When my family lived in northwest New Jersey there was a member of our church who had been a Girl Scout leader for decades and especially delighted in taking her troop camping deep in the woods. Barbara knew the calls of all birds, what plants were edible, how to make water potable and what to do when lost, which I’m fairly confident she never was.
I’m grateful that she took me on a couple of amateur hikes and wish I could remember everything she said about the trees and how to collect maple syrup, but all I remember is what she said about an enormous boulder. As we were walking she pointed it out and said. “That one’s not from here.” Confused about how a rock the size of a minivan came to be wedged in a ravine a mile or so into the woods, I asked Barbara what she meant. She explained that during the ice age, glaciers dragged the boulder to that spot from hundreds of miles away. “You can tell by the deep scratches in the rock.” she said, “See?” Sure enough there were long grooves etched across one side of it.
Without Barbara I might have leaned against that boring, gray boulder to tie my shoe before walking down to the stream to look for frogs. Instead, what had been background and ordinary was suddenly awe inspiring. I felt more connected to the earth and even to God because of Barbara’s story.
For years I kept a vile of water with gold flecks in it that I panned for at the Knots Berry Farm Amusement Park in California. At six years old it amazed me because I’d already learned that precious things are rare and hard to find. Somehow, we usually think of “holiness” that way: as something rare and only available to the lucky few.
A few weeks ago at church we read the story of Jacob laying his head on an ordinary rock in the wilderness and dreaming of a ladder climbing with angels. He woke up and proclaimed “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” (Genesis 28:16)
Holiness is ordinary and everywhere. It’s the normal state of people and the world.
If it’s hard to believe that’s because absent a Barbara, it can be hard to recognize.
Church is a place to learn how to see holiness in the ordinary. It’s a place to participate in and listen to beautiful, disturbing, amazing stories that have been dragged across millennia. Unlike ancient stories about heroes with remarkable gifts of intellect and bravery, Bible stories are, with exceptions, about ordinary people whose holiness was hidden even from them until it wasn’t and unexceptional places where God decided to make Herself known. With the practice church provides, you can start seeing holiness in common places and people and once in a while, even in yourself.
Wherever you are- God is in that place and you may not know it. How astonishing it is to be here.