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A Season Of Luminous Shards

By Ken Woodley

There is a flickering melody in the depth of this COVID winter.
A fragment of singing light.
A small miracle that can make all the difference.
Pushing back against the pandemic darkness that tells us every day in quaking headlines that there is no God and that we are not—and could never, ever be—loved.
A luminous shard that seems to have fallen from somewhere among the stars.
Somewhere beyond the sky.
Somewhere beyond the most distant piece of the last thing that our eyes can see.
Coming from that which the darkness denies.
The darkness trying with all of its might to persuade us that the melody we have followed, the voice we hear singing in the wilderness, is a figment of our imagination.
But the song won’t be stilled or silenced.
Sometimes it even feels that the song has taken shelter inside of us, has become somehow a part of us.
But the song is not my own composition.
And the song is not yours.
Nevertheless, we both hear and feel it painting contours of light.
And now, look. Certainly, the flickering brightens as the music soars, as if our persistent steps have somehow fueled the light’s desperate reaching.
A desperate reaching out toward …
Can it be true?
A desperate reaching out toward us?
Toward us all?
Every race.
All people.
Without exception.
My, God! It is true!
Even so, astonishingly, there is still more.
There is something within the light, like one of those large sugar Easter eggs from my childhood. There was an entire landscape inside that you could see when you held the opening at one end up to your eye. I could never bring myself to eat it its sweetness.
But I am swallowing now and it’s as if the light has wrapped the greatest gift of all inside its bright shining:
An entire landscape of love brighter than the sun we cannot always see.
A landscape of love that the darkness cannot hide forever.
An advent.
THE advent.
A coming that the darkness is powerless to stop.
A coming that has found us.
Found us cupping flickering candles within our souls, moving forward now in a darkness that has become, in this moment, nothing more than a place where the light of this love might embrace us all with greatest effect.
But there is one vital condition to answer this prayer.
One great big IF:
Only if we allow that light within us now to shine outward in every direction and into every hidden corner and cul-de-sac.
If we become fragments of light.
Small miracles that can make all the difference.
Pushing back against the darkness that tells everyone in the world in quaking headlines that there is no God and that they are not—and could never, ever be—loved.
Luminous shards of singing light that seem to have fallen from somewhere among the stars.
Somewhere beyond the sky.
Somewhere beyond the most distant piece of the last thing that our eyes can see.
Coming from that which the darkness denies.
Risen even somewhere here in the world.
Rising, some day, all over the earth.

Wilderness “Advent-ure”

By Ken Woodley
There always seems to be another wilderness, doesn’t there?
One more “wilderness moment.”
And some are bigger than others.
COVID-19 keeps us in a wilderness that has already lasted more than half a year. And this pandemic-driven landscape is in addition to our own personal wildernesses.
With recent storms, the trees in my part of the world are mostly shorn of leaves, bare limbs silhouetted against the sky.
But in the early morning, and then again at sunset and into the gloaming, they are compelling sights. Their stark darkness emphasizes the beauty of a new day’s dawn and reminds us of its wonder as that day passes away.
They are not unlike our own outstretched prayers reaching up from our souls toward the heavens after wilderness moments have stripped away all of our own “leaves.”
Like beauty, the wilderness can be in the eye of the beholder.
And, crucially, there are leaves we cannot see that are nevertheless storm-proof and beyond the grasp of seasons.
In nature, even the seemingly barren wilds have their own transcendent splendor, if we look hard enough with a discerning eye. Our moments of inner wilderness can provide hidden gifts, as well. They can reveal opportunities for spiritual adventure. Difficult ones, perhaps, but adventures nonetheless.
As we begin the season of Advent, let’s re-frame our minds and set a determined course to have an “Advent-ure” between now and Christmas.
The wilderness doesn’t have to be relentlessly dangerous or continuously scary. It can be liberating. Deepening. Filled with epiphanies, large and small.
The wilderness, after all, is where things happen because it removes all of our artificial props and distractions.
The wilderness is where we can most deeply encounter the Holy Spirit.
Jesus knew the wilderness. It was where he embraced his shepherding ministry of servanthood after overcoming the temptation to rule the world.
The wilderness is where we embrace our own spiritual destiny and truest selves, often overcoming the temptation to regard ourselves as lost or left behind.
We are nothing of the kind.
It may seem that we are in a lonely place.
But that’s alright.
That can, in fact, be a good thing.
Jesus often sought out a lonely place to pray, contemplate, and commune with God.
Lonely places are where things happen.
And there’s an interesting thing about the word lonely.
Remove the first L and the word becomes “onely.”
A “onely” place.
A place where we may become one with Jesus, even if only for a flashing instant of reverberating epiphany.
Where we might become one with God for a single breath that goes on breathing.
Where the Holy Spirit brushes past us, touching our arm in a way that tells us it won’t be last time.
Christmas is weeks away.
What an “Advent-ure” it can be getting there from here—with Easter in our hearts.

