What is Holy Ground?

About a year ago I saw Laurie Skreslet.  I was sitting at Beamers in Canmore with a friend when in he walked, along with what I presumed were a number of family members.   My first thought?  The guy still looked like he could climb Everest.  It was October 5, 1982 when Skreslet became the first Canadian to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.  I was eighteen years old at the time and I remember vividly what a monumental achievement it was and how Canadians from sea to sea to sea celebrated Skreslet’s incredible story.  Very few people, in 1982, had attempted the assault on the world’s tallest mountain.  Skreslet became a member of a fairly exclusive club of elite, athletic adventurers.  

In contrast it was quite strange (I don’t use the word “surreal”) to catch those video images a few days ago of literally hundreds of Everest hikers stuck in a mountain queue, all awaiting their turns, their chance to maybe reach the summit.  It seemed extremely odd, troubling in fact, verging on the sacrilegious,  to see a massive traffic jam of people on what for many of us has become, rightly or wrongly, sacred or holy ground.  Is it now time for the Government of Nepal to start placing restrictions on just how many people can traverse Everest at one time?   For a little added perspective, here’s a clipping from today’s New York Daily News:    Scores of climbers were headed for the summit of Mount Everest on Friday to begin what is expected to be another busy weekend on the top of the world.  Last weekend, four climbers died on their way down from the summit amid worsening weather and a traffic jam of more than 200 people scrambling to conquer the world’s highest peak. A similar crowd is expected this weekend, but there have been no reports of climbers in trouble and the weather is good.

Holy ground.   Is it fair or in any way accurate to suggest Mt. Everest is sacred space, perhaps especially in light of the fact that while over 3000 have conquered the mountain since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first did it in 1953,  225 have died on the mountain and remain there?   Is it justifiable, therefore, to limit access to Everest?   Or is it just a big mountain to climb,  something to “tick off” one’s life achievement or “bucket” list?    What about Banff National Park?   I think back country access is already restricted in certain areas?  Does this fact not suggest that we Canadians cherish or find some level of sacredness in the natural world that surrounds us, of which we are a part?   What about church sanctuaries?   Is it o.k. to wear ball caps and sip from open beer cans within the worship space of a church, or is it just a space?   What about the holy ground that is our everyday lives, our encounters with others, our relationships?  

Once Jesus was challenged, ridiculed by the Pharisees, those smug, self-righteous interpreters of God’s Law, for healing sick people on the Sabbath.  Jesus responded with impatient anger at the rigidity of the authorities and their lack of compassion.  “You hypocrites!”, he shouted.  Jesus always preferred grace over law,  the immediacy of the Kingdom over religious dogma and false piety.  So again I ask, what about our every day lives and the holy potential of our lives as we know them, as we live them?   Holy ground.  Are we not presented every day with some opportunity to make a sacrament of our lives, even if just for a moment or two, in how we seek to walk in the shoes of others, to understand both our cherished friends and despised enemies,  in how we strive to live mercy and forgiveness, in how we share of ourselves with those in need, in what priorities we choose to live by and demonstrate to our children and parents?   

Lord God, Gentle, Loving, Disruptive Spirit,  open our hearts to see, to truly see what life is meant to be about.  Open up our minds to identify opportunities for carrying on Jesus’ ministry of compassion and inclusion.  Show us where holy ground is to be found, in the wonders of nature, yes, but even within our own seemingly ordinary lives.  May your light and love shine forth through us to those around us, for the sake of your wonderful Kingdom, in the name of the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus.  Amen.