Holy water glasses for holy people

September 28, 2015

At its worst, Protestantism has long been deeply suspicious of all holy things, of the very notion that a physical object can carry anything of the sacred. At its best, such a suspicion is aimed instead at the notion of holier things—of an elite, rarefied sacrality that sets a few things utterly apart.

So I’m not among those rolling my eyes at Rep. Bob Brady for seeing something holy in a glass of water. Where I part ways with Brady is over the fact that it had to be the pope’s water glass—the suggestion that everything Pope Francis touches is singularly blessed. (To be clear, Brady represents one Catholic view here but hardly the only one.)

Clint Schnekloth posted a helpful comment about this

As a Lutheran, I happen to believe the vocation of all the baptized is as holy as any other. Luther liked to say that a father changing a diaper is more holy than any monk's prayers in a monastery…. This is why, while Bob Brady may drink the pope's water, I eat the scraps from my kids' plates. Because I receive a blessing. And I hate to waste food.

I do this, too. For Clint’s second reason; I hadn’t quite articulated his first. But I like it. It fits into a broader idea, characteristically though not exclusively Lutheran, that I have spent some time with: that the created order’s sacredness is not rarefied but abundant, a holy ordinary. There may be nothing particularly special about a water glass the pope happened to use. Yet water is holy, as are the natural resources from which people make glassware. They are created by God; they give us life.

The obvious objection here is to appeal to the “everyone’s a winner” fallacy. To paraphrase Dash Incredible: saying everything is holy is another way of saying nothing is. A relic’s power depends on its rarity; it is what it is by not being what all the other things are. You can say your kitchen cupboards are full of relics, but what difference would that make?

It’s a fair point, but one with its own assumptions. For starters, it assumes that what we humans need from religion is a classification system, a way of defining things in reference to one another. I’m convinced that when it comes to recognizing the holy, what we need most is a lens for seeing the world.