By Sister Jeanne Cmolik
This is holy ground; we’re standing on holy ground.
For the Lord is present, and where [God] is, is holy. . .”
–John Michael Talbot
Some years ago, when my father was in a skilled care facility and my sister and I were preparing to move my mother to assisted living, I had the task of helping my mom clean out our family home, where my parents had lived for over sixty years. I worked there one day a week, and it was challenging, not only because of the accumulation of possessions and the decisions we had to make about them, but also because of the flood of memories that came with the handling of the “stuff” of their lives. Most of the time, my mom was cooperative and helped me with the sorting, but occasionally she would get upset and tell me I needed to go home and come back another day.
I remember one special day when we were sorting Mom’s dressy clothes, most of which she had made, and would probably never need again. As I pulled each item out of the closet and showed it to her, she would tell me the story behind it.
“I made this outfit for the Mediterranean cruise Dad and I took. We had to dress for dinner each night.”
“I made this dress for Jason’s (my nephew’s) wedding.”
“I wore this outfit for many special occasions: graduations, First Communions, anniversaries. It showed up in a lot of pictures, but I just really liked it.”
“This is the dress I made for your sister’s second wedding.”
That day it was clear to me that we were not just sorting clothes; we were sorting memories, and I felt like I was turning pages in a living scrapbook. These clothes were signs, objects that conveyed a deeper meaning than what was apparent to the eye. We decided to give away most of the clothes. As I folded them, I realized that what I held in my hands was holy.
When my younger brother died, his body and belongings were shipped to us from San Francisco, where he had been living. I remember going through the visitation at the funeral home, the funeral liturgy, and the lunch that followed, in a daze. As our guests were leaving, the funeral director called my sister and me into his office, where he gave us a box of my brother’s belongings, including the clothes he wore to the hospital where he died. His high-top athletic shoes had the laces loosened, like he just stepped out of them—and I was struck by the deep significance of those shoes—a sign of the life he “stepped out of”, never to return. I don’t remember what we did with the shoes, but I do remember that for me, at that moment, they were holy.
On days when I am really in the present moment, I realize that much of the “stuff” of my life is holy because it points to a deeper reality, so as I use these holy signs, I remember and celebrate.
- The mug I use for coffee each morning was a gift from a friend who is a potter.
- On cold days, I wrap myself in an afghan crocheted by my grandmother.
- I wipe my hands in a kitchen towel made by a friend.
- I eat fruit salad from a blue and green glazed pottery bowl I bought at a craft fair I attended on a beautiful summer day.
- I wear a sweater vest my mom crocheted for me 20+ years ago as a birthday gift.
- I cook with pots and pans given to me by one of our sisters when she was leaving her apartment and moving to assisted living.
- I have a quilt my grandmother made using scraps of fabric my mom used to make me dresses and blouses when I was a young girl.
- I make cheesecake from a recipe written in my grandmother’s hand, and remember that she made it for many special occasions.
- I have a small pottery vase I bought when I was at Yellowstone National Park. My friend who was with me at the time, asked me what I was going to do with it. “I’ll hold it and remember,” I said.
- I wear a “Minnie Mouse” apron that ties me to a dear friend who died much too young. When I wear it, she’s with me.
You get the idea. When I’m paying attention, I know that my apartment is holy ground, and much of what I touch is holy. Try it for yourself. Walk around your house and consider your belongings and the deeper meanings that are right below the surface. All around you are signs of people you love, events you recall, and powerful memories. As often as you can, celebrate and remember. This is your holy ground.
About the Author
Sister Jeanne Cmolik, CSJ, has served in various leadership positions including being a member of the Congregation Leadership Team from 2007-2013. She has also ministered in elementary schools, high schools, and parishes in the Cleveland area, and worked with new members in the Congregation. She enjoys reading, travel, music and writing blog posts! Currently she offers spiritual direction and works with RCIA in a local parish.