Tuesday, January 19, 2021

My Word of the Year: WORD

I can't tell you the exact moment when I recognized my word for 2021. There was no flashing light or crashing sound. I didn't have a vision.  
No mystical experience. 

Instead, I gradually realized that I was carrying, sitting and living with my word.


I have always been intrigued by the Gospel of John 1:1

                    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
                    was with God, and the Word was God.

As a writer, how important it is for me to find the right word, to create meaning and understanding and to offer pictures and perspective through words. I try to find words that speak to you, my readers. Just the right words. 

I know words make a difference.

I know words speak to me about my relationship with God, and words lead me to new life, to living life in the light.

                                    Word of God.
                                    Word of Life. 

But, I admit, I am a bit flummoxed by the gift of WORD. Somehow it feels different from the words I've received in previous years. My word in 2020 was "fullness," and other years included "spaciousness," "devotion," and "Sacred Yes, Sacred No." 

Why couldn't my new word be "hope" or "love" or "sanctuary" or something else that would seem to have a boundary, a direction, a motivation? What does it means that my word is "WORD"?

I don't know, but I do know that --just in all the previous years--this word will nourish me, challenge me, and lead and even wrestle me into new growth. Just as I didn't decide on a word, but instead received the word, I know that the word will work on me, rather than my working on it. 

And so I begin the journey of discovery. 

An early step as I cross the threshold into the Year of the Word was to make a collage. Instead of using pictures, as I have always done, this year's collage is just words. Words that nourish, challenge and lead me. The new collage hangs next to collages from the last two years along with a collage representing potential audience for my in progress spiritual memoir. 

What I am beginning to realize is how the words from the past interact with the new word; how integration of each word continues, and how the words are in active relationship with each other. Each one calls me forth. 

                            from Jan Richardson
                                ....to speak your word
                                into the world
                                to tell what you have
                                with your own ears,
                                seen with your own 
                                known in your own heart:
                                that you are beloved,
                                precious child of God,
                                beautiful to behold.

                    from Joyce Rupp
                                May each common word coming forth from me
                                Echo the magnificent love of you, the one Word. 

An Invitation
Have you received a word for the year? I would love to know. If you would like some additional guidance on this spiritual practice, email me, nagneberg48@gmail.com for a free guide on entering the new year. 

NOTE: Here's on excellent article on spiritual direction:

NYT article on spiritual direction 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Views of the Capitol


That's how I felt on Wednesday. I was working at my desk when a friend alerted me to what was happening at the U.S. Capitol. Frankly, I didn't want to know. Instead, I wanted to continue doing the work I planned for the day, but I took a deep breath and at first watched on my laptop the horrific events. Soon, however, I moved to the lower level of the house where our television is located and told my husband,  "You have to see this." 

He was comfortably reading, and I could see on his face, he really didn't want to know what was happening either. He didn't say it, but I could sense, probably, because I had felt the same way, "Can't we wait till we watch the PBS News Hour at 6:00?"

No, in this case we couldn't. And for the next hours, there we were, watching the destruction, the attacks, the violence, and later, our elected leaders resuming the process of receiving the electoral count declaring our new president and vice-president. 

A Memory from my 2017 Journal
Wednesday afternoon I happened to be re-reading my journals from 2017 in preparation for writing the next chapter in my spiritual memoir. In one entry I wrote about how an airline passenger was dragged off the plane. The flight had been overbooked, and his seat was randomly chosen to be vacated. He refused, and the result was his physical removal from the plane. Other passengers recorded the incident with their phones.

I wrote in my journal my hope that I would have stood up and said, "Enough. Take my seat. This violence is not necessary or right." I hope I would have done that. I hope I could have set aside any entitlement I felt and instead, made a stand for the greater good. 

Of course, we have been waiting for President Trump to set aside his inflated view of himself, his need to always win, his delusions, and instead, to defer to the peaceful transfer of power and to acknowledge that Joe Biden and Kamila Harris are our newly elected leaders. That has never been too much to ask--until now, it seems.

Therefore, we must ask more of ourselves. We each have to discern what that means. First, however, we must be a presence. We must witness, and not wait till it is convenient to see what is happening. 


