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AuthorRev. Claire Matheny

Pastor | Kittamaqundi Community Church | Columbia, Maryland

12.20.19 Running By

Two formations of geese waved today flying nearly directly overhead. Their soaring in the sunset was a marvel.

I encounted A. again upon the walk from her work. She smiled and said, “So, I’ll get to be seeing you all the time now, Pastor?”

At the end of my time as I was turning to go up hill, a runner stopped and asked about my waving. She admitted, “The first time I saw you, I thought, what is she doing?, but then I kept seeing you and it was great.” I told her about my hopes to share joy on the corner for the year to come.

Like me, she is pretty new to the area. She seems to love the spaciousness of Columbia. She agreed that in this time in our community, country, and world that a little extra joy wouldn’t hurt. We walked all the way back to the church together where she didn’t mind hearing a bit about our historic Carriage House.

“Some folks don’t know we are here,” I shared. “Hope to see you around the neighborhood again soon!”

“You, too!” she offered, as she began to pick up the pace again on her route.



12.19.19 Claire!

Thank goodness I got out there before Commuter Charter Bus Driver passed. We continue our daily dance-a-thon. Shortly after, I looked around to see that someone had parked their car on Vantage Point and was approaching me.

Visitor: Hi, I’ve just wanted to know what you are doing. I keep seeing you always out here waving, and I just would like to know.

Me: I’m just hoping to bring a bit of joy.

Visitor: That’s what I thought! I just saw you and I knew that’s what it had to be.

Me: How’s joy going for you?

Visitor: I could use some more joy happening.

She then shared about her mom who has passed some time ago. She knew how to look for joyful things that she called “happenings” and this had always encouraged her daughter. I got to be one of the happenings in this visitor’s life today. When I introduced myself: “Claire,” she echoed back, “My name is Claire!” Who doesn’t love those moments of synchonicity?

She encouraged me on to keep it up. I invited Claire to stop by again some time and even to join me one day waving. “It’s amazing how much space the waving can open up in you! You’ve made my day, Claire, thank you!” I offered. “You, too. You, too. I’m glad I stopped!” she shared back.





12.18.19 Intersection of Grief and Joy

Everything seemed to conspire against my getting to the corner today to wave.

At some point, I was able to shrug and admit that some days spiritual practices have to give up ground to other urgencies.

In a sea of meetings, I received a call that put me in touch with a former congregant who is actively dying with renal failure. I spent holy moments on the phone as she heard and recognized my voice. She could barely form her words but shared, “Thank you.” She was thanking me for the many visits that we have shared together. As she listened in, I also shared my thank you. It was simply put then, and the specifics come flooding now:

Thank you for the way you welcomed a new pastor in. Thank you for the way you made me four course lunches, always ending on a brownie. Thank you for allowing me to accompany you on the long road of grief. Thank you for the way you welcomed my daughter royally to your 90th birthday. Thank you for the holy moments of prayer that came at the close of each of our visits. Thank you for the last pauses today before you transition. 

I am aware every time I open myself up to the joy of corner waving, that I come to joy not because it is the opposite of suffering and not because I am in some denial of evil or hatred. As a chaplain and pastor, I have found that my presence with suffering has deepened my ability also to experience joy.

I am aware that so many who pass are in some place of pain that I do not wish to gloss over– just as many who come to any given worship service are hurting in ways we often do not know. Perhaps, there is something in the presence of being there on the corner, even if the waving is a turnoff and is to be ignored by those immersed in the griefs of life…there is something in the standing that communicates the mere existence of joy–even at the hardest intersections and in the fraught times of our wider world.

I traversed a hard intersection today with a dear friend soon departed. My next time on the corner she will be deeply on heart as she no longer walks the earth. May her spirit accompany me on the next legs of this journey. And may many meals end in brownies.



  The balloon I had prepared didn’t make it out, but I caught this quick shot of the corner as the sun went down on this day.

12.17.19 Learning the Rhythm

19.12.17 Balloon mitten frameAnother wet day on the roads. As I strolled down the hill on Vantage Point to the Little Patuxent Corner, I walked alongside a man who works at Vantage House. This is about the third time that my timing has coincided with his as he makes his way after his shift. We chatted this time, with me memtioning that I am the pastor of the church up the road  before he headed for the bus stop.

Toward the end of my time around 4:15 p.m., a open motorized vehicle with two cops pulled up out of the trail to Kittamaqundi Lake.

Cop 1: What, you out spreading holiday cheer?

Me: Yeah, just trying to offer a bit of joy. I am the Pastor from up the block.

