It happened on the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving in Palm Springs. Our family had been together for four days and it was time for everyone to go their separate ways. Our grandchildren wanted to go IHOP that morning and we all agreed. Conversations during the four days had centered on everything imaginable – but hope and lack of hope was the common thread.

I have to admit that I had never been to IHOP and finding hope there never entered my mind. Nevertheless, there we were in posh Palm Spring and there it was: a large extended multi-ethnic family that included four very young children, an elderly man with his son, an African American family, a distinguished Middle Eastern family, dressed in what we used to call “church” clothes, and us. It all started with the family with young children who apologized as each group entered our section of the dining room. They did not want their energetic crew to disturb anyone. That simple, thoughtful gesture started a conversation. Everyone had experiences with young children in a restaurant. We all admired their beautiful children, their manners, and the parent’s good spirits. When they left, everyone cheered, happy that they had made it through a challenging morning.

And it was there in the server who spent more time than I’ve ever seen going over the menu with the elderly man. She stooped low so that they could hear each other and was so gentle that she made me think of Jesus. Then, there was our waiter who went out of his way to make sure our daughter had everything she needed when she was helping our granddaughter with her diabetes medication. He was respectful and kind in a way that seemed holy. Those 45 minutes at IHOP began my journey through this Advent.

I was reminded once again that God has a sense of humor and uses it so that we can see what we need to see. This time I imagined her saying: “You want hope, I’ll show you hope.”

                                                                             - Laura Siriani


I was a hopeful child. I hoped for candy, toys, trips to Disneyland, and for summer vacations that would never end. As I got older I hoped for grander things; fun friends, good grades, a car, more money and the list was always expanding. Sometimes things went my way and at other times they did not. “Oh well,” I thought.

My hope was not always squandered on trivial things; I hoped my 10 year old sister would survive heart failure, I hoped that my 18 year old brother would survive leukemia, and I hoped that if I prayed and tried hard enough I would wake up one morning to find I was no longer gay. None of those things happened. “What is hope for,” I thought.

I didn’t give up on hope but I certainly did not trust it. Hope seemed fickle and illusive.

It would be many more years (decades) before I would come to understand that I had confused hope with wishing. It would be a difficult lesson for me to learn to distinguish between hope and the whims of my personal agendas.

Advent speaks deeply to the reality that hope is the ongoing work of an Almighty God who was, who is, and who is to come. Advent challenges us to wake up, to notice and to experience God’s coming into this world and into our lives.

In my darkest times, God has shown up as the love and tenderness of those around me. God has shown up in the healing work of grief. God has shown up when the seeds of new life have begun to sprout within me.

God does not prevent or protect us from the realities of this life, but God is always showing up in the strength and courage we are given to put our lives back together again. God is always in the business of redeeming (fixing) what is broken. Our response to hope is to be deeply engaged in this world, to be a part of God’s repair team.

Hope opens us up to more than we expect. Hope opens our eyes to the ongoing rhythm of life and creation. Hope opens us up to eternity. This is a hope that can be trusted.

As I write this meditation, I look out my office window and I can see the sun setting behind the majestic pine and oak trees across the way from my home. The sky is an awe inspiring blaze of orange, yellow and pink against bright blue that is vanishing into the deepest possible orange and darkening indigo as night settles on the mountains. The Holy One set this in motion and tomorrow morning the sun will rise. This I know is hope.

                                                                            - David Milligan



It would be great, in these uncertain days, to be able to go to a department store and buy some hope. In bulk. I could keep a lot of the extra in the garage, between the toilet paper and the paper towels. There would be a box of it under the sink.


I’d be happy, even, with going to the neighbors’, a cup measure in hand, to borrow some hope until payday. A cupful of hope would probably be iridescent, sparkly blue, like the sea on a sunny day.


But hope is apparently something you can’t get quite that way, though chocolate can sometimes take its place in a recipe. Buying chocolate in bulk can feel hopeful, to be sure. But when we talk about hope, what we need is something more muscly and dependable, something that will stand us up and move us forward, even if our knees are shaking in fear.


