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  • Writer's pictureTom Emanuel

HOLY, HOLY, HOLY... This Week at UCCW

“Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity! Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!” –Allen Ginsberg, “Footnote to Howl”

“Holy, holy, holy is the GOD of hosts; the whole earth is full of GOD’s glory!” the angels sing in this week’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah (6:1-8). But what even is holiness?

That’s a big question in Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s new book SHAMELESS: A Sexual Reformation, which our Good Books group picked up this past Sunday. She’s particularly interested in how our (mis)conceptions about holiness influence our relationship to our bodies and the bodies of others. Contrasting it with so-called “purity” and moral perfectionism, she defines holiness as “the union we experience with one another and with God.” (p. 19)

Certainly, the holiest experiences I’ve ever had have been when I’ve felt most at one with others, with God, and with myself. For instance, I’ll never forget a youth meeting I helped organize on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 2013. Five hundred young people, Native and non-Native, from all around the world came together to camp out on the edge of the Badlands for three days of prayer and shared life.

On the first night of the meeting, all five hundred of us gathered in a natural amphitheater overlooking the Cheyenne River to pray in song. Under a rising moon, we sang together a Lakota prayer to Wakantanka, that is, God. The word Wakantanka literally means “Great Holiness” or “Great Mystery.” And as I later learned from a Lakota elder, that word for holiness, wakan, is related to the Lakota word for the umbilical cord. Holiness equals connection – and seldom have I felt more connected than that moment when five hundred voice joined as one under a Badlands moonrise.

We live in a world that actively tries to disconnect us from one another and from ourselves. When we are atomized and isolated, we are easier to manipulate and exploit, easier to divide and conquer. When we experience union, however, we realize that real peace and belonging, deep healing and friendship across difference, are not only possible – they are the very stuff of God.

This week, I pray that we may all experience moments of such holiness, reconnecting reminders of the wholeness and belonging at the heart of all that is.

Blessin’s, --Tom

QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK: Have you ever felt “union with one another and with God?” If so, how did that experience change you? What might it mean to pursue holiness-as-connection, rather than “moral purity?

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