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An old friend recently reached out to me because her young kids had questions about death, after experiencing the death of a grandparent. She wrote:

“Got any suggestions on how to best explain what happens? They seem to struggle the most with the concept of physical bodies and heaven. He was not buried so they don’t understand things like why the “people in the field of flowers” near Target (a local cemetery) aren’t physically in heaven. I can’t seem to explain the separation of one’s soul from one’s body so that a 4 and 5 year old can understand and not have anxiety about it.”

Image by Jennifer Ditscheit from Pixabay

I was grateful for the opportunity to put some thoughts on paper, and wanted to share them here, too. Here was my response:

Thanks for reaching out with this question.  I think it really depends on the theological perspective you want to offer your kids, but here’s a couple of ways that I think about it:

  • It’s like a balloon filled with air.  When the balloon deflates, the air doesn’t disappear… it joins with all the rest of the air all around us.  A person’s soul is the same kind of thing.  It’s in a body for a while, and when the body dies, the soul joins with the big Soul of God/the Universe/etc. (You could even get a balloon, blow it up, release it, and then ask what happens to the air when the balloon deflates… and then take the conversation from there)
  • It’s like when you make something out of playdough, and it stays like that until you smush it back into the big ball of playdough when you’re done.  We are made to be who we are, and when we die we become part of what will be used to make what comes next.  (Likewise, a demonstration could be really helpful)
  • You could also ask them where they were before they were growing inside you.  Young kids sometimes have great answers to that.  You could then explain that when people die they go back to that same place. (When I asked my 2.5 yr old daughter this question, she responded (as if I was silly for even asking) “Mom, I was everywhere!”)
  • Finally, I’ve loved the book Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children, by Bryan Mellonie. It is an exquisitely illustrated and simply written exploration about how everything has a lifetime, and that it isn’t a bad thing when someone or something comes to the end of their lifetime.

Talking about death theoretically is connected with, but distinctly different from, helping kids process grief. In that context, I emphasize the presence of the person as part of who we are, through our memories and our love. We tell stories and have photos around the house, and do rituals to celebrate and honor their ongoing presence in our lives.

What other ideas or resources have you found for talking with kids about death?

anarchy ring

An anarchist friend who knows I officiate weddings asked if I could sign their wedding paperwork, and adamantly specified that they don’t want any of the standard assumptions of what marriage means.  They’re in a non-monogamous romantic partnership and are having a child together. They mostly want to get legally married to simplify the logistics of paternity (in VA, a father only goes on the birth certificate if he’s legally married to the mother, or does extra paperwork after the fact), and also to make it easier for him to travel internationally to the country of which she is a dual citizen.

There are only two necessary pieces to do a legal wedding. First, I have to ask the people getting married to answer affirmatively to a “statement of intent”, which essentially just means “do you want to marry this person?”.  The only other legal part is the “pronouncement”: “I now pronounce you married”.  Everything else, I tell all my couples, is there for you to feel married at the end of the process… whether it’s the traditional format of white dress and bridal party and having your dad walk you down the aisle, or creating your own unique ceremony from scratch, or cobbling together different wedding traditions from around the world.

But this couple wanted the opposite.   They didn’t want to feel married at the end of it. To the contrary, they wanted to feel not married. So we had an un-wedding. She wore pants, suspenders, and a hat. He wore a white flowy skirt and a white blouse. For the statement of intent, I wrote some Anarchist Wedding Vows:

Do you agree to enter into a legal contract of marriage with this person? Do you pledge that this legal status of marriage will only be used for the practical logistics of raising a child and travelling internationally together, while continuing to undermine the system from which this status is provided?

Do you agree that this legal status creates no new expectations for your relationship, no new rights or responsibilities in each others’ lives, and no assumptions of either monogamy or gender roles in your relationship?

They both said the requisite “I do”, and then for the pronouncement, I said:

“I now pronounce you legally married, and personally autonomous.”

At the end they shook hands, high-fived, and then tore up their fancy “Certificate of Marriage” (which many couples get calligraphied but doesn’t have any official purpose), and threw the pieces in the river.

This wedding confirmed for me that what it takes to make a great wedding (or any ritual) is being clear on what the purpose is. This couple was clearly grounded in their love for each other, expressed through being really specific about what their commitments to each other are, and aren’t. They honor each other with clarity and autonomy, and it was an honor for me to create a wedding that celebrated that.

