How beautiful the things are that you did not notice before! A few sweetclover plants Along the road to Bellingham, Culvert ends poking out of driveways, Wooden corncribs, slowly falling, What no one loves, no one rushes towards or shouts about, What lives like the new moon, And the wind Blowing against the rumps of grazing cows. ~Robert Bly from “Like the New Moon I Will Live My Life”
Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. ~Abraham Joshua Hershel
Simply driving to work becomes a sacramental act. This is not the hour long dense traffic commute I tolerated in the city thirty years ago – this is thirty minutes of noticing the expanse of the land against the sky, the light as it banishes the darkness, the harmony of animals existing on the soil.
It is a sacrament to notice “what no one loves, no one rushes towards or shouts about” and never take it for granted. It is all gift; it is all grace.
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Yesterday, on a beautiful Sabbath evening, some fifty folks spent a few hours here on our farm for worship and potluck for this summer’s first of our Wiser Lake Chapel’s long-running “outdoor church” tradition at various farms in our county. Over the many years we have hosted this wonderful gathering of our church body, we have met up on our farm’s hill pasture and also under the shade of our front yard walnut trees. As lovely as it is to meet on the hill with so many vistas and views, there are many manure piles and mole hills lying in wait to sully the bare toes of our active church kids.
Indeed, our children are more apt than the grown ups to follow the instruction of the Lord when He told Moses:
“Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
There have long been cultures where shoes are to be removed before touching the surface of the floor inside a residence or temple in an intentional act of leaving the dirt of the world at the door to preserve the sanctity and cleanliness of the inner life.
Yet we as Christians wear shoes into church every Sunday, having walked in muck and mire of one sort or another all week. We try our best to clean up for Sunday, but we track in the detritus of our lives when we come to sit in the pews. Rather than leave it at the door, it comes right in with us, not exactly hidden and sometimes downright stinky. That is when we are in obvious need for a good washing, shoes, feet, soul and all, and that is exactly why we need to worship together as a church family in need of cleansing, whether indoors or outdoors.
Jesus Himself demonstrated our need for a wash-up on the last night of His life, soaking the dusty feet of His disciples.
And then there is what God said. He asked that holy ground be respected by the removal of our sandals. We must remove any barrier that prevents us from entering fully into His presence, whether it be our attitude, our stubbornness, our unbelief, or our constant centering on self rather than other.
No separation, even a thin layer of leather, is desirable when encountering God.
We trample roughshod over holy ground all the time, blind to where our feet land and the impact they leave behind. Perhaps by shedding the covering of our eyes, our minds, and our feet, we would see earth crammed with heaven and God on fire everywhere, in every common bush and in every common heart.
So we may see.
So we may listen.
So we may feast together.
So we remove our sandals so our bare feet may touch His holy ground.
Thank you to Bette Vander Haak and Kerry Garrett for sharing their pictures of outdoor church on our farm.
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”
– let me yell for joy at what I have been given, at the blessedness that I have been afforded, at the long seasons of grace you have spun out for me
in a great summer taffy of a life. ~A.G. Harmon from patheos.com
What is all this juice and all this joy?
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Spring”
These summer mornings I awake in a Gerard Manley Hopkins landscape~
the young poet priest combined words in suspended rhythm,
recreating the world found outside our windows
entirely in our minds even when our eyes are closed.
What is this taffy-stretched joy I feel when witnessing
what must have moved him to write?
What can be more powerful
than words that awaken in us dawn’s redeeming light?
There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice. John Calvin
It is too easy to become blinded to the glory surrounding us if we allow it to be routine and commonplace. I can’t remember the last time I celebrated a blade of grass, given how focused we are in mowing it into conformity and submission. Too often I’m not up early enough to witness the pink sunrise or I’m too busy to take time to watch the sun paint the sky red as it sets.
I miss opportunities to rejoice innumerable times a day. It takes only a moment of recognition and appreciation to feel the joy, and for that moment time stands still. Life stretches a little longer when I stop to acknowledge the intention of creation as an endless reservoir of rejoicing. If a blade of grass, if a palette of color, if all this is made for joy, then so am I.
