Holy Weekend Thoughts
“Take off your sandals, for the ground you are standing on is holy.”
As I did my weekly nursery cleaning at church this past Friday afternoon, this verse popped into my head. I usually clean barefoot anyway, since it helps not track more dirt into the nursery (and because I’d just rather be barefoot), so I didn’t think it was God’s celestial way of reminding me to take my shoes off. What I did know was that about a half-hour before, as I walked down the hall to fetch the vacuum cleaner, the question of “Is this important?” had popped into my head. This task is nothing big or extremely life-changing; I come clean two nursery rooms for one hour a week. I never felt particularly like the Mother Teresa of the disinfectant variety, or that what I was doing was anything exceptionally important. I just know that I like to clean and that they needed someone to do this. So here I was, cleaning a rocking chair that looked suspiciously like it had recently seen a queasy baby lose its battle with nausea. But somehow, as this verse pounded through my brain, I was pulled to my knees in prayer as I was humbled by the truth of these words. In my every day life, in the ordinary, busy, mundane and non-exciting minutiae of my very average existence, I had forgotten to remember that the ground I am standing on is holy.
In the Scripture that this verse comes from, we enter a story where Moses encounters the burning bush, which encloses God’s very presence in that moment. In the Old Testament, God’s direct encounters with the people of Israel are few and far between. They must use priests, prophets, sacrifices, and temples to relate to their God. Curtains, arks, and rules are erected as barriers between these people and their ability to encounter God’s living presence, because the world was not yet arranged in a way where this could be otherwise. But in this moment, Moses wasn’t in a temple or next to an altar or doing something incredibly profound or spiritual. He was tending sheep — nothing exciting or important, but it is in this simplicity that God meets Moses on his own level. God appears to him in a burning bush and commands him to remove his sandals, as a sign of respect for the incredible holiness that is the presence of the living God. Moses does so, but then commences something incredible.
In his bare feet, next to a shrub that randomly burst into flames and started talking, surrounded by sheep in the middle of the desert, Moses begins to argue with God.
God is laying out His plans for Moses to bring the Israelite people out of slavery in Egypt, but in doubt of his own abilities and desires, Moses chooses to believe that he knows better than God. At one point, he actually says “Oh Lord, please send someone else to do it.” While he’s aware of what God is asking of him, it’s uncomfortable and not what he’s looking for. He just wants to put his shoes back on and go back to hang out with his sheep. He’s not looking to be on the receiving end of any difficult assignments from God, especially when it’s something he doesn’t want to do. Eventually they come to an agreement and, I assume, Moses puts his sandals back on and heads out, probably rather grudgingly.
In this way, I am Moses. I have been going through the motions of my everyday life, holding back from recognizing its holiness, simply because I have been waiting for something more exciting to happen and for my life to “really” begin. My assignment from God, instead of being sent off on some wild, anti-slavery mission is to STAY (a word that give me the shivers, and not in a good way) and throw myself into my life here, instead of trying to run from it. This requires a whole other kind of courage on my part, and like Moses, I came out on the other side of an argument with God finding that even when I try, I cannot disobey Him like that. If He says “stay,” I might as well just let Him win. While I don’t expect any hedges to burst into flame to pick a fight with me, I could feel the firm hands of the Holy Spirit on me as this verse raced through my head on this Good Friday afternoon.
All this time, in all these days where I have lived inside a rhythm and a pattern, this ground I have been on is holy. And I have been tending my sheep with the blind assumption that it couldn’t be anything important for its lack of obvious burning bushes and grand commissions.
Today is important. Going to work and making a sandwich and sitting in coffee shops and talking about books and learning to love new friends are incredibly holy things, because they are the megaphones that speak to what I center my life around. It’s nothing grand, but what is God if not a God that asks us to celebrate the things that are not often seen as terribly important. If I have learned anything over the past year of my life, it is that life consists mostly of the small things and that I cannot wait for the weighty definitions of the big ones. If I wait around in limbo, looking only for the lightning bolts and thunder claps, I will miss the resplendent beauty and joy of standing in the rain.
I realized I must repent my blindness to the burning bush that been in front of me this whole time and remove my sandals to acknowledge its holiness. After I finished cleaning, I walked over to the Shed, where a Good Friday “service” was going on (it wasn’t an exact service, more like open and welcoming space for people to come take Communion and lay open, bare to God in prayer and silence). I began to pray and while no chairs around spontaneously combusted or voices descended from the clouds a la “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail”, the scales began to fall from my eyes.
All Lent, I realized that I had been making the same mistake of refusing to recognize that the abstinence I partook in was holy. Instead, while knowing it was for a good reason, I was much more occupied with keeping a mental countdown to when I could eat Yesterdog again (I gave up going out to eat for Lent, FYI). I realized that while I may have saved money, I have wasted these past 40 days. The ground I was on was holy, and all I could think about were hot dogs.
As I sat and thought, one of the ladies from my writer’s group, Linda, come up and sit down next to me. A very gentle and soothing person, we spoke for a few minutes about the new found peace that I have been feeling pour over me throughout the past weeks. She asked if I would allow her to anoint me with oil and pray for me. Though having never done it before, I agreed, and in the utmost simplicity and love, she made a small cross on my forehead with a dab of an essential oil, and prayed a short prayer for me, asking God to mark this as a fresh start for me. After she left, I felt a sense of closure to this most recent chapter in my life.
As the temple curtain has torn in two, as God’s presence flooded out from the Holy of Holies in the temple, and was poured out over His people, through His son, Jesus Christ, I feel that He is making me new. While I expect to continue making hundreds of mistakes and probably being blind to many more burning bushes, I am again comforted with the promise that His patience is infinite and love for me even moreso. His plans for me are important, and require me to go barefoot, even when I’m walking with my eyes closed.
I pray that in this renewing season, as God’s love has emerged as a Light brighter than any burning bush, that you may realize that the ground you are on is holy. Whatever you are doing, if you are doing it in sincere love and hope for a better world, it’s important. Laughing and holding someone’s hand and sharing beers on a Wednesday night and cooking dinner together — it is holy ground, my friends.