Beauty In Life · Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

More Sacred Spaces: Beauty For All

The beauty of Sacred Spaces must please God and the people who enjoy them.

St. Hedwig Church on East Third in downtown Erie was built in Tudor Gothic style. Two “crowning interior features” are an 18th c. baroque crucifix hanging over the altar and an icon depicting the “Black Madonna and Child” sacred to Polish Catholics. I was also captivated by the stunning blue ceiling and stained glass windows (pictured).

Ceiling, St. Hedwigs Church
Ceiling, St. Hedwigs Church












Altar area, St. Matthew's Lutheran
Altar area, St. Matthew’s Lutheran

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church on West 7th was built in a Romanesque Revival style and considers itself a traditional “neighborhood” church.  I loved the cross hanging over the altar, the focal point of the sanctuary.

I believe a “sacred space” can exist whenever and wherever you meet with God. But the sanctuaries set aside for worship and buildings that house His work and the work of His people deserve special attention. Given tight budgets and differing priorities for precious resources, we may not see new construction like this again. Those that tend these sacred spaces also deserve recognition, from the priests, organists, volunteer “docents,”and cleaning workers to the ladies who provided refreshments for visitors. I also am grateful for the woman at St. Mary’s who shared warm words of comfort with a stranger.

They welcome strangers, perhaps even angels, and so welcome Jesus Himself.

Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

More Sacred Spaces: Where Do You Find Beauty?

Interior, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA
Interior, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA

Here are more photos of my recent visit of downtown Erie (PA) churches which opened their doors for the public during the Erie County Historical Society’s Fall “Sacred Spaces” Tour.

First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant on West 7th Street, Erie, PA is built in the image of a Gothic Revival Cathedral. It reminded me immediately of the National Cathedral in Washington, D. C. Its Vicary Organ, with 103 ranks and 6,000 + pipes, was designed and built specifically for the sanctuary’s acoustics. A tour guide had me balance on a cement wall outside where I could see a gargoyle through an archway. You don’t need to balance while standing in the magnificent sanctuary enveloped in organ music worship.


Exterior View, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA
Exterior View, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA













The sanctuary of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church on East Ninth Street is lined with statues, including St. Anthony of Padua and St. Benedict. Only a heart of stone would refuse to be moved by The Pieta.  There is nothing else to say….

The Pieta, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church
The Pieta, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church
Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Sacred Spaces: Where Do You Find Beauty?

Stained Glass Windows, St. Patrick’s, Erie, PA

Where do you find your sacred space? You may find it in your local place of worship, a favorite spot in nature, or even in your living room during personal prayer time. Probably most of us would call a “sacred space” wherever we meet with God, formally or informally.

But whenever we want to meet with other believers in a sacred space we usually head for sanctuaries in established churches or created in other places. Some sanctuaries are ornate with religious art or intricate carvings, others emphasize simplicity and function. Speaking as a Protestant, many contemporary Protestant churches prefer less ornamentation and few, if any, objects appreciated just for their beauty. This may reflect a common sense attitude toward allocating scarce resources.  I think we’re missing something by not emphasizing beauty in our spaces, but that’s another blog!

Older Protestant churches built in a different era are often stunning in their architectural details and interior design.  Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have always included much beauty in their sanctuaries and exteriors.

Today and next week I’ll be sharing my photos (shot with permission) of the downtown Erie (PA) churches I recently visited as part of the Sacred Spaces Tour sponsored by the Erie County (PA) Historical Society. I visited Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches. As beautiful as they are, these spaces are only a reflection of the beauty of God. But I think He’s pleased to be so represented.


These life sized, hand carved, and recently restored Stations of the Cross are resident in St. Patrick’s (Romanesque Revival), the “Spirit of the Bayfront.” The stained glass windows have also been restored.

St. Patrick’s, Erie, PA, Interior View


Creativity of Language · Power Of Symbols

We Overcome As We Soar

Maybe the Biblical promise that when weary we will soar like eagles means more than we thought.

Eagles At Pymatuning Lake
Eagles At Pymatuning Lake

Eagles fly purposefully, with powerful, even strokes that thrust them into the air as they gain and then maintain momentum and altitude. They can fly for miles in search of food. We love to think of the “soaring” image when reading Isaiah 40:31 and its promise that they who wait on God will renew their strength and mount up on wings as eagles. We’re comforted to think of ourselves as “flying above” our troubles here on earth.

But let me offer another view. Outside of dropping to earth to catch prey, eagles spend most of their time in the treetops or the sky.  So “mounting up” doesn’t mean they soar above problems because they live their eagle lives high above already. Plus, more than once I’ve seen flying eagles attacked or at least harassed by smaller birds. The eagles seem to shrug them off, but nevertheless have not escaped trouble.

