On Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday, the priest talked, predictably, innocuously, about Holy Week as (duh) the "holiest" week of the year. It steamed me.
A few years ago, in a cliched attempt to read the whole Bible in a year, from the beginning, I valiantly persevered all the way through the book of Deuteronomy. That meant that I read all the Law in the course of about twelve weeks. If you've never done it, let me warn you -- it's a bloody business. There is all sorts of detail about how to make a proper sacrifice. When my 20th/21st century mind hears "sacrifice," I imagine it as a painful, if intangible, letting go. Not so in the ancient world.
Every ancient culture participated in some sort of animal -- or human -- sacrifice as a way of communing with their gods. "Religion" and sacrifice were more or less synonymous. And was it ever bloody. In the Hebrew scriptures, it is not just the fact that animals were killed. Their blood was gathered in bowls and splashed around. So much for the privilege of the priestly class. Their lot was to do the gathering and the splashing and, one presumes, the getting splashed on. Think of the smell.
The other thing I noticed in reading the first five books all in a row was what it meant for something to be "holy." There is, to be sure, plenty said about the sacrificial animal's being unblemished or the first-born. But, at least to my understanding, the thing that made it holy, the crucial thing, was that it was set apart for God. By being so designated, as belonging not to me, but to God, it became holy.
Now, that makes sense to me when I think about "Holy Week," I guess. We can look at this week as the most set apart for God. We can. There are a lot of extra church services, particularly if you are a Catholic. Time set apart for God. Holy.
But here's what nags me, to the bone: What about next week? Or last week? Do they somehow belong less to God? Are they less holy?
It's the same thing that irks me with all the things we label "holy" -- church buildings, clergy, saints, icons, certain songs, crosses. Holy, holy, holy.
Gerard Manly Hopkis, Jesuit and poet, said, "The world is filled with the grandeur of God." Amen. You know what I think is holy? What I think is reflective of the greatness of God and deserves to be set apart? Let's start with chocolate ice cream. And babies. How about that wilted dafodil in my front yard that the snow is just melting off of. Beethoven's 9th. My husband's warm legs against my icy feet in bed (yes, he is a saint). My son's toothless grin. Clean towels. The moment when tomorrow's school lunches are made. Holy, holy, holy.
I will go into the church building this week and listen to the clergy and recall the saints and gaze on the icons and sing the songs and venerate the cross. But things are every bit as holy in the home I leave and come back to.