Searching for holiness

A few days ago I searched on Google for “holiness” – and got about 2.14 million results. I had no idea the web was such a hallowed place. But on closer look the results weren’t very encouraging. First hit: “International Pentecostal Holiness Church – Official site includes ministry information, history and theology, polity and institutions, church directory, and events calendar.” The description seemed self-important bureaucracy, not holiness. (Mental note: How often do people approach religion looking for holiness and leave without a second look because they saw people who were full of themselves instead of God?)

Other search results in the Top 10 … Legacy of John Wesley … a very earnest plea to stop sinning … historical Mennonite movements … the Dalai Lama’s biography, bibliography, and awards (faring only slightly better than the Pentecostals for a summary like that) … and an assortment of Calvinist, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic sites (“Holiness or sanctity is the outcome of sanctification, that Divine act by which God freely justifies us, and by which He has claimed us for His own …”).

I expect that each Christian I know could tell me where to find at least one stronghold of actual holiness. But none of those search results was the kind of “holiness” I would hope to find. What is holy inspires awe and reverence. It lacks self-importance, having instead a powerful humility. It lacks dryness and dullness, being an outlet of the Fountain, the source of all things. Frequently beautiful and quiet, often overwhelming, those who chance upon it are overcome with reverence and sometimes fear mixed with joy. What is holy lacks self-conscious mere-prettiness that seeks to copy something lesser and becomes a failure by succeeding. It evokes memories and images of the Eternal, the Living, the Powerful, the Good. It is the Object of our Quest; it makes us realize we are on a quest and that we always have been looking for this. When we see it, we know that this is what we have always sought, always desired, and never could rest til we’d found. We recognize it as the Threshhold beyond which is the Holy One, the most profound object of desire. The holy makes the rest of life seem trivial and undesirable in comparison.

And as for ourselves? Holiness is the transformation that allows us to step onto holy ground without being out of place. It washes us clean, truly pure, and fills us again. The transformation is brought about by that kind of holy encounter that leads us to fall down and worship, to accept and even desire whatever might befall someone who dared to stay. It’s brought about also by the stabbing regret of knowing that we are out of place there until we are transformed.

What about the web search – did I look through any of the rest of the 2.14 million hits? No, the Top 10 convinced me that there aren’t 2.14 million web pages where I could hope to find “holiness”. The Top 10 all sounded as if they’d forgotten the vision of holiness, if in fact they had ever glimpsed it. And if there were really 2.14 million places to find holiness on the internet, we’d all have noticed it by now.


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