Hope is rooted in our knowledge of the past, and those who survived hard times. Hope is fed by our memories of those who brought light to dark times through art and music, who made scientific discoveries that bettered human health, who stood up to despots and made heroic efforts in behalf of others. Hope is a natural by-product of being loved selflessly, and an equal by-product of loving. The past helps us to see that we can be agents of love, salt of the earth and light for the world. But hope’s true orientation is the future. When we live in hope, we keep our feet in today and our hearts in tomorrow.

Hope, ultimately, is a decision: a decision not to yield to despair. A decision to do something, to move our bodies a step down the road, to breathe the rich oxygen of stories and relationships and beauty to remind us of what hope is for. Hope is the decision to sing in the dark, whether your voice is shaking or not. Hope is the decision to imagine a better time, and to invite God’s grace to empower us to make it real.

                                                                            - Kay Sylvester


Michelangelo said a lot of things about making art, and a lot of things about God for that matter, but one that has stayed with me is his perspective on sculpting: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Despair is paralyzing, smothering, and dark. So if you are paralyzed, smothered, and blinded, change will come only if you find the strength to move, breathe, and see. Since despair is such a strong shroud, the strength may have to come from the outside – a push that brings you into the air and light.

The tools for pushing are tricky. Words seem to be the first things to try: Everything will be OK. You have so many people who love you. Well intended, but not very sharp. Get out the power tools: Acts of kindness, listening, being aware and acknowledging another’s pain. The light begins to come through the cracks.

Metaphors of darkness and light fill the days of advent. And then there is a baby, who is called the light of the world. He gives us the tools we need to bring ourselves and others out of the darkness and into the light, as Isaiah prophesied. He shows us the way to crack open the marble, and chip away until the angel is free.

                                                                            - June Waters


If the birth of baby Jesus was the sign of hope for the world, it took a whole lot more than just that fragile newborn to bring hope to fruition. It required endless hours of caregiving and nursing from his mother; it required a wise, hard-working father to keep the family sheltered fed, and safe. It required a thriving Jewish community to steep him in the tradition that would become his foundation for all that would move and ground and inspire him. It probably even required a decent, functioning economy and an intact natural environment. Nothing happens in isolation!


How many times do we encounter a source of hope, like the baby in that manger, but are not yet able to recognize it as such? How many times do we inadvertently shirk an opportunity to nurture that tiny, unformed source of hope, or worse, swat it away? And how often might I have the potential to be a sign of hope for others, but I discount how my actions might actually matter in ways beyond my knowing?


This is a simple challenge I want to take on—to develop eyes that recognize the potential for hope to germinate all around me. I want to live as if whatever we do to bring about kindness, beauty, love, joy, compassion, wellness, wisdom, a decent standard of living, even just in the little world of our coming and going, MATTERS. All around us lie seeds of hope in need of the nurturing acts of us all. 


A grand, deeply rooted oak that provides shade and habitat for many generations started as one small, insignificant acorn among many, unable to unlock its own potential without just enough water, and sun, and shade, and warmth, and safety. I want to do my part to foster that kind of new life. That is hope!

                                                                            - Cassie Lewis


Peace of mind

World peace

Give peace a chance

Peace be with you

I give you my peace

Imagine all the people living life in peace

There are days that I just long for peace. 

I do not want another minute of discontent. 

Instead, I want to be wrapped in God’s sweet and gentle peace. 

Other days, I only want to disturb the peace and change world around me

so that it is fairer, more just, and less cruel. 

Those are the days that disturbing the peace seems like the best way to spend my time. 

The truth is that we need both. 

In order to disturb the peace, we need the inner peace of

God’s voice speaking to us about love and respect for her creation. 

That is when things become radical.

Long for peace, hear peace, be peace. 

                                                                            - Laura Siriani


My first appointment of the week was a morning class at our retreat center. The day had already taken on a frenetic pace as I rushed through my chores; breakfast, feed the animals, clean the corral, and then a quick shower, before charging out the door. I had a few maintenance items on my “to do” list that I wanted to finish before people showed up. I put the ladder away just as the first person arrived. As I greeted each student, I found my mind reviewing a mental list of things needing to be done once I got back to my home office. 

