Lenten Reflection: Stepping on to Holy Ground

March 15, 2016 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Stepping on to Holy Ground


Image courtesy of Thomas Wharton

It’s a pattern that I’ve come to expect each Lent. I have to wait for the insight that will take hold of me. I wait and listen, never really knowing when it will come to me or from what source. But, as part of the pattern, it seems to come as a surprise and usually when my attention is occupied with something else.

This year, it came embedded in the Old Testament reading where Moses encounters God’s presence and voice in the burning bush. As the reading was happening, my mind was wandering, and I was vaguely studying the shapes of the organ pipes and trying to figure out what to make for dinner. And then a phrase caught my ear, the voice of the reader and the surrounding church faded into the background, and I began to imagine being this man standing in front of this extraordinary sight—a seeming hallucination, something outside natural law, something wonderful and frightening. A voice comes, more felt than heard, calling me by name and telling me to remove my shoes, because I am on holy ground. This was the opening, unexpected and surprising. The rest of the day, I was left wondering why God had asked me to remove my shoes.

I’m aware of the tradition of various religions, especially in the ancient world, of removing shoes when entering a sanctuary, and the reasons why, but all of those reasons feel like traditions devised by man. This was a direct command from God in a particular situation. So, why did God demand this? I can’t think of any instance where God makes a command without purpose. What could His purpose in this situation be?

Once again, going back into the experience, transfixed by the sight before me, short of breath and with my hands shaking, I remove my shoes and feel the earth, the holy ground, through the soles of my feet. I am in direct contact with the presence of God in that holy ground, open and vulnerable to whatever is to happen next, to whatever God wills.

Shoes are, of course, inventions of man. They provide protection for our feet, and in the ways of mankind, also become signifiers of status and part of a repertoire of devices we use to create an identity for ourselves, to create ourselves in our own image. This image we create becomes a mask that combines the features of a fortress and a disguise that we use to protect us from what we perceive will injure us, as well as a means to get what we think we need and desire. But, it begs the question, when we create this image out of our own limited and fearful self-knowledge, how far are we from our true, created nature? What have we done that is going to prevent us from being in contact with holy ground?

In the time of Moses, God dwelt in his holy temple. Part of God’s gift to us in Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit is the assurance that God is with us always and in everything. Doesn’t that make all of His creation, holy ground? The holy ground of this world and those beyond. The holy ground of each other and all living things. And, the holy ground of our own precious lives, the glory of which we disguise, abuse, and deny. We cut ourselves off from the very source of our joy of living and the miracle of being alive.

I see now that this Lent is a time for removing that mask, to put myself in the hands of God, with fear and trembling, and with love. To remove the curtain I’ve created that separates me from others and that allows God’s given compassion to flow. To step onto holy ground and be the person I am, as I was created, to love and come into the presence of the great, I Am.

– Thomas Wharton

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