Election Day offering

At the polls this morning, I was standing in the cold line outside and slowly inching forward towards the doors to go stand in line inside. There was a group of 3 people struggling to put up an EZup in the dark, I’m guessing for a campaign table, but it was too early to tell.

Those of us in line watched them struggle, and one person commented under her breath that they needed to pull it out farther before trying to push up the top.  I noticed myself think, “they could use some help, and we’re all just standing here”.  I also noticed myself think, “I wonder which candidate they’re supporting”, before I called bullshit on myself and jogged over to offer the 13 seconds of 4th person help it took to get them past the awful stage of raising any EZup.

I took my place in line again, and we waited in the dark, taking shuffle steps forward towards the doors every 20 seconds, sharing space, sharing oxygen, sharing the experience of standing in line with our complex feelings about this day and this election, inching towards our chance to put our drop in the collective bucket of opinions… and the line was silent, each person in their own mental bubble.

Maybe the silence was just a symptom of a general feeling of dread weighing on all of us, no matter which side we’re on.  But I think it’s more than that, and I think it’s at the heart of our struggle as a country right now: we’re too comfortable in our isolation from each other.   It feels safer to keep to ourselves in a group of strangers, but actually it’s the most dangerous thing of all.  Connection is what keeps us safe.  Isolation breeds assumptions, fear, and mistrust.

So in addition to voting against a man who seems devoted to breeding fear and mistrust, my offering to humanity today was to connect with the strangers in line around me.  I asked if they had been to this polling place before (which almost sounded like a weird pickup line), and if the line was usually this long.  One woman said she hoped the line moved quickly, because she needed to get to work by 7.  I asked her where she worked, and we chatted about her job and what she liked about it.  Nothing very personal, and definitely not political.  But engaged.

This is my vision for how we move forward, no matter who gets elected today: connecting with the people around us, honoring each other as humans trying to live our lives.  Being curious, and listening, when we don’t understand.  Remembering that we’re sharing space, sharing oxygen, and sharing the experience of being complicated and imperfect humans.  I’m holding all of us with love today, as we shuffle forward together.

(originally written April 2015, but got stuck in Drafts because I never “finished” it…)

My springtime inspiration is to stop being nice.  STOP BEING NICE!  And, very much like that epic reality show from my teen years, to START BEING REAL.

The other, non-trademarked words I’ve used for this is to speak my truth with love.  It’s different than being nice.  It involves being honest, being open to hearing the other side, and being open to people not liking me or what I think/feel.


I have a gripping fear of conflict.  And this new intention pushes me right up against it.  I’ve worked very diligently in these 35 years to construct a personality and a life that no one could fight with.  I’m quick to say “I’m sorry”.  If I can’t say anything nice, I don’t say anything at all.  I hate conflict.

So with my new intention to stop being nice and start speaking my truth, I’m getting in more conflict — mostly at home.  Conflict still sucks, but I’m sticking with it, trying not to shut down, and to grab on to any opportunity to say what’s true for me without being a bitch.  It’s a challenge… How do I be angry and loving at the same time?  How do I be fearful and loving at the same time?

Sitting with these questions this morning, here’s what I came to:

My aversion to conflict is rooted in the experience of disconnectedness with another person.  Yet the reality is that we’re always connected.  We just are — it’s the nature of existence.  By “connected”, I mean “made of the same substance, with no distinction between where I stop and where you begin”.  For anyone who hasn’t had that epiphany yet (or read Ken Wilber), this might be a wild leap that makes the rest of this post meaningless to you.  But for me, this understanding is a building block of my understanding of my experience on this planet.  If we are all inherently connected, any experience of conflict is an illusion, a misunderstanding.

And so, if the experience of conflict doesn’t actually mean the actualization of that dreadful fear of disconnection, I don’t have to run from it and hide.  I can stay in that cloudy vague land where things don’t make sense, and trust that we’ll find our way out somehow.  The only flashlight I have is my self-understanding, my experience.  And what I can understand of the other person.  With that in mind, we can explore.  We can keep going until we find solid footing, something that makes sense.  We can be curious, and real, and loving… all at the same time.

