Turn Aside and Look: Cleaning Up the Mess

twilightbarn

It is not only prayer that gives God glory,
but work.
Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam,
whitewashing a wall, driving horses,
sweeping, scouring,
everything gives God some glory
if being in his grace you do it as your duty.
To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory,
but a man with a dungfork in his hand,
a woman with a slop pail,
give Him glory, too.
God is so great
that all things give Him glory
if you mean that they should.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

farmgloves

Thanks in large part to how messy we humans are, this world is a grimy place.   As an act of worship, we keep cleaning up after ourselves.  The hands that clean the toilets, scrub the floors, carry the bedpans, pick up the garbage might as well be clasped in prayer–it is in such mundane tasks God is glorified.

I spend an hour every day carrying dirty buckets and wielding a pitchfork because it is my way of restoring order to the disorder inherent in human life.  It is with gratitude that I’m able to pick up one little corner of my world, making stall beds tidier for our farm animals by mucking up their messes and in so doing, I’m cleaning up a piece of me at the same time.

I never want to forget the mess I’m in and the mess I am.  I never want to forget to clean up after myself.  I never want to feel it is a mere and mundane chore to worship with dungfork and slop pail in hand.

It is my privilege to work.  It is His gift to me.

It is Grace who has come alongside me, pitching the muck and carrying the slop when I am too weary, and most amazing of all, cleans me up as well.

farmer-with-a-pitchfork
Farmer with a pitchfork by Winslow Homer
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Photo of Aaron Janicki haying with his Oberlander team in Skagit County courtesy of Tayler Rae

 

Turn Aside and Look: To Move a Stone

rockvine

I owned a slope full of stones.
Like buried pianos they lay in the ground…

What bond have I made with the earth,
having worn myself against it? It is a fatal singing
I have carried with me out of that day.
The stones have given me music
that figures for me their holes in the earth
and their long lying in them dark.
They have taught me the weariness that loves the ground,
and I must prepare a fitting silence.
~Wendell Berry from “The Stones”

rockies2

movingrock6

What does it take to move a stone?
When it is an effort to till the untillable,
creating a place where simple seed can drop,
be covered and sprout and thrive,
it takes muscle and sweat and blisters and tears.

What does it take to move a stone?
When it is a day when no one speaks out of fear,
the silent will be moved to cry out the truth,
heard and known and never forgotten.

What does it take to move a stone?
When all had given up,
gone behind locked doors in grief,
and two came to tend the dead,
but there was no dead to tend.

Only a gaping hole left
Only an empty tomb
Only a weeping weary silence
broken by Love calling us
and we turn aside to greet Him
as if hearing our name for the first time.

rockvine2

stonecone
a stone pinecone, environmental art by Andy Goldsworthy, rural Scotland

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Turn Aside and Look: Fields of Our Hearts

notyetdaff

crocus31117

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
~John Crum from The Oxford Book of Carols

sunset223175

Over the last several weeks, roots have become shoots and their green blades are rising chaotically, uneven and awkward like a bad haircut.  And like a bad haircut, another two weeks will make all the difference — sprouts will cover all the bare earth, breaking through crusted mud to create a smooth carpet of green.

There is nothing more hopeful than the barren made fruitful, the ugly made beautiful, the dead made alive.

The fields of our broken hearts recover; love is come again.

sunset223176

Turn Aside and Look: We Would See Him

crocus311172

The sacred moments,
the moments of miracle,
are often the everyday moments,
the moments which,
if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears reveal only…
a gardener,
a stranger coming down the road behind us,
a meal like any other meal.
But if we look with our hearts,
if we listen with all our being and imagination..
what we may see is Jesus himself.

~Frederick Buechner from The Magnificent Defeat

notyetdaff2

 

We can be blinded by the everyday-ness of it:
A simple loaf of bread is only that.
A gardener crouches in a row of weeds, trying to restore order in chaos.
A wanderer along the road engages in conversation.

Every day contains millions of everyday moments that are lost and forgotten, seemingly meaningless.

We would see Jesus if we only opened our eyes and listened with our ears.
At the table, on the road, in the garden.

By turning aside and looking, we discover:
there is nothing everyday about the miracle of Him abiding with us.

