“You are standing on Holy Ground…..you are standing in God’s presence on Holy Ground.” The first time I heard that song, Sister Thomas Bernard put it on the cranky old boom-box she’d brought and sat down. There was no other sound though the room was filled with students who came to learn to be Spiritual Directors. The song ended and the room was silent. The nun rose slowly and turned off the machine and began her lessons to us who would walk with people who were asking for companionship as they worked through times in their lives when the question was, “where is God in everything that is happening to me?” That was 1993. I have never forgotten how that song filled the silence and spoke directly to my longing to hear the stories of people who wanted to know that God was present.
As my call to ministry continued to develop, I found that visiting people who were absent from the community because of illness or disability is what reminded me of why I wanted to be a pastor. When I got caught up in paperwork or strategizing change with people who didn’t agree, or just bogged down in imagining a message from a difficult text, I went to see someone who couldn’t come to church. Martha Kirby was fighting pancreatic cancer, and sometimes I saw her at home, lying down because she was just so tired. Sometimes I brought communion to the Chemo Infusion lab where her daughter and grandchildren joined us as a noisy crowd while I read from the Bible and passed out pieces of bread and sips of wine: the Body and Blood of Christ given and shed for you. When I was finished praying for her, Martha would always pray for me, her pastor. I was struggling as an intern to discern my path in ministry, and Martha’s prayers blessed me with her assurance that my ministry had meaning. Holy Ground.
These days I am keeping vigil with families at the bedsides of people who are already on their way into the next life, and reading psalms of rejoicing with people who have come through dangerous surgery. I am spreading out beautiful linen napkins to set up my antique silver communion set at the home of someone who has not been to church in years. We talk, we read confession and forgiveness, we talk about the Gospel text together, and we share the Body and Blood of Christ. And then I pray. I am often tempted to take off my shoes. I haven’t done it yet. But as I close my eyes to lift our time together in prayer, I know that we are on Holy Ground. The promises of God to be present when two or three are gathered together become as real as the little chips of bread and tastes of wine that we have shared.
Leaving a bedside or the home of a homebound member is always a kind of shock, like stepping off a curb you didn’t see. And it’s always kind of sad to leave that sense of presence, of being surrounded by angels in attendance and God’s arms gathering us into an embrace. Standing on Holy Ground is a privilege, and I give thanks for that privilege every day. Hallelujah.