Rituals are for honoring or creating change.  We don’t have rituals for things staying the same, because a stream tends to follow its path once it’s been created.  And really, what stays the same anyway?  Change is constant…

So I’ll re-state: ritual is for honoring or celebrating intentional change.  In a wedding, of course, we’re honoring a change in a relationship.  We can dress it up with flowers and music and fancy clothes, but what a wedding is really about is the change in relationship — and that is marked by the vows.

Vows honor what is new with the label of “married”.  What commitments didn’t we have before, that we are making to each other now?  What has been vague or implied before, that is now ready to be stated concretely?

Vows are about more than “I love you to the moon and back”.  I had a partner who used to ask “What do you mean?” whenever I said “I love you”.  Annoying as that was, it kept me honest.  It kept me from using vague words for communicating something specific.  Wedding vows get to the meaning of this marriage — not anyone else’s marriage, or generic Marriage.  What are you committing to your partner?  What does it mean to you that you are going to be that person’s married partner?

Some couples like to make individual vows to each other (often as a surprise to the other person), and then have a common vow that they’ve agreed on ahead of time.  This allows for each person to do their own thinking about what they are committing to their partner, and also have a clear understanding with each other about what this marriage means.

Couples looking to write their marriage vows often find looking at samples helpful, even if just to get a sense of what you know you don’t want!  Here are several links, and of course a web search will bring you many many more examples… just remember, your wedding is yours to create, so you get the intentional change you want out of the ritual!

Huffington Post: 10 Honest Marriage Vows You Never Hear

Bridal Guide: 30 Examples from Different Traditions (including non-religious)

A Practical Wedding: Tips for (Successfully) Writing Your Wedding Vows


One of the books we’re reading for seminary is Leonard Felder’s “The Ten Challenges”, an interfaith look at the Ten Commandments of the Hebrew Bible.  This month, I read the last chapter, on the 10th Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his slave, his slave-girl, his ox, his ass, or anything that belongs to him”.  I read this a few hours after coming home from standing on beautiful land that a friend is going to buy.  Here’s this month’s homework:

      For much of my life, I’ve been confident in my ability to get what I want.  My parents helped me cultivate the skills of persistence, negotiation, and having a big picture view of situations.  My spiritual upbringing helped me develop an understanding of the power of a positive perspective and belief in my own worth.  I have pursued grand dreams and goals and achieved them.

One area of my life that I haven’t been confident in over the last decade has been in the realm of MONEY.  I’ve developed an identity around being poor, because (in my story) people have to exploit people or the land in order to get lots of money.  I’m not willing to do that, so I’ve accepted poor as a given in my life.  This means that things that cost a lot of money seem out of reach for me, unless I can get a scholarship or some kind of financial aid.  With this perspective, buying my own house and land has seemed totally out of the question.

When my dear friend Renee called me earlier this week and told me she found the land of her dreams, and that it was completely affordable, and she was going to buy it, my first reaction was envy and jealousy.  Why hadn’t I found it first?  When she took me out to see the land, I was in awe, and my envy felt like a heavy lump of clay in my chest.

Knowing our friendship could hold my complex feelings, I started to share my experience with Renee.  As I spoke, the clay loosened and lightened, and underneath it I found inspiration.  “If she found wonderful, affordable land, — I can too.”  And then, beyond that was the awareness that Renee has been working her ass off, holding a vision for this land for at least the last 15 years.  She’s looked online at real estate listings every day, almost as a spiritual practice.  She’s visited dozens of lots for sale, and each time it’s refined her vision about what she really wants.  And now she’s found it.

I realized that I’ve been putting this same kind of energy into my professional life for the last several years.  I’ve been looking at job postings and sometimes applying for positions, and feeling the deep knowing in me when something isn’t a right fit, and when it is.  Now I have 2 jobs that allow me to use my passions and talents, and I’m on my way to being ordained as an interfaith minister so I can really do my work in the world.  This is where I’ve put my manifesting energy.  Once I tapped into that understanding and appreciation, my envy of Renee’s land completely melted away, leaving my happiness for her (and my new inspiration to find spectacular and affordable land of my own) pure and clear.

Realizing that I’ve been manifesting what I truly want in my life was a great gift, born out of processing my experience of coveting Renee’s land.  It was possible because I accepted my experience instead of hiding or running away from it, and then looked deeper into the many layers.  It seems like this is an important piece of the “Thou shalt nots” of the 10 Commandments.  It doesn’t mean that having those experiences are bad or wrong, just that those experiences are an indication that there’s some work that needs to be done.

