Today we wait…
in stillness, deep thought, somber reflection.
We wait for the promise of new life.
We wait for God to pierce our lives with an “all-things-are-possible” attitude. New beginnings in the face of failure, rejection—and even death—can, and do, happen with God.
The Easter morning tomb waits…
to surprise us,
to fill us with awe,
and, hopefully, to change us.
May today, as you find yourself running around in last-minute Easter preparations, you take time to grieve your losses, let go of dashed dreams and acknowledge your brokenness. Then give it all to God.
For tomorrow is a new day.
It really is.
A blessed Holy Saturday from Old Stone Well Farm
Holy Week is here and I find myself walking more slowly and feeling more deeply. The world around me hasn’t acknowledged the significance of these trying days we are meant to go through before getting to the glorious promise of Easter.
No one has mentioned Maundy Thursday or even Good Friday. No one is speaking of the cross that Jesus faced for us. No one is stopping to reflect and ask a question I find myself asking: “Am I really living as someone who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ?”
Am I living a life of grace and thanks?
Am I living?
The world around me is acting as if this week is business as usual. Nothing is different. Nothing is changing. Nothing is gained. Nothing is lost.
Yet from where I sit, it seems all this nothingness mingles with a lot of empty busyness.
Work, life, petty annoyances, irksome worries, decisions as to what to have for dinner mixed with trips to the store for more jelly beans for Easter Sunday and then another load of laundry thrown into the washing machine—all create an alternate universe that fools us into thinking we are getting somewhere.
It fools us into thinking we are living.
I went for a walk tonight on the rail trail behind my old little house in the valley. I left my sweet Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie, behind for the warm weather here in Vermont has made the trail a hotbed for pesky ticks. Sofie’s thick black fur seems to be a magnet for them.
And so, I walked a lonely walk without my four-legged friend.
The night seemed so quiet without her. It’s funny how you get used to another presence with you on a well-worn path. Since I didn’t have a bumbling dog occupying my attention, I could notice little details on the path.
I noticed hoof prints in the dirt.
The impressions were deep and distinct. I took note of how far down the path they went and decided to follow them, being very careful not to step on them as I didn’t want to erase their presence from the path.
I walked alongside them and thought of the hoof prints the donkey left on the path as it carried Jesus into Jerusalem on the day we observe as Palm Sunday.
Jerusalem. The holy city. The place where Jesus’ triumphal entry would spiral downward quickly to death on cross in just a few short days. There would be an altercation in the temple. Some tables overthrown.
Then the Passover meal shared with friends in an upper room. Feet would be washed. A new mandate given to love one another.
Then a betrayal by a friend followed by an anguished, seemingly unanswered prayer for trouble to be averted, capped off with an arrest. A trial, a guilty as charged edict (guilty of what, being the King of Jews?) and then crucifixion. Tears and wailing by the faithful few, emphasis on few, who stayed with Jesus at Golgotha.
And then that horrible day after someone dies. You might know what I am talking about. That first day without your beloved when you don’t even feel your tears because you are just so numb with shock and grief. You can’t breathe. You can’t think. You can’t imagine life without…
Then something surprising happens.
Amidst unfathomable loss, hope breaks through with the first rays of dawn, revealing an empty tomb and, with it, the promise that death never has the last word. Never. Jesus stands there extending a nail scarred hand to the brokenhearted and offers life anew, life again.
I stooped down and gently traced the hoof print in the dirt. As I did, the birds ceased their singing. The peepers hushed their peeping. I traced it over and over and thought about this week. A week I walk more slowly and feel more deeply.
We don’t get to the glory of Easter until we trod the lonely path with our Savior.
We don’t get to grace unless we dare to follow the hoof prints leading us into Jerusalem.
We don’t truly live as one who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ until we decide to replace all the nothingness filled with plenty of busyness with the commitment to stand at the foot of the cross.
We need to weep—really weep—for the darkness in ourselves that sought to extinguish a light so brilliant, we feared it.
We need to remember that we don’t get very far walking on paths we decide to walk on.
We must follow Jesus’ path. All the way.
Hoof prints…they were left in the dirt so many years ago by a humble animal who carried salvation on its back. Many probably didn’t even notice where the hoof prints led. And those who did? Did they follow?
