"Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."
~ Exodus 3:5
Between 1996 and 1999 I managed to either see, walk past, or entered the chapel here at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Tonight, almost twenty years after graduating with my Masters of Divinity degree, this place remains a type of "holy vessel," or "sacred space" for me. I hardly was in my room five minutes until I was once again out the door at Laws Lodge where I am staying on campus this weekend, and making my way to visit the chapel.
The structure itself is not some glorious cathedral. When you sit inside it is like staring into the hull of a large wooden boat held into the air by rows of stained-glass windows. Many of which I have sat and stared at for hours upon end while discerning what God was asking of me. I have sang from the balcony, I have preached from its pulpit, I have broken bread with my friends and my family at the altar, and I have prayed some of my most important prayers while sitting in a pew surrounded by swells from the pipe organ. This place is holy. This place is sacred.
Behind the chapel lies the ashes of friends and colleagues, forever reminding me that eternity beckons.
There were days when the steps to the chapel were as steep as the highest mountain. The day I walked with clasmates into this place when one of our own died unexpectedly.
There were days when I was quick to run out the doors after realizing I had forgotten to print out the final version of a paper, and I had to cross the valley to where we were living so that I would make sure that what I turned in was what was being asked of me.
I have no doubt that I have heard the voices of God spoken in this place. I think back to my first Hebrew classes, and one of our discussions on the great I AM noting that God exists always and thus is present always, and that each one of us, made in that image, is one of the many voices that God uses to bring God's message into the world.
I stare at my feet, and I consider removing my shoes, then looking around at the empty sidewalks, flanked by a few lights and think twice. I am a stranger in a strange land, but it is the place I know well enough that even as an aging, middle-aged man, I can close my eyes and point to where things are, even down to where entrances to buildings used to be, as well as, call out the names of buildings that are forever in my memory.
The Divine overcomes the dust and I am struck by the reality that God has made this a sacred place for many. Where women and men have left their homes, their jobs, their families, and everything that they once knew to be nurtured, challenged, and changed.
I remember the first time I walked up to the doors of the chapel, with a third year student, who was preparing to graduate that spring. As she walked and told me of her experiences at the seminary and how she had been married, a school teacher, and how all of that changed. "My marriage fell apart, and I was tired of grading papers. I knew God had more for me, but I would have to make the effort. That's when I found myself here. That's why any of us find our way here. It's what made Moses climb a mountain. Why Esther became queen. Why a virgin conceived and gave birth to the Son of God, and why you are standing here with me asking yourself, 'What does God want from me?'"
My shoes are off, and the sidewalk is cool to the touch. I walk closer, but stop. I have gone far enough. I look to the sky, just above the roofline of the chapel. The stars are numerous, and I remember the promise made to Abraham.
I take another step and a light breeze crosses the quad, and I can almost hear the great cloud of witnesses welcoming me back, and I think of the day that I will join my voice with them.
I turn to leave, and I kneel to place my shoes back on my feet. I suddenly see shadows dance among the buildings and the trees move in the breeze. I breathe in, and I am renewed. I am welcomed again.
This place IS holy. This place IS sacred.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2018
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.