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The Rev. Susan Sparks The Rev. Susan Sparks
The Rev. Susan Sparks is a former trial lawyer who now serves as senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York, NY.

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American Baptist Churches USA

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Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York, NY


Tracking Mud Into Holy Space

September 09, 2010

 

In my childhood home on Lockhart Drive in Charlotte, N.C., there was a place considered holy space. You spoke of it in hushed terms. It was only used on the most special of occasions. It was -- the living room.

This was the place where all the "nice stuff" was kept: the chairs with my mom's handmade needlepoint seats; the lamps with glass teardrop prisms dangling from under the shade; the stereo console that looked like a huge mahogany casket. It was the kind of room you felt like you needed to shower and put on a ball gown before you went in.

"Can't there just be one place in this house that is beautiful and untouched from the rest of the mess and craziness?" my Mom would ask in her thick Southern accent. The living room was her battle line that could not, under any circumstances, be crossed.

But, of course, I did. On one particular occasion I was playing hide-and-seek with my neighbor. His family was having a septic tank replaced in their yard and the hole where the old one had been made a perfect hideout. (Please understand that this was a hole in a yard in the South -- which meant it was a hole in red mud.)

We played in that hole all afternoon until I heard the call for dinner. Without thinking, I popped out of the hole, ran into the house and across the holy mint green carpet in my red-mud-soaked Keds.

Behind me, I heard a gasp, then a high pitched "Susssaan Grace!" -- a bad sign when your middle name is used.  I just kept on running right through the house, out the back door and back into the hole in our neighbor's yard to hide. And I knew I had to hide. I had crossed the ultimate battle line. I had tracked mud into a holy space.

While the "holy spaces" of our lives may change, the pattern does not. We track mud into holy space by polluting and poisoning the earth, water and air. We defile holy spaces by bringing judgment and hatred into our houses of worship. Most troubling, perhaps, is that we track mud into one of our holiest of places, our own hearts. And like Southern red mud, the mud we bring here -- things like anger, guilt, shame or despair -- is mud that's hard to get out. Is there nothing holy anymore? Isn't there just one place in this house that is beautiful and untouched from the rest of the mess and craziness?

I was hiking out West last year and saw an interesting sign. At the trail head it said "Please brush your boots before entering this area." I thought that strange until I read the explanation. The forest service was worried about hikers carrying certain types of seeds on the bottom of their boots into fragile wilderness area. Apparently, there are several species of grasses and weeds that crowd out native plants and destroy the habitats for nesting birds and butterflies. So they asked visitors to wipe their feet before entering.

We face the same danger. We track all the negative, destructive influences from the world right through our own little fragile hearts. And sure enough, soon all the weeds and grasses we track in take root, and begin to crowd out and destroy what was once a beautiful, natural landscape. If you don't wipe your feet before entering holy space, you can destroy your entire house before you even realize it.

Now for some of us this advice of wipe your feet may feel like too little too late. Maybe you've already tracked mud into your house. Or maybe your house has been muddy so long that you don't even remember its original unspoiled state. Do not fear. There is no stain, no mistake that can't be cleaned. Even with the deepest ground-in mud, we can be returned to a state of beauty. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me." (Psalm 51)

Don't track mud into holy space. Make this your battleground. Let there be one place in your house that is beautiful and untouched from the rest of the mess and craziness.


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