The Heart of Holiness

As we stood with 100,000 other pilgrims in St. Peter’s square, trying to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, I felt the powerful holiness of the moment because so many of us were there for a single purpose: to seek after God. The determination of the personal holiness of the Pope or the variety of religious traditions around us were irrelevant. What really mattered was the crowds’ singleness of heart in seeking out God.

I felt a similar feeling at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Truly, touching the stone that was designated to mark the place where the Baby Jesus laid to rest, had no particular import. What really mattered were all the people, from every nation milling around me, looking for God in any way they could find him. Touching that stone was holy because of the millions of people who had been there before me, hearts set on uncovering a God who often hides himself, only to be discovered by those who seek him with a heart of love.

“Surely you are a god who hides himself, Israel’s God and Savior.” Isaiah 45:15.

God places the desire for him in each of our hearts. It is the center of being, the core of the spirit, the place where the soul resides. Every day we have a choice: acknowledge our need or not? Cover it up with busyness or lay it bare for the Holy One to fill in his way? But God is not pushy or demanding. He stands quietly, patiently waiting for us to see him, in all the myriad places he lives: in a rock, in a flower, in newly tilled soil, in the smell of rain, in the sound of wind, in the smile of a child, in the neediness of a homeless neighbor, in the fevered brow of one who approaches death. God is there. God is here. God lives everywhere, but he only reveals himself if we stop to seek him.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” Isaiah 55:6

Seeking the Christ in everyone and every thing is the duty of our life. It is our purpose. What strangles us is when we limit God to certain types of people and a few allowable manifestations, all connected with our particular tradition. Our limitation of a mighty God has nothing to do with him and everything to do with our own desire to control him and to pridefully “know” the answers about God. When we open ourselves to the unknown, the mystery of faith, the encounters with holiness that transcend all of our own efforts, only then do we begin to see the ubiquitous presence of the Spirit of God, transcendent and holy.

“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” Psalm 73:23.

As we read his Book, the guide to life he has given us, and helped to interpret through his people over the ages, we tend to see it as we would an instruction manual, full of neatly defined steps that guarantee good results. What we fail to read in it are the plentiful references to a God beyond our understanding, one who continually reveals himself over the ages, one who has not stopped sending his prophets just because the revelation is considered complete. God loves his Word and wants us to love it too and to learn it and to live by it, but he is not contained in it. He is not limited by it. He is not controlled through the devoted learning of its passages.

“Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col 1:27

As God lives in us, planting the seed of his spirit in the human heart— the riskiest of all divine adventures—we walk around as a dim personification of the Christ in the world. The more we live into this model he has set before us, the more we transmit the fruit he desires to bless the world with. When we nurture this Christ in us, we emanate the lovely perfume of Christ and we hold forth the light of his love, blessing those around us and offering to them the fruit that comes forth from a Spirit blessed to be full of Jesus.

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24

In his death, Jesus multiplied his work and his disciples. As he sent the twelve forth to “Feed my lambs,” he sent them as sowers of the seed, cultivators of the soil and also as keen observers of his work in the world. His invitation was to “Go into all the world” and to open the eyes of our hearts, inviting us to see him in unexpected ways. He did not say he would follow a prescribed method, a 12 step approach, a particular dogma. Instead he roundly condemned those who sought to limit him, those who worked out of a desire for worldly recognition and a flaming pride. Jesus’ anger against the part of humanity who claimed control over God was real and remains a warning to us today: don’t get too cocky about all the you “know” but live instead in the childlike faith that is open to the every day uncovering of Christ in all things and in all people everywhere.

“Let the little children come; and do not forbid them for to such belongs the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19:14)

What does Jesus mean when he makes this radical statement? He certainly leaves the door open for those who are true seekers, not just for those who feel they have arrived. If we love as children love, we will stop seeing others by our own definitions of worthiness and instead with hearts full of grace. My prayer for all of us as we walk this pilgrim’s journey, is that the God of the past, present and future, will continue to reveal himself in unexpectedly joyful ways!

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