Monday, June 21, 2021

Baking Is a Spiritual Act

(Scroll to the end of the post to print your copy of Praying & Making Biscuits including my favorite recipe and a spiritual exercise!)

I peered into the kitchen on the way to my bedroom. I watched my mother glide the rolling pin over a batch of sugar cookie dough. It was December and today was a baking day.. I enjoyed the smells in the kitchen. After baking the cookies, my mother would layer them with wax paper to be stored inside a five-pound coffee can. The cans, eighteen of them, would line the wooden shelf in the cold garage, waiting to be delivered to friends, neighbors, work colleagues, and teachers at the school my brother and I attended.

I wanted to be part of it. I longed to enter my mother's world and learn how to bake the cookies everyone looked forward to receiving. I wanted to reach out to my mom so she would reach out to me, a longing that had been in my heart for many years. I yearned to learn family secrets that were delicious and comforting instead of those that were horrid and traumatic. By the time I turned twelve, I resigned myself to the reality that I was there only to witness experiences, but not to participate in them. 

Some of the cookies were simple to prepare, like snickerdoodles, others time-consuming to decorate such as  holiday wreaths covered with green icing and small pieces of red citron for berries. My favorite were the chocolate balls. My mother also made peanut butter cookies dipped in chocolate and nuts as well as sugar cookies cut in various shapes - a tree, Santa’s face, a bell, a star, and an angel. My father stepped in to perfectly decorate each cookie using sprinkles, tiny silver candy balls, and coconut for Santa’s beard.

Aside from my father’s help with decorating the cookies, the kitchen was my mother’s domain. She kept everyone else out of the kitchen when she baked Christmas cookies or any type of cake or pastry. She kept her eyes on her work, mixing, rolling, setting the timer, putting the cookie sheet into the oven and taking it out. I knew my place. From previous rejections, too many to count, I learned that I wasn’t to bother her or even ask to be part of what she was doing. I missed out on the opportunity to learn recipes for ethnic dishes and pastries from my mother’s Russian heritage as well as techniques to make the abundant number of cookies she baked at Christmas. But now I realize she too missed out on passing down these recipes and time spent bonding with me over cracking eggs, stirring, naming ingredients, and rolling out cookie dough. 

As with so many repressed interests when I was growing up, I resolved to teach myself to bake when I got older. 

Shortly after I married, I learned to bake bread. For our wedding we received a set of nesting bowls, the largest a perfect size to hold a rising ball of dough. My mother didn’t bake bread, so I was carving out my own identity in the kitchen.

I quickly learned the preciseness of bread baking. Making sure the temperature of the milk was right, not so hot that it would kill the yeast or so cold that the yeast didn’t rise, was central to preparing the dough. I depended on a thermometer for those early years of baking, but in time, I was able to calculate the temperature by putting a half stick of butter in the milk and watching it melt.  I knew when the melting butter formed a rectangular ring, the temperature was perfect. 

I continued to bake our bread for many years after we were married. We  welcomed the wonderful smell of the kitchen when the dough was baking. We enjoyed sinking our teeth into  the crusty top and the soft middle. A slice of fresh bread right out of the oven with butter melting into the holes of the bread was the perfect treat.

At Mike’s first church appointment following seminary, a middle-aged couple invited us to dinner. They served biscuits with the meal. I never had a biscuit before and was intrigued with the circular bread. I asked lots of questions about baking biscuits.

“Here is an old biscuit cutter and my recipe,” the hostess said as we left for home, “Let me know how your first batch turns out! I love baking biscuits.“ 

I was touched by her kindness and desire to help me learn to bake something new. What a contrast to my mother, who didn’t want me anywhere near the kitchen.

As I made biscuits, I held the sticky dough in my hands gauging carefully how much flour to add to make the dough smooth and easy to mold.  

With the addition of a second child eleven years after we were married, I was too busy to make bread. I also worked part-time and had very few extra moments to bake.However, I could still bake biscuits regularly. They took less time, did not involve dough rising twice, and I could easily get them made with the assistance of a daughter.

