Friday, February 23, 2018

Snow Labyrinth

This week I had the opportunity to walk a labyrinth in the snow and ice at Heartland Presbyterian Center. Was it dangerous? Possibly. Did that stop me? Of course not. I think it made it all the more thrilling. In fact I think of the Labyrinth as a typically safe place to pray and meet with God, so perhaps my excitement was in my desire to have a more “challenging” or “authentic” trip around the maze, because life has many risks we have to meet as we turn and follow and turn and follow.

This may have been the most complicated pathway I have ever taken, and I’m not just talking about the snow and the ice. Some of the labyrinths I have made are simple. The limit of space limits the number of turns, and therefore limits the chance to get lost as your feet easily know where to go. When the labyrinth is simple, the walker must set the limits and complexity to meet with the Spirit, giving the walker more control.  When the labyrinth is more complex, you don’t always know where you are going or how far you are from the center and it seems to be going around and around without going anywhere until suddenly you find yourself at the center. At several points in this labyrinth I had to ask myself, have I been this way before? I kept going back and forth and really got lost in the focus needed to walk. The snow and ice added an extra challenge. About halfway to the center I came to a crossroads, because I couldn’t tell whether the pathway went straight or turned to the right. My practical sense figured it out, but for the moment I felt this great parallel with life. We may come to a standstill, not knowing, and sometimes we may choose the wrong pathway, or a path that leads us further away from our goal, but we don’t have to wait to meet our goal for an encounter with God. God is there at every turn, God walks beside us, before us and behind us at every straight, clear or blocked pathway. 

I continued to the center, I continued praying and all the while I continued listening.

I heard the Spirit say to me, “You cannot and do not know all things. You may find rest in knowing you are loved by the one who does, and that one who controls all things acts out of deep love and hope for you.”

Whether it’s the state of our nation, the concern for our families, the hopes for our relationships or the day to day goals of making an impact on the world, may you also find rest in the unrelenting love of your Creator. 


Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Pastor Kati’s Recipe for Wednesday’s Ashes

You’ve probably seen people with ashes on their forehead in mid February, and maybe you’ve even worn them yourselves.  Have you ever wondered, “Where do your ashes come from?” or “Why do you have soot on your face?  You know that flu powder doesn’t work on muggles.” Okay, maybe only Harry Potter nerds like me think about that.  So, for the curious at heart, enjoy my personal process and response for our congregation to the question, "Where do your ashes come from?"

The short answer is that most of the ashes we use are from palm branches used in last year’s Palm Sunday service at First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, Kansas.  This use of the palms connects our yearly tradition of remembering the events that lead up to the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The ashes in the shape of a cross mark the beginning of our time of remembrance, as we set aside this time to draw closer to Jesus through acts of sacrifice like fasting and giving of our time for study or service.

The long answer holds more significance for me.  So much of our faith seems like a mental or emotional exercise, and I feel like Jesus calls us to be more physical.  I want to experience Jesus in my bones, in my hands, right here, right now.  So, I love this physical way to remember why we are here on earth and what is to come for us in the future.


A Bit of Earth
The faithful who told the story of our creation said that God formed us from the dirt, calling us literally earthlings or mud people. So, when we say “From Ashes to Ashes” we are saying we are connected to the earth, we come from the earth and when we die, we will return to the earth.  Why were we created?  The faithful said we were created to keep God company and to care for God’s creation.  The soil and the ashes remind us that we were put on this earth to be in relationship with God, with each other and with the land, the animals, the oceans the universe, everything we see and hear, our purpose is to enjoy it and be a part of it.  So, we begin with some soil from the ground.

Ashes ground from burnt palm fronds and paper
As fire consumes the leaves and paper, Jesus absorbed all of the betrayal and suffering of the world when he died.  During his ministry, Jesus consistently asked people to leave their old life behind, and pick up the new way of being and caring for others.  In earlier times, when people would cry out to God they would cover themselves with ashes and rip their clothing to show the intensity of their anguish and struggle.  Centuries before Jesus walked the earth, the prophet Joel instructed God’s people to “rend their hearts and not their clothing,” meaning that if they want their lives to change, they should tear or transform their hearts instead of just focusing on their outer selves.  

At the Light last Sunday we wrote down the parts of our lives that are pulling us down, absorbing all of our energy like darkness and shadows, keeping us from receiving the “Light of Christ.”  So, the second ingredient will be ashes from our struggles in this world.  The ashes of the palms signify the struggles of our ancestors of faith, and the ashes from our papers on Sunday signify the struggles of our modern day.