So if God tells us that we will mount up with wings as eagles, we aren’t soaring “above” our troubles. As eagles muscle their way in flight through their lofty world, we spiritually “muscle” our way through our own realm here on earth.

That speaks what we know to be true: God doesn’t give us strength to escape our problems, but like the flying eagles dealing with pesky sea gulls, to successfully live through and beyond them.


Beauty In Life · Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating

Steve Jobs: Bringing Beauty To Life

Have you ever reflected on why you pay the money to own an iphone?  Or why you shell out bigger bucks to own an ipad rather than a cheaper tablet from someone else? (If you’re an Android user you’ll get a “take away” too from this blog.)

Steve Jobs’ love for simple and elegant design drove his professional vision.  His “big idea” or “mission statement,” if you will, guided his product development. He believed that technology can be and should be intuitive and easy to use and pushed his engineers to develop products that fulfilled those beliefs.

These products (including ipods and ipads) have become so integrated with our lives we can’t imagine living without them.  But they aren’t only functional, they are lovely, sleek, and elegant. Form and function complement each other; one has not been sacrificed for the other.

Todd's iphone
Todd’s iphone

I’m not a shill for Steve Jobs. But I appreciate how he intuited the importance of beauty when we had been conditioned to believe that elegance served function, if it appeared at all. (This is a general statement, I’m sure you can think of exceptions.) But our “conditioning” is changing. More and more products, from potato peelers to plastic shampoo bottles, motorcycles to personal watercraft, are now beautiful and elegant as well as functional.

I think our love of beauty and ease of use arises from God’s creation. Surely God was the first One interested in bringing beauty and elegance into our everyday lives. Our appreciation and desire for it reflects His desires for us.

Not a bad thing, this integration of beauty and art into our daily lives, wouldn’t you say?

Art and Knowing · Trust Issues · Uncategorized

Improvising On Three Strings

The story that Itzhak Perlman played a concert on a violin with only three strings  appeared years ago. A string snapped and he finished the piece, “modulating and recomposing” in his head.  Afterwards, Perlman was said to have offered this insight: “It’s the artist’s task to see what music you can still make with what you have left.”*    violin

I think we find ourselves at times improvising with “what we have left.” We may have based a task or goal on certain emotional, mental or spiritual habits. They change. We find ourselves with only “three strings.” So how do we improvise with “what we have left” to stay focused on our goals?

I’m finding out. I have to admit a lot of bravado in my approach to water sports.  I would boast to friends that if I ever capsized sailing, I would eventually drift to shore and get poison ivy. Kayaking? Who capsizes doing that?

Once I launched my sailboat when the wind was too strong, convinced I could handle it. The feeling of being on the edge of capsizing was terrifying. I made it, but that feeling hasn’t left me. Then I capsized my kayak, twice in deep water. Both times I scrambled to safety, but I remember panic as I fell into the river.

Kayaks at Riverside Park, Greenville, PA.
Kayaks at Riverside Park, Greenville, PA.

I’ve overcome those feelings to kayak regularly, but getting out my sailboat has been harder. I can’t blame the lousy weather totally…I have to admit my bravado is gone. Other life events have increased my feelings of vulnerability.

I’ll sail again, but I’ll have to improvise on three strings.

So, Lora, what ‘cha got left?




* There may be issues with this story. See for their research.

Poetry and Art · Power Of Symbols · Uncategorized

Old Apple Trees: Vigor In Old Age

Apple tree in bloom
Apple tree in bloom

A couple years ago I watched the growth of an old apple tree in my backyard with increasing concern. A large branch was threatening my neighbor’s home and the trunk was rotting. A tree guy sized up the job. We stood underneath and he looked it over, visualizing how much work would be involved and running up a price in his head.  (You don’t want to know.)

I loved that old tree. Years before when it was in much better condition my contractor had tried to talk me into cutting it down. I wrote about our conversation. A poem:

They Stood In Its Shadow

and he pointed.  “See, it’s growin’ wild.

Just cut it down. Gonna hit your ‘lectric line.

You don’t want to keep trampin’

on all those apples all summer.”

 She looked up at the spreading limbs,

at the wooden swing swaying in the wind,

remembered the soft thump of falling fruit,

the brown squish under her feet,

sharing the lawn with hovering yellow jackets.

She heard seeds dropping pink pink on the cutting board,

felt the knife, the warm flesh in her hand,

smelled cooking apples and cinnamon.

Maybe someday she’d be old, gnarled, in somebody’s way.

“No, I think I’ll live with it for a while.”

           Most years there were apples. Lots and lots. I stepped over and around the rotting fruit and omnipresent yellow jackets when I mowed and never got stung. I made lots of applesauce.

