Friday, September 30, 2011

Out of the silence

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.
In the beginning was the Silence,
and the Silence was with God,
and the Silence was God.
All things have come into being
out of the Silence.

Sound waves radiate out from their source,
farther and farther into the distance,
but the Silence
remains at the center.

In sound and words,
and in ideas, the noises of the mind,
you will hear of God,

but only when you return
to the Silence at the center

will you meet God.


Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Prayer of the vineyard

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, "They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
—Matthew 21. 33-39

God, I confess that have seized the vineyard of my soul, as if it were mine, as if I were the one who had dug and planted, and built a fence and a watchtower. But my soul is not “mine,” it is yours. You create me, and give me the growth. You are the one who creates the fertile soil of my being, who plants within me the seed of your Spirit. You grow within me. The fruit of my soul is yours, not mine.

But because you seem distant, and your absence is painful, and because I want to control my life, I have usurped what is truly yours. I have laid claim to your vineyard, and done violence to your trust in me. This is my unending struggle, to let go of my own soul, to let it truly be yours, to overcome my illusion that it ought to be mine, and that I can wrest it from you and have it for myself.

Forgive me, and instill in me a desire to bear fruit for you rather than to control my life. Heal my fear of your absence, my desire for control. Give me faith to meet my fear and grasping with courage and trust. May I be a faithful worker in the vineyard of my own soul, nurturing and gathering what you give, offering to you and not hoarding for myself the fruits of my heart.

God grant me a good harvest, and peace. Amen.

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Ten Vows

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

Holy One, you who set me free,
I have no love deeper than you,
nor is there one I turn to instead of you.

Knowing that you are mystery,
I hold all my understandings of you lightly,
lest they become more real to me than you.

I love you and will not use you:
I will not attempt to to claim your power
or use my relationship with you to my advantage.

In time's rhythms, I practice presence in the moment,
trusting in your grace alone,
and resting at times, content in being, not doing.

Shaped by a community of faith,
I honor all those who have gone ahead of me
creating a path of blessing that I may follow.

I extend kindness and compassion to all living beings
and will do nothing to diminish
the life or well-being of another.

Grateful for your covenant of steadfast love,
I will live in faithful relationships with all,
and honor those who trust in me.

Knowing all I have is yours, I give freely;
I will not take or keep unjustly from others,
or satisfy myself at another's expense.

I will speak the truth in love,
humbly honoring and respecting others,
and speaking of them only as their belovedness warrants.

I release myself from my desires,
from the illusion that I want what others have,
and instead find delight in what is.


Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Ten Commandments

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.
Then God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me....”

         — Exodus 20.1-3

Some people want to post the Ten Commandments on courthouse walls because “this is a Christian nation.” But wait— if we were under Old Testament commandments, wouldn't that make this a Jewish nation? I mean, Christians don't have Ten Commandments: we have one. Jesus was very explicit about that. We have eight Beatitudes, but only one commandment: to love others as Christ has loved us.

If this were a “Christian nation” one might reasonably expect that some of Jesus' teachings wold have distinctly shaped the founding, history or character of America. What would that be? “Love your enemies?” “Blessed are the meek?” “Do not judge?” “You must become as a child?” “Sell all you have and give to the poor?” “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me?” Hmm. How about Jesus' practices: feeding the hungry? Healing the sick, practicing extravagant forgiveness, associating with the lowly, or trusting in God's abundant grace rather than our own effort? I don't see anything distinctly Jesus-like about America. And hanging the Ten Commandments on the wall won't change that.

But really, why bother? Of the ten commandments, we actually believe in just two: only murder and stealing are actually illegal; the other eight we don't even believe in anyway! Idolatry, false witness, taking the Lord's name in vain, Sabbath, coveting—who are we kidding?—breaking these commandments is part of our social and economic system!

But all this is beside the point. Sacred as they are, the Ten Commandments are not for the purpose of making people change. Listen: we have got to stop expecting other people to live out our faith by obeying our religious principles. We have to do the whole thing ourselves.

The Ten Commandments aren't meant as secular laws that everybody ought to follow: they're a religious practice, that sets us apart among all peoples, that makes us different. They do not apply to the whole pluralistic world, but to the people of Israel. The thing is, they are not a legal document; they're a marriage vow. The context in which they are given is not a legal framework, but a relationship: “I am your God, who brought you out of slavery.” They express how we will be faithful to the One who has given us life and set us free.

