A Little Taste of Things to Come

Once a month,
they gather here in the basement of this old church to prepare an evening meal:
a communal sharing for members and non-members.

Teachers, farmers, industry workers, nurse, administrators, bus driver,
and students—
teeners and tweeners in The God Squad.

Once a year,
the men do the cooking and cleaning,
so after a day of snow and rain it’s sausage and pancakes for supper.

With Jay in charge and stirring a few quarts of homemade syrup,
Todd and Chris grill pancakes on three griddles
while Rick and the preacher mostly stay out of the way and tend the warming trays.

Once the guests start showing up,
three of the girls start serving,
“How many pancakes and how many sausages?”

Butter and syrup
and long rows of chairs at tables
with friends and neighbors and family members sitting together.

Once Chris has made the suggestion,
the preacher loads up a plate with fresh pancakes and more sausages
and moves down the rows.

Young men heavy with the day’s duties,
young mothers wearied by theirs,
and others from eight to eighty take seconds and thirds and even a few fourths.

Once everyone seems to have eaten all they want,
the guys in the kitchen and The God Squad
begin the cleaning—wiping, scrubbing, washing, draining and drying.

I watch all this,
the teasing between old and young,
the doing of things that need doing,
the sharing of food and duty,
the joy of fun and fellowship,
nods and laughter,
questions and answers.

I’m not sure that this is any less a taste of heaven
than what happens upstairs
once a week.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , ,

Worth the Pain

I have no idea what it was that had my oldest brother in such a tither and a tear on that Sunday morning way back there in the Sixties. Whatever it was, it had him rushing through the morning milking as if his shoes were on fire and his pants were a’catchin’.

I was eight and Richard was eighteen. I was four-foot-something and he was six-foot-one. I mention that because it is a key factor in making that such a memorable Sunday morning.

I was helping him with milking the thirty-something purebred Jerseys on our Grade A dairy farm. My primary role was putting feed in the trough where the cows were stanchioned for the duration of their contribution. The milking station had stanchions for four cows. Picture a bunch of vertical, gray enameled pipes, spaced about ten inches apart, each about three feet long and bolted to a top and bottom rail to form a frame fourteen feet long. The whole frame of metal stanchions was anchored into a concrete feed bunk that was about fifteen feet long. The front part, the cow-ward side if you please, was about two feet high. The middle part was cupped down a couple of inches to hold the feed in place. The back rose up to about three feet high.

The custom mixed sweet feed was key to drawing the cows into place and keeping them there without mutiny during the udder cleaning and milking process. We’d trained them to walk in from the holding pen and go to their designated slot. They loved the sweet feed and would go right into place. The metal stanchion had a swing piece hinged at the bottom so that the top part would open to about eighteen inches wide. It was designed to fit closely around the cows’ necks so that once the stanchion post was closed and latched, they couldn’t pull their heads back through. Cow walks in, sticks her head in through the open space and starts chowing down on a blend of alfalfa, corn, wheat or oats, and dried molasses. Swing the top of the stanchion post over and it automatically latched into place. Cow is there until you release the stanchion.

Dad had engineered the rations so that most cows would be finishing up their last bite of feed at the same time when they were fully drained of milk. My job was to keep the feed rations dumped into place. As soon as one cow left, I’d dump another bucket into the spot to draw in the next cow. As I grew older, I also helped wash down the udders, switched milkers from one cow to another and so forth. By the time I was twelve, I could do the whole operation by myself, if necessary.

But on that eventful Sunday morning, my primary job was putting feed in the trough. Apparently, I was not doing it quite fast enough. Every now and then, Richard would grab the feed bucket, rush into the feed room, scoop up a bucket full and rush back out and around the corner of the milk room behind the trough and dump it in.

The doorway into the feed room was not quite six feet high. Since Dad was five-eight, it wasn’t an issue for him. At my size at the time, the low clearance wouldn’t have been an issue if I’d taken a running start and jumped off a ramp. But for Richard… ah, now that was a different matter. He had to duck every time he went in and every time he came out. Not an issue ordinarily. This was not ordinarily.

