By Andrea Gibbs
In today’s first reading from the book of Exodus, God says to Moses, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place you walk is holy ground.”
What is holy ground? Where is it? Have you ever experienced it?
Recently, I led a Mission Immersion Retreat in the highlands of Guatemala. During the retreat, we are placed in the middle of a small, picturesque lakeside village on the side of a mountain. The breathtakingly beautiful scenery contradicts the extreme poverty that the Mayan people have been struggling with for far too long. We come to Guatemala to pray, to listen, to learn, and to experience. There is so much to experience.
One day in Guatemala, I unexpectedly experienced being on holy ground in the most unusual setting. My day started out as most days at the mission do—Mass in Spanish with school kids singing (yelling) the hymns, a warm breakfast, and a full day of work projects. That afternoon, we had the opportunity to celebrate Mass again, but up in an even smaller and more remote village that rarely has a visiting priest.
On our way home from Mass, we sped down the winding highway, sitting in the back of a pick-up truck. The wind blew our hair in a thousand directions, while the distinct smell of corn tortillas cooking on open fires swirled around us. We couldn’t help but smile. To be at that Mass was a huge blessing to our entire group. That was double Masses, double the holy experiences, so my daily holy quota was full, for sure. Little did I know God had more planned for me that evening back at the mission.
The mission has a multi-purpose room, which is referred to as “the biblioteca.” It is at the center of the mission physically as well as metaphorically. The room is the library where the books of many missionaries from the past several decades are on display. It is the meeting room where the Guatemalan farmers and project managers gather early each morning for prayer and coffee before they begin work. It is the cafeteria where hundreds of visitors are fed their daily meals. It is the lecture hall where women who were widowed during the 1980s genocide share their life stories in quivering voices to anyone willing to listen. And that particular evening, for those present, it was holy ground.
That evening, the biblioteca was turned into a chapel for an hour of Eucharistic Adoration. Those who played piano or guitar sat near their instruments, and several students in the room had their Bibles nearby. Quietly, we shuffled in with our shoes covered in a thick layer of mud from a day spent walking the dirt roads in the rain.
The group was a mix of Guatemalans, Europeans, Americans, adults, children, and elderly, but primarily made up of American teenagers. We knelt and waited for Fr. John to bring the Eucharist in.
What took place over the next hour was a surreal experience. Although I have sat through many hours of adoration in my life in many different settings, this hour was different. God made Himself manifest in that biblioteca in a very pure way. Mid hour I slipped off my shoes, not because they were uncomfortable or bothering me, but because I was on holy ground. I just couldn’t shake that feeling—this was holy ground. Jesus was so very present in the Eucharist in front of me and the Holy Spirit present all around me, as He led the readings, prayers, and music flawlessly.
This, my dear friends, is an element of our God that I adore. His ability to show up, surprise us, humble us, and just be present to us in about any setting possible. If our hearts are open, He truly will continue to be present to us and transform our lives. Where will He show up today in the midst of your busy plans? Let your heart be open to experience His presence, regardless of the setting.
About the Author:
Andrea Gibbs is a wife and homeschooling mother to five kids. Her family leads student and adult mission trips to Guatemala. She previously worked as a curriculum coordinator and teacher in Early Childhood Education, a high school youth minister and a speaker to Catholic teens. She has a deep affection for strong coffee, 19th century British literature, dark chocolate, and all-things Latin America.
All photos courtesy of Andrea Gibbs. All rights reserved.