Isaiah 57:15 speaks so to my heart this morning. The Lord tells Isaiah and through Isaiah each of us that God both dwells in the high and holy places of this world and also, most especially, in the humble and open heart. Probably Isaiah had in mind the courts of the temple, resplendent with wealth and glory, where worshippers will gather from miles away by the thousands. Isaiah first felt God’s presence in the vision of God as king high and lifted up, surrounding by the shining host of heaven, in just such a place.
I think we all have holy places, what the Celtics called “thin spaces”, where we feel particularly close to God. It may be a temple like Isaiah, a church where we go where we are open to an awareness with God. I’d never thought I had such a feeling of thin spaces in church buildings but instead felt more of a nearness to God in nature until I returned with my wife to a church we worshipped at during a particular trying transition in my life, Calvary Methodist in Durham. It is a quaint but beautiful little church that when we worshipped at had a special outreach to gay and lesbian couples, where old wise saints of decades wrapped their arms around gay youth in loving embrace. I worshipped there at a time I had felt called into a new ministry of such welcome only to have it fall apart, seemingly unfinished, at great personal cost. That church was a place of healing for me, where Kat and I could renew our relationship to each other, where I could lick my wounds and heal my soul, and also where I could see the vision of church as a community where all are welcome was not a pipe dream but could be a reality, for though not perfect Calvary was doing its best to be just that. When we re-visited that church, I felt the Spirit like the quiet cool pitter patter of rain breaking out on a hot summer day all about me. I felt my heart open up and knew I was in a thin space for me, a place my heart opened to God.
I find this too when I go to the hills and mountains of Appalachia. There is something to sitting overlooking rolling hills in every direction, seeing yourself astride on rocks which share space with clouds, which makes you realize how large life is, and how tiny. Whenever I get to go to the mountains as I did last October and will again this for our church’s retreat at Blowing Rock Assembly grounds, I find myself opening to God in all of my senses, as if they are made alive by some spiritual electricity in the air.
These thin spaces are not any more holy than anywhere else, for we know a God who lives in, through, with, and under all things. This God is always nearer than the air that we breathe, closer than the sunshine on our shoulders. But we are not always open to this. These thin spaces are places where we are able to stop, to pause, to interrupt our routines because of how different the places are and truly see. We see what is always true, but which is made shockingly evident by the way the location opens us up to the ever-present Truth we know as the living Christ.
It is easy to think God is only there, with us, in holy places. Yet Isaiah says, no, God most especially dwells always, ever, in the heart of one open, humble, pliant to God. This saying reminds me of a saying Sufi mystic and prophet Rumi. He said a challenging and sometimes misunderstood statement – forget the mosques and temples, he said, for God does not dwell there. If God does not dwell already in your own heart, you will not find God in those temples; but if God does dwell in your heart, you will find God wherever you look. As most prophets, Rumi did not mean literally temples or mosques do not matter, but rather what counts is an open heart. For those open to God in each moment, they can find God within their life in every experience. For me, this is the goal of the spiritual life: to open my awareness to that of God in each moment, in each place, in each person.
I’d love to hear from you how you find God in each moment, in each person, in your life.
Your progressive redneck preacher,