I loved having my children in the kitchen helping me. With a child standing on a chair close by, we stirred and added ingredients, talking as we worked together. Baking cookies or biscuits or bread with my two daughters was a great way to teach language using descriptive words. Color, texture, mixing, rolling, and kneading. Learning the names of kitchen utensils like bowls, biscuit and cookie cutter, rolling pin, measuring cups, and spoons. Naming ingredients like flour, eggs, milk, and cooking oil. Action words like cracking the egg, stirring the butter, chopping the nuts, rolling the dough. These made each baking project a learning experience.

I can still hear them dragging a chair across the kitchen floor to a spot next to me at the kitchen counter. Standing on the chair gave them a few extra inches to see what was going on in the bowl. I found each child relaxed as we prepared and rolled the dough. We talked about whatever was on their mind: school, friendships, being part of a group, after-school activities, special interests. Working together side-by-side created an intimacy and closeness for discussion. They were not witnesses, but meaningful participants in kitchen preparations. 

Every November, when Mike was pastor of Center United Methodist Church on the southside of Indianapolis, the church would hold an annual action at a chicken and noodle dinner. Once, I decided to auction a year of biscuits at the event, one batch a month. When it came time for the bidding several people were interested. I listened with excitement wondering how much my biscuits would bring. My donation eventually brought  $30.00 to the top bidder, a retired couple.

Baking biscuits for the year was so much fun. I couldn’t believe someone would donate thirty dollars to the church for what I made in the kitchen. Each month I delivered the biscuits I was greeted with joy and gratitude.

“You make the best homemade biscuits,” the couple said. “We like to cut the biscuit in half, put cheese in the middle and melt in the microwave. Sometimes we put honey on the biscuit. However, we eat them, we enjoy them so much. We are glad we won your donation.”

Every time I left their house after a delivery I felt gratified knowing I provided something they found meaningful. Their appreciation warmed my heart.

When we lived in Vincennes, 1989-1996, my reputation for baking biscuits spread quickly as I shared batches with friends and neighbors for birthdays or as Christmas gifts. I could barter any favor from a friend, including childcare, as long as a batch of biscuits was involved.

Baking biscuits was woven into my daily routine just like brushing my teeth or washing my hair or swimming laps.

When Mike was assigned a church in Fishers, Indiana, I had no idea how my participation in programs and morning events at a local Catholic retreat center would deepen my faith and affect my biscuit baking. Moving to a larger city opened many opportunities for spiritual growth. My soul was thirsty to grow and deepen in God’s presence, but living in smaller towns, I had trouble finding resources to help with the spiritual growth I was seeking.

One day, I was exploring the different names listed in the Bible for Jesus, wanting to name my image of God’s Son - shepherd, morning star, counselor, etc. When I read “bread of life,” I paused. With my history of baking bread and biscuits, I was drawn to the image of Jesus as the bread of life. Taking the communion bread, I experienced Jesus tangibly. I never saw shepherds or the morning star, but I did bake biscuits, and bread was a familiar way for me  to relate to Jesus.

Thinking about Jesus as the ‘bread of life’ helped me experience baking biscuits in new ways.

Before I started, I lit a candle, a reminder that God was with me,  God’s presence filled my kitchen. I blessed my hands recognizing God is in my hands, in all parts of my body and my life. My hands were doing holy work. I put all of the ingredients on the table, ready to gather each one prayerfully to put in the bowl.

The simplicity of ingredients for biscuits – milk, flour, baking powder, and baking soda – reminded me that Jesus was a simple person, unencumbered by possessions or wealth. Jesus noted the power of small things: yeast, seeds, a pearl, and a mustard seed. I wanted to be more like Jesus.  I thought about how I could simplify my life. Maybe I could eliminate a few magazines I was receiving. Did we really need a new couch? I was thankful my job made a new requirement for all employees to wear scrubs not street clothes. I could surely save money and effort by simplifying my wardrobe.

Stirring the ingredients helped me to ponder how God was stirring my soul. What new thoughts surfaced about God?  How was my prayer life changing? I realized that saying a lot of words before God could be superfluous, and quietly resting in God’s presence became a new way to pray. Where could I make connections in the body of Christ to spread God’s love?

I felt connected to the body of Christ while kneading the sticky dough, blending in more flour to make the dough smooth. In time my hands listened to the dough. I could feel how much flour the dough required without even looking. If I was giving the biscuits to someone, I prayed for that person or a circumstance they were facing. Love and prayer were kneaded into the dough. 

