Finding holy ground

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’ – Luke 17:20-21

In search of holy ground, a friend of mine went on a journey to Jerusalem. She explored lots of very interesting and deeply moving places, but she came back dissatisfied. Months later, she burst into my work room excitedly waving a new find, Barbara Brown Taylor’s lovely book, An Altar in the World. “X marks the spot,” she said, quoting from the Introduction. “X marks the spot. The holy ground I’ve been looking for is right here, right under my feet.”

Here’s another story I remember, that of a woman who was very disappointed at not, for health reasons, being able to join with the Doctors without Boarders program. She had so wanted to use her medical training in aid of the poor in Africa. But then, during a visit downtown in the city in which she lived, she discovered an organization that needed her. They were offering free medical exams to mothers and children who could not afford health care.

194px-Burgruine_honberg_fenster_web.jpgI imagine the door to the kingdom of God just suddenly appearing as we go about our daily business. On street corners, in alleyways, along the path we walk through a silent early morning forest, it manifests like the gateway to the magical fairy kingdom, then quickly fades away. It is usually visible only for fleeting moments. In that instant when sunlight ignites the egg yolk colored leaves of the oak tree in the front yard, there it is. Along the misty lake shore when we hear the calling of the loons, there it is again. Or as we’re crossing the street to the grocery store and a teenage boy smiles tentatively through his windshield at us after stopping even though the light is already green, I imagine it there. Or, then again, we can see it in that brief window of time when a man whose face is reddened by cold is vulnerable enough to make eye contact and ask for a few dollars to buy a sandwich and a cup of coffee. And it is present as we are visiting a friend at the hospital and talking to her about death, enjoying the particular gait of the dogs and how they embrace the smells along the pathway we walk together, serving soup, praying, or writing a check to Episcopal Relief and Development.

I have to admit that I often miss it. I am too wrapped up in what I am doing – or planning – or feeling righteously indignant about – to see its shy arrival. Later I might turn back with an, “Oh, wait. I should have handled that differently.” But by then it is often far too late. The sunlight has faded, the youth has driven on, the vulnerable man has hardened his heart and hunched his shoulders once again.

All I can hope is that each regret at a missed opportunity will make me more mindful in future. Each time I look back with chagrin and the need to be forgiven makes it possible to choose differently in the future. I hope. And I hope as well that the elusive doorway of the kingdom of God will always make its appearance in unexpected places, and that I will always have the opportunity to open the eyes of my heart and see.

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.

“Burgruine honberg fenster web” by Sebastian Kirsche – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons

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