Welcome to my front porch. Campfire coffee’s perking over coals. Prop your feet up and join me gazing at the two hawks soaring in a cloudless, powder blue sky, circling in sync over the freshly planted Spring barley field. They’re in no particular hurry. Neither are we. If Eugene Peterson was with us, he’d say:
“Rescue us from a life in which the wonder has leaked out.”
We both take a Deep Breath of Remember, then swap stories ‘bout things that help us grow in our relationship with the Triune God we both love and serve. Here’s mine:
The balin’ twine braid is 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.
Girls grasp this early as they braid their hair for beauty and practicality. For me, growing up without sisters, it took some training. But by age 12, with this simple routine passed down by my Grandpa Fred, I was creating lassoes, climbing ropes, bridles and halters for my horse, and a myriad of other cool farm-boy stuff.
It’s my go-to activity for remembering. Remembering is the crux of my faith. Ever notice how prominent remembering is on the pages of scripture? David rehearses the wonders and acts of God on behalf of His people repeatedly. So does Jesus. How marvelous it is that God remembers His covenant with us and acts accordingly to save, protect, and lead us through the trials and joys of life as He ushers in His kingdom!
There’s something intimate about remembering. Remembering slows us down. Weaving the balin’ twine braid creates a rhythm that breaks through the seductive pull of frenetic, heart-numbing activity.
We both take a few minutes to braid a foot-long strand of rope and tuck it in our back pocket.
Later, we pull out the intertwined rope, fondly notice wrap by wrap, and practice the healing rhythm called remember. Remember where we really need to go for affirmation. We see our Father wrapping Himself around us, calling us His own, telling us He loves us. We see Jesus wrapping Himself around us, smiling, pouring grace into our wounds like balm. We notice the Holy Spirit delighting in us, talking with us, listening to us, understanding us, and never leaving.
There’s another place to encounter this beautiful rhythm. At the end of each church service, our pastor sends us out with a benediction. We, the congregation, extend our hands to receive a blessing from God. It’s the final movement of God’s liturgy. God Commissions Us.
The benediction varies, but here’s an example:
“May the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.”
A good thing to tuck into your back pocket. Maybe your purse. Or, better yet, your heart.
2 A.M. Her distress cry pierced the frigid blackness. My lantern’s faint beams caught her blinking hard, her eyelashes coated with the tiny, compact snow crystals unique to the Montana high country. The same sparkling snow blanketed her shivering body. I lifted her into my arms, twirled about, and labored uphill a couple hundred yards toward the shelter with yellow light visible through the windows, promising warmth. Our breath clouds mixed, immediately froze leaving millions of miniscule gems drifting slowly earthward. The exertion left me exhausted and gasping for breath, but urgency spurred me on. I gently laid her on freshly strewn straw. A noiseless voice in my soul whispered, “I’ll never tire of this wonder.” A newborn Holstein heifer calf.
The veil over heaven just got a little thinner.
Thus begins a liturgy. An ancient rhythm repeated for generations of mankind devoted to bearing the image of God, as ones intent on seeing things on earth flourish.
For this heifer calf to live, to grow, to develop into a fruitful, flourishing milk cow, many little liturgies are required. Rhythms, routines, schedules intentionally carved out over days, seasons, years. I will be deliberate in my efforts to see this heifer flourish. It’ll take nearly three years before she produces her first drop of milk. I’m all in – born to this task of nurturing, growing and shaping. I call her Blossom.
And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:25, KJV)
What rhythms, routines, habits make up your day?
Do you see them shaping you to love something/someone?
Are you able to cause something/someone around you to flourish?
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.