While the biscuits baked I smelled the aroma coming from the oven. God was with me each step of the baking process. I was co-creating with God, preparing bread in the presence of the Bread of Life..  After nine minutes in the oven, the biscuit tops took on a golden hue. I rubbed margarine over the top of each one noting how baking biscuits is a tangible venture from creation in Genesis to the transformation of the resurrection.

While the biscuits cooled, I tore a piece of paper into the shape of a biscuit. Tearing rather than cutting represents the unpredictability, the uneven edges and unknowns in life. Sometimes I would write a sentence, prayer, reflection, or blessing expressing how I felt during my mini retreat making biscuits. When giving the biscuits to someone else, I would include the paper so they might sense holiness in this tangible expression of the body of Christ.

Gathering the pans, bowls and measuring cups to wash, I thanked God for being with me, for speaking to me while I baked. 

Inspired by my personal experience of God’s presence in the kitchen, I even put together a day-long retreat, “Praying with Bread,” which I presented to several church groups. I explored passages in the Bible mentioning bread. Participants drew around their hands on a piece of paper and thought about ways we used our hands in everyday life. We would discuss reflection questions for each topic, and after lunch, the group made a batch of biscuits, spending time in silence while the biscuits were baking in order to reflect on their experience that day.  When the biscuits were done, each person shared what the day had meant personally. Each participant took home a couple of biscuits and reflection questions to conclude the time.

Although it’s been a few years since I gave the retreat, baking biscuits is always a holy time for me. I continue the practice of lighting a candle and blessing my hands, pondering the stirrings of my heart with each step. If I am baking biscuits to give to someone I pray for them, kneading prayer and love into the dough.

One day, I sensed God leading me to express the joy I felt baking bread and biscuits. I got a sheet of white paper and two pens, the blue one for my right hand and the red one for my left hand. I started at the top of the paper and drew a sketch of myself wearing an apron with a bowl filled with rising dough resting on a table in front of me. A star on the apron bib represented Jesus as the morning star. I’ve learned that the morning star is the brightest one in the sky. Even though clouds may cover the light, I know that the morning star is still there, giving me the comfort of knowing Jesus is always with me. Combining the two names for Jesus, morning star and bread of life, in one drawing took me deeper into God’s presence. (See drawing at beginning of this post.)

I also sketched a bowl of rising dough and wrote a poem about feeling like a warm loaf of bread, expressing my need for comfort and containment. (See drawing below.)

“I want to be

The loaf of bread

Wrapped in cloth

Warm and resting

On a table

By the fire.”

When I was growing up, the kitchen was not a place where I was welcome. When I started cooking for myself, after finishing graduate school and starting my first job, I was an awkward and uncomfortable cook, relying on hot dogs and pre-prepared meals for dinner. However, after I got married, the kitchen became a place of exploration and creativity, putting ingredients together, following a recipe or venturing out on my own with self-made dishes. When I began to make bread, a whole new world opened. Can you imagine that learning about biscuits in the mid-70’s paved the way for my spiritual growth?

All work is holy work.  Acknowledging the holiness of ordinary tasks keeps us aware and closely connected to God in our everyday life.

I am reminded of Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite monk. Brother Lawrence was known for “the practice of the presence of God.” Assigned to work in the monastery kitchen, he peeled potatoes, prepared meals, mopped floors, scraped burned bowls, and all other tasks to keep the kitchen clean and functioning. Brother Lawrence said, “The most effective way for communicating with God is to simply do ordinary work with a pure love of God. Our actions should unite us with God when we are involved in our daily activities, just as our prayers unite us with him in our quiet devotions.”  Brother Lawrence was equally prayerful cutting carrots in the kitchen as he was attending chapel services several times a day. 

After reading about Brother Lawrence many years ago, I applied his practice of the presence of God to ironing Mike’s shirts, my blouses, and the cotton clothes the children wore. I did not like to iron, and approached the pile of clothes begrudgingly. However, praying for my family while I ironed brought God into an ordinary task, added my love to their garment, and helped me feel refreshed and renewed when I finished. 


A few years ago, I read an article in “O” magazine, March, 2004, “What They Did for Bliss.” Journalist Sara Davidson visited the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut. There, nuns live on 450 acres of land where they grow their own food and make cheese. The religious community is unique because the forty women in the Benedictine order had attained success in the world before becoming nuns. A few of the nuns have been married with children. They pray in Latin, sing Gregorian chants eight times a day, and take vows of chastity and obedience. 