The Easter claim is not about resuscitation but about a new reality in the world that is unrestrained by the force of fear. Walter Brueggemann
A new reality.
It’s why I gave up the security of a steady paycheck and a regular preaching gig every Sunday morning down in Maryland.
It’s why I gave up the very things we are taught to make a priority in our lives and go after—income, pension, health insurance—so that we can purchase the things the world uses to define (and so often judge) us by.
I gave it all up so that I could step into a new reality in which God had been nudging me to step into for quite some time. The nudge was gentle at first, but anyone who has brushed off God’s nudge knows God is not easily brushed off. The nudge grew stronger, leading me to sleepless nights and divine dissatisfaction with a life that looked to be a blessed one on the surface.
The nudge finally became a holy kick in the #$% that set me on an uncertain future back in Vermont where the only thing I am certain of is this: God is on the brink of doing some amazing work in a place my heart embraces.
Great work in a place where I see abundance of the things that matter to God—an abundance of caring hearts, stubborn hope and a desire to live a life not defined by what the world says is life.
Rather to live a life where a good payday is one in which your ears heard the songs of the birds and your body stood still long enough to enjoy their angelic concert.
God is up to something big.
Those were the words I said to my parents the other day when I called them to say “hi” after spending a morning with a lean checkbook that once again, somehow, paid for our daily bread.
God is up to something big, a new reality that isn’t about breathing life into old ways of doing and being. God is revealing a new way to live, I said, more for my own benefit than to put at ease a parent’s worry about their daughter’s future.
Live simply. Live with love. Live in peace. Live knowing that while there are forces against you (there are always forces against us), not to be afraid. Rather, embrace it all—the good, the bad, the ugly. For God is in it all.
The thing is, new realities like this come with a lot of uncertainty, a lot of questions and a lot of opposition.
My Lenten journey this year has been an interesting one. It began with a quiet Ash Wednesday in which, sitting alone at my centuries old farm table that serves as my writing desk, I poured out the burnt palm ashes into an ice cream bowl and thoughtfully and prayerfully let my finger swirl around and around.
As I felt the grittiness of the ash against the smoothness of my skin, my thoughts went to all the foreheads I have made the sign of the cross on with the ash. Some with many wrinkles of wisdom won not so easily; while others still smooth with beautiful ignorance we call blissful at times. I thought of the sacred moment when after the cross was made, I would step back and see the person’s face fill with awe and mystery as if this smudge had somehow reached deep into their heart. And perhaps it did.
As my finger swirled, I felt an ache that this would be the first year I would not have any foreheads to smudge. I looked down at my blackened finger and gently made the sign of a cross on the top of my hand.
I whispered to my ache, “Remember from dust we come, to dust we shall return.”
In the silence of that second, my ache whispered back, “I remember.”
And so, my journey so far has been one in remembering who I am and to know that when all is said and done nothing matters in our fleeting lives except finding the courage to live into the new reality God presents. A reality that is not about resuscitation, but one that is about authentic new life.
It’s a reality, though, that is not easy.
The other day I sat down on the path I was walking on and hung my head down low. I was not physically tired, but spiritually exhausted.
Although the sun was shining, all I could feel was darkness encroaching. I touched the top of my hand where weeks ago the self-imposed gritty smudged cross stared back at me, begging me to remember.
Gingerly, I traced the lines of the now phantom symbol of hope. Over and over, I made the sign of the cross where hope first had to conquer betrayal, opposition, hurt, anger and darkness. Lots of darkness.
“A new reality unrestrained by the force of fear” is what theologian Walter Brueggemann says the Easter promise is all about.
The sad truth is, though, fear will always try to restrain the new thing God is doing. For we humans are a fearful sorry lot. We are so afraid when we cannot control our own lives, even more so when we cannot seem to control others. We are fearful when someone dares to upset the apple cart by suggesting that we do something never done before.
The other day I was talking to a friend I had reconnected with now that I had moved back home. We got to talking about God realities and the fear that thwarts them. As we talked she became quiet and thoughtful. Hesitant at first to share what had come to her, she blurted out her concern.
“Donna, your complete abandonment to follow God and blind trust you show, no matter what, well, it threatens others and will threaten any powers to be that you challenge,” she said, recognizing that often many will talk about doing something new with God, but few will see it through. She then smiled and said, “But keep on pursuing that new reality, for many have wanted to do what you are doing, but we have been afraid.”
