Delving into the Mystery — Introducing Q & A

I will admit that this new year is already kicking my butt. I know that sounds rude, and, to tell you truth, it feels rude.

I have one more year in my 60s. One.More.Year.

And I’m feeling it.

My husband has already moved through that milestone. And he’s feeling it, too.

We’re tired, cranky at times, worry too much over our old, dementing moms and our beautiful, energetic grandchildren, and our joints ache almost all the time.

Yet, here I sit, staring out at the brilliant noonday sun on a winter day, grateful right into every aching bone for the life I’ve lived, the gifts I’ve enjoyed, the things I’ve learned.


Yes, these joints hurt. But this heart and soul are still beating, still singing. I am grateful to be here, inhabiting this space for however long the Lord grants it.

And in between the groans and sighs, I’ve been listening. Paying attention. Reading. Learning.

Case in point.

This week, I took a walk on the bluffs near the University of California, Santa Barbara. I love that walk, the glorious views in every direction, the energy of a university campus beating its way underground clear out to Coal Oil Point, where the surfers hang ten.

So I took my very fancy new point-and-shoot camera and I walked. And I watched the surfers as they inhabited that immense sea.

Who knew that surfers could be such powerful teachers?? Here’s a little of what I learned on Tuesday afternoon:

To be a surfer requires dedication. These kids ride their bikes out the long, dusty pathway, holding their boards — holding their boards — close to their bodies.

DSC00569To be a surfer requires community. You will never see a lone ranger, waiting for the next set. Always, always, they do this thing together. Yes, their rides are individual, but the waiting? The learning from the water? The ebb and flow? This, they do together.


To be a surfer requires patience, long stretches of sitting, watching, sensing, obeying the rhythm of the water. In between the thrilling stuff is a whole lot of boring stuff, but all of it is what makes an expert out of a beginner.


To be a surfer requires flexibility, and a willingness to go with the flow. From straddling to crouching to half-standing, to a full-out-stand-up-look-at-this, you’ve got to be willing to change your position on a dime. Take a gander at these:





DSC00554Dedication, community, patience, flexibility — all part of the surfing life. And all part of being obedient to what the water has to teach, don’t you think?

If we want to learn —

we’ve got to get wet,
we’ve got to find a tribe,
we’ve got to be willing to wait out the lulls,
and we’ve got to move with the rhythm of the water.

I’ve been following Jesus all my life, cannot remember a moment when I didn’t know him. And still, I fall off that board, miss the cues, lose the rhythm. I’m not there yet — not exactly a beginner, but not quite an expert, either.

All along the way, I have managed to learn a few things,  Some of them are painful, painful enough to leave scars. And though I would never seek it out, I’ve lived long enough to know that pain can be a place of profound growth, even of transformation.

Every surfer worth his or her salt has endured bruising, battering, humiliation and defeat. But the ones who choose to learn from all of that are the ones who become adept, adaptable, creative and committed. In short, the ones who yield to the mystery of it all, and accept that an occasional punch to the gut is part of the process — these are the ones who catch the waves, time after time.


This cross stands at the edge of the cliff that sits between the two primary surfing coves along the Coal Oil Point Reserve. It is glorious and sturdy, withstanding wind and weather for as long as I’ve been living. I like the juxtaposition of sturdiness and wildness that I find in this place, the unpredictable mingling of formed and unformed, hand-created and God-created.

It reminds me of life – this crazy mix of goodness and grief, beauty and horror, healing and brokenness that makes our four-score-and ten (if we’re lucky) the rich and remarkable thing that it is.

I am quickly approaching that number, on my way to three score and ten very soon now. Over the years that have been granted me, I have never been able to settle for the quick and easy. Don’t offer me truisms, cliches, pat answers or formulas, please. I’d rather hear a different way of asking the question! Because, here’s the truth of it: I am a person who loves the questions; I believe they are worth the patient work of exploration, prayer and lived experience that can sometimes lead to answers. In fact, I believe that my word for 2014, obedient, is as much about asking the right questions as it is about finding answers.

For as long as I pastored, there was a beautiful calligraphic print that hung in or near my various offices. It contains these words, written by Rainer Maria Rilke in his small book, “Letters to a Young Poet.” This is a truth I believe; this is a truth I try to live:

“You are so young, you have not even begun,
and I would like to beg you, dear one, as well as I can,
to have patience with everything that is unsolved in your heart and to try to cherish the questions themselves,
like closed rooms and like books written in a very strange tongue.

Do not search now for the answers, which cannot be given you because you could not live them.

It is a matter of living everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then, gradually,
without noticing it, one distant day,
live right into the answers.