The Kingdom Of Heaven Is This Close

By Ken Woodley

Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
How near?
As close as you and I.
And as far away.
The social and political environment created by COVID-19 has amplified the voices of those who want to divide us according to such meaningless differences as race, gender, sexual identification, and theology.
Voices that deny our shared humanity, our brotherhood and sisterhood across any and every human-made border.
The egotistical thirst for power is generally behind the allegiance to divisive falsehoods and the desire to have them believed.
The pandemic also amplifies our own fears and that can make it harder to hold on to the truths that unite us.
It can keep “The Kingdom of Heaven” here on Earth, of which Jesus so often spoke, perpetually over a distant horizon and on the other side of an unending bend in our journey together.
As each day grows shorter here in the Northern Hemisphere, I strive to focus upon voices of light, healing and unity in diversity. And I thank God for servant leaders who look out at the world, rather than surrounding themselves with mirrors.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
What a profound statement. What a wondrous truth.
People from around the world read this blog. In dozens of countries. I am humbled and amazed. Your companionship keeps me going.
I am an American. You are Belgian, Ugandan, Chinese or one of so many other nationalities. But, most importantly, we are all children of a loving God.
And the Kingdom of Heaven, at least a small, vital seed of what it can become, is within each of us.
So, the Kingdom of Heaven is very, very near.
If we let it germinate. If we let it grow. If we seek and share its harvest.
We can begin by removing any barriers within us that might keep the “Kingdom of Heaven” from taking root in this world today.
Tearing down any “wall” that might stand between our compassion and those who need our healing touch.
A healing touch that might simply be a word finally spoken from deep behind the borders of our own heart.
We might not be able to change the world but we can certainly get the attention of the next person we meet. A simple smile and a kind word can go further than we think. Just consider how long a harsh word hurts. Sometimes for years.
Our world today is torn apart at so many seams. Our “stitch in time” can make a real difference for goodness.
Let’s not let the pandemic turn up the volume on voices of division.
Let’s use the environment created by COVID-19 to amplify our own voices of light and love, reaching out to each other, joining hearts and hands over and through every barrier.
Until every barrier is gone.
And only the Kingdom of Heaven remains.

Finding My Better Angel

By Ken Woodley


Unburdened of my solitary reflection

at last,

I discover your orbit around me

and find my true self in your intimate proximity,

feeling the happy warmth of this risen skin

between us,

closer and closer until we touch

undiscovered days and hold them,

rising and setting,

un-calendared between heaven and earth—

certain of both,

afraid of neither—

love freeing us from all gravity

as we swallow the Milky Way together

and wonder how far the speed of our new communion of light

will take this finally-answered prayer,

determined to find the flickers of those

surrounded by something darker than pitch,

illuminating their own way forward,

you and I running the same relay of light

that found my own smoldering wick

of hope, faith and purpose

after the nails tried desperately

to hammer them into obsidian oblivion.

Now, with you, I feel my own

life’s resurrection,

instead

and together

we shine

with the better angels

gathering all around us

on this Emmaus Road

to become a better day.

