My two year old son, Moses had a landmark realization the other day. He asked me, “Are there two Papas?” I said, “Sorry bud, I’m it. I’m the only one you got.”
Then he asked, “Two Mama’s?” “Nope. Just one of her too.”
“Two JuJu’s (the name we call his sister)?” “Nope. Just one JuJu.”
He then proceeded to list nearly every person he could think of and each question had the same reply, “Nope. There is only one of that person.”
Moses was discovering the distinction of each person, until he finally came to himself and said, “Just one MoMo.” “That’s right son. You are a one of a kind… just like everyone else.” He had stumbled on to one of the most important realities: “You were made utterly unique, handcrafted, and that utter uniqueness makes you different. Psychology would say, “This is the beginning of differentiation: The ability to hold one’s boundary and respect where it is that I end, and you begin.” While the therapeutic world might call this differentiation, I want to call it “Holiness.”
Throughout the story of Israel in the Scriptures, Yahweh keeps calling out to his people saying, “Come out from them and be ye holy!” God continues to use the word “holy” to define the people that he calls, but what does this mean? In my younger years I thought that holiness meant moral superiority –
“being holy” meant “being better”. While ethics certainly have something to do with holiness, I don’t think being ‘good’ is at the heart of holiness. I used to think it was about self-righteous segregation, and therefore, I didn’t want to have anything to do with the word “holy”. And yet Jesus, who defines holiness for us, does not segregate at all, but becomes one of us… so that can’t be it either. What does it mean to be “holy”?
When St. Peter is describing the Church he says, “You are a holy people… you are a peculiar people.” And if the lives of the holy saints tell us anything, they tell us that “Holiness makes you weird.” Just look at the life of anyone the church deems a saint and you’ll find one common characteristic among them all – they are totally strange.
Yahweh says, “Come out from them and be ye holy” I wonder if this separation that Yahweh is calling for is actually a healthy differentiation. It’s the opposite of enmeshment. Maybe it’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about when he says, “Be no longer conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed.” This world wants to cookie cut you into something so much smaller, and blander and dimmer than who you truly are – for God says, “You are light and salt. Never be normal!” Normal is profane. Holiness is recognizing that you are different from the other, and the other is different from you. To worship a Thrice Holy God is to say, “Who is like God?… No one! There is no other God like Yahweh!” God is utterly unique. And our God is utterly weird. Some of you already knew that.
Here’s what I believe the truth is about you and your sainthood: God has made you – your truest self – to be far more ideosyncratic, far more unique, far more ‘holy’, far more “you” than you are willing to become. If this is true, then it means that becoming holy is not about becoming someone or something else. It is about becoming even more of yourself in the grace of God. It’s the way God already sees you. It’s in your DNA. Tara becomes more herself when she sings the moment she feels the Spirit, and that means she’s a little weird. And she is Holy. Donna becomes more herself the more people she feeds, and that makes her not normal. And she is a Saint.
I’m now convinced that Saints are strange for two main reasons:
- Saints are strange because they have come closer to their truest self.
2. Saints are strange because they value the opinion of God over every other opinion.
They don’t care who thinks they are weird. This was a tough one for the family of St. Francis. It wasn’t enough for his father that Francis went to war. It wasn’t enough for his father that Francis returned home,
having survived the war. He wanted Francis to take over the family merchant business. And Francis wanted to give all his possessions to the poor outside his door. Francis’ father drug him to the public square in front of the Church so that the Bishop might discipline his son in front of everyone. Francis was asked to account for himself, to explain his actions: He told the bishop that he wished to follow Christ in his poverty and simplicity. “The birds didn’t have his father’s money, and yet their bellies were full. The wild flowers didn’t have his father’s money, and yet they were dressed like kings. God provides everything for the birds and wild flowers, and God would provide everything for him too.”
There was only one thing to do. He would give everything back to his father and he would be free to follow his Christ. He would give everything back at that exact moment. Turning to his father he said: “Father I give you back everything that belongs to you – your possession and your clothes.” With that he stripped naked in front of the crowds and handed his father the clothes off his back.
The more that Francis followed Christ, the more Christ led him into a unique weirdness that we call “Holy”. He preached to the birds… He arbitrated peace between a village and wolf… He kissed the feet of lepers… He looked at an abandoned old church, saw in it a cathedral for the people and in his holy foolishness, began to renovate it with a ragtag group of people.
So Beloved, be ye holy. Be strange in loving the unlovely around you. Be ye holy. Be peculiar in your passion for peace. Be ye holy. Be weird in the way you listen deeply to others. Be ye holy. Be down right goofy in your generosity. For you are a holy people who serve a holy, holy, holy God.