I would like to invite you to spend some time living the questions, beginning next Friday, January 17th. I’ll start us off with some reflections on a question that I’ve lived with for a while. And we’ll do that every Friday until there are no more questions to be asked.

Although I’ve got a list of about a dozen that I’ve discerned from my own life experience and from much of what I read on the internet, I am open to suggestions. Please leave them in the comments or email me directly at dtrautwein at gmail dot com.

Also? YOU are invited to link up your own reflections — either on the question that I raise or on another one that you’ve been living for a while. PLEASE NOTE that this is not an invitation to extended theological debate. There are lots of places to go if that’s what you hunger for. What I’m looking for are stories, experiences, concerns, points of conflict — anything that sets you down the road of wondering about the life of faith.

I think we’ll come closer to living an answer if we tell our stories and if we live our questions. Next Friday’s question set?

Why is there so much talk about ‘obedience?’
Does following Jesus mean I have to give up having fun?

Diana Trautwein - Living the Questions

Then, beginning the following Tuesday, January 21st, we’ll try our hand at discovering how we are living the answers. I will do some personal reflecting on truths I’ve been living into — perhaps connected to the question of the previous week, perhaps not. Sometimes I’ll look to scripture for help, sometimes to life, sometimes to both. And I can tell you right now, that some weeks there will be no ‘answer,’ just an encouragement to live with the un-knowing, to explore the mystery . . . to wait for the wave. 

Diana Trautwein - Living into the Answers

I have no idea if this will work or not! It is an experiment, one that I think is worth the risk. I hope you will, too.

I’m willing to get wet, are you?
I’m looking for my tribe, will you be a part?
I’m okay with the lulls, especially if I’ve got company.
And I’m willing to move with the rhythm of The Water.

So . . . let’s do a little surfing, shall we?

A New Year, A New Word, A New Direction

iPhotoBorderFX obedient


I’ll tell you what: I am not a fan of this whole one-word thingy.


Because for the second time now, I the word that came.  (previous experience – 2012; word? w a i t i n g) 

Okay, so I asked. Both times.

And each time, the word is hard, complex, puzzling.

Obedient? REALLY? This argumentative, rebellious, pushy, bossy heart? 

Uh. . . that would be a YES. A great, big, gnarly YES.


But here’s a sweet and interesting piece to this story. Immediately after dropping that doozy of a word into my conscious mind, the Holy Spirit began to sing to me. Yes, you read that right.

Not actual music-music, but a sweetness, a lightness, an invitation, a softening of the shock of knowing that ‘obedient’ is the word for 2014.

“Let’s look at this word in a new way, Diana,” the song seemed to say. 

And I was reminded of the only sermon I ever preached on the topic of obedience, coming out of Hebrews 5, where we’re told that Jesus ‘learned’ obedience. The incarnate Son of God, just like the rest of us frail human creatures, had to learn what it means to be obedient. And yes, he learned through his suffering.

And I’m not terribly fond of that whole concept, you know?

But as I wrestled with that text, I did it in the context of . . . wait for it! . . .  bird-watching. I sat in my backyard and I watched the birds that flit and float and hover around us here in central California. 

And I realized something. The birds do what comes naturally — they are being birds, with their whole hearts (if birds can be said to have hearts).

Birds are obedient to who they are.

And so was Jesus. 

And I believe that I am invited to re-consider that word in that context: to be obedient to who I am,  who it is God has called and formed me to be. To be true to my gifts, to be open to the Spirit, to discover more and more about what God is whispering into my life.

Yes, that may involve suffering of a sort — occasional discomfort, maybe even downright fear, probably a lot of  truth-telling.

Toward the end of last year, I began to sense an invitation to re-think this blogging space. I’m still mulling on that and hope to soon have another post or two about where I’m headed in 2014.

Maybe it will involve things like this: wrestling with hard things, searching for answers, learning to sit with the mystery when answers aren’t easy to find, maybe even speaking the teensiest bit prophetically?


Are you sure about this, Lord?

Tune in next week. I hope to have more details for you then . . .

Adding this to the growing list over at Bonnie’s place on January 9:

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Fifteen

IMG_2285 - Version 2

And Mary said,

I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Luke 1:56b-35-The Message

Have you ever tried to imagine what it must have been like to be Mary, before she got to the place where she could sing this powerful song? What must it have been like to have your life turned upside down by an angelic visitor, to have to explain to your fiance how you got pregnant, to continue to live in your small town while the whispers got louder and louder?

No wonder the angel told her about Elizabeth. She needed someone to talk to who understood something about miracle pregnancies!

