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Growth in Holiness

When I was younger, I never would have used the title of this inspirational piece.  I did not like the word, holiness.  Of course, I really did not know what it meant.  I associated the word with some of the churches in my small town that seemed too far “out there” for me.  Again, if you had asked me to explain myself, I would not know how to do it.  I had two ideas from that tradition. 
The first and probably better idea came from a couple of my school friends who actually went to a church that emphasized holiness.  I inferred from them whatever thoughts I had about their church.  When I was a kid, the most impressive (or depressive) thing was the fact that my two friends, who were both guys, could not play basketball.  It was not because they could not play; I saw them play on the school ground at recess.  They were not great, but they could hold their own.  They could not play because when you played on the team, you had to wear shorts.  It never occurred to me that some church would decide I couldn’t play ball because I would have to wear shorts. 
The second idea I had about the holiness churches came through a common prejudice.  Of course, when you are a kid, nobody announces “this is a prejudice” right before they share one of their “truths!”  Kids tend to be literalists.  When someone tells you something, the tendency is to believe it.  At least, that is how I grew up.  And so the prejudicial word was that holiness churches were made up of “holy rollers.”  I did not know for sure what this meant, but my imagination ran wild.  I had visions of people rocking down the aisles, probably to wild rhythmic music and perhaps spiritually out of control.  Quakers seem perfectly benign compared to my imaginative scene.
Of course, no one asked me how I squared a wild spiritual scene with not being able to play basketball because you can’t wear shorts.  I would learn that my ideas had almost no basis in reality.  To make matters worse, I never visited one of these places nor bothered to talk to some people in order to learn something.  Fortunately, I began to learn some things a bit later in my experience.
One of the coolest things I did in seminary was to learn Greek.  I needed to know Greek in order to read the original language of the New Testament.  It was also necessary for doing my dissertation for my Ph.D.  When I hit the word “holy” in Greek, it was like a direct revelation from God.  Holy is a chief descriptive term for God’s nature.  God is holy.  A related word is sacred.  To be holy is to be sacred (which comes from the Latin).  A church or temple can be holy.  It is the place or space where you encounter the Divinity.  My own Quaker theology affirmed that any place or space can be holy or sacred. 
Often it is the human being who messes up holiness or the sacred.  When that happens, we call it sacrilege.  Another way of describing the messing up is to call it profaning.  It is an easy jump to language and the role of profanity.  It is a kind of desecration of language.  The same thing can happen to life.  We can dedicate our lives to a kind of profanity.  We can mess up.  Certainly, we can desecrate our life.  In fact, some forms of profanity and desecration are so normal and culturally acceptable, no one even thinks about it that way.
All this leads me to one of my favorite contemporary writers on spirituality, Richard Rohr.  I have read many of his books as well as follow his regular tidbits offered through his blog.  Recently, he wrote a piece on the “Spirituality of the Beatitudes.”  I know some of my students would have no clue what a beatitude is.  They do not know the string of “blessed are the…” sayings of Jesus found in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. 

Since I do know about beatitudes, I was intrigued how Rohr developed his idea.  He says, “Religion is not about heroic will power or winning or being right.  This has been a counterfeit for holiness in much of Christian history.”  I can agree with him.  As I learned, holiness is not just a term my two friends used to talk about their tradition.  Holiness is a term that fits all the prim and proper Christians who may not have what some would call a “living faith.”  It is easy to settle for the rules.

Rohr continues his thought.  “True growth in holiness is a growth in willingness to love and be loved and a surrendering of willfulness, even holy willfulness (which is still “all about me”).”  When I read something like this, I just want to say, “YES.”  Growth in holiness would be learning to leave my profanity and growing closer to God.  It is learning to live in the sanctuary, not the cesspool of life.  Holiness invites a process of growing.  And its goal is simple: love.

To grow in holiness is to grow in willingness to love and be loved.  Well, that may be simple, but it is not always easy.  But it is a worthy goal.  To aim for this is to aim for what Jesus sought: to love and be loved.  To this Rohr adds, growing in holiness requires surrendering our willfulness.  This is precisely the point in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “thy will be done.”

Growth in holiness happens when those words of the Lord’s Prayer become the reality of our life.  In my spirituality I can grow in holiness and still wear shorts when I play basketball.

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