I don't post my marriage vows publicly. They're not for others to obey; they're for me, in my marriage with Beth. Similarly, the Ten Commandments don't apply to others. They apply to us who have entered into God's Covenant, who want to be close to God.

The commandments—both the ten and the one—are not rules: they're a way to be faithful. Like marriage vows, they're not something God imposes upon us, and certainly nothing we can impose on others, but a natural outflowing of our heartfelt commitment to what we care most deeply about. A rich, faithful marriage requires that we at least avoid adultery, murder, coveting, false witness and all that. But following the rules won't create a loving relationship; it can only describe its outlines. We don't follow God's commandments because we “have” to. We do it because we want to stay close to God. We do it out of love.

But of course there are times when our fear threatens to overtake our love and what's in our heart does not lead us toward God. In those times the rules do give us a starting place. They don't make us love, but they keep us constrained in a place where we can learn to love. Obedience invites us to grow beyond acquiescence to passion.

This is why the prophets pleaded that instead of inscribing the commandments on our walls, we write them on our hearts. Rather than merely obeying the Ten Commandments, what might it be like for you to really write them on your heart, to live them, to honor the spirit and not just the letter of the law? What if they were the outpouring of your love, or at least your desire to learn to love? What if you didn't just obey them, but practice them, more deeply every day? It's something God would love to see.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Monday, September 26, 2011

In buildings too long

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

In buildings too long
without letting herself out of windows,
without crawling around enough,
she finally escaped
into an untended lot
and began the work
of healing her bond with the earth.
She hunched
and stitched her attention,
thread by thread,
with each pebble, each blade of grass,
each little bundle of dirt and dead roots,
each tendril of weed and nameless bug,
until she had woven a web of tenderness
with a little tumult of soil
and its sky, no wider than her knee.
Despairing of the vastness of it all,
she went to bed that night weary
and a little dubious.
But she should have known:
in the night those threads out in the dark
grew, as they do,
rooting among trees,
conversing knowingly with birds,
until by dawn the whole earth
was woven again into a living whole,
eager to greet her
with the tenderest love.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Friday, September 23, 2011


Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.
Today is the first day of fall, and I'm mourning the end of summer. (Having moved, we went to the hardware store instead of the beach.) And I'm thinking about this new church being my last before I retire, so I'm thinking autumnal thoughts about the end of my career and even the end of life. But it's also a time of beginning. I'm starting in at a new, exciting church. One son is planning a wedding, another starting grad school; another preparing to graduate from college and start a career. I guess every milestone points at least two ways, doesn't it?

In fact, this not the first day of fall for some of you. For you folks in Australia and South Africa, it's the first day of Spring! (And for you folks in Brazil, these seasons might not mean much at all.) And fall means something entirely different to us in New England than it does to you in the Desert Southwest. Or Florida. Or England. Or Vienna.

We're all in a different place. Today in Texas you're praying for rain, and in Vermont you're recovering from floods. Today a friend of mine is sitting at a bedside watching over a death, while another celebrates a birth. One is just beginning chemo; another just finished it. Today in the great pilgrimage of life some of us are making our way into or out of familiar places, or certain seasons, or relationships, or difficulty, or faith, or even life itself. But where we all are is in the present moment. In all of life's changes and challenges, its gifts and graces, the invitation is to free ourselves from all dread or regret, all desire to be elsewhere, and simply be in the present moment. Life is this, not something else. Be here.

Now this might seem like a way to isolate myself, to separate myself from you who are in a different place. But here's the miracle: when I am freely and lovingly present in this moment, I meet you there. Because that's where you are, too. We are all experiencing it differently, but we're all in the same present moment. When I allow myself to be here, I am here with you.

In prayer, when I am still and fully in the present moment, I don't have to ”think about” everyone, or call them to mind. You are all here: my family, my friends, all the people I've ever known, hundreds of you who read Unfolding Light, and everyone else in the world. We're all here. Each on our own journeys, in our own landscapes, with our own stories unfolding in their own ways, are all here in the present moment. When I become deeply aware of this, I connect with everybody. And somehow I sense that a greater Someone holds us all in this present moment, this one sacred place. In this grace, every moment is the right place to be.

Whatever milestone you pass today, even if it is death, will not be your last, nor will you pass it alone. Whatever today brings for you, we are all together with you in it. And the Present One holds you, bearing you from this one sacred moment to the next, deeply present with you, and for you, and within you.
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?"