Don’t Fall Back

By Ken Woodley

On some mornings, I step outside and imagine myself among the Galilean hills, standing by the shore, waiting for the sea to brush my soles with its foam, feeling close to Jesus.
This morning, however, seems to cry all around me, tears falling from the sky as the remnants of Hurricane Zeta begin to drench and ruffle me.
I also feel a spreading sorrow for the summer that has already gone and the autumn whose departure grows too close every day.
Yes, I am full of my usual melancholy as I prepare for the darkness to find me an hour earlier this Sunday, Daylight Saving Time having withdrawn all of its deposits in my 2020 account.
The world is telling us we must “fall back.” Hurricane Zeta only increases my own seasonal backwards momentum.
And, with COVID-19, it’s all going to feel darker, I fear. Then there is the election on Tuesday and my anxiety for the human darkness that may follow in the days and weeks after the votes are counted.
So, “Joy To The World” isn’t hanging on my lips. More like The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm,” for sure.
The Sea of Galilee seems nowhere in sight.
But then I take a second glance.
Just to make sure.
Looking at the world through what my friend, the Rev. Glenn Busch, described in a sermon once as “Easter Eyes.”
My soul now begins tuning my eyes to subtle signs of resurrection amid the descending darkness and winter’s coming eraser.
I find them, subtle whispers of a different kind of dawn.
The invisible sun—stuck behind storming clouds—seems to be shining through the autumn leaves of orange, yellow and red.
Seen through my Easter Eyes, they seem lit up from within to such a degree that the world around me appears to be filled with light.
Each leaf is a glowing ember that eases my mind and warms my soul as I see the truth:
The light that really matters doesn’t rise and fall from the east into the west each day, and the departure of Daylight Saving Time cannot take that spiritual light away. Nor can a hurricane or its remnants blow it away.
We can set our clocks back one, two or 10 hours and that doesn’t matter at all as long as we don’t “fall back” spiritually simply because the darkness seems to be rushing toward us so much faster now.
The light that matters most finds a way to shine despite the world around it.
Just like Jesus said it would.
Like un-corked champagne from a shaken bottle, it simply cannot be stopped.
Each year at this time, I seem to forget this Good News, however, until I stumble on the grace of remembering just in time.
God reaches the light of love into the world through our willing hearts even when every clock on the planet is re-set to accommodate a season of increasing darkness.
Sometimes, in fact, only the dark can translate the immortal language of the truest light into words we can understand and share with one another.
Especially with those who feel leafless and silhouetted against a sky to which they are praying for light—as we all can often feel in the world today.
The Holy Spirit suddenly blows my falling leaves into yours.
And, just now, yours into mine.
They are so mixed up together that I cannot tell whose are which and which are whose.
But, it doesn’t matter.
We shine, however dimly it may sometimes seem.
There is no meaningless light when one feels lost in the dark.
When our faith only has the strength to flicker, it is still, in its own way, incandescent.
Yes, the sun will set an hour earlier on Sunday, but the light that God has given us doesn’t have to follow it into darkness unless we let it slip out of our soul.
Let’s tell the world that we refuse to fall back. Let’s tell the world that we shall keep on springing ahead, instead.



A Dawn The Darkness Cannot Hide Forever

By Ken Woodley

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

—-Isaiah 9:2—

Remembering particles of sunlit grace that fell from our grasp,

darkness a rising abyss,

I sit at the edge of the rubbled world

amid shards and splinters of vanquished embers

that no longer flicker.

Hoping for one more final last chance.

I dangle my legs over the side

and cross them like a prayer,

stretching in desperation

into something I do not know,

something I’ve never felt before,

and only—for an instant in the night—dreamed existed

in ancient prophecies.

I am invited now off the edge

of the brokenness surrounding me

into something else.

Into the opposite of feeling shuttered in the darkness.

Waist-deep.

Over my head.

And that is where

I

find

you.

Your arms opened wide.

Your heart opened wider than your arms.

Your love opened widest of all.

I feel the midnight sky inside me

begin to show traces of orange, red and yellow

along the horizon of my own undreamt of dawn,

silhouetting the trees,

and the figures of people

running with wild abandon toward

each other,

smiling,

singing,

all of their guns and loaded words left behind them,

rejoicing at their own shadows, instead,

as I am delighting in mine,

because now they are only shadows,

no longer darkness shaped like humans,

all of us embracing the light you can bring

into the world

from within us all,

if only we believe.











