As a boy, stories from the Bible were a staple in my education. Remember the Old Testament story about Moses, on a mountain in a desolate place, on the edge of gloom? A bush begins to burn. And a voice speaks from that burning bush. “Take off your shoes,” it said. “You are on holy ground.”
Now, in the church of my youth, this was not suggestion. This was God after all, so it was a command to be broken at great peril. Because, if God is holy, show some respect. If not, you’re going to get “Smote”. (I can still hear the severe tone in our pastor’s voice. This taking the shoes off wasn’t meant to make us smile.)
I now believe that those words were not a command at all.
I believe they were an invitation.
You are on holy ground. Wow.
Therefore, in order to touch, to feel this ground, let’s remove whatever blocks or inhibits or prevents.
Take off your shoes. Savor the ground.
Remember what it feels like to put your toes in the sand? And the smile on your face and in your heart?
Here’s the deal: The ordinary is the hiding place for the holy. Put simply: God is real in small gifts and simple pleasures.
God is present in the commonplace, the mundane, the weak, the flawed, and yes, the compromised. The profane is not the antithesis of the sacred, but the bearer of it.
These are gifts to embrace, gifts to receive, gifts to give.
And yes… we are so bent on removing ourselves from the mundane, that we miss miracles. And not surprisingly, once we see it, we do our best to turn it into a project: five steps to creating “wrestling times”. We do not give ourselves the permission to rest in the solace that God is present, having nothing to do with our faith, or our effort to invest the moment with meaning.
So. Sometime today, pause. “Take off your shoes. You are on holy ground.”
Fully alive smack dab in the middle. This moment matters.
Quote for our day… “Up at dawn, the dewy freshness of the hour, the morning rapture of the birds, the daily miracle of sunrise, set her heart in tune, and gave her Nature’s most healing balm.” Louisa May Alcott
This week, we remember that the ordinary is the hiding place for the holy. Put simply: God is real in small gifts and simple pleasures.
It is no surprise, with every question about finding meaning or balance, there is a knee jerk temptation to need to “manage” life, or at least find solutions (which always means adding something else to the very long to-do-list).
And in the end, it’s like the book, 99 Ways to Simplify My Life… because, apparently, one way is not enough. In other words, it’s relentless. Standing in a local bookstore, I found a book about the “Balance diet,” (you know, getting my life in order) but after one week on the Balance diet, I start to wonder how I’m doing, as if there’s a test. And if I fail, am I required to attend a workshop on Remedial Balanced Living? And I start to wonder about the benefit of the “balanced life” if I’m always looking over my shoulder, to see who’s impressed.
Ahhhh… the holy trinity of our culture: bigger, faster and more beautiful, all shaming slow living and the sacred (and gentle pleasures) in the ordinary, and all implying that we should be living a different life, and not the one we are living now.
So, in the end, we live divided. And a divided life is a wounded life, and the soul keeps calling us to heal the wound. If we ignore that call, we find ourselves trying to numb our pain with an anesthetic of choice, be it overwork, consumerism, mindless media noise, substance abuse (or maybe a pastor’s conference on renewal, just saying’).
The cultural gauntlet has been thrown down. “Success” is the only goal. We admire people who have “made it.”
Mother Teresa apparently didn’t get the memo. Think of it, she could have advertised the “fastest growing leper ministry.”
I see it now. What Jesus needed was a “Spin doctor.” Someone to talk with the press, to translate what he really meant when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “What Jesus meant was…”
Don’t we all get the nudge daily? Asked, “How are you? Are you keeping busy?” Inside we flinch, because it’s another way of asking, “Are you somebody?”
Organizations ask me for my bio, which is as good a hook as any, to hang our hat of value. But I’ll admit to you that it always gives me a little pause. Which takes me back to standing in front of the “success library” in the local bookstore, asking, what is missing? This is all a very toxic and dangerous sort of stew, and can only be dispelled by looking at the way dusk settles on the pond behind our house and on our Geese and Mallard tenants. The conk-la-ree from a red wing blackbird, a benediction on the day. And the skyline beyond the Douglas Fir trees, a make you smile real big, sunset canvas of burnt orange. And gratefully and graciously, the garden absorbs the light of dusk, and all the other stuff that clutters my mind, recedes.
