I was in Rwanda a few years ago, and a group of us went hiking in the slums of Kigali with a woman named Pauline. Pauline spends her free time caring for people who are about to die of HIV/AIDS. She agreed to take us to visit one of her friends who had only hours to live. We hiked through this slum for what seemed like miles, and as we got farther in, the shacks became smaller and smaller until all we had to walk on were narrow trails with sewage crisscrossing in streams that ran beside, and sometimes under, the shacks.
Eventually we ended up in a dirt-floored, one-room shack about six-by-six feet. A woman was lying under so many blankets that all we could see was her mouth and eyes. Her name was Jacqueline. Pauline had become her friend and had been visiting her consistently for the past few months. As I knelt down beside her on the floor, I watched Pauline, standing in the corner, weeping. Her friend was going to die soon. What overwhelmed me wasn't the death or despair or poverty. What overwhelmed me was the compassion. In this dark place Pauline's love and compassion were simply...bigger. More. It is as if the smallest amount of light is infinitely more powerful than massive amounts of dark. The ground was holy.
I'm sure you have had similar experiences. In the strangest of settings, maybe with people you barely know, you become aware that the ground beneath your feet is holy. It is sacred. There's something else, something more, going on here.
I went to a funeral several years ago and walked into the lobby of the chapel and immediately thought I was the first one there. Then I realized I wasn't the first one; the husband of the woman who had died was there, standing over the open casket. I walked over to him as he stood over her body, put my arm around him, and didn't say anything. Just the two of us in this big open room, looking down at his wife's body. He just kept saying over and over, "She was such a good woman; she was such a good woman." And we stood there together for a while with my arm around his shoulder, and I listened to him repeat, "She was such a good woman." The ground was holy.
A young woman in our church gave birth last week to a two-pound baby who died the day after being born. My friend Matt went to the hospital to visit them. When he entered the room, he realized the baby was still there. And the couple was sitting in shock, stunned that this had happened and happened to them. Matt walked in, greeted the couple, and then took the baby in his arms and kissed it.
I wasn't even there, and I can feel the moment. The pain, the anguish, the sense that something else was going on in that room that we only get glimpses of from time to time.
Because it isn't just those beautiful moments in the midst of the everyday and mundane; it is also in the tragic and the gut-wrenching moments when we cannot escape the simple fact that there is way more going on around us than we realize.
Last year some friends asked me to be the pastor for their wedding ceremony. They had been together for a while and decided to make it official and throw a huge weekend party, and they invited me to be a part of it. They said they didn't want any Jesus or God or Bible or religion to be talked about. But they did want me to make it really spiritual. The bride said it in her own great way, "Rob, do that thing you do. Make it really profound and deep and spiritual!"
So we decided to meet the morning of the wedding to actually plan the ceremony. It was a stunningly beautiful day, and we met on a cliff overlooking a lake in the midst of a thick forest. The wind was blowing the tops of the trees way up above us, the sun was coming through in yellow-and-white beams, and at one point an eagle flew overhead. I kept waiting for someone to cue the orchestra.
Anyway, I asked my friends why they wanted to be married in such a natural, organic setting, since it was four hours from where we all live. They talked about the beauty of nature, its peacefulness, and the way they fell in love in this part of the state. Then the groom said something I will never forget: "Something holds this all together."
Something holds this all together.
So then I asked them if they thought it was a mistake that they had found each other. And they said, no, they believed they were meant to be together and it was no accident that they met and fell in love. I then asked them, "Do you think whatever it is that holds all this together is the same thing that has brought you two together?" They said yes. Same thing.
So I said that maybe what makes their relationship so meaningful to them is that it's a picture of something much bigger. The same force that brought them together holds the whole world together. I then asked, "So today, your wedding is about something far more significant than just the two of you becoming husband and wife, isn't it?"
They then said they would call this glue, this force, "God."
I tell you all this to point out that my friends already intuitively believe certain things about the universe and the way the world works. All I was doing was asking questions about things they already knew to be true.
I didn't have to convince them of anything. Now I could go on about the ceremony and the party afterward and the way it ended up being one of the most sacred things I have ever been a part of, but I want to leave you up on that cliff having that conversation.
"I don't follow Jesus because I think Christianity is the best religion"
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