The Rise Of Fall

By Ken Woodley

“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

—Matthew 23:12

I am one leaf at the bottom of the sky.
Heaven seems to end just where I begin.
The last breath of angels just where I first inhale.
A leaf I am.
And shall always be.
Forever.
And ever.
Never a tree.
Not even a twig.
But, small as I am, I give this tree communion with the sun.
Through me this tree is fed and rises higher toward the sky.
Through all of us leaves
the kingdom of heaven draws nearer.
But I am changing colors now.
All of us are.
Just like the sky that seems to end right where I begin.
Just like the sky when the sun comes and goes,
or is it me spinning away from all the light I will ever see
but then—always—spinning back again?
Red, yellow and orange are turning my green inside out.
Just like all the rest.
The leaves that have fallen before me
and will fall after I am gone.
Green together at the bottom of the sky
until the sky began to paint us with its colors of dawn and dusk,
heaven brush-stroking me in ways I never dreamed possible.
The sky always listening.
The sky always there.
Even in the darkness when I cannot see a thing
and I whisper leaf words toward where I believe the sky to be,
hoping heaven will hear me
even though I am just one leaf.
Even though I am not a forest.
Not even a sapling’s dream.
But the wind seems to give me wings.
I am flying in place.
Going nowhere.
Being somewhere already.
Right where God put me.
A leaf until I finally leave,
dropping into my fall,
fluttering like a butterfly
into the rising sky.
Angels all around.
Dry leaves crunching
beneath the feet of those
seeking the kingdom of heaven
on Earth.










Cure Found For The Pandemic Of Hate

By Ken Woodley

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Okay, Jesus, but who is my neighbor?
The most common dictionary definition tells me it’s the person who lives next door. That means there is a neighbor to the left and to the right of me.
Sounds a bit political.
Might I somehow love the whole wide world by simply loving my next door neighbors?
Could a “relay of love” spread household by household and neighbor-to-neighbor until one day there is nothing left in the world but love?
A cure for the pandemic of hate?
Sure. Right. Anything you say, Lord….
….But, seriously, the clouds will become chocolate chip cookies before that happens.
Haven’t you heard, Lord, that there’s a pandemic and everything is more upside down and inside out than ever?
Still, I must admit, kindness can spread kindness. A smile may beget a smile. I’ve seen and felt both happen.
Jesus knows that the biggest answers to the toughest questions all come from the same place: the human heart.
Every evil. All goodness.
Darkness and every light are born in the human heart before they ever flip a single switch in the world. That is why Jesus took relentless aim at the human heart, even to his dying breath of forgiveness on the cross.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” he tells us, beseeches us, begs us. An upside down and inside out world needs it now more than ever, he’d add.
And we don’t need clinical trials or FDA approval to do it because we are the disease, but we are also the cure.
Everything Jesus ever said is easier to say than it is to do—until we actually go out and do it, and then we wonder what took us so long.
But before we begin this healing mission there is a singular first step.
We must begin by loving ourselves. Not in a selfish, egotistical way, but as a child of God—vanity replaced by humble, joyous gratitude at the beauty all around us, and within us.
Beauty that COVID-19 cannot reach. Only then can we recognize, and love, the child of God next door, down the street and on the other side of every border.
The borders between nations and the borders we create between each other.
From that moment we may begin to realize that our neighbors fill every nook and cranny in the world.
We are all different.
And we are all the same.
Why hate each other and, therefore ourselves, any longer?



Go. Now.

