This is Holy Ground by Robynn
Sister Mary Elizabeth, in an opening prayer session for the spiritual direction program I’ve recently been enrolled in, encouraged us to kick off our shoes, to feel the earth beneath our soles and our toes. She wanted us to know and appreciate that this, where we stand, where we are right now, is holy ground.
I suppose it might be said that there’s nothing more opposite from someone who’s lived his or her life as a child of missionary parents far away from here, to that of a Benedictine nun. The former tend to be restless and rootless—they’ve travelled extensively. Their community is scattered. They feel constantly a pull to be somewhere else. Their longings are as far flung as the languages they speak. They belong nowhere. They belong everywhere. They often move frequently. Quite likely they’ve been to Egypt and stood barefoot by bushes that still speak of holiness. Vocation and calling often mean leaving and going.
A Benedictine sister, on the other hand, is connected to a place. Her sense of community is strong. Perhaps she has travelled some but she is magnetically drawn back to her monastery, back to her community. She is well schooled in obedience, in stability, in simplicity, in an even-tempered, well ordered life. This Sunday, Sister Mary Elizabeth, celebrates her golden jubilee at the monastery. Sister Sylvia has lived there 57 years, Sister Marcia over 40. These women are remarkably steadfast. For them vocation means staying here, called and grounded to the holy ground beneath their feet.
Imagine then the cross-cultural contortions I went through last week where I spent a week with these sisters and others at Mount St Scholastica, in Atchison, Kansas. I was there attending the Souljourner program—a training in spiritual direction, at the Sophia Center.
It was important to the sisters that we recognize the holy ground beneath our feet as we entered the week long intensive. We are connected to the ground beneath our feet. Sister Mary Elizabeth is so completely tethered to the present. She and her colleagues seemed very aware of the sacredness of now. She reminded us that Ignatius of Loyola identified hope as the profound realization that God is with us in this very moment, here and now.
I found that very challenging and simultaneously comforting. So much of me wants to recreate things as they were. I want to be somewhere else. I long for different dirt under my toes. And yet, now and here, are really all I have. What would it look like for me to sincerely trust that the place I am in is the sacred place for me at this moment? What if I truly understood that God has called me to this here and now?
The theme of the holy now continued throughout the week. The key-note speaker, elaborated on it some more. We live now…it’s really our only option. It’s all we have. But when something in our now reminds us of our past a wave of seemingly unwarranted emotion might be stirred up. It behooves us to bring that emotion forward. We can only truly feel in the present. Certainly, there are memories of past emotions, but for healing to take place, we have to feel in the present. We have to acknowledge those feelings in the now. She then encouraged us to be gentle with those emotions, to take care of them, to listen to them, to sit with them a little.
It all felt so new and transformative for my third culture adult self! So much of my energy goes to keeping my past at bay and my longings for the future deferred. Many of my days I squelch my self and my emotions. I stuff them down. They don’t seem to fit my current reality and so, to the best of my ability, I ignore them.
What if, instead, I actually identified my feelings? What if I admitted that I’m sad? I don’t necessarily know where the sadness is coming from but it seems bigger than the moment calls for. Perhaps something from yesteryear is creeping on to today. What if I spent a few moments with that sadness? What if I gently cared for it somehow? What if instead of trying to avoid my sadness, I actually made eye contact with it and was present to it.
The movie Inside Out certainly illustrates that the emotions we feel are all legitimate and valuable. The question is, how much power do we give them. How much control are they allowed to have? The un-cared for emotion in us keeps demanding more and more control. We can keep trying to keep sadness at bay…but sadness grows and grows until it’s no longer containable. It seems to me that naming my emotion (that’s sadness again), feeling the emotion (sigh…. Sadness feels sad…and a little lonely, there’s no getting around it) and then gently caring for that emotion (I’m sorry you’re sad. It’s ok to be sad.) actually attends to our selves and brings us back to the present where holiness is and healing can happen.
From that original burning bush God introduced himself to Moses as the I AM—the Always Now God, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say: ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Ex 3:14). The Psalmist also knew God to be present tense. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1). God is now. He is here. Present. Active. He invites us to come live in the here and the now too, to meet him in the moment.
This is holy ground and a hope for healing rises out of our present place. Admittedly my Third Culture Adult self is curiously mystified by this. Over the years, (and this will come as a shock to many of you), I’ve struggled to fit in. I have endured deep self-imposed shame for the angst of not fitting in and then felt isolated and insulated hidden behind that same shame. The idea that I might experience this space I’m standing in right now as the tiny arena for God’s great grace extended to me at this present time is expansive and freeing. It’s comforting and hope-inspiring. I can slip off my sandals and stand with naked feet next to my Benedictine sisters. If I close my eyes I can nearly imagine my toes warming in the heat emanating from another burning bush. This, right here, this, right now, is holy ground!