A shudder jolted through my chest. My pupils shrank. Heartbeat raced. “What was that?!”
A black mass surged up through the crusty layer of the pond-sized manure lagoon, then disappeared. I stared in disbelief. I waited. Nothing.
The manure lagoon is the collection reservoir for a year’s worth of barn cleaning. An old tractor tire fashioned into a plow and mounted on a skid-steer enables me to push manure, daily, from the alleyways of the elevated cow-shed to the lagoon 100-feet below.
Muck, manure is a valuable, recyclable commodity for a dairy farm. In the Fall, the liquefied compost is pumped through pipelines and injected into the soil of the surrounding fields, capturing hundreds of thousands of gallons of fertilizer for this sustainable agricultural practice.
Minutes later, after fumbling for my phone to alert my boss to the urgent situation, three more desperate lurches of panic confirmed that it was a 700-pound yearling Holstein heifer struggling for the embankment, thirty feet away.
She’s in deep muck. I call her Buttercup. The effort exhausted her. She sank.
Lush green pasture surrounds the lagoon during early spring days like this one. Buttercup should have been laying in the deep green grass, barely visible, chewing her cud. Instead, she waits, submerged, except for her air gulping muzzle, in a horrible pit, fatigued and hypothermic, needing rescue.
Take A Deep Breath of Remember. Do you, like me, feel a shockwave go through your chest, your gut, when you realize it’s not just Buttercup that gets herself into a horrible pit? Listen to the words of the Psalmist who understood our condition:
I waited patiently for theLord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in theLord. (Psalm 40:1-3, KJV)
My boss and his son liberated Buttercup. It’s a gospel-like story. A father sent his son out to the end of the appendage of the arm of a backhoe extended out over the lagoon, to place a halter on Buttercup and pluck her to the safety of solid ground. She shall flourish.
So, too, shall we. Once again, God’s top-down rhythm, drawing us to daily repentance, breaks into the Barnyard of Heaven. God Cleanses Us.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, so many times you have brought me out of a horrible pit. Thank you for sending Your Son, Jesus, to rescue me, save me repeatedly, and set my feet on a rock. I sing a new song to You. I sing my praises to my Savior. Amen.
In my desire to carry elements of God’s Liturgy out into the barnyard, beyond what we experience together corporately on a Sunday, I want to tread lightly with the element of God Communes with Us. Taking part in Communion bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, sitting ‘at table with God’ belongs as a corporate feast. It is made even more special to me as I anticipate and wait for Sunday’s to join in the family celebration of Communion. However, that said, I also believe there are plenty of ways to participate in the fellowship of Trinity throughout my barnyard excursions. Whether it be in the milking parlor, or using my imagination in a redemptive way, while abiding in the Dark Forest leaning on my Rock; communion opportunities abound. As you know, practicing communion as you go about work, rest, or play requires focused attention. It takes time, can yield beautiful rich fruit, but, if you’re like me, it can feel like waiting; enduring. Let me tell you a story.
Balin’ Twine Braid
What does it mean to wait? I don’t mean wait for the bus or wait for supper. I don’t even mean wait until you grow up. The waiting I wish to show you will take lots of time because it involves lots of time. As I explore what this means to me, I will try to use stories and pictures to grasp the meaning of the word “wait” used by the Psalmist and others.
The Hebrew language contains several words that get translated “wait” in English, so let me shine the light on the star of this show so as to distinguish it from what our English brain leads us to think when we hear the word wait. Are you a pictorial learner, like me? If so, look for the images in the following description taken from the Hebrew word “qavah.”
Bind together, perhaps by twisting
Tension of enduring
Strand of rope
Spider’s threads, web
Wait or look eagerly for
I’ll begin with this example to show waiting as something you might do all your life, like a relationship, maybe.
“Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thouartthe God of my salvation; on thee do Iwaitall the day.” (Psalms 25:5)
Here’s a story ‘bout when I was a little boy:
“My grandpa was too old, and I was too young
To buck hay bales in the hot July sun,
So we sat by the truck in a puddle of shade,
And he taught me to weave the balin’ twine braid.”
The ‘balin’ twine braid’ was simple. You take three strands of baling twine, tie a knot in one end and start weaving the strands by crossing the outside one over the middle one, first left over middle, then right over middle, repeat.
What my grandpa imparted to me that day was a useful means for an 8-year old to craft a simple rope to be used as a bridle, a lasso, a lead rope, and other cool farm-boy, cowboy stuff. But, somewhere along in years, probably mid-20’s, when I first got introduced to this biblical word for wait as a rope bound together by twisting, the lights came on and I latched onto the “balin’ twine braid” as the metaphor for my relationship with “Trinity.” A relationship that involves a lot of time waiting, a lot of time not so much seeing, but engaging; entwining. Just as the braiding process involves numerous repeated ‘wraps,’ so does my relationship with a triune God.
