Lenten Walk Series 4/5

Gratitude for legacy and heritage have been on our praiseful lips these past two days  as we have made our way to Big Sky, Montanta for a week of skiing with family.  We overnighted in Butte, MT the birthplace of both of my parents and a landscape both sets of my grandparents intimately knew and loved.  My paternal grandfather, Knute Plate, immigrated from Sweden to Butte and worked the mines here in what is known as the “richest hill on earth.”  And, my maternal grandfather advocated and proponed any project or proposal that would keep this motto socially and theoretically true.

2013-02-18 20.45.03One of the projects in which my Grampa, Don Ulrich, was critically involved was the restoration of Blacktrail Creek, which runs through the mid-line of Butte.  This stream corridor, highlighted by the majestic presence of the nearby Continental Divide, had suffered adverse affects by “channelization” (or the straightening of the stream), livestock overgrazing, highway construction, and other urban development.  A primary restoration goal of this project was to improve public access and use of the stream corridor as well as 2013-02-18 20.45.49improving ecosystem function and biodiversity habitat.  The restoration resulted in a healthier stream and made a valuable natural resource more accessible to the public.

The pedestrian trail was renamed the Ulrich-Schotte Nature Trail and is now a two-mile segment of a Greenway system in Butte.  Named after my grandparents, Don and Kathryn Ulrich and their dear friends and civic leaders, George and Jennie Schotte, The Blacktail Creek Restoration Project was completed in 1998. These visionaries believed that this landscape could be more than what it was.  They believed that they didn’t have to be content with the status quo: a sickly stream that was a regular dump site for neighbors’ trash.  Over the years, the project grew from a stream restoration project to include a recreational trail used by thousands of area residents and visitors.  This grand vision resulted in something that would serve the greater community, humans and creatures combined!

Considering the stewardship work that we are currently about in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, I2013-02-18 20.48.11 was struck anew with the realization of all my grandfather did on behalf of Other and the Future.  In this context, he spoke on behalf of the healthy biodiversity that hung in balance depending on the health and well being of this stream corridor.  He had the insight and clarity of mind to foresee that healthy and vibrant ecosystems would result in a native, beautiful landscape that would mutually enhance the health and well-being of Butte’s people and generations to come.  It became clear that we do this work in our lives out of a great 2013-02-18 20.47.34hope for the future, but also because of the legacy and heritage of my family’s DNA.

This was an ideal, which Grampa had to champion with both shovel in hand and policy papers in the other to get the City to support this intrinsic value proposal.  But I understand now that he had a vision that was rooted in justice.  It would be socially irresponsible to allow that stream to dry up due to the City’s mismanagement of resources.  It would also be a 2013-02-18 20.46.39holistic loss for both the creature’s depending on that landscape for life, and the inherent health benefits that would be available to the people if allowed to enjoy this native feature.  Peace is the presence of justice, Martin Luther King Jr. once said.  And the peaceful place that is experienced along this vibrant stream attests to the justice advocated on behalf of systems greater than our own.

For the past couple days we have been walking segments of this trail.  We have offered prayers of thanksgiving for our heritage and ancestors, the lives that link us to a lineage of justness and action.  It has also caused us to reflect more on our own “legacy work”–that great work of making an impact on something greater than, and beyond, ourselves.  We prayed that our children would be impacted by a need outside of themselves that would cause them to cry and subsequently stand up and fight for a better way.  We prayed that they too would continue to walk in our heritage’s path of faith, always looking to the mountains, from where comes our help (Psalm 121:1), for the vision to reimagine a better way on behalf of something greater than themselves.

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Lenten Walk Series 3

Walking through the streets of Seattle’s New Rainier Vista neighborhood can seem somewhat like a maze.  If you don’t keep your bearings on Mt. Rainier (easy to lose for non-natives on a cloudy day), you can effortlessly get turned about.  As we walked along the sidewalks of this redevelopment, the children picked up garbage; it seemed the only familiar act in which to respond to the ever-present litter lined up along some of these unfamiliar lanes.

red metal labyrinth new rainier vistaWe prayed for this new community that  has both displaced long-time Valley residents and offered new hope for immigrants and refugees from around the world.  We acknowledged that living in this dense urban village must seem very much like a maze for families who come without great resources from war torn countries.  However, we also prayed that, unlike a maze, these souls wouldn’t come here to get lost.  Rather, more in alignment with that of a labyrinth, these many homes and streets would lead to personal transformation and, ultimately, abundant life.