When I left the center, I distractedly headed into town to pick up the mail at the post office. Driving by Lake Gregory, my attention was suddenly caught by the beauty of the sun glistening off the water. In that instant my chaotic mind faded and I was momentarily suspended in the magnificence of nature. My schedule had not changed or lightened but the focus of my mind had switched from micromanaging the day ahead, to being present to that very moment. I pulled over to the side of the road and walked down to the water’s edge and, once again, I was reminded that peace was available in every moment.

That is how God shows up – in the moment – unpredictable, and surprising. Advent reminds us to be awake – to anticipate the coming of God into the world. There is no fanfare and no warning. God is just present and we notice or we pass it by.

The world seems more chaotic and volatile than at any time that I can remember. My vocation as a follower of Jesus calls me to participate in this messy business of life. I can chose to do it peacefully or I can stir things up with my own personal sense of anxiety. Scripture confronts this with paradox – our Advent readings express urgency and patience; proclamation and silence; spirit and flesh; the mundane and the divine. The ultimate paradox is that the Prince of Peace was born in the midst of tyranny and poverty.

It turns out that peace is not the end result, peace is the way. Peace is in every moment.

                                                                            - David Milligan

For The Children - Poem by Gary Snyder

The rising hills, the slopes,

of statistics

lie before us,

the steep climb

of everything, going up,

up, as we all

go down.

In the next century

or the one beyond that,

they say,

are valleys, pastures,

we can meet there in peace

if we make it.

To climb these coming crests

one word to you, to

you and your children:

stay together

learn the flowers

go light

If we want peace, the poet tells us, our marching orders are clear:

          Stay together. None of us is as capable and good as all of us.

Learn the flowers. When the urgency of everything seems to drive us pell-mell into overdrive, it's doubly important to engage deeply with the beauty and stability of creation around us. And if we learn the flowers, we will learn other things, too, about the complexity and inter-relatedness of all things. That will give us a profoundly needed pause.

Go light. I don't know about you, but I go heavy a lot; I seem to want equipment and outfit and extras for every endeavor. But Jesus told his disciples not to take extra stuff; to rely on the abundance and generosity of God at work in the world. One reason might be that stuff becomes commodity and commodity becomes a pawn in political machinations, which it seems never, ever lead to peace.

Peace is small, self-contained, innocent, and light as a feather.

Stay together. Learn the flowers. Go light.

                                                                            - Kay Sylvester


My favorite prayer during my Rite 1 infused childhood was this blessing:

The Peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His son Jesus Christ our Lord: And the Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen. 

I liked it not only because it meant church was over, but because it let me off the hook. So I wasn’t supposed to understand everything that came before in the service, I was just supposed to let the Peace of God (which, you know, passeth all understanding) keep me in the knowledge and love of God. I could know and love God because He gave me something to do it with. Peace.

As I began to study art and symbolism I found that Images of nature, sleeping babies, and lions with lambs are often intended to illustrate a sense of peace. But I understand those things, I know what I am looking at.

How could a visual artist depict the Peace of God or any other unseen mystery? By creating something that cannot be understood in the sense of immediate recognition. Something that makes you say at first, well there’s nothing there. I do not see a lovely lake or tree or baby. But wait – I will have to open my heart to knowledge and love. I wonder if I am seeing silence or noise, or is there sadness or maybe a place to rest. There it is - the Peace of God.

                                                                            - June Waters


What does PEACE look like when you are in need of addressing some social challenge? I have an answer! It happens tomorrow at 2pm in San Diego, about, say, 5 inches north of Mexico. It’s true!

The image below is from a place on the border between San Diego and Tijuana, right on the beach, called Friendship Park. Have you heard of it? It was established in 1848 when the US and Mexican governments ended their war and agreed on the new boundary between their countries. This little park was set up as a sign of friendship between inhabitants of our two lands.

Even though border security has tightened dramatically since the days when families could waltz across at will (there was no fence at all until the 1950’s), Friendship Park has remained a place where families that have been severed by deportation could reconnect—they can meet up on either side of the fence, reach their hands through and embrace for a moment.

