All or Nothing

“Is nothing sacred anymore?” asked a friend. We were having a discussion about the state of the world. I felt chagrinned. I knew she was headed to a blistering critique of the disrespectful language, attitudes, and behavior that seem to abound in public now that we have 24/7 news and social media posts forever popping up on our phones. Not wanting to retreat into the shadows on this beautiful sunny day, I searched for a way to elevate the conversation by asking what she meant by “sacred.”

Blessed. Graced. Pure. Divine. Unmarred by sin and decay. Held in high esteem. These are a few of the definitions she verbalized. Examples? Newborn babies, faith, love of country, religious practice, family, God, selfless acts of service. “What about the natural world?” I queried. She seemed a bit nonplussed but conceded that creation certainly was a source of wonderment but did not really fit into her definition of sacred. The planet, in her estimation, is inherently neutral, created for our consumption and survival. Citing Genesis, she believes that humanity was given “dominion” over the earth and was commanded to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Human life, on the other hand, is ontologically sacred, having been made in the image and likeness of God.

I know many sincere religious people who hold the same beliefs. Unfortunately, this perspective perpetuates the division between what is considered sacred and what is secular or even profane. To me, therein lies the answer to the age-old problem of why many do not concern themselves with environmental issues. If the planet is not fundamentally touched by the divine, then there is no pressing reason to reverence or protect it.

Fortunately, many people a lot smarter than me have been writing about this topic for thousands of years: Sts. Francis of Assisi and Bonaventure, Hildegard of Bingen, Duns Scotus, St. Catherine of Siena, and more modern writers such as Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Thomas Merton, Elizabeth Johnson, Raimon Panikkar, Philip Newell, Ilia Delio, and today, Pope Francis in his encyclical, “Laudato Si.” According to them, there is no separation. Everything is sacred and as our knowledge of the universe evolves, this becomes more and more clear. We humans, endowed with intellect, free will, and self-reflection have been given the choice to act in sacred or profane ways in our care for creation. This discerning gift begins and ends within and not somewhere outside ourselves.

Two books I am currently reading have amplified these thoughts and I recommend them both: The Hours of the Universe by Ilia Delio and The Book of Nature by Barbara Mahaney. Both paint an exquisite picture of the taproot at the heart of all creation: Love (aka God), a unifying and powerful force.

If there is a slipping away of a palpable sense of the sacred, it needn’t be, shouldn’t be, according to Mahaney. “It is an extravagance–indeed, a firey one–pressed into the pages of the Book of Nature, the ancient theology that insists God’s first revelation was spelled out in the alphabet letters of every leaf of every tree, in the sound and silence of every trill of birdsong, from the tiniest of caterpillars to the dome of heaven arced across the star-threaded sky.” (10)

In her book, The Hours of the Universe, Ilia Delio writes, “God is at the heart of cosmological and biological life, the depth and center of everything that exists. God is within and ahead, the field of infinite possibilities; God’s invitation (grace) activates or motivates our choices. . .Our nature is already endowed with grace, and thus our task is to be attentive to that which is within and that which is without–mind and heart–so that we may contribute to building up the world in love. Every action can be sacred action if it is rooted in love. . . (41)

Living as though the universe is the original blessing, the first Incarnation, embued and sustained by the Beloved, is up to each of us. Difficult as this may be for some personalities and those wounded by the vicissitudes of life, perhaps a shift in perspective is the balm needed to soothe our hurting world. If all is sacred, there is nothing to fear and everything to embrace.

At the end of our time together, a flock of robins descended from the sky and perched on nearby branches. Their distinctive bird songs were boisterously loud. “Is that the Holy Spirit trying to tell us something?” asked my friend. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind.

Holy Weeks

The last time I wrote, Lent had just begun. Now the season is about to officially end as we prepare to commemorate Passion (Palm) Sunday and head into into the Triduum at the end of next week. How was your forty day journey? With lots of rain, cloudy skies, and unseasonably cold weather in Southern California, I stayed inside a lot more than I desired but the hours were full.

