Be Holy

Eve, by David Robinson

Eve, by David Robinson

Pastor Tom asked the question, “What does it mean to be holy?” It caught me by surprise because I was sitting in the choir loft reading Paulo Coehlo’s, The Zahir. For the record, I usually pay attention to Pastor Tom’s sermons; he’s a gifted storyteller and one of a handful of preacher’s I’ve met who is actually rooted in a greater spirituality and not the rules and restrictions that bind the religious. He’s not a judger; he’s a seeker and his sense-making lens is Lutheran Christianity. We are just beginning our friendship and since I have a remarkably different lens I look forward to all that we have to share. But, on this Sunday I was plagued by an odd and surprising inner imperative to take The Zahir to church and read the next sections. I’d stopped in the middle of a chapter and I awoke with my inner nag screaming, “Take it with you! Finish the chapter! Now!!” I’ve learned to listen to my inner nag.

Life is funny. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be hanging out in a church. Many years ago I used to hang out with Father Lauren and talk theology. I was not Catholic but attended a Christian Brother’s college; the college had a great theatre program. Father Lauren was a Franciscan and came into the theatre one day to find an artist to help him make some banners for a high mass. I was the artist he found and we were immediate fast friends. He was more interested in the mystic than the pious aspects of his faith and I, too, am drawn to the mystic in any faith tradition. I began attending mass so we could compare notes. I found (and find) my greater spirituality in rivers, the arroyos, and the wind; his faith was solidly grounded in the rituals of the church.

Father Lauren believed in original sin: it is the idea that nature is corrupt – particularly human nature – and must be controlled. I believe the opposite: nature is perfect and health comes when we align with our nature and stop trying to control it. We talked for hours about the differences in our orientation to life. I appreciated our conversations because we weren’t trying to sway the other or win a point. He was not trying to convert me and I was not invested in being right. We were trying to appreciate and understand the other point of view. We were asking the other, “From your point of view, what does it mean to be holy?” To Father Lauren, a human might become holy if they transcended their nature. To me, a human is holy because he or she is nature; the challenge is to recognize the truth of your nature. As someone once said, “There are many paths up the mountain.” Father Lauren and I were like travelers swapping stories from the road. I loved our exploration of faith and life.

I was sitting in the choir loft and had just finished reading this passage from The Zahir: “Yes, we are all cathedrals, there is no doubt about it; but what lies in the empty inner space of my cathedral?” If you saw yourself as holy, how might you fill your space and time? Paulo’s response to his question: we need, each day, to rebuild ourselves, to improve our structure as best as we can so that we might understand and accept this: we are capable of loving another person more than we love our selves. To be holy is to love another more than you love yourself. To be holy is to fill your personal cathedral with the love of another. That’s the exact moment Pastor Tom asked, “What does it mean to be holy?” My inner nag smiled and whispered, “Told you so.”

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