Cracked Shins

Reading #4 | July 10, 2024

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve exclaimed this very sentence…well, you know how the saying goes. When I think about the blessedly numerous moments I’ve experienced God’s presence in my life there are two themes that rise to the surface. The first is that it’s very rarely in the places I expect God to show up, or conveniently scheduled in my calendar. The second is that it’s often only with hindsight that I am able to name that the Lord was in this place; it just took me a little while to figure it out.

Recently, I’ve experienced God’s presence in a chime of Carolina Wrens who have taken up residence in a cabinet on my back deck. Unlike Jacob, I haven’t heard God’s voice in a dream or witnessed a stairway to heaven. But their melodious songs and the flittering of the babies learning to fly have caught my attention long enough to force me to take notice of God’s presence in the world around me.

In her gorgeous poem, The Summer Day, Mary Oliver says “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention,” and I think she’s onto something. It seems to me that Mary knew what Jacob knew: that in order to experience the presence of God, we have to wake up to the world around us. That oftentimes (perhaps, always), God is surely in this place, and part of our call as Christians is to practice paying attention, so that we, too, can build altars as a witness to what God has done for us.

Paying attention long enough to witness how God is at work in the world is a good and faithful thing to do. But it’s not enough. It’s what we do with that witness—how we share it with others and allow it to change our lives—that makes all the difference. I think Barbara Brown Taylor says it best in her book, An Altar in the World: “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” May we be the kind of people who are so attuned to God’s presence that cracking our shins is a daily occurrence.

Pastor Julie Tonnesen is a third-generation Lutheran pastor and currently serves as a campus minister and chaplain. She loves coffee, reading, and her four-legged companions. This summer you can find her working at the ELCA Youth Gathering and traveling to the NC Synod’s companion synod in Papua New Guinea.

To Consider

When was the last time you experienced the presence of God? What did you notice in the world around you? What did you feel when you noticed this presence?
When you think back over the times you’ve experienced God’s presence, are there themes that start to emerge? What meaning can you make from this?


God of our dreams: thank you for your presence among us. Help us to open our eyes to see how you are at work in our midst. Give us courage to build our own altars, so that we may bear witness to how you are showing up in our own lives. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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