finding the motherlode

– mining for a vein of truth in the stuff that matters –

Category: christianity

dust and ashes

“If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored:
If you remove wickedness far from your tent
and assign your nuggets to the dust,
your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines,
then the Almighty will be your gold,
the choicest silver for you.”

— Job 22:23-25

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Eliphaz’s harsh counsel to Job had become for me a life-giving rebuke. When no particular set of circumstances could be blamed for my peculiar sense of devastation, I was perplexed, undone. Standing in the midst of a thousand tiny shards to which I was sole proprietor was shocking enough, until I realized it was by divine appointment. 

I must’ve looked the part, too, standing at the back of the sanctuary all pensive, full of yearning, tentative, wholly uncomfortable. The pastor’s usual effusive greeting turned inquisitive.

 “How’re you doing?”

 “Decimated,” I replied, eyes burning.

 His demeanor shifted somewhere between sober and hopeful. “That’s worship.”

 He offered no more.

 It was a moment of grace, really, as I caught a glimpse of what he meant.

 I was being crushed. And it pleased God to crush me.

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If I were to define worship in a particular sense, it would be this:

Worship is a returning to the dust from whence we came. It is the act of being brought low before a holy God, humbled by what cannot be done in one’s own strength: to surrender to the crushing process that we might bring forth the fragrance of Christ.

It’s here in this backdrop, this place of dust, where we die to self, yield to Him by the exchange of our will for His, beholding the object of His majesty, His might, His glory in the face of Christ. Where we truly begin to live.

From this vantage point, we see light, discover reality, learn righteousness, and reap in wisdom. We begin to value what matters most, and learn to discern what doesn’t. The world’s pull weakens, our idols fall, and the noise fades. In this place of dust, we come to terms with who we really are: frail, depraved, needy, and desperate. Here is where a healthy self-loathing kicks in, superseded by a healthy self-love, informed by the doctrine of the Imago Dei. This is where we begin to move beyond the blur and find clarity of our eternal purpose, where we learn to live coram Deo as we traipse this earth’s crust before the face of a holy God, walking in the good works He’s prepared in advance for us to do. This is worship, too, part of our reasonable service.

spikenard

 You may ask: But what of the crushing?

Well, what of the flower? Petals are macerated, oil is extracted, the perfume is distilled.

You are an alabaster jar. Have you any nard?

That question is answered in the yielding. Learning to come under the mighty hand of God takes a lifetime, willing to be crushed in the process. Gethsemane exists to test us. If we choose right, the outcome is His; a fragrant offering. He will not refuse it.

Will you be crushed for His sake?

One of the great obstacles to true spiritual worship is that we forget who we are: animated dust, called and beloved by a Supreme God, created for His good pleasure and for His glory. One of our great sins is that we think it’s about us and for us, and we do all the choosing. We profane the Lord by not distinguishing between the holy and the common, rendering our hearts to the lesser god of self.

If you will be tested, then return to the dust; bring your nuggets of gold and your fine silver, too, those things you cling to. Lay low, allow Him to refine you in the fire. Let Him form you out of the dust and ashes into a choice instrument set apart for His praise and glory.

Find Him there.

“…then the Almighty will be your gold, the choicest silver for you.”

— Job 22:25

spikenard

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*A revised piece originally published as “Worship in the Dust” for Out of the Ordinary‘s October 2013 series on the theme of worship.

the name of this rose

Rose 1

I.

Call me Fullness

unfolding

after the last petal got crushed

these wilted hands

poured forth oil

into the night

against birds of prey

close by

overhead

nipping at my toes

while I was pleading

smoke arose:

“…I make whole the broken soul.”

Rose 2

II.

Obscurity,

perplexity’s anthology

a coda in a symphony

the exile’s proclivity

in faith abiding

enclosed

shaped by the will of the Father

cupped by the hands of Another

consumed

apposed

undone

bowed low

Rose 4

III. 

Softness

does not skimp

on strength

made perfect in weakness

where rationale takes a seat

behind honor

“…here’s a towel for your feet…”

— the kind of love that looks after things.

 (Great is the stature of Abel’s portion, it does not measure; I tend to compare)

Patience too is an offering.

How else does a thorny crown

become a headdress

of silken tassels

and linen velvet?

Cain’s temptation gives way

to joy and gladness

at the table of washing

away the mudstains

where I confess

in deference to the rest

these, my welcome guests

— holiness, truth, justice,

and let it be said,

 not my own righteousness —

if such hope be offensive

this high praise scandalous

Apropos is the name of this rose

Apropos is the name of this rose.

_____________

©2014 Elizabeth DeBarros 

no diamonds of dull worth

diamonds


Gather up your sorrows

put them in a cup,

pour them on the altar

watch the fire lick them up.

♦ 

Give to God what is God’s,

to Caesar, the rest –

in Him find solace

your portion will be blessed.

 

Fret not for tomorrow;

today has enough trouble of its own.

Should God send more sorrow,

 O, diamond, know this:  

 He cuts a brilliant stone.

diamonds

______________________________________

©2014 Elizabeth DeBarros

 

these, our hands

Hands
          
     


 

I rush to the water’s edge

without fear of falling in 

eternity has consumed me —

 Is this what love is? 