                     Please reveal to me, Lord, a way to stand in my
                    power, through love instead of fear, and through
                    peace instead of violence. 
                    May I hear not the voice for anger, but only the 
                    voice for love.
                    And teach me, dear Lord, how not to hate those
                    who hate me.
                    Transform all darkness into light, dear God,
                    And use my mind as an instrument of Your 
                    harmlessness... Amen.
                                    from Illuminata, A Return to Prayer
                                    Marianne Williamson

An Invitation
What are your prayers for the coming days? I would love to know.  

NOTE: The new year is still young, and it is not too late to request my guide, "Crossing the Threshold, Honoring the New Year, A Guide to Reflect on the Old and Prepare for the New." It is free and available by emailing me at nagneberg48@gmail.com


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

My Favorite Books of 2020

 The past year was an excellent year for reading. At least it was for me. Much to my amazement, I read 137 books. --87 fiction and 50 nonfiction. At the beginning of 2020 I noted in my book journal that I didn't want to focus on the number of books I read, and yet, I admit, I keep track. What's more important, however, is what I read --the quality and the gifts of what I read and the gratitude I feel for the company books provided me during the pandemic.

At the beginning of the year, before we knew about COVID, I set some intentions for my reading year. These included using the library more and "shopping" my own bookshelves for books I own, but have not yet read. How grateful I was when our St Paul Public Library system offered curbside pick-up and then a bit later limited browsing in the libraries themselves. Over the course of the year I requested over 100 holds. I read many of those and others only a few pages before deciding the book wasn't for me. Feeling free and comfortable to say "no" to a book before finishing it was another of my intentions.

And along the way I removed many books from my shelves and took them to Little Free Libraries, and will continue that process. 

So here are my lists:

My Top Favorite Fiction Titles of 2020

1.    Kindred by Octavia Butler. This was the first book I read in 2020, and it stayed with me all year. Published in 1979 and classified as science fiction, a time-traveling tale, the story is about an African-American woman married to a white man who travels back and forth between today's world and life on a Southern plantation where she is a slave. Will she be able to return to the life she knew and how do her experiences as a slave impact life with her white husband? Don't wait to read this as long as I did.

2.    The Street by Ann Petry. I had never heard of the book published in 1946 until a book group friend recommended it, and I now rank it as one of the best books I have ever read. Written by an African-American woman, the book is set in Harlem, post WWII. The main character, Lutie Johnson, a single mother, lives in a crummy apartment with her young son, trying to survive and make good decisions. Lyrical, painful, moving with strong characters.

3.    Monogamy by Susan Miller. I was totally absorbed by the characters, Annie and Graham and their adult children. Early in the book Graham dies and Annie discovers a secret in their marriage. The story is not so much about secrets as it is about the way we love in spite of or because of love's complications. 

4.    Books by Madeleine St John. An Australian author new to me, and I read her entire backlist: The Essence of The ThingA Stairway to Paradise, The Women in Black, and Pure, Clear Light. Always insightful, usually in few words, St John died far too young at age 52, and I wish she had written more.

5.    The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, winner of the National Jewish Book Awards in 2017. Jewish documents from the 17th century  are discovered by two Jewish historians. The documents indicate that a woman who became a scribe for a rabbi corresponded, using a male name, with philosophers of the day, including Spinoza. The book moves back and forth between both time periods. 

6.    Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. A barber in a small town, Port William, loves a woman all his life, although she is married to another man and does not know Crow loves her. He is an observer, a philosopher, a seeker. A book about love, yes, and also a deeply spiritual book. 

7.    The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett. This book was on many 2020 best book lists. Two sisters who are black, but very light-skinned make opposing decisions. One passes as white and marries a white man. The other marries a very dark-skinned man. The daughters of these two sisters meet when they are grown and the secret is revealed. I thought Passing by Nella Larsen, published in 1929, which deals with the same issue, was just as compelling. 

8.    Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin. I read or re-read several books by Godwin in 2019, and loved them all. This book was like being with an old friend. Set in the South in the 50's in a private college, the roommates become friends for life--and both are writers. 

 Other Favorite 2020 Fiction Titles

1.    Disobedience by Naomi Alderman
2.    Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
3.    Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen
4.    Swede Hollow by Ole Larsmo
5.    Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
6.    The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
7.    All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny
8.    Broken Verses by Kamila Shamsie
9.    I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
10.  Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
11.  The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

My Top Favorite Nonfiction Titles of 2020

1.    Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith, poet laureate of the United States. 2017-2019.  A gentle memoir of growing up in a loving, middle class black family in California. The last chapter focused on her mother's death and reminded me of myself when my own mother was dying.