Humans are messy.  We’re a complicated layering of insight and ignorance, faith and fear, power and surrender.  We contain a multitude of contradictions and paradox, and all in varying degrees of expression.

To help us untangle the mess and see the strands for what they are, we work with archetypes — pure, distilled versions of the components that make up the human experience.  Religions do this with different gods (the Greek and Roman systems, Hinduism, Druid/Pagan, the orisha of the Yoruba…), allowing us to see a single aspect of ourselves reflected in the image of a particular deity.  Details of the deity’s life and actions can help us see parallels in ourselves, reminding us of the power and possibilities we can access by following that particular thread of our being.

I’ve found this same gift with the Tarot.  The cards offer a filter through which I can look at my life, highlighting specific aspects that I can access within myself, and draw upon for inspiration and focus.  This morning, I got the 5 of cups, the Star, and the Empress. The 5 of cups speaks directly to an experience I’m having right now of disappointment and grieving something that I’ve had to let go of, a dream that started to take shape and then melted away again.  Seeing this card this morning was a kind of validation for those feelings, and helped me acknowledge and honor the experience for what it is.

The meaning deepened, however, when I looked at all three cards together.  (When I pull a card in the morning, I shuffle until a card or two, or three, literally jump out of the deck.)  The Star is a card of finding relief and healing after chaotic changes, from the light that shines in the darkness.  The Empress is the nurturing mother, source of all abundance and a limitless fountain of love.  Looking at the 3 cards, I saw a journey of being present to disappointment and grief, moving forward by acknowledging the light that is always there, and stepping into a confident open heart that serves the world joyfully and without reservations.

As I reflected on the cards, I noticed that all of the images involved flowing water.  In the first, the woman cries over the water spilling from the cups, lamenting its loss.  In the second, water pours from the woman’s hands in an infinite flow.  In the third, a waterfall churns behind her.  From a belief of limits and loss, I move forward into knowing I have all I need within me.  And then I allow myself to trust that it’s not only within me, but all around me, an endless source of which I am a part.

5 Cups (World Spirit deck)   Star (World Spirit deck)   Empress (World Spirit deck)

After a full and fairly exhausting weekend, I found myself zoning out and shutting down last night.  This morning I still felt tired and burned out.   I pulled a tarot card, and got one that indicated hope and encouragement.  I smirked cynically at it.  “Any card can be read hopefully – it’s all just psychological bullshit.”

Going into the rest of my day with this perspective seemed like an awful idea, so I mustered up some energy for self-reflection.  My running mantra this morning seemed to be “there’s no meaning in any of this”, so I asked myself “what is meaningful to me?  What’s important?”

I sat with the question, feeling around for an answer that didn’t feel superficial.  Finally, clarity came.  It didn’t come in words, but a feeling in my body, relaxing and opening.  This.  Being open.  Letting myself be moved by something greater than me.  Being a source of love.  Being a blessing to anyone I encounter today.  I don’t have to know the plan – just love, and let the rest unfold accordingly.




A woman came up to me after I gave a workshop yesterday, and said she really didn’t like her job as an accountant.  She asked me for advice on what she should do about that.  I encouraged her to use her discontent to drive her question to herself of what she does want.  I asked her if she knew what she wanted to be doing instead, and she said she had no idea.  I suggested sitting with that question whenever she felt frustrated with her current job, trusting that an answer will come.  She said thanks and walked away, but she didn’t seem satisfied.

After my experience this morning, I would add something else to my answer to her.  The details of what we do with our life aren’t as important as the how we live, the spirit from which we act.  If I could talk with her again, I’d suggest asking herself the same questions I asked myself this morning: “What’s meaningful to me?  What’s important?  What’s at the heart of life?”  Then, look for opportunities to use her answer to guide her through the day.  Maybe she’d find meaning in her job.  Or maybe she’d find an opportunity for other work that inspires her.  Maybe both.  At the very least, maybe she’d find some of the peace that I found this morning.


As I was looking for images to go along with this post, I found this one (below) from MLK, Jr. that takes it to another level… a great reminder for me this morning as I think about my work in the world.


One of the benefits of working at a church is having open access to sacred space.  We have a meditation room here that’s open 24 hours a day, and it rarely gets used.  I’ve made it my routine to start my day here, to walk into this beautiful, open room with large windows on two walls, and have some time to myself before I start work.