The children played for a bit at a happened upon pocket park surrounded by tall, dense homes.  As we followed the trail to exit the playground, we came upon a grouping of carved stones with labyrinth images.

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Today’s prayers echoed this ancient prayer, attributed to St. Brigid:

God of the Twisting Path, God of the Turning Spiral, God of Revelation, God of Infinite Mystery; may this God enfold and entwine you in every step. 

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The Legend of the Labyrinth of the Minotaur

Upon ascending to the throne of Crete, King Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a white bull, which he would sacrifice in honor of Poseidon. However, Minos found the bull so delightful that he kept it and sacrificed an ordinary bull, which angered the gods.  Aphrodite made Persephae, Minos’ wife, so desire the white bull that she bore its offspring, which grew to become the monstrous Minotaur, half man and half bull. King Mino had Daedaius, the master craftsman, build a giant labyrinth to hold the Minotaur.

The Athenian King Aegeus was compelled to pay Minos penalties every ninth year by giving up seven young men and seven maidens, who were forced to enter the Labyrinth of the Minotaur and ultimately be devoured. At the approach of the third sacrifice, Theseus, the son of King Aegeus, offered to enter the labyrinth as one of the virgins so that he could kill the Minotaur. He promised his father that on its return his ship would have white sails if he was successful and black sails if he had been killed.

Ariadne, on of Minos’ daughters, fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of red string, allowing him to retrace his path to escape. Theseus killed the Minotaur with the sword of Aegeus and led the other Athenians back out of the labyrinth. On the trip home, he abandoned Ariadne on the island of Saxos, continuing home with er sister Phaedra, who became his wife. Theseus forgot to put up the white sails, and when King Aegeus saw the black sailed ship he threw himself from a cliff lookout into the sea, which is now called the Aegean. Thereby, Theseus ascended to the throne of Athens.

Lenten Walk Series 2

Today’s prayer walk was under cloudless skies, which is a rarity for Seattle in February.  And instead of 10 prayerful feet, it was simply my own and Anna’s.  Funny thing how as soon as you draw your line in the sand around an intention, circumstances immediately set themselves up against it.  I’ve learned to identify this as the Pilgrim’s Path, others may call it Murphy’s Law; be it as it may, the boys were unable to get in on the practice today.

Whatever laws were against our family participating today in our Lenten commitment, Anna had clarity of purpose and firmly directed our route.  These pictures represent the prayers for our community, on Anna’s Spirit-led route.


Creator of every country, color and kind,2013-02-15 20.49.31

Forgive us when we see difference instead of commonality.

Forgive us when we we react in fear of Other instead of celebration of diversity.

Give us the eyes to see the intrinsic beauty of cultures other than our own, and develop in us a posture of learning, 2013-02-15 20.48.51gratitude and respect.

Guide us away from judgement, misunderstanding and offense and bring us to the holy grounds of community and neighborly care.



We pray against fences and barriers of all types.2013-02-15 20.46.28

We pray against the fences that keep people out…and the ones that keep far too many others in.  We pray against the chain-links that mark something that some may have, but others may not.  

We pray for the sense of safety that can only come from you, O God-that people so desperately need-because there is so much fear in the world and in our own neighborhood.  

We pray against the violence that fences are 2013-02-15 20.47.34want to proclaim through graffitied messages of hate, intolerance and territory.  Bring peace and freedom to those who rally against the barriers in their lives; may their fists shake their confines with justice, and not bloodshed. 



The Pilgrim’s Path: Surprise in the Similar

I’ve been walking in our neighborhood’s woods for years now.  What started out as hopeful curiosity in a forest behind our house, led me down a path towards becoming a Forest Steward- trained in local flora and fauna, urban forest restoration and community activism. I wanted a trail upon which to walk my dog; I found homeless encampments.  I wanted a place in which to refresh and recreate; I found prostitution base camps.  I wanted a place in which to be quiet and still; I found needles and sex toys.  The sacred place I wanted didn’t even seem like a possibile hope; the English Ivy and Himalayan Blackberry covered the promise of this land with its dark invasiveness.

