Holy Places…

I’ve been at a lot of them this year. Some felt, or at least I understood them as, holy, while others I had to be told they were holy, sacred, important…

I visited some holy places in Haifa. Haifa is a port town in Northern Israel on the Mediterranean Sea, running from water’s edge up and over the biblical Mt. Carmel. While there, I visited the Baha’i Gardens with its 19 levels of garden terraces that adorn Mt. Carmel starting at its base and continuing for one kilometer up to the Summit. It’s quite lovely and unbelievably meticulous in its design and maintenance.

Before you enter the gardens, you are reminded that this is a holy place… (It’s actually the second most holy site in the world for the Baha’i.)


And the gardens are impressive …

I also visited Elijah’s Cave which is at the base of Mt Carmel not too far from the Baha’i Gardens. As I walked through the Birthright presentation that was going on just outside the cave, I overheard the leader remind the group that this site, this cave of Elijah was important to Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze alike. The sign reminds visitors of its sacredness…


It’s a simple cave, rather forlorn, with few visitors …

I also visited the Stella Maris Monastery Church with its “traditional” Holy Lands Christian approach of building a church over some remnant of something old once used to house someone from scripture. This church is built over Elijah’s cave. … Oh I already talked about Elijah’s cave you say, well this cave is the one Elijah lived in; the other one is where he hid out after killing the 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18-19), report the traditions…

I am not knocking the varied interpretations and understandings of holiness or their connections to history but instead wondering about how we perceive and understand what is holy. How do we know that we are walking on holy ground or breathing in a holy place? Does something have to be connected to a biblical figure, a religious text or an oral history to be holy? And if it is connected, must it automatically be holy? Elijah killed 450 prophets of Baal and then fled to go and hide, holy?

What if the assertion of one’s groups understanding of holy conflicts or even somehow harms another group? What happens when defending all that is holy becomes something riddled with mockery, manipulation, strife, and violence? Are we then making what was once holy … un-holy?

As much as I continue to enjoy walking through these various interpretations of holy, taking in their beauty, mystery and lore, I can’t help but think about the history and theology of each of these holy places that led them to be considered holy by some or many … and with those thoughts come to the tenuous reality that the holy and the un-holy seem to be inextricably intertwined …