Holy Places

For several years, we Brothers have been listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in regard to our ministry at Emery House. We have also been listening to one another, and we have been listening to the land itself in discerning a path forward.

Over the past year, with the assistance of wise and generous advisors, a vision statement has emerged that crystallizes the essence of that calling. The language that bubbled to the surface pointed again and again to a central theme. Emery House is not just a historic farmhouse & retreat center surrounded by some woods, fields, and rivers. It is, for us, a holy place for all people to experience the boundless love of God made manifest in creation.

Some holy places are world famous and attract pilgrims from around the globe: Jerusalem, Rome, Iona, Lourdes. Some are local or regional treasures where people have found palpable healing and solace. Some embody our bonds of human kinship; they are repositories of sacred memory where our ancestors walk among us. Still others are known only to ourselves. They are imbued with sacred power and peace over time, as we visit and revisit them, in joy and sorrow, celebration and perplexity. To enter their presence is like the familiar embrace of a close friend or the weight of a beloved blanket.

These places of everyday holiness beckon me on all sides as I walk this sacred ground we call Emery House: ancient trees that I listen to as wise elders; the stream that gurgles from marsh to forest thicket to join its big sister, the Merrimack; a gathering of riverbank stones where I pray at sunrise; a patch of meadow where I first met a new flower or gazed up at a new star; the birch that held my back when I wept in the dark or laughed under the full moon. Each of us Brothers have our own holy places here. No two lists are exactly alike. It is beautiful, humbling, and deeply sustaining to hear the stories of visitors, new and old, that echo these experiences. The Spirit breathes, burns, and shines forth in ten-thousand places, eagerly waiting for each of us.

We live in a time when so many are alienated from this living earth and despairing at its ecological crucifixion. The experience of displacement is tragically common. In response, we are called to bear witness to a life-giving alternative: to renew the sacred bond (both joy and responsibility) that comes from belonging to a place. That belonging is born over time, and not without pain. It asks for our hearts.

This land is not a resource, but a vast network of sacred relationships. As we read God’s signs and presence within and alongside the web of all life that resides here, we discover there is room for each of us. There is a place prepared for all who enter in love, attention, and expectancy.

And there is an invitation: to go out into the world to find, for the first or ten-thousandth time, the places waiting for our love and blessing to reveal the holiness they’ve held all along.

May Christ, God’s wisdom and word, go before and behind us on the Way!

Brother Keith, SSJE