Earth is crammed with Heaven and every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I used to think that grace came down to us only when we sat in the church pew. That was before I saw His colors in the autumn trees, felt Him brush my skin in the wind, saw Him dance in the campfire.
He who lavishes His grace on humanity, poured it out abundantly last weekend at a hillside cabin where I spent precious time with four girlfriends. We’re college buddies, born and corn-fed in Iowa, and we met while working on the staff of our campus newspaper. And aside from the fact that two of us are named Jennifer, that’s pretty much where our similarities end.
We’re as different as the cars we drive: a pickup truck, a Mini Cooper nicknamed Mac, a Toyota Sienna with a cracked windshield. We’re as dissimilar as the pets we raise: Owen the Bird, Otis the Hedge Hog, Pretty Kitty the farm cat. We’re as distinct as our careers: corporate exec, substance-abuse counselor, newspaper reporter, stay-at-home mom.
But for seventy-two hours — one time a year — we are drawn together. We’ve done this for eleven years now. We see each other only occasionally throughout the rest of the year. So it is, in those hours together, that we quickly unpack the previous 362 days of our lives. We find ourselves continually redefining who we’ve become with the passage of years. Who we are is often most clearly defined by what we bring to our annual gathering: a breast pump; organ transplant stories; broken hearts; a string of career achievements; grief; Holy Communion bread; Zoloft; and this year, a Bigfoot costume that looked like Alf.
We are real-life Ya-Yas, only way cooler. Just ask us.
If you looked only at the surface, and you were watching from the sidelines, you might guess we have increasingly little in common with one another. Look deeper. An undercurrent of spirituality connects us. Which may seem peculiar, seeing how none of us can agree on who God is.
We have wide-ranging spiritual beliefs. Like, really, really wide-ranging. But we each sense the deeper things connecting us. On Saturday morning, we sat on lawn chairs on a grassy hillside, and one of the others said it best: “I’ve experienced more grace in the last 20 minutes around this circle of women than I have in a whole year.”
If you ask me, we had church, right then and there. In our sweatpants. With bed-head hair. And bare feet.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning once declared that Earth is packed full of Heaven, and that even an ordinary bush is ablaze with God. “But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.”
Later, the five us took my Toyota Sienna down a gravel road to a nearby winery, where you could stomp grapes, sample the Iowa wines and see how autumn was turning the valley afire with God.
We took off our shoes, rolled up our pants, stepped into the squishy vat of grapes and stood in a circle, each with a foot in the middle.
I took a picture.
Where one might see a pile of smashed grapes, I saw amazing grace.