When I was fourteen, a favorite daily adventure after school was taking Pepi, my toy poodle, for a walk to a secret sanctuary in the woods. To get there, we’d walk just quarter of a mile down the main road to a meandering trail, leading to a narrow passage between thick thorn bushes. Squeezing between tangled, spiky bushes, holding Pepi close, I tolerated sharp pricks and scratches to my tender thighs as I entered my holy spot — a circular area with soft, breezy, wheat-colored grass hugged by stalwart, towering oaks greeting me like faithful elders at church doorways.
Herman Hesse once said, “Trees have always been the most penetrating preachers”.
Well on my way from my Catholic girlhood, no longer going to Sunday mass, I found solace in this sacred temple in the woods beneath the canopy of the great, wide sky. This haven was my Eden, a thin place to escape the world – where mom, drunk on her bedroom floor back home didn’t exist, where I wasn’t needed by younger siblings waiting for dinner, where I could escape dad’s sorrow and rage. This holy spot was a place where time stopped, even reversed, where I caught the train of childhood abandon – like the days when I ran sandy legged down long stretches of Long Island Beaches, swallowing breezes of joy, aiming high to fly with the gulls above the glimmering Atlantic. Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite authors, captures this holy innocence so beautifully in his book Sacred Journey.
“What child, while summer is happening bothers to think much that summer will end? He says, “childhood’s time is Adam and Eve’s time before they left the garden for good, and from that time on divided everything into before and after.”
We all need our sacred spots to rest and retreat from the world, and holy experiences to claim joy. But holiness isn’t only found by escaping to secret havens, or returning to our precious childhood memories. By turning our hearts toward God, holiness becomes a choice each day – a choice to dwell in the immense, transformative love God.
For a long time, the word ‘holy’ seemed to me like an old-fashioned, priestly word from ancient biblical texts, or one triggering the wide-eyed, fearful obedience I often felt in my Catholic girlhood.
Yet, holy is a word that deserves some dusting off, a polishing of it’s golden hue.
Holiness in Greek, hagious, means to be set apart or different. In other words, to be holy, is to belong to God, living God’s ways of holiness. In the Christian sense it means to become more Christ-like.
In Hebrew, the word for holy is “kadosh” or “qadash” –meaning to sanctify or consecrate.
Thanks to my new friend Rebecca who is studying Hebrew, she offers a richer Hebrew meaning for ‘holy’. –“Dosh” means “to thresh”; the concrete meaning of kadosh means “what follows the threshing“. She writes, “In the ancient culture, when they took their harvest to the threshing floor, the oxen would pull what looked like a sled or door with teeth on its back…and the ox would drag the sled back and forth over the grain. This process would break off the husk and stem of the wheat so that what is left is the valuable and usable grain. This “threshing” brings the harvest to it’s “fulfillment” and it is then prepared “to function in it’s design and purpose” (holy) and is then good for “food”. She says, when people do things God’s way….there is always “fruit”! By abiding in God’s love and engaging in daily spiritual practices, old patterns and unholy habits change forms, blooming into fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Some of the issues on my threshing floor this year transforming into fruits:
By setting ourselves apart, choosing holiness, we change. And in changing ourselves, we create change for those around us.
Gossip becomes loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Jealousy transforms to loving who we are because agape love offers gifts of contentment.
Anger changes to its opposite — where we become peacemakers in our homes and communities.
Impatience transforms into the fruit of the spirit – the virtue of patience.
Faithlessness becomes trust, hope, and faith, opening the doors of our life wide.
Unforgiveness, becomes forgiveness, transforming our lives and relationships.
Materialism and coveting become contentment, gratefulness, drinking simple moments.
Some have more difficult struggles such as sexual promiscuity (many of us have all been there in some form or another), pornography, or even criminal activities, – yet, by chosing holiness, with the help of God’s grace, (including Twelve-Step programs, ministries in prison, and caring friends and supporters), many go on to live holier, happier lives. For instance, in choosing holiness, sexual promiscuity becomes self-love and self-respect from the roots of God’s soil, where true love emerges.
What’s on your threshing floor right now? In what areas of your life do you need more holiness, what parts of your life do you need to sanctify?
What fruit of the spirit do you want in your life? What habit or pattern is blocking the ‘good’ fruit from blossoming?
What about a holy spot where you can go to reclaim joy? Can you visit there this week?