Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year B

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

A Telling Place

February 7, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

The Israelites developed a capacity to pitch a tent and be at home with God anywhere while they were in exile. This strength is one we, too, are rediscovering in these days.



History & Culture

Introduction: Mapping cultural intangibles

City, Culture, and Society

City Culture and Society: Elsevier

An introduction to the key concepts in mapping intangible assets of culture.

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What is your absence from spaces you miss during quarantine inviting you to deepen in your own spiritual awareness?


The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He counts the numbers of the stars and calls them all by their names. He covers the heavens with clouds and prepares rain for the earth. He makes grass to grow upon the mountains and green plants to serve humankind.—Psalm 147: 2-4, 8-9

Outside the kitchen window of our home in Jackson, we had a small container garden built inside a narrow portion of our deck.There was a large artisan crafted door that opened into this tiny, intriguing space. Inside the long, tall wooden planters, we placed wrought iron and glass luminary holders. At night, we would often light the candles and watch them swing gently in the wind.

I used to love night gardening in that little narrow garden. Night gardening is very tactile. Without benefit of the sun, with only the flicker of candlelight, you rely more on other senses—the touch of the soil, the sound of the water pouring out, the smell of the plants and the earth.

Just outside my kitchen window, I had a little space where ordinary time and sacred time met. As years went by, I had opportunities to spend time there with some of the most important people in my life. I miss it still.

There is a Celtic blessing I love about a telling place.It goes like this:

Bless us, Lord, this day with vision. May this place be a sacred place, a telling place where heaven and earth meet.

A telling place…Not a hiding place—not a place to escape——but a grounding place. This, we all long for.

These days, many of us are missing familiar physical spaces—religious homes, watering wells, restaurants, libraries and schools, venues for sports, concerts, and theatre. We are learning anew that at the heart of our spirits are relationships, not any one physical space. Yet, too, we are realizing the countless ways our commons spaces elevate our spirits and call forth the best in us. These spaces are homes to us—homes that help make us who we are.

Sometimes, there are seasons in life when we are away from our physical homes, for a short while or even a very long time. In those seasons, we must learn to make home within us, among us.

Such was the case for the Israelites in exile to whom David speaks words of divine comfort in this week’s psalm. Such is the case for immigrants on our soil and around the world. Such has been the case for people too numerous to count the world over who, with great courage, have set forth to lands unknown in search of freedom, of relief, of peace and hope.

As the pandemic continues, and as we begin the work of rebuilding the fabric of democracy and continue the long road toward a more just society—at home and around the world—we do well to hold and nurture within us and among us the Celtic vision of a telling place.

All the physical spaces we call “home”—be they churches, family homesteads, or even a town or country—are merely pointers to the telling place that exists wherever the human spirit meets divine mystery.In this space within us and among us, we become night gardeners, meeting God with all our senses.

The telling place propels us forward in the deepest watches. You know it in the thoughts that awaken you in the night, in your prayers in the early morning, in your quiet listening to beloved ones in pain, in your solitary walks as you remember those whom you have lost and think on the things they told you. In these times, the telling place grounds you, calls you home, even if you feel you are in exile. The telling place reminds you who you are.

In today’s history and culture lesson, we hear about the work of mapping culture—a project happening across the globe that endeavors to help us see and name the intangible markers that tell us what makes a place home. Culture is not found in any one, tangible asset—not a building or a piece of land, not bricks and mortar. But rather, it is layer upon layer of spiritual, lived experience. A thing we come to know as the heart of a place. A thing we come to know, too, as the landscape of our own souls.

This work of cultural mapping affirms what people of every faith tradition have long proclaimed—namely, that God—that ultimate love, dwells in spirit and truth. We experience that spirit and truth mediated through tangible people and places—being people of incarnation. But in the end, God can work with any place and make it holy. A store front, a warn-torn city street, a body decimated by years of addiction, a crying helpless baby.

No one knows where the telling place will next emerge.What we have come to know, perhaps more in the past year than we’ve ever before realized, is that God is always—always—-drawing heaven and earth together. We simply need the vision to see it in the nighttime of our fear.

Bless us, Lord, this day with vision. May this place be a sacred place, a telling place where heaven and earth meet.