I woke up this morning with a kind of agitated melancholy, trying to summon up the plot of a dream that involved the landscapes of the San Gabriel Valley in my youth. It was some sort of Alta Dena/Sierra Madre back street, hilly, lined with tire shops and liquor stores. A guy in a jean jacket who looked like Gordon Lightfoot kept passing by us. (I can’t be certain who I was with, but I think it might have been one of my parents; I kept hearing my mother’s voice in my peripheral vision.)
The heart of the dream involved an acute sadness, some loss, some relationship-ending cruelty laid to my charge, but the details were gone — and the departure of the details left me feeling weirdly panicked, as though I might have been able to go back and fix things if I knew what had happened.
It’s useless to try to go back to sleep after that, but I usually try.
“Pursue peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
I took a stab at defining “holiness” for house church the other day, but only that — a light brush with it, a quick stab. R.C. Sproul spent a lifetime studying the holiness of God and admitted to still feeling mystified by it.
“Holiness” in Hebrew and Greek seems to speak to that which is “apart,” “sacred,” “consecrated” and “pure.” There is a passage in Ezekiel where the garments of the priests are put away so that their “holiness” will not be “transferred” to the people. When Moses is warned to take off his sandals, he’s also warned to keep his distance, because the ground is “holy,” so in some ways it appears to convey danger to the unclean. When God promises destructive justice, it seems to flow out of his “majestic” holiness. “Righteousness” seems also to proceed out of Holiness, and may be the product of it. Isaiah speaks of a “Holy Highway,” where fools cannot walk, so ignorance and stupidity have no place within “holiness.” And, yes, there’s a “clean, pure, consecrated” dimension of holiness.
We tend to think of holiness in terms of pietistic purity rituals, and there is a sober, temperate, modest dimension to the thing, but fearful power as well. Isaiah despaired being in its presence. “Woe is me. I am a man of unclean lips in a generation of the unclean.”
Will there be laughter in holy places? Will there be desire? Beauty? Was pre-Fall Eden a holy place? Our first parents could enjoy the presence of God without fear of His holiness, so it may be argued that the fall created a dangerous division between that which was unclean and that which was holy, that the departure of holiness from the world runs parallel to falling into sin, which brings decay, sickness and death.
I can remember the first time I heard believers described as “holy,” and my instincts recoiled at the thought. My experience with humanity, and myself, is distinctly UN-holy.
But I guess that’s the other thing about it. We may seek it, but we don’t create it out of ourselves. It’s given to us. It’s a hot coal from the altar that burns us clean.
“Behold, this has touched your lips; and your guilt is taken away and atonement is made for your sin.”