Take my hands and let them be. . .

And when our hands grow weary, God, from working to reshape the hard clay of injustice–

Let the beauty of the Lord be upon us and prosper for us the work of our hands.

Psalm 90

A Prayer-poem seeking renewal

I sit on the front porch
With unclean hands

I come home from the grocery store
With unclean hands

I open the mail
With unclean hands

Create in me a clean heart O God
And renew a right spirit within me

Wash your hands—and your heart

A childhood question—“are your hands clean?”—has become Covid-19’s rallying call, at least at our house.

“Wash your hands,” is even the way Sheila ended each of our Lenten Front Porch Facebook Fellowships, and her and my reminders to each other to be hand-mindful echoes through our days.

“Sing pre-happy birthdays to everyone on your birthday greetings list.”

Pretend you are Dolly Parton and belt out the chorus to “Jolene.”

Whatever it takes, be sure to wash your hands—in a sustained and thus sustaining fashion.

I read somewhere that singing “Be Thou My Vision” meets the 20 second cleanliness requirement too, so I have tried singing that a few times too—because my goodness, we need Spirit-vision in these days.

Whose hands?

In these days of intensified hand-washing and hand-wringing, I find myself wondering: what about our hands? My hands. Your hands.

Whose hands will chip away falsehoods that hide God’s wisdom? Whose hands will paint the colors of God’s grace on our society’s landscape of terror and injustice and despair?

The gift of hands

Yes, I have noticed my hands during this pandemic—attended to them in detail—more than I ever have before. And I have given more thought to the wonders of human hands.

Hands that carry and care and clean and comfort.

Hands that plant and play guitar and pray to a creating and healing God.

Hands that bless and hands that break bread.

Hands that sometimes ache from work and worry.

Today, I celebrate my hands that I have washed and washed and washed again. I celebrate all of our hands. And I pray that the words of old hymn come to life within them:

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take our hands and let them move—

My prayer for today?

That God will give wisdom to our hands.

I also offer up prayer of gratitude for all the hands in our communities–

Gentle hands that have put Hello Kitty band aids on skinned knees. Arthritic hands that knit or build or garden through pain. Large hands that have held tiny hands as first steps were taken. Hands that set music free from pianos or organs or guitars. Hands that calm with a touch or write with a flair or feed with a fierce desire that none will go hungry.

A hand-blessing litany

From Isaiah 55–For you shall go out in joy,
And be led back in peace.
The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song.
And all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands.

Stars. Luminous. Incandescent.
Dancing with glee across the night sky
then fading into dawn’s unbounded stillness.
Sun-bursting chrysanthemums and fiery pumpkins
painting the world with colors of harvest.
Mountains singing. Trees clapping.

In the beauty of creation—
the hands of an artist.
Hands of an architect.
Hands of a musician.
The hands of God.

Artist God, give us hands of praise to worship you on this day.

Exodus 25 All the skillful women spun with their hands, and they brought what they had spun in blue and purple and crimson yarns and fine linens.

Weaver God, we celebrate the threads of color you stitch into our lives.
Teach our hands to spin out your grace and mercy in rainbow shades of promise.

Exodus 17. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so Aaron and Hur help up his hands, one on one side and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set.

And when our hands grow weary, God, from working to reshape the hard clay of injustice. . .

We praise you that you give us a community of friends—
hands to hold us up and keep us steady.

Jeremiah 18 Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so you are in my hand.

Too many hands in this world break and destroy.
We cry to you, Potter God. Redeem our hands.
Shape us as vessels of courage in the face of violence.
Give us hands that create and re-create.

Proverbs 31 She holds the spinning tools in her hands
And grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her hands
to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.

Give us hands that reach out.
Hands that chip away falsehoods.
Hands that serve.

Deuteronomy 2 For God blesses us in the work of our hands.

The work of our hands?
My hands?
Your hands?

All of our hands, beautiful and blessed by God to do God’s work of

The hands of a farmer.
The hands of a teacher.
The hands of a child.
My hands. Your hands. The hands of God.

Psalm 24 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in the Lord’s holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts. . .

Artist God, give us clean hands and pure hearts for the living of these days.

Note: Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Encrypted! Thoughts on the Occasion of an Ordination


Bird in the Hand 4

He told them another parable, saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. And this seed is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

He spoke another parable to them, saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until all of it was leavened.” All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. . . This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.”       Matthew 13:31-35

Stars. They encrypt the night skies with mystery and then steal away into the morning light. Crocuses peer up over shade-stranded snow piles. Daffodils brave late-winter chills to trumpet the arrival of spring. Here and there, now and then, Spirit winds stir up life’s inscrutable veil and we see. The hands of an artist. The hands of a musician. The hands of God.

Psalm 90 speaks of hands: “Let the beauty of the Lord be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands.” I hear these words, glimpse creation’s grandiloquent beauty. And I wonder. What about my hands? Your hands? Too many hands in our world break and destroy. Too many injure and scar. Whose hands will hold broken hearts with gentleness? Whose hands will paint God’s grace on life’s landscapes of despair?

For me, these are questions of Christian ministry that matter. How do my hands, your hands, our hands join God in God’s justice-doing, beauty-creating, music-making work?

