Look at the abundance of God’s presence around

Published 8:40 am Friday, August 28, 2009

In her lengthy “Aurora Leigh,” English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) wrote:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

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But only he who sees, takes off his shoes —

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,

And daub their natural faces unaware”

Barrett-Browning alludes to chapter three of Exodus, in which God calls Moses from a burning bush and invites him to remove his sandals because “the place where you stand is holy ground.” Many who read Exodus 3 might conclude that Moses’ experience was extraordinary and rare. The poet begs to differ.

I grew up among people who seemed more eager for heaven than I. Enjoying the blackberries very much, I wondered about anybody’s rush to go someplace else when there were already inexhaustible splendors right here. When I was 10 and enjoying a week at church camp with my parents and siblings, an earnest preacher extended an altar call, during which people went forward and gave their lives to Jesus. Figuring I had long been his already, I calculated there was nothing to lose. So I went, too.

Going forward launched you into a run through the Four Spiritual Laws, conducted nervously by a college-age counselor doing his level best to get it right. He expressed surprise that a 10-year-old was anxious about heaven or hell.

I wasn’t, but I hated to disappoint such an earnest counselor. It seemed to me that riding daily with the Lord was reward enough and that one who died and rose surely had my eternity under control. Some people give their life to Christ in particular moments of conversion and decision. But I like to point out that Christ already gave his life for you, and that Jesus the Word made flesh still indwells this world with his love and grace.

Your faith community — those with whom you gather around sacred text in godly service — can help you have it both ways. Sisters and brothers of faith can keep us honest and help us notice the footprints of God among us. You can be a blackberry-plucker who also goes shoeless with wonder at the abundance of God’s presence all around.

Take off your shoes, grab a fistful of blackberries, and enjoy.