after all this
a poem is emerging –
I mean,
after the divorce,
the loss of
so many names
that spoke of home,
and told me who I was.

september 2014 088

after all this
a poem is emerging
in a bright red car
and new address
shiny silver pots and
sparkling blue plates,
pictures on the wall
and a voice who calls
me to be true –
call it, myself –
a language I am
still learning to

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after all this
my life,
is turning
to song.

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Peter Ilgenfritz
September 23, 2014


I am learning to love the resonance.summer 1014 225

I’m not exactly sure what “resonance” is.  But when a space is resonant, sound stays alive. Goes out, keeps coming back.

Our church sanctuary is in the middle of restoration.  Carpet gone.  Walls incomplete. And on Sunday, resounding with the sound of children’s voices and drumming, a mournful oboe and exultant choir.

I think it’s good to have a resonant space for a church to gather, reminded of the great cathedrals of Europe.  And at its best, when people gather as church, there is an echoing. Memory, gifts of the past.   This present, now.  Future hope.

It was “Homecoming Sunday” at church last week, and there is probably no more “resonant” word in the English language than “home”.  Ask any 6 or 76 year old and they will have something to tell you about home.   The memory of home.  The presence of home.  The longing for home.

2543“Jesus” is another word that resonates.   Something about him.  What he did.  His way of being in the world, his way with people.   Certainly, many have been attracted to Jesus for many different reasons.  And I wonder today if there is something about “Jesus” that has called people “home”.  Not so much to a “home” out there, somewhere, for Jesus often called people to leave their homes, as life often does, for all of us.  But to the “home” right here, within ourselves.

Ask me about “home” and I will tell you about a place I never lived but where I spent some of the most treasured days in my childhood: my grandparent’s farm in rural central New Hampshire.

I could take you all over that old farm.  Show you everything.  Like here, that place as you 4077step into the kitchen. That spot on the worn wood floor that creaks.  Sit with you, here, at the long kitchen table with the plastic tablecloth and print of pink flowers.  Stand, backs to the wood stove, warming with you, as we return from cross country skiing in my grandfather’s woodlot.  Dripping water, pooling at our feet.  The sound of the pressure cooker popping with my grandfather’s baked beans cooking on the stove.  The scent of oatmeal rolls in the oven.

And stand with you here, before I left for college, where my grandfather, a man of few words, shook my hand.  Held it.  Looked me in the eye, and I knew that he loved me.

Yes, I could take you everywhere.  Show you everything. But really, of course, I am taking you around inside me.  For you know what home is.  It’s that place where you are at home in yourself.  And I was so at home here – in my joy, my wonder, my discovery, myself.

3515I’ve come a far country from that place.  Grew up.  And other worlds called me out.  To make something of myself.  Make a family.  Make a difference.  And in my successes and failures of doing such things, I learned to be strong and competent, to stand up for myself and to fight.  To make a home for myself, an important part of growing up.

But all this making and doing, that life often demands, not all I have needed. Especially now, in this season of my life.

When the crowd gathered, and Jesus invited them to sit with him on the hillside, he spoke4037 to them of blessings.  Blessings that we call “The Beatitudes”.  Not so much blessings that we go out and find, but blessings that find us.  Quieter virtues.  More vulnerable places.  Our need, tears, longing.   Places within.  The kind of places I discovered within myself on my grandparent’s farm.

If “church” has anything to do with home, it might have to do with calling us back to these vulnerable, human, truth-filled places within.  To what amidst all of our doing is most important.

It was 4 AM and a long way from home.  Another coast.  Set up camp late that night.   We had a long day ahead of us and much we wanted to do.  But something, something more important to do now.

Here, early morning, my nephew and I crawled out of our sleeping bags, threw on our sweatshirts, got into the car and drove up the mountain.  Here, on the edge of the coast of Maine, Cadillac Mountain.  The first place in the country, you can see the sun rise over the Atlantic.

2318It was cold, windy that morning.  And oh, so clear.  The edge of the continent breaking away in small island clusters. The vast blue beyond. Was it Jesus I found?  Perhaps.  Certainly, something that morning of grace, peace.  Something more important than just getting on with the duties of the day.  Something I needed to remember.

The sun shone out over the sea.

The days ahead resonated with the splendor of hills, sparkling with light.




New Orleans

summer 2014 285Randy was the best –
a tourguide with
just the right combination
of local folklore, historical anecdotes, and bad jokes
to keep our little crowd of fifteen
laughing and listening
as we followed him
down narrow streets
in a strange city
thick with heat.

