Saturday, January 28, 2012
Retirement has taken me out of the rather sterile environment of the office to the dirt of the earth. Perhaps, the movement from one to the other made Barbara Brown Taylor's words all the more powerful. In her book, "An Altar in the World," she wrote, "Keeping the earth is hard work. You get dirty doing it...You also remember where you came from, and why. You touch the stuff your bones are made of. You handle the decomposed bodies of trees, leaves, birds, and fallen stars. Your body recognizes its kin. If you have nerve enough, you also foresee your own decomposition. This is not bad knowledge to have. It is the kind that puts other kinds in perspective. Feel that cool dampness? Welcome back to earth, you earthling. Smell the dirt? Welcome home, you beloved dust-creature of God."
As I knelt down on the earth to pick up a now fallen limb that had been hanging suspended in decay for more than one season and as I rolled it over to get a better hold, I felt the decayed underside and saw the multitude of ants which were hurrying its disappearance from the earth. Suddenly, I was aware of the holy being in my hands. Taylor's words about the earth rushed over me like holy wind and I found myself kneeling there in a moment of divine awareness.
The voice of the Almighty often seems to come in strange and unexpected moments. As I watched the sight there before my eyes, from my inner being came words I have said before others more times than I could possibly count. "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." Could it be that Ash Wednesday and the return of which it speaks is indeed so near?
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
As I was unloading a trailer filled with limbs that had fallen over several weeks and household garbage that had accumulated over a few days, I listened to the voice coming from the caretaker's shack some hundred feet away. (Read previous blog for more context.) Out of the African-American tradition, the man who worked there was singing, verse after verse of the song, "I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine..." I was so surprised and blessed, I just worked all the more slowly so there would be more to listen.
Finally, he finished. Then there was a silence interrupted only by the sound of limbs crashing against the open mouth of the dumpster. After no more than a minute or two, the voice started up again, reverberating loudly across the dump. "O Lord, I just want to be closer to You. Oh, Lord, You know I desire You with my whole heart. O Lord, make me a man with a pure heart..." I stood there still as I listened to what I knew was the prayer of the man who had only moments earlier been blessing me with his singing.
His praying was so loud, it was impossible not to hear. As I listened, I started breathing whispered prayers of my own. There in that place filled with the waste and trash of the world, a man was worshipping God as if he was in the most ornately kept sanctuary, and I, the passerby was caught up in that wonderful moment of transcendent presence and blessed.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
One of the things different about living on a farm in the country is the way trash is handled. Instead of a weekly curbside pick-up enjoyed by those in subdivisions in urban areas, there is a weekly trip to the nearby trash and recycling center. There we unload our household garbage and yard debris into huge dumpsters which are carried to the county landfill when overflowing. We call the trash and recycling center "The Dump."
Today as I pulled up between two dumpsters, I turned off the ignition and heard someone singing. Curious, I sat still and listened. Someone with a strong voice was singing in the African American tradition the chorus, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine." I listened as he sang, "In my home, I'm gonna let it shine..." and, "In all the world, I'm gonna let it shine..." I sat mesmerized at the voice from the little shack some hundred feet away.
Finally, I slipped out of the truck and unloaded the trailer, working slowly as I listened. Since I am a regular, I stopped by the caretaker's shack before leaving to speak to the man with the voice and the ministry. After a round of cordial greetings, I asked, "Was that you singing, or was it the radio?" I think his cheeks reddened a bit and with a sheepish look, he responded by saying, "Yes, that was me. I'm here twelve hours a day so I bring my Bible and I read and sing and pray a lot." When he finished his word of witness, I just stood there in amazement. And then, as I was leaving, I told him what I had really stopped to say, "Thanks for the blessing." I never would have thought God was going to bring such a blessing at "The Dump."
Friday, January 13, 2012
There was nothing particularly eye catching about the church message board. It stood out there next to the road like most of them do. There was a place for the name of the church and more space for a message board. The truth is most church signs are poorly used. They are either filled with an announcement of a scheduled meeting which may be of interest to the congregation, but not really of much use to the world passing by. Or, they utilize some tricky sounding words that stay out there so long the passersbys cease looking because they have already read the words a hundred times. No need to look that way again as the sign is the same as last week and the week before.
This particular sign, seen on a recent trip; however, was different. By itself the message was rather commonplace and mundane. It is one seen on a hundred other signs on any given day. But, still it was different. What made it different was the context. What made it so powerful was what was behind it. What was behind it was nothing, but a cleared field. What used to be there behind the sign was a building everyone identified as the Calvary United Methodist Church. A midnight arsonist changed all that a few months ago. Everything is gone on the property now except for this sign which says to its community, "Give thanks for all your blessings."
In one of the earliest stories in Scripture we learn that God uses for good what someone else intended for evil. First told in Genesis as a a part of the Joseph story, it is a story that has been retold more times than can ever be known. The church sign appears to say that the folks at the Calvary Church have embraced this truth. The building may be gone, but the community of believers is still speaking a powerful word every day to those who pass by and see the emptiness of the property. What someone intended for evil, God is no doubt using for good. It is good to know God is still doing what He did long ago with Joseph. He is doing it for the folks at the Calvary Church in Swainsboro and He is doing it for you and me as well.