I only started doing this when I began attending seminary, and a daily spiritual practice was a commitment we made, part of our “homework”.  It took me weeks of setting the alarm for 5:30am, and then pressing snooze until 7, to realize that getting up in the morning before everyone else wasn’t going to work for me.  I finally decided that I could take half an hour after dropping off my daughter at school, before stepping into my office in the morning.  Sometimes I meditate, sometimes do yoga, dancing, or writing, or some combination of those.  I almost always begin or end with pulling a card.  This practice feeds me in amazing ways, helping me start my day with focus, intention, and a reminder of the real work I’m here to do.

Yesterday, I knew I had a meeting in the afternoon that would be emotionally tricky.  A co-worker wanted to take over an exciting project we had developed together, and we had already had one very intense and emotional conversation about it.  I hadn’t been thinking about the meeting much throughout my morning in the meditation room, until I sat down to pull a card.  “What do I want insight on today?” is a question I often ask myself when I get out the cards, and the answer came up in me clear and strong, remembering the meeting.  I took a deep breath and shuffled the cards gently, looking for the one that would jump out.  After a few patient minutes of sifting the cards, two poked up like they were raising their hands to be called on in class.  I pulled them out, set the other cards aside, and looked at the images.

I had the 9 of Wands and the Queen of Pentacles.  The 9 of Wands indicates defensiveness, having one’s finger on the trigger and ready to fight, to stubbornly protect what one has.  The Queen of Pentacles relaxes peacefully on her garden throne, generously sharing her abundance because she knows the secrets of a deeper source.  Because of her knowledge of the “magic” of the natural world, she is confident in her ability to get what she needs, and what she wants.

Image                                  Image

I saw these cards as representing 2 of my options for the meeting.  The last time we met about the project, I had quickly gotten defensive and fearful of loosing a project that was important to me.  I clenched my fist around it and got angry.  In the following weeks, I worked through my experience and untangled my thoughts and emotions, and came to some clarity about what I wanted.  I found the pathways out of my defensiveness (again and again).

The cards reminded me of the choice I would get to make that afternoon, and in that moment in the meditation room, I chose.  I turned over the 9 of Wands and focused my attention on the Queen of Pentacles.  I breathed in, and let myself feel her energy spread throughout my body.  I let myself become her, knowing that the Tarot represents archetypes that we all carry within us all the time.  It wasn’t anything the card itself imparted into me, just a reminder that I could let that aspect come forward and take prominence.

I kept the card propped up at my desk all day.  I held the image in my mind as I walked down the hallway for the meeting.  During the meeting when I noticed myself getting defensive, the image of the 9 of Wands flashed in my mind, and I mentally turned the card over and brought up the image of the Queen of Pentacles.  As I spoke, I held her image lightly in my mind, reminding me (again and again) of the power of self-trust and generosity that come from confidence in the deepest source.

I listened with compassion, and I spoke with intention.  We explored options together, and agreed to move forward by trying something new.  This is the work of collaboration, of creative problem solving,  and it takes effort, strength, and trust.  It’s not easy.  The tarot was my tool yesterday, helping me move more into being who I want to be — who I know I can be, when I don’t get tangled up in fear and ego.  The evocative images help us connect with potent archetypes of human possibility, and remind us of the larger journey we’re on.

Read more on my work with tarot here.

Doing the Work

I sat down to write.  Really, I did.  But then I thought I should check my email to see if anyone responded to various things I sent out last night.  And while I was on my email, someone started a chat with me, and we talked back and forth for awhile.  And while I was waiting for her to respond, I checked Facebook to see if anyone had said anything interesting.  And while I was on Facebook, I saw a link to an article that looked like it might be kind of funny.  And then I got a phone call.  And another one.

And now my writing time is gone.

I have Work to do.  Not work that I get paid for, or something on my to-do list.  I have Work to do, the Work of getting out of this rut, back to my center.  It’s the Work of opening, accepting, releasing, trusting.  And maybe I’m scared of it?  Because why else would I choose to check my email instead of doing this awesome, fulfilling, juicy Work?

Today I’ve used up the time I set aside for the Work, but I can still do it in every moment.  The Work can happen as I drive, as I talk with coworkers (co Workers!), and go grocery shopping.

Let the Work begin, again.