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Pausing, here,
by what otherwise
we would have walked by –
this old house
wedged in the back
of the fancy hotel
which old Brad Overstreet
still owns, refused to sell, years ago
even for 4 million dollars,
back in the day
when “The $25,000 Pyramid” was on TV
and a lot of money to win.
Built their concrete hotel around him,
threatened to build it overhead,
until he took them to court, won,
proved you can’t build over anyone
no matter how much money you have.

summer 2014 031

by places that the fires took –
like here, where “The Upstairs Bar” used to be,
the gay nightclub set afire by an angry prostitute
at someone who was stealing his tricks.

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The crowds that gathered
shouting outside –
Burn!  Let ’em burn! –
It wasn’t always this liberal you know,
not the city where just anything goes-
no, not always, not then.

summer 2014 034

Teaches us the difference between
“Creole” and “Cajun”
“Balconies” and “Galleries”
“Gumbo” and “Jambalaya”
and no, we didn’t always eat alligator,
how to pronounce “praw-leans”
that should melt like air
on your tongue
not gritty and sugary like
well, I’m not say’in but they’re
a poor excuse for pralines.

summer 2014 078

The best place
to put your palm sweaty
in the hands of another
who will tell you how fortunate your future shall be,

summer 2014 425
where to linger on Bourbon Street
where good jazz, some of the best around,
is still to be found,
but no, not the kind they blast on the streets,
you have to walk in to find it,
down dark corridors in back rooms
the kind of music like Miss Jessie’s here,
playing the clarinet like nobody’s business
as we fill her pail with applause and spare change.

summer 2014 440

Where real muffaletta can be found
like Napoleon’s or Central Market
though they don’t serve it hot there
not like it’s meant to be,
and no, it’s not from New Orleans,
just ask someone from Sicily…

summer 2014 119
The best Creole restaurants
like Tujagues and The Gumbo Shop,
and where the locals live –
Algiers, across the river
where I make plans to go tomorrow,
good book shops (Beckhams)
and the best gelato (Antoine’s) around.

summer 2014 614

Sounds out New Or-leans,
not “N’awlins” –
no one around here but tourists
talks like that –
in this city without
Southern drawls,
a port city,
more connected to Philadelphia and Boston
than Atlanta which for all its other charms
does not have a port,
poor thing,
a Union city during the war,
but the Proclamation that freed the slaves
no, did not free them here, no,
but declared them merely the “spoils of war”
fit to wipe soldier’s boots and clean their pots,
shovel out stables.

summer 2014 393

Tells us stories that leave us wide-mouthed,
anecdotes that make us dangerous,
tidbits of facts
to jumble into our own urban legends
like the carriage drivers do –
they are notorious for that –
don’t believe a word they tell you.

summer 2014 163

But when we ask Randy about Katrina,
he walks off,
says there is a museum if we want to know,
can see it all –
where the waters came in
and how high they rose
but we need to live in the present
it was nine years ago –
you must let us live.

summer 2014 363

Comes back,
eyes spotted
with tears,
says it took him six years to see the exhibit,
and all he could do was go and
hold Laurita and weep –
you can tell the locals,
it’s what we do –
nine years ago,
we have to move on,
you have to let us live…
leads us across the street
shaking the memory
out – I have to get it out –
brings us back to this
moment in time.

summer 2014 044

We’re really not, we hope,
like the tourists on his bus route home
who ask him each day how high was the water
and how long the electricity was out,
how many died,
and what’s become of the city.

summer 2014 628

Instead, he tells us everything we really wanted to know –
that the flood was real
and he is too,
that he was here and survived –
which is the possibility
that we’ve been looking for ourselves –
that we too
might make it through
the storms that are raging, and
might find our way
through the flood of tears,
our own secret byways and dark alleys.

summer 2014 232

And yes, makes us wonder
as we follow on after him
what might happen
what might really happen if
we didn’t shy from each other –
made campfires
and told the stories
we have told no one before –
if we stopped believing
we all knew and understood each other so well,
much less ourselves,
and risked going to the limits
of the conversations –
to tell the stories
we need to remember,
to release the stories
we need to put down,
to be recalled to the present
we need to embrace.

summer 2014 240

Peter Ilgenfritz
September 8, 2014

summer 2014 157

The Praise of Summer

summer 2014 728This year,
I don’t want summer to end –
don’t want to give in to fall
and the turning of leaves,
but to linger here,
in these long days of heat,
this time,
between seasons
of purpose and doing.

summer 2014 732

Some years,
preferred shadowed days
to summers fullness –
too much life and possibility,
too much light –
which is to say I have known some summers
that have not been easy.

