About Jenn Cavanaugh

B.A. Russian Language and Literature, Willamette University; M.A. Theology and the Arts, Fuller Seminary

Frederick Buechner on the Church as Family

Frederick Buechner turns 92 on Wednesday (long may he drive the darkness back), but this is a word best heard gearing up for a Sunday.

“Life is extraordinary, and the extraordinariness of it is what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God. The extraordinariness of it is that in the Kingdom of God we all belong to each other the way families do. We are all of us brothers and sisters in it. We are all of us mothers and fathers and children of each other in it because that is that we are being called together as the Church to be. That is what being the Church means. We are called by God to love each other the way Jesus says that God has loved us.

Loving each other doesn’t mean loving each other in some sentimental, unrealistic, greeting-card kind of way but the way families love each other even though they may fight tooth and nail and get fed to the teeth with each other and drive each other crazy yet all the time know deep down in their hearts that they belong to each other and need each other and can’t imagine what life would be without each other — even the ones they often wish had never been born.”

— Frederick Buechner

from “The Church” in The Clown in the Belfry (pp. 149-159). San Francisco: Harper, 154.


Into the Labyrinth: The Road to Emmaus

Traditionally, the labyrinth is an uncluttered opportunity for centering prayer. It usually consists of a single path that leads into the center and back out. There are twists and turns, switchbacks, and apparent setbacks that actually take you further along the path to your goal, but feel like moving in the wrong direction. Unlike in a maze – the labyrinth’s choose-your-own-adventure cousin – if you simply walk the path in front of you, you will get where you’re going. Labyrinths are often found outdoors or in relatively bare chapels with an altar and candles that welcome people to come and unburden themselves of whatever they’re carrying, yoke themselves to Christ, and practice walking in the spirit. It is a lovely form of sacred space: simple yet suggestive. The idea presented below is not intended as an improvement over a traditional labyrinth. We borrowed the labyrinth motif because it brought to life the sense of realization while in movement, the walking epiphanies of the story of the disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus. As such, it would be appropriate to set up during Epiphany or during Lent – when we wander the desert not to lose ourselves, but to find our center – as well as when we did it: during the season of Easter, before Ascension, when this story originally took place.

WP_20141208_17_01_36_Pro__highres (2)

A labyrinth of the everyday – trompe l’oeil outside Chartres Cathedral

Road to Emmaus Labyrinth

Luke 24:13-35

Our[1] labyrinth consisted of a huge drop cloth on the floor marked in a variation on a classic labyrinth pattern.[2] With staggered starts, the labyrinth could accommodate four or five people at a time. We set up eight compact, numbered stations along the path – five going in, one at the center, and two going out.[3] Two readers (one reading the script, the other the scripture passages throughout) recorded an audio tour with music as follows. People were given headphones and a cheap, one-button mp3 player and invited to pause and play and go at their own pace. In this script the numbers correspond to the track number.

  1. “Welcome”

Welcome to the Emmaus Road Labyrinth. Here we enter the story of two disciples meeting the resurrected Jesus as they walked along the road to a town called Emmaus. In a sense, we’ll be walking along with them as we progress into and back out from the heart of the labyrinth. A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is a puzzle to be solved. A labyrinth is a path to be followed. Walking a labyrinth is a completely different exercise than running a maze. Here there is no fear of being lost. The labyrinth externally enacts the internal experience of centering. Spiritually, it represents space set apart, or sacred space, in which we are drawn into the center, to the recognition of the presence of God, then return to the world blessed and changed by the experience, and better equipped to be an agent of blessing and change.


Each station in the labyrinth has one track on this audio guide. Go at your own pace. This is a time to walk in the Spirit, swap stories with Jesus and listen for the voice of God in your life. If the words or music become a distraction, feel free to pause, skip ahead or ignore the recording entirely. Enter the labyrinth and continue walking until you reach station one.


  1. “Station One (going in): They were kept from recognizing him” Luke 24:13-16

Jesus’ followers then and now have different perceptions of who he is and what he came to do. The disciples’ false perceptions of Jesus kept them from knowing and loving him for who he is. They thought he was a teacher, a revolutionary, a ruler; they thought he was dead.

