Was it truly a week ago that I was in Asheville, North Carolina, settling under the soft covers in the Inn at Biltmore Estates?
I had been planning the trip since the deepest part of winter, when the landscape was snowy, the lamp light low on the frosty panes, and layers of thick sweaters and woolen socks kept the chill at bay.
We wore sandals. Our cheeks were flush from the sun and our hair filled with pollen from acres and acres of peach and blue irises, plump roses, and rows and rows of gently bred orchids. And our calves ached from climbing the steep slope of a hill in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the sweeping staircases of a four story palatial estate.
I did not expect to feel the way I did upon entering the home.
Early morning light poured in from every angle, illuminating the tiled arches far over head and landing gently on the palm fronds of the winter garden under its glass plated dome.
Bigger than Highclere Castle, the American Chateau with its Disney limestone walls and blue turrets, unravelled four acres of floor space beneath our feet. Something hit my heart and rang through my bones. Something here in the architecture was different.
At first, I believed it was the hand of the curator who had brought order and light and love to distinguish the space. Slowly I realized it was the heart and vision of a young American of last century who had drafted the most gifted architect and landscapist to create a canvas to showcase his collections, to embrace a family life with his beloved wife and daughter, and to welcome the brightest and most talented minds to re-create and refresh. It was an energetic mind, a curious and roaming intellect, a kind and generous spirit.
First, I peeled away what was missing: the dark, twisted hallways of a European castle with its many oddities and irregularities due to the ever shifting additons of ells and wings over the centuries. Heavily beamed ceilings and ornate, glass chandeliers dripping with prisms of light were missing. Dark wood paneling and heavily carved doorposts and mantels of oak were missing.
Here there was limestone, clear, clean and soft grey, reflecting the light as it wrapped smoothly over mantlepieces and archways and tiled floors and ceilings.
Here were the stark, clean lines of massive wrought iron chandliers, high overhead, like tree branches.
Here was a pattern, carefully laid out with much though and planning on how the acres of floor space would be used. A huge circle about the atrium passed by the doorways and arches of billiard room, banquet hall, breakfast room, salon, music room, each room spilling into the next through the interior, interlocking doorways. My imagination filled the space with the figure of a little girl skipping down the soaring curve of the main staircase, disappearing beyond the palms and circling round to this bench where I sit. So easy to drop out of sight, to hide in a high backed chair, or kneel behind a column, mischievous imp grinning as the footsteps of an adult echoed near and then disappeared beyond.
Opposite the atrium and its encircling chambers, beyond the great hall, the floor acreage unfurled in the long, straight line of an endless tapestry gallery hemmed with a half dozen arched glass doors to a deep, stone balustrade loggia. The loggia was trimmed with a tiled ceiling and overlooked the sweeping, panoramic view of the Mount Pisgah mountain range.
The treasure awaiting at the other end of the gallery, was the library.
Lined with thousands of books, hand-picked by the George who built the house. Book shelves that disappeared in the clouds, and approached by small ladders and spiral stairs that led to a walk that circled the room high over our heads, where more books resided, and hidden doors to the rest of the house.
And then, I realized, the fairy tale chateau that housed hundreds and hundreds of priceless objects and works of art . . . was itself art.
In the rooms, like little jewels in the clear mountain light, were the costumes of Downton Abbey, poised in action as if Cora and Robert were really wearing their Edwardian white near the palms and the Dowager leaned upon her cane in her early lavender bustle.
Father met me there in front of Violet. A unexpected longing rose in me as I viewed the slender figure and heard the ghost of her bon mots rattling laughter against the windows.
And what I knew, but could not articulate then, Spirit was laughing and eagerly waiting to share with me what lay ahead. What lies ahead for all of us who have accepted Christ. Something so much grander, kinder, clearer, lighter. There is a banquet in a mansion, and He's already there, waiting for us, and in this life, He spreads glimpses of it before us. . .
Come to the Table, He said.
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
~ 1 Corinthians 2:9
In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
~ Jesus, John 14:2
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
~ C. S. Lewis
<All images were found on Google images with the exception of the first photo of the wisteria and the last photo of Biltmore from a distance, which were taken by me .>
"Come, O blessed of my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world;
for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you clothed me,
I was sick and you visited me. . .
Truly, I say to you,
as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren,
you did it to Me”
~ Jesus, Matthew 25:34-40
End of day slides through the windows on golden limbs and drops rainbows on walls and floor that creep silently around the room. i stretch, tired and think of pots and pans and dinner plates lining the counters. i have begun a discipline of late, inspired by sweet books i am reading by Alice Peck, finding the sacred in housekeeping, and another by Margaret Kim Peters, the litany of everyday life.
It is a chore I usually flee from, this cleaning up after dinner, claiming my right as maker of the meal to leave the dishes for the others. They flee, too, this family of mine. It is up to me to call them back.
Recalling the words I had read recently, I surveyed the stainless steel and china chipped chaos. To this I can bring order and beauty and restore the sacred.
It helps being mindful, conscious of the rattling tones of drama coming from the family room TV, the sunlight and rainbows, the gift of grace in having a home and food to eat, and husband unrolled like a long limbed mountain cat in his big chair.
For me, every night, he will do the dishes and put the kitchen to bed, but as a man would: the strainer needing a wash, crumbs hiding behind the glass of flour and sugar, washed pans sitting on the eyes of the stove, proper place to store them to his mind. What hand formed this man who will say to me after a twelve-hour shift, “You cook for me. It’s the least I can do.” The least? After what he has done all day in heavy workboots on calloused feet for me?