I spent the last five weeks reading a lot of books and purging hundreds of documents I had not looked at in years. This noble endeavor turned out to be both insightful and painful at the same time. I emptied a four-drawer metal file cabinet in my garage that was crammed with files dating back to my college days in the 1970s plus the more than ten years I spent teaching college speech communication courses after that. I re-read numerous papers I had written and wandered around in my twenty-something head feeling both impressed and embarrassed. How could I have ever been so sure of myself? Then I opened a foot locker filled with my old journals. A moment of reckoning seized and held me in its grip for days as I laughed, cried, and shredded page after page of handwritten angst not fit for anyone’s eyes. All that introspection made me restless to get out of my house and be inspired again.

About two weeks ago, I traveled up to St. Monica Church in Santa Monica to see my old friend, Fr. Ron Rolheiser. He was preaching a parish mission there. We go way back–I first met him at the Religious Education Congress in the 1980s. I remember the riveting, engrossing feeling I had when I first heard him speak. He was discussing the growing polarities in the Church, a topic that was tearing me apart at the time. His positive and helpful teachings restored my faith. Years later, in 2001, I spent two weeks studying incarnational spirituality under his tutelage at the University of Louvain in Belgium where we became good friends. If Fr. Ron is nearby, I make the effort to go. No matter how many times I hear him speak or read his books, he always has wisdom for me. At St. Monica’s, he returned to some of his favorite themes–the Cross, the Passion, and the Paschal Mystery. As I sat and listened in that beautiful old church with its stained glass windows, statues, and chandeliers, I felt engulfed in a familiar cocoon of grace and gratitude. Tears that I tried to conceal welled up and spilled onto the wooden pews. Still here, I thought, drinking from the well of living water, cured of my blindness without even asking, resuscitated after experiencing death, thoroughly enchanted by these ancient stories that forever captivate my heart.

These have been holy weeks, full of everything from watching exciting high school baseball games and attending several musicals to the annoying business of doing taxes. In every moment, feeling drawn in by the personal passionate presence of the Beloved, my soul expanded. For, as Fr. Ron often reminds his audience, holiness has little to do with piety. Rather, to be holy is to peel away the layers of the false self so that the true self (the Christ hidden within) can appear. Not an easy task but worth embracing–an ongoing process of cross-carrying, crucifixion, tomb time, resurrection, ascension, and finally Pentecost when a new spirit comes to rescue just in time.

As Easter draws near and spring flowers explode brilliantly on the green hillsides of Southern California, take time to bask in the glory of rebirth once again!

Love and Lent

This morning, on Ash Wednesday 2023, my cat burst through the back door with a bird’s egg in her mouth. She meowed mournfully and proudly dropped it at my feet. We are currently experiencing gale-force winds in Dana Point so I surmise it must have blown out of a nest somewhere nearby although a quick search was not fruitful. Since the egg was still warm and looked undamaged, I wrapped it in some fleece and nestled it in an old china cup. I am not a mother bird but I do have maternal instincts and could not simply deposit it back outside with the ferocity of the wind. Since I had begun writing my blog post on Love and Lent, the timing could not have been better.

Admittedly, I do not, and never have, loved Lent. For years when I worked in ministry, Lent was my busiest season. I often wrote Lenten devotional books that were distributed to the community on Ash Wednesday, so Lent seemed to always arrive early and then felt like being on a fast train speeding toward the Triduum. My plans about the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and giving alms were always in the rearview mirror as I coped with extreme busyness and communal duties. Perhaps like some of you, I once carried the guilt of my shortcomings (aka sins) in my subconscious like Atlas carried the world on his back.

As a child, I was programmed to believe that even fleeting bad thoughts were sinful, of which I had lots. So when told to uber-focus (as the kids today would say) on sin and penance for Lent, I could not see the difference between the liturgical season and any other ordinary time. Yet I dutifully went through the motions, hoping for a lasting cure from my sinful ways in the quick fix of forty days. Sometimes I would make it through the six weeks without a drop of soda or whiff of chocolate. More often, I fell off the wagon and would wallow in regret.

