Holiness vs. Wholeness
I have never felt holy. I suppose as a pastor I ought to have had a few moments when I have, but there it is. I have never felt holy.
And I guess I would define "holiness" as a certain kind of serenity combined with wisdom---a way of staying above the fray, calm in the midst of chaos, and always ready with just the right theological reflection to share in any given moment.
The people I've met who would classify as "holy" had a kind of peaceful aura about them. You could almost see it emanating from them.
When you were with them, you felt like you were in the presence of something unique, and you kind of felt like you could have told them anything and they would have responded with exactly what you needed to hear.
As I write this, I realize how unrealistic my expectations were for these people, though.
I typically saw them or met with them at their very best. I didn't sit with them in their moments of doubt. I didn't see them get angry, or impatient. In other words, I never saw them be truly human.
Fr. Richard Rohr was one of those people for me. But he wrote something that gave me cause for reflection on the whole idea of holiness. This is what he said:
Holiness does not mean people are psychologically or morally perfect (a common confusion), but that they are capable of seeing and enjoying things in a much more “whole” and compassionate way, even if they sometimes fail at it themselves.
This was a liberating statement for me because I have always equated holiness with the state of being, as Fr. Richard notes, "psychologically or morally perfect." In the churches that I grew up in to be holy meant that you didn't "sin."
To put it another way, if you wanted to be holy you eschewed "worldliness" and all that it entailed, which meant you were focused on living a moral life with laser-like focus.
This meant no smoking, drinking, having sex outside of marriage, listening to rock and or roll music, no cussing (unless you were condemning a sinner), no watching R-rated movies, and the like. Also, you most definitely couldn't be gay, feminist, or a Democrat.
It's easy to sit in my emotional distance from all of that and offer up a rueful smile and a strained chuckle at how myopic that way of living was/is. But the fact of the matter is that I have carried with me so many of those twisted ways of perceiving holiness for most of my life.
I love how Fr. Richard equates "holiness" with "wholeness." A "whole" person sees their imperfections, foibles, and brokenness within a larger framework of grace and love. They are able to see themselves, in other words, as God sees them.
May you strive toward wholeness today and every day. May you realize that holiness comes from learning to accept yourself as you are, and know that you are a work in progress. May you also learn to see others, and the world around them as they are, too. May you discover new peace and hope for tomorrow.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.
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