Cop 2: Oh yeah, that church up there that has weddings and events.

Me: That’s the one in the stone carriage house.  I’m still pretty new to the area and I am learning the rhythm and the block.

Cop 2: Where you from?

Me: Memphis. I’ve been inspired by a man there who waved on the corner with his dog for 17 years!…I won’t be making it that long. Things have been going okay. Today only two middle fingers so far.

Cop 2: That’s doing better than us!

Me: In one car today, the driver was waving while the passenger was giving me the finger! But, I guess it’s a good rate. Almost two weeks and 50 waves at least a day. Only two fingers.

Cop 2: Yep, better than we do!

I was aware as we we were talking of my heightened sense of what comes with being out and occupying a corner. I think of those who wouldn’t necessarily feel as secure standing where I am because of their age, abledness, race, status, gender,  orientation, or economic situation. As I often do, I think of the privilege of what it means to stand there as a white woman. I consider the freedom and space to explore such spiritual practices and to try this unusual brand of community engagement.

The Spirit continues to surprise me. I brought my balloon home as I do each day for my kids. After dinner, my daughter wanted to share a little violin concert in the living room. I was delighted to see that she had tied the balloon to her violin. It moved as she did…struggling at times to hit the “Jolly Old St. Nick” notes, at times moving smoothly. Her delight brought me delight. I thought of the ups and downs of the corner. Of the joy that comes in the start and stopping of all who pass.

This particular balloon had quite a job today in symphony with the sounds of the street and the strummings of a little girl. The same girl who had first inspired my balloon waving when we walked balloons home from the church this past summer. A part of what I do is wrapped up in being a mom. Oh, how I want there to be visible signs of joy in my children’s community. I give thanks again for all of the children who wave, many of whom today rolled down their windows giggling.

Yes, it is a privilege to stand where I do. From my vantage point I spy all the beloved zooming by.  Children and those who once were children making their way on another busy day.

19.12.17 Balloon violin elf





12.16.19 Middle Finger

Today was the first middle finger. The gesture seemed to take up the entire windshield of the small sedan. There was no mistaking it–held up in a prolonged rather than flashing fashion. There was some relief…I knew this was coming…it was only a matter of time before being flicked off. And yet, it still registered with surprise.

It was a wet and formerly snowy day in the corner. It was gray. I had a dark umbrella. From time to time in my short window this afternoon, I wiped off the drops of water that weighed my sagging pink balloon down. It flew up under the umbrella at times in my face.

19.12.16 Balloon Pastor pink Magritte canva.JPG.png

I felt like part of the Magritte big apple on the face painting, “The Son of Man.” About the famous painting, artist Rene Magritte remarked,

“Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.” 

“What are you doing?” some more folks today wanted to know, rolling down their windows to ask questions. Who is the person behind the balloon? What is it that I am not seeing about this woman? What is hidden behind this visible act of smiling and waving on the corner? What is the motive? One man slowly driving by shared, “I’ve been curious. Seen you out here before. What’s it about?”

And I wonder about intense feelings juxtaposed–all the many joyful waves that come back (especially on sunny days) in contrast to the visible gesture of that middle finger obscuring the man’s face today. What pain resides there?  What is the story behind the story? What is bobbing between “the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present?” For him, for me?

I know this: in a couple days’ absence from the block, I notice a difference. I miss the expansiveness and room that waving on the corner opens in my mind and heart. I miss the prayerfulnes that flows even in the miserable weather. Just as some may wish to know this balloon lady, I wish to know others, to see them as they are in those moments. Great detail isn’t possibly in the flashing passing, but I see humanity. And each gesture back communicates the joys and pains of what it means always to be seen and unseen by others, visible and invisible–as each of us are in all of our thoughts and gestures.

And I leave today with the image of a yellow car with dozens of hearts spray-painted on it that rolled up as my time winded down. And before the occupants even waved or rolled down their windows to talk I knew what the visible meant, “These folks get it. No one drives a car with hearts all over it and fails to recognize joy.”




12.13.19 Friday the Wet 13th

19.12.13 Balloon Pastor WetIn the car at the intersection to turn–

Me: I wish I could wave with the balloon today, but it’s too wet and sloshy.

Daughter: Why? You could go out with an umbrella!

Me: That’s true. But it is pretty soaked. It’s been raining all day.

Daughter: Yeah, but you could do an umbrella and rainboots and still wave.

Me: Yeah, I could. But, it’s hard for folks to wave when the roads are so wet and continuing to rain–they need to keep an eye fully on road.

Daughter: I guess so. Yeah, they need to be safe.