To the world, I am example of someone who is crazy. Perhaps even a threat. After all, I am willing to enter tough places, give up all, to see something beautiful that so few go the distance to see. I live to see God redeem brokenness and create newness from rubble.
Sometimes I, myself, question my sanity especially when I get to the part of the journey I am on now. The part where dark, mean clouds of a world who opposes this reality are gathering on my path.
But then, I trace the phantom cross, the symbol of hope, that was on my hand weeks ago. I trace and I reach. I reach deep down in my soul, mustering up the courage to keep on going, for I know how gritty ash feels on the skin and I remember.
There’s a beautiful reality waiting to burst forth where God has placed me to serve.
I remember I am dust.
I remember, God is God.
Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who called that church “home.”
Day 4: Snowdrops
Why do I like the season of Lent so much? There are many reasons, among them are the lessons we can learn in this holy season in which we are asked to go counterculture and retreat from the blaring noise and fast pace of the world around us.
I especially like the lessons we learn when we are invited to walk the wilderness walk with Jesus at a time when going for an actual walk can be hard to do.
Depending on when Easter falls on the calendar (click here to read how that is figured out:http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/determining-easter-date.html) Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, can begin as early as February, just when winter is hitting its stride.
And so taking an actual walk out into the frigid cold of God’s country doesn’t sound fun, does it? But it was, especially when the slice of heaven I walked in was where the little white church I pastored called home—an idyllic setting in rural upstate New York on the border of Vermont.
It was there during many Lents that snow would pile up high and actually block a front door (as it did the first winter my husband and I settled into our Vermont home). The back porch exit wasn’t any better. When reconfiguring our picket fence that summer we inadvertently placed the gate door in the vicinity of where the tin roof hung over. You guessed it. Snow loves sliding off of tin roofs and so trying to access the gate that led to the driveway that led to our car was an adventure.
It was there in God’s country during the season of Lent that many times the ice proved to be champion over those ice gripper thingies (for lack of a better word). You know the things you slip over your shoes to prevent you from falling and sliding. Those ice gripper thingies were actually given to me as a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift. I think I tried them once, preferring to amaze those on the street with my graceful moves as I fell to the ground.
And I am sure I shocked the locals when on one particularly frigid Lenten day, when the temperature was a negative 10, I popped in and out of the businesses on Main Street wearing my favorite weekday go-to dress—a cute wool navy blue number from the Gap—stockings to match, riding boots and a fashionable (translation: not warm at all) coat.
I had never experienced double-digit, negative temperatures before and so I didn’t realize how cold, cold could really get. All I remember from that Lenten day when I took my walk on Main Street was the stunned look on the owner’s face when I stopped into the fuel company housed in an old timber building right behind the dilapidated, yet showing good bones, train depot. He glanced up and down and asked, “Are you warm enough, pastor?” To which I said, “Not really.”
I love how Lent comes at a time when actually walking a wilderness walk comes with these blessed challenges of cold, ice and snow. These are challenges that urge me not to give up my walk for the comfort of a warm house or office or church. The harsh elements I venture out into reconnect me with the fact that life is not always easy or comfortable. That often God calls us into harsh elements so that we can train our eyes to see beyond winter’s gray days and look forward to the promise of spring.
For even when it seems the brown patch of frozen ground will never bring forth life again, all of sudden, when you least expect it—and when you need it the most—it appears. Hope in the way of tiny snowdrop sitting on the side of a hill, peeking up to the heavens as if to say to a world sitting in cold for far too long, “Rejoice! Our salvation is near!”
I love the lessons of Lent that come early on when winter refuses to release its grip on us. I love the lessons of holding on to hope when others say there is no hope to hold on to. I love the lessons of trusting God’s warming love that will not only incubates the seeds beneath the ground, but also incubate the heart that longs to love again.
I love that Lent invites us to walk the wilderness walk with Jesus at a time when actually walking can be a challenge. For it is on such walks we can truly see God—and, if we train our eyes of faith, we may just see a snowdrop singing its song of praise to its Creator.
This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Go for an actual walk today. Bundle up if it is cold, grab an umbrella if it is raining, but don’t let the elements deter you. Go out into God’s creation (be safe though!) and take note of the beauty all around.