Each year at Friendship Park in early December, there gathers a group of Christians on either side of the enormous fence ( for a song-filled bilingual church service where the traditional Mexican “La Posada” is reenacted together with people from both sides of the border, as well as a somber reading of the names of all who have died crossing the border in the past year.

This moving binational church service is a profound witness for peace among people who differ in race, social class, nationality, and religious tradition. It exemplifies a creative, peaceful response to a situation that, no matter what side you’re on, is full of brokenness.

May the Prince of Peace continue to gentle our hearts and to inspire in us creative, compassionate responses to the world’s needs.

                                                                            - Cassie Lewis


"You have to sniff out joy. Keep your nose to the joy trail."

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Despite Buffy Sainte-Marie’s excellent advice, there is no explaining joy. Sometimes it surprises us so much that we remember it forever.

A new baby

A surprise reunion


Finishing a something you started

Knowing what love is


A startling sunset

Having a place you belong

Discovering something new

Seeing someone else’s joy

A shared history

Laughing until you cry!

This list goes on and on – Thanks be to God.

                                                                            - Laura Siriani


Joy is elusive . . . or so it might seem. Its presence is so mysterious that it is easily confused it with its more temporary counterparts. It might appear in a moment of happiness or delight, pleasure or gratification, bliss or ecstasy. But instead of understanding that those experiences are simply containers for joy, we long for more happiness, pleasure and bliss only to be disillusioned when the containers turn up empty.

Joy can also show up in times of difficulty, grief, and uncertainty. It might come in the container of tenderness, loving actions or the simple comfort of a friend. We flourish in its glow and we yearn in its absence.

Joy is the experience of a moment that we have not judged, a moment that we have experienced without naming it “good” or naming it “bad.”

Joy is a choice about how you are going to answer life. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama serve as living models of this kind of joy, spiritual leaders whose joy was forged in the fires of persecution. We see joy bubble up in laughter and compassion in there very being. 

  Joy is the hopeful, peaceful and loving presence of the Holy that runs through all of creation. Advent calls us to open our spiritual eyes and choose God’s world.  

                                                                            - David Milligan


“I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink (or Facebook). Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” 2 John 1:12, with revision.

Tomorrow I am seeing a friend I have not seen in 30 years. We are not friends on Facebook, so our catching up will be from scratch. There will be laughs, nostalgia, and a lot of marveling over pictures of our grown children and our lost hair, gained weight. We’ll talk about things done and things left undone over the decades. And there will be laughs.

Joy is not usually predictable, it is more likely to be like something that makes you stomp on the brakes and pay attention. Like an announcement that your daughter is going to have a baby, or that your sister’s cancer is gone.

The joy found with friends and family, face to face, is something that can be anticipated. I imagine in the next few weeks there will be many reunions. Anticipate joy.

                                                                            - June Waters

"Life is HARD.”

So writes M. Scott Peck in the opening line of the old standby “The Road Less Traveled.” I am in awe of the degree of joy to be found in a world so full of suffering and drudgery. Even nature, which we often credit for being infused with God’s enthralling presence is saturated in violence and sadness. 

At my home, we watch with disgust as the beloved monarch chrysalises in our yard regularly are rendered lifeless when a tiny parasitical fly larvae tears out of the infected chrysalis, destroying the original creature inside. I am moved to tears when baby animals, like the trembling little ‘possum we recently found trapped in our chicken coop, are separated from their mothers. Sorrow and treachery are everywhere!

And yet, we find joy! The beauty that is Life still manages to triumphantly wriggle free from its harsh trappings, like the victorious monarch butterfly that miraculously escapes its numerous foes, and exude (or elicit) JOY.

It is a mystery, not unlike that presented in our own Christmas story of a tiny babe entering this same harsh world to offer a new source of joy. Let us embrace the mystery and claim the joyful moments for our own, however fleeting they may seem! 

                                                                            - Cassie Lewis


Love re-purposed

This last week of Advent is rightly focused on the word Love. It’s all around us in the ancient story that claims us year after year: God’s love for us, Mary’s love for God and her unborn son, Joseph’s silent, steady love. The story triggers something in us and we find ourselves shining from within from the wonder of it.

