July 9, 2016 | Song of Solomon 2: 1-13 | Anne Ellis
Back in May, I shared with the congregation my experiences at some of the Holy Places I visited in Israel, on that day, I asked, all of you, the congregation where some of your Holy Places were. There were lots of answers – people talked about Rivers and Lakes they like to go to, places in the interior, places on the ocean. Churches and Cathedrals in Europe. And Here, our church at Mount Seymour, be it sunday service, or the thrift shop, or other groups that meet here.
I was mindful of time that week, and didn’t ask the question – why?
Why are these places holy to you? I was curious and I’m sure that other people were too. So I decided to make it theme for this week – Where are your Holy Places and Why?
And another question I wonder about- why do we need them?
For me, the answer is our Scripture passage for today. Which needs a little story. We don’t follow ‘the lectionary’ on a regular basis here. The lectionary, if you didn’t know is a listing of scripture passages for each week of the year. Many churches ‘follow the lectionary’ which means they look up the scripture for the week and base the theme of the service on one or more of the passages.
Here, we often pick themes for a block of time and find passages that fit, then write our sermons.
For me, I knew I wanted to talk about Holy Places, so it was a matter of finding a good passage. It was the search for the passage that really helped me to define, what I mean when I say ‘Holy Place’.
There’s lots of passages in the bible about Holy Places. Entire books of the Hebrew Scriptures are about The Holy Place – the tabernacle for the art of the covenant and the temple in Jerusalem. If you want you can read in great detail exactly what size and shape these holy places were to be, what decorations they would have, how to approach them for prayer and sacrifice.
But none of those passages really fit. I looked at the passage about Moses meeting God’s presence by the burning bush. Moses is told to, ‘take off his sandals, he’s on Holy Ground’. The passage is powerful and sort of worked. It did happen outside, and many of us consider our Holy Places to be outside as well, so I considered it. But it was missing — something.
What that something was, I wasn’t totally clear. But none of the passages I looked up using keywords like ‘Holy Place’ or ‘Holy Ground’ fit. There’s some really nice Psalms about God in nature: still waters, green pastures, thirsty deer, high places and flowing rivers – and I had a couple in mind that were okay, but again, not perfect.
They just weren’t expressing what I was looking for. Feeling like I was never going to find one with the right expression, I decided on – Psalm 24 – because it starts with talking about the world as belonging to God and connected Nature: to Holy Places outside, where so many of us mentioned finding Holy Places.
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
2 for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
This was lovely – the Holy places – a hill, the sea, the river. Holy places founded on seas, established by rivers. Lovely. I should have stopped reading right there.
Who shall stand in his holy place?
4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these lines. Clean hands and pure hearts are wonderful things, but again, for me – it kinda killed the mood. I mean, again, for me the Holy Places I seek would be where I would go if my heart wasn’t feeling pure, or my soul needed to be cleansed of what is false. For me, these lines made me think I’d need to be in a perfect state of being before going to the Holy Place – which defeats the purpose.
The Psalm is talking about The Holy Place – the temple, which at the time, someone going there would have to complete some pretty complicated purification rituals. This is not my Holy Place.
So, before I committed to the first few lines on the Psalm, I looked up the lectionary for this week, a sort of last ditch effort to find inspiration, and there among Genesis, Zachariah and Matthew – the Song of Solomon.
We don’t read the Song of Solomon much, and I’m not sure why, because as I read the passage, I was there – I was in the Holy Place the writer is speaking of – Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away, for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come… the vines are in blossom, they give forth fragrance.
My throat catches on these words, they are so beautiful, so full of – Awe.
And that’s was I was looking for, that’s the something that was missing from all the other passages – Awe.
Because when I am in a Holy Place, when I am open to the experience of a Holy Place that’s what I feel – Awe. My breathing changes, my head feels light. I am, as the passage says sustained, refreshed and faint with love.
I read that passage and I was, for a time, back in the places where I’ve felt the most connected to God and the Divine.
From this I could answer the Why questions. Why do I need holy places? Because there is a part of me that is fed by the experience of Holy Places. Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples, I am faint with love – I think of walking down to the Seymour River, along the paths near my home.
We eat apples as we hike and before the rockfall and the flooding of the upper part of the river we had a place to swim and be refreshed. I love that spot along the river and it is there that I have felt so deeply connected to the Holy many many times and I crave to go back there again and again, just to get a taste of that feeling.
Right now, in my backyard, the roses and Valerian are in bloom. It is the most amazing smell: Valarian – the flowers (not the horrid smelling root). It smells similar to Jasmine, honey and roses and I don’t know what else -just trust me- it’s amazing and I don’t even have words for what I feel when I go out in my backyard, surrounded by trees and birds and flowers that smell so good. I can pick the fresh strawberries and muddle the mint leaves, watch the hummingbirds and it’s just – awe.
I can feel my chest open up, my muscles relax, my breathing become deeper and my feet become grounded. It’s all just feels a little different. The world just looks a little bit different.
I’ve found that a lot of people just know that experience – they’ve had it too. They’ve been somewhere and felt it, but it’s so hard to put words to it. While others, just look at me a little bit strangely and change the subject.
That’s ok. Some of us just need that as part of our lives – it’s why people create Holy places – public ones and private ones. Because there’s enough of us out there that recognize the need and seek it out.
When I asked this question a couple of months ago, many of us talked about places outside and I made a joke about no one mentioning this place – Our Church. And I don’t think any of us meant to leave the church out, we just, sometimes forget – no, forget isn’t the right word- maybe it’s that we’re used to the Holy that surrounds us here, we’re comfortable with it and know it so well, it’s easy to overlook.
A “Holy Place”, capitalized, implies a place to travel to, a place of pilgrimage, and I don’t think of this place that way. For me, here, the Holy is found in the community, in the comfort, friendship and support that exists here. That’s a different experience of Holy, with just as much value and awe as the other kinds, yet easier to explain. We would be remiss if we were to take it for granted, because there is a lot of mystery and awe to be found here.
So enough about me and my holy places. I invite you to consider your Holy places and also to consider why they are Holy to you. If you don’t have a holy place, if you haven’t had an experience like this, then maybe consider – what might you need to make it possible for such an experience to take place?
Then, write it down on these sticky notes and come up and stick them on the board. If you want too. Maybe you want to keep the reminder of your holy place to yourself, which is just fine. And you don’t have to write anything down if you don’t want to either. I would like to see the places in our world that we all feel are Holy, I think others would too – and that’s my invitation to you – to share.
We won’t have time this morning to share everyone’s out loud, but we can share a few from those willing. The rest we can read in our own time on this board later on.
Please, share your Holy Places.