"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Going Barefoot

What ever happened to going barefoot?  Of casting aside the trusty soles the last day of school and not picking them up again for 3 months?  I wasn’t alone.  All of us kids did it.  We rode bicycles barefoot, went to friend’s houses barefoot, we “danced” across hot pavement barefoot.  In fact, about anything we did was done barefoot.  Even going to town.  No one would have even considered posting a “No shoes, no service” sign in their window. 

Of course, along with the territory came stumped toes, bloody heels, and more splinter removals than I care to remember.  One vivid memory along those lines is when I leaped smack dab into the middle of a small patch of spurs and briars in my granddaddy’s yard.  No help was around to lift me out, and to this day, I can remember the painful steps I literally had to take.  I also recall the afternoon my friend Cathy’s mother told us to be careful with the hoe and not chop off our toes.  I obviously didn’t listen too well…  (It took weeks for that toenail to finally come off.)  

I guess the only time I wasn’t allowed to go barefoot was on Sundays when I went to church and then a week or so before my dance recitals.   My mother said she was concerned I would stump a toe and not be able to dance.  I was 5 years old, for crying out loud!  I was NOT nor ever would be the Prima Dona of the stage!  

And then we got older and were not allowed to come to the dinner table in our bare feet.  Still haven’t figured that one out as I’m not sure at what age that becomes taboo.  

I’ve also been fascinated of late to find out there are “barefoot forums” as well as a “Definitive Guide to Going Barefoot.”  There is even a “Society for Barefoot Living” if you’re so inclined to join.  Their motto: “Set your feet free and your mind will follow.”   I like that.  

So why my interest all of a sudden for going barefoot again?  Maybe because I’m trying to learn to live in the NOW, and going barefoot is a great place to start.  

In his book A Listening Heart, Brother David Steindl-rast writes, “To take off one’s shoes means being truly there, fully alive.  The shoes or sandals we take off are made from the skin of dead animals.  As long as we wear them, there is something dead between the live soles of our feet and the ground on which we are standing.  To take off this deadness means taking off that familiarity which breeds contempt and boredom: it means coming alive in the primordial freshness to the place where we are.”  

And so I’ve begun taking off my shoes much more often, and you know what I’m learning?  That any place can be sacred ground, a place of encounter with God’s Presence.    At first, it’s a specific place: like the closet I cleaned out over the weekend or the kitchen mat where I stood and cooked so many caramel icings last week.  But then the feel of my bare feet on the floor becomes a quick reminder to me that I am standing on Holy ground as I encounter a God of order and simplicity; a God who can so wonderfully convert the molecular make-up of sugar and milk; a God who teaches me to wake up to this place, the timeless NOW of my life, and be present right where I am.  And what I am finding is that when nothing separates my feet from the ground, the stars are brighter, the grass is greener, and worship is more real.  

You may say I’m crazy, but just think about it a moment.  Were you ever so free, so alive, so living in the moment as when you were as a kid … and going barefoot?  


Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sacred Cereal

Father, we’re thankful for this meal we’re about to receive.  Bless the hands that grew it and the hands that prepared it.  Bless it to the good nourishment of our bodies and our souls.  In Christ’s Name. Amen.  

Such is the prayer my daddy prayed at our mealtimes … and so did we children on our designated days to say the blessing.  And after all these years, I am still deeply warmed by those words coming from my father's mouth.  So why should I forego them and practice my own inadequate wording which I have done for decades?  To make me appear more spiritual maybe … especially in the presence of others as I try to rattle off something sublime?    [Sometimes I just make my own self so sick.]  In fact, there’s a common joke around our dinner table even now that anybody will quickly jump in to pray before Mom (me) does so that the food won’t get cold while thanking the Almighty for His bounty.  The problem with that is that I have to thank Him for the sunshine or rain – or whatever weather pattern is going on at the moment, and for all those gathered around the table and anything else that sounds divine.  And of course I have to mention all those “who can’t be with us” and protect them wherever they are, and then finally ask God to bless our “faith, fellowship, and food.”  

Sick, I tell you!  Just plain sick.  

And so this morning, I sat here alone in my “garden enclosed” with a bowl of Special K cereal in my hands … and prayed with my eyes directed toward my small crock:  

Father, I’m so thankful for this meal I’m about to receive.  Please bless the hands that grew it and the hands that prepared it.  And bless it to the good nourishment of my body and my soul.  

I must say that as I took that first spoonful and slowly placed it in my mouth, I really “tasted” it for the first time.  I chewed slowly and deliberately.  And as I did, I blessed the sweat of the farmer’s brow as he planted the seed, harvested the grain and placed it in the silos.   I blessed those who milled, dried or hulled.  I blessed the hands that turned the product into an edible source of nourishment; that packed the boxes and loaded and drove the trucks; that lined the shelves at the grocery store.  (I also blessed the dairy farmers and the process of the milk.)  And before I knew it, a whole host of people who before had never crossed my mind in such a way had entered my world and God had made my cereal something sacred.  How could it NOT nourish my soul?  

Yes, any place is sacred ground, even sitting on a couch with a bowl of cereal and a spoon, when it becomes a place of encounter with God.  

All around in every direction: Holy of Holies!  
Ezekiel 45:1

Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday's Volume: Jayber Crow

Every now and again I’ll get hold of a book that gets under my skin.  That becomes family.  That when I turn the last page, I raise it to my lips and kiss its cover and then press it for a period over my heart and mourn its end.  That’s what I did with today’s book. 

Jayber Crow: The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William Membership, as Written by Himself.  Quite the title given by its author Wendell Berry. 

