(19 years ago, I was asked to speak at St. Paul's/St. James in New Haven about "What is Holy?" I served St. Paul's for 5 years back in the 80's, before it merged with St. James. My talk was almost an hour long, so I'll just post the first part and will post other parts as time passes.)
March 7, 2002--WHAT IS HOLY?
1. How dare you ask...?
Just several nights ago, when I was beginning to think about putting some words on paper that I would then read to you in a week or so about "What is Holy?", I noticed a severely distressed lemon in the basket where we tend to keep fruit and car keys and my cell phone and unopened mail. That lemon was growing brown and had wilted greatly, to less than half it's size when it was new and fresh. I smelled it a long time. It smelled powerfully of lemon. And then I ran my front teeth across it to scrape away a little of the peel--and it had that unmistakable 'lemon' taste--only more so--more intense and engaging and challenging.
Had you asked me where I found 'lemon' in my life, I would have had an immediate answer. That lemon. The one that was wilted and turning brown. The one we had forgotten to use when it was fresh and ready for use. That lemon was the very essence and identity and example of 'what is lemon' in my life--right then, right now, always and forever, eternally, "lemon-ness" in the moment. The moment of my life. Simply that.
But you didn't ask me to speak about what is 'ultimate lemon'. You asked me about 'What is Holy?' and how the Holy shows up to me and occurs to me and interacts with me and is One with me...you have asked me to talk about all that.
How dare you?
The Holy, it seems to me, has this capacity and way of being--it shows up to each of us in remarkably personal and private ways. It is--on one level--an 'invasion of my privacy' to be asked to speak about the Holy in my life. It is--in that one way, on that one level--like asking me to share with you the stuff I floss from between my teeth or the stuff from beneath my fingernails that I wash away by clawing the bar of Ivory soap when I shower. The Holy--to me, on one level--is like the lint I find in the pockets after I wash my pants--lint entwined with toothpicks and forgotten coins and 'washed and dried' phone notes and kleenex and useless matchbooks.
(When I was a boy in the lush, overpowering beautiful mountains of southern West Virginia, there was an impaired man named Davis Spinnet--a giant, hulking, totally harmless 300 pound man--who would walk the roadways and the paths of that place where I grew up and pick up dead creatures and put them in his pockets. His sister, Gladys Spinnet--many years his senior--would empty Davis' pockets each night and bury the tiny frog and mouse and lizard and mole and bat corpses he would collect during the day. But before that--before he went home to have his collection buried by his sister--Davis would pull the dead things from his pocket to show children. This was all before people decided that folks like Davis should be locked away to protect us from his wisdom. We kids would scram and run in fear from the dead things Davis showed us. But now, I decided much later--I look back and realize he held them out to us to show us 'holy things'.)
One of the things I consider and hold as 'holy' are the dead things in our pockets.
How dare you ask me about what is 'holy'? How dare you to invite me to empty my pockets and show you the dark secrets there?
And how dare you give me an hour to talk about anything???
I'll tell you more than you want to know in so long a time.
But there is this: I see around me the faces of people I love--old friends, new friends, friends yet to be. So I forgive you your impertinence--the gall you have to ask me such a personal, private question.
I am glad to be here. It is a privilege to 'empty my pockets' in your presence--to hold out long hidden and dead things, to invite you into the darkness of my private self, into the the astonishing shadows of my life, into 'what is holy' to me.