summer 2014 711

But this summer is different –
and I can’t get enough of
summer heat,
bowls of blue
berries and ripe
fruits on the vine,
the lap of waves
on sandy beaches,
the play of children’s feet –
such splashing!
Such of everything
that will not,
be contained.

summer 2014 749

before the return to more serious matters –
the beginning of school,
sharp pencils and crisp clean notebooks –
I remember,
once more,
the gifts of summer,
in the holding of time  –
a young boy,
a younger man,
a dock,
a river,
half way into a leap,
to shout
my praise.

camera pictures 2014 554

The Dock
For Thomas

Around the cove from where
the single lane concrete bridge
used to span,
just up from the railway trestle
before the dam,
at this old wooden dock,
I taught you to swim.

Held my arms out to you
as I stepped slowly,
ever so slowly,
away from the shore,
testing the tension
between courage and fear.

summer 2014 751

You pushed off,
exuberant splashing,
as I called confidence
to you across the water.

Wide eyed, panting,
you clung to my chest,
exhilarated and worn,
until daring release
to try it once more.

summer 2014 754

Once, when you were older,
we swam across
to the dark pined shore
spotted with birch
where Indians used to dwell
and arrowheads can still be found.

Stood near the shore
on large smooth stones
like long legged herons.
Looked down on fallen trees,
the remnants of a wall
that had once been a mill.

summer 2014 717

We swam back,
strong firm strokes
against the current,
until sitting,
as we do now,
wound in damp towels
on warm knotted wood,
knees wrapped in our arms.

summer 2014 721

We rise,
daring each other
to jump, one more time,
to fling ourselves out into
blue sky –
where for a moment –
everything stops,
everything stills.

Peter Ilgenfritz

summer 2014 720


August 15, 1994.  It feels like a long time ago I began my ministry here at University Congregational United Church of Christ.  Feels like yesterday.summer 1014 432

And last week, on August 15, 2014, we had an stupendous church party to mark the 20 years I have been pastor here.

As one of my colleagues noted, it was a unique occasion. Most often we mark a pastor and congregation’s connections when the pastor is leaving – or at the time of their death! Not often do we take the time in the muddle and middle of life together to mark all we have shared.

Last Friday night’s celebration was simply the best.  It was a grand church party – with hot dogs and sloppy joes, cake and ice cream, a great band and testimonies. A chance for us to celebrate all that has been and all that is unfolding here in our life together as church.


Sometimes only a few words are needed.  And for me on Friday they were “thank you.”  And I am full of thanks for this congregation, and all the planners and preparers for Friday’s great party. For all the cards, notes, prayers – all the ways that have helped mark these 20 years – I am full of thanks:

For an amazing array of paper sail boats that were made for me on Friday night.summer 1014 348


For the congregation’s gift of a “Livery Pass” to the Center for Wooden Boats where I learned to sail last fall.  For the next year I can go sailing in the great sea of Lake Union in downtown Seattle for free. And yes, it is true, I especially do enjoy sailing in the winter.  I’m looking forward to sharing many voyages on my little sea with our congregation.

summer 1014 427

For my colleagues gift of a life-preserver.

summer 1014 429

And for a guy that struggles with getting lost, what a wonderful gift to receive a ship’s compass to mark 20 years.

summer 1014 425

20 years is something you could never plan.  When Dave and I first came to University Church in 1994, in what felt like the “outback” of the Northwest, so far from what I believed was the “heart of civilization” on the East Coast where I grew up, I thought maybe 7 years would be enough.

But something happened.  The move from a senior/associate to a team ministry structure enabled me to grow in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated.  I was able to take on leadership and responsibilities in areas I knew nothing about.  I got to learn about and grow to love elementary education and youth ministry.

summer 1014 353

I have had the privilege of working with wonderful colleagues over the years, each of whom has taught me so much about the craft of ministry.

And yes, I have been blessed beyond words by this congregation.   I’ve found here with this community of faith, two qualities that have been essential for my own growth as a pastor: high expectations and deep love.

summer 1014 277

When expectations are high, it keeps me at the top of my game.  And this congregation has.  I don’t ever remember this congregation saying, “we did enough…”, “we don’t have to do that…”   Instead there is a deep longing in this congregation that is always asking, “what more might happen?”, “why not?”, “what if…?”  My ministry here has often been running to catch up, to celebrate and encourage the passions that have enabled this church to step again and again into change, risk and the unknown.

summer 1014 380

It’s true that I have failed here at learning how to “coast”.  And that too, a gift. Instead, I’ve continually found myself changed and challenged, growing and deepening in faith by my ministry in this place.

summer 1014 302

And along with high expectations, deep love.

