Holy Ground

Today, I consciously step away from the cacophony of voices that spill from every device, in every hand. Today, I wonder about the information clogging the information superhighway and drowning each recipient. I wonder about accuracy, interests benign and malicious, depth, and context. Most of all, I wonder about common ground, community, and collective good. And today, I think about what we are turning away from as much as what we are turning towards.

The Bible, filled as it is with graphic imagery, symbolism, stories and myths, once provided that sense of common ground in some cultures; in others, the Torah or the Koran did the same, knitting unique and varied individuals into a tapestry of belief and incredulity, hopes and heresies. Somehow, there were shared reference points, bits of stories which bore common links and enabled a sense of becoming more than we had been. Sometimes, in the rising tides of secularism and the tsunami of media posts, the common ground seems more difficult to identify and the dialogue around it vitriolic and pointedly painful. In embracing one perspective or investing in a particular dimension, exclusiveness negates any other. As a result, in the dynamic effort to give everyone a voice and to democratize information, there is a corresponding loss of balance, civil discussion and ability to rationally discuss positions and issues. The foundation for development of civil discourse has become shifting sand rather than the whole of common ground.

That very evolution has ignited brilliant research and development of concepts that existed only in dreams for earlier generations. It has created wholly new systems for everything from banking to communication, and as human beings, we are still navigating those paths. Taking that step back, looking at the chronological development of communities, societies and civilizations, we congratulate ourselves on the success and pace of these never-before-seen developments. History teaches that every generation has endured and benefitted from innovation and change. It also teaches us how rarely human beings actually agree on a trajectory for a society, how so many can be trapped within a broader economic structure or political hierarchy with a focus on simply surviving. Life is so much more than that, and Catholicism provides a tiny peek at thoughts which can be companions on this journey.

In this Second Week of Ordinary Time, the readings offer a tender commentary and subtle reminders helpful to this very contemporary evolution. There is promise, commitment, and connections that can simplify the journey. The first reading from Isaiah celebrates the promise captured so beautifully in the phrase “I will make you a light to the nations”. As humans, we are more than what we might seem, even to ourselves, and there is the promise of more. It is followed by the idea of “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.” Nestled in those words are the agency and independence, the freedom of choice and the commitment to look beyond the needs of self to something, someone, greater. And there is the Gospel where John the Baptist becomes the ultimate arbiter of change and introduces something that could not have been imagined or entertained earlier: the arrival of the Messiah and the Spirit coming down upon him. In essence, this revelation changed everything for a generation embedded and invested in rituals, traditions and practices that would be updated and shifted for some and hotly contested by others. The change came, and individuals were able to decide what to do, who to follow, and how to proceed. Maybe this century is not all that different after all. Maybe our past can assist us in navigating the future, celebrating the wonders of this very complicated world and finding once again goodness bursting through in hopes and choices, decisions, and lives. This, after all, is still Holy Ground.

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