Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The barefoot movement is seeing a recent resurgence. There are people who believe it is healthier and more natural to walk about outside without foot coverings, despite increased risk of cuts and embedded thorns and frostbite in the winter. These feet are callous-crusted, leathery and perpetually grimy, arguably spread out wider with less toe deformities and bunion problems. The idea is to walk lightly on surfaces, with less impact, more sensitivity, vulnerability and authenticity, thus removing the barrier between the foot and nature.
In a somewhat opposing philosophy, there have long been cultures where shoes must be removed before touching the surface of the floor inside a residence or temple, in an overt act of leaving the dirt of the world at the door thereby preserving the sanctity and cleanliness of the inner life.
And then there is what God said. He asked that holy ground be respected by the removal of Moses’ sandals. There is no need to be protected from my skin touching holy ground–I must remove any barrier that prevents me from entering fully into His presence, whether it be my attitude, my stubbornness, my unbelief, my centering on self rather than other. No separation, even a thin layer of leather, is desirable when encountering God.
Instead I trample roughshod over holy ground all the time, blind to where my foot lands and the impact it has. If I might shed the covering of my eyes, my mind, my feet, I would see earth crammed with heaven and God on fire everywhere, in every common bush and in every common heart. Even mine.
Burning and burning, never consuming, ever illuminating.
“Morning without you is a dwindled dawn.”
My adjustment to our children being grown and away from home has been slow: I instinctively grab too many plates and utensils when setting the table, the laundry and dishwasher loads seem skimpy but I wash anyway, the tidiness of their bedrooms is frankly disturbing as I pass by. I need a little mess and noise around to feel that living is actually happening under this roof and that all is well.
Now it has been three days since my husband went out of town for a work-related conference and I’m knocking around an empty unbearably oversized house, wondering what to do with myself.
I have a serious case of the dwindles. The cure will be arriving back home tonight, and another fix arrives on an airplane a week from tomorrow, followed by two other remedies arriving for shorter summer visits in a month or so. I realize, like the fading of the dwindled dawn, these are cycles to which I must adapt, appreciate for what they restore in me, and then be willing to let them go.
“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.”
― Gerard Manley Hopkins
Too often, the bright light of Easter morning dims over time as I return to my daily routine. In mere days, the humdrum replaces the extraordinary, tragedy overcomes festivity, darkness overwhelms dawn. The world encourages this, and I don’t muster enough resistance. I climb right back into the tomb of my sin, move the huge stone back in place, and lie there waiting for rot to settle in.
I am not alone. I have plenty of company with me behind the stone. There is no excuse for us to be there still.
The stone is pushed aside, the burden shouldered, the debt completely paid.
There are two reliable things that take place on our farm in April besides taxes being due: the Haflingers start serious shedding of their worn winter coats and the huge pink dogwood tree in front of our house bursts into bloom as one consolation over the taxes.
We’re still currying hair from the horses–it will be another 2-3 weeks before it all lets go, as the nights are still cool and that hair feels mighty nice in the cold breezes. The summer undercoat is shining beneath that old winter hair, and glistens as it is revealed–hair flies everywhere, sticks to our sleeves and gets in our noses and mouths. As the horses groom each other they end up with hair-lined teeth and furry tongues.
Our dogwood tree, some 30 feet tall, in silent coordination with every other pink dogwood in our community, is about to bloom, and it seems now that everywhere I go there are brother and sister dogwoods that I notice only this time of year. We neighbors all share this common bond in our pink dogwoods–10 days of show before the leaves come and the pink petals rain down and the trees resume ordinary status.
These brilliant blossoms are profoundly glorious–a feast for the eyes— perfection of colored petals tipped by white, but in the middle, this volcano dome-like center that seems so primitive and out of place in something so beautiful. Yet it is that center that lasts long after the petals have melted into the ground and disappeared. There would be no future blooms otherwise. The petals are transient and soothe my winter-weary eyes, but the knobby core of the blossom is the essence of the dogwood that will be preserved even through the worst ice storm.
Profound is found in the most primitive if we remember our origin. After all, we were once dust. There is nothing more primitive than that.
And the fact we exist is the most profound of all.
