Recently as I was rummaging through some of the early centuries of the history of the Christian church, I chanced upon a fascinating character, a woman named Egeria (sometimes Aetheria), who lived in the late 4th century. Egeria did something quite extraordinary for a woman of her time. Between 381-384, she took an extended trip to the “Holy Land” and visited many of the sites mentioned in the Bible. As she traveled, she sent letters back home, describing the beauty she saw and the holiness she experienced in her travels.
I sometimes envy Egeria this wondrous 3-year journey, taken on foot or on the back of a mule or a camel. How wonderful to stand where Moses had stood, to sit where Elijah had hidden himself in a cave, to walk the hills of Galilee where Christ himself had walked. Wonderful to breathe in a sense of holiness lingering in the air and waters, in the hills and valleys that had witnessed such bigger-than-life people and such miraculous events.
But reading about Egeria’s visit to the “Holy Land” has prompted some questions for me about the whole notion of holy places and holy ground. To be sure, it is no doubt wonder-filled to walk on the ground trod by saints of old through whom God revealed some of the mystery of God’s self and of God’s interactions with our world. But I think it’s also important—really far more important, as a matter of fact(!)—to recognize and to remember that all of life, no matter where it’s lived, is to be seen and understood as holy. That all the ground on which we walk, wherever we may be, is truly holy ground. I often pray this morning prayer adapted by Phyllis Tickle from The Book of Common Prayer:
Most gracious God and Father,
you are with me as I make my journey throughout this day.
Help me to look lovingly upon all people and events
that come into my life today and
to walk gently upon this land.
Grant this through Jesus who lives and walks among us
ever present at each moment.
God “with me” throughout the day. Jesus, “ ever present at each moment.” Doesn’t this reality assure me that I walk on holy ground, unholy as my life may be? That my steps down the front walk to pick up the morning newspaper are steps on holy ground? That my feet are on holy ground as I stand on the sidelines and watch my grandchildren play baseball and soccer? That even my steps through the supermarket, crowded with its earthy smells and human noise, are steps on holy ground? True, neither Moses nor Elijah ever walked the places of my life, and I do not breathe the aura of their close encounters with the Divine. Nevertheless, God is here with me, and a holy presence whispers in the breezes that brush across my skin. Shelters in the branches of the aged oaks in my back yard. Fills the spaces that define my life. Calls me day by day and night by night to taste the sanctity of life in every breath.
As for miracles, well…it’s true, alas, that no water has ever been turned into wine here in my home. But, nonetheless, there are miraculous wonders in my small world. The wonder of a summer bowl of bright red cherries on my kitchen table. The wonder of friendship and trust in a long marriage. The wonder of the butterfly that sips from my sedum. The wonder of the quiet dark that fills my room when I turn out the lights at night. The wonder of the deep awareness that I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to the One who walked this holy earth so long ago to let me know I am beloved.*
In his poem “Walking Meditation,” Thich Nhat Hanh says:
Our walk is a peace walk.
Our walk is a happiness walk.
Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
I would like to add:
Our walk is a holy walk.
Walk and touch holiness every moment.
*adapted from Question 1 of The Heidelberg Catechism (1563)