 

feather31117

Could’ve come like a mighty storm
with all the strength of a hurricane
You could’ve come like a forest fire
with the power of heaven in your flame
 
Chorus
But you came like a winter snow
quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night

to the earth below

Could’ve swept in like a tidal wave
or an ocean to ravish our hearts
You could have come through like a roaring flood
to wipe away the things we’ve scarred
 
Bridge
No, your voice wasn’t in a bush burning
No, your voice wasn’t in a rushing wind
It was still, it was small, it was hidden
by Audrey Assad

Turn Aside and Look: Heaven in Ordinary

sunrise3115

God sees us as we are,
loves us as we are,
and accepts us as we are.
But by his grace,
he does not leave us as we are.
~Tim Keller

wetfeathercloseup

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
~George Herbert “Prayer”
wwuwethellebore
Considering the distance between us and God,
seemingly insurmountable to overcome,
how amazing it only takes a few words to Him,
our gratitude and praise,
our pleas and pain,
our breath hot in His ear~
unhesitating
He plummets to us;
then we are lifted to Him.Heaven dwells in the ordinary,
in our plainness,
dresses us up,
prepares us to be loved,
prepares us to be accepted and understood
prepares us to be transformed
by no less than our very Creator.
willow11

Turn Aside and Look: Already Not Yet

foothills1122515

For in this hope we were saved.
But hope that is seen is no hope at all.
Who hopes for what they already have?
But if we hope for what we do not yet have,
we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:24-25

snowybarn0

Morning of buttered toast;
of coffee, sweetened, with milk.

Out the window,
snow-spruces step from their cobwebs.
Flurry of chickadees, feeding then gone.
A single cardinal stipples an empty branch—
one maple leaf lifted back.

I turn my blessings like photographs into the light;
over my shoulder the god of Not-Yet looks on:

Not-yet-dead, not-yet-lost, not-yet-taken.
Not-yet-shattered, not-yet-sectioned,
not-yet-strewn.

Ample litany, sparing nothing I hate or love,
not-yet-silenced, not-yet-fractured; not-yet-

Not-yet-not.

I move my ear a little closer to that humming figure,
I ask him only to stay.
~Jane Hirshfield “Not Yet”

foothills3417

To wait for the “not yet” is a hard sweet tension in the Christian life.

There is tension in knowing that something profound is happening–a vanishing sunset, a vernal equinox, a life change or transition, but the transformation is not yet complete, and I’m not sure when it will be. I am still unfinished business.

In a few weeks I will be reminded of what is yet to come. I will know the shock of the empty tomb. My heart will burn within me as more is revealed, through the simple act of bread breaking.

It is hard not yet having what I know will be coming.
But it is sweet to have certainty it is coming
because of what we have already been given.
Like the labor of childbirth,
I groan knowing what it will take to get there,
and I am full to brimming already.

The waiting won’t be easy;
it will often be painful to be patient,
staying alert to possibility and hope when I am exhausted,
barely able to function.
Others won’t understand why I wait,
nor do they comprehend what I could possibly be waiting for.

Yet we persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping;
we are a community groaning together in expectation of what is to come in the morning.

It is finished on our behalf.

We’re all-ready.

By waiting and by calm you shall be saved,
In quiet and in trust your strength lies.
~Isaiah 30:15

 

Turn Aside and Look: To Laugh and To Cry

snowymorn2

It is in these afflictions, which succeed one another each moment,
that God, veiled and obscured, reveals himself,
mysteriously bestowing his grace in a manner
quite unrecognized by the souls
who feel only weakness in bearing their cross…

~Jean Pierre du Caussade from The Sacrament of the Present Moment

pusswillows4

The past few mornings have been unveiled in snow flurries, mist and fog, tentative spring dawns of freezing air and warming soil trying to break loose from the vise grip of a tired and dying winter.

I am struggling under the load of 14 hour days working with despairing and suicidal people,  in addition to keeping a barn clean and animals and humans fed.  Even sleep is not restful when there is so little time to quiet myself in reflection and gratitude.

I am keenly reminded of my weakness as my strength wanes at the end of a long day, having slipped in the mud while trying to gain traction unloading a couple hundred pounds of manure from the wheelbarrow.  Landing on my backside, my pants soaking through,  I can choose to laugh or cry.

I choose to see the baptism of mud as a sacrament of the present moment,  reminding me of my need for a cleansing grace.

I laugh and cry.

Though obscured from view, God is nevertheless revealed in these moments of being covered in the soil of earth and the waste of its creatures.

He knows I need reminding that I too am dust and to dust shall return.

He knows I am too often wasteful and a failed steward,
so need reminding by landing me amidst it.

He knows I need to laugh at myself,
so puts me right on my backside.

He knows I need to cry,
so sends me those with the saddest stories and greatest needs.

He knows I need Him, always and ever more,
to restore a sacrament of grace evident in the present moment
and every moment to come.

To be known for who I am
by a God who laughs with me,
weeps for me
and groans with pain I have caused~
I will know
no greater love.

snowyoldtree

 

When Jesus wept, the falling tear
in mercy flowed beyond all bound;
when Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
seized all the guilty world around.
~William Billings