An Angel in the Rock

I have a brother who builds wooden boats, / Who knows precisely how a board
Can bend or turn, steamed just exactly / Soft enough so he, with help of friends,
Can shape it to the hull. / The knowledge lies as much
Within his sure hands on the plane / As in his head;
It lies in love of wood and grain, / A rough hand resting on the satin
Of the finished deck. / Is there within us each
Such artistry forgotten / In the cruder tasks
The world requires of us, / The faster modern work
That we have / Turned our life to do?
Could we return to more of craft / Within our lives,
And feel the way the grain of wood runs true, / By letting our hands linger
On the product of our artistry? / Could we recall what we have known
But have forgotten, / The gifts within ourselves,
Each other too, / And thus transform a world
As he and friends do, / Shaping steaming oak boards
Upon the hulls of wooden boats?
—“Wooden Boats” by Judy Brown

Recently, I told you the story of Michelangelo pushing a huge piece of rock down the street. He’s moving slowly along, straining with great purpose. And a passer-by, confused, calls out, “What in the world are you doing? Why are you wielding such monumental effort and wasting so much energy on that massive old rock?” And without hesitation, Michelangelo responds, “There is nothing more important that I could be doing. You see, there’s an angel in that rock that desperately needs to be set free.”

And Michelangelo would know. He spent his life releasing divine figures of all kinds from their confines in blocks of marble. He knew that the raw materials of the world held great mystery, great hope, and great possibility. And he creatively and artistically used those materials to give structure and purpose to the deeply held beliefs of his day. His calling as an artist was to release the spirit and form of what lay hidden within and among us. So, his daily task was to labor to release angels by shaping and transforming the raw materials all around him. His work was to release the gifts within – to discover those God-given gifts and to offer them to the world.

But this work of bringing gifts, revealing gifts, offering gifts, and living gifts is work that belongs to each one of us. This is the work of Epiphany. It is the work of ministry. It will take many forms and lead in many directions. And just like Michelangelo releasing the angel in the rock, living our gifts can be just about anything that draws us out of ourselves and utilizes our energy and attention in creative, compassionate, and life-giving ways. This work, this calling, makes it possible for us, too, to release the angel in the rock of our lives by transforming the corner of the world in which we live.

But we may be tempted to say, “No. Surely not. Surely you are not calling me! . . . I am too young. I am too old. I am too busy. I am too weak. I don’t know enough. I haven’t done enough. I’m too tired. I don’t have enough resources. I don’t have enough connections. I wouldn’t know what to do, what to say, how to be. . . . Surely someone else would serve you better. Surely someone else would be a better choice. Surely you meant to call someone else. And anyway, the world is in such dire need. The stakes are awfully high. People, entire communities—young and old and everywhere in between, are slipping through the cracks. What difference can I possibly make? I am not capable or prepared to release the angel out of the rock of these situations. . . .”

But into our doubt and despair comes a preposterous word: neither fire nor flood will separate any of us from God, God’s love, and God’s saving acts of grace. Now, this does not mean that there won’t be fire and flood, but it does mean that none of it—nothing—can separate us from God. We face none of our challenges and trials alone. And neither do we live into our work and our callings alone. We are not called and then cast adrift. We are always only a breath away from the One who calls us by name and fills us with life; the One who graciously loves and deeply values each one of us; the One who restores us, protects us, and calls forth our most precious gifts.

Those gifts may feel like they are stuck in solid blocks of stone, like an angel waiting to be set free. But even as the angel waits, God calls to you and me and challenges us to see the possibilities of this moment more clearly; to stand up and speak out more passionately; to live and move and reveal and incarnate the gifts within. After all, they have the capacity to change the world.

See you in church,


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