"Beauty in the Wilderness"
A few days ago as I was in our local Starbucks. An older man sat in the chair next to me and tears were rolling down his cheeks as he gazed at a photograph in his hand. He saw me watching him and showed me the picture: “It’s my wife, we had been married for over 50 years when she suddenly died last year.” Tears then also swelled up in my own eyes as I reached for his hand and we just quietly sat there together. It was such a “holy moment.” In that corner of a local coffee shop I was being pulled into "transcendence," pulled out beyond my own tiny isolated self into an experience of that which is greater than me.
My Starbucks encounter reminded me of something the monk and author, Thomas Merton, once wrote about as he described a similar “holy moment” he had while standing on a street corner of a shopping center in downtown Louisville, Kentucky:
As I stood in the center of that busy shopping district
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization
that I loved all those people walking by me,
that they were mine and I theirs,
that we could not be alien to one another even though we were strangers.,
It was like waking up from a dream of self isolation.
Yes, the whole illusion of a separate existence is a dream.
As I sat in Starbucks the other day, sobbing as I grasped the hand of a total stranger, I had a similar realization. That man shedding tears for his wife was not alien to me, and even though I had never before met him, he was not a stranger because none of us are strangers and there are no different others.
Many people likely believe that “holy moments” only happen in a church or a temple, while praying or meditating, but I believe that all of us are always walking on holy ground. If we are alert in the moment, with open hearts and uncluttered minds, there are many places and many instances when we might wake up from the illusion of separation and be pulled out of our “self” to experience transcendence, to experience “God.” Yes, even Starbucks is a holy place.
I am reminded of something author and poet, Christian Wiman, once wrote:
A Holy Moment can happen whenever that membrane between
our selves and everything else 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 and not in a real wind.
But it is ‘God’s’ presence in reality that is so mysterious and so insistent.
The whole notion of sacred experience, the sense that there are holy moments in life
that should be honored and consecrated as such,
is being systematically eliminated by contemporary culture.
In my ordinary life today I will look for “God” in the real wind and not a whirlwind. Holy moments happen all the time and you don’t even have to “believe in God” to know that this is true.