2.    A Good Time for Truth, Race in Minnesota, edited by Sun Yung Shin. Not much has changed in Minnesota since this was published in 2016. This quote from one of the essays says it all: "The white people here are very white. The white people here don't like controversy or conflict. The white people here like to think of themselves as white." Ouch. 

3.     Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community by Padriag O'Tuoma. I keep returning to the prayers in this little book.

4.    Just Mercy, A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson. In my mind, Stephenson is a hero, a super hero. The focus of this book is the racism that results in the incarceration of far too many black people. At times the book feels like a suspense novel, but the facts and information given make it all too real. Read this book. 

5.    My Grandmother's Hands, Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem. I find myself returning to this book periodically to reflect and do the exercises. This would be an excellent book to read with a group. We have so much to learn about trauma and its lasting effects.

6.    Acts of Faith, The Story of an American Muslim by Eboo Patel. I heard him speak on a St Olaf College Zoom event, and was so impressed and wanted to know about him and his story and work. He is committed to interfaith youth work, and the work he does is inspiring and profound. 

7.    This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear. I  love her Maisie Dobbs mystery series and thoroughly liked her own memoir. 

8.    Always A Guest, Speaking of Faith Far From Home by Barbara Brown Taylor. I will read anything by BBT, even sermons, which is what this book is, a collection of sermons given when she was a guest preacher in various congregations. Always thought-provoking and fresh.

Other Favorite Nonfiction Titles of 2020

1.    The Orphaned Adult, Understanding and Coping with Grief and Change After the Death of Our Parents by Alexander Levy
2.    Dialogues On: Race. (Augsburg Fortress)
3.    Sparrow, A Book of Life and Death and Life by Jan Richardson
4.    Active Hope, How to Face the Mess We're In Without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. 
5.    Wintering, The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May.
6.    The Pen and the Bell, Mindful Writing in a Busy World by Brenda Miller and Holly Hughes.

What are my reading intentions during 2021? Well, I've decided to be more intentional about rereading. During December I started rereading Louise Penny's mysteries in order of publication and have now read the first 4 and intend to move steadily with great pleasure and delight all the way to number 17. I am thinking about rereading Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, and Marilynne Robinson--all modern day classics. I also have a number of spirituality books I want to reread. I must admit, however, that the latest sparkling book is always tempting. Stay tuned and happy reading. 

An Invitation
What was on your Best Books list? I would love to know.

NOTE:  My guide, "Crossing the Threshold, Honoring the New Year, A Guide to Reflect on the Old and Prepare for the New" is still available and it is free. To receive a copy, email me at nagneberg48@gmail.com and I will send you a copy. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Crossing the Threshold into the New Year

It's almost here. We made it, and the new year is almost here. 

We stand on the threshold ready to enter a new year, and that means leaving the old year behind. Many, perhaps most of us, are more than eager to say goodbye to 2020. We had no idea what the year would bring, but here's the deal. We never know what the new year will bring. It is always uncertain, unknown.

Now is the perfect time--during these last days of December and first days of January--to pause and reflect on the lessons learned and maybe even open to the gifts gained during the last months. 

           There are times when everything seems easy, and
           times when it all seems impossibly hard. To make
           that manageable, we just have to remember that our
           present will one day become a past, and our future
              will be our present. We know that because it's happened
           before. The things we put behind us will often come around
                again. The things that trouble us now will one day be past
           history. Each time we endure the cycle, we ratchet up a notch. 
           We learn from the last time around, and we do a few things 
           better this time, we develop tricks of the mind to see us through.
           This is how progress is made.
                                Wintering, The Power of Rest and Retreat in
                                Difficult Times by Katherine May, p. 239

Therefore, I invite you to pull up a chair into the silence and have a closing conversation with 2020. Get out your journal. Perhaps start a new one. Be with a trusted friend, loved one, or your spiritual director --someone who will listen and help you sort through and uncover what you most need to know, in order to move forward into the new year. 