In my teens, I evolved from the magical thinking of childhood and followed the self-improvement path others were touting, a goal I thought more worthy than longing for absolution by giving up candy or television. I would vow to go to mass or say the rosary every day, expunge negative influences, refrain from gossip, trash-talk, and those impure thoughts that bombard every teenager. The trouble was, I could never maintain the momentum for long. Once Easter arrived, I was back to square one. For me, Lent was only a reminder that ever reaching perfection was impossible for the likes of me.

In adulthood, I stopped “doing Lent,” along with practicing my faith. I still celebrated Easter but without the guilt and scruples I had in the past. While I was not conflicted in the same way as before, a sense of emptiness made me seek a different kind of faith that resonated more with the challenges adults face as they mature.

Sometime in midlife, a shift in my consciousness occurred that changed the old Lenten patterns. A spiritual mentor suggested that I “enter the Paschal Mystery” by attempting to see the life-death-resurrection cycle in my daily experiences as well as in the natural world. This, he said, would connect me with the deep, sacrificial love of Christ that is forever holding time and space together. Now that was interesting!

I spent that Lent reading Jesuit Father Teilhard de Chardin, taking nature walks, and “going silent” on pet peeves and political rants. That was also the Lent that I walked with my best friend whose adopted son died by suicide, became a full-time caretaker for my elderly mother-in-law, and faced a blistering family lawsuit. Sacrificial love, as I had never experienced, rose up from without and from within. I carried crosses, died to self a thousand times a day, felt imprisoned in tomb-like depression, but then rose again with help from empathetic friends, uplifting music, meaningful work, and small acts of service. I was astonished to realize that I was personally plunged into the Paschal Mystery. Lent has never been the same since.

I have spent this Ash Wednesday watching the wind wreak havoc in my yard and monitoring the little white bird egg now in my care, thinking about existential fragility. We are made of dust and to dust we shall return. While I have no illusions about cat altruism, I cannot help but wonder why this turn of events happened today of all days. My conclusion? Sacrificial love, around since the Big Bang, according to Teilhard, is always with us, the dizzying force of evolution that has so much energy it may never end, forever binding us to one another, nature, and the cosmos. A seemingly insignificant feline carrying a tiny bird’s egg drew me once again into this beautiful revelation. I can think of no better way to start Lent.

Survive or Thrive?

So often when I ask people how they are, the reply is “I’m surviving.” This retort always dismays me for obvious reasons. They might as well say, “Terrible! I am coping but that’s about the extent of it.” Alarmingly, the reply is not restricted to any age level. In the distant years of my youth, it seemed like only older folks, hardened by life, felt this way. Not so now, especially since the pandemic. Even our young people seem to be hanging on by their fingernails. This concerns me deeply as a spiritual director because all great wisdom teachers say the same thing: We are meant to THRIVE, not merely survive.

These days, I take lessons on thriving from my two-year-old granddaughter, Emmy. She spends a lot of time outside–observing every blade of grass, playing ball by rules she makes up, singing nonsensical ditties, skipping down sidewalks, riding her scooter, and laughing uproariously at silly things like hitting a ping pong ball against a ceiling fan. She also naps in the afternoon, awakening with a smile and ready for a snack. Boredom is absent from her repertoire. The more I age, the wiser it seems to imitate her embrace of every moment and engage in these non-utilitarian activities.