Yes, part of such love is sharing the joy of “you did a great job!”, and I have found such encouragement and support here along my way as I have grown and changed, tried and failed, stumbled and gotten up again.

summer 1014 338

But the other part of deep love is the love that dares to risk the honest word, to have the deep conversations. To share with me, “You disappointed me….I was hurt….I am frustrated….”  The risk of having those conversations together over the years has opened the possibility to the very heart of community – the call to deeper listening, the invitation to forgiveness, the gifts of grace, and beginning again.

white cakecake

20 years.  Quite a marker. And yes, a transition as well. From what has been, to what still may be.    summer 1014 220

It has been an amazing journey of grace, sailing with this congregation as I have grown and changed over these past 20 years.  For the gift of that grace, finally, there are no words.   But only the offering of these tears of memory, thanksgiving and such great love.summer 1014 333


Writing Home: Part 3

28On my sabbatical this spring, I did just what I planned to do in March.  I wrote each day, painted and learned to sail.

But April was a month of surprise and took me to a place I never expected – to Iceland on a Writer’s Retreat.  I arrived four days before the retreat, rented a car, drove through the countryside, and stayed at farmhouses.

And yes, got lost.  Lost many times physically and emotionally.   And in the 1086process of finding my way,  discovered so much.

Writing is an important way for me to find my way through challenging experiences.  The advice I learned from my teachers on the retreat, some of the simple wisdom I needed to take the next step in writing.

Here’s the final installment of my story of what happened in Iceland, and what I learned about finding the way from lost to home.

Lost in Iceland:  Part 3


“Lost” I realize is how most of us have come to this writer’s retreat – tentatively, shyly, as we did that first day seeking to find a seat on a bus full of strangers.  Confident that everyone else around us had written better, published more, and certainly should be here more than us.

It the week that follows, we learn we all know a lot about “lost”  and the longing for home.  And yes, all of us, no matter what our “credentials”, have our own share of the daring spirits necessary to write our way home.  I’ve met some wonderful new friends.  Learned some simple steps to take me on the next step in my writing.


But now its Sunday, late morning, and the writer’s retreat has ended and I have one more day before I fly out.  Here I am trying to find my way to the hostel where I’ll spend the night.

29The little “39” circle on my map says that the hostel should be right here.  But every building I’ve imagined is the hostel, yet another block away, is not.  I take out my reading glasses to try to decipher, one more time, the little numbers on my map.


The new friends I met have scattered.  I feel as lost and alone as when I first arrived. The drizzle of rain mixes with tears.  I’m a little boy with his paper map flapping in the wind stuck at a roundabout with no crosswalks.  Cars whisking by splattering puddles.  Wondering how pathetic I can look until someone – please anyone – might stop and ask if I need help.


I adjust my reading glasses.   I notice that there are in fact pink circled “39”‘s and blue circled “39”‘s on my map.  I missed that.  How could I have missed that?   I’ve been looking for a pink “39” when my hostel is over there at the blue “39”.


“The key is in the details”, I hear Geraldine remind me.

“Anything that defamiliarizes is good for writing”, James chimes in.

“Start with lost”, Susan adds.

“Keep up the daily practice”, Iain charges me.

Well, here I am.  Lost again. Feeling the ache and longing for home, that place that James says is that grand source of creative energy.

Standing here, lost in the rain, I’m a Pulitzer Prize in the making.

31aI see the blue “39” for my hostel is a mile behind me.  Down the harbor from where I’ve been chasing imaginary hostels all afternoon.

I turn back.  When I reach the hostel, I see in the distance, friends walking towards me.


“All settled in?”, Gemma smiles.

I smile. The first time in hours.

“We were looking for you.  See you for dinner?”, Carrie asks.

Yes, home has been here all the time.  It just took me a while to find it.

31a4“What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest?”, the joke goes.  “Stand up!”  The “forests” they’ve just started to plant here are new, the “trees” mere stubby bushes.  My own forests of “lost”, much older, complex and gnarly.  I can’t just stand up and see my way home.

31bBut I’m learning to write my way there through anxiety and fear, right through the heart of self-doubt and not-knowing.

“Make a space and time to take your vocation of writing seriously”, Susan Orleans reminds us.

It’s what I’m doing now, early morning at a worn wooden table in a hostel I thought I would never find.

33Looking out at the harbor, and a sailboat playing in the wind.  Through the mist, purple mountains pockmarked with snow.