Here are some key questions to consider or statements to complete as you consider the past year:

1.  When I think about the past year, I...

2.   The most challenging part of 2020 for me was.... 

3.   What/who saved my life in the last year? What worked for me in the past year?

4.    Where did I notice the movement of God in my life? And how did I grow because of my awareness of God's presence?

5.    Who were the wise ones, my companions, in my life and what did they reveal to me?

6.   In what ways was I a wise one to someone else?    

7.    What spiritual practices supported me during the year? 

8.    What surprised me about my response to the challenge of the year? 

I read somewhere that each of the first twelve days in January represents one month of the coming year. In other words the first day stands for January, the second for February, and so on. And, of course, we are still in the Christmas season as we move towards Epiphany and the arrival of the Wise Men (I prefer to think there were Wise Women, too). In both cases there is an invitation to think about what we offer the new year, what we bring into the new year.

What is the gold, frankincense, and myrrh you carry with you?

How can I strengthen my relationship with the Holy One? What spiritual practices could enhance that relationship? 

What calls to me? 

What is at the heart of my new year's prayer?

You may notice that I have not used the word "resolutions." You may have specific steps in mind to improve the quality of your life, and I wish you good luck with those, but instead, envision your intentions. I love these suggestions from Elle Harris.

                            Look for opportunity.

                            Chase kindness.

                            Discover something new.

                            Let go of something.

                                        Walk with hope.

                            Fall into wonder.  

What a wonderful year 2021 could be, no matter what we face, if we open ourselves to God's enfolding love as we live into these intentions.

                Faithful Companion, in this new year I pray:
                        to live deeply, with purpose,
                        to live wisely, with humility,
                        to live lovingly, with fidelity,
                        to live gratefully, with generosity,
                        to live freely, with detachment,
                        to live justly, with compassion,
                        to live mindfully, with awareness,
                        to live fully, with enthusiasm.
                Help me to hold this vision and to daily renew it in
                my heart, becoming ever more one with you,
                my truest Self.
                                            Joyce Rupp

An Invitation
What are your thoughts as you stand on the threshold of the new year? I would love to know.

NOTE: I have prepared a very simple guide, "Crossing the Threshold into the New Year." If you would like a PDF, send me an email, nagneberg48@gmail.com and I will forward to you. 

Watch for my first post in the new year when I list my favorite books of 2020. 

                            Happy New Year!





Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Be Still and Know That I am God.

On Saturdays this month of December my husband 
and I have left our urban home and driven to small towns and on country roads, taking a different direction each week. The change of scenery, the change of pace, has been life-giving for us. 

Unlike the days of moving methodically to complete various Christmas tasks, the day has no agenda, no specific destination. We roam. We talk some, but not lots, and are content with each other's presence.

I know I need the spaciousness of the harvested fields, of the expanse where sky meets land somewhere in the distance. I need the simplicity of the farmhouses and the faded red of the barns. The leafless branches sugared with snow and the fields lightly powdered in white against the unbroken grey sky. It was a one hawk, one eagle day. Few cars. Fewer people, except for the two farmers we saw urging a calf, who had broken free, back where she belonged. 

I suppose we could have turned on the radio to Christmas music, but  silence was enough. I replayed the chants from the Wednesday night Advent service in my head, even humming just a bit. I smiled seeing Christmas decorations on front lawns--some more tasteful than others, in my judging mind, but all reminders of the love we have for this time of year. 

"Ok, to head home?" my husband asks, and yes, I am ready. The drive has fulfilled its purpose. I feel balanced and calm once again.

I feel ready to meet my promise to myself: To enter the coming days in stillness, with silence. To create a sanctuary in my heart, big enough for all who need it. 

I whisper to myself one of my favorite lines from scripture, Psalm 46: 10.

            Be still and know that I am God. 

And I move deeper into that calm and peace.

            Be still and know that I am God.
            Be still and know that I am.
            Be still and know.
            Be still.
            Be still.
            Be still and know.
            Be still and know that I am.
            Be still and know that I am God.

An Invitation
What do you need for the coming days? I would love to know. 



Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A December Check-In

 Here we are in mid-December. 

In previous years, seeing December 15th on my calendar would have caused me to panic. The list of tasks to complete before Christmas seemed daunting--presents still to buy and wrap and get into the mail; boxes of cards to address, sign, and add personal notes, plans to bake many loaves of cherry walnut bread and deliver to neighbors and others. At the same time days were filled with events, church services,  concerts, service projects, and gatherings with friends and family. 

The list was long, but for the most part I loved the doing. I have never been a Christmas grouch, but I have taken my role as a Christmas elf seriously and worked deliberately through the list--checking it twice at least. Most years, however, I maintained space for silence in those busy days. I reflected on the wonder and opened to the gifts of the sacred season. I treasured Advent.