I saw this yesterday when we celebrated Sunday Supper’s annual Christmas Party. Each year our weekly community meal blossoms from 75 to around 300 in one day and congregations from throughout the community gather at St. Paul’s to make it all happen. The folks at Aldersgate United Methodist Church host the meal portion of the evening, transform our parish hall into a beautiful dining room and serve the meal. This year the table decorations were made from slightly used bits and pieces of Christmas donated by people scattered all over town. Those bits and pieces were re-purposed into glittery, shining works of art that lit the place up.

It’s been a rough year for many of us – but, yesterday I was reminded that this is what happens when, together we allow that shining wonder out into the world. It becomes a richer, more vibrant and compassionate place; it becomes a place where love and purpose live. 

Thanks be to God.

                                                                            - Laura Siriani


“Love is not love until you stop expecting something back. The moment you want something in return for your giving, love is weakened and prostituted. This is the nature of the divine energy that transforms: love is always flowing outward, it is inherently contagious, and it is holiness itself.”     - Fr. Richard Rohr

The church of my childhood taught us that God’s love was transactional. Although that term was never used, it was certainly described. God’s “unconditional” love was limited by God’s righteous anger. We were taught that everyone was born with the stain of sin (thanks Adam) and eternal punishment was the only way for the scales of justice to be leveled. That’s correct - all of humanity was condemned to eternal punishment as an act of Divine justice. A price must be paid. Enter Jesus.

As I grew older, the foreboding transactional meaning of Christmas became increasingly difficult to reconcile with the actual message of the one whose birth Christmas celebrated. Jesus showed us that love was God’s way, not guilt. Jesus enacted God’s love to those we might feel were undeserving. Jesus pointed to a divine love that did not require something in return.  

Jesus gave us a litmus test to see if we fully understood. He said that those watching us would see that we were his followers by the way that we loved – that is, how we loved the widow, the child, the prisoner, the homeless, the social pariah, the stranger in the land – oh yeah and how we loved those with whom we disagree. Jesus showed God’s love to those on the outside, those on the margins and those comfortably in the middle.  

Jesus’ life serves to save us from ourselves. To save us from the destructive behaviors that comes from a transactional understanding of love that requires a “quid pro quo” response.

This is a love that does not require but instead incites relationship. This is the love that makes us whole. This is the love that was shown to us at Christmas. Have a blessed holiday.

                                                                            - David Milligan

The Jiu-jitsu of Love

The art of jiu-jitsu is based on a counter-intuitive principle: when someone comes at you, do not resist. Yield. Use their aggressive energy to confound them and halt them. You have probably seen the demonstration videos: petite women and men taking down much, much larger opponents by tumbling, flipping, and falling with the flow of energy coming from the opponent. Suddenly, the aggressor is prone, wondering what happened.

There is an analogy here to how love works. Listen to Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, which has been failing at loving one another:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Do you hear the counter-intuitive power in this?

In order for love to function as the creating, grounding, healing force we know it to be, we are invited to this jiu-jitsu: patience. Kindness. Humility. Yielding to others. Being at peace. Delighting in the truth. Endurance. Faith. Hope.

There are days when I’m not good at any of this: but God is love, and when I have no faith in myself and my ability to learn this challenging martial art, I still have faith in God. I have the model of Jesus, born into vulnerability and poverty, who becomes a man who embodies the jiu-jitsu of the Kingdom, the upside-down reality in which the mighty are cast down from their thrones, and the lowly are lifted up.

This does not mean that love yields to oppression, that love is humble and self-effacing when people around us are being demeaned and attacked. What it does mean is that we do not need to yield to fear, which is the opposite of love. Fear makes us immobile, or aggressive, or angry, and none of that serves the world or us. Love is a place to stand, seemingly weaponless, and triumph nonetheless, by holding fast to faith is God’s deep embrace.

                                                                            - Kay Sylvester

It’s complicated. 
Until it’s not. 
Love your neighbor as yourself. 

                                                                            - June Waters