A Time to Take Off Your Shoes

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Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

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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.

 

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Thank you to Bette Vander Haak and Kerry Garrett for sharing their pictures of outdoor church on our farm.

 

 

Beauty Is Not Enough

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Oh, is it not enough to be
Here with this beauty over me?
My throat should ache with praise, and I
Should kneel in joy beneath the sky.

O beauty, are you not enough?
Why am I crying after love,
With youth, a singing voice, and eyes
To take earth’s wonder with surprise?

I, for whom the pensive night
Binds her cloudy hair with light,—
I, for whom all beauty burns
Like incense in a million urns?

O beauty, are you not enough?
Why am I crying after love?
~Sara Teasdale from “Spring Night”

 

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When you stand before the most amazing sunset

or when you see the beauty of a human face,
whether it’s a little baby
or a lovely  wise old person,
there is a haunting quality to it,
as though it’s not just complete in itself. 
It’s a signpost to a larger truth
that is just around the corner,
just out of sight.
We can’t grip it,
can’t get our hands on it.
It’s as though we’re hearing the echo of a voice,
and we’d love to hear whose that voice is
and what story it’s telling.
Part of the joy of beauty
is the realization that it is part of a larger whole,
most of which appears to be just out of sight. 
We are drawn forward toward something…
and left waiting, wondering.
~N.T. Wright from Life, God and Other Small Topics

 

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Beauty is the link that connects,
the magnet that brings us home,
the encouragement
to look beyond,
to think more deeply,
to believe in something beyond our grasp~
Beauty leaves us crying after love
that bleeds for us
and heals all that is broken in us.

 

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Nor Ever Contain the Whole

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Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
~from the hymn “The Love of God”
by Frederick Lehman, derived from Jew­ish poem Had­da­mut,
writ­ten in Ara­ma­ic in 1050 by Meir Ben Isaac Ne­hor­ai

 

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We try to wrap our arms and minds around that which is so immense, so infinite, so eternal, so mysterious, so unimaginable — in the hope we can hold it in our consciousness, even if momentarily.

We can try with metaphor and parable and poetry and our finite imagination.

Yet God’s love permeates everything from the empty space between tiny atomic particles to the clinging/flinging forces of the galaxies in the vast universe.  It is impossible to fathom or describe.

We may try but we can’t — and simply be the image bearers we were created to be.

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This Good Man

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This good man
~who has left us behind~

whose farm-hardened hands
wielded not only heavy hammers
but cradled a trembling wee bird.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

raised many a calf and chick
and a plethora of pups and piglets
and enough canaries to fill a thousand homes with song.

This good man
~who left us behind~

whose gentle smile
and generous heart
volunteered thousands of hours of selfless service.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who raised no children himself
yet loved and nurtured a slew of nieces and nephews,
keeping track of every single one.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who plowed and planted,
harvested and gathered
and saved and gave and gave and gave.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who dressed for the farm every day
yet changed his jeans and tee shirt and muck boots
each week to Sunday’s best button-down shirt and sweater.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

is the only man to ever have owned both
a church organ in his front room
and a gold FireBird Trans Am in his back shed.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

has shown us the way to follow Him:

by his faithful service
by his love for the land
by his love for the garden
by his love for his animals
by his love for his family and friends
by his love for his church
by his love for the Lord.

This good man~
This good and humble man~
This good and humble and gentle man~

has gone down the lane ahead of us a bit
and will be waiting for us around the bend,
watching and waiting, waiting and watching,
keeping vigil until he can
someday see us coming on the horizon
and beckon us in and welcome us home.

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Uncle John Smit

That Heaven of which We Have Heard

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I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.
-Wendell Berry “To My Mother”

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…and to think we enter this world screaming,
begging to be held and fed,
already needing forgiveness that sometimes,
(not always)
comes from our entangled imperfect parents
who worry over and juggle and guide us

and who themselves, once prodigal,
weep too with the burden
of feeling unforgiven,
dismayed because they won’t get it right
no matter how hard they try

Thank God for the promise
of this Heaven of which we have heard
where Love freely given, never earned,
rises resplendent, in full bloom,
from earth’s fallen ashes.

 

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Aiming High

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Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’:
aim at Earth and you will get neither.
~ C.S. Lewis from The Joyful Christian

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The night sky was still dim and pale. 
There, peeping among the cloud wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains,
Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. 
The beauty of it smote his heart,
as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. 
For like a shaft, clear and cold,
the thought pierced him that in the end
the Shadow was only a small and passing thing:
there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
~J.R.R. Tolikien, The Return of the King

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We long for a heaven that feels so elusive;
we who are so weary
and with so much need
seek out Light so seemingly
beyond our reach.

Yet by reaching beyond the here and now
we find heaven descended to us
in His incarnate earthliness.

No shadow cast in this worldly darkness,
and no iron nails
can quell the beauty
of His everlasting brilliance.

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The Fringey Edge

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Here is the fringey edge where elements meet and realms mingle, where time and eternity spatter each other with foam.
~Annie Dillard from Holy the Firm

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Heaven and earth are only three feet apart,
but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.
A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted
and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.
~Celtic saying

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An April evening of swirling drama in the sunset clouds~
just enough illumination
to witness the fringe of heaven just beyond.

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