And I wonder, how do I put my son Zach’s delight with a Cinnamon Twist (“Dad, this is the life!”) on a resume?
It is a warm spring day here. And I had hoped to write. But first, let’s find the patio chairs shall we?
I have an idea. Let’s spend the afternoon. Let’s crank up Roy Orbison or Norah Jones, and let the late afternoon light recede into the Fir trees. It’ll be a wee bit, but as the sun reaches the horizon, we can feel the earth itself breathe in relief.
This I do know: We are absorbed in moments of grace.
And we find ourselves lost in (the words of Rabbi Abraham Heschel) “radical amazement.”
This brings us back to the Sacrament of the Blessed Present. And to Sabbath. That’s when we allow the dust to settle. We allow the murky water to clear.
And we make space for wonder and curiosity and gentleness and tenderness and compassion and empathy and awe. And healing.
Our greetings to one another can be an invitation to “pause,” even for a moment. This week, instead of the expected, “How are you doing?” someone asked me, “Have you tasted the breeze yet today?” It still makes me smile big.
“Attention is the beginning of devotion,” the poet Mary Oliver wrote in her final collection of essays. In 2021, the poet Leila Chatti took up Oliver’s words, reflecting on the challenge of them: “All day, the world makes its demands. There’s so much of it, world / begging to be noticed.”
I’m still absorbing the evening sky… thinking about the power of the gift of simple pleasures. Embracing the gift in the ordinary, knowing it is the hiding place for the holy. I love this from Pablo Casals… “Each day I am reborn. Each day I must begin again. For the past eighty years I have started each day in the same manner. It is not a mechanical routine but something essential to my daily life. I go to the piano, and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach. I cannot think of doing otherwise. It is a sort of benediction on the house. But that is not its only meaning for me. It is a rediscovery of the world of which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human being. The music is never the same for me, never. Each day is something new, fantastic, unbelievable.” (Pablo Casals at age 93)
My friend Phil Volker used to say that it takes one kind of hope to show up for life, and another kind to partake. I don’t think we are supposed to be casual observers here with our precious time. One of the favorite parts of participating in our Sabbath Moment community is receiving emails with stories people share. It’s not only about naming or listing what has been learned. It’s about sacramental miscellanies, gifts of life bestowed when we stop long enough to see, taste, touch, find gladness (sunlight, birds, pets, conversation, sunset, random acts of kindness…). This can be transformative.
Yes. The sacred in the ordinary. And this morning on my walk, I stop, captivated and charmed by the Swallows. Where I needed to be could wait. I watch as Swallows glide, float, soar, dive, catching a variety of insects in midair with their wide-gaped bills and expert flight. And swallows drink mid-flight; as they fly over water (the pond) they dip their bill to the surface to drink. This magical Swallow dance does my heart good, and I can hear Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, playing in accompaniment.
I carry with me Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s reminder, “To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.”
Let us take this prayer into our weekend…
In Beauty May I Walk
In beauty may I walk;
All day long may I walk;
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
Beautifully will I possess again
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk;
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk;
With dew around my feet may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk
With beauty behind me may I walk
With beauty above me may I walk
With beauty all around me,
may I walk.
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively;
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, living again…
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
We’re thinking today of our friends on the east coast and in eastern Canada where fires burn, where the air quality index raises serious health alarms. Stay safe my friends.
Prayer for our week…
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Photo… “Hi Terry, Your words uplift me each morning, and many of your phrases end up in my daily journal. God bless you for the spirit you live and breathe for all of us. My husband has been in the hospital and is recovering at home. He has always been the dog walker, not another job I wanted to add to my list. But as he recuperates, I have been up and taking our sweet dog Jessie for a walk each morning around what we call “the pond”. Those in Houston understand retaining ponds, lake-like created structures to deal with rain run-off. A wonderful donor added to ours a walking path, fountain, fish pond, benches, and a lovely sanctuary for walking each day. This was a picture of God’s awakening of a new day this week. I am finding so much beauty and peace in these morning walks that I never wanted. How blessed am I! Thank you for who you are and for all you do!
Vicki Smith Bigham…