—Matthew 21.23

The people thirsted for water. So the Lord said to Moses, "Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
—Exodus 17. 5-6

The power of God for life flows in us,
an unpluggable spring.
It asks no permission, follows no rules,
knows no bounds. It's free.
It makes the flower blossom,
the child survive,
the artist reveal things,
the healer do miracles.
It gives you power to love,
to dare, to forgive.
It makes you shine with God.
People will ask you who you think you are
to do such things.
Never mind them.
People will assume you're nuts,
walking up to the rock with your stick
like that.
They think you have to know something
about how to strike the rock, but you don't.

The harder thing is not going up against
those stone-hearted ones who disbelieve.
It's taking the stick
to the rocks of your own life,
the places you thought were dry and hard.
Inside the rock, I swear,
water gurgles.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

God weeps

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.
I am thinking this morning of a friend who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and another whose daughter was sexually abused by a family friend. I'm thinking of a friend who is in a faith crisis, not in her relationship with God, but with the church, which wouldn't be so painful if she weren't a pastor. I'm sure that you, too, know people who are suffering or struggling, and that at times you yourself feel like life is against you, or at least has let you down.

It just doesn't help to say, “It will be all right.” Sometimes it isn't. And it doesn't help to say, “God will never give you what you can't handle.” That's ridiculous. For one thing, God doesn't “give” you trouble; life does. Your neighbor does. A germ does. A friend who abuses your daughter is not acting according to God's will. God doesn't micromanage all our disasters. And furthermore, sometimes we can't handle it. People crack up, break down, go crazy and commit crimes or suicide all the time. Some disasters wreck things that never get fixed. So where is God in all this, huh?

Well, it's not as if I know. I haven't seen heaven, or watched over God's shoulder, or even suffered enough to have gained wisdom that's very deep. But, from my own little struggles with life and pain and failure and disappointment, and from my wrestling with scripture, here's what I do know: that God is the One who weeps with us. That God has “com-passion:” feeling-with. That God does not inflict suffering, but bears it. That God does what Paul tells us to do, to “weep with those who weep.” That the creator of the universe, infinite and unknowable, is somehow tenderly attentive to each of us, present within us, dwelling in our pain and our joy, in ways that we can't see and seldom even suspect. But there. Even God's absence is somehow a part of God's indwelling Presence.

I guess that's what we mean by “Christ”: the second person of the Holy Trinity, the nature of God that is not infinite and far-off, and not necessarily all-powerful, but is lovingly present, that is not necessarily always working miracles, but is simply with us, even in our suffering. Just there, holding us, not “making it better,” but just being there. The ancient hymn (quoted in Philippians 2.5-11) says that “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” He came and sat with us in our pain.

If you ask, “What good goes that do?” I have to say I don't know. I just know it's true. And if you say, “Well, God must be weeping a lot,” I say, Yes. And yet somehow God is still joyful. Imagine that.

Whether you are joyful or fearful today, struggling or at ease, needing to give or receive, there is within you the compassion that comes from God. Trust that you are accompanied by the gentle man with blessing in his heart and holes in his hands, hands that know hurt, and that still reach out. Imagine the Spirit of Life within you, gently weeping, dwelling in you with infinite blessing and somehow, even here, infinite joy.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

a blesing for today

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

Today may the good earth hold you
with the unfailing love of the Steadfast One.

May the sun illumine you
with the loving wisdom of the Holy One.

May the air fill you
with the Spirit of Life.

May the human family surround you
with the Divine Presence.

May birds remind you
of the joy of the Delightful One.

Today may some thing gracious happen
to speak to your heart.

Today may something odd happen
that awakens you.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Monday, September 19, 2011

Without words

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

In the deepest love,
in the wordless place
where lovers dwell inside each other,
where a mother holds infant,
where trees root in forests,
I sit in peace and stillness,
not thinking, just being here,
and I root in you,
and you hold me,
and we dwell inside each other,
in the holy silence at the center,
in deepest love.


Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Friday, September 16, 2011

A postcard from God


I've been walking around here, sightseeing. I love looking through
the trees into the meadow where the sun is playing knee deep. Or
among kids in yards, into that magic space between them. And
through the silences of an old couple, making up after a hurt. It
seems like all the good stuff around here is in between things.

Now I'm back at the hotel, feet up, looking into your heart...

