(a newsletter article)
Why the “Holy Land?” In books I’ve been reading (as well as selections some of our travel group have picked up), that can be a frequent question. Why do we call or perceive it as “holy?”
From the news we hear, we’d more likely term it a Violent or Contentious Land. Within the past hundred years for Zionist propaganda, it also suffered the label “a land without a people.”
Yet we persist with the adjective “holy.” We may see holiness with the Western Wall marking a remnant of God’s presence with the Jewish Temple. In that same spot, we may see holiness from God’s transporting the Prophet Muhammed on his Night Journey.
But, as authors repeatedly note, we Christians don’t attribute holiness that way. For 300 years after Jesus, the Church didn’t pay much special attention to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the rest. That’s not due so much to a reduction of holiness, but a democratization of it. Our belief, our incarnational theology finds holiness permeating all things.
In this way, the Orthodox Church declares that baptism didn’t make Jesus holy. Rather, as he entered the Jordan River, he hallowed or made holy the stream itself, and all the waters of the earth with it.
Our group will be traveling in the footsteps of Jesus, praying by the same olive trees he prayed by in the Garden of Gethsemane, walking on stones Jesus walked on, getting covered by dust that covered him. But we don’t expect that soil to glow with the aura of halo. Nor would we claim those olive trees should produce special fruit. Their blessing is in continuing to bear as any olive tree should. None of this is holier than thou.
This saturation of holiness extends directly into your life, then, too. As Jesus was born into our world, he hallows birth and makes holy the vocation of parenting.
In his ecojustice encyclical, Pope Francis affirms that “Jesus [did daily work] with his hands…a simple life which awakened no admiration at all: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3). In this way he sanctified human labour.” (3, VII, 98 – http://bit.ly/FrancisEncyclical) Through Jesus’ involvement, the work of your hands, your artistry, your simple and too-often unadmired jobs are sanctified and made holy.
More, Jesus wined and dined those who were otherwise placed far on the margins of holiness—the sick, the poor, the outsiders, the unpowerful, the sinners—who have been told their fate indicated a separation from God. But Jesus’ contact with “them” was a contagion of holiness, exactly reversing the notion that their presence threatened to cut “us” off from holiness.
And, approaching All Saints Sunday, we proclaim this sanctification includes death. Death is no longer the exclusion from God in the Psalm’s old sense of Sheol, the Pit, a forgotten place. By entering it, Jesus changes even death, and with it hospice beds and lethal injection chambers and cremation furnaces. This stands in the words of the graveside committal: “by the death and burial of Jesus you have destroyed the power of death and made holy the resting places of all.”
So if the whole of your life is thoroughly permeated by holiness, then again: why the Holy Land? Why call it that? Why travel there? I’d say it’s to refresh this belief, in some literal way to “re-ground” our faith in the understanding of God’s pervasive presence for us. And not just in visiting those ancient stones and monuments, or treading the geography of Jesus. Precisely as we witness so much hardness and ongoing conflict in the Middle East, we are reminded that Jesus is striving for peace, love, resolution, redemption, and holiness in the midst of ugliness and oppression and violence.
Witnessing that heart of our faith enables us to bring it home—including to our own households—and continue living out this holiness daily.
I invite your prayers for our travel group: Marilyn Connel, Regi Dunst, Larry & Kathy Henning, Ellen Lindgren, Martha Nack, Russel Peloquin, Jan Robertson, Janet Sabatke, Pastor Sue Schneider, Karen Schwarz, Kristin Swedlund, Pastor Andy Twiton, Julie Wilke, Erin Zimmerman, and Shannon Zimmerman. And I invite your prayers for Palestinians and Israelis, the remnant Christians, Muslims, and Jews striving to understand and embody God’s holiness in their lives and in their land. Click here for our itinerary and watch Facebook for photos and more.