Holy Places, Holy People
February 27, 2008
Yesterday, the Anchoress wrote Lent: The Searing Lesson, a post in which she self examines. We were taken by her remarks. We responded in a post titled with her own words, “Love cannot exist without pain.”
Her post startled us- and made us think about faith, belief and the daily struggle that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. As humans, our focus goes way beyond mere survival and reproduction- we want to be better people. We want to elevate ourselves and those around us.
People of faith who engage in the pursuit of the elevated self often engage in prayer or meditation, exercises long associated with the pursuit of Holiness. They ask God to help them in their journey. For many, prayer and meditation are more than a bit comforting. For them, those activities are the signs along the map of life that keeps them headed in the right direction.
People who are not so religious might say, ‘Why do I need to go to a House of Worship to be elevated?’ This is not a rejection of faith. Americans are only too happy to refer to themselves as ‘spiritual.’ They are less comfortable identifying with a particular religion.
Churches and Houses of Worship have been grappling with an often asked question: If God is everywhere, why go to a house of worship? The question is fair and the answer most often given talks about community, family and like minded people who share similar beliefs. When all is said and done, the response to the question usually given does not really answer the question. If it did, the matter would have been put to rest long ago.
The real reason to go to Churches and Houses of Worship is because with their confines, Holiness can be found.
We’re jumping the gun a bit, so we’ll answer the question, ‘What is Holiness’?
Holiness is many things. We assign Holiness to time, as in Remember to keep the Sabbath Day Holy. We assign Holiness to objects. Sacred vessels, sacred scrolls and sacred relics. We also assign Holiness to places. Jerusalem and Temple Mount immediately come to mind as do other shrines, tombs and monuments.
Once assigned, the Holy designation stands.
People of course can be Holy too, but there is a difference. Humans, by our very nature, also pursue very mundane pursuits. We are not always engaged in sacred activities. We live very mundane lives and we must engage in very mundane efforts if we are to survive.
Holiness for human being can be defined as the state that is separate from the mundane. Holiness is the state of spiritual awareness.
To be engaged in the mundane, is to be in a state that lacks Holiness. This is not a bad thing any more than darkness, the absence of light, is a bad thing. The absence of light serves an important and critical restorative purpose for most of Creation. We sleep and rejuvenate ourselves, we find new strengths and each day, we are enabled to seek new opportunities to elevate ourselves and those around us. The absence of daylight only serves to help us appreciate what is possible when we have the light.
The absence of light is not valueless. Understood, it is a very precious commodity indeed. Think of it this way. Daylight is 24 carat gold, night time is 18 carat gold. Not as perfect perhaps, but valued and used wisely, 18 carat gold is precious indeed.
Most of us are not meant to live in an always Holy state. We each live in a world clearly defined by the sacred and the mundane. Our lives are lived in a dynamic and vast range of being- Holy when we commune with God and very mundane and further from God when fix the car or pick up the dry cleaning.
That is how it is supposed to be. Had God created us as He did the angels, in a permanent state of Holiness, we would be deprived of His greatest gift- free will. We are meant to earn Holiness every day, over a lifetime.
Our potential for Holiness is derived in how we see and understand Holiness. If we see Holiness in purely spiritual terms and the result of a direct connection to God, then very few of us will ever be Holy.
If we see God in the same way we see light, a reflection of the sun through the atmosphere that envelopes all of us, then Holiness is ours for the taking. All we need to do is go outside to fully benefit from the sun’s rays.
Once we accept our potential for Holiness, the purpose of prayer and Houses of Worship become clear. Those places we pray serve as a bright illumination for the path we must walk down, the path that allows us to reflect our unique Holiness.
It is true that we don’t need a Houses of Worship to find God or Holiness.
A House of Worship does not exist for God. A House of Worship exists to facilitate our potential. In the effort to regain Holiness after the ‘darkness’ of our mundane existence, a House of Worship offers us a place to remind us of God’s words and to reconnect with His commandments that serve as guideposts on the path that will elevate us.
It is also true that Houses of Worship are places that make our individual journeys easier. We embark on a trek with a sacred place, and sacred prayers objects behind us, acting a light filled mirror, illuminating the first steps of our journey. We can take those steps with confidence because of the light that comes from within that House of Worship.
Darkness does not mean light is forever absent. There are places filled with light. Seek them out.