Posted on July 27, 2016
Copyright © 2017 · All Rights Reserved · Liam Byrnes
Posted on July 27, 2016
Often I’ll say, and hear others wonder aloud ‘Where did the time go?’. I marvel at how life has become submerged in one continual tapestry that I can’t quite tease into recognisable components. Other times I observe the opposite in myself and in others; I feel the frantic tendency to want to capture, perceive and hold on to a moment or experience in a way that actually causes it to slip away.
I observe something beautiful; a view, a child’s first steps, a sunset, cityscape, mountain and grab for a phone or camera to immortalise it. I walk away and later reflect on these immortalised pictures and wonder, was I really there? Often in some way I notice, I wasn’t really there, I was not present.
There are moments in life that as children we are taught to recognise and pay attention to, then as adults we learn to perceive something special is taking place; A funeral, a wedding, a commemoration of a moment that has marked common memory. We learn to intuitively understand these moments as set-apart, in some sense holy. Not things to be taken lightly.
In my first trip to the US I attended a small college basketball game. Before the game began the national anthem was played, people stood and pledged allegiance to their flag and nation. I was enjoying my first experience of the US, a nation I’d only seen before in TV and movies, but it never occurred to me as appropriate or even desirable that I, as someone from another nation would join in this nationalistic practise.1 Within the first line or two of the anthem, a complete stranger turned around and virtually lifted me to my feet, I decided not to resist. As I reflected on it, I though how extraordinary that a stranger was so moved by the significance of this moment that he man-handled someone he had never met to enjoin him in his holy moment.
As children we are shoe-horned into the many rules and etiquettes of these ‘holy-moments’, but by adulthood we reflect back on our lives and these moments gain a luminescent quality without the needed prompting from others 2. We remember that wedding, that party, that funeral, that public commemoration. Whether we recognise it as literal divine presence, we begin to recognise a type of set-apartness, a type of holiness that exists in these moments.
While I’ve increasingly come to affirm these moments and recognise something of the glory of God existing through many of them, I’ve often reflected and reminded myself, isn’t everything holy? Isn’t every person an image bearer of God and therefore holy? Aren’t all places created and sustained by the Christ who holds all things together? Doesn’t God want us to perceive himself in every moment, in every person and in every place?
In many ways this was the achievement of Jesus’ life, His presence, His life, His holiness showing up everywhere especially the places we don’t expect him. Jesus is revealing the God who drinks wine with the wrong kind of people, welcomes even the hated samaritans to be included in God’s great plan of rescue and adoption. His very death tears the veil of where the Holy used to live and then in His ascension He sends His Holy Spirit on flesh of every nation to prophecy and priest God’s good kingdom on earth? Isn’t the story of God showing us His desire to include the world, in ever increasing circumference the domain and reign of His Kingship. While that is an arresting and often stirring perception of God’s activity I find myself realising how impossible it seems for every moment to be ‘set-apart’. If everything is holy, then can anything be?
Do we only know the Holy in contrast to the profane? More practically, is God’s intention that we walk around our days in consistent awe and slowness? Well, certainly we would be helped if we did in fact spend our days staying open to holiness in each thing but the question I am increasingly asking is not just, is everything holy? But what kind of Holy is it? In what way is this moment, this person, this place set-apart? If to be Holy is to be set-apart, then Holiness is surely to respond rightly to the value and grace God has placed in that particular person, experience or place.
To walk by the Spirit means to recognize him in everything you do and to expect his action. You set your mind on the things of the Sprit. – Dallas Willard
To walk through our days in this way takes a kind of reflectiveness that our world has forgotten about. One of the simplest ways we can learn how to reflect is to practise it. There is an ancient christian practise called the examen. The intention is for it to be placed at the end of the day, and to literally examine your day in the presence of the Lord. As simple as it sounds, this is what is required in a world where we rarely slow down to understand what kind of holiness is present and called for in response.
1. Recall you are in the presence of God.
2. Look at your day with gratitude.
3. Ask for help from the Holy Spirit to search your day to observe where you participated in God’s holy action in the world and where you failed to.
4. Reconcile, Restore and resolve with the Lord.3
We desperately need a people and a Church that perceive the type of holiness that is required. Childhood is made holy because it is set apart from adulthood, Sabbath is made holy because it is set apart from work, Music is made holy because it is set apart from silence, Family is made holy because it is set apart from strangers. All of these things are holy, but all are not holy in the same way. In the same way we wonder at the beauty of the actions of a child, those same actions become profane in adulthood. The core of holiness is not a set of rules to live by, but an understanding of how we should properly relate to something or someone given God’s own revealed personhood.
When we mistake or blur the distinctions between these forms of holiness we lose the ability to observe its particular grace. Part of our maturing as people in Christ is that we will learn to reflect on, respond to and begin to intuitively recognise the particular holiness in front of us and that is how we live in holiness. When we devolve our understanding of holiness to ‘abiding by the rules’4 we lose God’s intention for humanity. Not simply to be obedient to an arbitrary standard of holiness, but to participate in human flourishing which understands, in each moment, how to relate to created things through the God who was before creation.