Me: There’s the corner over there. That’s where I stand. Let’s give it a wave.

Me and Daughter: (waving a blessing at the corner in anticipation of another day).

Thoughts go out to those slogging home on Friday the 13th in a busy season! Dampness has a way of creeping into the bones.

Giving thanks for two big holiday programs from the kids today.  Giving thanks for the chance to help my daughter learn her lines for Sunday’s play.

…”I like the story about the wise men who followed the star.”

Prayers flowing for all who are in desperate search and feel on the verge of something big. Keep following the star, even through the slush and fog. You can give out a big wave to let the future know you are on the way!

12.12.19 A Familiar Wave

Two vignettes from the afternoon on the corner waving:

1.) A Fed Ex Truck Driver rolls down his window

Driver:  What are you doing out here? Are you with Vantage House? (the senior housing building)

Me: No, I am the pastor from the church up the road (pointing at the hill behind us). I am hoping to learn the neighborhood a bit more and share some joy.

Driver:  Well, we sure need joy right now.

Me: You got a long day still ahead?

Driver: One more delivery and then I am home!

Me: It’s bound to be a busy season. Hope you have a good evening!

Driver: Thank you, you too!


2.) A young woman in a black car who paused right in front of me and rolled down her window to call out good naturedly

Driver: What are you doing out here? I’ve seen you a couple of times now and am curious.

Me: I am the pastor at the church up the road looking to get to know the block better. And I’m looking to share joy.

Driver: Well, you’ve definitely got me feeling joyful! Thank you!!

19.12.12 Balloon Pastor purple self

Two seemingly simple interactions, but so filling amidst the waving today. Some cars are starting to seem familiar. The same people turning down the same street around the same time of day. Some of the waving itself from passersby feels familiar–like they have seen this funny lady with the balloon before and here she is again! The energetic waves are a blessing.

Thinking tonight of all those delivery drivers dashing to get packages out on time. Thinking of all those driving by who could use some more signs of joy. Giving thanks for interactions with strangers that  transcend the boundaries of waver and wavee. For the collective yearning for signs of connection that we seek. For unity that comes with familarty.


12.11.19 A Touch of Sunset


Top gratitudes on the corner while waving today:

1) The joyous driver of the big Commuter charter bus that rolls up to the bus stop around 4:20 p.m. We mirror each other doing a hand dance wave while laughing.

2) The numerous kids today waving from the back seat excitedly, their heads bobbing and peaking above the car door frames.

3) The guy who tooted twice while my back was to him so that I would turn around to see him double waving and I double waved back with gusto.

3) The man who rolled down his window while turning, “You running for office or something?” Me: “No, just hoping to spread a bit of joy.” Driver: “Thank you!”

4) The bright sun that has been missing for a string of days that steadily set as we all whir toward the solstice. It kissed the trees and horizon and brought a renwed sense of warmth and possibility.

I met with two dear pastor friends today for lunch. I decided to tell this about this new spiritual practice, this waving on corner while holding balloon activity. I haven’t shared about this with a whole lot of people yet. I’ll be sharing more with my congregation soon and was curious as to how I would describe what is happening to me from the inside out. There is more room and elasticity, but I know the practice sounds outlandish.

I tried to describe the bursting feeling that pours out while interacting at the intersection of so many peoples’ lives all at once. I tried to capture the gratitude of being welcomed, into beautiful moments of peoples’ journeys. I talked of the relationships that can build as I seek to return at some steady times and start to encounter some of the same people walk and drive by this same spot. I described what it feels like to stand at the threshold of my neighborhood and wave hospitably to all who are entering and exiting. This is holy ground.

19.12.11 Balloon Pastor Sun Set canva



12.10.19 Cherry Picker

19.12.10 Balloon Pastor Cherry PickerMy son loves trucks. At bedtime we often read through books outlining all the construction vehicles. A cherry picker is often among them.

The utility worker waved today before he climbed up to work on the camera at Little Patuxent west bound. I thought of the skill necessary to operate the machinery and to fix the technical gadget capturing footage of folks as they zoom by. The specific hydraulic lift and this particular trained worker were necessary for the proper repair.

I watched as a lane of traffic was blocked by the cones and people had to negotiate around it.

I was able to get some time waving in the morning before the rain started. One child and mother were on the way to the 7-11 at Running Brook. There were more pedestrians at the 9:00 hour and many who passed spoke with me. A couple of them asked me “what this was all about?” One pointed to the apartments she lived in.  I mentioned that I had been serving as the pastor at the church just up the road for 18 months. I had enjoyed getting to know my folks and am getting to know the neighborhood more. I am trying to learn the rhythms of the community as well as perhaps share and receive joy. I continued to wave and had many in cars give a toot and/or wave.