These, our hands —

still, I didn’t recognize them as ours.

The lines seemed untraceable 

to an earlier time

when the riverbed was full of stones 

and of all that lay ahead.

 …

Joined,

one on top of the other —

weathered 

but not beaten,

sanctified by scars

we could not do without.

Testament to what’s been wrought: 

a generation’s worth of work,

for better or worse.

 …

These, our hands —

once full of prayers

now answered

trace the lines

where no moth consumes

nor rust corrupts 

my treasure, my heart — 

 this is love.

_____________________________

Hands

©2014 Elizabeth DeBarros

This poem was first presented to my husband, Anthony, on April 8, 2014, in honor and celebration of our having lived twenty-five years together as man and wife. A milestone we share with you for your encouragement and for the glory of God.

Someone once said it takes twenty years to get to know someone. I say it takes twenty-five. And that goes for the both of us. A few things known to our minds we have come to better understand only through experience, and what are now cherished in our hearts:  

Marriage is a gift, a vestige left over from paradise. It is a crucible, where the refining  fires of God take place. And it is a cup, meant for overflowing. But grapes don’t appear overnight. The vine must first be tended, and watched. The fruit must mature and is then harvested. Time is involved.  And a winepress. So much mess! But the fermented wine is worth it.

Wine must first be mixed, then stored and aged, and finally, poured out to waft strong, imbibed as lovers and friends. And shared among friends. Over and over.

Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. 

Soli Deo Gloria.

onto dry land

Fortitude, Acrylic on linen, 24 x 36, Kathryn Abernathy

“Fortitude”

Acrylic on linen, 24 x 36, Kathryn Abernathy

Exactly when I sank I can’t say • Overnight, this stowaway lay sequestered • nine days silent • sentenced to the bottom of the ocean floor  Squid ink disorients the brain, I could not think • tempest set against me, no way of escape  Gravity led the procession (this imposition became the assignment) with crushing force, until my walls shook • Irony delivered its verdict: “In her absence, cords were cut, men came forth • out of her dilemma a stand was taken: ‘Struck down, but not destroyed.'” 

 What of these aching arms? • Better yet, how heavy is dead weight? • Good questions expose things like roots and debris to the material witness of stale courtroom air • flesh and blood are bound to fail, every breath comes from Him.

Quake, little mountain; roar on, billowing sea. Faith opens doors and my mouth utters this confession:

He is LORD, fear Him.

At last, this, my only offering: in yearning to go home came my remedy: “I have declared peace.”  spit out onto dry land • I’m picking up these bones as fast as I can • learning to walk again coram Deo • informed by this:

To live is Christ, to die is gain.

©2014 Elizabeth DeBarros

_______________________________

Fortitude, Acrylic on linen, 24 x 36, Kathryn Abernathy

For further meditation

Jonah 22 Corinthians 4:9Philippians 1:21

golgotha

This is a revision of  a piece originally posted on December 22, 2008.  From time to time I like to go back and review what I’ve written to see if my views have changed, or if I’m horrified over what I’ve said.  In this case, it’s neither. 

Golgotha Gold mixed media, Julie Wecker

   “Golgotha Gold,” mixed media, Julie Wecker             

____________________________

I’m reading my Gregorian calendar right. It’s just that Christmas brings out in me the truth police and I catch myself breaking the rules again — forcing me to look past the golden glow of the manger and its million and one replicas, fix my gaze upon the Promise for mankind wrapped up in the destiny of a helpless, crying baby.

The movie reel inside my mind fast forwards past Bethlehem, the Magi, and the star in the eastern sky — zooms in on a grittier place on the timeline. I see something else.

A man in his prime, bent over, pouring sweat, stricken. Beaten. I see blood trickling from his thorn-pricked head, bearing the sins of the world on His back, looking up toward a barren hill where He’d soon be lifted up on a criminal’s tree to breathe His last. And I hear something, too. I hear the blind pride of angry soldiers feasting on the fat of their will as they beat with rods the lacerated back of Hope and Love Himself.  I hear the crush of sin and the groanings of a great multitude of rebellious souls being dragged through the dust that testify to this one thing: He did not just carry mens’ burdens, but carried their exact load.

Golgotha. The place where the Determination of God triumphed and announced to those things in heaven, upon the earth, and to the grave below, “It is finished!”

Golgotha. The place where only a few mourned for Deity become flesh. Where He bore the mockers’venom for His silent willingness to become sin for sin. God of Heaven now heralded as Victim of the most scandalous sort.

The reality of Golgotha is the greatest gift ever given and must be received for there to truly be a Merry Christmas at all. I pray when you look out through your car window onto your neighbor’s lawn, in front of your church building, or on the cover of a Christmas card, you see beyond the manger to the hill of Golgotha. And may you see Him, no longer a helpless baby, but exalted on high, seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession in all His majestic glory, as He truly is.

___________________________________

 Julie Wecker

when the moon hangs low

honey

4 a.m.

moon hangs low

clearer than clear

backside in his easy chair

as if to say:

“I’ve done my part,

worked hard, time to rest.”

