Turn Aside and Look: Cleaning Up the Mess

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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

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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.

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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

 

The Plainest of Ash

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What a piece of work is a man!
And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
~ William Shakespeare in Hamlet’s monologue 

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This dust left of man:

earth, air, water and fire
prove inadequate
to quell the significance
of how we were made of dust
and the dust we will leave behind.

Only the transcendent hope
of eternal life restored
can breathe glory
into this, us,
the plainest of ash.

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We therefore commit his body to the ground;
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust;

in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life,
through our Lord Jesus Christ;

who shall change our vile body,
that it may be like unto his glorious body…

~Committal service from The Common Book of Prayer

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What I know for sure is this: We come from mystery and we return to mystery. I arrived here with no bad memories of wherever I’d come from, so I have no good reason to fear the place to which I’ll return.

And I know this, too: Standing closer to the reality of death awakens my awe at the gift of life.
~Parker Palmer “On the Brink of Everything

 

Between Known and Unknown

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photo by Harry Rodenberger

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Though I have never caught the word
Of God from any calling bird,
I hear all that the ancients heard.
 
Though I have seen no deity
Enter or leave a twilit tree,
I see all that the seers see.
 
A common stone can still reveal
Something not stone, not seen, yet real.
What may a common stone conceal?
 
Nothing is far that once was near.
Nothing is hid that once was clear.
Nothing was God that is not here.
 
Here is the bird, the tree, the stone.
Here in the sun I sit alone
Between the known and the unknown.
~Robert Francis “Nothing is Far”
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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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A few times
in a few places
I have felt like I can almost reach out
and touch heaven
~His glory is that close~
but too soon I pull back,
put my hand back in my pocket,
rock back on my heels,
balancing barely
between the known
and the unknown.
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Between Midnight and Dawn: Awaking

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For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

I Woke: —
Night, lingering, poured upon the world
Of drowsy hill and wood and lake
Her moon-song,
And the breeze accompanied with hushed fingers
On the birches.

Gently the dawn held out to me
A golden handful of bird’s-notes.
~Lenora Speyer “The Gift”

 

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1. Whence is the goodly fragrance flowing,
Stealing our senses all away,
never the like did come a-blowing,
Shepherds, in flow’ry fields of May,
Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing,
Stealing our senses all away.

2. What is that light so brilliant,
breaking Here in the night across our eyes.
Never so bright, the day-star waking,
Started to climb the morning skies!
What is that light so brilliant, breaking,
Here in the night across our eyes.
~Traditional French Carol

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
~Be Thou My Vision, first stanza

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Stealing our senses all away.
Overwhelmed by the golden notes of songs, even if uttered only by birds.
A brightest light breaks apart the darkest night.
The brilliance climbing the morning skies.

This is what it is like for us:  our best thought.
Our Day-Star, Lord of our hearts,
awakens from the deepest of sleeps
and we, our senses stolen by glory,  are overjoyed.

 

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

Epiphany

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All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
~T.S. Eliot from “Journey of the Magi”

 

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Unclench your fists
Hold out your hands.
Take mine.
Let us hold each other.
Thus is his Glory Manifest.
~Madeleine L’Engle “Epiphany”

Venus & Mercury
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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Epiphany is the day of acknowledging God’s glory revealed in our lives, illuminating the darkness that surrounds us. With infinite heaviness and lightness we accept our new role as weak and crumbling vessels become beautiful as God is made manifest within us.

It is not the easy path to accept the ultimate freedom that requires our true sacrifice of self, just as it was not easy for the visiting magi traveling far from home — or for Mary saying yes to God even as her own heart is pierced by what that means for her.

Today we too shall say yes, trusting Him as we take His offered hand.