By Ken Woodley

“He said to them, ‘You also go out into the vineyard.”
—Matthew 20

If Jesus tells us to go out into the vineyard—and he is telling us to do exactly that—we go.
We don’t need the president’s permission. We don’t require congressional approval. There is no ring that we must kiss.
We just go out into the vineyard.
And, my Lord, the vineyard needs us now.
The grapes of compassion have withered on the vine and grapes of wrath have usurped their place.
There are weeds of intolerance everywhere and killing frosts of injustice rime the lives of African Americans.
Hate stalks the vineyard where love once left footprints for us to follow.
Yes, by God, we shall go out into the vineyard and cut down the thorns of darkness and sow seeds of light.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus empowers his disciples to get up, go out and try to change the world one person at a time.
And he meant at that very moment. No waiting. No debating. No choosing teams.
Just get up and go.
As we must do so now.
Feed his sheep by opening and emptying the cupboard of our heart. Share the good news by being the good news in the lives of others.
Be the justice they seek.
And the freedom.
And the love.
Do this in remembrance of him because healing the world as he taught us to is a holy communion for all of us to share.
The wolves are howling now.
They hunger for our fear.
They want us to lock ourselves away inside our own lives and throw away the key.
If we do that the vineyard is doomed.
If we do that the vintage of 2020 will taste like a vinegar-filled sponge on the point of a spear atop Golgotha.
We must stop crucifying each other.
Let us rise together, instead.











The Weight Of Waiting Forgiveness

By Ken Woodley

Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
—Matthew 18:22

Man, that’s a ton of forgiveness.
Not sure I can carry all of it.
Or how far I can carry even half that much.
Peter had wanted to know how many times he must forgive someone who sinned against him. Probably thinking himself extravagantly generous, Peter suggested seven times. Forgiving someone a single time can be a struggle. Sometimes even once can feel like it is one time too many.
But seven times is not enough, Jesus made clear to Peter, and so to us.
Seventy-seven times, Jesus answered.
Seventy-seven times? Turning the other cheek that often could give us whiplash, couldn’t it? But that is what we must do.
It’s instructive to return to a point Jesus made in last Sunday’s Gospel lesson. If a brother sins against you, Jesus said, and refuses all attempts at reconciliation, then treat that individual as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
If Jesus is to be our guide, our Good Shepherd and our Savior, let us ask ourselves how Jesus treated tax collectors. Did he condemn and shun them, make an example out of them as evil and worthy of our disdain?
No, Jesus did not.
Jesus forgave them. Jesus loved them. Jesus opened his heart and God’s grace to them. Jesus, in fact, brought one of them into his inner circle of disciples.
How ironic that the Gospel of Matthew tells this story because Matthew, himself, was a tax collector when he first encountered Jesus.
So, how perfect that Matthew tells us this story because he knew from personal experience how Jesus treated tax collectors.
If we are to treat those who sin against us as pagans and tax collectors, that means we are meant to forgive them. It means forgiveness is for everyone.
Even for us.
Forgiveness is one more example of the narrow gate that opens up to the wide place of God’s love and grace. But how very hard it can be to fit feelings of forgiveness through the small opening in our heart when someone harms us. How difficult to squeeze forgiveness through the shrinking passageway in our wounded feelings.
But how far our hearts can travel when we do because forgiveness is a road with two lanes: forgiveness is for the person being forgiven but it is also for the person offering the forgiveness.
When we offer forgiveness—whether it is accepted or not—we free ourselves of the soul-harming burden of carrying that piece of pain forward day by day, like a heavy and ponderous chain dragging down moments of possible joy.
Seventy-seven times is a lot of repetitions, a whole lot of exercise. If forgiveness were a muscle, seventy-seven repetitions would strengthen it until we could forgive even the heaviest hurt.
By the seventy-seventh time, as we wrestled with the angel of absolution, forgiveness would have become a reflex action in our heart.
Whether seven times or seventy-seven times, forgiveness becomes less difficult when we understand what Jesus understood:
God loves us all and that necessarily includes those who have sinned against us.
We know that to be true because God keeps loving us even when we sin against someone, even when we sin against the love of God, itself.
As he hung dying on the cross, Jesus forgave those who hammered the nails. He set the standard for forgiveness. He walked his talk. But, I wonder if Jesus struggled to speak those words of mercy. If so, how many times did Jesus swallow his pardon into silence before declaring his exoneration for all eternity?
Forgiveness is not always easy but it is always worth the effort because it opens up the wide space where redemption may gather us in its embrace.
And where healing, too, may find us.
Redemption and healing for the forgiven and the forgiver.
A ton of each seems about right.
Reckon it’s time to take first one step forward and then another.
No matter how heavy.