During the author’s visit, she helped in the cheese-making process. One of the sisters, Mother Mary Margaret Georgina explained, “The cheese, if created with love and tenderness, ‘will speak.’ Everything we make that goes out of here speaks. That’s one way contemplatives speak to the world.”

Sara spent several days at the abbey, following the sisters doing their work and participating in worship. Preparing to leave, she read a sign in her room asking guests to change their linens. She found the clean sheets in a cupboard and began yanking and tugging at the antique bed. Frustrated, trying to hurry and get the job done, she suddenly paused.

“The nuns put love into the cheese, the flowers and fruit they grow, the animals they care for, the shawls they weave. Why not put love into the linens for the next guest who may arrive feeling shy, uncertain and expectant like me?” She slowed down and smoothed the pillows gently, and tenderly as Mother Margaret Georgina had suggested handling the cheese. She imagined the material would hold, even remember, the love she offered as she made the bed, silently welcoming the next guest.

When we approach menial tasks with an awareness of God’s presence, love is transferred into all we do: ironing clothes, cooking, scrubbing pots and pans, making a bed, or kneading dough. 

What elements of your daily life might have room for prayer? 

How can you increase your awareness and welcome God, who is already present, into what you are doing?

When I was growing up, the kitchen felt like my mother’s domain, but it really was God’s domain. As the psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Through the years, whether baking biscuits with my daughters or alone with God there was a sense of community in the process: the community of God, and the ingredients in my hands as I worked the dough and prayed over church members and friends. 

Print your copy of Praying & Making Biscuits 
including my favorite recipe and a spiritual exercise.

Brother Lawrence quotes are taken from the book, “The Practice of the Presence of God.”


Monday, June 14, 2021

Goodbye Hug


Holding his sturdy, toddler body close to mine, 

Long, chubby legs dangling, 

Yellow crocs, perfect first shoes to anchor

Wobbly steps. 

Up to now I had seen his face only through a screen

Longed to play and hug him with my own two arms

Heard his voice through a cell phone speaker

Poor substitute for being in the room with his baby talk

Now I breathe in his essence, 

Cheerful, pleasant, happy

Constant smile, curiosity, 

A ball of delight in my own two arms

I watch him giggle, pouring water from red plastic cups, 

Bubbles surfacing, having fun in the bath.

Eyes tracking a dog as it passes by,

Toddler opening his mouth to pant in response.

Eating avocado with crackers, 

Bib catching occasional crumbs.

Outdoors together, 

Feeling the texture of moss 

Covering the base of the tree in his front yard. 

He is new to the world, 

He is new to himself, 

I have a great dent into living. 

We bond over a set of plastic farm animals from my suitcase 

Repeated choruses of “Old MacDonald had a farm,” 

Sending spasms of excitement from head to toe, arms waving. 

Baby babbles add language to our play. 

Sobbing over his shoulder, 

Saying good-bye 

To this sweet, new human, 

Born in a pandemic.

He points to something in the sky, 

Bringing delight to a hard goodbye, 

Too young to realize the meaning of farewell. 

I give him a long squeeze,

Hoping my hug will leave an imprint of his heart on mine, 

Sealed love between grandson and gramma, 

Until we are together again. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Stirring the Water: Swimming as Prayer

There was no such thing as a neighborhood swimming pool when I was growing up in the 1950s in Columbus, Ohio.  Families who were affluent joined a country club in a wealthy suburb on the west side of town and could swim whenever they wanted in the summer. The only place for a kid like me to swim was the inside pool at the downtown YMCA twenty-five minutes from my house. 

One year, the YMCA offered swimming lessons for girls participating in Brownie Scouts. Learning to swim seemed like a good idea, but I was apprehensive. Not only had I never seen a swimming pool, trying new things was overwhelming to me, a child whose world consisted of going to school, attending church, and playing around the house or in the backyard.

I didn’t even have a bathing suit of my own to bring. Fortunately, the Y provided towels and cotton suits in navy blue for all of us to wear. My suit didn’t fit, but there were no smaller sizes available. The straps hung loosely over my thin shoulders. I feared my suit would slip off in the water. I hid at the back of the line, embarrassed at my small frame in a suit that was too big.