A sunny spring day lured us outside for yard and garden prep for the anticipated grass and weed explosion in a few short weeks. We’ve been carefully composting horse manure for over two years behind the barn, and it was time to dig in to the 10 foot tall pile to spread it on our garden plots. As Dan pushed the tractor’s front loader into the pile, steam rose from its compost innards. As the rich soil was scooped, thousands of newly exposed red wiggler worms immediately dove for cover. Within seconds, thousands of naked little creatures had, well, …wormed their way back into the security of warm dirt, rudely interrupted from their routine. I can’t say I blamed them.
Hundreds of thousands of wigglers ended up being forced to adapt to new quarters today, leaving the security of the manure mountain behind. As I smoothed the topping of compost over the garden plot, the worms–gracious creatures that they are–tolerated being rolled and raked and lifted and turned over, waving their little bodies expectantly in the cool air before slipping back down into the dark. There they will begin their work of digesting and aerating the tired soil of the garden, reproducing in their unique hermaphroditic way, leaving voluminous castings behind to further feed the seedlings to be planted.
Worms are unjustly denigrated by humans primarily because we don’t like to be surprised by them. We don’t like to see one in our food, especially only part of one, and are particularly distressed to see them after we’ve digested our food. Once we get past that bit of squeamishness, we can greatly appreciate their role as the ultimate recyclers, leaving the earth a lot better off once they are finished with their work. We humans actually suffer by comparison, so to be called “a worm” is really not as bad as it sounds at first. The worm may not think so.
I hope to prove a worthy innkeeper for these new tenants. May they live long and prosper. May worms be forgiving for the continual disruption of their routine. May I smile the next time someone calls me a worm.
I admit it. Right this minute, I should be doing our taxes. We’re down to the last minute and I have all the paperwork stacked on the desk beside me, but I’m not doing it. It is too miserable a task to even contemplate. Instead tonight I went outside to capture spring.
The last few mornings, when I have risen just before dawn, I have gone outside to breathe deeply of the scents that hang heavy in the cool moist air. The perfume from thousands of orchard blossoms on our farm is heady and intoxicating. There is nothing quite like these two weeks each year when our farm becomes a mass of snow white and pink scented flowers, busy with honey bees and eventually showering petals to the ground as the fruit starts to form.
Unfortunately, I’m allergic to tree pollen. I breathe deeply and… sneeze and wheeze. Even the…
2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they (the women) were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
1 Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. 2 There he saw a well in the open country, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large. 3When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.
7 “Look,” he said, “the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.” 8 “We can’t,” they replied, “until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.” Genesis: 29: 1-3, 7-8
15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” John 21: 15-19
Giant stones were used to seal and protect something valuable and precious, whether it be a well in an area with little water, or the dead body of a troublesome crucified prophet who had predicted He would rise three days after death. In the gospels’ description of Easter morning, the rolled away stone is always front stage, representing the overpowering of the natural by the supernatural, the breaking of the Roman seal rendering it futile, the dawning of a new life penetrating the darkness of death forever.
However, it represents something even more–it is the rolling away of the stone, too heavy for one man to move alone, in the Old Testament story of Jacob that allows all the gathered flocks to be watered at once from the well. On this one day in history, the ultimate Good Shepherd has rolled the stone away so that we shall never again go thirsty, or hungry, shall never again be lost, or without protection. The darkness of our former life of sin is cast into the light.
Once the stone has been rolled away, the seal of sin is broken and we have no excuses. The sheep must be cared for. All sheep. All flocks.
“What God began, God will not abandon. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion. God loves everyone, sings the psalmist. What God has named will live forever, Alleluia! The happy ending has never been easy to believe in. After the Crucifixion the defeated little band of disciples had no hope, no expectation of Resurrection. Everything they believed in had died on the cross with Jesus. The world was right, and they had been wrong. Even when the women told the disciples that Jesus had left the stone-sealed tomb, the disciples found it nearly impossible to believe that it was not all over.
The truth was, it was just beginning.” Madeleine L’Engle
The Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday always feels like a “already but not yet” kind of day, as if we are between sleep and waking, in weary vigil. We aren’t celebrating “happily ever after” quite yet. Actually every day should feel like this day, as that is where we live: we know the extent of sacrifice made, the overwhelming debt paid, but the full completion of His new covenant, His new kingdom is yet to be realized. We wait, and will wait some more, unsure what comes next.
But one thing is clear. Burial in the tomb was not the end. Not even close.
To borrow from Winston Churchill out of context:
“Now this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”