What does a holy place feel like?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. I ask that you please pause a moment and think seriously about your answer before reading further.
I asked this question to one of my students the other day. She has been struggling with her faith and prayer life. My spiritual director asked me this question last month when I was describing a difficult phase in my life and prayer. Both her answer and my initial response were similar.
My first response to this question was to say that a holy place should feel like peace and serenity, joy and happiness. I could even add a place of rejuvenation, healing, and transformation. But all of this is what I want a holy place to feel like, as if a holy place felt like a tiny piece of heaven on earth.
That image is not wrong, but it cannot be the only answer. There are many different ways to experience the world, and many different ways to experience God. Everyone is unique and is at different stages in their journey home. A holy place does not have to feel like a part of heaven to be holy. Love does not depend on feelings.
And then I thought of Good Friday. The Cross, the ground around it and that moment in time, was a most holy place indeed, and it was far from being peaceful and serene. It was a holy place of deep sorrow and pain, of much doubt, confusion, and fear. It was and still is a place of trust and transformation. Through the Cross, Christ transforms sorrow into joy, pain into happiness, doubt into faith, confusion into understanding, fear into hope, death into life, and defeat into victory, all held in a trust in God.
Spiritual consolation comes from God. Desolation does not, but God is going to use it to bring you closer to Him, if you let Him. Regardless of how one feels, I think you are in a holy place any time you choose to trust in God. Ah! Overcoming the fear of letting go and surrendering. No wonder Jesus’ first words were often, “Do not be afraid.”
The search for an answer to this question also illustrates a simple fact that our preconceived notions of God limit our experiences of God. Again, let go, let God. Be open. All is gift, but if you are only looking for a certain type of gift, then what could you be missing?
As I was writing this post, I found two quotes at Video meliora… by Msgr. Lane that seem most fitting:
It is human nature to be threatened by holiness since we have constructed a world and are comfortable with it as it is.
[Jesus] asks us to come, little by little, inviting us to come closer. It is fraught with failure and we experience it in our human relations. Love is existential, experiential, you can’t learn it from a definition from a book, even Scripture. It has to be made concrete, in the harshness of saying ‘yes’ amid the chaos, as Mary and John did at the foot of the Cross. A relationship with God is not behavioral, moral in the sense of “I’m a good person”. It is relational, an invitation and beckoning to come nearer.
A holy place is relational, saying “yes” to “an invitation and beckoning to come nearer” to God.