In retrospect and without being able to verify since Richard passed away a few years ago, I’m guessing he must have had a date for church that morning. A pretty girl is the only thing I can think of that would have had him scurrying around like a mad hare on a March morning. If we’re going to knock ourselves out for something, it really ought to be worth the pain, and there certainly are some women who are worth it.

Twice that morning, Richard forgot to duck. Slammed his head into that door frame so hard it knocked him out colder than a politician’s sympathy on Election Day. Wham! I’ve never witnessed a farm boy going from whiz to wonk in such a short time, before or since.

I had, however, witnessed other people fainting a time or two and so I grabbed a paper towel from the washroom and soaked it with cold water. I wiped that across his forehead and on his face and he woke up right away. Both times. I was relieved that he was so easily revived and must say that at that time, I saw no humor whatsoever in the calamity. It was plain scary to see a grown man knock himself out like that twice within twenty minutes.

Even with the mandatory eight-counts, we still finished the milking in record time. I hope it was worth it.

H. Arnett

Posted in Family, Farming, Humor, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , ,

A Heavenly Reminder

Quite a story about the rainbow, don’t you think?

I don’t mean the one about the pot of gold; I’m talking about the conversation with God after the Flood. All that destruction, all that loss of life, all that human agony. Left our Creator contemplating his punishment upon the creature. Soon into the reflection, the Maker decided that once was enough for that particular remedy and retribution for evil. “I will never again destroy the earth by water,” he vowed.

As he continues in Genesis Chapter Nine, God states that the rainbow will serve as a reminder to himself. “Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” He concludes by declaring that every time he sees it, it will remind him of his promise.

Now, I’m not intending to spark some theological debate about whether the Almighty needs reminders about his vows and promises. The idea of an all-powerful but possibly forgetful divinity might stir some slight discomfort among a certain sort of believers. The fact that he chose to share his vow and the significance of its heavenly marker suggests that it also stands as a reminder to those living in the lower view of clouds and storms and such.

In the aftermath and sometimes even during the storm, I often marvel at the beauty of the rainbow. Even it’s very forming tells us that whether in the midst or in the passing, the sun still shines. Light passing through rain creates the prismatic wonder. Which means there is still light from beyond the darkest clouds, above the fiercest storm. And that though cyclone and hurricane may wreak havoc and horrible devastation, it will never again be on the scale of the Genesis Flood.

Sometimes, in the midst of my marveling at the beauty of the rainbow, I also marvel at the beauty of the promise. I think how wonderful it is that the God of the Storm is also the God of Beauty, and the God of Promise. I find it comforting, reassuring, and revealing, that in the following of that great and terrible destruction, he chose to set a sign in the heavens that declares, “Here, this will remind both of us… all of us.”

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , ,

Beneath the Branches

In the waning hours of Monday’s passing,
the fog seeped in, wrapping itself
around the dark forms of trees.

Small branches disappeared in the deepening gray,
leaving only the black shapes of trunks to show through
as day faded into darkness.

We woke to a heartless cover of frozen fog and rain,
a bit of sleet curdled in the slick sheath
that covered both vehicles and welded the doors shut.

Walking cautiously to the car to see if feel would confirm
what my eyes seemed to be telling me,
I brushed against the dense brush of the wintercreeper bush.

I heard a faint rustling and then the whir of wings,
saw the blur of a tiny bird swoosh between me and the car
and regretted that I had disturbed its resting cover.

Though absent malice or intent, I felt a twinge of guilt
for having sent such a small one
scurrying into such a day as this.

Perhaps that sudden flight will lead it by some recent seed
scattered on a lawn or still held to some sheltered stalk
that it had not noticed until now.

I comfort myself with such thoughts as that,
with knowing that the birds of the air
are fed each day even though they neither sow nor gather,

and I resolve to walk more carefully
and allow a bit more space
now that I know some of what may be hidden

beneath the branches.

H. Arnett

Posted in Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , ,

When God Says “No”

What we call unanswered prayer comprises one of our perennial theological dilemmas, at least for many people. “Why doesn’t God answer?” “Why doesn’t God give me what I beg him for?”

