Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Rocky Shores Altar

Rocky Shores Altar

“How awesome is this place!  Surely God is here, and I did not know it!” 

I’m sure you recognize this exclamation as Jacob’s in Genesis 28, after his amazing dream of the ladder of angels.  Immediately he builds a simple altar from his stone pillow and calls the place God’s House, Bethel, a “gate of heaven.” 

But I heard these very words spoken this week by Rev. Susie Phoenix as she spent two days with me on a Blue Theology clergy renewal pilgrimage.  We were standing long and quiet in front of the Aquarium’s Rocky Shores Lookdown exhibit, one of the small, detailed, colorful, diverse, AWESOME, exhibits along the wall in the dark Monterey Bay Habitats section. 

When we do a “spiritual tour” of the Aquarium one meditative practice is simply slowing down and noticing.  I’ve looked at this exhibit hundreds of times.  Susie has a quieter more patient soul than I do, and she saw many more epiphanies, angels walking up and down, than I ever have. 

(A Buddhist botany professor friend of mine says her mindfulness practice makes her
a better field biologist– she can slow down and really see.)

Of course we know that Susie knew full well that God was in this particular place.  Because she, like Jacob, before leaving that holy exhibit spot said, “What an amazing altar!”

In her book “An Altar in the World, A Geography of Faith,” Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that God is in the everyday and the every place, not just in church buildings.  “I can keep busy doing this and that. Or, like Jacob, I can set a little altar in the world or in my heart.  I can stop what I am doing long enough to see where I am, who I am with and how awesome the place is.  I can flag one more gate to heaven, one more patch of ordinary earth with ladder marks on it.

“Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”

Susie and I cracked our shins on many altars in our two day pilgrimage.  The next day at Point Lobos was equally awesome.  Jacob wakes from his dream of angels and uses the present tense, “Surely God IS in this place.”  We give thanks to cup corals and brittle stars and anemones for reminding us of this ever present present.  And for giving us an altar.
_______________ for more info on pilgrimages, service trips etc. along Monterey Bay.  I post these Wednesday devotionals about ocean stewardship and spirituality here and on Facebook.  (Photo thanks to NOAA.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Holy Spirit, Ocean Breath

Holy Spirit, Ocean Breath

Take a deep breath.  And then say thank you to this beautiful spiral.  It’s a microscopic, one-celled ocean plankton, and just now, in the last five seconds, it kept you alive.

We’ve long known that trees and other land plants produce oxygen; if we want to breathe  But at least half the oxygen we breathe, some say 70%, comes from ocean plants. So care about ocean health also.  Whether you live in Monterey or Montana, this ocean dinoflagellate, a kind of plant plankton, inspires you, literally is in your spirit, your breath.
, we should keep planting trees.

“Plankton” simply means “drifter” (the Greeks thought the “planets” drifted through the universe, same word.)  There are plant plankton (phytoplankton) and animal plankton (zooplankton.)  Some animal plankton drift only as babies and then “settle” (crabs, clams, teenagers.)  Some drift their whole lives (jellies, hydromedusae, Jack Kerouac.) 

Plant plankton are all drifters, floating in the upper part of the water for precious sunlight so they can photosynthesize and give off oxygen.  One of my favorite stations as a volunteer guide at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the fancy powerful microscope with a camera in it so you can see these drifters close up.  We used to call it the “Plankton Lab.”  Now it’s called “Tiny Drifters.”

At my recent retreat in France on the Holy Spirit the nun professor said the French word  should be “saint soufflĂ©” holy breath, not esprit.

A woman on the deck at the Aquarium told me she was there on doctor’s orders; the air in her Central Valley hometown was too polluted; with her respiratory condition she needed ocean air. 

Come on retreat with us at the Blue Theology Mission Station at the Pacific Grove Christian Church, and breath in some good ocean air, God’s ocean spirit.
______________ for info on retreats, service trips, renewal time.  I also post these Wednesday reflections on ocean stewardship and spirituality at

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Practice Openminded Daily Serenity

Practice Openminded Daily Serenity

Every day for the past year I have driven past this PODS container on the way to and from my rural Big Sur home.

I hate it.  Poor me. I am so lucky to live in this remote redwood canyon of handmade homes and funky people.  But this commercial plastic homage to how much STUFF we all have drives me crazy.

We are an isolated independent community. We leave each other alone.  We don't have the greatest social skills.  But we do have a neighborhood email list.  For months I contemplated what I could write that would be kind but also direct on the subject of this eyesore.

Finally I wrote, "Is there a nice way to ask the folks with this PODS container to cover it or move it?  Or should I just, like so many things, rise above it and let it go?"

Many wise responses from various neighbors, basically on the point - let it go, accept.  One said he too hates it, but he tries to visualize it as a giant piece of granite washed down the hill over millions of years, with wildflowers in its crevices, and a dwarf perched on top.  Or a stage set for a Prince concert, who is about to do a sound check.  Take a sad song and make it better. 

Their responses inspired me to make up a better mantra for that horrific PODS container, which for months I had been calling a "Piece Of Despicable S***."

Now I drive by and say to myself- "Practice Openminded Daily Serenity."  PODS.

(The PODS owner did respond, but it was not what I wanted to hear, so I let it go….)

This coming weekend our Blue Theology Mission Station will host 27 middle school kids and 8 adult chaperones from 10 different congregations of the Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ.  We will do a pilgrimage walk to the Aquarium, and have a spiritual tour there, do two beach clean-ups on Cannery Row and Asilomar beaches, visit the Pt. Pinos Lighthouse, oldest continuously operated lighthouse on the west coast, 1853, and consider God as our lighthouse.

And generally contemplate the idea - God loves the ocean and wants us to love it better.

How to love God's creation better?  Maybe by reducing our stuff?  Asking for guidance?  Getting along better with our neighbors? Practicing Openminded Daily Serenity? Learning to accept pieces of s**** and transform them....Other ideas?
Check out for dates this summer for youth service trips and adult pilgrimages along Monterey Bay.  I am looking forward to two days this month with a clergywoman taking a sabbatical trip down the coast on the subject of pilgrimage – we will pray, sing, do spiritual tour of the Aquarium, and take a nice long walk around Point Lobos.  Be in touch if you want to plan some kind of ocean pilgrimage.  I post these Wednesday “Blue Theology Tideings” here and at  (This week on Thursday, power out from the storm.)