The pool was bordered by a narrow tile deck that looked too close to the water for my safety. I scanned my eyes from the shallow end where the water was light aqua to the deep end where it became dark blue. A plastic divider stretched from side to side, separating the shallow from the deep. 

My friend, Rachel, asked, “What’s that smell?” I wiped my runny nose with the edge of my towel. My eyes watered. 

The teacher replied, “That’s chlorine. Chlorine kills any germs in the water and keeps the pool clean. Once you get swimming you won’t notice the smell anymore.”

The friend in front of me slipped on the slick tiles around the edge of the pool. I pressed my feet into the ground with each step to keep myself steady.  I followed the lead of the other children and found a spot on the edge of the pool.  We began the class by kicking our legs in the water. I started slowly, but in a short time I was making big splashes like the others. 

The teacher instructed us to get into the pool and jump up and down. I was the last one in. I gripped the side tightly. Because I was short, I couldn’t touch the bottom. The water was cold. Everyone else was laughing and splashing and making waves in the water. I wanted to go home.

I knew I needed to participate. With reluctance, still clinging to the side of the pool, I stretched my legs to the bottom, the surface of the water almost reaching my mouth. My first jumps were short, but gradually I gained confidence and began to make my own pattern of splashes and waves. 

Soon, the teacher instructed us to take a deep breath, put our faces in the water, and blow bubbles. Once again, I let the other girls take the lead. Although I wasn’t afraid of the water, trying anything new required that I give myself a pep talk. In time, I put my face into the water. I felt the bubbles brush against my cheeks, tickling my face, making me laugh. Blowing bubbles was fun. 

Right before the lesson ended, the teacher had us extend our arms from the side, blow bubbles, and kick our legs. We were beginning swimmers, learning the basics of what to do with our bodies while in the water.

Pulling myself  out of the water, the warm, stuffy air, was surprisingly cold against my wet body.  I quickly wrapped a towel around my shivering shoulders, feeling water drip down my legs from the heavy cotton suit. We walked into the locker room, changed our clothes, dried our hair, and prepared to return home. 

I was glad to leave the pool. Although I was pleased with my efforts and ended up having a little fun, I needed some time to think about what I had learned and experienced. Even when I was seven, reflection was important. I needed time to recover from the stress of going to an unfamiliar place, meeting people I didn’t know, learning the procedures for swim class, and immersing myself in a container of water so much larger than my bathtub. Riding in the car on the way home, I realized how much I had accomplished in one short lesson. Each step of learning to swim came with hesitation, yet I had the courage to try anyway. 

The remaining lessons taught us to coordinate our arms, legs, and breathing. I learned quickly and enjoyed the feel of the water over my back. The uncoordinated movements of my arms and legs soon became a smooth rhythm. I liked swimming!

The last day of class, we went to the deep end. Oh my, there was so much water.  Would the water hold me? Would I sink? Would I disappear? The teacher reassured us swimming in the deep end was just like swimming in the shallow end. 

Instead of jumping into the deep end and swimming across like the other girls, I slid carefully into the water. The other side seemed so far away, but when I took a quick glance to compare  the  width of the shallow end, I realized the distance was the same. I had swum the freestyle stroke across the shallow end many times over the past few days with success. Taking a deep breath, I pushed away from the side. My arms moved in a steady rhythm. I turned my head to get a breath when needed. I somehow made it across without swallowing any water. Although no one cheered or celebrated my accomplishment, I realized how far I had come in two short weeks. 

I was developing a connection with the water. I felt a sense of success there like no other experience or environment I had been in. I longed to come to the pool and swim every week. I felt there was more the water wanted to provide for me than just a place to exercise.

I was at home in the pool. Enveloped by the water, I felt held and secure. Even though I was fearful at first, I enjoyed the freedom of movement the water allowed. I kicked my legs and swirled my arms over the water, making the water smooth, like icing a cake with a knife. When I let go of the pool’s edge I did jumping jacks in the water.


Although opening my eyes underwater made them sting, I liked watching the bubbles circle around when my friends swam near. Whether I floated on my stomach or my back, the water held me. Being in the pool was a calm and safe experience, something I was missing at home., I wouldn’t have the chance to swim again until four years later when I was eleven years old. 