38Pen in hand, coffee by my side, waiting for my friends to join me for breakfast, I write “Crappy First Draft” on that first draft.  Free myself from having to get it right, say it right, be right.  Instead, to just write.  Set words on the page and keep on going.  Finding my way, one more time, from lost to home.


Peter Ilgenfritz

April 30, 2014

Writing Home: Part 2

60On my sabbatical this spring, I did just what I planned to do in March.  I wrote each day, painted and learned to sail.

But April was a month of surprise and took me to a place I never expected – to Iceland on a Writer’s Retreat.  I arrived four days before the retreat, rented a car, drove through the countryside, and stayed at farmhouses.

And yes, got lost.  Lost many times physically and emotionally.   And in the process of finding my way,  discovered so much.

Writing is an important way for me to find my way through challenging 26experiences.  The advice I learned from my teachers on the retreat, some of the simple wisdom I needed to take the next step in writing.

Here’s the second installment of my story of what happened in Iceland, and what I learned about finding the way from lost to home.

Last week I wrote about struggling to get out of the airport rental car parking.   At last I did.  The little yellow gate rises and I am on my way.

Lost in Iceland:  Part 2


A woman with a sweet little British accent in my GPS directs me in 30 meters to “enter the roundabout and take the second right.”  “Turn right.  Turn right,”  she insists.

Lady, there’s no roundabout here and nothing in sight except a barren brown expanse of rock.  It is soon clear that wherever she is directing me from is not where I am and where she is taking me not the way to the little cafe in downtown Reykjavik that my friend Tom recommended to me.


“Good writing starts with research”, Geraldine Brooks says.   Thanks for the thought, Geraldine, but I’d prefer to jump into the real work of writing.  It’s why I don’t take time to actually learn how to use the GPS – or know how to turn it off.

“Before I write, I take notes”, Iain Reid, another of our teachers, shares.

Thanks Iain, but I don’t want to take notes.  I don’t want to sit here and “note” my frustration, my anger, my perplexity, my lostness.”   I want to be drinking coffee at a wooden table at a little cafe in downtown Reykjavik with a view of the sea and purple mountains pockmarked with snow.


Finally, I have to give in.  After my British co-pilot directs me in circles one more time, I pull over in a hotel parking lot, and slowly, one more time, go through the little prompts on the GPS, enter the name of my cafe and find my way.  It’s closed.


But the coffee shop across the street with a window seat and a view of the harbor down the alley is open for breakfast.


“To write well, you need time to think – the interim time to think”, Susan Orlean reminds us.  Time to do just that meets me here.  That and a cup of coffee, a bowl of museli and something white, yogurty and sweet they call “skyr”.


“Be a collector of words”, Geraldine Brooks tells us.  Well, here’s my first new one today in a land full of long consonant-laden words I cannot pronounce.


Geraldine draws our attention to characters in novels who pass a problem around between them.  Well in this story, there’s only me, tossing “lost” back and forth in the days that follow.

Lost finds me parked at the side of the road in the drizzling rain under a towering brown cliff.  Car trunk open, pouring out the little rolled piles of clothes in my backpack looking for my wallet.


“Sort through your notes again and again before you begin to write,” Iain Reid reminds us.

Well, Iain, despite all my sorting, there is nothing here.  I pad myself down again – side pockets, jacket pocket, back pocket…back pocket – I hadn’t checked that – where I discover I’ve been sitting on my wallet all the time.

Lost.  It’s me out on an early morning run, the sun not yet up over the mountains, cold and dark, losing the little brown string of a trail in hills of heather and ankles of cold mud.


“Humility is the key to good writing”, Geraldine Brooks reminds us.

Humility is what I find as the miles extend away from where I thought I was going to some point further and further out on the long finger of a peninsula of sand and brown tufted grass.


“Imagination always gets things right”, James Scudamore tells us.

I try to “imagine” my way out of here – turning a bend and seeing the spire of the church in the center of the city.  Finding any familiar sign of home.

Seeing none,I run down to the shore, and find a black, hole pocketed volcanic stone, worn smooth by the tide.


“Reading your words out loud is essential for good writing,” Susan Orlean reminds us.

Looking out across the gray sea, the descent of fog, I place my rock at the top of a small cairn at the edge of the rocky shore and speak my Sunday prayer, “Help me find my way.”


The road curves back down the penninsula.   There around the bend, on a far hill, the spire of the church I am looking for.

“The longing for home is one of the most powerful incentives for writing”,  James Scudamore reminds us.

I get it.  I feel it.   I’m not home yet, but I’m getting there.