This carried me well into deep conversations at the clergy meeting I attended right after my time on the corner. One colleague spoke about immigration and the ongoing challenges immigrants face in our county. I thought to my place on the corner and how many immigrants must pass by on a daily basis–some assured of their status, many uncertain.

My prayers go with those facing deep uncertainty in their lives–those who at every corner have to navigate new hazards. I pray for the kind of repair that marries the specific skills needed at the right time to fix what is not working. I pray for those who don’t know what their next step will be in the face of serious obstacles. I pray for those who are trying desperately to support those who are most in peril right now, those most in need of signs of joy in our midst.



12.9.19 Washout

Inked19.12.9 Ballon Pastor Washout 2

Rain. Rain almost the full day without letting up. Consistent. Soggy, soaking kind of rain. I thought more than once about jumping out there on the corner. I had my balloon ready to go an my golashes all set.

Instead, I have been here at the church thinking on all the neighbors huddled in today keeping warm. My thoughts go out to all those who don’t have shelter and are scrambling to stay dry.

Next Monday, our church is hosting the Cold Weather Shelter for a week. Folks from our church and from Beth Shalom will be making meals, providing transport, doing laundry, and sharing in conversation and entertainment. This is an important ministry that has been kept up over the years thanks to countless volunteers and dedicated coordinators.

From inside our Carriage House Barn, I pray for the comfort of all those who will be coming to be housed within these big stone walls. I pray for all those facing the challenges of vulnerable housing and no housing. I pray that this community this block, this neighborhood can continue to be a place of welcome. May joy be found in the connections. May hope come on washout days in the retreat to regain energy.

12.7.19 Sabbath

“Be open, calm, receptive.”

These were the encouraging adjectives of my yoga instructor today. I entered such a space on the mat today–especially coming down off of a cold. I realized, too, that these words also describe my sense of inner flow while on the Little Patuxent Corner. Even as I am in constant motion waving, there is something emptying and opening and at peace about the experience. Even as I drive by the corner, which I do multiple times a day, I take in feelings of hopefulness and joy.

Saturdays are for sabbath and family and gaining energy for full work days and time out on the corner, too. And as much as I wished that the zen of yoga followed me home midday, I had little calm with my children. But, I do notice a change, an enlargement even in this past week. It’s an awareness and a well of gratitude that may be chipping at me, or melting me down slowly but surely.

Tomorrow, my church meets for an Annual Meeting. We’ll gather at a big potluck table and give thanks for fifty years of life in Columbia as our jubilee year draws to a close. There is much to be thankful. In this year to come we embark on our spiritual practices: giving, prayer, scripture, outreach, and worship. As part of my call and commitment, I’ll be on this balloon pastor path. I’ll seek to get out there as often as I can.

I can’t wait to see who I get to meet and greet along the way. And in time, I hope that people will join me on my little patch of grass–if even for a few short minutes–to wave with me, to connect, to pause in the middle of the literal bustle. Hope to see you there.

12.6.19 Sprinkles

Lady in the bright green sedan: “What are you doing out here?”

Me: “Trying to spread a little joy.”

In the midst of the light rain on an overcast afternoon, the lady pulled up to the light and rolled down her passenger side window. Her question was the same I had received via countless puzzled looks cast my way. She shrugged at my answer and waved back as the light changed.

I enjoyed when the UPS driver from a couple of days ago drive by and smiled and said something like, “You are out again!”

It felt like the kind of small, incremental step of community building among the many, other important ways of reaching out.

I bubbled up with gratitude looking out and waving. I had a sense of the Spirit seeing us, knowing us all. Each wave was another opportunity to communicate that sense of knowingness. And I received it back, “I know you!”

I’ve noticed that when someone does wave enthusiastically toward me, I do this little bend and a double wave of hello. And my heart is full. And everything feels as spacious as the big gray sky as it sprinkles a rain of recognition.

19.12.6 Balloon Purple2




12.5.19 When Your Child has a Sick Day

Day 3 of Balloon Pastoring was spent…at home.

My child was sick today. Although he wasn’t well enough to go to school, he felt sparky by mid-morning. He was patient with me as he munched his wheat cereal and tried to build a big firehouse out of magnet tiles. I don’t take for granted the opportunity to stay home with my sick child. I give thanks for those at my work who were flexible with me today. I lift up those with sick children who had to bear the way to a job and drive today.