The grass so little has to do,— A sphere of simple green, With only butterflies to brood, And bees to entertain, And stir all day to pretty tunes The breezes fetch along, And hold the sunshine in its lap And bow to everything; And thread the dews all night, like pearls, And make itself so fine,— A duchess were too common For such a noticing. And even when it dies, to pass In odors so divine, As lowly spices gone to sleep, Or amulets of pine. And then to dwell in sovereign barns, And dream the days away,— The grass so little has to do, I wish I were a hay! ~Emily Dickinson
This is the week of the year our barn is at its emptiest, right before it fills up again. There is something very lonely about a barn completely empty of its hay stores.
Its hollow interior echoes with a century of farmers’ voices:
soothing an upset cow during a difficult milking,
uncovering a litter of kittens high in a hay loft,
shouting orders to a steady workhorse,
singing a soft hymn while cleaning stalls,
startling out loud as a barn owl or bat flies low overhead.
The dust motes lazily drift by in the twilight, seemingly forever suspended above the straw covered wood floor, floating protected from the cooling evening breezes.
There is no heart beat left in an empty barn. It is in full arrest, all life blood drained out, vital signs flat lined. I can hardly bear to go inside.
The weather is cooperating so the grass was cut two days ago. Today it will be tossed about on the field to dry in a process called “tedding”, then tomorrow raked into windrows and baled for pick up by our “family and friends” hay crew.
Suddenly, the barn is shocked back to a pulse, with the throb of voices, music blaring, dust and pollen flying chaotically, the rattle of the electric “elevator” hauling bales from wagon to loft, the grunts and groans of the crew as they heft and heave the bales into place in the stack. This often goes on late into the night, the barn ablaze with lights, the barnyard buzzing with excitement and activity. It almost looks as if it is on fire.
Vital signs measurable, rhythm restored, volume depletion reversed, prognosis good for another year.
A healthy rhythm is elusive in this modern age of full time jobs off the farm, necessitating careful coordination with the schedule of the farmer who cuts and bales for many neighbors all within the same window of good weather. The farmer races his equipment from field to field, swooping around with a goliath tractor taking 12 foot swaths, raising dust clouds, and then on to the next job. It is so unlike the rhythm of a century ago when a horse drawn mower cut the tall grass in a gentle four foot swath, with a pulsing shh shh shh shh shh shh tempo that could be heard stretching across the fields. It is an unfamiliar sound today, the almost-silence of no motor at all, just the jingle of the harness and the mower blades slicing back and forth as the team pulls the equipment down the field. We’ve lost the peacefulness of a team of horses at work, necessitating a slower pace and the need to stop at the end of a row for a breather.
The old barn will be resuscitated once again. Its floor will creak with the weight of the hay bales, the walls will groan with the pressure of stacks. The missing shingles on the roof will be replaced and the doors locked tight against the winter winds. But it will be breathing on its own, having needed only a short rest these last few weeks.
Inside, once again, filled to the brim, life is held tight by twine, just waiting to be released.
Light and wind are running over the headed grass as though the hill had melted and now flowed. ~Wendell Berry “June Wind”
It will soon be haying time, as soon as a stretch of clear days appear on the horizon. Today was to be cloudless but ended up drizzly and windy — not good hay cutting weather.
The headed grass is growing heavier, falling over, lodged before it can be cut, with the undulations of moist breezes flowing over the hill. It has matured too fast, rising up too lush, too overcome with itself so that it can no longer stand. It is melting, pulled back to the soil. We must work fast to save it.
The light and wind works its magic on our hill. The blades of the mower will come soon to lay it to the ground in green streams that flow up and down the slopes. It will lie comfortless in its stoneless cemetery rows, until tossed about by the tedder into random piles to dry, then raked back into a semblance of order in mounded lines flowing over the landscape.
It will be crushed and bound together for transport to the barn, no longer bending but bent, no longer flowing but flown, no longer growing but grown and salvaged.
It becomes fodder for the beasts of the farm during the cold nights when the wind beats at the doors. It melts in their mouths, as it was meant to.