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Holy Places, Holy People


Today's Gospel lectionary reading comes from Matthew 10:1-7....

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'"
A friend sent me today an entry from his diary about a place that is dear to both of us: The Church of St. Margaret of Antioch at Binsey, Oxfordshire, England. You can learn more about the church here: St. Margaret's Church, Binsey. Parts of the present church building date to the 12th century, but people have been worshipping at this site, where there is a holy well, for at least 1000 years. 

The church was made famous, in a way, both by Lewis Carroll's mention of the "treacle" well in one of the Alice books, and by Sheldon Vanauken's mention of it in his book, A Severe Mercy. The church has a guest register and many people who visit sign their names after the words: "Under the Mercy"--a phrase lifted by Vanauken from one of Charles Williams' books.

The church is tiny. I doubt it would seat fifty people. But the stone walls outside, and simple wooden pews and pulpit inside, with hammerbeam ceiling, and ancient stone baptismal font, all combine to speak beauty and peace to the soul. 

Outside, under a venerable old oak tree, stand a smattering of graves, some with stone cross markers. At one of these, Sheldon Vanauken and his wife, Davy, would kneel to pray. And underneath the oak, their ashes were later scattered. 

I have never been to a corporate worship service at St. Margaret's, but I have often worshipped by myself there. As C. S. Lewis once said about Tintern Abbey, so I say about St. Margaret's--a holier place I never saw. One can feel the saints of the ages worshipping there as one enters through the beautifully carved stone Norman archway.

Certain places and people carry a sense of holiness, a sense of God's presence with them. I imagine that the first disciples of Jesus carried with them the same sense of holiness that hung about their Master. And so when they announced, wherever they went, "The kingdom of God has come near," it was a very true word. For they brought the kingdom of God with them wherever they journeyed.

I wonder: do we ever do the same, as Jesus' modern day saints? Do people sense the holy, or the Wholly Other, in us? I imagine they do, if Jesus truly lives in us and through us. We can only pray that Jesus will make himself known, not just through our words, but even more, through our lives, and through our love....

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