I am mindful, now, as I go quietly into the kitchen so that he will not hear me, of the shopping and choosing and planning that brought the golden raisins and chicken breast into our home, the afternoon making stock and freezing it, as now I wipe up the grains and pack away the burnished chicken legs from the leftover herbed chicken and rice pilaf. I am mindful of the gifts of pistoulet and fiesta ware, the soapy wand with new scrubber, and slowly the stove top glistens, the counters gleam, the stainless steal of the sink shines, the dishwasher hums, and the sharp wine of small kitchen vac removes the last traces of a swept floor.
“I was going to do that for you,” he says from the red chair, his long, muscled arms draped with deep fatigue over the back and sides of the upholstery. He lifts shadowed eyes to my face, as I kiss the thick hair that drapes over his broad brow.
“I love you,” I whisper.
“There is a tendency, I think,
on the part of those of us who are well-fed, clothed, and housed
to imagine that the needy people to whom Jesus refers in Matthew 25
are people we don’t know—
the sort of people who are served at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, at which we ought therefore to volunteer at least occasionally.
But housework is [also] all about feeding and clothing and sheltering people who, in the absence of that daily work,
would otherwise be hungry and ill-clad and ill-housed”
~ Margaret Kim Peterson, Keeping House
There is “real beauty and divine truth amid our regular chores. . . .
the process of cleaning brings depth and meaning to our lives
and reveals the sacred in everyday.”
~ Alice Peck, Next to Godliness
The Grass so little has to do –
A Sphere of simple Green –
With only Butterflies to brood
And Bees to entertain –
And stir all day to pretty Tunes
The Breezes fetch along –
And hold the Sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything –
And thread the Dews, all night, like Pearls –
And make itself so fine
A Duchess were too common
For such a noticing –
~Miss Dickinson (an excerpt)
Anticipation bubbles along my skin. A light spills from the door of my Bible class bracketing a short line of chattering adults in an otherwise, grey and monotonous hall. There are other doorways open; but none with this much interest, this much activity. This is a class unlike any other in my church.
This Wednesday night Bible class is led by a rabbi. There are long tables covered in the deep Israeli blue at the front of the room, with photographs and artifacts from Jerusalem. The walls are covered with posters. And tonight, there is a cake. A whole, big sheet cake, snow blind with white icing and piped in royal blue. It is someone's birthday.
Gentle rabbi, a believer in Yeshua the Messiah, takes us on a calendar journal into the land that has been called the center of the world for worshippers, the most sacred spot on earth.
In the hour and half that unfolds, he underscores again and again, with unremitting purpose, that God is a God of order and He works in seasons and embeds rhythm and acts on specific days. His proof is first from Biblical text and then from Israel's timeline. We can expect, he tells us, that this God whose sun, moon, and stars are similar to the cogs and wheels in the Swiss watch, paragon of precision, to work in our lives with the same attention to detail.
We sing Happy Birthday, to Israel; a rainbow arches over the church campus.
I sit me here on the following Sabbath, staring at the shoe boxes scattered all around me, the tissue paper floating to the floor like feathers from an angel's wing. I am opening them now, but they arrived on the Wednesday, of Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel's birthday, day of independence). They have traveled all the way from Israel.
I have chosen these shoes because once, many years ago I owned a pair and they lasted me a decade. The most comfortable sandals I ever owned.
In the sole of my shoe, there is a word in Hebrew. I slip on the shoes and stand on the language of the Bible. I suspect it is the Hebraic rendering of the logo, but I will imagine that its translation goes something like this,
"Yet the Lord says, 'During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out,
nor did the sandals on your feet.' "
~ Deuteronomy 29:5
Here I sit in my candle lit home this Sabbath evening in Spring, surrounded by my Israeli shoes, and ponder the timing. Why this week, why today?
It has been seven years since my Egypt, where bricks were demanded without straw. Seven years this week, since I came home and prepared a detailed list for packing and moving out. Without my salary, we would surely lose most of what we owned, and we steeled ourselves for the notice that would surely be pinned to our door when we did not meet mortgage.
Seven years. We lived on the manna that came faithfully, unexpectedly, provisionally. Jehovah-Jireh. And still, a voice speaks though barely discernible, no more than the desert wind. If I had the eyes to see, the manna has sustained me much longer than seven years.
"These forty years the LORD your God has been with you;
you have not lacked a thing."
~ Deuteronomy 2:7
I slip on the sandals (stardust leather they are), and walk around in them though I am in my nightgown, and the thoughts I ponder will follow me into the week.
"You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that he might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. . ."
He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know. . .that He might make you understand that man does not l ive by bread alone, but. . .by everthing that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. . ."
"In the way of God," he said, "thoughts count for little, love does everything. And it is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God; when it is finished, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the ground and adore my God, who gave me the grace to make it, after which I arise, more content than a king. When I cannot do anything else, it is enough for me to have lifted a straw from the earth for the love of God."
~ Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God
i had not even opened my eyes, when this happy thought woke with me. . .it is, at long last, March, and in her arms a bouquet of promised daffodils and forsythia, the Ides, the Leprachaun, the lion and the lamb, daughter's birthday and mother's and niece's, and this year, the pancakes of Shrove Tuesday and the Ashes of Wednesday. . .and always, always my first taste of spring.
". . .the wild north wind is blowing Under the sky's gray arch;
Smiling I watch the shaken elm boughs, knowing It is the wind of March."
"Daffodils come before the Swallow dares,
and takes the Winds of March with Beauty."
~Mr. Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale
"Dear March, come in!"