Bringing the Marks of Everyday Life into the Presence of the Lord
Finally, I had a decent black suit. I was very pleased with that fact on this particular morning as I drove to conduct a funeral.
Until a recent, successful trip to the Bargain Hut, I had been without a good black suit. I had out-grown my other one. I find that once one reaches middle-age, outgrowing clothing can be quite depressing. When I was a kid, out-growing clothes was a pleasing event. It meant that I was getting bigger, and as a kid, getting bigger is generally experienced as a good thing. Not so in middle age.
Anyway, as I drove down Water Street, I was feeling good about being suitably attired. I hate feeling underdressed. Of course, our culture has become more and more informal about clothing. I’m finding that even at funerals and weddings ties are becoming less and less common. But for me in my role as the presiding minister, I can’t overcome my up-bringing. A sport coat and slacks are good enough for most situations, but for funerals and weddings I need a suit to make me feel comfortable.
So, there I was driving down the street toward a funeral, feeling quite pleased in my “new,” pre-owned, black, wool suit. Then my glance passed over the back of my right hand, and to my dismay there, smirking back at me, was an olive-brown blotch – walnut wood stain that had gotten there when I was putting the finish on a small wood-working project in my basement. Well, there was no rubbing that away. The stain is designed to seep down into the pores and fibers of the wood and adhere there to enhance and bring out its figure and contours. And, of course, that is exactly what it was doing to all the cracks and crevasse of the skin on the back of my hand. Maybe with some turpentine or some strong cleanser I might have been able to clean that blotch off of my hand. But I didn’t have any of that sort of thing with me, and I had no time to go back to my house and get it.
It bothered me that my hand would look dirty as I greeted people at the funeral. It was a very noticeable smudge. Did it look as if I hadn’t washed my hands? Well, no. It did look pretty much like some kind of stain, and people do understand that some kinds of dirt such as axle grease and walnut wood stain have to sort of wear off.
Still, wearing that walnut wood stain into the funeral caused me to feel somehow as if a mundane, unspiritual fragment of my everyday life was intruding into the sanctified presence of God. I had tried so hard to put on the attire and attitude of a professional minister. I wanted my appearance to communicate that all was in order and under control. But here was this splotch of stain on my hand, proclaiming that just below the surface lay all the clutter and untidiness of everyday life. And in fact, on the back of my hand it was right there on the surface.
Well, multi-tasking the rest of the way to the church, I continued to drive my car while thinking about this idea that I could or even should try to put on some sort of façade of professional propriety to conceal the spotted and stained me that is the real me. Who, after all, do people think I am when I stand up in front of the sanctuary and lead in some sort of worship service to God? And who does God see when he looks at me standing there in front of his people?
I know that my little concessions to my vanity like “new,” pre-owned, black, wool suits and unstained hands don’t really hide the real me from your perceptive eyes when I’m standing in front of you in worship. And even more, I know that God’s gaze penetrates to the very deepest and darkest corners of my soul whether I’m wearing a “new,” pre-owned, black, wool suit or even a full-fledged suit of armor. In fact, I know that God is not satisfied unless I bring all my cluttered, untidy, disordered, and not-quite-in-control life before him. To try to maintain any form of vanity or pride, to attempt to conceal any of our real self before God is an offense to him and a serious obstacle to a true and rich worship experience.
Back in the summer of 1980, I was working as a student pastor at a small, country church in eastern Ohio. The church, Oak Ridge Presbyterian Church, was literally nestled in amongst corn fields. And when I would open the window in my closet-like study, I could hear the cattle mooing on the hillside across the corn fields. Working there was a wonderful and humbling experience. I met some of the most memorable people in my pastoral career there.
One was a dairy farmer, Bob, in his late sixties. He walked with the slight stoop of a man who had years of backbreaking work behind him but who was not ready to stop just yet. Twice a day he milked about 65 head of Holstein cows. And in between the milkings he tended to the myriad other labors involved in the task of keep up a substantial family farm.
Every Sunday evening through that summer, I lead a Bible study at the church. Usually ten or twelve people would come. Bob was almost always there. But he would arrive a little late sometimes because the evening milking had to get done first. I knew that he always came straight from the barn. The aroma of cattle was always very strong upon him.
He never gave the least hint that he was especially embarrassed about the fact that he smelled like a cattle barn. City boy that I
was, I was startled at first. But I soon came to understand that the odor of this man’s everyday life was an honorable and even holy thing. If he had insisted on showering first in order to hide the realities of his life, he would never have been able to get to the Bible study before we were almost finished. And why should he need to try to conceal his honest and good labors from God or God’s people.
Adam and Eve tried to hide from God, and it didn’t work out well for them. Nor will it work out for us. God does not like pretending. And his love and grace are unconditional. So, why should we try to pretend?
I’ll still try to wash the stains off my hands, but I don’t think I’ll be ashamed of them if I can’t quite get myself all cleaned up. It will be God who cleans me up in the end, and not just my preacherly life but also my workshop life and all the rest, too.
© 2012 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.
- Journey Into Darkness (mylordisjesus.wordpress.com)