When I was twelve, my family returned to Columbus, Ohio. Again, I would be absent from the water for a few years. At one point, a new housing addition built a swimming pool offering memberships to anyone in the area. My mother and her close friend chose to join. 

The first afternoon we went to the pool I was so excited. I put on my new green suit. The straps on my shoulders criss-crossed in the back and fastened my suit securely with  clear buttons. Unlike my first experience in the water at age 7, both this suit and the idea of swimming were now a good fit for me. 

During the ten minute drive, I thought about the strokes I knew the free-style and the breast stroke. From the front seat, my mother told me all children must be able to swim from one side of the pool to the other before having permission to use the diving board. In the back seat, I practiced moving my arms and turning my head to breathe. I remembered the strokes in the car, but what would happen in the water?

Arriving at the pool, I immediately joined the line of children waiting to pass the test. I didn’t want to waste any time sitting on the side. I was so confident, I jumped right in the pool when my name was called. The movements of the free-style returned like an old friend the minute I felt the water around my shoulders. I easily swam to the other side of the pool, my arms, legs, and breathing in perfect rhythm. I climbed out of the pool with a big grin.

“You passed!” the life-guard said, And with that , I jumped right back in the water making a huge splash and celebrating this moment of personal triumph and success.

I was in the pool for two hours. I swam from side to side and  went off the diving board multiple times. I swam underwater, watching bubbles dance and swirl from other children who were learning to swim like I did years ago.  I felt at home in the water. 

When I finally pulled myself from the water, I found my mother and her friend in a grassy area a few feet from the pool. The day was hot, there was no shade at the pool and I was thirsty.  I grabbed my towel, explored the snack area, and got a drink of cold water from the water fountain.

On the bulletin board, I noticed a sign advertising a life-saving class. In just two hours a night for one week I could become a certified life-guard. Although I wasn’t old enough yet, I decided to take the class the following summer when I was fifteen. Being a life-guard would allow me to earn money to buy clothes, but more importantly, I would have the opportunity to spend more time in the water and teach children how to swim. 

I thought about the life-saving class long after the pool closed and school started. Even in the middle of winter with snow on the ground, I thought about being in the water and taking the class when summer came. I was so excited to finally find a place to develop my skills as a swimmer, but also to teach children how to swim and be responsible for the safety of others in the water..

The next summer, I took the class and became certified as a senior life-saver.  I could life-guard, but I was most looking forward to the first week-long session of preschool swim classes. I got to the pool early on Monday morning and was paired with another guard, Ben. At 9:00 we  met our group of four-year-olds.. Every child jumped into the waist-high water, bobbing up and down with excitement…except John. John sat crying at the side of the pool, fearful of the water, holding on to his mother who sat with him. I wondered what it must be like to have a mother who cared enough to sit close and talk through a child’s reluctance. I had not had a caring mother like that, but I had been coached by a caring swim instructor. I had not cried during my first time at the edge of the pool, but I had felt uncertainty and anxiety. I was drawn to this hesitant child.  

“Ben, I want to work with John until he feels more comfortable.”

“Go ahead, “ replied Ben. “The other kids are doing just fine.”

I started talking with John, hoping to gain his trust. Each day, he returned to the pool, more confident. His mother was finally able to sit and relax at the picnic table close to the snack bar.

By Wednesday, John was putting his face in the water, joining the other children playing and splashing. All five children passed the beginning swimmer test on Friday, including John. Their coordination was a little out of rhythm, but they were off to a good start as they swam from one side of the shallow end of the pool to the other.

As I was saying good-bye to the children and getting ready for the next class, John’s mother walked toward me. In her hand, she carried a  plate covered in aluminum foil.

 “Thank you for helping John learn to swim,” she said as she handed it to me, “His father and I are so excited.” Surprised and not accustomed to affirmation, I thanked her and told her how much I had enjoyed working with John. I told her the story of how scared I was when I first learned to swim. I felt honored to help this little boy overcome his fear. I hoped in time he would come to enjoy swimming as much as I did. Watching John and his mother walk out of the pool gate laughing and holding hands made me smile. 

I took a minute before the next class of the day to look under the foil. It was a plate filled with brownies. I smelled the chocolate and could hardly wait to eat one. Although I had heard of brownies, this would be my first time actually tasting one. And this was also the first time in my life I could remember someone expressing appreciation to me. I was almost sixteen. I grew up in a home unaccustomed to extending kindness. Holding the plate, I savored the grace of her gesture. I felt special.  