In 2007 we commenced our commitment to hosting monthly volunteer work parties for our neighborhood.  We believed that the fear, filth and felonious behaviors could be combatted to reveal the great gift Earth is always offering us: LIFE!  In the context of these first-Saturday-of-the-month gatherings, we began the slow, inglorious effort of hand removing the ivy and blackberry.  We became master garbage collectors and bore witness to the very real social tensions of encampments being told [repeatedly] to vacate.  We became versed in our City’s shelter programs and at which pier personal affects can be collected.  We canvassed the neighborhood looking for support and interest in changing something that was into something unimaginably better.  We were committed to the long-term work of restoration and transformation.  We wanted to transform this urban soil into a sanctuary.

The work of bringing down heaven to earth is no easy task.  And it always takes time…and a lot of it.  This is the epic work of pilgrimages and journeys, deserts and dreams.  There is always such fanfare and exhilaration when one picks up the walking stick and marks, and crosses into, the beginning of the journey.  The vision of the destination is so clear, so lucid–it seems you could just reach across a short breadth of time and realize every desired detail.  But soon you find your arm is tired from being extended for so long…for so very long.  Your hand clutches that walking stick with a deepened sense of understanding that this stick is with you to uphold and offer stability when the road gets longer, instead of shorter.  For sacred destinations always require time and long processes; the meaningful meanderings are necessary to bring you to that place where you are able to see and hear with a clarity that simply doesn’t exist at the beginning.

We have hosted over 75 work parties in our 10 acre parcel of urban forest in the last six years.  We have painstakingly picked up invasive plants and planted more than 1500 trees and shrubs.  We have written for and received grants to fund an urban forest trail system to connect neighbors and neighborhoods.  I have sat in Council members chambers in City Hall sharing our story of forest transformation and restoration.  The heaven that I thought was just one-shovel full away has taking me years to begin to see.  I have leaned on that shovel-and on the arms and hearts of committed neighbors and friends-in fatigue and frustration, wanting so badly to be done and to realize the destination for which I had set out for…so very long ago.

I long for free social weekends and open evenings not requiring correspondance with local organizations. …And then I have to make the choice–the choice we all have to make on our journeys.  When we have been on the road for a bit of time, the enchantments and sparkles of roadside attractions become great.  They call for us to stop, rest and even consider them a favored substitute over the sacred destination.  We can choose this…or we can look to the “imaginative, active encounter with the place” (P. Cousineau).  At this point in the journey, we must look all the harder and request for a renewed power of vision.

I went up into the woods this week and came across a beautiful, seemingly-spontaneously-built, road side alter of rock, wood and fern at the trail head into the woods.  I was startled and stunned by its presence.  Everything about its quiet appearance shouted reminders to me of what these woods once held.  For at one time-at this very spot, I had uncovered over 200 hypodermic needles…and now there was just this free, intentional, beauty.  This organic gathering was a blessed statement of how far along the journey we had come to seeing this forest as a place of community refreshment, a place of collective comfort.  We certainly aren’t there yet–the destination is still a long way off.  But the meaning that is being collected along the whole long way is going to make this little piece of heaven one helluva place!

Cookie Love

My mom has many glib witticisims that she pronounces as truths; a couple of her most favorites (which I heard often growing up) are, “Pretty is as pretty does,” and “When you think people are looking at you, they are not.”  These were pretty harsh statements for a self-centered adolescent and she even had one more that could trump this lot and go straight for the Ego jugular: “When you are feeling out of sorts, bake cookies for others.”  Considering the emotional landscape of a teenager, you can imagine, I baked a lot of cookies!

The amazing, magical thing that always happened-whether I was sad, depressed, lonely, dejected, or vulnerable-was that this process of baking cookies and giving them away truly sorted me out!  I could be in the most dispirited of states and as the baking ritual commenced, I could feel myself lifting.  My mind would initially focus on the chemistry of the cookie (1 tsp baking soda, 1 cup sugar, 4 cups flour...) and then center on the recipient.  My thoughts were no longer wallowing in self-proclaimed pity, they were reaching out to someone else, and to another’s story, who needed an extra dose of sweetness in their given season.  The cookies created a shared moment that acknowledged another and put life back in perspective.