Peter Ilgenfritz


Writing Home: Part 1

0On my sabbatical this spring, I did just what I planned to do in March.  I wrote each day, painted and learned to sail.

But April was a month of surprise and took me to a place I never expected – to Iceland on a Writer’s Retreat.  I arrived four days before the retreat, rented a car, drove through the countryside, and stayed at farmhouses.

And yes, got lost.  Lost many times physically and emotionally.   And in the1282a1 process of finding my way,  discovered so much.

Writing is an important way for me to find my way through challenging experiences.  The advice I learned from my teachers on the retreat, some of the simple wisdom I needed to take the next step in writing.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share some of my story of what happened in Iceland, and what I learned about finding the way from lost to home.

Lost in Iceland:  Part 1

1 (2)

 Here I am: 6:30 a.m., just off the all-night flight from Seattle to Reykjavik and trying to find my way out of the rental car parking lot.

I follow the little white arrows around the lot that lead me to a little yellow gate with a little yellow box to insert a ticket that I do not have.


This is not what I’m looking for.  There must be another way.

I’m looking for a middle aged Icelandic woman with black hair and a tired expression sitting on a stool in a little glass booth, who will slide open a little window and ask for my “zcarbon zcopy of my zrental zreceipt from zAvis.”  I will hand her my little pink receipt and ask her how to get to downtown Reykjavik.  She will tell me to “zturn zright” and say she “zhopes zI zhave a zgood ztrip.”

Since my imagined Icelandic woman in the little ticket booth is not here, I lurch into reverse.  “Oh yeah, it’s a stick shift”, I remember again, put in the clutch, and follow the little white arrows around and around the parking lot that take me back one more time to the little yellow gate and no way out.


Last month I saw a bright red postcard with a photograph of a black rocky cliff streaked with snow, and words in glacier white, “Icelandic Writers Retreat”.   “Iceland” or a “writer’s retreat” was not on any bucket-list I’d ever had.  But when I saw that little postcard, I wasn’t sure why, but I knew I wanted to be there.


I spent the next week telling everyone who would listen how I really didn’t need to go to Reykjavik to write.  “I just like the music of, ‘I want to write in Reykjavik,'” I explained.  “But I really don’t need to go to Reykjavik to write. ‘Reykjavik’ is just a good metaphor for what I can find here.”

38cAfter talking so much about what I didn’t need to do, I finally heard what I indeed did.  On the last day to register, I found the website, signed up for the retreat and pushed “send”.  All of which seems to have sent me to a parking lot with no way out.

“The place of not-knowing is where all good writing begins”, James Scudamore, one of our teachers at the writing retreat, tells us.  “That’s why I keep my office in a constant state of flux.  Move my desk from one side of the room to the other.  Rearrange the pictures on the wall. Write sitting down, standing up, lying down.  Anything to keep it mixed up.”

805At this point, I wish I’d stuck with re-arranging my office.

Not whoever this “me” was that thought this was a good idea.

Yesterday, my bed piled with rolled winter clothes, plastic quart-sized bags of travel toiletries, and socks stuffed in sneakers, I would have given anything to have stayed home.


Susan Orlean, another teacher, intentionally seeks out new experiences as the way to find her way into writing.

“You need to become a student again in order to write.  Be willing to not know.  In the discovery, the learning, that’s where good writing begins.”

If that’s so, I’m in a perfect place.  Stuck in a parking lot in Iceland.  My life drained this past year of most everything that it used to be and that I depended on for stability – the end of a 28 year relationship with my partner and best friend.  My home now a rented room in somebody else’s house.  An aloneness I’ve never experienced before.

“And vivid description is what propels good writing,” Susan adds.


I wonder if I write all the more descriptively about “the barren brown flat expanse around me, the gray rolling clouds, the cold breeze from glaciers hidden in the fog”, will it help me get out of this parking lot and on my way?


“And details.  Details matter,” historical fiction writer, Geraldine Brooks reminds us.

I hate details.  Which is probably why I didn’t notice until now that on the little yellow box by the gate is a button with a “?”.


I push the button.  Something buzzes.  Buzzes again.


“Hello!  I’m here at the little yellow gate by the little yellow box in the rental car parking lot and I don’t know how to get out.”

“Zyou zdon’t zhave a zticket?”

“Zno.  I was never given one.”

“Hmm.  ZI zwill zbe zright zthere.”

As I sit waiting without my little white ticket in hand, I wonder what other things I didn’t come with.  How about some credentials to start with?  Who am I kidding?  Me, a writer?  I like to write but I’ve never published anything except years ago a couple of short pieces in magazines that no one has ever heard of.  And what was that on the packing list about “Icelandic business attire”?  What’s that?   Designer hiking boots and a down parka?