Obviously I’m not going to alleviate this dilemma in one or two paragraphs, essays, or books. But, I would like to point out that even Jesus had his request denied. On the night of his betrayal, after the Last Supper, he begged God three times to “let this cup [death] pass from me.” He even stressed “if there is any other way.”

There wasn’t.

God could not accomplish his desired salvation without sacrificing his Son. There. Was. No. Other. Way.

There are times when God cannot give you what you are asking for AND accomplish his will at the same time. In those times, trust his will over your desire. Trust his answer. Trust his grace.

And remember that although he denied Jesus’s request, he did send an angel to minister to him. Be watchful; I’ve heard that it’s sometimes easy to overlook an angel.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , ,

Blown Opportunity-A Missed Hug

I saw a guy yesterday who needed a hug. I just didn’t realize it until it was too late. In hindsight, it was obvious: tone of voice, slumping posture, facial expression, even the comments he made in our brief interaction. All the indicators… and I missed it.

Sure, the aisle of a hardware store isn’t the setting where men my age figure hug-sharing is the likely response to seeing someone you haven’t seen in a year or two. No matter what they say. All that hardware staring at you. Big Schedule 40 pipe fittings, layers of flat-stacked furnace filters, faucet repair kits, discounted tool specials, and what-have-you. But even with all that, when you see a big dude that needs a hug, you should just go ahead and hug him.

I know that. And I wish I’d done it.

Hugs are therapeutic. Hugs have healing power. Hugs reduce tension, lower stress, and make life better. Hugs convey caring in ways that words can’t express. Hugs bring hearts in such proximity that there is a direct connection that provides communication on a mystical, spiritual level.

Of course, I’m talking about real hugs here. Arms around each other, faces side to side, hold on till everybody feels better. “Screw the world, I love you” kind of hugs. “Forget the train, I’ll catch the next one” kind of hugs. The kind of hugs that tell us that this is the real deal kind of friendship. That say, “Man, I hate whatever’s going on with you, and I wish I could fix it but I don’t have a chrome-plated crescent wrench with left hand threads so I’m just gonna hug you like this for a while. Gosh, I hope that’s okay.”

That’s what I wish I’d done at Ace Hardware in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon.

I did and I will pray for the guy. But I’m pretty sure that prayers wrapped in hugs are much more effective. I think it says so in Jude, Chapter Two.

So, if you happen to be around Ark City and see some old gray-bearded guy run up to some big hairy young dude and grab him in a great big ole bear hug, it’s not an assault. It’s retroactive spiritual intervention.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Living, Humor, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , ,

Tobacco Patch Seminary

I suppose my dad would be glad to know that I remember a few snippets from the hundreds of sermons I heard him preach as I was growing up. I can even remember a quote or two from my Sunday School teachers. But some of my richest memories of admonition from my formative years aren’t from church; they’re from the farming fields of West Kentucky.

A. V. Sims and Hoyt Fray Adams discussed scripture and its applications while we cut dark-fired tobacco under a blistering sun. From different perspectives—A. V. was a Methodist Sunday School teacher and Hoyt Fray was a member of the Soldier Creek Primitive Baptist Church—they stressed the importance of truth, the divinity of Christ and the authority of scriptures. They were in total agreement that living by the teachings of Jesus transcended denominational affiliation and doctrinal affirmation.

Especially vivid was A.V.’s statement: “I’ve lived around Methodists, I’ve lived around Baptists, I’ve lived around Church of Christ’s, and I’ve lived around Catholics. When it takes, it takes and when it don’t, it don’t.” Hard to argue against that sort of theology.

We don’t have to be in a church building or a church meeting to share wisdom and admonition. In fact, there’s a good chance that it’s in the other settings of our lives that we will have the richest opportunities to encourage others to walk in the Light. Standing in the kitchen, sitting in the living room, driving across town together, sharing a cup of coffee somewhere, working on a weekend project alongside each other. Incidents and opportunities for meaningful admonition.

It’s been nearly fifty years since those tobacco patch conversations but their influence is still living in me.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Farming, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment