Friday, 9 November 2012

What is a holy person like?

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Last Sunday, Archbishop Rowan Williams met a group of young people in New Zealand and spoke to them about what it means to be a holy person. As will be no surprise to you, if you have been following this blog, his words were again a joy to read and I would just like to share my favorite bits with you.

The starting point of the talk is the apparent contrast of the Old Testament concept of holiness, where the emphasis is on being set apart, special, protected and the New Testament view which focuses on ubiquity (St. Paul's addressing the first Christian communities as saints and holy people) and on the central importance of Jesus’ being involved intimately with human suffering, culminating in his crucifixion. This takes us to the realization that "[b]eing holy is being absolutely involved, not being absolutely separated."

Instead of a holy person being "weird, […] drained of blood[, …] in a nutshell, not like us," they go "into the heart of where it's most difficult for human beings to be human":
"And so Jesus goes outside the city, he goes to the place where people suffer and are humiliated, he goes to the place where people throw stuff out, including other people. [… The Christian idea of holiness is …] something to do with going where it's most difficult in the name of the Jesus who went to where it was most difficult. And he wants us to be holy like that."
As a result "there's no contrast, no tension […] between holiness and involvement in the world. On the contrary, the most holy, who is Jesus, is most involved, most at the heart of human experience." Instead of an irritating "saintliness, strictness, devoutness, goodness" that makes people around them feel "worse, guilty, inadequate," holy people "make you feel better than you.":
"But the holy person somehow enlarges your world, makes you feel more yourself, opens you up, affirms you. They're not in competition; they're not saying, 'I've got something you haven't'. They're saying, 'There's an enormous amount of room for you in the world we occupy together.'"
This is not about complacency though, but about realizing that "it's OK, we can start [here]. The world is big enough and God is big enough." Saints "produce joy around them"; when you are with them "the landscape changes - there [is] a new light on it." Holiness is not "a sort of extra special kind of goodness[, …] it's not about competing levels of how good you are[, it's] about enlarging the world, and it's about involving in the world.":
"[H]oly people, however much they may enjoy being themselves, just aren't obsessively interested in themselves. They actually allow you to see, not them, but the world. They allow you to see not them, but God.[…]

[But], there's the catch: if you want to be holy, stop thinking about it. If you want to be holy, look at God. If you want to be holy, enjoy God's world, enter into it as much as you can in love and in service."
These are just a couple of the bits I liked most from the talk and I'd encourage you to read it in full. What struck me as I was reading it was a very strong sense of knowing people just like that! I have been blessed, and keep being blessed, by knowing a number of holy people (a number that strikes me as being undeservedly large!) and counting them among my friends. Meeting them, or even receiving an email or text message from them, leaves me with precisely what Archbishop Williams says - a conviction that they have made me see the beauty of the world and God. As I know some of you are reading this: thank you!