Years ago, I met a friend who was (and is) a talented pianist, singer and songwriter. In fact, Ken Medema is one of the most talented people I’ve ever known in my life. And one of his earliest story-songs was about Mary and Elizabeth. For your reflection today, I’m going to paste in the words to that song and then give you a link to go over and listen to it. I think you’ll be glad you did.

So many things are happening to me that
   I don’t understand – 
Visions and angels and a baby named Jesus – 
   It’s not what I planned.
The plans I have made are like birds’ nests
   blown down in the wind and the rain.
And I’m scattered like straw, and I can’t quite
   tell where to find saneness again.

So, I’ll go tell Elizabeth,

For she’ll understand.
I’ll go tell Elizabeth,
She’ll hold my hand – she’ll understand.

“Go talk to Joseph.” Well I’ve talked to Joseph
and Joseph’s a man;

So many things that a woman can know that 
   a man never can.
Joseph is practical and Joseph is worried with
   things of his own.
And talking to Joseph is sometimes no better 
   than being alone – being alone.

So, I’ll go tell Elizabeth,

‘Cause she’ll understand.
Yes, I’ll go tell Elizabeth,
She’ll hold my hand – she’ll understand.
Sometimes I wish I could wake up and discover it all was a dream;

I ought to be shouting for joy, yet I’m coming apart at the seams.
Mostly I’m quiet – I keep things inside me – It’s how I get by.
When there’s too much to handle, and I need someone
   near me to share a good cry – share a good cry.

So many things are happening to me that she’ll understand.
Now that she’s pregnant her life isn’t going exactly as planned.
The plans we both made are like birds’ nests
   blown down in the wind and the rain.
And we’re scattered like straw, and we can’t quite
   tell where to find saneness again – saneness again.

So, I’m coming Elizabeth.

‘Cause I’ll understand.
I’m coming Elizabeth.
I’ll hold your hand – I’ll understand.
Yes, I’m coming Elizabeth.
For I’ll understand.
I’m coming Elizabeth – I’ll hold your hand – 
I’ll understand.
        copyright, Ken Medema

You can hear Ken sing this wonderful song by clicking on this line, and then hitting the small photo next to the title. An arrow should appear.

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Fourteen


Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in theLord!
The Lord has made me strong.
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
I rejoice because you rescued me.
No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

“Stop acting so proud and haughty!

Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
he will judge your actions.
The bow of the mighty is now broken,
    and those who stumbled are now strong.

Those who were well fed are now starving,
    and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
    and the woman with many children wastes away.

The Lord gives both death and life;
he brings some down to the grave but raises others up.
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he brings some down and lifts others up.
He lifts the poor from the dust
    and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
    placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
    and he has set the world in order.

1 Samuel 2:1-8 -NLT

I am pretty sure I know why this section of Old Testament scripture is included in this series of Advent texts. And that reason will show up in tomorrow’s post: the Magnificat, the song of Mary, the one she sings to her cousin Elizabeth, a song of power and rebellion and a prophetic word about what was to come in the ministry, life and death of the baby she carried while she sang it.

As we’ll see tomorrow, Mary’s song sounds a little bit like Hannah’s; these two women are soul sisters across the centuries that stretch from the time of the judges to 1st century Palestine. 

They know an important truth about God, a truth that we’ve been uncovering in surprising places all along our journey toward the Light this Advent season. And that truth is this: God is in the business of upsetting the apple cart, of confounding expectations, of accomplishing justice/righteousness/salvation/wholeness in ways that often seem upside down and backwards to us.

But Hannah sings right into the heart of it all:

For all the earth is the Lord’s,
    and he has set the world in order.

So as I continue to look for the light, I am asking God to help me let go of preconceptions, of culturally bound ideas of authority and power and wealth. I’m asking to see what Hannah saw, what Mary saw, and to learn to sing a song of my own. A song of praise and thanksgiving to the God of surprises, the God who comes in small things and cares about those who are least in the eyes of the world.

Will you help me to sing with my sisters, Lord God? To honor their faith, and to join them in acknowledging that you, and you alone, are in charge of this earth. That even when it doesn’t look like it to me, you have, indeed, ‘set the world in order.’ 

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Thirteen


But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He made heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them.
He keeps every promise forever.
He gives justice to the oppressed
and food to the hungry.
The Lord frees the prisoners.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down.
The Lord loves the godly.
The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
He cares for the orphans and widows,
but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.
The Lord will reign forever.
He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations.

Praise the Lord!

Psalm 145:5-10-NLT

So, Lord. About that “gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry” bit? 
Yeah, I’m struggling with that part.

