Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Holiness as Cosmic Gift for the World

Today has turned cloudy, a wind has come up, and a light wind is blowing in. As amazing as it all seems, the beauty of yesterday with its vibrant colors is fast fading as the strong breezes rip the leaves from their tenuous anchors. The gradual floating orphan leaf of Monday has become an all-out dervish-like swirl of piles of leaves today--rendering a somewhat barren landscape where, only yesterday, there was once great swaths of color.

Perhaps it was the sense of so much colorful loss that made it difficult to slave away in my basement chamber this morning after prayer. I would pick a footnote here or there, but coming up with something new and original seemed beyond me. I would rearrange a sentence or try adding a new paragraph, but this world of words, this world of my own creating, seemed to crumble like dust in my fingers. Scott Wenig's revised dissertation, Straightening the Altars, had arrived, and I spent part of the morning searching for data from original sources he had combed through, primarily in English Diocesan records.

Exasperated, I reached for the second volume in Gordon Lathrop's trilogy, Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology. I was quickly struck by a section near the end in which he discusses the subject of "holiness"--something which quickens the pace of any good Wesleyan theologian. As I read, I found myself coming to something of an epiphany: holiness and hospitality are inherently symbiotic. Here's the relevant section--

"The Christian practice of holiness must always involve the subversion of all religious ideas of holiness. If Jesus Christ is our holiness, then holiness is no longer separation and ritual purity and perfect observance. In Christ, holiness is connection with others. It is the unclean cross and life through death and welcome to the outsiders and transformative mercy for the world. If the meeting constitutes just us as the insiders, then Christian holiness involves the subversion of the meeting. It involves the transformation of the meeting to be much more than our social conventions of gathering, from any culture, could ever make it. The practice of holiness involves the constant work on the open door, both that all others may come in and that what is seen in the liturgy may flow out. The practice of holiness is the discovery of God's gift to all of us, together."

It seems to me, as something of an historian, that we Holiness folk had the right inclination, but the wrong theology and sociology. If, as Martin Luther suggested, sin is incurvatum se (something turned in on itself), our attempts at inculcating a holy life individually was doomed to failure because holiness is essentially a social project to be undertaken within community and for the good of all of creation. While a single brilliant leaf might be but a colorful apparition to the viewer, the forest come alive with color beckons all to give thanks to the Creator God. The quest for holiness, then, must not be about ME becoming more like God for the sake of myself but must, of necessity, be a corporate quest with cosmic implications.