Faces on Faith: Holy, holy, holy
As I pen these thoughts for our local paper, I’m relishing the exquisite weather we’ve been having! Lovely breezes, comfortable temperature, and low humidity. In fact, I’ve never seen the gauge go down to 38 degrees. Glorious creation surrounding me and all I can think of is: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory” – the beautiful prayer we say at every service – known to many Christians as the Sanctus – and given to us down through the ages by our Jewish sisters and brothers. “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
The root qds in Hebrew Scripture has a long history and denoted a state of holiness. The ground around the burning bush was holy (Exodus 3:5), as was the temple (Isaiah 64:10), the offerings (1 Samuel 21:5-7), or even entering a state of holiness (Ezekiel 36:23). During the time of the prophets, the word holy began to be connected more with God’s name and soon took on a moral meaning. The meaning of holiness also began to fuse with the word divinity to distinguish itself from us as sinful creatures. With different translations into the Greek language, the concept of holy over the centuries then became associated with Jesus “the Holy One” (John 6:69) who was sanctified by God to offer people new life.
There’s much more to say of course as we talk about holiness – more than a brief article could ever accomplish. However, it is beneficial for us to recall the roots of holiness and to remind ourselves that we, and the environment in which we live and breathe, are all part of the holy. All of creation cries out to us to know this, revere this, and care for this – and we cannot separate ourselves from any of creation – whether it’s about humanity or the earth itself. In Hebrew Scripture and in the Christian New Testament, we are called by God to be holy people, and that does not equate with simply praying in our temples, synagogues, and churches once a week. Even as Jesus discouraged Peter, James and John from building dwellings on the mountaintop to stay there and pray, and instead took them down from the mountain to be with the cries, confusion and pain of the rest of creation – so too we are called.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are God’s people and we have been called to be holy – in our voices, in our hearts, and in our actions. Holy in our care for one another and the environment around us. Holy in our hands reaching out in inclusive ways, in caring ways, and in comforting ways. Holy as we also pray for guidance, strength and new insights into how God is using us. Holiness need not ever be relegated to “holy places” in scripture or holy shrines around the world. It is everywhere and for all time. John Henry Newman once wrote that “The call to holiness is yesterday, today and for ever.” Next time you look out on the beauty around you on these islands, or the beauty in the face of someone looking to you for help, or even as you look into your own soul, think upon the word holy and give thanks.
The Rev. Dr. Ellen M. Sloan is the rector at Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church.