Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Holiness

"Sacred Space"

I found myself laughing out loud the other day at the supermarket as I watched a mother and her small child next to me in the "dairy aisle." The mom had placed a dozen eggs into her shopping cart and asked her daughter, "Do you know where these eggs come from, honey?" Without missing a beat the little girl responded, "From the back room over there."

I am quite sure that the mom was hoping her daughter would tell her that eggs come from chickens, but the child wasn't able to see that bigger picture. For her, the eggs came from a little room in the  back of the store, appearing on a supermarket shelf all cleaned up and neatly packaged in a cardboard crate.

The more I thought about it, I realized that the little girl in that supermarket may not have ever even been to a farm and perhaps had never seen a real-life chicken. She almost certainly had never removed eggs from a chicken's nest and placed them in a basket. So I guess it's not all that surprising that the child thought that eggs came all boxed up from the back room of a market. 

My guess is that more and more of us nowadays live in our "own little world."  Most people get their food from inside a market without ever seeing a farm or they spend so much time in a mall that they hardly ever look up into the starlit sky. Most people spend each day confined indoors, sitting in an office or a classroom staring at a computer, oblivious to the gentle sounds of wind or rain or falling snow, immune to the awesome beauty of a rising sun.

I think of something William Kittredge once said:

Human beings evolved, immersed in a world of nature.
Isolate us from nature too long, as individuals, as societies,
and we start getting nervous, unmoored, inhabited by diseases we cannot name,
driven to thoughtless ambitions and easy cruelties.

We are genetically "wired" for connection and interdependence. We all belong together, we belong to each other, we belong to a world of sunrises and starlit skies, we belong to a world of farms and farmers and chickens that lay eggs in nests. When we live in our own little world, cut off from a sense of belonging, we will always feel incomplete. 

Oddly enough we often think of a "holy" person as someone who has cut himself/herself off from the world. We think of a monk or a hermit as someone who has left the ordinary world of everyday life in order to be closer to "God."  Or we think about going to church as a time when we close the doors on the world in order to visit some sacred realm where "God" exists. But actually the opposite is true. 

The word "holy" comes from an old English word meaning "whole," "complete," "entire." Holiness is not something that people of faith achieve by leaving the world locked away within the walls of a monastery or behind the closed doors of a church.  Holiness is a process by which every human being enters into the world of nature and the world of people more fully. We are holy when we are "whole," aware of our mutual interdependence, knowing that everything and everyone all belong together as the many who are connected in the ONE.

I know many monks of many different religious persuasions who tell me that a monastery is never a place where you go to escape from the world, but rather a place where you go to dive into it wholeheartedly and without reserve. 

The desert where I live is a sacred space and it teaches me how to be holy. Every day I make it a point to practice the spiritual discipline of "being outdoors,"  immersed in a world of nature. I greet the sun and pay attention to the wind in the palms. I relish the crystal blue skies and borderless mountains of stone. I walk outside at night gazing up into the blazing cosmos, feeling so small and yet always so connected to it all. "Holy, holy, holy!" 

But, of course you don't have to live in a desert to practice holiness. Anyone can turn off the computer and take a walk in a park or look up into the heavens on their way to the mall, maybe even drive out to a farm and look at some chickens. 

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