By Kathy Berken
Years ago, I stumbled upon a YouTube video called “A Finger, Two Dots, Then Me,” by poet Derrick Brown (https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=TcoMiGiDRjg).
I watched all 7 ½ minutes of it, wiping a few tears from my eyes by the end. Derrick’s messages about love, death, life and holiness were so authentic and profoundly grounded in his human experience, I couldn’t help but relate.
What Derrick recites may startle some people who limit their definition of holiness to church, sacrament, Scripture and saints. He breaks open his life and lets us inside.
Holiness is certainly found in our religious beliefs and practices. In fact, they may be the very foundation upon which rests all other definitions of holiness.
I have felt the mystery of the body of Christ watching people process up to Communion. When my grandson Isaac sang with his first Communion class “I will be a sanctuary for you,” I was in the presence of God. When I meditate on Luke’s account of the Road to Emmaus, I am awakened to the belief that we are in the presence of Christ when we break bread together. And, when I read the story of St. Therese of Lisieux during a dark period of my life, I felt a deep sense of the sacred.
But holiness is so much more than this. During my 10 years at The Arch, the L’Arche community in Clinton, I experienced holy moments on a regular basis. When I had my first bout with cancer and was very sick, all of the core members were very sympathetic towards my medical condition. When I would return from my chemo infusions, Bob would point to his chest and ask, “Hurt?” knowing that I got weekly “shots” through my port located close to my collarbone. I’d always say, “Only a little, Bob, but thank you so much for caring.” When I once gave Mary Pat a bath, I tossed off my fleece cap revealing my baldness. She scooped a handful of bubbles and patted my head. The soapy blessing was a holy one. And soon after chemo was finally done, we had a head-painting party where every member of the community came forward and drew pictures on my shiny bald dome (with, yes, washable markers). A sacred ritual indeed.
In Derrick Brown’s performance, he describes losing a loved one to death and the mystery that entails, but then he talks directly to God, with a modest sense of humor and slight irreverence. He says that poets and writers tried to tackle the question but never quite got it, and so he wants to hear the answer from God. “What is holy? What is actually holy?” Showing photographs and images flashing in the background and speaking with great vulnerability and emotion, he seems to relay God’s response as he spells out a litany of personal examples: armadillos, beach cruises at night, relationships, finding God in a pool hall, etc.
Pope Francis said, “At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. . . . Holiness means living our lives with love and bearing witness to the gospel in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (Walking in Holiness: 30 Days with Rejoice and Be Glad, 2018).
I believe that church, sacraments, Scripture and the lives of the saints are meant for us as stepping stones into our everyday lives, as beacons to see God and holiness “in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.” So, I urge you to find Derrick’s video and watch it a few times with an attitude of openness and prayerfulness.
For me, 2019 will be a year of paying attention to all that is holy, wherever I find myself, whether it’s sharing a meal with a friend, leaning against a tree in the forest or witnessing a random act of kindness.
(Kathy Berken has a master’s degree in theology from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn. She lived and worked at The Arche, L’Arche in Clinton 1999-2009 and is author of “Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark (stories from The Arch).”)