It is difficult to recognize the presence of God when God doesn’t act according to our assumptions. St. John of the Cross called this the dark night of the soul. He saw it as a time in which, despite all appearances and perceptions, even though it feels like stumbling around in the dark, the soul grows in faith and intimacy with Christ Himself, rather than with illusions of Him.


Open the flaps to see images of the Jesus we think we know. Ask him to reveal himself so that we may love him as he truly is.[4]

Music: “The Dark Night of the Soul” by Loreena McKennitt


  1. “Station Two (going in): Downcast” Luke 24:17

The Seder is the traditional meal and central celebration of Passover. To read about the origins of Passover, please pause this recording and read Exodus 11 & 12 marked in the bibles here. The entire extended family is to come together. Throughout the meal, they retell the Exodus story in the first person as if they had been one of the slaves freed from Pharaoh’s bondage. The bitter herbs, horseradish here, are eaten to remind the participants of the bitterness of slavery.  Are you downcast? Where are you experiencing bitterness? Taste the herbs and let the words of Psalm 22 be your cry to heaven.


  1. “Station Three (going in): Storytelling, Part 1” Luke 24:18-24

The disciples on the road were consoling each other by telling stories and remembering Christ. On index cards, write about a time in your life when you met with God. Pin them to the storyboard. Read others’ stories and allow others to read your story.


  1. “Station Four (going in): Storytelling, Part 2” Luke 24:25-27

Now Jesus tells his story, explaining his work throughout the ages, establishing and re-establishing relationships with his people. Flip through a bible and take some time to hear God’s story of constant provision and love. The lectionary bookmarks and bibles are free for you to take with you.

Music: “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” by Jars of Clay (light) or Gavin Bryars (strong)


  1. “Station Five (going in): Welcoming the Stranger” Luke 24:28-29

The disciples welcomed Jesus though they did not yet recognize him. Who is the stranger walking along the road with you now? Have you ever encountered Christ in or through a stranger? Have you ever been that stranger? Consider these questions as you watch the video.[5] Pause this program and use the headphones attached to the monitor.


  1. “Station Six (center): Breaking Bread” Luke 24:30-31

Here in the center of the labyrinth, Jesus meets us and offers sustenance for the journey outward. Break bread with Christ. Join in this prayer from “Six Recognitions of the Lord” by Mary Oliver as you take and eat.


Oh, feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with

the fragrance of the fields and the

freshness of the oceans which you have

made, and help me to hear and to hold

in all dearness those exacting and wonderful

words of our Lord Christ Jesus, saying:

Follow me.


[minute pause]

When you are ready to begin your journey back out into the world, take a card and exit out the corner opposite from the one you entered. Practice walking prayerfully.


  1. “Station Seven (going out): Burning Hearts” Luke 24:32

What is Christ saying to you on the road? What does scripture say about Jesus? What does it say about you? Have you looked recently to see? Light a candle and pray for the scriptures to be opened to you, for the words to burn within your heart.


What words from the scripture cards or from your bible reading do you want burned deeper into your heart? Write them onto a paper heart, tack it to a candle and take it with you. Light it at home, while it burns pray that the scriptures will be opened to you and your heart opened to them.

Music: “Listen” by Michelle Tumes


  1. “Station Eight (going out): Returning to Jerusalem” Luke 24:33-35

Where is your “Jerusalem?” Where will you now return and share what you have experienced? Who can you talk to about what you are learning about Jesus?

Christ is risen! Take a cross to give to a friend as a reminder of Christ the Lord, alive and walking with us.



[1] You know you have a successful collaboration going when no one can remember whose ideas were whose and they’ve become too interwoven to attribute them separately anyway. I got to write the script, but the experience as a whole was thought through and produced by everyone in our alt worship planning group: Cristie Kearny, Deb Hedeen, Judy Naegeli, Trisha Gilmore, Cathy Stevens, Heidi Estey, Kirk Heynen, James Kearny and Anika Smith.

