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“Renewal” by Rev. DanaLee Simon
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation,
and uphold me with your free Spirit.
I cannot hear this theme verse from Psalm 51 that we are using for this Lenten Season without remembering sitting next to my Grandma in her small town Missouri Synod Lutheran Church and singing this song from their old, red hymnal. It’s a body remembrance. Even tonight, I can feel myself sidled up next to her soft body on the hard pew. I can see the sanctuary in Fulda, MN. I can hear my voice blending with hers. I can feel the love, and the power of faith being passed down from generation to generation.
It’s a beautiful prayer, this song – these verses. It speaks to the reality of our human journey that we are all a work in progress – on our way to wholeness – always discovering, in deeper ways, our Truest Self. My spiritual journey these days has me holding the tension between this reality and the paradoxical truth that I am somehow completely whole already, just as I am, right now in this moment. From this place of wholeness, my prayer changes. It sounds like this:You have created us, from the very beginning, with clean hearts, O God. Our spirits are whole within us. Your presence is as close as our own breath; Even when we are not aware of You, You are with us – within us. We can walk the path of our Belovedness anytime. The Way is always lit with Your Perfect Love.
Wholeness as a starting place is a renewing truth in my life, these days. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always feel whole. I often feel scattered, and like the different parts of me and the different roles I play are parceled out. Holding this paradox helps, though. It helps because then the journey to wholeness isn’t to a place I have never been. Instead, it’s a journey toward who God has created me to be from the very beginning. I know the way to wholeness, because it’s who I am.
One of the places where I love exploring my own wholeness the most is in Nature. For the past two years, Thursdays have become my weekly Sabbath Day, for this exploration. I don’t make appointments on those days because on Thursdays, the intention is to get outside for as much of the day as possible. Often, it is with friends or my dog. Every once in a while, it is by myself with Silence as my companion. While all these companions certainly have their part in renewing me, it is Nature Itself – being in it and being with it – that fills my spirit.
I think this is the case for many people. So many of us love Nature. There are as many reasons why as there are people. We love the beauty of it or its grand scale. Nature offers us a sense of awe and wonder. Being in Nature helps get us out of our heads and into our bodies. Going into Nature often includes exercise which makes us more healthy. The lessons of Nature can often be transferred onto our own human lives and help create meaning in our lives. All of these things are true for me. All of these are reasons that I love Nature. But, there is one more thing that I have realized Nature offers that feels the most significant – at least for me right now. For me, it is the most renewing thing about Nature and the part of it that calls me into my own wholeness. That is, that everything in Nature is simply – and profoundly - just being itself. It is being – it is doing – exactly and only what the Creator intended it to do. The lodgepole pine isn’t wishing it was an Aspen. The salmon isn’t even wondering what it would be like to walk on the earth like the moose. The robin isn’t comparing her birdsong to the mourning dove’s. The drop of water running down the canyon stream is just as happy as it would be if it was part of a wave in the Pacific Ocean. For these reasons, all of Nature – all of Creation – has become for me a Sacred Permission Giver; inviting me to be – and to be me. And to trust that I am enough just as I am and that I always have been.
The poem, Famous, by Naomi Shihab Nye, gives permission along those same lines. I share it with you tonight as a way of closing out my thoughts, and in hope that it encourages you along your own path of renewal.
Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye
The river is famous to the fish.The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so. The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom. The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured. I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back. I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.
(Rev. DanaLee Simon is rostered clergy in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA, and a certified spiritual director through the Shalem Institute in Washington, DC and lives in Salt Lake. Her contact info is D_LO777@hotma