Dusty

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God – the God who made the dust,
who made the stars,
who made the elements of which we are composed –
that same God chooses from the beginning to make his dwelling among us,
to live for all time like us, as a servant of the soil.

I am the dust of the earth,
but God declares that he is not too good,
not too proud,
for my dustiness.

~Daniel J. Stulac from Plough Quarterly No. 4: Earth

 

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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 its significance.

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

And I am plainest of the plain.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

 

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From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Luke 12: 48

 

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This line, the final conclusion to the parable of the wise and faithful servant has become a modern mantra, thanks to Spiderman and others including President Obama and Bill and Melinda Gates.

Yet no one quotes the actual parable itself.

The story Jesus tells in Luke 12: 42-48 makes us wince, as it is meant to:

42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. 

The same story as told in Matthew ends with being “cut into pieces” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Somehow that part is left out of Spiderman’s story and is a bit too close to home for those in power and those with immense wealth — just like Peter Parker, we know the reality fo just how fragile and weak we really are despite our perceived Spidey powers.

We are told we don’t have a choice in the matter if we want to live in Him:
we owe much when to us much is given … or else we perish.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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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

Turn Aside and Look: One Far Fierce Hour

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photo of a rescue donkey courtesy of Anna Blake at Infinity Farm  annablakeblog.com

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings…

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
G. K. Chesterton from “The Donkey”

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photo of Edgar Rice Burro by Anna Blake, Infinity Farm  annablakeblog.com

Palm Sunday is a day of dissonance and dichotomy in the church year, very much like the donkey who figured as a central character that day.  Sadly, a donkey gets no respect, then or now– for his plain and awkward looks, for his loud and inharmonious voice, for his apparent lack of strength — yet he was the chosen mode of transportation for a King riding to His death.

There was a motley parade to Jerusalem: cloaks and palms laid at the feet of the donkey bearing the Son of God,  the disorderly shouts of adoration and blessings, the rebuke of the Pharisees to quiet the people, His response that “even the stones will cry out” knowing what is to come.

But the welcoming crowd waving palm branches, shouting sweet hosannas and laying down their cloaks did not understand the fierce transformation to come, did not know within days they would be a mob shouting words of derision and rejection and condemnation.

The donkey knew because he had been derided, rejected and condemned himself, yet still kept serving.  Just as he was given voice and understanding centuries before to protect Balaam from going the wrong way, he could have opened his mouth to tell them, suffering beatings for his effort.  Instead, just as he bore the unborn Jesus to Bethlehem and stood over Him sleeping in the manger,  just as he bore a mother and child all the way to Egypt to hide from Herod,  the donkey would keep his secret well.   Who, after all,  would ever listen to a mere donkey?

We would do well to pay attention to this braying wisdom.  The donkey knows.   He bears the burden we have shirked.  He treads with heavy heart over the palms and cloaks we lay down as our meaningless symbols of honor.   He is servant to the Servant.

A day of dichotomy — of honor and glory laid underfoot only to be stepped on.   Of blessings and praise turning to curses.  Of the beginning of the end becoming a new beginning for us all.

And so He wept, knowing all this.  I suspect the donkey bearing Him wept as well, in his own simple, plain and honest way, and I’m quite sure he kept it as his special secret.

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A Free Servitude

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And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.

In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.

Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads,
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

~Edwin Muir from “The Horses”

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There is nothing that truly compels a horse to wear a saddle, pull a heavy burden, chew a cold bit until it foams warm — no fear of whip or spur or harsh word.  They, so much more powerful than we are, choose the work, to do what is needed, to serve freely, to be there because they were asked — whether asked nicely or not.

How much more we learn from the lather of their sweaty grace —  how to choose the labor that changes lives, how to offer up love in gratitude for the reward of a scratch in just the right place and a nose buried in sweet clover.

 

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Lenten Grace — Washed Clean

Jesus washing the feet of his disciples by Finnish artist Albert Gustaf Edelfelt
Jesus washing the feet of his disciples by Finnish artist Albert Gustaf Edelfelt

What e’er the soul has felt or suffered long,
Oh, heart! this one thing should not be forgot:
Christ washed the feet of Judas.
~George Marion McClellan
from “The Feet of Judas” in
The Book of American Negro Poetry 1922

As an aide in a rest home caring for the crippled feet of the elderly,
as a medical student in an inner city hospital seeing the homeless whose socks had to be peeled off carefully to avoid pulling off gangrenous toes, as a doctor working with the down and out detox patients from the streets who had no access to soap and water for weeks,

I’ve washed feet as part of my job.

People always protest, just as Peter did when Jesus started to wash his feet.
We never believe our feet,
those homely gnarled bunioned claw-toed calloused parts of us,
deserve that attention.

We are ashamed to have someone care about them, care for them, when we don’t care enough on our own.

I have never washed the feet of someone about to betray me, leading me to my death.

I have never had my feet washed by someone who understood my heart needed cleansing even more than my feet, who loved me that much.

Until now.

This one thing should not be forgot:
Kneeling, He wears the humility and towels of a servant as His only raiments. He gently cups our heels in His palms, washes and dries our soles and arches and toes, but our hearts are held, still beating,  in His loving hands.

sculpture by Mark Greine
sculpture by Mark Greine