“Sometimes we need a holy place to awaken us to the holiness of every place. Sometimes we need a holy thing to awaken us to the holiness of everything.” – James Finley, from the cds Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere
For me, personally, this quote gets at the heart of the very best impulses of religion. It is also one of my most central motivations in wanting to enter ministry.
There is a sense in which we would be fine without religion, if we could recognize the holiness of life and appreciate depth and sacred nature of our lives, just as they are. The reason that religion can be so helpful is that we so often forget just how rich our lives are, and we live in the hustle and bustle of life without being attuned to this fact. There are special moments, though, that we all share, that snap us back, that take us to that deeper place: a birth of a child, a breathtaking view of nature, simple solitude after a noisy day, or falling in love.
For me, what religion can do is provide the space, the atmosphere, to remind us of what we all know to be most true and pure about ourselves. Churches do not exist as extra-special-holy-places, although many of the religious tend to think this. Instead, I think that churches exist to point us to the sacred nature of all of life. For many religions, and for many contemplatives and mystics in different religions, this is what enlightenment is: realizing that every moment is lived within a holy cathedral.
This idea motivates me toward ministry because I think that there are far too few spaces where we can pause and reflect on life in a deep and profound manner. As such, it is easy to lose touch with the best and most perfect parts of our hearts and souls. Once we lose touch with ourselves, with the best of ourselves, it is easy to compensate for this in ways that seem to good for us but in reality cause harm to ourselves and others.
Finding a holy place is so important. Finding a holy thing is important. A beautiful natural space; a letter from a deceased friend or relative; an alter or relic; a stuffed animal from childhood; a favorite old book; a special chair. There are so many places and items that seem packed with meaning; and yet, if we let them, these places and things can remind us that each moment is rich and full of meaning, if we can open to what it offers.