 

“Like Mary, we have no way of knowing… We can ask for courage, however, and trust that God has not led us into this new land only to abandon us there.”
~Kathleen Norris from God With Us

 

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God Among Us: A Crown He Bore

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Crowning
The obstetrical term for the final moment of labor
prior to delivery when the topmost portion of the
baby’s head may be seen externally

At the moment of his birth
this baby wore his mother upside down,
wore her ‘round his head like a huge soft hat.

Later, of course, she would see him
under another bloody crown
and they would both be suffering.
But for the time being, it was Mary who labored,
completing the terrible risk of her confinement,
bearing her pain, and her blood.
From within the dark interior of her distress
she was unaware
that she was the crown he bore.
~John Shaw

For what is our hope, our joy,
or the crown in which we will glory
in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?
Is it not you?
Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

1 Thessalonians 2: 19-20

 

At that moment of crowning,
that exquisite pain known by every mother,
there is a sense of inevitability,
of no turning back
and starting over
for deliverer
and delivered.

He is coming,
in glory,
in such certainty,
wearing us
bloodied
as His crown.
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O Savior of our fallen race,
O Brightness of the Father’s face,
O Son who shared the Father’s might
Before the world knew day or night,
O Jesus, very Light of light,
Our constant star in sin’s deep night:
Now hear the prayers Your people pray
Throughout the world this holy day.

Remind us Lord of life and grace
How once, to save our fallen race,
You put our human vesture on
And came to us as Mary’s son.
Today, as year by year its light
Brings to our world a promise bright
One precious truth outshines the sun:
Salvation comes from You alone.

For from the Father’s throne You came,
His banished children to reclaim;
And earth and sea and sky revere
The love of Him who sent You here.
And we are jubilant today,
For You have washed our guilt away.
O hear the glad new song we sing
On this, the birth of Christ our King!

O Savior of our fallen race,
The world will see Your radiant face
For You who came to us before
Will come again and all restore.
Let songs of praise Your name adorn,
O Christ, Redeemer, virgin-born
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Spirit evermore. Alleluia!
~6th century Latin Hymn, adapted by Keith and Kristyn Getty

There is no rose of such virtue
As is the Rose that bore Jesu:
Alleluia.
For in this rose was contained
Heaven and earth in a small space.
Wondrous thing. Res miranda.
By that rose we may well see
There is one God in persons three.
Equally formed. Pares forma.
The angels sang; the shepherds, too:
Glory to God in the highest!
Let us rejoice. Gaudeamus.
Leave we all these worldly cares
And follow we this joyful birth.
Let us be transformed. Transeamus.
~Benjamin Britten “There is no rose” from “Ceremony of the Carols”1943

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God Among Us: A Love Vast as the Cosmos

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Ask any Christian you know that has spent time dwelling upon it: the Incarnation is magical as a fairy-tale… It is the wondrous event at the heart of everything, and yes, we mean everything. It is a thing wonderful to behold and to ponder. I get all misty-eyed when I think about it, and for good reason, for in it, we glimpse the mysterious ways of God Himself, saving and surprising us despite ourselves, drawing us ever closer to the deepness of a love vast as the cosmos.
~John Caswell from “Concerning Tolkien’s Faith –Incarnation as Eucastastrophe”

The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love;
the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.
~G.K. Chesterton from Orthodoxy

 

He came to us, not because of the gladness of our earthly existence, then or now. We are falling apart, and only He is the glue.
He came to us then,  He comes to us now because of our unquenchable need and our unbearable sadness.  We are loved that much.
When we are done with earthly things, there will be nothing but gladness — no longer will clouds obscure His glory.
~EPG

 

I enjoyed watching these boys sing this old hymn

As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So most gracious God may we
Evermore be led by Thee

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him whom heav’n and earth adore
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare
So may we with holy joy
Pure and free from sin’s alloy
All our costliest treasures bring
Christ to Thee, our heav’nly King

Holy Jesus ev’ry day
Keep us in the narrow way
And when earthly things are past
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide
Where no clouds Thy glory hide
~As With Gladness Men of Old

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