Who Does The Choosing?
You may raise your eyebrows and purse your lips, perhaps even bristle when I say God’s liturgy is less something you do and more something done in you. Done to you. Let me elaborate. Early in my Christian experience I picked up the idea that I should proactively seek God. Hunger and thirst for Him. Drop my nets and follow Him. All good things, no doubt. But somehow like Christ’s disciples, James and John, my efforts got twisted up and became strivings to earn God’s favor. “Where’s my reward?” I thus interpreted my circumstances, whether pleasant or horrific, as evidence of my success or failure in my pursuit of an elusive God. I took upon myself a quest to determine what my sanctification would like. Discipline, study, service, endeavoring for holiness made up my language, but I found myself trapped in repeated cycles of habit and sin. The pressure was intense; all up to me and my choices. But Who really does the choosing?
In God’s liturgy:
God Calls Us
God Cleanses Us
God Consecrates Us
God Communes With Us
God Commissions Us
I still struggle and deeply long for remedy.
Return with me, in your imagination, to the Dark Forest. In the darkness I found a worn scrap of paper with some poetry written out in song. I now knew I wasn’t alone in here. There were others who frequent the proximity of the Rock. There have been countless more who have lived here and moved on. The date on the poem was 1759. The opening lines read:
I felt at home in those words, and I felt the pressure of my self-induced, self-help, independent strivings lift with a whoosh.
The poem ended:
“Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need for Him.
This He gives You.
This He gives You.
Listen to the Spirits’ voice.”
I felt it. I felt my need for Him. I was jubilant. Is that all? Now what do I do? Wrong question. What I was hearing was God calling me to worship, step one of a gospel-driven liturgy. The issue now was less what I was supposed to do, and more, ‘watch out’ for what God was going to do in me. He’s the initiator and finisher of my salvation. Of my sanctification. Pressures off. Remedy is underway.
Flashback to the milking parlor. I noticed a cow in early stages of labor. Not uncommon. There are about 350 calves born throughout a year on this dairy. But I noticed as the calf’s feet appeared, they were upside down. Upside down feet means the calf is coming backwards. Dystocia. Urgent; and if unassisted, will likely result in death of the calf by asphyxiation during the process. Worse, the cow’s life may be threatened being physically unable to expel the calf.
Intervention was required. I offered assistance and a chance for remedy, though the outcome might be life; might be death.
I thrilled at the mighty inward tug I felt when attempting to attach a chain to the calf’s legs. He’s alive. Resistant, but alive. Game on. A battle of wills. I was determined for a live birth remedy. The calf? Not so cooperative. Adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding drama ensued. Could I dislodge the calf from the grave he clung too? His strong leg-kicking reminded me of my determination to not parachute into the Dark Forest.
Timing was critical. The umbilical cord would snap during the process when the calf was half-way extracted, stimulating his first gasp; a gasp that could fill his lungs with placental fluid. There was also a chance the cow, who was standing, would collapse making the final heave difficult. She did.
I, Junior Veterinarian, spent my fortitude in the delivery process, then found another ounce of strength to lift the 80-pound calf upside down allowing some of the placental fluid to drain out. No breathing. I scrambled to grab a few handfuls of fluid from his mouth and throat, then jabbed a section of bedding straw into his nostrils trying to stimulate an inhale. The calf’s ribs heaved filling his lungs with oxygen. His eyes glinted with light and life.
Did the calf do life? Or, was life done to the calf?
“Rescue us from a life in which the wonder has leaked out.”
God Cleanses Us
More on the Liturgy of Breathing
We take our everyday respiration for granted, mostly. We shouldn’t. It’s a beautiful picture of what liturgy looks like. When asked by my college professor, “What stimulates us to inhale?” I answered, “Why our need for oxygen, our craving for life, of course.” I was partly right. To my amazement, the fuller answer is “the accumulation of chemicals in the bloodstream; chemicals resulting from healthy cellular work like carbon dioxide and hydrogen ions; chemicals that will kill you if not exhaled.”
There’s a nerve center in your brainstem that monitors the blood concentration of those “death” chemicals. Once they reach a threshold level, you will inhale life-giving oxygen.
The beauty of this liturgical rhythm equates to, ‘death out, life in.’ Repeat.
In a gospel-driven liturgy. God cleanses us. He helps us recognize the sin-unto-death accumulating in our blood. We exhale in repentance. We inhale and draw in the life-giving assurance found in His promise of forgiveness. Is there power in the blood? Yes, most certainly, a flood of power. Our Father’s forgiveness infuses us with a life-giving power that cost Christ His blood-flooding life. Delivering, saving, sanctifying, cleansing, and redeeming life.