it can go through death and come out victorious the other side!

The color of Eastertide is the same as for Christmastide: white, for the purity of Christ. Eastertide is a total celebration of life, and conveniently for us it occurs in the springtime, when life is bursting forth.

Ways to Celebrate the “Burstings”

  • »  Find a farm you can visit to play with the baby animals. Talk with the children about God, the creator of life, and his goodness. Talk about the resurrection of the earth from winter’s death.

  • »  When you’re in the car, or going from here to there, invite the children to help you look for signs of new life.

  • »  Fill your house with flowers. Let the children water the flowers, and explain how they are participating in giving life to the flowers. Talk about the ways we can give life to living things.

    Family Altar Suggestions for Eastertide

  • »  Replace the purple cloth with a white one, the color of Eastertide.

  • »  Light the Christ candle at your Easter Vigil or on Easter morning, and

    keep it lit whenever you are around.

  • »  Add prayers for Eastertide to your prayer box. The book Poems and

    Prayers for Easter by Sophia Piper is a good resource.

  • »  Add wild flowers or an Easter Lily.

  • »  Find your Alleluia Banner and hang it over the Altar.

*For more resources celebrating the full seven weeks of Easter, check out Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide. 

Prayer, Women, and Our Achilles heel

There were eight of us in a dingy church basement, meeting weekly for prayer. Eight of us with labels: daughter, engineer, mother, wife, lawyer, teacher, pastor, sister, friend, writer, and baker. While I shirk to think that these labels define us- because they do not- they do help to define our sphere of influence, they do describe where we take our bodies, indeed where we take our prayer life.

If prayer is as Dallas Willard says, “an ongoing conversation with God about what we are doing together,” women are “doing” and women are having “conversations.” In the basement, these ordinary saints were having conversations with God about relationships, about justice and peace, about reconciliation, about parenting, about physics, about words, about life. They have followed faithfully in the footsteps of the women before them. Miriam, (Exodus 15) who brought her conversation with God into her freedom from oppression, Deborah, (Judges 5) who brought her conversation with God onto the battlefield, Hannah, (1 Samuel 1) who brought her conversation with God into her bitterness, and Mary (Luke 1) who brought her conversation with God even into her womb. The integration of various aspects of our lives is both our strength and our Achilles heel.

It is our strength in that wherever we are, whatever we are doing; we bring our conversational relationship with God. This has been the pattern since the early history of Christianity. The desert fathers headed into the desert and left their communities to find solitude and enrich their conversational life with God; several of the early desert mothers brought solitude and their conversational life with God into their communities. It has been said if you teach a woman to pray, a whole community is prayed for.

Conversely, it is also our Achilles heel; we often forget that while we are members of a community we are also individuals. Individuals individually loved by God. When we forget it can look like attending to others without attending to ourselves. Make no mistake there is a difference between self-centeredness and self-care. The former never results in the later. Self-care is the beginning of Jesus’ commandment to love others as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:39) It was his invitation to Martha. (Luke 10:41)  Perhaps it was even the invitation offered to the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:1-11) Jesus knew that we could become used up, dried up reservoirs when all of our energies are focused on others. In our prayer life our Achilles heel can take the form of one-sided conversations with God, neglecting the listening aspect of conversation. The burdens we bear for those within our sphere of influence will, over time, crush us if we do not designate time in solitude just listening, doing nothing, only being with God.

Living prayerfully looks like deepening conversations with God not only about what we are doing, but also about who we are, and are becoming. Perhaps you are finding yourself out of balance, in need of self-care, restorative time with the Lover of Your Soul. Try one of the following suggestions:

·      Set aside 15-20 minutes a day to sit in silence with Jesus. This might be early in the morning before your household wakes or later in the night when they have gone to sleep. Find a quiet, alone space to be with Jesus. Bring your attention to Jesus in your midst. See him, seeing you and smiling. When concerns or cares come to mind gently lay them in his hands without comment.

·      Pray the Gospel of Luke using your imagination. In other words, set your imagination to the service of the Scriptures. Work your way through the book of Luke passage by passage. Before beginning a passage invite the Spirit to speak to your soul specifically. Read your selected passage through one time- get the big picture and imagine yourself in the passage. Read your selected passage through a second time- notice any strong feelings or impressions you have. Begin a conversation (both talking and listening) with Jesus about those feelings and impressions.

·      Play. What did you like to do when you were a little girl? Bicycle? Skip? Laugh? Play in the dirt? Throw a Frisbee? Do it again, this time invite Jesus into your play. Notice that Jesus is with you, enjoying the space, your light and sharing his love.

The Earthy Practice of Advent

All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss is not your run-of-the-mill Advent devotional. It begins with this quote from Meister Eckhart

“Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God. Every creature is a word of God. If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature, even a caterpillar, I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.”

      All Creation Waits steps over modern notions of human centered knowing and settles into what the land and its animals already know. From the painted turtle who practices life sustaining simplicity to the wild turkey who knows the sufficiency of community, Boss makes the space for each animal witness to offer their wisdom. Their wisdom is not intellectually refined or debated, but instead tested and tried. Thousands of years have gone into animal knowing. The wisdom of the little brown bat, the raccoon, and the meadow vole offer to us a mystery we cannot get from human logic.

      Here on the Western Slope of Colorado, we are a family that practices Advent. It is a way that we mark our lives by the life of Jesus. We also live close to the land. We have observed the old wisdom of the hen who ceases her egg laying as the days get shorter and the squirrel who continuously stashes pinion nuts in the south corner of the goat stall.

