Guest columnist Rev. Julie G. Olmsted: Is everything holy?

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By REV. JULIE G. OLMSTED

Published: 03-27-2024 3:02 PM

Springtime, Holy Week, Passover. It’s all about looking deeply.

Palm Sunday kicked off what is the holiest time of the year for Christians, Holy Week. For many years I have meditated on this week, starting first and foremost with the question, “What has this to do with me?” It is a good entrée into what my Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh would call “looking deeply.” In his book “Living Buddha, Living Christ,” Thich says that the main purpose of any community is to look deeply. This means to give something more than a glance, more than a skimming of the text, more than, “Yeah, yeah, I know all about that.” It’s an openness to see something you haven’t seen, or maybe have forgotten.

I recently asked a new friend I met if she attended church anywhere. She said, “Naw. It’s all church to me now.” I understood but had a somewhat different take. Same way with Holy Week. My husband’s A Capella group “On That Note” sings an awesome song by Peter Mayer called Holy Now. Throughout the song there are the words, “Everything is holy now.” Here’s a few more words:

(Verse 2) When I was in Sunday school, we would learn about the time Moses split the sea in two, And Jesus made the water wine. And I remember feeling sad, Miracles don’t happen still, And now I can’t keep track — Cause everything’s a miracle. Everything, everything, everything’s a miracle.

How wonderful to be able to look deeply enough to see “all of it” around us as holy, as a miracle, especially as green shoots spring up around us and the sun shines a kindly light. But worries cloud our seeing, and resentments undermine our thoughts and ability to forgive and give thanks. Holy Week is about this. This, in part, should be the work of the church. Not insisting on everyone believe a certain way, but calling us all to look deeply, breathe deeply, recognizing the limits we have placed on what and who is holy and miraculous. The church, the beautiful church, has in many ways lost its way. If we as clergy and those who love and serve the church do our job, we will offer up opportunities to be present to and notice:

Beauty

Cruelty

Suffering

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Dearness and goodness in others and ourselves

Insensitivity and betrayal in others and ourselves

Celebration in times of sorrow

Sorrow in times of celebration

These are all found in the stories of Holy Week. It is a dramatic and painfully beautiful repeat performance of what happened long ago and is happening still. There is still the “status quo,” which is threatened by the truth and those who speak it. There are still those who seek power above all else. There are still the “ANAWIM,” those on the margins who clamor for admittance to the public square. They clamor for justice, for the right to live, for opportunity, for food.

There are still those by whom we are inspired, whose courage and boldness we wish we had and sometimes do have, then we get smashed by “the authorities” for daring to be ourselves. There are those who know the truth, deny the truth, deny knowing anyone who might reveal the truth. “I don’t know that woman.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” We cry, with unconscious inhumanity, “Crucify them!” “Shoot them on sight!” “They’re not even human!”

All this happened in the time of Jesus and Herod and Pilate and Barabbas. It’s happening now. Yet, there are births, sweet moments between lovers, weddings, races, parades, great celebrations where we forget, if only for a while, the cruelty is ongoing. The suffering exists. We walk down the aisle. We kiss. We break the glass. We sweep the floor. And walk into our happy future.

Holy Week is a time to test our own mettle. Can we be swept up in the parade and somehow hold all this beauty, this horror, this injustice? Can we keep marching? Can we continue to hold the light for truth?

The simplest definition of hologram found in Merriam-Webster is “a three-dimensional picture made by a complex pattern of light.” This light, these patterns have shone down for centuries. Things repeat, repeat, repeat, like a hologram, like rings created by pebbles in a pond. Who can change the trajectory, the pattern, the outcome? If we can not turn away, maybe we can. If we can be present to the suffering and respond. If we can take some responsibility for how things got this way. If we can hold wrongdoing and wrongdoers to account. If we can stop being enemies and get that we share the same grain of humanity. And we will all suffer the same fate. If we acknowledge that everything really is holy now. And act like it.

The Rev. Julie G. Olmsted lives in Northampton.