But how do we serious-minded adults go from surviving to thriving? Well, it may require some effort, but luckily, no special training, equipment, or clothing is needed. The main obstacle is procrastination which admittedly is daunting for some personalities. Essentially, we need to lead a more “natural life” according to experts Tessa Bielecki and Fr. Dave Denny in their new podcast, “Fire and Light.” This translates into getting closer to the earth, looking at the night sky, and creative activities. Listen here for more of their valuable insights:

As a wisdom seeker, dedicated to thriving, not merely surviving, I will also offer my two cents about this topic in forthcoming blog entries, centering on the active verbs: listen, read, write, walk, create, connect. Will tapping into life-long inspirational gateways and sharing them with others transform our wounded and anxious culture? I can simply try and then offer a few prayers of supplication.

Hopefully, some of you are lucky enough to have a two-year-old take your hand and say, “Are you ready? Come on!”

Little Gifts/Big Meanings

Today is New Year’s Day, the eighth day of Christmas. On my walk around the neighborhood, I saw bare and bedraggled Christmas trees laying in the gutters and wanted to weep. As most people know, I am big on celebrating all twelve days of Christmas, culminating with an Epiphany party on January 6th. I know I am way out of step with our culture but I don’t care! I remain steadfast in my ways and am cheerfully keeping the yuletide going strong at my house.

I have had so many wonderful celebrations and illuminated moments this Christmas season! Besides seeing “The Nutcracker,” “A Christmas Carol,” and two Christmas concerts, I had fabulous family celebrations, Christmas teas with friends, adventures looking at lights, and a small faith group gathering where we prayed the O Antiphons together. All were amazing gifts to warm my soul!

Someone asked me to name the best part of Christmas so far and that was easy. For me, the very best part of Christmas is gift-giving which I believe is one of the most pleasurable activities of life. Confession: I am one of those annoying people who actually loves to seek, find, wrap, and give presents for every occasion. I especially like small, handmade gifts and spend quite a few hours dreaming up something I can make and give. This used to be a necessity when I did not have the funds to properly shower people with presents. Now this activity is a novelty since everyone immediately buys everything they could possibly need or want at Costco.

Handmade gifts represent an investment of time and thought. They speak heart-to-heart and seem to connect with a simpler way of life many long for these filled-with-expensive-technology days. This year, I made aprons for all my daughters and sons-in-law, and bracelets made out of antique buttons for my friends. I prayed over every stitch, thinking of each person as a blessed gift bestowed freely by y unconditional love. In the end, my fingers and eyes were sore but my spirit was uplifted by not only the smiles and expressions of appreciation I received but also by the joy of creativity. Such is the reciprocal nature of handmade gift-giving!

At this point in my life, I do not need a thing for Christmas or my birthday. Yet, I am a big proponent of gift-giving and receiving. Ultimately, we all need to become less self-absorbed and more altruistic. Becoming more creative about what that means is key but I try to make it easy for my friends and family.”Spend quality time with me,” I tell them, like a picnic at the beach, concert/theater tickets, long walks, or short day trips. Time equals timeless memories no amount of money can buy.

Right before Christmas, my friend Mary and I went to the Mission in San Juan Capistrano for their annual festival of lights. As we strolled around in that familiar holy place, amidst the ruins, I was transported by what I can only describe as a heavenly river of healing grace streaming from so much history, including our long, loving friendship. Tears, the holy water of daily life, ran down my face as I thanked God for gifting me beyond words with the knowledge of the true meaning of the Incarnation. A split second later, Mary and I were laughing like hyenas over something ridiculous–for which I was equally grateful.

May the new year bring many little gifts with big meanings to your lives!


I recently asked my three young adult grandchildren to send me the titles of their favorite religious Christmas carols–so no “Santa Baby” or “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” The reason is that on Christmas Eve, we plan to have a special ritual at my house and I want to incorporate their favorite carols. I received two requests for the same hymn: “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” Here was a teaching moment! I explained that their haunting and beautiful choice is actually an Advent hymn that should technically not be sung until December 17th and then finished on December 23rd, when the whole Church prepares for the Incarnation of Jesus by singing/chanting the “O Antiphons.” I knew they were puzzled so, of course, on I went.

