15 February 2008

Be Holy As I am Holy; Be Holy Because I am Holy

Last Thursday's readings set before us the agenda of Lent, but also of Life itself. The imperative that involved, we were reminded, was, "Choose Life, not Death; the blessing and not the curse." The focus in those readings afirmed that, 1) Genuine Selfhood is a gift of God which is received only in ongoing attentive and responsive listening to the Word of God who dwells in the core of our being, and 2) the kind of attentive and responsive listening is what the Scriptures call obedience. What was implied was that to the extent we are our truest selves, we are actually a COMMUNION WITH GOD. As my favorite poet, e.e. cummings might say, the most real or truest "I" is actually a "WE."

But the dynamism and relationality (the living "WE-ness") which is the human self is not completely described by or limited to this particular receptivity and obedience. As important as it is, it remains only a part of the picture of what it means to have or be a Self, only a part therefore, of what it means to CHOOSE LIFE! Today's readings (Monday of the second week in Lent) help complete the picture by focusing on the nature of human holiness, on being holy as God is holy, on being Holy BECAUSE God is holy and we ourselves ARE COMMUNION with him. The surprise, I think, is that holiness is every bit as much a matter of relationality (of "We-ness") as is obedience. It is also as dynamic, but here the accent is not on receiving a self/life, but on giving it away, on spending ourselves for the sake of the other, and for God as well.

Misunderstandings of holiness abound. Perhaps the most common sees holiness as a kind of moral perfection, static and self-centered, and involving the cultivation of virtues or sets of virtues we then hang onto or guard zealously like some hothouse plants until death intervenes. At that point God is seen to weigh the degree of holiness we have achieved and reward us for it, one way or another. Righteousness in this view, which is nearly a synonym for holiness, comes to mean, we think, a kind of moral superiority or rightness which separates us from others --- at least in our own minds! But the picture of holiness painted in today's readings could not be more contrary to these senses!!

Instead, today's lections identify holiness with being there for the neighbor, with treating them with justice (that is, with the dignity they deserve as God's own creation and tabernacle), with dealing with the least among us as God has dealt with us, and in fact, treating them as we would God himself because they are called to the very same selfhood, the very same life incarnating God that we are. God's Word grounds and is at work in them just as he is in us. Further, they are called to mediate this life to the rest of the world just as we are, and we are meant to help this happen.

While it is true that according to today's readings we are holy to the extent God is alive and at work in us, the focus is on a holiness measured in terms of the extent to which we spend ourselves for others, and allow the gift of Selfhood God continually bestows to become a gift others are enabled to receive as well. We are holy to the extent we assist others to truly become the selves they are summoned to be in God. Holiness, according to today's reading is very much a matter of being loved by God with an everlasting love we never merit or earn, but precisely because of this, claiming as ours to cherish all that is cherished by Him, and in the same way --- empowering them to live from and mediate God's own presence as well.

Genuine holiness then, today's readings tell us, is not a form of spiritual narcissism, but a state of being claimed by God and belonging to him heart, mind, and body. Holiness, in this view is fullness of life, a fullness which necessarily spills over to find and serve all those echoes or images of itself which exist in the rest creation. It is a state of wholeness which recognizes and affirms the most real "I" is always a matter of "WE"!