Across the Pastor’s Desk: Holy places are everywhere

Published 8:53 am Friday, September 12, 2008

Have you ever visited a holy place? You might be thinking you have to travel to a far and exotic place to visit a holy place.

One of the first holy places I remember visiting was at my grandparents’ house when I was a child. It appeared at Christmas time every year. One of my grandparents Christmas decorations was a stuffed Santa with Styrofoam reindeer sitting on a cotton snow blanket. I knew it was a holy place because any time I got close to it I heard someone say, “Get away from there” or “Don’t touch that.”

My grandparents are gone now. The Styrofoam reindeer have disappeared. But that stuffed Santa still exists. The cotton has worn off his beard so now the beard looks more like a bib. Its really not fit for display. But that Santa still comes out every year. And it sits in an honored place. It is holy because of the memory and lives connected to it.

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I visited the Holy Land in November of last year. Pastor Curtis Zeiske from Trinity Lutheran led our group from Albert Lea. He has visited there several times and gave our group an outstanding trip. There were holy places everywhere. I took 1,023 pictures and I did not even have the record for our group!

Our group visited many holy places in the Holy Land. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem dates from the fourth century. The main entrance is the Door of Humility. It is a modified door that you cannot enter standing upright. You have to bow or you will hit your head — hard. What is amazing about the door is that right above is the stone is indented from millions of people over the centuries placing their hand there to bow on entering the church.

The lowered door is there because invaders kept entering the building mounted on horses. The short door solved the problem. The space is holy because it is believed that the grotto beneath the altar is the birthplace of Jesus. The space also becomes holy for the people of today and centuries before who have come to express their faith.

Another holy place is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is the believed to be the place where Jesus died and rose. This place too dates from the fourth century. It is swarming with people — frenzied people. The people don’t make it very holy. The monks of the church blocked a stairway to the Golgotha chapel while we were there so that there could be a service. He blocked it with a ladder. A Russian pilgrim wanted to go up the stairs. You didn’t have to speak Russian to figure that we were being cussed out.

Are there holy places in Albert Lea?

You might say this is strange but I think one of the most holy places in Albert Lea is Hayek Field from the Main Street viaduct. It is an impressive sight especially at night. Those of you who know me know why baseball fields are holy places.

Cemeteries are holy places. Cemeteries are a place we enshrine the memory of loved ones. A few weeks ago I did a burial at a cemetery just north of Scarville, Iowa. The landscape on that beautiful day was breathtaking. Albert Lea’s cemeteries are equally impressive for their setting and the care shown to them.

Then there are the churches of Albert Lea. I serve at Grace Lutheran and it is a large and beautiful building. The sanctuary of Grace Lutheran is filled with images to keep your attention on that rare occasion when a sermon does not.

But the Grace Lutheran sanctuary assumes the fullness of its holiness when the people are gathered. The room is built for singing. The stone and stained glass begins a sense of holiness. But it is the people gathered around the Word of God who complete it. Our voices complete the holiness.

So a stone worn by the hands of millions of the faithful in Bethlehem is a mark of the holy. And harsh words can diminish the holy in Jerusalem or Albert Lea. And God has blessed us with many holy places in Albert Lea. They are the places we honor the memory of those who have gone before us. They are the great houses where we gather for worship. They are the homes, schools and places of work made holy as we live out our faith in so many ways — even with a beat up old Santa that comes out once a year.

Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16 for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16).