I can’t believe I didn’t even come with a guidebook or glance at one before I left.  Instead, I read two Icelandic novels and a book of poetry.  What was I thinking?  What am I doing here?


The man in the little yellow box calls back and says he will let me out without the little white ticket I was supposed to have.  The gate rises.


Peter Ilgenfritz



The Vegvísir

1840Just before I left on my sabbatical, a note and a gift showed up in my mailbox at church.

“This compass has helped me find my way through many mountain adventures. I pass it on to you with my hope and prayer that you will find your way well through your sabbatical, and return safely home.”

On the first day of my sabbatical, I thought, “I want to do something each day to remember this time.”   I remembered the compass.

From that first day on, I pulled out my compass every day and took a picture.1913 Something that happened I wanted to remember.  Took a particular moment, placed it in the care of the holding of memory and time.

Marking each day helped me see that even the hard and challenging parts of my sabbatical were a gift as well. I learned so much in both the joyous and challenging steps along the way.

The compass went many places:

Showed up with the President of Iceland,


with friends,


and yes, out sailing many times.


One day in Iceland, my friend Arielle showed up with a tattoo of an ancient Icelandic compass, a vegvísir. One who wears a vegvísir, the tradition goes, will never lose their way in storms or bad weather. And when no way can be found, a way will open.


My imagination took me to Viking explorers setting sail on turbulent seas with the sign traced on their foreheads or chiseled onto their helmets. A sign, a blessing, that they too would find their way safely and well.

photoI almost got a vegvísir tattoo myself, and the story of why I did not, another story. But the gift I received in not getting a vegvísir tattooed on my arm was the invitation to become a vegvísir.

What if, I wondered, instead of wearing a sign, our lives became the sign? What if we lived lives of risk and trust?  Showed, that the little ships that we are, are finding our way through smooth and rocky seas.

What if we lived as if it were true: that even when no way is found, we trust photo 3that way will open?

The “Way” is the ancient Christian term for followers of Jesus. And although they may never have heard of a vegvísir, they lived as ones that carried that same trust through the storm.

“Are you all settled back in after your time away?” Jerry asked me last week.

“No!”, I responded, “I actually feel quite disoriented!”

132“Great!” he responded, “That’s why we need to go away – to come back disoriented. To see things in new ways. Hold on to ‘disoriented’ as long as you can!”

Jerry’s reminder, the blessing I needed.

Four months away, a long time. In these past months I have grown and changed. The communities, people in my life grown, changed as well.   I come back with new eyes. Notice what I hadn’t before when I was deeply and contentedly settled into the everyday routines of my life at home.

Instead of fighting the feeling of being disoriented, at my best I’ve become 207curious about it. Curious about what works, fits, and what does not. Exploring new patterns and ways when some of my old familiar ways have been washed out of me.

My “new normal” as I explained to a friend this morning is “I am disoriented!”

“How long did it take you to come to that?!”, he asked.

About 52 years

1962Maybe it is a disorienting time in your life. Maybe circumstances in your life have changed.

Maybe a sacred space that you have counted on for stability is being remodeled – as our church sanctuary is.

Maybe you or people important in your life have grown, changed. Maybe you too are seeking to get your feet on the ground again. Maybe in all of this you are seeing, feeling, what you hadn’t noticed before.

And maybe discovering that “disoriented” is a lot more true and real than2753 your old ways of putting everything together into the box of “Fine. Fine. Everything is just fine.” Maybe you too can’t and don’t want to put things together the same way. Want to discover more about the new ways being shown to you.

No, “disorientation”, I am learning is not a “bad” place to be.

1362Walking through these past four months with a compass in hand helped to orient and ground my passage through the gift of that time.

Now, I am learning to trust in a different, internal compass, which is leading me forth in trust, in faith, that even in the disorientation of today, the way is opening as I find my way back home again.







Going Deeper, Seeing Further

1Three weeks ago, Banff National Provincial Park.  My nephew, Peter, and I have been driving our way across the country and late this afternoon have stepped out on a ridge looking out over Lake Moraine.  “Have you ever seen a place like this! Have you ever seen a place like this!”  I tell Peter I will eventually stop saying this over and over again as I say one more time, “Have you ever seen a place like this!”  

Have you ever been in, seen such a place?  Had a time in your life that broke open the horizons, expanded what before you had thought were the limits of the sky?

