Ever been speechless? Just couldn't find words to express what you were feeling? Been so overwhelmed by something or someone you couldn't manage to stammer or stutter or utter a sound? It happens and it is often a moment of holiness when it does. Whether you are experiencing awe or anger, pay attention. The holiness has something to teach you.
We get the awe, don't we? Great beauty. Gorgeous music. Glorious architecture. Generous kindness. But anger? Perhaps it is outrage at horrific tragedy that silences us. Unbelievably cruel behavior that stuns us. Unwarranted suffering that moves us beyond expression. It's all bound up in the sanctity of life. The holiness of humanity.
Eugene Peterson, pastor, professor and producer of The Message, describes serving a congregation early in his ministry. He reports being disturbed by its members' boredom. He writes, "I had, it seemed, a whole congregation of saints and sinners who knew everything about the Christian life except that it was life. They knew the word 'Christian' pretty well and identified themselves as Christians. But life?" This observation led Peterson on a quest. Not for the latest ecclesiastical fix-it fad. Not for a well-stocked pastoral toolkit for success. For the Holy. The holy wherever and whenever and through whomever it might be experienced. Peterson proposes, "Holiness is the most attractive quality, the most intense experience we ever get of sheer life - authentic, firsthand living, not life looked at and enjoyed from a distance. We find ourselves in on the operations of God himself, not talking about them or reading about them. But at the very moment we find ourselves in on more than ourselves, we realize we also might very well lose ourselves. We cannot domesticate the holy... Holiness is a furnace that transforms the men and women who get too close to it."
There are numerous stories in the Old and New Testaments of Scripture which describe such transformation. Ordinary people stumble upon God or are summoned by the Christ or succumb to the love of a living Lord. And their lives are changed. And we may be both warned and warmed by their stories. We likely find Peter's blubbering in the presence of Moses, Elijah, and a glowing Jesus endearing. Awed by the glory. Blurting words when he should have remained silent. Aware of the sanctity of life. The holiness of God. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (10:31).
The careful caution Peterson offers us is this: "Holy Living requires us to be obedient in the place we find ourselves, faithful in work and worship. The circumstances are more often than not wilderness circumstances. But what we can be quite sure of is that the Holy, God's unmanageable but irrepressible life, is ever present and hidden within and around us. Unpredictably but most surely it breaks forth into our awareness from time to time. Holy, Holy, Holy. But don't expect to see it reported on the evening news." (The Holy Stump in Subversive Spirituality, 1997).