On the church piano my three 6th grade classmates were banging out "The Knuckle Song", "Heart and Soul", and "Chopsticks". Simultaneously. To me, these piano vandals had no sense of the sacred—nor of music.
Last week at church I asked a new generation of kids, "Is any thing holy today?" We had read the scary story in 2 Samuel 6 where an apparently helpful guy touches the Ark of the Covenant, and God zaps him dead, just like in Indiana Jones. The kids were unanimous.
"Yeah, there are holy things! Praying is holy."
"This place, this church, it is holy."
"This book here? 'Holy Bible'!"
"At school we have holy water!"
Such is youth, believing in holiness but not respecting it. Is that worse than adults who show polite respect but don't believe?
I got older, and for a time came to believe that nothing holy remained in this world. On entering a country church or the National Cathedral, I had the same glib remark: "You sure could put a lot of hay in here." I wanted the holy, but I couldn't find it. Paul Stookey's "Hymn" kind of spoke for my yearning:
Sunday morning, very bright, I read Your book by colored light
That came in through the pretty window picture.
I visited some houses where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving.
They passed a basket with some envelopes;
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was "I believe in You."
So I ask: Is anything here holy?
I'm not talking about merit a human confers on something, no holy hand-grenade. I'm not talking of sentimentality. I cherish certain favorite old shirts, but the shirts are holey, not holy. I'm not talking about "thin places", the Grand Canyon, or Gettysburg battlefield. Although I have a special feeling for February 29, no day really stands out as holy for me. Music and art often move me, but music and art are not necessarily holy. Exhibit A: The Knuckle Song.
A jovial rabbi once explained to me, "with the destruction of the Temple, we found that prayers substituted for sacrifices." I bit my tongue to suppress my disappointment at this convenient switch. I ❤ prayer. God hears and answers prayer, and so prayer can be holy. But praying does not make me holy, no more than running down the highway makes me a car.
By "holy", I am talking about what God Himself designates as set apart and dedicated to Him, where a person can reliably expect to meet God. Hard-core holy. I'm talking about a situation of unbearably frequent epiphany.
So, is there on this planet today anything holy?
Do you know what surprised me in this search for the holy? That I found it.
The holy that I found has the expected qualities of revealing God. The holy that I found can be very dangerous. The holy that I found can be very inspiring. The holy appeared where I least expected it.
A more articulate fellow than I spotlighted the discovery this way:
Or did we?
Generations after Adam and Eve, after destroying most of the human race for its evil, in Genesis 9, God makes a big deal out of having made man in God's image: "Whoever kills a human being will be killed by a human being, because God made humans in his own image."
Even later, Paul does not hesitate to identify people as God's offspring (Acts 17).
James says you can't really praise God and then curse people who are made in God's likeness.
Peter has no love for people outside his little group, until a voice tells him, "God has made these things clean, so don't call them 'unholy'!" (Acts 10).
Jesus makes the outrageous assertion that, "God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son."
Today I am not so upset with silly music, and create some myself. Other music can make me more aware of God, and because God participates in that, I call it sacred music. Some places are places where God works, and therefore for my concerns are holy places. But that sacred music and those holy places depend on people, and I tend to recognize their significance only after the fact. Despite the knavery and distractions humans present, the holiest items around me are people. Dangerous people, challenging people, comforting people, creative people, instructive people, encouraging people, and many other kinds. I admit that whereas I was often disgusted, now I am more often intimidated if not by how people exhibit God's image, at least by their potential to do so. A holy place attracts sentiment, but it will crumble. God has created human beings in his image. People are where God has declared that he wants to live.