In case you are wondering too, an antiphon is a sung or chanted response at the beginning and end of a psalm or canticle during liturgical prayer. The “O Antiphons” contain seven names for the Messiah proclaimed in the evening prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours before and after the “Magnificat”or “Canticle of Mary.” Placing “O” before the name is a recognition of awe for these ancient appellations: Wisdom, Adonai, Flower of Jesse, Key of David, Radiant Dawn, King of All Nations, and Emmanuel.

In response to these revelations, eyes opened wide and I heard the best word in any language: “Ohhhhhhh!” To me, it sounded like the prayer of wisdom dawning. To think that several thousand years before the appearance of Jesus on the Earth, ancient people of faith were calling out these names, longing for true freedom from captivity. To think that there is something bigger going on in this universe connecting past, present, and future, brings out a sense of divine purpose beyond imagination.

Starting with the Big Bang, the first Incarnation took place, and “Wisdom walked on the land.” In the form of a burning bush, Adonai gave us the divine law of love. The prophet Jesse’s family roots would bring forth the House of David, the divine key that would unlock the doors of ignorance and could never be shut. An inextinguishable Light, called “Radiant Dawn” or “Dayspring,” would beckon all to its luminous warmth. And then, the Messiah would come, not in secular power or glory, but disguised as a helpless infant, a hidden King of All Nations, to become “Emmanuel,” God with us, the timeless cornerstone of history.

During the final fourth week of Advent, I invite you to pray the O Antiphons, beginning on December 17, along with those of us whose lives have been enriched by connecting with these ancient prayers. Here is a link:

For more Advent reflections, connect with my friend, Tessa Bielecki, who has taught me more about the O Antiphons than I ever dreamed. Here is her website:

And don’t forget to sing: “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” I am humming it right now and hope you are too.

Growing in Gratitude

Thanksgiving 2022 is now a memory but the holiday always sends me into a contemplative reverie about the spirituality of gratitude. Last weekend, I was especially enraptured when I happened to see a magnificent sunset that graced our neighborhood. As I snapped a few photos, a young man walking up the street asked me how often we had such stunning displays. I was so grateful to share this flash in the sky that I thanked him for noticing it with me. He just smiled and moved on.

I was once criticized for saying “thank you” too much. “You already said that five times!” the annoyed person blurted out. Stunned, I had no quick retort and was thus shamed into silence. Underneath, I was mad, really mad. What was so wrong with saying “thank you?” The anger seethed and simmered for a long time. I started to carefully monitor my speech patterns only to realize how many times I did indeed say “thank you,” after every phone chat, encounter, store purchase, and restaurant meal. I frequently thanked my co-workers, friends, and even my little ones when they behaved. Then I asked myself: Are these words just fillers? Do I sincerely mean them? Am I truly a grateful person?

Admittedly, expressing thanks and living in gratitude may not necessarily be connected. Saying “thank you” is simply good manners, a positive habit we learn from well-meaning parents and guardians. Along with “please,” and “excuse me,” these words become a routine part of our repartee. Perhaps you are like me, raised by a mother who required writing thank you notes immediately after birthdays and Christmas, even if we didn’t like the gift received. Maybe we weren’t always sincerely grateful but learning to act “as if” did indeed cultivate a sense of gratitude.

I find it serendipitous that Thanksgiving and Advent often coincide, a few days apart, every year. We set aside a national day to give thanks, and then we enter into the four weeks of waiting and preparing for Christmas, which is also a time full of thanks for gifts, invitations to dinner, warm expressions of love, joy, and peace. A good friend of mine, Fr. Dave Denny, suggests that we spend time “thanksventing” (read his lovely reflection: ). What a great idea for the whole Advent season! Try counting how many times you said, felt, or heard someone express gratitude in a day. Even children can become aware of how many times we are grateful rather than resentful, a worthwhile practice.

In conclusion then, I say a huge THANK YOU for your presence, for caring enough to read this, and for any small effort to “thanks-vent.” Do everyone a favor and pass the message this Advent Season!