All the best,

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fill my cup

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

I was thirsty, in a barren desert,
and I cried, “Fill my cup!”
and held it out with trembling hands.

And it rained and rained
and turned the desert green,
and I threw my cup into the river.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

The Israelites gathered the manna, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.
—Exodus 16.17

The laborers were paid, each the usual daily wage, regardless of how long they had worked. To those who expected more the landowner said, “Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

—from Matthew 20. 10-16

If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat.

—Romans 16. 20

We tend to think that “justice” means that people get what they deserve. It is some kind of equal payment for what people have done, good or bad, in the past. The “bad” are punished and the “good” are rewarded.

But God's justice is something different. It means that people get what they need. The Good News is that although we all fail to fully embody the love in which we are created—“we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”—God does not measure that out on a scale and repay us for that, but offers us grace instead. God is not chained to the past, but frees us in the present moment to receive what we need to live deeply. God's “repayment” is always a gift, not a wage. Notice how often the word “justice” in the Bible is part of the phrase “justice and mercy.”

God repeatedly demands that we “do justice.” God is telling us to stop trying to judge what people “deserve”—there is no such thing—but to provide for equal sharing so that everyone has what they need. Yes, Tea Partiers, this is a clear “redistribution of wealth.” Why in the world would anyone need more than an omer of manna? If you have more, it's probably someone else's. Justice means sharing. It usually entails forgiveness for the wrongdoer (though their victims may need restitution), empowerment of the oppressed, acceptance of the stranger and outlier, equal access to money and power for the poor. It also entails generosity for the wealthy, humility for the self-righteous, and limitation of the power of the mighty. Among people Jesus met what many needed was not a lecture but healing. The rich you man needed to sell everything and give to the poor. Mary needed to lay aside her labor and be quiet with Jesus. His executioners needed forgiveness.

Of course the capitalists will complain that equal sharing forces everybody to be the same, but they think that all that matters is what we have, not who we are. In real life, if everyone has what they need we can all live abundantly as God created us to.

Devote yourself to justice, to sharing so that everyone has what they need. Attend to the needs even of your enemies. This is what saves us from our selfishness and connects us to real, deep, eternal life. We do it not because we “ought” to, but because we need to.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." Then the Holy One said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you.” … In the morning thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread the Holy One has given you to eat.” The people of Israel called the bread manna.
—Exodus 16. 2-4, 13-15

We sigh as we sit hungrily in our tents, amidst fields of manna. We never seem to recognize it at first, and even when we do it's a mystery. (“Manna” is Hebrew for “What's that?”) But God provides for us grace we haven't earned, a harvest we never planted, blessing that comes from the heart of God.

Every day is manna. Each breath is a feast of life, granted by the hand of mystery, full of infinite blessing, offered for us to have abundant life. Every moment is a gift, overflowing from God's grace, connecting us with God, inviting us to digest that grace, to take it in and make it a part of ourselves. You can't analyze it, understand it, or make sense of it; you can hardly describe it, or even name it. “What's-it?” may have to do. All you can do is receive it, take it in, and live on it.

Every moment is manna. It looks unremarkable or even unidentifiable, but it's God's grace. Today, look for the manna. Take what you need.


Weather Report

A low-pressure system of extravagance
will rain blessing upon us,
coming our of a direction we never suspect.
Despite partially clouded awareness,
low-lying hearts may be inundated with gratitude.
Expect flash floods of grace today and tomorrow,
with drifts of blessing reaching two feet—or two hands.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Monday, September 12, 2011

One heart

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.
We held an interfaith prayer service on the church lawn last night, praying for healing for the world. Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish prayers lit the darkness like candles. The Beatitudes were chanted, the Koran recited, Bible passages read, heartfelt thoughts shared. We lit candles, sang together, rang a bell and stood in silence. As we left, I heard two Methodists say to each other “Om Shanti,” and a Muslim saying to herself, “Jesus wept.”

When God created the world what God was doing was praying. When we touch another's suffering, we spin the fibers of the universe. When we join our prayers with anyone else, of any tradition, we weave the threads that mend the world.

We are one people, one life, one heart. Each of us is a part of the fabric of humanity, the garment that God wears, sad and beautiful, that fits her just right, as she walks through the world, shining.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Friday, September 9, 2011

What the silence says

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.
When the towers of what you know collapse,
          what do you know?
Beside the great abyss that has swallowed
          what you cherished,
          where do you stand?
Before the darkness of war
          closed the eyes of your heart,
what did you see?
What does the vast, swirling silence say?

