Apr 8 2015

Where Might We Find Holy Ground?

_DSC8003In the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts you will find Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin or ruling court of Israel.  He was put on trial for “speaking against this holy place (the temple) and against the law.”  (Acts 6:13)  How Stephen responds to these charges is absolutely amazing.  He had several points he wanted to make in his defense and one of these is that God cannot be tied down to one place or land.  The Jewish leaders of that day had come to believe that God’s presence was pretty much limited to the Temple itself.  In a sense they had put God in a box.  Stephen believed that was not possible and that the very thought was idolatrous.

In Stephen’s defense before the Jewish council he pointed out how God had from the beginning worked and made himself known outside of what they considered the “holy land.”  Contrary to what they might believe, no single place could be identified as God’s house, no area or region could be called the “holy land.”

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)I think this is something we need to consider still today.   Each religion has places it considers as holy land.  Many years ago I spent a month studying in Israel and Jordan.  For a lot of people the “holy land” is Palestine—the land of the Jewish patriarchs and eventually Jesus.  I’m thankful I got to spend a number of weeks there and certainly learned a lot by doing so, but in the end I had to come to the same conclusion as Stephen did, that no land is holier than any other.  What makes any land “holy” is God’s presence and God’s presence is not limited by any geographical border.

 

Going back to Stephen’s defense, at one point he reminded those who stood as his judges that when God confronted Moses through the burning bush God told him to take off his sandals for the ground he was standing on was holy ground.  (Exodus 3:5)  Where God encountered Moses was not in Israel.  Stephen wanted the Sanhedrin to remember that God has revealed himself in numerous places. Later Stephen brought up how Solomon would eventually build a temple for Israel but that even he realized that no earthly building could contain God.  Stephen quoted Isaiah 66:1-2 to drive home his point:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  Where is the house you will build for me?  Where will my resting place be?  Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’”

WY Grand Teton NP Oxbow BendGod is Maker of heaven and earth.  God cannot and will not be limited to any one building, land or group of people.  God can be encountered anywhere we happen to be.  It may well be in a beautiful sanctuary or shrine, or even in a place of significant religious importance, but God can just as easily be found in a local park, your backyard garden or your own home or workplace.  Stephen did not quote Isaiah 6:3 in his defense but very well could have.  Here the prophet Isaiah hears the angels calling to one another saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

If Stephen is right and the angels knew what they were talking about then we must conclude that the whole world is sacred and should be thought of as such.  We must not put limits on where God can speak or act.  You just never know when it comes to God; the place where you are at this very moment may well be holy ground.

–Chuck

(I took the images above in Michigan, California and Wyoming.)


Aug 19 2012

Take Off Your Shoes

Have you walked barefoot outdoors lately?  It’s not something we do much anymore.  For a number of reasons most of us typically have shoes or sandals on whenever we walk outside.  We may, however, want to make an exception from time to time.  This is something Philip Newell talks about in his books, A New Harmony and The Book of Creation.  He suggests that doing so could prove beneficial for seeing Creation.

Newell writes: “We all know what a difference it can make to be barefooted.  To feel the soft moisture of grass beneath our feet opens a new awareness in us.  It can allow us to see life with a different perspective.  The same, of course, can be said about walking on rough terrain.  To expose our feet to stony ground also leads to new awarenesses!  A heightened sense of the earth on which we walk is not just about pleasurable experiences.  It is about knowing and reverencing the creation of which we are a part.”

It would seem that many of us are cheating ourselves out of a more intimate relationship with Creation by always wearing shoes outdoors.  When our feet are covered we cannot feel the earth and we lose a degree of connection with it. As strange as it might sound, by always wearing shoes or sandals we limit our vision of Creation.  Certainly I am not proposing that we all dispose of our footwear but I would suggest that it might not be a bad idea from time to time to take off our shoes and socks and really feel the earth beneath your feet.  Since reading Philip’s books I have intentionally done that a number of times.  It really does make a difference!

Going barefoot outside periodically may help us to remember our connection to the earth and our call to be good stewards of it.  The great psychologist Carl Jung once wrote, “When you walk with naked feet, how can you ever forget the earth?”  Many of our current environmental problems have come about because we have, indeed, forgotten the earth.

Stepping outdoors without shoes might likewise help connect us to our Creator.  Exodus 3 records the story of Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush.  As Moses approached the burning bush God called his name and then said “Do not come any closer.  Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (v. 5)  Several years ago while studying in Israel I visited the famous Islamic shrine called the Dome of the Rock.  Before entering the shrine everyone had to take off their shoes.  Such a holy place required such reverence.

If you find yourself out in the yard or on a hike and you come to sense the nearness of God perhaps that would be a good time to stop and take off your shoes for a moment.  Or just do it from time to time to remind yourself that this world we live on truly is sacred.  It was made by God and He declared it to be good.  This earth should be considered holy, if for no other reason, because years ago God chose to inhabit it when He sent Christ into the world.

In all seriousness I encourage you to go walk barefoot in the park, to slip your naked feet into a stream, or to take your shoes and socks off and stand upon a bare rock.  Doing so may reconnect you to your childhood but even better, doing so may reconnect you to our Creator and the good earth.

–Chuck

(Sorry, I have no pictures of bare feet.  I took the top image at Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia, the middle image at Acadia National Park, and the bottom image on a forst trail in the Pacific Northwest.)