I knew this year would be different. Most of our shopping was done online and sent directly to the receiver. No in-house entertaining is on the calendar, and concerts and church services are enjoyed via ZOOM. Some things remain the same: I still have unopened boxes of Christmas cards, but the list of recipients is much longer than previous years, and I have all the ingredients waiting for many more batches of cherry walnut bread. 

More importantly, what's different this year is what is missing. Our son and daughter-in-love won't be arriving from Cleveland for the holidays. We won't go out for an elegant dinner Christmas Eve with our forever friends before going to the candlelight service at church. And Christmas Day won't be spent with our kids and grandkids. And my father, who died in May, won't be with us. Last year we wondered, "Would this be Dad's last Christmas?" and it was. 

I have given myself permission to be sad, to acknowledge the losses, the differences from previous years, but I also appreciate what remains the same--the wonder, the gift we Christians wait for in the birth of the child. What remains the same is the hope for peace and justice, and the desire to create that in the world. Even in the presence of my own loss and the profound losses experienced by so many, I treasure Advent this year. Perhaps more than any other year. 

And so, I take a deep breath, and rest in the invitations of these days.

                            Blessed are you
                            in whom 
                            the light lives,
                            in whom
                            the brightness blazes--
                            your heart
                            a chapel,
                            an altar where
                            in the deepest night
                            can be seen 
                            the fire that
                            shines forth in you
                            in accountable faith, 
                            in stubborn hope,
                            in love that illumines
                            every broken thing
                            it finds.
                                        Jan Richardson

An Invitation
How is this December different for you, but what is the same? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Waiting Room: Waiting During Advent and a Pandemic

Haven't we waited long enough? 

We know when Advent ends. On Christmas Eve, but what about the pandemic? That's not ending any time soon.

Waiting is not easy, and we are in for a long wait, so get comfortable in the Waiting Room.

Perhaps it may be helpful to remember other times when you have waited:

For a child to be born or adopted. Or to become pregnant.
For test results--medical or academic.
For a house to sell or to get a new job.
For the appearance of the love of your life. 
For vacation. For graduation. For the end of the work week.
For spring to come after a long winter or for the night hours to ease into daylight.
For a hoped for email or check to arrive.
For inspiration.
For justice. For peace.
For change, almost any kind of change.

I invite you to make your own Waiting Room list. 

When I yearned for a time of waiting to end, my father often said, "Your day will come." I was often irritated by that response and thought, "When? How? Why is it taking so long and what will happen in the meantime? Will it come in time? "

What "Your day will come" implies is that my time is not God's time and God's time is not my time, and I might as well learn how to wait. In fact, what if waiting could be a spiritual practice?

Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting by Holly Whitcomb urges us to change our perspective from waiting as something to be endured to waiting as a gift. Instead of challenges to be met, Whitcomb offers the following as gifts for our spiritual lives:

                                Loss of Control
                                Living in the Present
                                Trust in God

Such a great list, I think to myself. Yes, I want to be more patient and compassionate. I want to live with gratitude and humility. And I know how much easier and more life-giving it would be, if I could give up control, live more in the present, and yes, trust in God. 

Is that even possible? Of course, for as as the angel said to Mary,

            For nothing will be impossible with God.
                                                  Luke 1: 37

As is so often the case, a change in perspective and habit and in our whole being, begins in the body. Notice where in your body you feel frustration or fear or boredom when you reside in the Waiting Room. Now would be a good time to breathe, the most basic of spiritual practices. 

I invite you to close your eyes, lightly, not tightly, and take a couple deep cleansing breaths and then breathe gently, in and out, finding your own rhythm. Continue until you feel your body relax and your heart and mind open.

This practice will not reduce your time in the Waiting Room, but you will grow and deepen your ability to be more patient, and I have noticed that when I am more patient, I am more able to give up tight control and to be more compassionate. When I breathe fully and wholly, I am more able to be here now and to be aware of all the reasons I have to be grateful. When I approach my waiting times in the spirit of humility, my trust in God grows. 

Isn't it interesting how these spiritual gifts intersect and interact with each other. If I set out to increase my ability to be patient, somehow that acquaints me with the other gifts, too. 

My Waiting Room prayer for you is that this may be a time of rich growth for you; that in your waiting you become even more of the person God created you to be. 

An Invitation
How have you been challenged by one of the spiritual gifts of waiting  and what might you do to integrate that gift into your life? I would love to know.