Olive Oil
Oil makes the ashes stick, so there is a sort of practical need for it, but at the same time, God’s people loved to use oil as a symbol of blessing from God. So, when I see the ugly dirt and ashes reflecting the light around us, I am reminded that through all of the struggles and death and pain that we endure on this earth, God promises blessing, renewal and most of all resurrection. Sometimes I add a little scented oil to extend the feeling of blessing to one more sense.

Mix ashes and dirt and then add oil to desired consistency.

Then we mark the symbol of Christ’s suffering, the cross, on our hands and foreheads. This cross, combined with the evidence of our suffering and the promise of hope, becomes a visual representation of God's power to bring new life out of death.

So, why do I looking forward to wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday? Every day I live to tell of God’s power to bring life and renewal out of suffering and death. On this day, I get a special excuse to help more people literally wear this promise on their skin.  So, meet me on Ash Wednesday, or visit your local pastor, priest or congregation.  

May the glistening ashes remind you of the mysterious and majestic power of God. Amen.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

The One Who Chose Me

Robbie and I truly had a religious experience at Universal Studios, and I say that because I believe the Holy Spirit was there, present with us, sending us words of hope and knowing.  As soon as we arrived in Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter we went straight to Ollivander’s to get a wand.  We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but inside the shop someone told us we could either select a wand from the shelves or visit the Wandmaker and the wand would choose you.  So, we went to the Wandmaker, of course.  

We waited in a hallway with other people for about ten minutes, and my mind started to wander…”Would they come get us one at a time?  What wood might I expect? What kind of power would I want?  What am I looking for from the wand?”  Hope.  I wanted something to embody hope for new beginnings.  I played around with the idea of unicorn hair, but part of me felt like unicorns were too pretty and happy for the kind of authentic hope I’m looking for.  Then I thought about Harry’s Pheonix feather in his wand.  The pheonix could be a great metaphor for our lives as we have risen with life out of the ashes of death.  Then something inside me thought about the dragons, and their passion and fire, and something struck a chord with me. The love and power of a dragon could display the kind of hope I want.

Suddenly the assistants were leading us down the hallway… “so we’re doing this as a group,” I thought.  We turned a corner and there was the Wandmaker, writing in his book by the dim light of his magical lamp next to him in a room filled with wands all the way up the very tall walls.

I started to step up to him, and one of the assistants pulled me aside.  “Everyone please fill into the room with the shorter people in front, so everyone can see.”

I don’t remember what happened next, but before I knew it, the Wandmaker was looking at me and called me forward to receive my wand.  He measured my arms and talked about character and the many ways a wand would choose you.  I knew he was an actor, but he felt more like a sage wizard.  The room, his voice, the air, it all felt real…so magical.  He pulled out a wand of rosewood and unicorn hair and gave it to me. “Give it a flick,” he said.  Shelves popped out all over the place…just like in the books!!! When Harry was trying out wands!  “No, no, no, that won’t do.”  Then he pulled out a wand of oak with a phoenix feather, “Ok,” I thought, “This could be it.” He asked me to say, “Wingardium leviosa.”  With my best Hermione impression, I waved my wand and said the words. LOUD BANGS, and flickering lights.  “I wonder…” said the Wandmaker….I almost jumped out of my skin. “Here is a wand made of ash wood with dragon heartstrings.”  When I took the wand in my hand the light shone all around me.  It took everything within me not to burst out crying and weeping, because here in my hand was the true embodiment of the strength I desire—the heartstring of fire which rises from the ashes.

I never thought I would own a wand, and yet how many of us are yearning for someone to choose us and offer us a physical and metaphorical gift of meaning in life.  I have chosen and held many instruments in my hand: flutes, conducting batons, kazoos, books, paintbrushes.  This gift feels different.  I know it has no physical power outside of the park, and yet, in my hand I am reminded of the dragon heartstrings that God fixed within my soul.  

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” says the Psalmist about our Maker. I have been chosen by God to do big things, and so have you.  The magic comes when we believe in the Maker’s ability to love us, know us and do marvelous things through us.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Beauty in the Bark

Photo Credit: me. Yep. We went to Florida. So, the next few posts will most likely reveal some of our reflections during our amazing adventure in Orlando. The first "attraction" that struck my curiosity were the varieties of palm trees and palmeados. My knowledge of palm life cycles has become a mix of observation and YouTube videos of palm experts talking about how to grow one at home. What fascinated me was this longing to know why some trees are short and others are crazy tall? Why do some have a full trunk of woven branches and others just have just the top basket? Do they prune themselves or do gardeners pull off the palms to reveal their bark? I wanted to observe them up close so I could paint them, and in the midst of that longing to know more about them, I realized I was actually looking with wonder for my own self growth and “pruning.”  