That those who cause pain and those who receive it
          fall into the same grave.
That lost in the wreckage every time is
          the only God worth having.
That we have seen days dark enough
          for resurrection.
That wisdom is born of vulnerability.
That evil is not a monstrous power
          but a sinuous thread,
the will to disregard
          in service of our fear.
That there is in all of us a great hole,
          under a pall of smoke and sorrow,
in which we meet each other
          and know each other deeply.
That not victory, but tenderness
          will save the world.
That before the dust falls upon us,
          we who ourselves are dust will have chosen
to be people of might or people of grace,
          one or the other;
and that it is in choosing that we are human,
          and in choosing well that we are blessed.
That we are not worthy of our self-confidence
          and yet God, still weeping,
resolutely trusts us
          with her most fragile hopes.
That our flesh is sackcloth.
That we who are covered with the ash
          of our failure, our fear of ourselves,
          are yet beautiful,
that we who are certainly lost
          can point the way.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A prayer for forgiveness

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.
Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if someone sins against me,
how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"
Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you,
seventy-seven times.”

          —Matthew 18. 21-22

Forgiving One, you unbind me from all my guilt,
from all the hurt I have caused you and others,
loving me perfectly. I thank you.

You hold in your heart the hurt I have received.
My pain does not separate me from you.
You work your grace for my healing.

Receive my anger, my desire to give back my pain—
for you are the one who receives
all the pain that I cause.

Free me from judging myself according to my pain,
or judging one who has hurt me according to my pain.
Deepen my trust that we are both souls in you.

Silence my conviction that I know what they deserve,
and give me instead compassion for them,
knowing that one who hurts others can only be hurting.

Open my heart to your infinite love for me, and so for them,
love that is impervious to our faults,
love for them that is undiminished by my suffering.

Remove all that prevents my loving them perfectly.
I pray for them with heartfelt love and blessing.
I find in their blessedness your joy, and in their forgiveness my own.

         I pray this prayer as many times
         as it takes to feel it deeply, to say with joy:

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.
Sit in the chair
facing out the window,

waiting and still, but not
without a certain leaning.

The peace into which you fall
is not your own,

but given, deep within,

Look out at the world of people,
brilliant and struggling.

The love into which you fall
was already there for you.

Inward or outward,
the movement of your heart

is never away
but always toward.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The treasure

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

Someone you know was walking through the woods alone, just following his whims, when he looked down into the hollow where a dark stream flowed. On the other side of the stream he saw something gold glinting in the darkness. It was out of his way, and looked difficult to reach, but the mysterious thing beckoned to him. So he left the well-maintained path, and descended the steep bank. He made his way, with great effort, through painful brambles and resistant thickets. Beyond the stream he could see the gold thing, shining in a tiny shaft of sunlight. As he stepped into the stream he realized that it was much deeper than he had imagined. He paused, thinking this was a silly obsession. What would people think of him going to all this trouble just to find a piece of trash beside a creek? But that thing seemed to be calling out to him— not from across the stream, but from within him. And he thought, “What better have I to do than to pursue this mystery?” So he plunged into the stream. It was over his head, and cold, and the current was surprisingly strong. He imagined what would happen if he drowned, and they found his body here. How would they explain that? It made him laugh. But he had resolved to make this little journey, so he swam across the current.

On the other side he waded through the mud to the treasure. It was certainly nothing that anybody else would want. It was an old picture with a gilded frame, dirty and mostly caked with mud, but shiny along one edge. He wiped off the glass. What he saw astonished him. It was a portrait. To someone looking on it might have looked like nothing but vague shapes of light and shadow. But among the dreamy shapes, he saw a portrait of himself! Only it was more noble and beautiful than he could have imagined. In this picture he had purpose. There was a look in his eyes of deep joy and wisdom. And it was clear that whoever had painted the picture had done so with great love and tenderness, with respect for even the tiniest and most ordinary details. Amazed, he stared at it for a long, long time. The afternoon passed away.