      I know a child who speaks the language of the animals. They are her confidants. The secrets they share are plentiful and deep. All Creation Waits resonated with her. She liked that the animals were not “made in the image” of human beings—personified—but were allowed their own knowing far outside and beyond their sister and brother human.

      I loved the ending, Christmas Day, the chapter highlights that what animals know, children know too. Theirs is a connection built on a mystery that often slips right through adult fingers.

      David Klein created the illustrations in such a way that the intricate details and use of light and dark draw us, the readers and seekers, into the intimate world of the animal.   

      If you’re looking for something a little different this Advent, and especially if you or the people you live with are drawn to the mystery of creation All Creation Waits will not disappoint.

      Check it out over at Paraclete Press. 

The Examen for Families

When I teach at conferences I'm often asked for one spiritual practice that families can do together. ONE. That's tough...

How about the Examen? My Protestant brothers and sisters might say, "What is that?" and my Catholic brothers and sisters might have visions of the Examen of Consciousness. 

The Examen for Families is a prayer practice that helps all members of the family grow deeper into the loving community of the Trinity and helps our family community to become more loving. 

The Examen can help us each to grow in greater awareness of ourselves, of our wants, of our longings, and of our limitations. The Examen can help us to grow in greater awareness of God's presence with us throughout the day and God's work in the world. It can help us grown closer to each other as we share the vulnerable inner workings of our heart and mind. We learn empathy, we learn to listen, we learn to pray for each other. The Examen can help us grow closer to Jesus as we learn the conversational cadence of talking and listening prayer. 

So enjoy this short video on the Examen for Families. And if you have the inclination- share the link- pass on the practice. 




Prayer Labyrinths, Children and Lent

Lent is a little more than a week away; it begins on Wednesday February 10th this year. There are endless ways to mark our lives by the life of Christ during Lent and one way many churches have engaged is meditation and prayer using a Labyrinth.

Labyrinths have been around for thousands of years. People have used them for various reasons, but Christians have been using them for prayer since the Middle Ages. Labyrinths have the wonderful possibility of moving prayer into our bodies.

Children are notoriously good at expressing all things with their bodies. Just take a toddler into a lively worship service and their joy will leak out into their bodies and maybe on the floor, but that's another matter.

Today I’m sharing an attempt at a Guided Prayer: The Way of the Cross for children.

Some ways and places for this meditation might be-

·      As a guided conversation with God (prayer) while walking a labyrinth

·      As guided prayer while engaging the Stations of the Cross

·      Older children can use this meditation alone while walking a labyrinth or Stations of the Cross

·      Younger children can share the time and meditation with an adult who loves them while walking a labyrinth or Stations of the Cross

Please feel free to print out this guided prayer , fold it in half and offer it to children within your sphere of influence and take a conversational walk with God.

One last reminder, the conversations of children with their God can be private. It’s helpful to keep the words of George MacDonald in mind,

“A parent must respect the spiritual person of his child, and approach it with reverence, for that too looks the Father in the face and has an audience with Him into which no earthly parent can enter even he dared to desire it.”

If a child shares their conversation with God with you, you are on sacred ground indeed. Respect the holiness of that moment by not sharing the conversation with anyone else, unless you receive the child’s permission.

If a child doesn’t share anything with you, you are on sacred ground indeed. Surely we remember from our FFA class that seeds germinate in the rich, secrete space of hiddenness. There is no space where the Spirit is not working up something, even if adults can’t see it.  

Yes. Let it be so. 

Listening with Children to the Big Questions

Listening with Children to the Big Questions

Adults talk a lot to children. We teach and tell, instruct and correct, admonish and encourage. What would we learn if we listened? The possibilities are endless. What do children learn from listening adults? They learn they are honored. They learn to articulate their own thoughts. They learn the value expression. They learn to listen to themselves. They learn they have a voice. 

Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany

Today it’s snowing at our house.

Snow is the earth’s invitation to

settle in,

center down

and rest from our labors.

It’s an invitation to reflect on the busyness of spring, summer and autumn and savor the memories that form us.

I’m savoring a hike we took up to Blue Lakes. I’m generally the slowest hiker bringing up the rear. However, this time our fourteen year old daughter hung back with me. We wandered up the mountainside stopping to write poems about flowers and trees and mountain streams. We drew pictures, ate Oreo cookies, and talked about things too deep to speak without marmots near. Thank you Loving Creator for that memory.

In my mind it’s also an invitation to prepare for Advent. The season of Advent begins November 29th.  The holiday hoopla is already in full swing. I saw a post of FB yesterday that said, “For every Christmas tree lit before Thanksgiving, an elf drowns a baby reindeer.” Oh My! That’s harsh, but I get it. In the United States the holiday ball is already rolling.

I spent many years on that loud, rushed, overindulgent, train.

As a follower of Jesus, this is the season I want to savor. Like the snow that blankets and swaddles, Advent invites us to settle in, to center down, to let Mary and her baby teach us a thing or two.

In order to keep from getting swallowed up I set some boundaries. We don’t have to be everywhere or do everything. I make a few plans and a few choices early on that guide us.

Ben Barczi and I wrote Good Dirt: A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families as a possible choice. The first volume Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany has seasonal activities and readings to guide families through a celebration of Jesus’ incarnation, introducing the twelve classical spiritual disciplines as tools to work the soil of the soul.


What would it look like to

settle in,

center down,

and engage with Jesus this holiday season?


Thank you Snow, I think I’ll take you up on it.