"A Thin Space"
We are spending the holidays with our family in Washington D.C. - about as far away from a desert setting as you can possibly be. Yesterday after all the gifts were opened, we all decided that we needed a little exercise, so we bundled up and took a leisurely stroll around the well-known historic sights of the nation's capitol - the Supreme Court, Congress, along the green space of the national mall.
There were lots of people strolling around the capitol yesterday on the afternoon of Christmas Day - people from all over the world speaking many different languages. The weather was crisp, a brisk wind was blowing, but the day was crystal clear as we walked along, arm-in-arm taking in the sights and sounds, snapping a photo now and then.
It was in the midst of that very ordinary, casual experience of being together on a beautiful Christmas afternoon that I was struck by a flash of insight. That stroll around the capitol, walking hand in hand with people I loved, was in fact a very "holy moment."
Interestingly enough, the night before on Christmas eve we were all sitting in a church - a designated holy place. We were surrounded by banners and flowers and figures in a creche, sounds of a choir, the singing of carols, lots of words about the birth of Christ. But even though I was sitting in a designated holy space and this experience in the church was supposed to be a holy moment, it didn't even come close to inspiring me as much as that simple casual walk with my family on a pristinely beautiful Christmas afternoon.
Once again I was taught a lesson that every space is sacred (designated or not) and every moment is holy, but you have to have the eyes to see it and the heart to embrace it or the moment will pass you by.
In a recent article, author and poet Chris Wiman makes this wonderful observation about holy moments in ordinary time:
A holy moment can happen whenever that membrane
between ourselves and everything that is not our selves thins,
and we become what we are not, or - more accurately - what we more truly are.
People seem to expect God to come in a whirlwind, not in a real wind.
But it's his presence in 'reality' that is so mysterious, and so insistent.
The whole notion of sacred experience,
the sense that there are holy moments in this life
that should be honored and consecrated as such,
is being systematically eliminated by contemporary culture.
Yes holy moments can happen inside churches or within the walls of great cathedrals. Holy moments can be experienced in a desert as a new day dawns. Holy moments can even happen in a big city, taking a stroll with your family on a crystal clear day with a brisk wind blowing on a Christmas afternoon.
People seem to expect God to come in a whirlwind,
not in real wind.