I’ve just returned from such a time.  Four months away on a sabbatical and 3vacation that emptied and renewed, filled and healed me.  I return home, changed.  As I explain to a friend, “It’s like my whole life did THIS,” as I stretch my arms wide as they can go.

And so, a question in my life:  How to take all of this great expansion of vision, life, joy, experience and bring it home to the particular work, responsibilities, relationships in my everyday life.

4Maybe you know what I mean.  Maybe you are wondering at this time how to integrate some new experiences into your life.

I told my friend Mary about my homecoming question and she told me,

“It seems to me the only way to take all of THIS” – as she opens her arms wide – “and fit it into THIS” – as she brings her hands close together, “is to do THIS” – as she pivots sideways – one hand high overhead, the other reaching for the floor.

And there it is: the only way to take all of THIS expansion, growth, life into6 the particularity of “this” work, “these” responsibilities, “this” relationship – is to go deeper – into truth and authenticity – and lift your sights higher – out and beyond to a longer, broader vision.

10 (2)A few weeks ago at our church camp at Seabeck we discussed situations that cry out for justice and peace.   We talked about concerns for our planet, economy, and our nation’s democracy.  Farmers in Africa, homelessness in Seattle.

On the second day, one of our speakers, Bill Grace, stood up and said,

“I have spent my life as a social activist working for justice and peace, so what I am going to say is very hard to say.  And I still don’t know quite how to say it.  But what I am hearing in my heart, and what my teachers are telling me, is that now is not the time to act as we have responded to such situations before.   It is not the time.”

You could feel the energy of that whole room there on the edge of our chairs20 with our mouths open, “What?”  “Not DO anything?”  “The world is crying out and needs our concern and care!”

Bill went on to say he was not saying that it is the time to “do nothing” but that the “something” of what we need to do is different.

What I heard him saying is this: “We live in a time where our institutions of faith, care, and community are in a time of deep transformation. A time of great change and unraveling. When we just jump into respond to the immense issues facing us, we often fall into responses, ways of being, that are deeply part of the old stories that need to change. (Responding violently. Dividing our world into “us” versus “them”, for example.)  A new way is forming but not yet here. It’s not the time to do nothing, but a time to “do” what we are doing differently – to concentrate on doing small things with great love. A time to live the new way we are seeking to be in the world.”

8 (2)What Bill was saying about this particular time of history we are living in is what I’ve heard said from other historians, theologians, and wise leaders I trust. It’s what I’ve experienced in the life of the church and other institutions I care deeply about.

And I am reminded of Jesus’ parable of weeds in a field full of wheat (Matthew 13:24-30)

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;  but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”


When the farmhands notice the weeds in the field, they do what I often do when I see trouble.  They ask who is to blame.  They complain, “Farmer Joe, did you use good seeds?”  And they seek to take matters into their own hands and pull up the weeds.

But the farmer responds, “No. Now is not the time.  This is the time to wait.  For in pulling up the weeds now, you would damage the wheat as well. Now is the time to wait. Wait for the time of harvest. Then pull up the weeds and harvest the wheat.”

Wait?  Wait?  Really?

How do you know the weeds won’t take over?  How do you know its going to be alright?

I know the fear, the anxiety, I know all of it that comes when what I am called to do is something different than just “act”.  And I know what happened to me on my sabbatical.

On my sabbatical I did what I said I wanted to do:

I wrote.  I painted.  I learned how to sail.




I went to the top of the highest mountain in New England with the worst weather in the world.


And I went up the highest mountain in the Pacific with the clearest skies.


I had time with my family.


And friends.


But if you ask me, “What did you really get out of your sabbatical, what really happened for you?” I would not talk with you about what I did.

I would tell you that what happened when I put some things down: I came home believing in the resurrection more deeply in my bones than I ever have before.  And by that I mean this: in the letting go, we are met.  I was met.


My sabbatical was about letting go.


Letting go of my control, plans, perfection and worry.

Letting go of who I thought I was to become who I am growing to be.

Letting go, I learned again, is a road right through the heart of grief.


And anxiety.


Learned again, that grief and anxiety are the roads that lead us into the new.

No, not an easy way. And one where we need good guides and friends along the way.


But on the other side of letting go, something is given, that could never be anticipated.


A broader vision.  Skies we never could have imagined. The kind of vision we need to see it through the very real issues facing us.


And something revealed, right here at our feet, something clear, true, beautiful.


I don’t know where you are on life’s way but wherever it is, maybe it’s a time in your life as well to pivot.  Time to put down some of your familiar ways and make room for something new to grow. To go a little deeper, see a little further. Be led to a place you never could have imagined, where you too can say, “Have you ever seen a place like this!”