[2] Ours happened to have one path leading in to the center and a different path leading back out, but generally I would recommend the Half-Chartres (basically the inside half of the design at Chartres Cathedral). You can find instructions for making a 12’ x 12’ version at “Karen’s Small Labyrinths” http://www.angelfire.com/my/zelime/labyrinthssmall.html#halfchartres. The size shown there would be sufficient for people to use one or two at a time with a single station in the middle, but wouldn’t accommodate what I’m describing here. Ours was about 4 times that size, maybe 25’ x 25’.

[3] The stations should be clearly numbered with the station number and the track number and labeled “going in” or “going out” so as not to confuse anyone. Remember they are all actually set up on and around a flat, open surface, so they will not be laid down linearly. If you use a single path labyrinth, people will be walking by stations 7 and 8 on the way in, but should only stop at them on the way out. We set up stations on small, low tables and music stands so they wouldn’t pose as obstacles by taking up too much space. Café tables would work nicely for the stations you can place around the outside of the circuit. Ideally, if someone’s standing at a station, another person should be able to pass them without stepping completely off the path.

[4] Our artists made this interactive piece. You can create your own by making a collage poster of images of Jesus or roles people think of Jesus playing: the miracle worker, the rustic shepherd, the white-suited televangelist, the revolutionary in a beret, the pacifist at a sit-in, etc. Then overlay the poster with another piece of poster board and cut flaps in it that open onto the various images.

[5] We commissioned a videographer and a high school student in our congregation to collaborate on a video of different kinds of people. You could make your own using stills of people in your church and neighborhood or footage from mission trips. Or you could download something along the lines of The Work of the People’s “Stranger” (http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/index.php?ct=store.details&pid=V00520) or LifesongMD’s “World Faces” (http://youtu.be/z6RLHKRs9D8).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Florilegium


“’Speak out for those who cannot speak’ – who in the church today still remembers that this is the very least the Bible asks of us in such times as these?”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Letter to Erwin Sutz,
11 Sept 1934
in Works, Vol 13, 217.

Has anyone else been thinking about the Confessing Church a lot lately?

In honor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birthday today, the good people at The Englewood Review of Books have collected five passages from his writings to help us reflect on what costly discipleship might look like for us in the here and now.


Prüfung (Examination)/ The Ordeal by Edith Breckwoldt. 2004, Mahnmal St. Nikolai, Hamburg

The inscription on the other side reads

No man in the whole world

can change the truth.

One can only look for the truth,

find it and serve it.

The truth is in all places.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer







Christmas Again

“the Word became flesh and lived among us” – John 1:14 (NRSV)


“Winter landscape, with rocks” by Sylvia Plath


Water in the millrace, through a sluice of stone,

plunges headlong into that black pond

where, absurd and out-of-season, a single swan

floats chaste as snow, taunting the clouded mind

which hungers to haul the white reflection down.


“Soleil couchant sur la Seine à Lavacourt, effet d’hiver” by Claude Monet


The austere sun descends above the fen,

an orange cyclops-eye, scorning to look

longer on this landscape of chagrin;

feathered dark in thought, I stalk like a rook,

brooding as the winter night comes on.


Last summer’s reeds are all engraved in ice

as is your image in my eye; dry frost

glazes the window of my hurt; what solace

can be struck from rock to make heart’s waste

grow green again? Who’d walk in this bleak place?

Advent Again – Christmas Eve

Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined. – Isaiah 9:2b (NKJV)


“Stjernenatt” (Starry Night) by Edvard Munch

“Walkative, Talkative” by Alfred Starr Hamilton

When those are the walkative stars
That talked to the immediate prisoners themselves
When those are the talkative stars
That walked along the narrow sledge pathways
Yet those are lines to another star
That were to have been led for changelings
Around a dark dreambox of another kind
That houses our more talkative stars

Advent Again – day 27

The Promise of the Spirit


from “Mountain Building” by Victor Hernández Cruz


The Moros live on the top floor eating

Roots and have a rooster on the roof

Africans import okra from the bodega

The Indians make a base of guava

On the first floor

The building is spinning itself into

a spiral of salsa


“Windows and Lights” by Debra Hurd

Heaven must be calling or the

Residents know the direction

Because there is an upward pull

If you rise too quickly from your seat

You might have to comb a spirit’s


They float over the chimneys

Arrive through the smog

Appear through the plaster of Paris

It is the same people in the windowed


Advent Again – day 26

“Your mind will muse on terror… your eyes will see a quiet habitation”

from “Hermeneutics” by Kerri Webster


All winter she’s been growing more powerful.