I only taught swimming one summer. Life changed the next year. My mother went to work full-time and I had no way of getting to the pool. I was sad and disappointed. I yearned for the peace the water gave me. Unfortunately, many years passed before I would swim again. 

Four months after my husband, Mike and I were married, I convinced him to start swimming laps at Duke University where he was a Divinity School student. I remembered how much fun I had swimming in the summer when I was a teenager teaching children and lifeguarding. Since none of the  eleven high schools in Columbus had pools, my time in the water was limited to summer workouts at the neighborhood pool. Now, with Mike in school, we had free access to the university pool year-round. I was eager to get into a regular habit of swimming.


While Mike went to school full-time, I worked in a school for hearing impaired children.  Every evening after dinner, Mike would study for a couple of hours and then at about 9:00 pm we would drive to the university pool and swim laps.

The first time we went, Mike mentioned his breathing was not well-coordinated with his arm movements. I gave him a few suggestions. He practiced holding on to the side of the pool, turning his head to breathe with his arm overhead. His timing improved, and he swallowed less water with each stroke. Gradually, he developed a smooth, coordinated rhythm eventually moving faster than me! We swam for almost an hour each night, returning home refreshed, ready for a snack and bedtime. We continued this routine until he graduated.

After Mike was assigned to a pastorate, I swam intermittently as pool availability was limited.  One small town where Mike served two churches, had an outdoor pool open only in the summer. The next church was in a large town with a YMCA. We joined within a week of moving.

I swam half a mile the day I went into the hospital to deliver our first daughter. For the second daughter, I had to stop swimming two weeks before she came because I was in early labor. Otherwise, I have continued to spend at least five days a week swimming laps since January 1975.

Swimming began to take on a deeper meaning after I had children. I realized the forty minutes spent going back and forth from one side of the pool to the next offered peace and a quiet rhythm, which I lacked during the day. 

In 1997, as memories of my childhood trauma surfaced, I found myself overwhelmed, out of control, grasping to find ways to cope. Water, a continuing thread in my life, was sustaining during these challenging years. I thought back to passages in the Bible where Jesus interacted with water. He walked on water, taught large groups of people next to rivers, baptized with water, and changed water into wine. 

I especially connected with a story in John 5:1-5, describing the pool called Bethesda near the sheep gate in Jerusalem. Crowds of sick people gathered around the pool. Some old manuscripts add a few verses omitted from most Bibles. “The people were waiting for the water to move, because every now and then an angel of the Lord went down into the pool and stirred the water. The first sick person to go into the pool after the water was stirred was healed from whatever disease he or she had.

”I read these verses over and over. When I went to the pool, just before I jumped in, I began stirring the water with my hands, inviting God to be part of my swim. I prayed I too would experience healing with each lap.

Swimming was a way to pray. While I swam, I felt carried, not pulled in by the mental and emotional events with which I was dealing. The time in the water raked away these concerns. In the water, I was immersed in God’s presence. 

When I swim, God often gives me a word, insight, or image, reminders of God’s presence.  Both my muscles and my mind relax. I am grateful for what I encounter in the water, God and myself, growing in strength and confidence to persevere along a difficult path. 

Some days the water loosens emotions which have not been able to surface. Anger, frustration and sadness come out when I think about challenges in my life. The water is always open to receive whatever I bring. God hears the struggles of my heart with each stroke.

Occasionally, tears seep through my goggles blending with the water.  I am grateful for the way I can truly be myself with God while I swim.  I finish my laps feeling like I have talked to a good friend, and when I dry off on the deck, I feel better, cleansed, refreshed. 

In time, I reached a place of wellness. The emotional challenges were overcome. God’s companionship in the water reminded me how well God knew my needs and cared for me. 

I am grateful for the swim lessons offered to me when I was a seven-year-old Brownie Scout. Even today, I follow the instructions my swim teacher gave me all those years ago, stretching my arm and leg muscles and feeling the bubbles tickling my cheeks when I breathe out into the water. I wasn’t as aware of God then as I am now, but I have a sense that God was right beside me carrying me along during those moments of apprehension and anxiety, teaching me to love the water and helping me to feel held and healed.