I’ve certainly hoped that balloon pastoring would help provide an opportunity to center in the midst of all the other things going on in my life. You no doubt have countless things on your plate, too. I love serving a faith community and connecting with people. I love being a mom and partner and spending time with my family. And, I love the newfound spiritual practice of getting a window into people’s busy lives and days by waving with my balloon.

19.12.5 Balloon Pastor J Home Sick crop

It’s never going to be a perfect balance of all of my hats. Today, my mom hat meant a stay indoors, but my thoughts are with all of those traversing the long corridor home on commute. I send out light and love south of here to the cross section of Vantage Point and Little Patuxent. With the mess and chaos of my life in this hectic season, I pray peace that ripple from this neighborhood…and from the drawing board where my son and I did a little artwork.


12.4.19 Kids in Cars

“Try your best to make goodness attractive. That’s one of the toughest assignments you’ll ever be given.” – Fred Rogers

There is a special child-like quality to the standing on the street with the balloon. As I have described it to my children, they are not incredulous. Getting the heart and mind to go out to Little Patuxent is a matter of overcoming my own fears and sense of limitation. When I said what I was doing may not make much sense, my child simply asked, “why does it not make sense?”

Today I realized that it will be a particular gift when I can wave at children. It’s not always easy to see them in the backseat. Several older kids were sitting in front seats today and waved with big smiles. Just when I found myself stalling, their smiles energized me.

As I waved this afternoon, I gave thanks for Mr. Rogers. I considered how many of those driving by have been uplifted because of his work and the intentionality of what has rippled outward thanks to his efforts. And I give thanks for the efforts of those like John Milton (see “Foolish Year” tab for more info), who spent seventeen years waving at people from an intersection in my hometown of Memphis, TN.

At the close of my time around 4:30 p.m., a beautiful image of the evening was there in the sky– pinks and yellows of the setting sun going down over by Wilde Lake. Geese waved at me across the sky.

Then, I came home and my children fought over my blue balloon. My protests about the joy it intended to bring went unheard at home today! I’ve got my work cut out for me making goodness attractive!

Praying that the peace that was a part of my waving also finds its way home tonight. Thank you, Columbia and my neighbors, for day two.

19.12.4 Balloon Crosswalk Canva2

12.3.19 First Impressions

I nearly didn’t make it out. On my way to the Vantage Point Road in another area of Columbia, I saw a man waving with a sign that read: “Jesus.” I immediately felt my questions and judgment: “What is his motive?” And this coming from me, a pastor! This was just the kind of thing I was about to get into. And just the kind of judgment that would be floating to me in each moment. Standing on the corner holding a balloon? Holy foolishness. Sharing a message with random passersby. A waste of time.

And yet, there I stood today. After my long resistance (see the “Foolish Year” tab for background), it was time to lean into this call. And yet, I’ve known that it will transform me. I have already felt the stretching, the elasticity of this spiritual practice of standing and waving with a simple balloon. It is about joy.

I managed to blow up my little yellow balloon, don my new pink hat with fuzzball, and find a solid spot to stand. The morning window from 9:30-10:00 a.m. was colder than expected. And I just came back from the snowy Midwest yesterday! I kept my fingers waving to keep warm and immediately felt thrills of joy as I waved and folks began to wave back. I kept the buoyont balloon in mind as it bobbed. I felt a lightheartedness of spirit, even when faced with muscle aches in my arm and some looks of annoyance. All moves so quickly. The smiles of those who genuinely welcomed the waves and those who gave a toot of the horn spurred me on. When asked by a walker why I was doing what I was doing: “Give a bit of joy, receive a bit of joy.”

In my afternoon window, 3:40-4:30 p.m., the traffic had picked up. The sun was out and people seemed curious. One man parked and came out to film a bit for his youtube channel. I told him this was my first day, but that I had hoped for a year of such standing. “We’ll see!” I offered with some uncertainty–all as I continued to wave. I saw at least one church member pass.

19.12.3 Balloon Pastor CanvaFriends, some people looked so elated. As I reflect on it now, I feel so full. Thank you to each soul who waved back. Let’s continue to invite joy to expand, to bob, to flow at Vantage Point Road. For the remainder of the day there was more room in my spirit than normal, more patience for my kids, more light in my heart at Advent.

The film student had asked me: “Do you plan to wave anywhere else?”

“No,” I replied. “This is my home base. I’ve been called to this spot between my church over there and my home in that direction. These are the people that pass in my neighborhood. This is the place where I am called to be.”

All these folks are my neighbors, no matter where they coming from, or where they are going. This is community. A spirit of joy waves with us.