Radiant, says the man at the bar.

Voluptuous, says the docent.

Nervy, says God.

All winter her soul has been juddering.

It feels like drinking gold flakes!

The word sleeps inside the stone.

The wind tongues the underside of the lake.

Inside the rifle scope of time, God

teaches her Grounding Techniques

through his emissary, a Certified Therapist.

Beetles bore their dirty traffic into pine trees.

God says, You cling to deixis

like a life raft. Here, you

say. Now, you say. All winter, you say, like it means

something, days crossed off your compulsive

calendar, wind tied to your wrist like

a pet. This dumb hunger for

fixity! I made your cells

to shed, says God. See them

everywhere, everywhere.

Advent Again – day 25

Hannah and the Josephs, generations of prophets and dreamers


“Hide-and-Seek” by Pavel Tchelitchew


           1    2  red-black  3  burnings  4  of a   5    6  sunset at  7  solstice  8    9   

10  they’ve changed  11  shadows  12  pour down  13    14  my brain  15  I’ll be 

16  surprising strangers  17    18  flailing blind  19    20    21  forever  22  they’ve

left  23  the planet  24  with me here  25  26  tentacled Martians  27  replaced

them  28    29  and they’re  30  creeping behind me  31    32  but I  33  won’t

open my eyes  34    35  say the  36  only thing real  37    38  is the cheek-

roughness  39  of this  40  tree I can’t name  41  but  42  I will someday  43   

44  and hold  45  tight  46  tightly till  47    48    49  then  50 

readier not here I

— Jenn Cavanaugh

originally published in Mars Hill Review (2003)

Advent Again – day 24

Let none enslave you again…


“The Birth of Christ” by Paul Gauguin

from “The Negro Mother” by Langston Hughes

Look at my face — dark as the night —
Yet shining like the sun with love’s true light.

I am the dark girl who crossed the red sea
Carrying in my body the seed of the free.

I am the woman who worked in the field
Bringing the cotton and the corn to yield.

I am the one who labored as a slave,
Beaten and mistreated for the work that I gave —
Children sold away from me, I’m husband sold, too.

No safety , no love, no respect was I due.

Three hundred years in the deepest South:
But God put a song and a prayer in my mouth .

God put a dream like steel in my soul.

Now, through my children, I’m reaching the goal.



Advent Again – day 23

“again in the pains of childbirth”



“A Woman Called Mother” by M.T. Brown (personal collection)

“From ‘The Black Maria'” by Aracelis Girmay


The body, bearing something ordinary as light                           Opens

as in a room somewhere the friend opens in poppy, in flame, burns & bears the child — out.


When I did it was the hours & hours of breaking. The bucking of

it all, the push & head


not moving, not an inch until,

when he flew from me, it was the night who came


flying through me with all its hair,


the immense terror of his face & noise.


I heard the stranger & my brain, without looking, vowed

a love-him vow. His struggling, merely, to be


split me down, with the axe, to two. How true,

the thinness of our hovering between the realms of Here, Not Here.


The fight, first, to open, then to breathe,

& then to close. Each of us entering the world


& entering the world like this.

Soft. Unlikely.      Then —


the idiosyncratic minds & verbs.

Beloveds, making your ways


to & away from us, always, across the centuries,

inside the vastness of the galaxy, how improbable it is that this


of you or you or me might come to be at all — Body of fear,

Body of laughing —& even last a second. This fact should make us fall all


to our knees with awe,

the beauty of it against these odds,


the stacks & stacks of near misses

& slimmest chances that birthed one ancestor into the next & next.


Profound, unspeakable cruelty who counters this, who does not see.

& so to tenderness I add my action.


Source: Poetry (April 2016)


From <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/88747>