Phoebe Palmer – Letting go of the “great and undefinable exercise” and moving into the “Way of Holiness” – “…that entire devotion of heart and life to God should be the absorbing subject of the succeeding pilgrimage of life.”
This concept – “being holy” – can seem daunting, or even viewed negatively. Typically, it would be understood as a standard, an ever-rising bar, or a way of asserting an impossible archetype – symbolizing an abstraction of personal “goodness” that one finds they are never able to attain. This is obviously discouraging at best, damaging at worst.
Holiness is not an exercise in piety and dogma. I am discovering that the way of holiness is simply a posture – a place in which one’s whole life is oriented, and reoriented, continually to <God, Divine, Ground of All Being, Mystery>. It is an embrace of the present moment, when we remember to receive it and give back into it. Jeff Genung, who runs the website Contemplative Life, told me that, when he goes about his work and life’s day-to-day circumstances, he asks himself, “is this God? Is this God? …is THIS God?” In the moment, we can ask ourselves whether we are practicing holiness, and orient ourselves accordingly.
This is both simpler and more complex, because it frees us from previous notions and standards, while also requiring our whole selves to be invested in the journey. Most of all, it requires a trust in something that is outside oneself. The way of holiness requires full attention and practice, and at the same time acknowledgment that we never fully arrive. It is truly a way, never a destination to which one arrives.
It is a process. A habit. And eventually, like anything that is practiced, we think less consciously about it, and it begins to permeate our pores. Thomas Kelly calls this “The First Sign of Simultaneity”. “Alternating of attention between outer things and the Inner Light”. Eventually, “at the moment of recovery from a period of forgetting, there is a sense that we have not completely forgotten”.
I don’t really know how to describe it. Abiding peace and joy. Wonder, but also grief, anger, and sometimes despair. For despair is necessary I believe in order to experience hope. In despair, we can be still, stand still, and experience longing for salvation from the darkness of these depths. Hope reorients. Hints of what truly is.
Or I simply look more deeply into wherever I find myself at that particular moment. At a plant. Into a breeze. To the rising dawn as I ride my bike eastward over Lake Washington.
The day becomes gift, and peace is found. As I reorient, I step, ever so slightly, through the veil and into eternity.