Finally, clutching it to his heart, he returned across the stream. But in the strong current the picture slipped from his hands and it sank into the unreachable depths. At first he wanted to dive down and find it; but then, floating on the water, he realized that it did not matter. He had seen the picture, and it was engraved in his heart; that was all that mattered to him. He crossed the stream and found a new road, eager to go home and, though it seemed impossible, to tell his wife.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.... Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
         —Deuteronomy 5. 13-15

For ancient Hebrews, the Sabbath was more than a religious observation: it was a weekly labor strike. Once a week they laid down their tools and walked off the job, refused to work, refused to contribute to the economic machine of the powerful and the wealthy. A weekly day of rest was unheard of in the ancient world. Rest and leisure was for the ruling, wealthy class, not the working class. And it certainly was for people who were free, not for slaves. Yet the Jews observed it, and as more than a labor negotiating strategy—it was a commandment of God. God desires that people be free, and be valued unconditionally for their very existence, not according to the profit they can gain for another.

The Sabbath is a day to relinquish our hold on our earned worth, and rest in the grace of God. And it is a day to grant justice to those who labor, to free them from the having to earn their keep, and remind us that our economic world exists within the greater world of God's desire for justice. Taking a day off reminds us that our life is more than our work, and our work is more than our job.

Although Labor Day is a secular holiday, it is an opportunity for Sabbath. It is a day to acknowledge our dependence on those who labor, especially in the most menial, dirty, dangerous and dreary jobs, who make a more leisurely life style possible for everyone else. It is a day to remember God's demand for justice for those who labor, and freedom for those who are in bondage. And it's a day to affirm that in the Real World, we do not earn our keep: it is a gift.

Whether or not this is a day off for you, remember those who labor, especially those who receive no rest. Give thanks for those who pick your fruit, mine your coal and make your clothes. Pray and work for the day that the rich do not oppress the poor and the poor are not indentured to the powerful for their survival. And give thanks for the gift that without having earned it you are beloved.
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Friday, September 2, 2011


Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.
Usually you plan a party after a big victory. But as Moses was preparing the people to flee Egypt, God instructed them how to celebrate the Passover. God held the party before the event even occurred. The party itself was the first step in their liberation: the blood from the lamb eaten at the feast would mark the houses which the angel of death would pass over and not afflict; the plague wold trigger their release.

If there's anything that God has as an agenda, it's setting people free. God brings the people out of “Egypt,” which is understood in the Hebrews Bible as “a narrow place,” into a “broad and spacious place” flowing with milk and honey. God brings us out.

We are to “live peaceably with all,” and we never return evil for evil. If someone sins against us we tell them of the hurt but stay in relationship. However, if the relationship is abusive or oppressive, God's will is clear: God wants us out of there. God wants us to be free. The story of the Exodus is about God's desire to free us from all sorts of “narrow places” in our lives: political and economic injustice, abusive relationships, addictions, coercive religion, and all kinds of life-diminishing situations. God judges the forces of oppression, and is is not polite about it.

The trick is, God doesn't just say a word and suddenly we're free. We have to go. We have to pack our bags and get out of Egypt. We have to choose to not cooperate with oppressive systems, or confront addictions, or accept forgiveness, or leave abusive relationships, or challenge our assumptions or face our fears. “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand” (Ex. 13.11). Be ready to roll.

Even in situations that we can't escape, God draws us toward freedom. Even in prison, Nelson Mandela was a free man, because he knew it. He was free of his captor's fear and their narrow mindset, narrow view of the future. It's never easy. The promise of Exodus is not that we will succeed, but that God is on our side. It's that assurance, before the fact, that gives us courage. God has already set the party for when we get free.

Where are the narrow places in your life where God wants to set you free? What are the ideas and fears that enslave you? What are the prejudices, resentments or expectations by which you narrow other people’s lives? What are the oppressive forces you comply with in personal relationships, in the economic sphere, in the political world? How will you begin to say “No” to them?

Get your walking shoes on, and prepare for a feast. For if you let God mess around in your life, you are about to become a little more free. Maybe even a lot.
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September blessing

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.
May September’s blessings be yours:

May the start of new things
         be deep and fruitful in you.

May the changes in the air
         ring changes in your heart.

May the lengthening of nights
         bring deeper peace and rest.

May flocks of geese flying south
         bring you on a journey
         toward your own soul.

May falling leaves relieve you
         of what you do not need.

May new emerging colors
         spangle your spirit.

May summer's soft departure
         give you courage to be,
         and to be without.

May grace bear abundant harvest in your soul,
         extravagant bushels of belovedness,
         fit for the table of God.

And for you in the Southern Hemisphere:
may new light dawn,
         and new opening within
         bid you to come.


Weather Report

as we become what we've not yet been
and have been all along.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light