In my last year of rising strong, I haven’t been sure how to put words together about where I go from what has happened to us.  Moving “forward” or “on” doesn’t seem to fit. I know that roses are more beautiful when pruned, and every challenging experience teaches us and strengthens us, but how do you move on without putting something behind you or letting go of that person you have lost? You can let go of the pain, you can receive forgiveness for your regrets, you can express grace for the shame in your life.   And then what do you do with this fact that God let you fall, you were not protected and you carry yourself differently, feeling a bit more fragile and a lot more tender.

I’ve been looking for an image of wholeness which honors brokenness and tenderness with beauty. I think that’s what drew me to look closer at the palm tree.  What I instinctively noticed as beautifully woven bark was actually broken branches, remaining on the tree. The striking rings on the tallest trees, also show the marks of palms grown and lost.  The beautiful and distinctive trunk reveals the history of the loss of life and broken branches. Like a beautiful tapestry or a growing palm tree, this masterpiece of our personhood continues to change shape and twist, to grow further out and further up, like our ever expanding universe. 

The pain and loss we have endured adds to the beauty and the grit of our character. Our experiences hang on like those broken branches, and we will continue to reach out with new branches, trusting that no matter what life prunes from our tree, the resourceful and imaginative creator will continue to add to our beauty and the Breath of Life will keep us dancing in the wind.

Monday, January 15, 2018

New Beginnings

Ahh…2018, how we have longed to see you.  You are not offering us the welcome we wanted.  Bitter storms and mudslides instead of quiet winter days and solid ground to steady our feet.  The continued threat of war, the continued fear of those who are different from us, the continued bickering from the right and the left.  You may put on a show of gloom and doom, but we know the truth.  You are offering us a new beginning each day.  Every morning, every step, every breath is another chance to re-direct our perspective towards hope.  

We have come a long way from the day when Martin Luther King Jr. simply spoke the words of his dream for an America where "one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  Some days the children seem to be kinder to one another than we are.  Other days, the children reveal the worst of our locker room conversations, degrading one another for things we didn’t know we taught them.  We still have a long way to go to reach the day when children "will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Disruptive Nature, Divisive News, and Distracting Networking block us from taking a break, pausing for a new breath, or resetting our course for hope.  We have met the challenges of our times with genuine perseverance, and we will continue to meet whatever you bring to us in 2018 with determination and a good sense of humor.  May we do so with hearts as courageous as Maya Angelo, who said, “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time."  

One more time? I can do that.  I can trust and hope for another day, another new beginning, and from there, we’ll take a breath, reset, and trust again. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A New Year’s Blessing for our president

Dear President Trump,

This year has been a great challenge for all of us. We have all worked hard to make our communities, our country, and our world a better place.  We may have different methods and different perspectives, but I believe we are all doing the best that we can. So, in the spirit of peace and unity that so many Americans celebrate at this time of year, I send you blessings of goodwill, health and humility in the new year. May we all take time to listen and love. May we hold each other accountable for our wrongs and extend the un-earned hand of forgiveness. May we all come together to truly make our world a safer, healthier, welcoming, forgiving, helpful, and joyful place to live.

Grace and Peace to you and your family,

Rev. Kati Collins
Manhattan, Kansas

Saturday, December 09, 2017


Thank you, 2017, for teaching me to cherish the good things in my life. By staying in the present moment, I have learned to savor each bite, each conversation, each sunrise, each breath, and more.

Thank you, 2017, for illuminating the gaps in racism, sexism and hatred that have been lingering beneath our surface relationships with our neighbors. People didn’t just get more violent and hateful this year, they just finally felt the freedom to speak their minds. Now we can see clearly that there is a lot of work to do, if we want to build a nation and a world where every human is valued and given the opportunity to grow, learn and thrive.

Thank you, 2017, for teaching me about resiliency, as I saw people I respect and admire raise gracefully after living big and falling flat on their face. You inspired me to keep #risingstrong.

Thank you, 2017, for technology beyond our imagination.  The instant gratification I find in Amazon Prime, the smartest phones ever, and home videos in the palm of my hand forces me to find peace and beauty as I wait through the processes which cannot be manipulated, e.g. physical healing, emotional healing, and watercolor painting. 

Really, watercolor deserves it’s own thank you.

Thank you, 2017, for showing me so much ugliness that I returned to watercolor. I saw beauty in the luscious colors. I found hope in the life of the paint.  While waiting for the paint to dry, I soaked up the healing powers of beauty, silence and the passing of grief.

Thank you, 2017, for sending me through the fire. I’m coming out stronger and more beautiful than before.  So, 2018, let’s start with what we’ve learned.  Let’s work on healing those psychological and racial tensions in our world. Let’s keep painting and looking for beauty.  Let’s handle technology with care, and remember that what happens in the virtual world, still happens, so let’s spread some beauty, love and healing out there wherever that world exists.

Let’s welcome in the new year with #eyeswideopen.