Awaiting Advent

I am awaiting Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. I am very excited for this hushed season to begin yet I am trying hard not to wish away the present moment. The other day, I heard my inner voice say, “I can’t wait!”

We are a culture that cannot wait. We seem to enjoy the anticipation more than we enjoy the actual event. Evidence of this abounds. About three weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving, Christmas consumerism presses us to begin celebrating earlier and earlier. Decorations go up in most cities and Christmas carols are blaring in every store. I even saw a Salvation Army “soldier” tinkling her bell outside Hobby Lobby last week. We begin buying gifts feverishly, as though we lived in the land of scarcity.

While I love the Christmas season probably more than anyone, I also love the waiting that proceeds it. I learned this from religiously living the liturgical seasons when I was a very little girl growing up in Minnesota. Curiously, I recall awaiting the big events more than the holidays themselves–the shift in the things we did, the rituals we performed, the changes in tone, mood, and attitude. Usually, the first snow fell during this time in early November. I loved waking to a world lit up with whiteness. Even then, “I could not wait”– until Advent!

Here in Southern California, almost everyone will put up their Christmas lights and decorate their homes either before or during the Thanksgiving weekend which just happens to coincide with the beginning of Advent. Seems like nearly everyone is preparing for this work–except me. I am awaiting Advent.

I am looking forward to assembling my Advent wreath with greenery and pinecones. My search is on for candles that are purple and pink, not green and red. I have dusted off my favorite Advent books: The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander, Seasons of Glad Songs by Tessa Bielecki and David Denny, A Woman Wrapped in Silence by John Lynch, Starlight by John Shea, Kneeling at Bethlehem by Ann Weems, and a childhood favorite called Nancy and Plum by Betty McDonald. Reading from each of these in the early morning hours will provide interior spaciousness during the waiting and ample food for lectio divina, the basis of my daily meditations. I am planning Advent rituals and thinking about the Jesse Tree instead of our Christmas tree. I know I am a “voice crying in the wilderness,” at this time of year but I don’t care. Awaiting Advent fills me with joy and makes the eventual celebration of Christmas even more luminous.

I am awaiting Advent just as I await all that is holy and good to be revealed each and every day. I am awaiting Advent so that I can await the Incarnation for four weeks, beginning on November 27th, and ending with Light’s emergence, slow and steady, from the darkness of winter around December 25th. I can and do await, with and for, all of you.

Spiritual Muses

Each year I am struck by the increasing popularity of Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos. Weeks before October 31, yards are lit up with orange lights, huge blow-ups of pumpkins, ghosts, ghouls, and projected images that cover garage doors, etc. In my daughter’s neighborhood with dozens of young families, there will be games and haunted houses for the children on Halloween night. The celebrations seem to be getting more elaborate by the year

Dia de Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), is also more prevalent these days with skeleton figurines of everything from Elvis playing his guitar to smiling cats and whimsical dogs sold prominently in even discount stores. The movie “Coco” has reinforced remembering the dead with catchy songs and brilliant animation. Colorful ofrendas (altars dedicated to dead relatives) with their sunny marigolds and papel picado (perforated paper) appear not only in churches but also in many homes and yards.

What continues to capture our imagination during these days in the waning of October? When these traditions began, the primitive world was trying to figure out the proper attitude toward death and the possibility of an afterlife. From the earliest dawning of civilization, there have been rituals and celebrations for those who have gone before us. Eventually, Christian culture reinvented these celebrations with the Holy Days known as All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2). Catholics consider these days sacred and still observe them by attending Mass and praying for the dead.

The veneration of the saints has always been confounding to many Protestants and non-believers. They think Catholics are being superstitious or even worse, idolatrous, when we invoke our holy ancestors, asking them to pray for us or fix some troublesome situation. Many ask us why we pray for the dead when there are only two final places, heaven and hell, beyond our influence after death. While it is true that some of us may be superstitious or prefer to remain dualistic about the spiritual world, there is another layer to this connection between heaven and earth worthy of consideration.