In this rich, pastoral novel, Jaber Crow tells us his story beginning with his birth near Port William, Kentucky in the early 20th century.  But after the untimely death of both of his parents in the flu epidemic of 1918, and then his guardians when he was 10, he is sent to an out-of-town church orphanage where he grows up knowing of loneliness and want and soured to rules and institutions.  After a stint in pre-ministerial college, Jayber is drawn back to his childhood home where he lands the position of town barber.  A born observer, he hears much, watches carefully, and spends the next 50 years learning its citizens by heart.  This is the story of a man’s love for his community and his abiding and unrequited love for a woman who has made one bad mistake.  He tells their stories (and his) with great tenderness, and in doing so, we come to know these townspeople and care deeply for them.  And ever so slowly, we become participants. 

Nearing the end of his career as a barber, Jayber writes, “ I came to feel a tenderness for them all.  This was something new to me.  It gave me a curious pleasure to touch them, to help them in and out of the chair, to shave their weather-toughened old faces.  They had known hard use, nearly all of them.  You could tell it by their hands, which were shaped by wear and often by the twists and swellings of arthritis.  They had used their hands forgetfully, as hooks and pliers and hammers, and in every kind of weather.  The backs of their hands showed a network of little scars where they had been cut, nicked, thorn stuck, pinched, punctured, scraped, and burned.  Their faces told that they had suffered things they did not talk about.  Every one of them had a good knife in his pocket, sharp, the blades whetted narrow and concave, the horn of the handle worn smooth.  The oldest ones spoke, like Uncle Othy, the old broad speech of the place; they said “ahrn” and “fahr” and “tard” for “iron” and “fire” and “tired”; they said “yorn” for “yours,” “cheer” for “chair,” “deesh” for “dish,” “dreen” for “drain,” “slide” for “sled,” and “juberous” for “dubious.”  I loved to listen to them, for they spoke my native tongue.”

This book is about a love that breaks the barrier of time and of loss that grieves silently.  It’s about darkest despair and deepest joy.  It is about the tug of war between heaven and hell.  About community in its rawest sense.  There is much humor and not a little sadness, but despite everything, the author lets us know there is always hope.

If you have never lived in a small town in America, then here is your guide.  If you have lived in a rural setting, then expect to find friends within these pages … if not family members.  If you have ever loved from afar, ever been rowdy, afraid, lonely, confused or have questions of faith that no one can answer, well then you just might have a friend in Jayber Crow.  But beware, our narrator is not a “religious” man, but rather a man of hard-won faith, a faith unique to himself and his life.  As he finishes out his time in a modest shack on the river, he still walks into town for church.  But even then we hear him saying, “I don’t attend altogether for religious reasons.  I feel more religious, in fact, here beside this corrupt and holy stream.”  And you will, too, as you sit with him and listen to his stories.

Jayber Crow does not disappoint.  In a media inundated with the sensational, with sex and with violence, this novel is a gift.  By the time you finish it, you, too, may just wish you didn’t have to let it go.  I know I did.

Truly beautiful story.  One to be read again and again.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Slow down, you move too fast, you got to make the morning last now…  I found myself singing these Simon and Garfunkel lyrics yesterday morning as I was readying myself for what I knew was to be a very active and demanding day.  I’m not sure it helped me slow down and savor, but it did put a little “groovy” into my step.

Time.  That’s been my word for this season of Lent.  Not so much in the sense of 1:00 or 4:00, but in the substance of “now.”  The present moment.  Therefore, these 40 days haven’t been so much about giving something up as in adding something new: the awareness of time. 

So there are several things I’ve done to promote this cognizance. 

For one, I have this metal calendar that hangs on my bathroom wall right next to my lavatory.  Each morning before I do anything else, I move the magnetic bars to the new day, and I quote Psalm 90:12 – O Lord, teach me to number my days that I might gain a heart of wisdom.   “Teach me to number THIS day.”  No doubt, this has proven to be a healthy addition to my routine.  A spiritual vitamin that nourishes my soul and reminds me this day is important and that I am to live in the moment of it. 
Secondly, I’ve wound the old clock that sits on my mantel.  This particular treasure was a gift to my great-grandfather by his parents – my great-great grandparents.  It was sitting on the mantel of his new home when he returned from his honeymoon with his first wife back in the 1800’s.  As old clocks often do, this one has a loud steady tick-tock and a “chime” that could wake the neighbors.  Very often it rests quietly, but lately, I’ve wound it and allowed the metronome to become a soothing reminder of “time” to me. 

Why all of this sudden interest in time for me?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because even if I live to the ripe old age of my great-grandmother, 105, I’ve already hit that halfway mark.  Or maybe because I realize just how fast time is moving.  It struck me last week that I have now lived in this particular location for 13 years.  And what at one time took eons between kindergarten and high school graduation to accomplish has just gone by in a blink.  The words of Andrew Marvell ring true.  “But at my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”

But I think the biggest thing with me right now and what the Lord is revealing to me through all of this is that I was living so in the past and looking so toward the future, pining for was is not, that I was completely missing what God was doing with me right now in this present time and season.  And that’s a sad estate in which to live, because we do not find God in time past or time future: only in the present moment.  Yes, He was, is, and always will be, but THIS is where He is working and living and having His being in me.  THIS “time” is the sacred moment.  Why would I want to miss it?  Why would I long for anything else?

The old clock just “bonged” 10.  There’s much day yet to be lived.  But for now, I’m grateful for having spent this time with you.  It has proven to be sanctuary for me.

Just an ordinary moment…