I came across this sign whilst walking near a memorial in a local park…it made me wonder, what is more holy about the ground where we memorialise compared with the ground which we tread each day…? Last summer I went to a conference for people from a more catholic tradition who wanted to craft worship opportunities in a more creative way. Over the days that we were there the worship space had a sandpit in the middle of it. The sand was used in a variety of ways to illustrate or provoke thought. On one occasion we were invited to take a small jar of the sand away with us, as our little bit of ‘holy ground’. The jar lid did not stay firmly in place and in no time I had bits of holy ground everywhere…but that was the joy of it! All ground is holy, or space where God dwells, surely? How often do we notice it though? How often do we act like it is?
I’ve not blogged for a few weeks as I had a writing week (for my MA dissertation research), then a week of leave to rest and recharge. Amidst the rest I met this lovely duck as the sun went down one evening. She was swimming with her 11 ducklings, and yet she had such a sense of calm around her as she trod water, and stayed visible as her ducklings zoomed around excitedly. She seemed to feel the smile of God shining down on her; so assured of herself and her focus in the sacrament of this moment. It made me question, is it any wonder that I so often feel overwhelmed with so much going on in my head, rather than focusing on this moment, this sacred space and just deal with what that presents…? Is it possible to live within this simplicity and the sacrament of now, whilst also managing to achieve all that needs to be achieved?
“Whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it.”Barbara Brown Taylor: An Altar in the World
Inspired by the call for church to change, and by Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World, I have been pondering what an altar in the world might look like. This morning I saw a gorgeous robin stood on our patio table just surveying the space; it felt like beautifully hallowed ground! This morning has been somewhat cooler, but the other day I was sat in the garden praying, and the birdsongs took my attention – it was like they were providing the heavenly worship as I communed with God. It was one of those moments that I would love to put in a bottle and cherish.
This morning as I spoke with a parishioner on the phone, I asked her about how she was. She said that she was lamenting ‘church’ which for her is dedicated time to commune with God and fellow Christians. In the next breath she told me, ‘of course I have an altar at home,’ and went on to describe what that looked like, and how she used it. She was so animated when speaking about the space which for her was ‘holy ground’.
What does your altar look like? Is it a space in your home which you have dedicated to spending time with God, or somewhere you came across completely by accident? How do you use this space?
Last summer I was at a conference where the middle of the chapel had a huge square of sand. The sand was blessed, and we used it in various ways for each time of worship we shared in. At one point we were asked to take a jar of the ‘holy ground’ and spread it around…I found sand all over my suitcase when I got home, but there was something poignant about that holy ground seeping into everyday life. How does holy ground make its way into each part of our lives? How do we make sure all that we do takes place on holy ground?
Whilst it seems a strange request, I wanted to have a visual backdrop which allows for the opportunity to almost freeze the moment…what I got was so much richer.
The realisation that there are as many ways of celebrating the Eucharist as their are priests.
We are all a product of our own experiences of the Eucharist, and those who have shaped us along our journey.
As well as providing an opportunity with God, the Eucharist affords us an encounter with those who have gone before, and have contributed in some small way to who God has formed us to be…
The Eucharist is not only a celebration of the Last Supper, but also a reminder of the diversity of God and God’s people…
Of our togetherness…
And our brokenness.
It is an outpouring of God who ‘Goes-between’ (to coin a phrase of John V Taylor) each of us, to draw us into communion with God and, most beautifully, with one another.
God meets us in the silence, in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of wine. It was a beautiful opportunity to experience this sacred meal through the eyes of another.
Torii, a link between the sacred and profane – a gate to gods and all that lies beyond. Does this mean that God is there and not here? Are we left without guidance or care unless we search for it? And when we seek, is it enough to pass through, beyond? Who is there to greet us, and how far should we go?
So many questions spring from a deep desire for the divine, to encounter the one who created, formed and fashioned. Yet this Shinto shrine is not where HaShem dwells. Instead people come to pay respects to Kami gods. Does this mean that God is absent, the Alpha and Omega is limited by space and belief?
So often we are guilty of confining God, of organising God within our own understanding. Why is this torii filled expression of God not acceptable? That deep yearning to know, to be heard, to find that which lies beyond propels people to pursue, to purify themselves and pray. It is beautiful and honourable.
Even though these expressions do not fit with that western, middle-class, male driven understanding of God and worship, does that make them second rate, or worse, unacceptable? Must all ritual and practice fit into one single understanding of God and salvation? Is Jesus the Christ absent in this space?
Does Jesus, our intercessor, fail to hear or acknowledge the steady stream of pleas written on ema? Does he refuse to take them to God our Creator? Is this a place where the Holy Spirit refuses to go-between one and another? Is the Trinity absent or unwelcome here? I cannot conceive that it would be so.
God is not limited by time and space – Adonai cares for creation, people and place. God is here as I pass through the Torii, and God is present on my return. God lives in each of us, we see an echo of that divine, perfect face in one another. Torii, rather than being a gate towards the sacred, is a reminder that God is here – now.
I have loved going to places of pilgrimage in Tokyo and blending into the background as I watch the expectation of the sacred or seeking of the experience of the sacred. Yet at Sensouji, it was not so much the obvious places where I found the sacred, but somewhat off the beaten track. Old treasure, lighting, stillness, solitude or the wind offered wonderful reminders of that ever present divinity – if only we will stop long enough to look, to see, to hear and to feel.
I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the ways in which difference is held together in Japan, and the Japanese understanding of beauty and stillness. I have been struck by the number of people from other lands who have made Japan their home for so many years, as well as reflecting on my own story, and why I returned to Britain after living here for four years. There is a mix of ancient and modern, secular and sacred, stillness and disturbance, each held in such close proximity.
There can be invitation alongside hostility…
…it can feel like two parallel universes; equally as a foreigner here, all that I have known can feel like it is from a parallel universe, one that is presently inaccessible.
Rituals and respectfulness can demonstrate the beauty of the soul.
Often blue sky and sunshine can elevate the soul.
Equally, without warning, unfortunate events unfold; those that you would much rather leave behind or not have to receive, like ‘bad fortunes’ that can be left in the safety of the shrine rather than accompanying you home.
Then there are customs which bring you to your knees, like these prayers for children – especially those who did not have very long with us – given hats and bibs to keep them warm, as well as windmills to offer relief from the sun.
It seems that there is nowhere quite like this wonderful place of contradictions amidst harmony – where space or stillness is sought after within a busyness that I may never truly understand….
#575 I’m writing about the #eucharist as a #sacrament at the moment and have been struck by how far away from #Jewishfellowshipmeals this has come. What is so special about a eucharist service? What do we do in them that is about us rather than God? Is every eucharist a #divineencounter? We had an #americana themed eucharist this week, which completely transformed the shape of the service, and went some way to finding the balance between the formal and the informal, the sacred and the secular, God and humanity. #trulyspecial