Honey dribbles from his chin.

And I think to myself:

Who will catch it?

This help, this golden muster —

the kind that gives strength in the night,

muscle to my bone,

reparation when I am weak?

(And God knows I need sight to my eyes.

Can’t see a thing without my glasses.)

If that’s my complaint,

then this is my boast:

I am no greater than the moon.

Every season, phase, tide roll — 

around and around

waxing and waning

in and out 

just like it did last year and again yesterday

except the waves don’t crash exactly the same way

and in the same place twice.

That man does not tell God what to do

but hangs listless,

waiting —

until the mouth of Him who speaks 

says:

“Take another turn

lift up

turn around

hide behind the sun

hang low,

shine.

I formed you to give light,

hang low tonight.”

And the honey that dripped from the chin of this faithful witness 

was mine to lick. 

In this thin air, I am sustained.

honey_____________________

©2013 Elizabeth DeBarros

 

when seeds split open

Ginkgo tree                                                        Photo courtesy of Blandy Experimental Farm

 

How fleeting are the years

they pass under the mistletoe

like steam

rising off the lake

— or was it just a pond?

The ripples,

there are so many now.

Some snows we waited for

never came 

Burning sands underfoot,

our lot.

Fall is a jaunt through the leaves,

telling us what kind of 

summer it’s been.

Of all the faces

none do I recall

so vivid

as when faith took root

and hope appeared

when love formed

in a moment’s time

and eternity’s seed split open

giving birth

to something beautiful.

And time is His, not mine

every ginkgo leaf that falls

is golden,

remembered by the limb

upon which it hung.

If sap then runs in spring

and the redbuds

a little fuller,

Can He not whistle in the wind

and work a wonder for you?

Can He not work a wonder for you?

©2013 Elizabeth DeBarros

a fractured parable

SO MUCH ANGST. I catch myself every now and then, wanting to get loud. I sometimes want to raise my fist, break a jar, carry my torch down into the valley and raid the village. But, like I said, I catch myself. I know how easy it is to prove myself a lemming.

I am fraught with desires.

I’d love a better America. A better world. I recoil at the state of our nation. What I view online or in the newspaper has become like reading a sci-fi horror novel with dystopian overtones. Things we used to pay for to get a cheap cinematic thrill now scare us unsolicited. Art imitates life. I don’t want to run down the list of names, and I refuse to serve up the details, but the amount of information that comes my way on a given day tempts on a visceral level. Voyeurism is the practice of all.

I’ll go on. Everyone’s a celebrity but few are deservedly famous. We’re all experts, but we still wake up desperate each morning for something bigger than ourselves. Isn’t it amazing how we’ve become gods overnight? Late night TV proves that ever since Johnny Carson died, we can choose our own late-night talk show host. We weren’t entirely pleased with Jay Leno. He seemed forced. After SNL turned rancid back in the 90s (didn’t you smell it?) we went backstage and reinvented ourselves. Our remote controls give us power to create. So when Letterman went and ruined it for himself, we found a way to be our own Conan. We greet the world on our little stages, make small talk, announce our guest list, and send everyone home with a laugh before waving goodnight. Did I mention Jimmy Fallon?

If this world is your home, you’ll always be turning up the volume, keeping one eye on the ball while you go get something to eat. Living for the weekend keeps getting harder because half-time is your resurrection from the dead. ‘Mericuns like it this way. Just don’t try to convince us.

________________________________

With a macro lens, I zoom in hard and see a farmer who went out to plant while it was still dark. He spends the better part of the day bent over, taking time with the soil, treating it as though it were a recipe for a fine tea concoction, mixed by the hand of a master blender.

Tillin’ and sowin’, sowin’ and tillin’, and sowin’ some more. Holdin’ that manure fork as if he was born with it. Fertility is the trick! Pack it down, nice and light, let the rains come. “Not too hard, Lord, please.”

When the first peek of growth springs up, his insides smile, making his breeches pop! He leans on his fork, doing his part, shooing away the birds, taking the time to pick off the beetles, keeping things orderly. This goes on all day.

At night, he goes in to settle his haunches, hoping tomorrow brings a little more sunshine.

Wonder what’s on his mind?

“These crops — they’re all I’ve got.”

“That, and time.”  

A farmer being faithful

 

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

— Galatians 6:7

summer bids adieu

lemons and limesCherries and Mangoesmangoes

Mangoes and cherries

lemons, limes

steamy mornings

chill of night

mugs of tea, hot

and iced

I was long in need of refreshment

I was

treading oceans

scaling walls

fixed positions

scrape and thrall —

Making things right

takes time

So, we took the time.

Order comes

as chaos bends

before the Maker

Who descends.

 Watching and waiting — 

Shoot the stars,

 hasten the sun,

collapse the moon:

“Your will be done.”

God didn’t enter our world,

it was rather the other way around.

Beating our wings

 summer bids adieu

a hiccup, 

a laugh,

brief interval,

a curtain or two.

More than order

gone is grief

 Arose in my hands

   (thorns asunder)

rest and peace —

ours, 

Shalom.

©2013 Elizabeth DeBarros