Some days, the headlines point me straight to despair,
make me wonder where you are,
and question some of these grand and beautiful words in the psalms.
I want to shout at you,
poke at you and cry,
“Show yourself, mighty in power.
Step in! Intervene!”

I rant and I rave and I shake my fist in your general direction
(wherever that is), and I sigh a lot.

A lot.

And then, I remember.
I remember that you’re not about the ‘big move,’
the dramatic power play,
the thunder and lightning kind of thing.

You sent a baby, for heaven’s sake.
A baby.

And then that baby grew up and began to preach,
and hang out with the riff-raff,
and look out for the little guy.
And if we looked really carefully,
we could begin to see how it is that
you do this work of justice-giving,
and oppression-relieving,
and hunger-feeding.

You do it in small ways, surprising ways.
And you choose to do it through us —
us crazy, mixed-up, messed-up
human beings.

You invite us to take a look around,
to find the places where oppression
needs to be lifted,

and the hungry fed,
and then you encourage us
and you empower us,
if we are open and willing,
to live out the truth of this psalm in our world.

It’s a bit of a wacky scheme in my book,
and one I imagine I’ll question all my days.
And yet, I’ve seen it play out in remarkable ways,
not always, and not often enough (at least in my book),
but I’ve seen it.

And for what I’ve seen,
and what I’ve read,
I thank you.
And I am choosing to trust you,
to believe that are still at work in our world,
that you are still working through the likes of us,
even the likes of me,
to bring healing and hope to our world.

May it be so, Lord. May it be so.

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Three



     God blessed Noah and his sons: He said, “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill the Earth! Every living creature—birds, animals, fish—will fall under your spell and be afraid of you. You’re responsible for them. All living creatures are yours for food; just as I gave you the plants, now I give you everything else. Except for meat with its lifeblood still in it—don’t eat that.

     “But your own lifeblood I will avenge; I will avenge it against both animals and other humans.

    Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans let his blood be shed,
Because God made humans in his image
reflecting God’s very nature.
You’re here to bear fruit, reproduce,
lavish life on the Earth, live bountifully!”

     Then God spoke to Noah and his sons: “I’m setting up my covenant with you including your children who will come after you, along with everything alive around you—birds, farm animals, wild animals—that came out of the ship with you. I’m setting up my covenant with you that never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters; no, never again will a flood destroy the Earth.”

     God continued, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. From now on, when I form a cloud over the Earth and the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll remember my covenant between me and you and everything living, that never again will floodwaters destroy all life. When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth.”

     And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I’ve set up between me and everything living on the Earth.”

Genesis 9:1-17  -The Message

God begins making promises to us right here in this narrative. We are part of the ‘everything living after you’ — all of us, men and women, old people and children, even the animals are part of this promise, this covenant agreement to never again destroy the whole earth.

I find the story of Noah to be one of the strangest and scariest in all of scripture. It’s within the first eleven chapters of Genesis, what scholars call the pre-history — richly detailed stories handed down from generation to generation, all of them stories about beginnings. Here, in the middle of this collection of ancient tales, we find evidence of God’s care for creation. So very different from the old stories of surrounding cultures, where the gods are either vindictive or petty and care little about human beings. No. The God who chose to reveal divine truth to the people who became the Hebrews is telling us something important here, something real.

Much like yesterday’s psalm, this end of the story of Noah tells us that God is on our side, that God will not forget us, that God binds us together — the divine and the human — in an unbreakable bond. That beautiful bow in the sky is a sign and a seal on that union. 

Can we look for rainbows between now and Christmas? Real ones, up in the sky, if we’re so blessed by the weather. But also small bits of color, vibrancy amid the darkness, beauty in the ashes. Because, whether we’re entirely comfortable with it or not, the Noah story is a terrible story, one that should probably never be told to children. There is death and destruction on a grand scale, all at the hands of God. 

But . . .

There is also the rainbow, the sign of the promise. That first big promise of good and life-giving things to come, from a God who is mysterious and unsearchable, yet who longs to be in communion with us — human creatures who are slow-witted and prone to destruction.


Let’s look for reminders as we look for the light, shall we?

Unsearchable God, we do not begin to understand all of the ways in which you work in this world. But this much we know — you are a promise-making and a promise-keeping God, a God who longs for us to live and flourish in relationship with you. Thank you.

* As an added Advent bonus, I heartily recommend you click on this link and meander over to SheLoves fine post on Random Acts of Advent Kindness. I’m going to try and do this as often as possible and I encourage you all to check it out for yourselves.