In a daring and beautiful creative reversal, God takes the worse we can do to Him and turns it into the very best He can do for us. ~Malcolm Guite from The Word in the Wilderness
Sam does barn chores with me, always has. He runs up and down the aisles as I fill buckets, throw hay, and he’ll explore the manure pile out back and the compost pile and check out the dove house and have stand offs with the barn cats (which he always loses). We have our routine. When I get done with chores, I whistle for him and we head to the house.
We always return home together.
Except this morning. I whistled when I was done and his furry little fox face didn’t appear as usual. I walked back through both barns calling his name, whistling, no signs of Sam. I walked to the fields, I walked back to the dog yard, I walked the road (where he never ever goes), I scanned the pond (yikes), I went back to the barn and glanced inside every stall, I went in the hay barn where he likes to jump up and down on stacked bales, looking for a bale avalanche he might be trapped under, or a hole he couldn’t climb out of. Nothing.
I’m really anxious about him at this point, fearing the worst. He was nowhere to be found, utterly lost.
Passing through the barn again, I heard a little faint scratching inside one Haflinger’s stall, which I had just glanced in 10 minutes before. The mare was peacefully eating hay. Sure enough, there was Sam standing with his feet up against the door as if asking what took me so long. He must have scooted in when I filled up her water bucket, and I closed the door not knowing he was inside, and it was dark enough that I didn’t see him when I checked. He and his good horse friend kept it their secret.
Making not a whimper or a bark when I called out his name, passing that stall at least 10 times looking for him, he just patiently waited for me to open the door and set him free.
It’s a Good Friday.
The lost is found even when he never felt lost to begin with.
Yet he was lost to me. And that is all that matters. We have no idea how lost we are until someone comes looking for us, doing whatever it takes to bring us home.
Sam was just waiting for a closed door to be opened. And today, of all days, that door is thrown wide open.
Though you are homeless Though you’re alone I will be your home Whatever’s the matter Whatever’s been done I will be your home I will be your home I will be your home In this fearful fallen place I will be your home When time reaches fullness When I move my hand I will bring you home Home to your own place In a beautiful land I will bring you home I will bring you home I will bring you home From this fearful fallen place I will bring you home I will bring you home ~Michael Cardh
Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Over the next eight days, the body of Christian believers will be traversing once again the holy ground of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.
Indeed, our children, happy to be barefoot most of the time, 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 may weep at what we have done, yet stand forgiven. So we may celebrate as our Risen Lord startles us by calling our name. So we remove our sandals so our bare feet may touch His holy ground.
No heaven can come to us Unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven.
No peace lies in the future Which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. Take joy.
And so, at this Christmastime, I greet you with the prayer that for you, Now and forever, The day breaks and the shadows flee away.
– Fra Giovanni Giocondo letter to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi, Christmas Eve 1513
May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us. ― Thérèse de Lisieux of Avila
Now, newborn, in wide-eyed wonder he gazes up at his creation. His hand that hurled the world holds tight his mother’s finger. Holy light spills across her face and she weeps silent wondering tears to know she holds the One who has so long held her. ~Joan Rae Mills from “Mary” in Light Upon Light
I watch the long night’s transition to day as the mountain is licked by bright flames of color, heralding our slow awakening.
The sun illuminates the darkened earth and we are bathed in its reflected glory and grace.
We work hard to be at ease, to lay down the heaviness of endings and celebrate the arrival of Brilliant Light in our lives.
The Son is now among us, carrying our load. We take heaven, take peace, take joy as He takes He takes all our burdens upon Himself.
(Jesus said) I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning from “Aurora Leigh”
It is difficult to undo our own damage…
It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind.
The very holy mountains are keeping mum.
We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it;
we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. ~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk
I need to turn aside and look,
to see, as if for the first and last time,
the kindled fire that illuminates even the darkest day and never dies away.
We are invited, by no less than God Himself,
through the original burning bush that is never consumed
to shed our shoes, to walk barefoot and vulnerable,
and approach the bright and burning dawn,
even when it is the darkest midnight,
even when it is a babe in a manger who lights a fire in each one of us.
Only then, only then
can I say:
“Here I am! Consume me!”
Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, that never dies away. Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, that never dies away.
…let me live in a small room up the narrow stairs from the stalls, the horse shifting comfortably below, browsing and chewing sweet hay. A single bed with blanket the color of factory-sweepings will suffice, each day shaped to the same arc, because days can only end when the lock slides free on the stall’s Dutch door, and I lead the horse in, then muscle the corroded bolt shut. That’s what days are for: I cannot rest until the horse comes home. ~Julie Bruck from “To Bring the Horse Home”
The best moment in the barn is in the evening just following the hay feeding, as the animals are settling down to some serious chewing. I linger in the center aisle, listening to the rhythmic sounds coming from six stalls. It is a most soothing contented cadence, first their lips picking up the grass, then the chew chew chew chew and a pause and it starts again. It’s even better in the dark, with the lights off.
I’ve enjoyed listening to the eating sounds at night from the remote vantage point of my bedroom TV monitor system set up to watch my very pregnant mares before foaling. A peculiar lullaby of sorts, strange as that seems, but when all my farm animals are chewing and happy, I am at peace and sleep better.
It reminds me of those dark deep nights of feeding my own newborns, rocking back and forth with the rhythm of their sucking. It is a moment of being completely present and peaceful, and knowing at that moment, nothing else matters–nothing else at all.
If I am very fortunate, each day I live has a rhythm that is reassuring and steady, like the sounds of hay chewing, or rocking a baby. I awake thinking about where my next step will bring me, and then the next, like each chew of sweet hay. I try to live in each moment fully, without distraction by the worry of the unknown.
But the reality is:
life’s rhythms are often out of sync,
the cadence is jarring,
the sounds are discordant,
sometimes I’m the one being chewed on, so pain replaces peacefulness.
Maybe that is why this lullaby in the barn~~this sanctuary~~is so treasured. It brings me home to that doubting center of myself that needs reminding that pain is fleeting, and peace, however elusive now, is forever. I always know where to find it for a few minutes at the end of every day, in a pastoral symphony of sorts.
Someday my hope for heaven will be angel choruses of glorious praise, augmenting a hay-chewing lullaby.