When my husband, Joel, and I first moved into our home (referred to often and simply as our house numbers: 2809), our block was a sinister sea of unknown stories whose sailors stayed inside, anchored in fear and addiction.  Surrounded by averted eyes, gated windows, and stupefied souls, I could feel myself becoming fettered by the fear that kept our neighborhood silent and shut-in.  My mom perceived this movement away from the eager excitement of a new homeowner and, prayerfully, unfurled her time-worn truism: “Mary, it is time to bake cookies…this time, for your neighbors.”  My spirit knew it too; I began to bake.

After plates of the sweet offerings were assembled, Joel and I headed outside, praying against the cowardice and consternation that were creeping into our souls.  Mutually inspired by the life and work of Dr. John Perkins, we believed we were called to live here, we had felt God’s leading to make our home in Seattle’s Rainier Valley.  And to be quite honest, our naive, privileged ambitions began to crumble at our feet in the face of the very real-and now next door-presence of Other. What remained was the very real question of how were we going to live through and past the fear and BE neighbors to these people who didn’t give a damn about us and our enthusiasm.  Brandishing our cookies like swords, we decided to meet the fear head on and start knocking on doors and introduce ourselves to the neighborhood.

Behind each answered door were stories of sordid suffering and profound human resiliency.  Doors peeked open, chains were released and eyes were filled with skeptical curiosity; every face seemed etched with the same bewildered question, “Who are these crazy people delivering COOKIES!?” And yet, we were invited into our new neighbors homes where it was clearly evident a guest hadn’t crossed the threshold in decades.  We were invited to sit on a settee and offered dark drink and twisted delights in the company of anonymous tattooed faces.  We received blank, baked stares in exchange for the no-strings-attached-cookies and we received the very clear message that the suggested packed gun would be unloaded on us if we didn’t back away with our “f*cking cookies.”

After delivering the last plate, we returned home with less fear and more knowledge of those who resided in this neighborhood.  We didn’t know what would come of this culturally foreign gesture, but we did now know our neighbors’ names and they most certainly knew ours.  And that is one of the first steps to loving, folks.  For you cannot know what you cannot name…and you cannot love what you do not know.  The baking had already begun to sort things out: I had no time to cower behind closed doors, I had a neighborhood to get to know!


My oldest son, Orion, was wisely “invited” by his teacher (whom we love and adore!) to have a home-day this week in response to a recent situation where he threw a rock-laden mud ball in the face of another class mate-ouch!!  Our charge was to spend the day together working on what it looks like to be a caring friend.  Orion was querulous about staying home; and I…well, I did what we always seem to do in these situations: I became my mother and said, “Orion, I think it is time that you bake some cookies.”

The ritual had begun; we baked heart-shape cookies and read 1 Corinthians 13 until it became our mantra. “Love is patient.” (1 tsp baking soda) “Love is kind.” (1 cup sugar) “Love never fails.”  (4 cups flour)   Orion made construction paper heart notes to accompany the plates we were assembling for our now-common neighborhood cookie delivery.  Orion knocked on the familiar doors of our neighbors homes and greeted each of them by name as doors swung easily and happily open.  As I hung back, wanting him to own every second of these moments, I heard him say how grateful he was they were his neighbors and wished each of them a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Door to door we went.  We had one last plate to deliver; it was the same house that eight years ago a gun was almost aimed at us for doing this exact same thing.  Our Laos neighbor, Manichanh, flung the door open with a hug and gave Orion kisses for his sweet gift.  Without hesitation, she grabbed her gardening gloves, and began to unearth some of her urban daffodil bulb bounty to gift us in exchange for our delivery.  With our cookie basket now filled with soon-to-be flowers, we returned home to plant this generous neighborly token in our garden.

As we planted each bulb, we continued our 1 Corinthians 13 mantra: “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” I scanned my eyes up and down our block while my son dug in the earth, planting very real “seeds of love.”  I raised my eyes and sighed a prayer of thanksgiving for each of my neighbors, whom I know and love.  And I quietly laughed in response to my mom’s deep wisdom she taught me so long ago.  For it is both cookies AND love that never fail.  Never.  Ever.