But now its issues couldn’t be ignored. The tree guy saw my hesitation and talked sense.

“Trees are like people,” he said kindly. “They grow old and their time comes.”

I gave the OK to cut ‘er down.

I hope I grow old with the strength and vigor of that old tree, that despite its issues, produced apples until the day it came down.




“They Stood In Its Shadow” appeared in Totem 2007, Gannon University Press

Spiritual Places · Trust Issues · Uncategorized

Rescue The Perishing

I checked my dignity at the beach before taking an advanced kayaking class offered by Pymatuning State Park. The challenge was to learn how to rescue someone (yourself or others) after capsizing in deep water.

A very wet paddling rat after a tiring night in the water.
A very wet paddling rat after a tiring night in the water.

There are several techniques, and to dump into the water, then hoist yourself onto a light, narrow boat is a feat, especially for us 50 somethings. Even with someone holding your kayak (from their kayak), even with a hand up. You slide onto the boat facing the stern, then turn, stuffing your limbs into the cockpit, and oh, by the way, maintaining balance while you’re at it. (Where did my paddle go?)

You couldn’t worry about how you looked. Our movements were awkward and decidedly ungraceful.

I tried different techniques: a “T” rescue, using a paddle float, and a strap. I accomplished two of the three, with leg cramps and lack of upper body strength prohibiting success in the other. The next day I was feelin’ it, limping around the house nursing bumps and bruises and stretched muscles. And that’s after six years of paddling.

What I learned mostly was what it feels like to be in that situation. How hard it is to rescue. To trust my life jacket to do its job so I could focus on other tasks.  But maybe the most important of all: what to expect from myself if the worst happens.

We can find grace in awkward situations, when we’re caught in a hard place. It’s not always pretty. But who ever said grace is?


Black Raspberries and the Beauty of Life

How do you determine visual beauty? Is it purely subjective, a matter of taste? Is it based on color, or shape, or texture?

Some recent research suggests that one way we recognize and appreciate beauty is when an object has symmetry. An example is a person’s face when eyes are level and equidistant from the nose. We seem to have a natural tendency to prefer symmetry in our surroundings, such as when we place a centerpiece on our dining room table. (Even the name “center”piece assumes the center!)  Of course, some of us need to clear our table to make room for decoration of any kind.

A couple years ago I had apple trees in my backyard cut down. A kind friend chainsawed the logs but I’ve done little with it since except burn some of the smaller pieces in my fireplace. I’ve let those two areas of my yard “go,” and weeds, thistles, and much to my delight, a fresh crop of black raspberries have appeared around the woodpiles.

Blackberries in my backyard, July 2014
Black raspberries in my backyard, July 2014

Black raspberries are quite beautiful, symmetrical and deeply colored. They are hardy and easy to pick.  My favorite summer “wild” fruit, red raspberries, are delicate and fall apart quickly, leaving their red stain. But these black raspberries are delightful.  The birds have noticed too, but they seem not to have taken their fair share yet.

Sometimes my life seems like the black raspberry (symmetrical and hardy), other times like the red raspberry (delicate and falling apart!) But both fruits add beauty, the black raspberry amid the weeds and forgotten wood.



Art and Knowing · Spiritual Places

The Search For Peace

Where do you go when you need to find peace?  Do you head to a favorite place when you feel disquiet or distress? How does it help you?

I’m blessed that I live fifteen minutes from Pymatuning, the biggest lake in Pennsylvania (which empties into the Shenango River), and a three minute walk from Conneaut Lake, the biggest spring fed (natural) lake in the state.  My favorite poem, W.B. Yeats’ “The Lake Isle Of Innisfree” reflects the narrator’s love for the water, what he found there, and what he carried with him away from the lake.  Recently I desperately needed peace and that’s where I went to find it: I threw my kayak in the car and headed for Pymatuning.

Kayaking on the Shenango River, flowing from Pymatuning Lake. That's me on the left in the floppy hat.
Kayaking on the Shenango River, flowing from Pymatuning Lake. That’s me on the left in the floppy hat. (Photo by Helene Dreisbach)

God’s gift of peace through hearing the natural rhythms of “lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore” and the physical rhythms of paddling helped get me on the path to a spiritual peace.

God uses the natural to get us to the spiritual. Yeats: “And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow/Dropping from the veils of the morning….” (If you’d like to hear a wonderful oral interpretation, listen to Anthony Hopkins’ recitation on the Poetry Out Loud website

My favorite Scripture also reflects peace in encouraging me to have confidence, because I will see God’s goodness in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13-14).

But I needed to go to the lake to be reminded of His goodness in my “land.”

Where is your place?