Some of my holiest moments happen at the grocery store.
But before you dub me some supermarket saint, let me tell you this: I rarely go grocery shopping alone. Usually I’m accompanied by at least one child, sometimes two, and anxiety hits before we even pull into the parking lot.
I love to cook. I like to plan meals. Even the list-making is fun.
The actual walking into the store and navigating the aisles? Well, let’s just say there are days when being trapped in a preschool would be more comfortable.
I can’t pinpoint when it started. Sometime after we had kids. Maybe when we had to get government assistance and every transaction brought imagined judgment. Or maybe it was the loss of those benefits and the food budget being less than $100 a month. Or maybe it was none of those things.
All I know is that grocery shopping brings me to my knees.
Not literally, although that might help.
On a recent trip to the store for just a few things, I had both kids in tow. Our daughter was out of school early, and we needed to pick up a few things. And with cold and snow keeping us indoors, the kids were a little rowdy before we’d even gotten out of the car.
I gripped both their hands as we walked through the parking lot and breathed a prayer. Out loud. Which if anyone had seen me would make me look crazy, I’m sure.
Jesus, get us through this.
See, I’m the mom mumbling to herself about how much she just wants to get in and get out of the store without everything being touched. I just want to work through the list without chasing a 4-year-old halfway down an aisle or waiting for him to catch up while he hops on only the blue squares. I want to keep to ourselves and not have to pull my kids out of the path of other people’s carts. Inevitably, we’re the ones clogging the aisle for shoppers who are in as much of a hurry, or more, as we are.
Sometimes we choose the longer line so we’re forced to practice patience. To slow down. To deny the urge to rush.
Sometimes we choose to let other people go ahead of us because we know we’re going to take longer.
An older gentleman at Costco once invited himself to go ahead of us in line because all he had was a roasted chicken for his dinner that night. We gladly let him, and he thanked us over and over again.
It was nothing. And it was everything.
I’m at my worst on Sundays, the supposed holy day of the week.
I’m annoyed when I have to wake up earlier than I wanted because the kids have an internal alarm set to 6 a.m. I’m frustrated when I have to serve them breakfast before I’ve made my coffee. I’m irritated by what is inevitably a last-minute rush to get dressed and get out the door.
Actually, this is most mornings, not just Sundays.
But because Sundays are supposed to be “holy,” I think that means they’re supposed to be perfect.
Everyone wakes up cheerful and kind. Everyone obeys in a timely manner. We calmly leave the house in plenty of time to arrive at church unhurried. After church we enjoy family time and all take a nap or at least a rest, and we start the week rejuvenated.
As I write this on a Sunday afternoon, there is one person napping in the house, and it’s not me. The kids’ idea of napping is reading books loudly in bed next to me or dragging everything out of their room into my newly cleaned kitchen so they can imagine an elaborate schoolroom.
The dishes overflow the sink; the laundry overflows the hamper. We have no plan for dinner except to survive it and put the kids to bed so we can finally, finally relax.
Maybe I feel guiltier on Sundays because I think I’m supposed to react differently, be different than all the other days of the week.
Or am I?
I was a new Christian, discovering my faith, when my best friend and I trekked across our college campus to pray in the chapel’s prayer room. I don’t remember if there was a specific need or if we were just meeting regularly to pray about our lives. We ran into a friend who had been raised Catholic and was walking away from religion. He asked us where we were going and we told him.
“But you don’t need to be in a church to pray,” he said.
I think we knew that but we needed a sacred space. Someplace where we could talk privately and pray confidently without interruption.
But his words stick with me, profound when I consider them years later.
I remember driving to a place in Wisconsin called Holy Hill, a national shrine, when I was young and knew almost nothing about God. (I still don’t know much.) We were on a visit to my grandmother, I think, and it was sort of in the area. We drove up the hill and never left the car, but we agreed that we felt something, even sitting in the parking lot.
A presence. Something special.
It was more than 20 years ago, and I still remember how I felt.
Jesus could have spent all his time in the temple. But He didn’t.
He walked all over Israel. He met people. He taught on the banks of lakes, while journeying from place to place, in people’s homes, and in the temple.
We call it The Holy Land. (I always imagine it in all caps.) I once mentioned to my brother that I wanted to visit Israel someday.
“Why? What’s there?” he asked. (I think he was testing me.)
“The Holy Land,” I said, as if it should be obvious.
He reminded me that it wasn’t just a holy land for Christians but for Jews and Muslims, too.
Annie Dillard wrote in For the Time Being of her experience visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. She describes the place and how you descend and descend again until you’re able to reach into the spot where tradition says Jesus was born. For some it is a deeply significant visit.
Her reaction is this:
Any patch of ground anywhere smacks more of God’s presence on earth, to me, than did this marble grotto.
Part of me wants to disagree, but I can’t shake the truth in her statement.
Do I need to visit Israel to experience the holy?
Do I need to wait for Sunday to encounter God’s presence?
Do I need to be in church to worship or pray or confess or be forgiven?
Or do I carry it with me?
Can anywhere I walk be holy? Not because I have mastered holiness but precisely because I haven’t.
The holy person can hasten redemption and help mend heaven and earth.
Another quote from Dillard. Words that are still sinking deep into my soul.
Most days I feel far from holy.
But if those days drive me closer to the Holy One, then it’s not all bad.
When God meets me in my most unholy of moments, I find myself on holy ground.
When He meets me in my most holy moments, I find myself on holy ground.
When I’m in church or the grocery store or limping through the day waiting for bedtime.
When I’m grumbling or praising.
When I’m getting it right. When I’m getting it wrong.
It can all be holy ground.
A place where heaven meets earth.