“A man took and sowed a mustard seed in a field…”

Maybe we can smell it. The rain-damp soil. Or perhaps we can see him. We don’t often see him. He stays in the fields. Weary boots caked with mud, arms sun-singed and sinewy…

“A man took and sowed…”

“A woman took and hid yeast in three measures of flour. . .”

Maybe we can smell it. Bread. Baking. It is hard not to smell bread baking, but it is easy not to see her. She stays in the kitchen. Where the ovens are hot and flour fogs the air.

“A woman took and hid…”

“A man took and sowed…”

Why these two unnamed characters who do such everyday work? Why are they connected to the Kingdom of Heaven in an ancient Gospel story that has ignited hope and fueled arguments and promised redemption these 2000 years since it was written down? Matthew gives us a hint. The man who took and sowed? The woman who took and hid? Parables about them and other everyday things and people are here in the Gospel to proclaim “what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

Something hidden? What hidden things do the church and people of faith today need to see?

A woman took and hid. . .

They are strong hands. Durable. When I first noticed her, she was up to her elbows in 30 pounds of flour. A stray wisp of hair falls across her flushed face as she works the dough. No bread machine. Hands and forearms move forward and back, back and forward. Relentless. Fierce somehow. But graceful. Yes—she is right there in Matthew 13:33. But I have hardly noticed her. The yeast is like the kingdom of heaven, people in the know say. And who wouldn’t notice heavenly yeast? Aren’t the yeast and the kingdom of heaven the point of the parable? Who notices her?

But there she is. A eukaryotic microorganism—yeast—hides her. But it is her hands that hide that microorganism in enough dough to make bread for 150 people. She encrypts yeast into the dough’s viscous density, and the yeast changes the dough. Infiltrates every part of it. The hidden one hides rising up power in ordinary flour, water, and lard. The dough rises. Life rises.  Bread rises. Political food. Poor people’s food. Our food. Sun-goldened loaves seasoned by the scent of the soil.

A woman took and hid.

A man took and sowed.

His hands are strong too, but in a different way. Nimble. That calloused, fleshy part of his thumb and forefinger wise to every shift and change in the texture of the soil. He takes a mustard seed in those hands. A tiny seed. A microorganism of a seed. Once sowed—it is hidden. Never to be found again until…it grows into a garden plant expansive enough for all the birds of the forest to nest in its branches. A man took and sowed.

The word “hands” is not in these verses. But a man took and sowed. Is THAT what we are to see? His fingers sowing into the soil a message of expansive hospitality. A woman took and hid. Is that what we are to see? Her fingers hiding in that bread the leavening of a radical message: the Kingdom of Heaven begins with hidden hands. Fragile hands we don’t expect too much of. Knotty hands we cringe to see. Labor-roughened hands we don’t even notice. His hands planting home for all. Her hands shaping life-giving bread for all. Is it possible that in the hands of God’s invisible people, we catch sight of the Kingdom of Heaven?

I wonder. What about our hands?

And so, you are ordained today. Affirmed and blessed to be a leader in Christian communities. Affirmed and blessed hold bread in your hands and break it at the Lord’s meal.

We live in peculiar times for doing and leading ministry. I feel like almost everything we Google or see in the news—so much of what we know and what we think we know is encrypted. Encoded. Full of hidden agendas. I encourage you. Seek wisdom for all that remains unsettled in your heart and mind about life’s mysteries. Search. Study. Pray. Ponder. Get a decoder ring.

But then, roll up your sleeves. Plant tiny seeds in rich soil and have faith in abundant growth. Get up to your elbows in life’s and ministry’s sticky dough (and ministry’s dough can sometimes be very sticky).  Work—forward and back, back and forward. Be relentless. Fierce. And graceful. And believe that the work will, here and there, now and then encrypt God’s good grace into a beaten down world aching to rise and rise again to new life.

One more word–in the midst of the work, when you grow tired (and you will) and when you celebrate faith come to fruition (and you will), take moment. Always in the midst of the work take moments. Place your hand in the hand of your spouse, and remember this ordination day. You see, in a moment the people gathered here will “lay hands on you.” You will feel the touch of hands. Gentle hands that have put Hello Kitty band aids on scraped knees.  Aching arthritic hands that knit or build or garden through pain. Hands that calm with a touch or write with a flair or feed others with a fierce desire that none will be hungry.  These hands will touch you with that ancient ordaining touch that says “we affirm and bless you and celebrate God’s call on your life.” These hands will touch you with an ancient ordaining touch that says “we anoint you to preach and teach and break bread and baptize.” These hands, these fingerprints will mark your ministry with prayer and grace and love. Remember this day.

And remember. A man took and sowed a seed in a field. A woman took and hid some yeast in some flour. Isn’t it just the way of our radical and peculiar Gospel to proclaim that THIS is what has been hidden since the foundation of the world. God’s reign, God’s justice, God’s grace and love for all people lives and grows right here in my hands. Your hands. Unnoticed hands. Hidden hands. All of our hands holding in them god’s grace. All of our hands, the hands of God.

May your ministry be marked always by these hands. And may your hands be blessed and strengthened to join with other hands in your community to share God’s grace in Christ with the world.