In my view, when remembering and venerating the dead, we are simply searching for spiritual muses to inspire our lives. The witnesses of remarkable holy people can fascinate and sustain us through the tough realities of ordinary existence. They stoke the embers of faith inside our needy souls. Some even light the fires that change the course of history centuries later. Think Joan of Arc, Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Dorothy Day, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, and countless others. I think we need these spiritual muses to mentor us in Wisdom’s ways. While their bodies have departed this world, their presence flows through us and provides the needed inspiration for a better life.

Perhaps some of you are thinking that our current celebrations of Halloween and the Day of the Dead are a far cry from what I am proposing here. I am not naive–I know very well that loads of money will be made from all the decorations, costumes, and candy sold. Nonetheless, as in all of the outer trappings of capitalism, there is a divine thread that connects superficiality with a deep well of meaning. That is where I choose to abide. Enjoy these coming days dedicated to those who have gone before us and may you be inspired to become a spiritual muse for future generations!

Close Encounters

I walk my Golden Retriever, Wylie, every afternoon. We know every inch of our neighborhood as well as the enjoining community. Creatures of habit, we stop at the same places and know every tree, succulent, rosebush, and home improvement. I try to be surprised by the little subtleties of the changing seasons, but I admit I am often listening to music or audiobooks while I walk which can be distracting. I find this curiously paradoxical because I am always praying to find the inspiration to be more mindful and to luxuriate in the present moment. Creatures of dissonance, that is, doing the opposite of what we say we desire, we sometimes have to be shaken out of our routine to get our focus back. Close encounters with wildlife did it for me recently!

Our neighborhood in Dana Point is on the edge of a canyon. It was a lot wilder years ago when families of skunks freely scampered over the sidewalks, possums did tightrope walks on fences at night, and garden snakes coiled on our front doorstep. Nowadays, urban sprawl has changed the habitats of so many native creatures. Some wildlife have disappeared and some have become more urbanized, giving rise to new fears. Snapshots of coyotes scaling backyard fences and leering at us from behind bushes, augment our frenzy for the safety of small animals. When cats and small dogs disapper, we are quick to blame even though we both share the survival instinct.

I have encountered many coyotes over the years but never like last week when one suddenly came nose-to-nose with my four-legged companion during our daily stroll on the edge of the canyon. It was such a sudden close encounter, I did exactly what I knew NOT to do, I yanked the leash and we ran. Then I learned why we are cautioned never to run from a coyote because he followed us down the sidewalk, head down, definitely tracking our every move. I stopped running but not my quickened pace toward the busy intersection just ahead. I knew coyotes are skittish of traffic. Fight or flight? Well, I found out which one is more instinctual as shots of adrenal coursed through my veins. It occurred to me later that I should have probably been more afraid of the cars.

Fear, the predator that stalks literally every human being in one form or another, both motivates and paralyzes even the most stalwart of us. Perhaps the most common topic of conversation during spiritiual direction, anxiety, fear’s first cousin, lies barely beneath the surface of our consciousness. The horror of the pandemic, civil rights unrest, the war in Ukraine, political divisions, health issues, etc., make serenity a serious chore these days. Although I have spent a fair amount of time cultivating meditation, deep breathing, and resting in God, my close enounter with that coyote reminded me that I am still a work in progress. Surrender into the arms of a loving God remains intermittentlly elusive and the object of my deepest longing.

Two days after my close encounter with the coyote, I was visiting my grandchildren in Rancho Santa Margarita when we were graced with the presence of a California Condor, in all his vulture-like glory, perched on their backyard fence. Awed by the sheer size and “otherness” of this magnificent predator, we gazed at it for a long time until he spread his enormous wings, took off like a stealth bomber, and floated on the wind, searching for lunch in the canyon wilderness they share. I felt no fear then, only wonder and awe. Inspired again by the Creator, my heart cried out, and I fled into the arms of mystery.