a summer of worship and noticing

I was on my way to Colorado this past week, on my way to a retreat, when I stopped in La Veta, a small, southern Colorado town just off the northern border of New Mexico. It’s a town of about 250 people, with 1000’s of tourists coming through in the Summer. It’s a bit of a wind blown, dusty town — adobe buildings, a few nick-nack shops, an alternative looking coffee shop, a small grocery store with an ice cream counter at the back, a couple of abandoned buildings, and the tiny train station for the scenic La Veta Pass Train ride.

A small town with a warm, but quirky, persistent personality. But you wouldn’t notice that at first.

I stopped there to buy a quick lunch on my way to the retreat (about 3 hours to go). The old brick and adobe wall of the store bore a sign advertising deli sandwiches and ice cream. So I quickly parked diagonally, near the intersection, beside a line of pick up trucks and ran in.

I wasn’t gone 15 minutes. But when I came out, the town sheriff was standing in front of my car chatting with a couple of locals and laughing, holding a ticket pad and pen in his right hand. He looked a little like Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke (about 6’3”, tan cowboy hat, pressed shirt, vest, an actual six-shooter holstered on his belt and wearing black boots — sans spurs). He looked like he’d just rode in on a horse… I walked up as he turned to me.

“This your car?”

“Yes, Sir.”’’

“Did you see this long yellow line on the curb?

“No, Sir,” I said. “But it seems pretty obvious now.”

He smiled, “Do you have a problem seeing the obvious?”

“Some would say so.” I quipped. “But, to tell the truth, I was looking at that sign with the picture of that tasty deli sandwich — so I parked real quick to run in and get it to go.”

“They do make a mean corned beef!” he laughed as his two friends chimed in.

The Sheriff looked back at me. “Well, I guess you’re lucky I got caught up talking to these two fellas and I’m thinking I’d rather go in and get a sandwich than write you a ticket… that is, if you’re on your way.”

“Yes, Sir! Thanks so much, Sheriff!”

I’ve been driving across the country on this particular trip, heading to Michigan — crossing Nebraska and Iowa right thought the recent slate of tornados and thunderstorms, and for some reason the idea of worship came to mind. Maybe because of the awesome power and strange beauty of the storms. Maybe because of the vastness of this country and all it’s diversity and splendor.

But the idea of worship, it occurred to me, seemed less and less about God’s majesty and more about something else I hadn’t noticed. I’d assumed a drive across NE Colorado, Southern Nebraska and Iowa and NW Illinois (approximately 1500 miles and 3 days) would be a pretty tedious experience.

But that’s when I noticed something.

Photo by Chuck Shanlever

Wherever I stopped, people were caring for one another. Connecting during the storm. Connecting with me, a stranger. Asking if I was alright, if I needed anything for the road. Reminding me to be careful out there. Thinking about the importance of the moments.

The word “worship” comes from two ancient root words: “wor“ “to notice the deep worth and value”, the deep worth and value of someone, of life. And the word “ship” means “to shape, to scrape or cut away”. It reminded me of the familiar story of Michelangelo who was pulling a large stone down the street when asked what it was for. He replied he was going to try and free the angel he noticed within the stone.

It’s been said that worship is the “work of the people”. Perhaps a further clarification might be that worship is our work of noticing the deep value of one another, of life itself, especially where others seem to be too preoccupied or worried to notice or too oppressive and exclusive to see their own worth in the worth of others. Perhaps our work is in noticing life and scraping away, shaping one another, shaping all of life for the kin-dom of God.

I hope your travels this summer introduce you to amazing moments of possibility where you thought you were just trying to get from point A to point B. I hope for you a summer of noticing.


Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven

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